What Real Religious Hypocrisy Looks Like

New York Times columnist Timothy Egan unleashed a diatribe against religious conservatives over the weekend, under the inventive headline, “Why People Hate Religion.”  It doesn’t really shed that much light on why anybody else hates religion, but it certainly lets us know why Egan does.  

He says it’s the hypocrisy he can’t tolerate, “the phonies, the charlatans who wave Bibles, the theatrically pious.”  But that’s a time-worn dodge, and Egan himself admits that [r]eligious hypocrites are an easy and eternal mark.”  Egan is particularly outraged at Vice President Mike Pence, along with other evangelicals who support Donald Trump, and any Catholics out of sync with prevailing progressive dogma.  But it’s not really their hypocrisy that’s got him upset.  It’s their sincerity that’s making his blood boil.

Contra Pence and the “modern Savonarolas” who are getting all the good press, (is Mike Pence getting good press?), Egan recommends the example of Sister Norma Pimentel, a Missionaries of Jesus sister who runs Catholic Charities in Brownsville, Texas.  She works with migrant children on the southern border -- “vulnerable souls that her president would otherwise put in cages.”  That’s Egan making the wisecrack, not Sister Norma; even Democrat strategists have knocked Egan’s writing for being a “forest of clichés.”  Sister Norma sounds more temperate than that, a compassionate grown-up who recognizes that, in a fallen world, hard cases often mean a hard struggle to figure out the right thing to do.  For instance, she hasn’t signed on to the Leftist narrative that the Border Patrol are Nazis running concentration camps.  She recently took issue with the Left’s shameless attacks on border agents, saying, “For them to be put down because they are doing their jobs, I don’t understand that. That’s fake news.”  She believes border agents “do their jobs very well.” 

She has spoken out, understandably, about what she’s seen of the situation with unaccompanied children in one overwhelmed Border Patrol station: “I saw cells that were crammed with many children of all ages -- a small little cell with many children all stacked up in there, no sleeping quarters.”  

But that was back in 2014, under President Obama.  Timothy Egan never mentioned anything about cages at the time. 

It’s clear the real target of Egan’s hostility is not religion in general, but the Catholic Church in particular, against which he’s in bitter rebellion.  In a 2018 column, Egan described himself “as a somewhat lapsed, but certainly listening, Catholic educated by fine Jesuit minds and encouraged by the open-mindedness of Pope Francis.”  But whether his somewhat-lapsed status is in spite of his fine Jesuit education, or because of it, Egan’s present views of Catholic teaching sound awfully final, calling it “backwards… dictated by nominally celibate and hypocritical men, hav[ing] no connection to the words of Jesus.”  Catholic doctrine, Egan charges, is rooted in “flawed men putting forth badly flawed ideas: At the root of their moral failings is Catholicism’s centuries-old inability to come to grips with sex.”

Obviously, Egan hates the Church, as many people do, because he hates Christianity’s strict teachings about sex.  But in his current attack, he’s more focused on Christianity’s failure to embrace progressive politics.  “[P]eople hate religion,” Egan writes, “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.”  His proof is that people like Mike Pence, and “[w]hite evangelical Christians, the rotting core of Trump’s base,” support the president, who (in case you hadn’t heard) is the antichrist.  “So, people hate religion,” explains Egan, “when the loudest proponents of religion are shown to be mercenaries for a leader who debases everything he touches.”

All of which sounds awfully personal for Egan.  Would it be fairer for Egan to say that he hates religion for all those reasons, and leave everyone else out of it?  

Anyway, I doubt Egan loved religion up until Donald Trump ran for office.  It’s been my observation that people who hate religion, or, specifically, Christianity, generally do so because it demands more from them than they’re willing to give, and exposes sins for what they are.  The gospels say, “the light has come into the world, and the men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.”  For every lapsed Christian who can legitimately blame someone else’s sin for his loss of faith, there are 500 who claim hypocrisy as the excuse for their own desire to do wrong. 

G.K. Chesterton wrote that, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.”  Those who do try it in earnest know it’s difficult; Jesus variously compared it to entering by a narrow gate, putting a hand to the plow and never looking back, passing through the eye of a needle, losing one’s life in order to save it, and taking up an emblem of gruesome execution every day and carrying it.  One of the very minor, but still painful, trials is being called a hypocrite by unbelievers after you’ve tried your best and, as all Christians will, failed.  But just because the reality doesn’t meet the ideal doesn’t make you a hypocrite.  Real hypocrisy is playacting -- pretending to be what we’re not.

