For years atheists, humanists and other nontheists have been accused by conservative Christians of immorality. This thinking largely comes from the assumption that nontheists are prone to acts of extreme hedonism and evil because they don’t ascribe to a holy book of instructions or fear an eternal punishment. This common notion is a rather negative view of humanity, since it assumes humans are naturally chaotic and evil if not reined-in by their faith. Fortunately, Buddhists are more on target with their assertion that most all of us naturally strive to do good for ourselves and others, even if we are sometimes misguided by putting our faith in the wrong people or ideologies.
It’s true that nontheists can’t claim perfect ethics and morality—even if it does help to have your measure for goodness in the real world—because not believing in a god isn’t an automatic embrace of empathy, compassion, or even reason. And discarding religion doesn’t automatically purge us of society’s normative prejudices. But humanists don’t have any less a claim to moral values than traditionally religious thinkers, and so humanists shouldn’t remain silent in the face of the corruption, dishonesty, and ethical compromise seen in some religious leaders. This is especially true in the era of Donald Trump, as some conservative Christian leaders appear to be abandoning their stated principles for a taste of power.
Baptists and other evangelical Christians for years opposed attempts to mix religion and politics, going all the way back to 1802 when the Danbury Baptists and Thomas Jefferson advocated for the separation between church and state. But now, religious right leaders are working with the Trump administration to allow churches to participate in campaign politics, even though eight out of ten evangelical Christians don’t want to inject politics into their houses of worship.
Religious right leaders are also embracing harmful environmental policies that contravene the biblical requirement to be stewards of the earth. Rather than promoting studies like one recently released by the Evangelical Climate Initiative, religious right leaders are embracing Trump’s harmful actions that may exacerbate climate change.
For years, evangelical Christians adamantly sought laws strengthening their limited view of marriage as being a religiously sanctioned bond of two people of opposite sex who join together to procreate. They railed against politicians who participated in extramarital affairs and divorce, considering them undeserving of the support of their “moral” communities. It is strange now to see these very same leaders embracing President Trump, who is well known for his multiple divorces and affairs.
Similarly strange was how the religious right apparently shelved decades of support for measures that would limit profane or violent language in entertainment, from music to movies and even in videogames. For some reason this past interest in limiting profane language is not being applied to President Trump, who routinely swears and talks about “beating the shit” out of people.
It’s important to note here that many of the people at the base of the religious right, the practicing conservative Christians of all stripes, have held to their principles and continue to oppose these behaviors. But their leaders, such as Jerry Falwell Jr., continue to support Trump, even as evangelical students at Falwell’s Liberty University have begun to return their diplomas in protest of the university’s support of the president.
While Trump is currently working with the religious right, evangelical Christians should be concerned about supporting a man who isn’t really in their corner at all. A recent New Yorker article showed the president making fun of Mike Pence for his religious beliefs, even asking visitors to the White House, “Did Mike make your pray?” And as Taylor Link from Salon noted, while discussing LGBT rights Trump motioned toward Pence and joked, “Don’t ask that guy—he wants to hang them all!”
The question that remains now is how far the leaders of the religious right are willing to go in their support of President Trump, and just how much of their beliefs they’re willing to compromise in order to maintain political influence. Another important question is how much tolerance conservative religious communities will have for the hypocritical actions of their leaders.