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.


Q And A

Last Sunday, as those of you who read my posted “sermon” will recall, I spoke to the Danville Unitarians. At the conclusion of my talk, I engaged in a brief question-and-answer session, and a couple of those questions echoed comments sometimes posted here.

For example, one parishioner asked what one citizen can do about our unrepresentative  legislature, given the reality of Indiana’s extreme gerrymandering. It’s a reasonable question, given the lack of mechanisms available–we lack a citizens’ initiative or referendum, and a friend of mine who cares a lot about the issue (and not so incidentally spent several years as a judge on Indiana’s Supreme Court) tells me he sees nothing in the state constitution that might be used to overturn partisan redistricting.

My only answer rests on the fact that the most nefarious result of gerrymandering is vote suppression. Hoosiers who live in House and Senate districts considered “safe” for one party or another (and yes, there are a few safe Democratic districts, thanks to the mechanism known as “packing,” aka cramming as many voters of the “other party” into as few districts as possible) tend to stay home. Why bother to vote, if the result is foreordained? 

The voters who stay home are overwhelmingly those of the “loser” party. That’s especially the case in places where the loser party hasn’t bothered to field a candidate.

But here’s the dirty little secret: in a number of those “safe” districts, if there was a massive turnout, the “losers” could win!  That’s because, in a number of Indiana’s rural districts, Democrats have failed to go to the polls.

There are two reasons for that.

Reason one: When an acquaintance of mine who ran in one such district went door-to-door, she was astonished by the number of people who expressed surprise that there were Democrats living in the area. Years of being told that they were rare exceptions had beaten them down, and added to the belief that they were rare–and powerless.

Reason two: as another member of the congregation noted, the suburban/bedroom communities around Indianapolis and other urban areas have been growing significantly–and much of that growth comes from young, educated people looking for less-expensive housing and able to work remotely at least part of the time. Given the significant political divide between people with a college degree and those without, it’s fair to predict that many–if not most– of those new residents have more progressive political orientations.

It’s obviously impossible to know how politically significant those two observations are unless many more people vote. So my answer to the young woman who asked that question was: do everything you can to get out the vote. We know is that those engaging in the redistricting process rely upon prior years’ turnout when drawing their district lines. If longtime residents of the “other” party who haven’t previously gone to the polls were suddenly to do so–and if newcomers with different values and concerns join them–a lot of those presumably “safe” districts will no longer be so safe.

There was another question that struck me as important. A young man followed up the previous question with what he characterized as an “expanded version.” What could congregations do? Not as individuals, but as congregations.

It was a great question, because one of the most annoying aspects of our terrible legislature is the serene belief of far too many of its members that God is on their side. (Their God hates the same people they do…) When someone like me–Jewish, atheist, civil libertarian– comes to testify, it’s easy to ignore that testimony. 

But when a church lobbies or testifies, it’s a lot harder to dismiss out of hand.

We sometimes forget (as our legislature clearly does) that not all religions–or even all Christian denominations– endorse the punitive doctrines of the fundamentalists who control today’s MAGA Republicans. There are enormous differences–not just between religions, but between denominations of the Christianity that dominates American culture. It’s past time for  the many congregations that preach love and acceptance, embrace modernity and equality and care about the “least of us,” to speak up at the Indiana Statehouse.


The day before yesterday, I posted about a Christian legislator who had the guts to challenge a performative Christian lawmaker on biblical grounds. We need more people like that authentically religious legislator, and we especially need more congregations willing to challenge hateful and discriminatory measures at the Indiana Statehouse.

Those are the challenges to which our pathetic lawmakers should have to respond. Not to the “rule of law”  and “fair play” people like yours truly, but to the co-religionists they  inaccurately claim to represent.