Religion–Real And Performative

Last weekend, David French had a column in the New York Times that inadvertently highlighted the reason so many people these days reject religion.

French was focusing on the relationship between Tucker Carlson (recently departed from Fox “News”) and the Christian Right. His opening paragraphs are instructive.

On April 25, the far-right network Newsmax hosted a fascinating and revealing conversation about Tucker Carlson with Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, one of America’s leading Christian conservative advocacy organizations. Perkins scorned Fox News’s decision to fire Carlson, and — incredibly — also attacked Fox’s decision to fire Bill O’Reilly. These terminations (along with the departures of Glenn Beck and Megyn Kelly) were deemed evidence that Fox was turning its back on its conservative viewers, including its Christian conservative viewers.

What was missing from the conversation? Any mention of the profound moral failings that cost O’Reilly his job, including at least six settlements — five for sexual harassment and one for verbal abuse — totaling approximately $45 million. Or any mention of Carlson’s own serious problems, including his serial dishonesty, his vile racism and his gross personal insult directed against a senior Fox executive. It’s a curious position for a Christian to take.

Similarly curious is the belief of other Christians, such as the popular evangelical “prophet” Lance Wallnau, that Carlson was a “casualty of war” with the left, and that his firing was a serious setback for Christian Republicans. To Wallnau, an author and a self-described “futurist,” Carlson was a “secular prophet,” somebody “used by God, more powerful than a lot of preachers.”

French quotes several other examples, including a statement from Rod Dreher, editor-at-large at The American Conservative, who said he hopes Tucker Carlson runs for president,” and–even more appalling–opined that a “Tucker-DeSantis ticket would be the Generation X Saves The World team.”

French points to the obvious conflict between the doctrinal principles of his faith and the behavior of the (misnamed) “Christian” Right.

After all, isn’t “love your enemies” a core Christian command? The fruit of the spirit (the markers of God’s presence in our lives) are “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control,” not Republicanism, conservatism and capitalism.

I read French’s column an hour or so after returning home from the talk I’d given to the Unitarian Universalists in Danville, Indiana, and I was struck by the contrast between that congregation and the pseudo Christians whose Taliban-like perversion of that religion French was documenting.

Let me just share a couple of sentiments from the Unitarians’ “Order of Service” handout.

A “Welcome message” read, in part,

Unitarian Universalists believe that religious faith is uniquely personal and evolves as we each engage in our inner search and our life journey. We seek for ourselves and our children attitudes of openness and tolerance, with religious convictions grounded in life and widely shared in action. We find our quest is enriched and empowered in community, a community that embraces and and welcomes all persons.

The service began with the following Affirmation.

We proudly carry the flame of religious freedom. We respect the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part. We encourage each other to spiritual growth; that makes for peace, ethical living and community service. This is our covenant.

I never watched Tucker Carlson, but from everything I’ve heard about him, I’m pretty sure he’d choke on that Affirmation. The version of “belief” endorsed by the Carsons and Perkins of the Right is a conviction that their God hates the same people they hate, and that the superiority of their Whiteness and version of Christianity gives them the right to impose their prejudices on the rest of us.

I’ve previously shared my youngest son’s description of the difference between a good religion and a bad one: A good religion helps adherents cope with life’s challenges–helps them recognize and wrestle with the moral dilemmas that we all inevitably face. A bad religion prescribes immutable beliefs and behaviors.

In other words, a good religion helps with questions; a bad one dictates answers.

To that very accurate analysis I would add that a good religion provides members with a welcoming and supportive community–a non-digital social network.

Given the in-your-face performative piety of those insisting that they are the only true Christians and thus the only true Americans, it’s no wonder that religious affiliation has dramatically decreased. Nice people are repulsed by hypocrisy and mean-spiritedness–and many are unaware that more open and inclusive options exist.

French says that the right-wing’s pursuit of its version of justice has overwhelmed its commitment to kindness, much less any shred of humility–and that “this is how the religious right becomes post-Christian.”

They’re making a lot of other Americans “post-Christian” too.


  1. “A good religion helps with questions; a bad one dictates answers.” Replace the word religion with elected official and you describe the difference between the two political parties.

  2. This is so connected to our current political problems. As Prof K writes, people are walking away from the sick messages being promoted in these churches. That is a good thing. Walk away from crazy. But the same people may look at American politics and again conclude that this too is more crazy sick crap and turn their backs on ALL Politics. That leaves the door open for the crazy Christians to keep winning at the polls.

  3. To paraphrase Dr. Martin Luther King, “It isn’t so much the actions of the hypocrites of Christian religions, so much as the appalling silence of the good Christian churches.”

  4. The so-called Christian Right manifests Ayn Rand’s objectivism – every man for himself. It’s Calvinism on steroids. And yes, it’s conflicting with Christianity. She was against the collective – rejected the concept.

    It’s great for egomaniacs and narcissists but not so great in the pulpit or public service.

    Objectivism created a ‘contradiction’ religious people couldn’t afford. Our oppressors mapped this out intentionally but not thinking through the consequences. Now we have to deal with the mess the Kochs et al. created. Look at the Supreme Court mess. You don’t think our Justice systems are full of corruption???

    Objectivism = Self

    All about me.

  5. “Unitarian Universalists believe that religious faith is uniquely personal and evolves as we each engage in our inner search and our life journey.”

    Matthew 6:6; “…but when you pray, go into your inner room and close the door,…”

    If I want your views on religion, I will ask for them; I will not force my views on you unless you ask or it is the issue being discussed here or in personal conversations. Today’s political religion, or religious politics, has turned me away from religion in a way that the attempted rape by the Superintendent of Sunday School in a Baptist church and the rip-off by an attorney Deacon in a Church of Christ couldn’t do.

  6. The Danville UUs are wonderful folks! A bright light in our growing town.

  7. I see no reason to believe that these loudmouthed brayers have any spiritual beliefs at all. Their loud, handwaving religious invocations are just another tool for manipulating the rubes. If it were not so, their works would match their purported faith. Carlson and O’Reilly, like Trump and the rest of the rancid right-wing circus, revere God, Jesus and the Bible precisely as much as they revere the Constitution — as convenient political props and nothing else. Their behavior shows that they believe what they’re spewing from their mouths no more that PT Barnum really believed in the Fiji Mermaid.

    As Jesus said, the hypocrites pray loudly in the public streets, seeking to impress and influence others through such performative “holiness”. The sincere seeker or lover of God prays privately, “in the closet”, for the purpose of bringing themselves closer to God. There’s more spiritual sincerity in one agnostic quietly asking “Are you there, God?” Than in a thousand Foxite hypocrites blustering as if God works for them and obediently hates whoever they tell him to.

  8. My UU church (All Souls Unitarian Indianapolis) has a lovely covenant:

    Love is the spirit of this church
    And service is it’s law
    To dwell together in peace
    To seek the truth in love
    And to help one another
    This is our covenant

    I don’t recognize a single Republican action in those words.

  9. Todd, If you have read beyond Atlas Shrugged, you would find Ayn Rand has more in common with the Unitarian Universalist than every man for himself. In her book Anthem, she rejects the blind conformity of an enforced belief system for each person to find their own path to happiness.

    As for the post-Christian population, once you have come to your senses and realize the harm of preaching exclusion and have left your church, you are loath to set back into that arena. Good luck to the Unitarian Universalists and it great to hear there are groups like that out there.

  10. Many years ago, my rabbi said that if one had to describe Judaism in a single sentence, he would suggest the Golden Rule: treat others as you would want them to treat you. That tenet, apparently, is anathema to the Carlsons and Perkinses and the rest of the posturing “Christian” nationalists.

  11. The right-wing lip strummers are compelled to weaponize religion to scare the living daylights out of the weakest minds among us. They use that fear to create the cult of hypocrisy that these churches use to keep the coins clinking into the collection plates. So, naturally, the Republicans attach themselves to these operating methods because, like those churches, they have NO other agenda that actually works for the betterment of mankind. What a pity.