How Egan identifies Mike Pence as doing that isn’t at all clear.  After criticizing Pence for wearing “his faith like a fluorescent orange vest,” Egan attacks him because, after Pence visited the border “and saw human beings crammed like cordwood in the Texas heat, that faith was invisible.”  Which is it?  When Pence wears his faith openly, it’s a fluorescent orange vest, but when he declines the stage-acting of Ocasio-Cortez at the border, or Rasheda Tlaib crying on cue at the phrase “illegal immigrants,” then his faith is invisible.  It doesn’t make Mike Pence a hypocrite that he didn’t respond by calling for the abolition of ICE, or stepping down as VP to join Sister Norma’s mission, if that’s not what his faith was leading him to do.  

It’s easy enough to cry “hypocrisy” when you’re not shouldering the standards of those you’re accusing.  When Egan uses the argument, “Christ says people will be judged by how they treat the hungry, the poor, the least among us,” to shame white evangelicals who don’t support open borders, he risks hypocrisy himself.   Progressive policies that claim to help the poor have been shown empirically to be utter failures -- yet religious liberals continue to use unquestioning support for them as the mark of a true Christian.  Even the Obama administration recognized that perceptions in Central America that illegal border-crossers will be allowed to remain in the U.S. exacerbates the migration problem, and only increases the number of tragic deaths and needless suffering.  

The people who hate Mike Pence don’t hate him because he’s not really serious about his faith, but because it’s obvious that he is.  If hypocrisy really bothered the Left, they wouldn’t be lionizing Al Sharpton, who has pretended to be a Christian minister for decades so he could get rich exploiting race and foolish liberals as a means of amassing wealth and power.  They wouldn’t stand for Nancy Pelosi, who -- solely to harm Trump politically -- pretends she’s a second Mother Teresa, declaiming endlessly on “morality” and the divine spark, and telling TV cameras how she prays for the president -- until the mask slips and she says she wants to see him in prison. It would be impossible for them to endure for one more second a raft of Catholic Democratic politicians, all of whom are fully aware of a grave violation of their own Church’s teachings, who battle for every measure that increases the victims of abortion, then brazenly lie to pro-life Catholic voters, pretending they’re personally opposed to this slaughter of innocent human life. 

Now this is what hypocrisy looks like. 

T.R. Clancy looks at the world from Dearborn, Michigan.  You can email him at trclancy@yahoo.com.

New York Times columnist Timothy Egan unleashed a diatribe against religious conservatives over the weekend, under the inventive headline, “Why People Hate Religion.”  It doesn’t really shed that much light on why anybody else hates religion, but it certainly lets us know why Egan does.  

He says it’s the hypocrisy he can’t tolerate, “the phonies, the charlatans who wave Bibles, the theatrically pious.”  But that’s a time-worn dodge, and Egan himself admits that [r]eligious hypocrites are an easy and eternal mark.”  Egan is particularly outraged at Vice President Mike Pence, along with other evangelicals who support Donald Trump, and any Catholics out of sync with prevailing progressive dogma.  But it’s not really their hypocrisy that’s got him upset.  It’s their sincerity that’s making his blood boil.

Contra Pence and the “modern Savonarolas” who are getting all the good press, (is Mike Pence getting good press?), Egan recommends the example of Sister Norma Pimentel, a Missionaries of Jesus sister who runs Catholic Charities in Brownsville, Texas.  She works with migrant children on the southern border -- “vulnerable souls that her president would otherwise put in cages.”  That’s Egan making the wisecrack, not Sister Norma; even Democrat strategists have knocked Egan’s writing for being a “forest of clichés.”  Sister Norma sounds more temperate than that, a compassionate grown-up who recognizes that, in a fallen world, hard cases often mean a hard struggle to figure out the right thing to do.  For instance, she hasn’t signed on to the Leftist narrative that the Border Patrol are Nazis running concentration camps.  She recently took issue with the Left’s shameless attacks on border agents, saying, “For them to be put down because they are doing their jobs, I don’t understand that. That’s fake news.”  She believes border agents “do their jobs very well.” 

She has spoken out, understandably, about what she’s seen of the situation with unaccompanied children in one overwhelmed Border Patrol station: “I saw cells that were crammed with many children of all ages -- a small little cell with many children all stacked up in there, no sleeping quarters.”  

But that was back in 2014, under President Obama.  Timothy Egan never mentioned anything about cages at the time. 

