Cutting Through The Crap

Friday, December 5, 2008

Truth-Tellers?




It's my opinion that among the clergy is a disproportionate number of people (men, it seems, nearly exclusively) who are sincerely screwed up, compensating in some weird way for their less-than-honorable proclivities. For them, taking up the cloth is a kind of reaction formation. How else to explain the regular revelations of the very behavior (sexual, generally) against which they rail? Youth pastors seem, often enough to be newsworthy, to see their flock (and flockettes) as personal playground. The bigger the church, the more prominent their proclamations, the more likely it is (unscientific assessment, but this is a blog) the preacher has something to hide. The more lavishly they spend on themselves. And, of course, all the more amusing when it all comes out.

But that's not my point. This is.

From there, I hardly know which direction to choose: the bizarre theology, the fact that people like these are given political -- or ANY -- credence, that politicians make pilgrimages to their doorsteps; or that people by the uncountable tens of thousands flock to hear what they have to say. Some guy, basically, who has a mammothly inflated view of his own rectitude, of his own righteousness (to the extent that he's managed to subvert his real desires), who has the good business sense to put together a megamillion dollar enterprise and use it as a platform to promote whatever the hell comes into his head. And people eat it up; give him time on their talk shows, consider his concurrence a blessing for their own inadequacies. (For is there a more inadequate personality than Sean Hannity?)

I've said it before, because I mean it: I have nothing but respect for a person's individual beliefs, insofar as they allow that person to manage in this strange world. And insofar as they don't try to force their beliefs into our schools, and onto me. I recognize and honor the personal need, and the personal purpose. But it's this wholly undeserved national stage...

It's self-evident that the Bible (I'm talking Christianity here, as usual, but only because it's the driving religious force in our politics; I feel the same about all organized and proselytized religions) is a mirror of oneself. Vague, internally contradictory, translated, edited and revised to the point that there's literally no way to know the original meaning or intent of its various authors, the reading of and response to it is entirely individual. It means to you what it means to you, and you are quite free to find your own way into and out of it. Which is, I suppose, a significant part of its attraction. Once again: I bear no ill towards those who find solace in it. I envy their certitude.

Where I entirely part company is with the idea of imparting to some (possibly quite damaged) individual primacy of pronouncement. Why is Rick Warren's view, or Pat Robertson's, or Billy Graham's, any more noteworthy than yours? Why cede to these people the power of persuasion? What do they know that you don't? In what way are they closer to God than you are? And, for that matter, other than better clothes and more soap, what do they have that the guy on the street corner doesn't?

Of all the mysteries of religion, near the top for me is the willingess -- or whatever it is -- of those who flock to a given minister, to accept his interpretations and imprecations as gospel (as it were) when not very far down the street is another, with quite different views on those same fungible and willowy words. Why the one's, and not the other's? Why, in fact, the need to rely on another's at all over one's own?

And why, why, why, choose self-important power-mongerers like Warren, and Robertson, and Hagee? What's wrong with the humble little church down the road, with the pastor who drives a beater car and has a flock of a hundred or two? Why the need to be part of some sort of movement of millions? What's up with that?

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12 comments:

Anonymous said...

There's a somewhat well-known minister (don't recall the name) who advocates an interesting theory: that many of the worst people are drawn to the church because it offers a means for them to appear pious. I believe this and reaction-formation play a role in explaining why there's so much depravity in the church.

--Sam Spade

Heathen said...

Grandiosity, paranoia coupled with authoritarianism and dogma. Freddie's more of a cult of mental illness than a religion. Does he have a growing group of followers for his traveling freak show?

My former farrier was Rod Parsely's, too. In the horse world, the farrier is like your hairdresser/barber - everyone scoops the poop and dishes the dirt. Was there ever a mountain of the real and figurative stuff on hell and brimstone Rod and his World Harvest Church!

The best I can figure is that these guys and occasional gal are all about the marketing, money, magic and major starring roles. The mega churches are the equivalent of malls - one stop shopping in bland, but vaguely pleasant surroundings with people who are supposedly safe - and they look like you, too.

But the Methodist church where I grew up was headed by a very active liberal social justice type and his activist nursing faculty/clin. spec wife. I'm really not sure they weren't atheist/agnostic, but they knew how to mobilize a large group of people - it's all in which particular "lessons" and interpretations are used. Coming from a very conservative family where my parents used the honor thy mother and father as coercive leverage and abuse, I don't think they ever realized how much an effect the church culture had on me - and I'm now a firm atheist/skeptic/social justice activist. In other words, a bleeding heart liberal.

The term, bleeding heart, I'm guessing, comes from the Christian tradition, so there is some utility in at least some parts of that religion. The music of the masters and a lot of the architecture and art ain't bad, either.

For a very different take on American Christmases past, not always safe for work and not of the sugarplum and gingerbread Hallmark manufactured piousness, here's some alternative history based on evidence and not myth and mystery.

What do you make of the Change.org phenomenon? Have you "pulled up a seat at the table" and analyzed the documents or engaged in any of the group discussions, conference calls or home-based policy discussions?

Sid Schwab said...

I've looked at change.org, and have read some of the posts. Haven't "joined." I sense that the Obama phenomenon has gotten more people involved, staying involved.

Anonymous said...

...is there a more inadequate personality than Sean Hannity?
Yes. Keith Olbermann.

Sid Schwab said...

Oh, by far it's Bill O'Reilly; but the conversation was with Hannity. Billo makes Sean and Keith seem like paragons.

Frank Drackman said...

So I'm guessing you're NOT happy about Reverend Wright swearing in Barak on January 20th??

Sid Schwab said...

Wright? It's gonna be Ayatollah al Sistani, isn't it?

Oh, that's right: there's a constitution. It'll be Roberts.

Sid Schwab said...

heathen: I'm guessing you meant "change.gov," not change.org, right? I guess my answer is the same, although I've looked at the .gov one more than once!

Frank Drackman said...

Roberts?? thats just for the official ceremony, Wright'll be doing the more important one at 4pm, you know those Coloreds never show up for anything on time...

Frank Drackman said...

Hey Sid, I just checked the Constitution, and it DOESNT say that the Chief Justice has to swear him in, its just like with Abortion or Gun Control, its not mentioned...In fact, there have been 7 Presidents sworn in by Non-Chief Justices, and the current thinking is that you only have to be a Notary Public...I mean if Reverend Wright can Marry People..

Sid Schwab said...

Okay then! I'm for the Ayatollah.

Anonymous said...

"you know those Coloreds never show up for anything on time"

You're a real peach. Also what's with the capitalization? In an earlier thread you said "Ponie's", adding a errant apostrophe as well. I suppose people will take you more seriously if you learn the language better, for whatever that's worth.

--Sam Spade