ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
Vice President Mike Pence speaks at the 101st American Legion National Convention, Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2019, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

You don't hear much about Sister Norma Pimentel in the secular press. She's not a wacko, a hypocrite, a sexual predator or a political operative. Her life's work, she says, is guided by seeing "the presence of God" in migrant children in the shelter she oversees in the Rio Grande Valley — vulnerable souls that her president would otherwise put in cages.

What you hear about is the phonies, the charlatans who wave Bibles, the theatrically pious, and they are legion. Vice President Mike Pence wears his faith like a fluorescent orange vest. But when he visited the border this summer and saw human beings crammed like cordwood in the Texas heat, that faith was invisible.

Pence is the chief bootlicker to a president who now sees himself in messianic terms, a president who tweets a description of himself as "the second coming of God." As hard as it to see God Part II boasting about grabbing a woman's genitals, paying hush money to a porn actress, or calling neo-Nazis "very fine people," millions of overtly religious Americans believe in some version of Jesus Trump, Superstar.

What you hear about are the modern Savonarolas. In Indiana this summer, Archbishop Charles C. Thompson stripped a Jesuit prep school of its Catholic identity for refusing to fire a gay, married teacher.

Thompson says he tries to be "Christ-centered" in his decisions. If so, he should cite words from Christ condemning homosexuality, any words; there are none. That may be one reason a healthy majority of Catholics are in favor of same-sex marriage, despite what their spiritual sentries tell them.

Religious hypocrites are an easy and eternal mark. The French Revolution was driven in part by the revulsion of starving peasants toward the overfed clerics who had taken vows of poverty. The Protestant Reformation took flight on disgust at a church in Rome that sold passages to heaven, enriching men who had multiple mistresses after taking vows of chastity.

White evangelical Christians, the rotting core of Trump's base, profess to be guided by biblical imperatives. They're not. Their religion is Play-Doh.

In one of the most explicit passages of the New Testament, Christ says people will be judged by how they treat the hungry, the poor, the least among us. And yet, only 25 percent of white evangelicals say their country has some responsibility to take in refugees.

Evangelicals give cover to an amoral president because they believe God is using him to advance their causes. "There has never been anyone who has defended us and who has fought for us, who we have loved more than Donald J. Trump," said Ralph Reed at a meeting of professed Christian activists earlier this summer.

But what really thrills them is when Trump bullies and belittles their opponents, as counterintuitive as that may seem. Evangelicals "love the meanest parts" of Trump, Christian writer Ben Howe argues in his new book, "The Immoral Majority." Older white Christians rouse to Trump's toxicity because he's taking their side. It's tribal, primal and vindictive.

So, yes, people hate religion when the loudest proponents of religion are shown to be mercenaries for a leader who debases everything he touches. And yes, young people are leaving the pews in droves because too often the person facing them in those pews is a fraud.

They hate religion because, at a moment to stand up and be counted on the right side of history, religion is used as moral cover for despicable behavior. This is not new to our age: Hitler got a pass from the Vatican until very late in the war.

Growing up, Pimentel was going to be an artist, she says, until she felt a strong tug on her soul; it compelled her to a lifetime of selfless service. Faith is not that complicated. Religion always is.

The New York Times

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT