- Religion plays an increasingly significant-and complicated-role in Silicon Valley.
- Jeff and MacKenzie Bezos, who announced their separation on January 9, control one of the most powerful companies in the world, Amazon, and have never discussed their religious beliefs.
- Biographical details, family history, and public records suggest both were raised under some form of Christianity.
- It’s unclear whether they currently identify as Christian or follow any other kind of religion.
The end of Jeff and MacKenzie Bezos’ 25-year-long marriage has drawn the world’s attention to the circumstances of the couple’s courtship, wedding, and marriage – and what those might foretell about the future of Amazon, on which they built their fortune.
But a curious gap remains in the public understanding’s of the Bezos family: their religion.
This gap is stranger than it might initially seem.
Of the ten richest people on the planet, as ranked by Forbes last year, most have publicly discussed or disclosed their religious beliefs. Bill Gates and his family attend a Roman Catholic church. Warren Buffett, raised Presbyterian, identifies as agnostic. Bernard Arnault is Catholic but doesn’t attend Mass. Carlos Slim Helú is a Maronite Christian. Mark Zuckerberg embraces his Jewish upbringing, while Larry Ellison, who was raised under Reform Judaism, no longer follows a particular belief system. Charles Koch is non-religious, too.
Certain hints exist for the remainder. David Koch’s 1996 wedding was officiated by an Episcopalian priest. Armancio Ortega Gaona hasn’t discussed his personal religion, but his eponymous charitable foundation has donated€40 million ($US45.6 million) to Caritas Spain, which describes itself as “the official confederation of the social and charitable action organisations of the Catholic Church in Spain.”
And then there’s Jeff Bezos.
Neither he nor MacKenzie have ever disclosed any details of their religious beliefs. The public record is similarly lacking. This is particularly noteworthy given their stature in Silicon Valley, where religion and technology have become increasingly intertwined. Indeed, its leaders’ most intense preoccupations – including transhumanism, artificial intelligence, life extension, and simulation theory – either raise, or seek to answer, fundamentally religious questions.
The personal beliefs of the technology industry’s leaders have proven influential, too. Mark Zuckerberg, who believes religion is “very important,” has highlighted his Jewish faith in debates about Facebook’s role in American society, white nationalist violence, and Donald Trump’s presidency. PayPal co-founder and evangelical Christian Peter Thiel has favourably compared the aims of Christian theology to those of the technology industry. The work of René Girard, the Christian intellectual who developed the theory of “mimetic desire,” inspired Thiel to become the very first investor in Facebook.
The religious faith of the Bezos family, by contrast, has mostly remained a subject of scattered online speculation. Obscure websites like Christian Patriot Daily claim Jeff Bezos is Christian. The most legitimate-seeming source, a 2018 Quora post written by a former Amazon engineer, merely denies that he is Jewish.
This kind of chatter is nothing new: People have been interested in the beliefs of celebrities, major CEOs, and other public figures for a long time. But the stakes are clearly higher for the chief executive officer of Amazon, a powerful businessman whose decisions affect hundreds of millions of people. Which beliefs might influence those decisions, and in what way, is a question of significant public concern.
So what do Jeff and MacKenzie Bezos believe?
This a tricky question to pursue due to the couple’s reticence. But it is possible to infer – from family history, public records, and biographical accounts – what their beliefs might be. A wide bodyof research, as well as common-sense intuition, supports the theory that the religious beliefs of parents affect, without necessarily determining, those of their offspring. And there are more than a few bread crumbs strewn across the internet.
The details of Jeff’s upbringing contain a handful of clues to begin with.
It’s unclear whether his birth parents, Ted and Jacklyn Jorgensen, practiced any religion. The aforementioned Quora post says that both were Christian, but doesn’t cite a source. When INSIDER sought clarification from the post’s author, Vivek Pai, he pointed us to an article on Answers Africa and what appears to be the family tree of Jeff Bezos on the genealogy website Geneanet. The first claims Bezos “is said to be Christian” without further elaboration, while the second doesn’t mention religion at all. It’s true, though, that his father’s surname, Jorgensen, is a common one in Norway and Denmark, both of which are predominantly Christian.
The picture is somewhat clearer for Jeff’s adoptive father, Miguel “Mike” Bezos, who appears to have been raised in the Roman Catholic Church.
At the age of 16, in July 1962, he emigrated to the United States as part of Operation Peter Pan, a clandestine program designed by a Catholic priest from the Archdiocese of Miami. The program relocated children of Cuban parents fearful of the country’s newly-elected president, Fidel Castro, whose government suppressed Catholic activity on the Caribbean island. The majority of those children were Catholic.
