Friday, December 5, 2008
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?