It’s clear the real target of Egan’s hostility is not religion in general, but the Catholic Church in particular, against which he’s in bitter rebellion.  In a 2018 column, Egan described himself “as a somewhat lapsed, but certainly listening, Catholic educated by fine Jesuit minds and encouraged by the open-mindedness of Pope Francis.”  But whether his somewhat-lapsed status is in spite of his fine Jesuit education, or because of it, Egan’s present views of Catholic teaching sound awfully final, calling it “backwards… dictated by nominally celibate and hypocritical men, hav[ing] no connection to the words of Jesus.”  Catholic doctrine, Egan charges, is rooted in “flawed men putting forth badly flawed ideas: At the root of their moral failings is Catholicism’s centuries-old inability to come to grips with sex.”

Obviously, Egan hates the Church, as many people do, because he hates Christianity’s strict teachings about sex.  But in his current attack, he’s more focused on Christianity’s failure to embrace progressive politics.  “[P]eople hate religion,” Egan writes, “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.”  His proof is that people like Mike Pence, and “[w]hite evangelical Christians, the rotting core of Trump’s base,” support the president, who (in case you hadn’t heard) is the antichrist.  “So, people hate religion,” explains Egan, “when the loudest proponents of religion are shown to be mercenaries for a leader who debases everything he touches.”

All of which sounds awfully personal for Egan.  Would it be fairer for Egan to say that he hates religion for all those reasons, and leave everyone else out of it?  

Anyway, I doubt Egan loved religion up until Donald Trump ran for office.  It’s been my observation that people who hate religion, or, specifically, Christianity, generally do so because it demands more from them than they’re willing to give, and exposes sins for what they are.  The gospels say, “the light has come into the world, and the men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.”  For every lapsed Christian who can legitimately blame someone else’s sin for his loss of faith, there are 500 who claim hypocrisy as the excuse for their own desire to do wrong. 

G.K. Chesterton wrote that, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.”  Those who do try it in earnest know it’s difficult; Jesus variously compared it to entering by a narrow gate, putting a hand to the plow and never looking back, passing through the eye of a needle, losing one’s life in order to save it, and taking up an emblem of gruesome execution every day and carrying it.  One of the very minor, but still painful, trials is being called a hypocrite by unbelievers after you’ve tried your best and, as all Christians will, failed.  But just because the reality doesn’t meet the ideal doesn’t make you a hypocrite.  Real hypocrisy is playacting -- pretending to be what we’re not.

How Egan identifies Mike Pence as doing that isn’t at all clear.  After criticizing Pence for wearing “his faith like a fluorescent orange vest,” Egan attacks him because, after Pence visited the border “and saw human beings crammed like cordwood in the Texas heat, that faith was invisible.”  Which is it?  When Pence wears his faith openly, it’s a fluorescent orange vest, but when he declines the stage-acting of Ocasio-Cortez at the border, or Rasheda Tlaib crying on cue at the phrase “illegal immigrants,” then his faith is invisible.  It doesn’t make Mike Pence a hypocrite that he didn’t respond by calling for the abolition of ICE, or stepping down as VP to join Sister Norma’s mission, if that’s not what his faith was leading him to do.  

It’s easy enough to cry “hypocrisy” when you’re not shouldering the standards of those you’re accusing.  When Egan uses the argument, “Christ says people will be judged by how they treat the hungry, the poor, the least among us,” to shame white evangelicals who don’t support open borders, he risks hypocrisy himself.   Progressive policies that claim to help the poor have been shown empirically to be utter failures -- yet religious liberals continue to use unquestioning support for them as the mark of a true Christian.  Even the Obama administration recognized that perceptions in Central America that illegal border-crossers will be allowed to remain in the U.S. exacerbates the migration problem, and only increases the number of tragic deaths and needless suffering.  

The people who hate Mike Pence don’t hate him because he’s not really serious about his faith, but because it’s obvious that he is.  If hypocrisy really bothered the Left, they wouldn’t be lionizing Al Sharpton, who has pretended to be a Christian minister for decades so he could get rich exploiting race and foolish liberals as a means of amassing wealth and power.  They wouldn’t stand for Nancy Pelosi, who -- solely to harm Trump politically -- pretends she’s a second Mother Teresa, declaiming endlessly on “morality” and the divine spark, and telling TV cameras how she prays for the president -- until the mask slips and she says she wants to see him in prison. It would be impossible for them to endure for one more second a raft of Catholic Democratic politicians, all of whom are fully aware of a grave violation of their own Church’s teachings, who battle for every measure that increases the victims of abortion, then brazenly lie to pro-life Catholic voters, pretending they’re personally opposed to this slaughter of innocent human life. 

Now this is what hypocrisy looks like. 

T.R. Clancy looks at the world from Dearborn, Michigan.  You can email him at trclancy@yahoo.com.