    It’s all about – and has always been about – the Benjamins.

    I’m glad I’m old.

  12. There are good Christians out there. Bishop Barber, who started Moral Mondays, is one I admire. The problem with many Christian leaders is that they’ve chosen to stand silent in the face of injustice, a decidedly un-Christian response. They shouldn’t get to the point of telling the congregation to vote for specific candidates or parties, but they should be calling out the actions that are reprehensible.

  13. Teresa – ““A good religion helps with questions; a bad one dictates answers.” Replace the word religion with elected official and you describe the difference between the two political parties.”

    This thinking is killing our democracy. Our democracy is not about parties acting, it is about people acting. Plenty of DEMs take dark money, vote per the lobbyists that give them money, vote for things that give them power, are beholders to corporate interests, etc.. Yes, there are fewer brave, honest GOPers, but vote for people, not parties.

  14. The religious right see all the people who are walking away from regular church attendance as a profound change in the crowd leaving. In fact it’s a profound change in the churches. The people leaving understand traditional religions as the moral responsibility to follow the “Golden Rule”. What they miss is learning about that in church because what they hear there is to support MAGA and the NRA which is the opposite of religion as they have been taught it.

  15. I have been to a Unitarian/Unity service and found it to be a welcoming, non-judgmental place to meet with like-minded folks. But, for me, it continues to be a walk outside to enjoy my flowers and the birds and whatever weather is happening at the time. The “God of my understanding” is everywhere and I don’t have to go to a special place or get with a group of people to “worship.”

    Sheila, I am reading your most recent book and am enjoying it. Happy Mother’s Day. 🙂

  16. In 1960, my church pastor went into a long diatribe about how we couldn’t possibly vote for a Catholic (Kennedy) because, he said, that Kennedy would be answering to the Pope, thus making decisions against protestantism. That was it for me… and I was only 18 and couldn’t vote yet.

    The more things change, the more they stay the same. See my above comment for that which hasn’t changed.

  17. So many good comments today.

    Thanks, Sheila, for sharing today’s post and also for re-sharing your son’s description of good and bad religions.

  18. As a former U.U. member, and trustee, in Brooklyn, N.Y., I have to applaud the tenets of the Danville
    I also might just wind up glad that the bigots who espouse hatred as their religion are moving more, and
    more people away from religion, trying to take a positive slant pin the long picture.

  19. Matthew 15: 7 – 9 states that most people who claim to be religious follow their own gods, “They” follow man-made dogma! “Their own” brand of morality!

    As JoAnn States this morning, if she wants to know about a particular belief from a particular religion, she’ll ask! And that’s part of her and everyone else being a free moral agent, living under that promise in Scripture. Every single sentient being on this planet or anywhere else, is free to believe what they wish. That way, a person can never claim they were misled.

    Willful delusion, expresses the fact that people will purposely desire a delusional belief rather than something based on substance. It’s like if individuals don’t like specific parameters, laws, rules and regulations, they make up their own! That’s completely delusional, and, willfully ignorant!

    2nd Peter 2:1 reads; “however, they’re also came to be false prophets among the people, as there will also be false teachers among you. These will quietly bring in destructive sects, and they will even disown the owner who bought them, bringing speedy destruction upon themselves.

    2nd Timothy 4: 3, 4 reads; “for there will be a period of time when they will not put up with the wholesome teaching, but according to their own desires, they will surround themselves with teachers to have their ears tickled. They will turn away from listening to the truth and give attention to false stories.”

    And, we go back to the Old testament, Jeremiah 6:10 which reads; “to whom should I speak and give warning? Who will listen? Look! Their ears are closed, so that they are unable to pay attention. Look! The word of Jehovah has become something they scorn; they find no pleasure in it.”

    A person’s true heart is revealed through free moral agency! Whether it’s Me’ist philosophy, which really encompasses most including hypocrisy, or the love of hatred of one’s fellow man, ie neighbor, reveals the true inner self!

