Wednesday, May 28, 2008

This Is Not Christian

Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone went undercover at a three-day Christian retreat in Texas (and I *think* it's in San Antonio, which is *way* too close for comfort for me). The megachurch in question is run by McCain endorser John Hagee, a vastly influential pastor who believes that the Rapture is coming any day now, that Hurricane Katrina was God's punishment on everyone in New Orleans for an upcoming gay pride parade and various other batshit insane kind of things.

I know that these folks don't represent all religious folk. I have friends who are religious. I have family who are religious. But late at night, when I can't sleep, my fear is that these reasonable religious people that I know are the minority, and the freaks described in Taibbi's story are the majority. How freakish was this experience? Well, they were all asked to describe the "wound" that had shattered their "normal" and Matt lied this up:


"Hello," I said, taking a deep breath. "My name is Matt. My father was an alcoholic circus clown who used to beat me with his oversize shoes."

The group twittered noticeably. Morgan's eyes opened to tea-saucer size.

I closed my own eyes and kept going, immediately realizing what a mistake I'd made. There was no way this story was going to fly. But there was no turning back.

"He'd be sitting there in his costume, sucking down a beer and watching television," I heard myself saying. "And then sometimes, even if I just walked in front of the TV, he'd pull off one of those big shoes and just, you know — whap!"


And nobody blinked an eye at this story. And then there's this, from the grand commencement ceremony:


"In the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, I cast out the demon of the intellect!" Fortenberry continued. "In the name of Jesus, I cast out the demon of anal fissures!"


It's a great story, an excerpt from an upcoming book by Taibbi, who remains one of my favorite writers at Rolling Stone. Take a look, it's a fascinating, occasionally funny and occasionally horrifying read.

7 comments:

Suzanne said...

And the demon of handwriting analysis!

He was on The Daily Show while you were putting Katy to bed :)

M. Robert Turnage said...

As much as I appreciate this article (and, despite what I'm about to say, I DO appreciate it), it set off a lot of my "live and let live" alarms. Seriously, just live and let live. You don't have to stir up shit like this.

You are totally right to name your blog entry, "This is Not Christian." Here you have a reporter infiltrating a subset of a subculture of another subculture of a major religion and the presenting it as representative of the mainstream. It would be as if he infiltrated a "furries" convention and then tied it into more mainstream comics like Watchmen, 300, and Sandman. ("We've all seen the movie about Sparta, but that is just the front for an utterly batshit world that involves dressing up like raccoons and squirrels and doin' the nasty.")

What is also ethically dubious is that he goes into an place of obviously damaged people and does nothing but mock them. He enters an environment of trust, lies about being abused by his clown father, and then has nothing but contempt for the people who take him at his word. Would the article have been as funny if he infiltrated an AA group and made fun of all the addicts? Or if he went on a BD/S&M cruise and made fun of all of the people there? ("We were all supposed to take turns spanking the fat Hispanic man... and I was next! I began to panic.")

Anyway, I think is is a dangerous precedent to set. What is to stop him doing a similar story about Jeremiah Wright's church, which I am sure is just as quirky? Or an Islamic retreat? Or a Hebrew school?

The only reason this is news is because this is a group of Christians nominally related to a pastor who has become a national figure. (I kept waiting for Hagee to show up at the retreat, but sadly, it wasn't meant to be.)

It bothers me how he was welcomed with open arms and accepted as part of the group, and he returned the trust by writing an article like this.

On the other hand, it was funny. Humor goes a long way with me.

Randy said...

As much as I appreciate this article (and, despite what I'm about to say, I DO appreciate it), it set off a lot of my "live and let live" alarms. Seriously, just live and let live. You don't have to stir up shit like this.

Here's my thing with "live and let live." I'm OK with it, but it comes with sort of a "you first" that Christian organizations like this one don't abide by. They want to spout hatred and intolerance, push a dangerously incompetent man and his cronies and handlers into the most powerful office in the western world... that affects me. That's not letting me just live my life.

I don't particularly care if they pull that voting lever because their dad hit them or they can't control their eating habits or they just plain can't think for themselves. They're still lining up alongside those who fundamentally disagree with what I want in the world.

Mockery is the *least* I think a lot of these folks deserve.

This, btw, is one of the reasons I am also not a good Christian. I'm not super-forgiving, and I've got an overly developed sense of injustice and revenge. I'm working on both, but slowly.

Well, that and the whole "not believing in God" thing, which I'm given to believe is important. :)

Would the article have been as funny if he infiltrated an AA group and made fun of all the addicts? Or if he went on a BD/S&M cruise and made fun of all of the people there? ("We were all supposed to take turns spanking the fat Hispanic man... and I was next! I began to panic.")

