(RNS) — Let’s say there was a television network that had, as a significant part of its market share, Orthodox Jews. Let’s say, as well, that many of the news anchors and commentators on that network were also Orthodox Jews.
Let’s say that on one show, a prominent Orthodox commentator took out a ham and cheese sandwich, devoured it on air, and then went on to extol the virtues of eating pork with a dairy product.
Should a Christian minister, knowing something about Judaism, comment on that flagrant, public denial of a basic faith premise of Orthodox Judaism?
If your answer is: “No, it is none of that minister’s business what a Jew does publicly,” then, well, OK.
If, however, your answer is: “Yes, I respect Judaism far too much to allow such a flagrant violation of its tenets to fly by unquestioned,” then you might want to keep reading.
Forget that imaginary Orthodox Jewish-oriented television network.
Consider instead Fox News.
Let us consider Fox’s market, theologically speaking. Consider the following analysis of its audience:
Fox News possesses an “outsized influence” on the American public, especially among religious viewers.
That was the conclusion of the nonprofit Public Religion Research Institute in a report released just after the 2020 presidential election. It noted that 15% of Americans cited Fox News as the most trusted source — around the same as NBC, ABC and CBS combined, and four percentage points above rival network CNN. The survey of more than 2,500 American adults also suggested that Fox News viewers trend religious, especially among Republicans watching the show. Just 5% of Republican viewers of the channel identified as being “religiously unaffiliated” — compared to 15% of Republicans who do not watch Fox News and 25% of the wider American public … Almost two-thirds of white evangelicals said they watched Fox News at some point over the previous 24 hours.
So, Fox News is a network that has as its primary audience people of faith.
Let us now take one of Fox’s most prominent personalities: Sean Hannity.
When asked to discuss his own faith journey, this is how Hannity responded:
My faith actually has gotten stronger as I’ve gotten older. I would say I realize more than ever that I not only need, but I want, God in my life … This whole country is founded on Judeo-Christian principles that I believe and would argue have advanced the human condition more than any other system designed by man. And there is an intersection between politics and a belief or a faith in God …
- Fox News has a heavily “faithful” audience.
- Sean Hannity believes in God and in some things called “Judeo-Christian principles.”
Then, this past Monday evening, on Fox News (network of the faithful), Sean Hannity (man of faith) aired a 2018 voicemail that President Joe Biden left for his (legally beleaguered) son Hunter, who has struggled with addiction: “It’s Dad. I called to tell you I love you. I love you more than the whole world, pal. You gotta get some help. I know you don’t know what to do. I don’t either.”
Hannity said: “Now, that voicemail reportedly came at the exact same time Hunter lied on a gun application to buy a handgun.” Please note, o thou cynics: This is not about whether or not Hunter Biden deserves to be indicted, or is guilty, or whatever.
This is about a father’s love for his son.
Period. Full stop.
I have four questions.
- Did Fox’s “faithful” audience members push back on that cruel, cynical and irreligious move by Hannity?
- Did Hannity consider how a person of faith could publicly mock a father’s moment of frustration and love in dealing with a son who has been struggling with addiction?
- What percentage of Fox’s viewers struggle with addictions, and/or have relatives who struggle with addictions?
- If there is a thing called the “Judeo-Christian tradition,” is not one of its cardinal aspects the belief in a loving God, which then demands that we be loving as well?
I represent a faith tradition that is just coming off a 10-day spree of confession, contrition, humility and submission.
I represent Jews who just spent a whole lot of time in front of open arks, filled with Torah scrolls, reminding God that God is “merciful and gracious,” with the implicit and explicit demand that just as God is merciful and gracious, so we must be as well.
That is called imitatio dei, the imitation of God. It is a basic theological idea that Jews and Christians have in common.
It is beyond my pay grade to hector people of other faiths about how they should live their faith (I have enough trouble living mine, thank you very much).
I am only asking this: Mr. Hannity, other than performative declarations, how do you express your faith? How does a man who believes in God reconcile that belief with the way you trashed a man’s love for a son who needs help? I mean, seriously, Mr. Hannity: WWJD?
And, to my fellow Jews who are part of the Fox audience, I am only asking this: When you, fresh from the Yom Kippur experience, heard Hannity trashing Biden’s compassionate concern for his son, did something inside of you well up? Did you feel a little bit of nausea?