After being placed in a Catholic group home in Delaware, Miguel matriculated to the Catholic-affiliated University of Albuquerque in the New Mexico city of the same name, where he met Jacklyn Jorgensen and later married her. According to “The Everything Store,” reporter Brad Stone’s 2013 book about Amazon, their wedding took place in 1968 at the First Congregational Church of Christ in Albuquerque.
The details of that ceremony are uncertain. But the affiliation of the venue at the time is clear. The church was founded in 1880 in the Protestant congregationalist tradition, in which each individual church operates more or less autonomously. It later affiliated with the United Church of Christ, a progressive Protestant denomination founded in 1957. “We were part of the UCC from the beginning of the denomination in 1957,” said Rev. Sue Joiner, the senior minister of the church.
According to its current website, the church’s congregants “seek to reconcile with those who have been condemned and injured not only by the Church but also by society, and stand with them in their struggle for equality and justice.”
The family background of MacKenzie Bezos offers more evidence. While not much is known about her upbringing in San Francisco, both of her parents, Jason and Holiday Tuttle, appear to be active in the Catholic community of Palm Beach, Florida. A database maintained by the Palm Beach Daily News, a local newspaper that covers the town’s philanthropic social scene, shows they attended the annual gala for the Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Palm Beach in 2015, 2016, and 2017. Holiday also serves on a parish committee at St. Edward’s Roman Catholic Church, which belongs to the same diocese.
Other clues are more recent. Late last year, Jeff Bezos’ philanthropic arm, the Bezos Day One Fund, donated $US97.5 million to 24 organisations that combat homelessness. Five of those organisations are affiliated with religious institutions, and each of them is Christian: Three are affiliated with the Catholic Church, and two others with the Salvation Army, a Protestant church founded in 1865.
The Bezoses’ 1993 wedding
At least one piece of evidence, the Bezoses’ official marriage record from 1993, has never been published. INSIDER recently obtained a copy from the Palm Beach County Clerk in Florida. It appears to be one of the very few public records concerning the early marriage of Jeffrey Preston Bezos and MacKenzie Scott Tuttle.
The document shows that a local minister, Rev. Richard Riccardi, officiated their ceremony at The Breakers, a luxury hotel on Palm Beach Island. A man with a very similar name, Richard Sebastian Riccardi, currently serves as the Presiding Bishop of the Old Catholic Church of New Utrecht, an independent Catholic denomination based in nearby West Palm Beach. Based on real estate and business records in Florida, they appear to be the same person.
Riccardi’s denomination follows the teachings of the Old Catholic Church movement that emerged in 19th-century Europe. Its adherents reject the Roman Catholic dogma of papal infallibility, under which the Pope is precluded from committing an error regarding the beliefs and morals of the larger Catholic church. Riccardi’s church places a particular emphasis on inclusion and tolerance.
“Divorce, birth control, sexuality to name a few … are non issues for us,” Riccardi wrote in an undated letter posted to the website of the Diocese of New Utrecht in West Palm Beach, Florida. “Some things are better left between God and the faithful and we should not interfere.”
It’s unclear what led the Bezoses to choose Riccardi as their officiant. “It is my policy not to comment on any ceremony that I am or have been privileged to perform without the knowledge or consent of the individuals in question,” Riccardi told INSIDER in an email. He didn’t respond to further questions about what kinds of ceremonies he performs.
However, the website of Rabbi Solomon Rothstein, a professional wedding officiant who conducts Jewish and interfaith ceremonies throughout Florida and major US cities, indicates that Riccardi frequently teams up with Rothstein for the latter. When reached by telephone, Rothstein said he couldn’t comment without talking with Riccardi first. He didn’t respond to a follow-up email.
What this body of evidence suggests is that Jeff Bezos was raised within a some strand of Christianity, possibly some form of Protestantism or Catholicism (or, perhaps, a mixture of both traditions), and that MacKenzie Tuttle was raised within the Roman Catholic Church. And that, in turn, suggests the couple chose Riccardi to officiate their wedding in 1993 because their marriage was technically an interreligious one. Less clear, of course, is whether Jeff or MacKenzie currently identify as Christian, and if so, of which denomination.
The absence of a clear answer does not diminish its significance. What Jeff and MacKenzie Bezos believe in, and how it affects their business decisions, is relevant to their customers, employees, shareholders, and clients. As Amazon grows ever more powerful, it will eventually affect you, too.
The Bezoses and their relatives did not respond to requests for comment.