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.