    The apostle Paul stated in Acts 20: 29, 30 which reads; “I know that after my going away oppressive wolves will enter in among you and will not treat the flock with tenderness, and from among you yourselves men will rise and speak twisted things to draw away the disciples after themselves.”

    In 2nd Thessalonians 2:4 it actually refers to this very issue. It reads; “He stands in opposition and exalts himself above every so-called God or object of worship so that he sits down in the temple of God, publicly showing himself to be a God.”

    So, deluding themselves into believing their own lies, wanting power and authority over their fellow man, they present themselves as an all-knowing God! 45 was an excellent example, believing his own lies, but he was actually an “85” as Vern mentioned the other day. It relates to the Dunning-Kruger effect, “85% of those self-perceived enlightened ones, don’t know what in the heck they are talking about.” We’ll call it Vernon 1:1, because it’s a truly accurate description, I’ll let Vernon describe it if he chooses.

    In the long run, this is all going to turn out very very poorly for everyone, and it’s going to take a special kind of strength to get through it! The liars and the hypocrites and the manipulators and the wolves and sheep’s clothing are going to take a majority with them, and that majority will willingly go! But that’s another thread I’m sure? Sheila?

  20. Lester Levine: oh, what a wonderful world it would be if we could actually vote people not parties. Unfortunately, such is not our world. A vote for a candidate with zero chance of winning, simply because you don’t like “both parties” is the very definition of making the perfect the enemy of the good. In close districts, this would help the R’s carry out a much more devastating set of nihilistic, make the “rich richer and the poor poorer,” and harm the planet even worse.

    But at least those who throw away their votes on well-meaning candidates without a prayer of getting their “better” ideas enacted can console themselves that they aren’t “the problem.”

  21. Christians ignoring O’ Reilly’s sexual harassment is akin to Democrats ignoring Joe Biden being a segregationist and his recieving funds from Chinese interests.

  22. David,

    Just to be clear…per previous days’ comments here, I am not suggesting voting for independent candidates or not voting because you don’t like both parties. Since most of us live in highly gerrymandered state/Federal districts, votes for these offices may barely matter. Further down ballot, where MAGAs are less active, it is entirely possible that a reasonable, qualified GOP candidate might be a better choice than a “pol”/career DEM. It is an evil rejection of ideal democracy when you can hit one box and just vote the “Party Line” without considering each race.

  23. Democracy in this country allows us to evolve past the authoritarian constraints of dogma. People used to be burned at the stake for daring to question.
    Working toward keeping the evolution going in a positive, fair, and progressive way is good and the framework here that allows that is being threatened.
    Love your neighbor as yourself also means don’t leave yourself out of the equation.

  24. Ian, Please provide documented proof for your claims. If you can’t do that, you become one of those who lives in a world of lies and deceit. You know, like the Republican party.

  25. The Rabbi of my youth (’50s-’60s) had a view of Jewish theology that was less succinct than Hillel’s or the other Sheila’s Rabbi – Keep the Sabbath, Keep Kosher, and support civil rights – and if you can’t, god will forgive you for missing the first two –

    On the other side of the coin, there is great appeal to “here are the answers” religions, explained to me by a friend, a very smart and accomplished woman with degrees in law and social work who became very religious – she likes knowing that there is a proscribed answer for everything. She no longer has to worry if she did the right thing or made the right choice. It is all there for her. There is no more discomfort of choice, no more doubt.

    Freedom can be very frightening; Absolute religions can be very comforting. However, even those absolute religions can promote love or hate. We know which path the MAGA crowd chose.

  26. Vernon. Nice try but Ian has been repeatedly challenged to provide evidence for his claims and he never has. Good though to remind other readers that his wild claims have no basis in reality.

  27. Just Google Comer finds Biden family receives monies from Chinese energy company. Your first link will be from the US Government Oversight Committee Office. That should do it for you. To ignore Biden’s history as a segregationist is just lazy thinking on your part.

  28. Ian, I wonder if any of your investments known or unknown to you have a stake in Chinese companies?
    If we would only look at ourselves with the same judging eyes we look at others we might see our own hypocrisy.

Comments are closed.