Jesus famously says, “Beware of practicing your piety before men in order to be seen by them; for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.” (Mt 6:1).
In his time and culture, such performative piety was primarily religious in nature, since to be perceived as pleasing to God or the gods was seen by everybody as the highest good. The goal of such showiness was ostensibly to pursue this highest good but was really, as Jesus points out, to be seen as pursuing the highest good, which is a radically different thing.
These days, many people no longer think of pleasing God as the highest good and so imagine themselves immune to displays of performative piety. But this is not so. Performative piety will be with us till the moon falls, whether you are a believer or not, because when you get rid of God as your highest you don’t wind up with nothing as your highest good, but with anything as your highest good. Human being are creatures who *must* worship. We can’t stop ourselves. We can only choose to worship what is God or not God as our highest good. We can’t not worship just as we can’t not desire happiness–and for profoundly related reasons since God is, in the end our happiness.
So if we do not worship God, we simply designate something else as the highest good. And whatever good we choose to serve, we then have a further choice to serve sincerely or insincerely. And that is where performative piety comes in, whether we believe in God or not.
So, for instance, in recent years a very healthy movement to really pay attention to the dignity of the human person in all our varieties and forms has arisen, called the Woke Movement. At its purest and most sincere, it genuinely seeks to live out the implications of the Second Greatest Commandment: Love your neighbor as yourself, regardless of such things as race, class, gender, sexual orientation, etc. Many people really and genuinely desire to live with integrity in regard to it.
But not all. It is also just as possible to engage in performative piety when it comes to being Woke as it does when to being religious. Case in point: the corporation that makes M&Ms:
There are two sorts of people who roll their eyes at this:
1. MAGA Right Wingers who hate and detest any public expression of empathy for any person not themselves and who are eager to gin up stupid culture war Panics du Jour, like this guy with his weird fantasies:
Of all the dumb reasons to take exception to that ad, Carlson’s is the dumbest.
But there are also good reasons to object to this ad and they are easily noted by the second sort of person: People who don’t like a snow job from a company that practices evil.
What I mean is this: If the Mars Corporation was, in their new ad campaign, actually, seriously, expressing empathy for various types of people who often get run down or mocked or exploited, there is nothing for a Christian to object to in that. It would be nice to see not just corporations but all human beings say, “Lift up the vulnerable and respect them.” And it says everything about MAGA cultists that it is precisely that message that perpetually evokes their kneejerk mockery and contempt, because they are self-pitying bullies who savor cruelty to the weak out a depraved notion that it makes them strong:
But that is not what this ad is actually about. Rather, it is about being perceived to care about the vulnerable while in fact, being a cruel corporate exploiter of African child slaves on a charm offensive.
The US Supreme Court has ruled food giants Nestlé USA and Cargill can’t be sued for child slavery on African farms from where they buy their cocoa.
Six African men alleged that they were trafficked from Mali and forced to work on cocoa farms in Ivory Coast.
The group say both companies perpetuated that slave trade to keep cocoa prices low.
The court ruled 8-1 that the group had no standing because the abuse happened outside the US.
You don’t have to be a Christian or a Pharisee or even religious to do performative piety. All you have to do is pretend to care about doing a popular good thing in order to hide the fact that you do evil.
Meanwhile, a colossal number of antislavery organizations are founded and run by Christians acting in obedience to the gospel command to set the oppressed free. If you oppose slavery, support one of them–and boycott M&Ms and all other manufacturers of slave chocolate. Buy from these guys instead.