Fictional Religious Hypocrites Seem All Too Real These Days

Religious hypocrisy is on my mind at a time when many Christian evangelicals support Donald Trump despite America’s so-called president being an immoral person who has no compassion, cheated on his wives, sexually assaulted women, is racist to the core, is endlessly greedy, is a blatant liar, is pathologically narcissistic, and more. Anything to get their right-wing agenda enacted, I suppose.

Literature includes many hypocrites resembling those evangelicals and the many “religious” Republican politicians who espouse “values” (ha ha). I’ll discuss some of those fictional characters today.

For instance, Benjamin Blake’s Ireland-set A Death in Summer, which I read recently, includes a priest character who runs an institution for troubled boys. Despite his pious exterior, he is well aware that the institution’s rich benefactor is a vile pedophile taking advantage of those boys.

(I followed Blake’s absorbing murder mystery with Alexander Pushkin’s 1836 adventure-romance The Captain’s Daughter, which depicted little religious hypocrisy but is a great novella containing fluid prose and dialogue that seems more 20th century than 19th century.)

The priest in A Death in Summer reminded me a bit of the faux-religious Mr. Brocklehurst, wealthy “benefactor” of the Lowood institution in Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. The girls at Lowood get crummy/inadequate food, little heat in the winter, and are treated in other awful ways — with some dying as a result. St. John Rivers is a more ethical religious figure in Bronte’s book, yet is a rather coldhearted man who displays a colonialist mentality in his desire to become a third-world missionary.

Nathan Price of Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible is a missionary in Africa — and that American is as hateful, racist, and sexist as many right-wing evangelicals and Republican politicians are today.

Then there’s the unnamed priest in Graham Greene’s The Power and the Glory who’s on the run from Mexican authorities. Not a totally bad guy, but he’s an alcoholic who fathered a child he barely sees. Hardly a religious role model.

The cast of James Baldwin’s Go Tell It On the Mountain includes Gabriel Grimes, a mean-spirited minister who also fathered a child out of wedlock and left the mother to fend for herself.

Sinclair Lewis might be best known these days for his It Can’t Happen Here novel about a fascist elected U.S. president (sound familiar?). But another of his novels relevant to our times is Elmer Gantry, whose charismatic preacher title character is a hard-drinking, ambitious womanizer.

Friar Tuck of the Robin Hood stories is a jovial figure who loves his food and wine. Maybe not hypocritical, but certainly not as ascetic as one might expect from someone in a religious position.

In the drama realm, we have the supposedly religious title character in Moliere’s play Tartuffe. He’s actually a two-faced guy who tries to seduce a married woman.

Who are some fictional religious hypocrites you’ve found memorable?

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