Does it make me a bad person that that *does* sound kind of funny? :)

Anyway, I think is is a dangerous precedent to set. What is to stop him doing a similar story about Jeremiah Wright's church, which I am sure is just as quirky? Or an Islamic retreat? Or a Hebrew school?

Not a thing. And honestly, I think exposing what goes on in the indoctrination of various religious organizations is a healthy thing. If folks want to keep their religion private, they need to not inflict it on others. That is a covenant that very few religious folks are willing to keep these days. Mostly because it is built into organized religion to spread the word, convert, convert, convert, so that they can grow larger and more influential.

It makes me, as someone who doesn't believe in God and would be seen as an enemy by the more extreme members of these organizations, more than a little nervous.

Is it paranoia to worry that somebody religion might gain such a foothold in government that you have to offer up a religious affiliation or have your kids taken away? Sure. Is it plausible, based on human history? Absolutely.

The only reason this is news is because this is a group of Christians nominally related to a pastor who has become a national figure. (I kept waiting for Hagee to show up at the retreat, but sadly, it wasn't meant to be.)

Actually, whether I'd heard of Hagee or not, I think this would have been an interesting story. Certainly there have been documentaries, like Jesus Camp, and parody films, like Saved!, long before the specific public fiascos of Hagee, Wright, etc.

It bothers me how he was welcomed with open arms and accepted as part of the group, and he returned the trust by writing an article like this.

I see your point, on an abstract level, but look what the group does with this level of trust. They use it to brainwash damaged people into believing hateful, close-minded things. Into becoming an army for a spiteful, wrong-headed and dangerous cause. This kind of thing needs to be shown into the light, and if it can be done in a humorous way so that more folks might read it, all the better.

Suzanne said...

I didn't get the feeling he was presenting it as a representative of the mainstream at all. He mentioned that it was a niche sort of group and even did some contrasting with more mainstream evangelicals like Billy Graham. There are some things this group has in common with other evangelical type churches I've had encounters with, but way on the fringe with the weirdness.

I will give you, though, that it's sad he never seems to realize that these people were being so open and accepting of him because they cared, not because they were screwed up.

A guy at our church last Sunday had a good sermon on evangelism and speaking in tongues, though. Not funny at all :) But I found it interesting. http://www.austinuu.org/sermon/2008/05/28/understanding-evangelical-christianity/

Suzanne said...

Oops.

http://tinyurl.com/6r59mv

Scott Taylor said...

I don't have a problem with the relatively sane, quiet, and harmless (majority of?) Christians. The loud and delusional contingent though that is in bed (figuratively, and quite possibly literally) with politicians, the ones that preach hate and want to become YOUR thought police. Those hypocrites are about as far from 'live and let live' as it gets. So, infiltrate away, as they have indeed cast the first stone.

M. Robert Turnage said...

I'm not super-forgiving, and I've got an overly developed sense of injustice and revenge. I'm working on both, but slowly.

And this is why I always try to stay on your good side. :)

If folks want to keep their religion private, they need to not inflict it on others. That is a covenant that very few religious folks are willing to keep these days. Mostly because it is built into organized religion to spread the word, convert, convert, convert, so that they can grow larger and more influential.

Agreed, but I think there are large swaths of people who don't evangelize and keep their private thoughts private. We just don't see them because they're... private.

I know Rolling Stone has been called to task for writing a similar story about the San Francisco bondage scene, which is why I used them as an example.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/stephen-elliott/rolling-stone-slanders-th_b_13776.html

My main concern is trying to define the ethical line for journalists. If I were in a rehabilitation facility oor in group therapy for depression, I would not want a reporter there snarking on me, criticizing my weight and generally telling the world how horribly uncool I am.

My issues with the article are not as much the attacks on the church retreat itself, but the attacks on the people attending the retreat,

However, to your point, there are churches and people and groups who prey on the weak and damaged. And, yes, it well within the rights of the journalist to expose these people for what the evil that they do.

I would have liked the article more if it just focused on the organization and indoctrination/brainwashing aspects of it. Maybe even a history of the Christian Zionist movement and how people in Israel aren't happy with it. More history. More context. Maybe a follow-up six months down the road with some of the other attendees about what kind of lasting effect this retreat had on them. SOMEthing a little more substantial an less speculative. (It is as if the reporter says, "I felt like I was brainwashed, so it stands to reason that everyone was brainwashed. And even though I shook it long enough to write this article, those poor bastards will never know the joy and freedom that can only come from a Rolling Stone writing gig. I am awesome!")

Instead, the article seemed to go for cheap jokes at the expense of the attendees.

Hope this helps.