It was a hoot. Being Catholics, we were used to the subdued, scholarly sermons on Sunday that tended to induce sleep. Commentaries on St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans are about all I can remember of them, and nothing of the content. But Billy Graham shook the rafters. I thought he was crazy, yelling "Jeezus!" in every sentence, it seemed, and exhorting the crowd to be "saved." From the Catholic viewpoint he was a blasphemer, using the Lord’s name disrespectfully, and misrepresenting His message.
I still see Billy Graham pretty much the same way, except worse. The fact that he started out as a Fuller Brush man told the whole story for me. Even as a 12 year-old I sensed that he was manipulating the crowd, using intense emotion and melodramatic language to guide them to his message. I didn’t trust the message of being "saved," being secure within the certitude of Catholicism. His friendship with Richard Nixon deepened my suspicion, and the subsequent revelations of prejudicial remarks to Tricky Dick about Jews closed the book on Billy Graham, as far as I was concerned.
Why pick on Billy Graham? Because he’s the best of the lot. "Fundamentalist" evangelical preachers are a sordid bunch, using near-hysteria to rally the faithful and soon-to-be-faithful. They promote a form of spirituality that relies on guilt, shame, intense emotion, and a duality between those who have been "saved" and those who have not. Their reliance on the authority of "the Bible" as edict is juvenile at best, and fosters a heavy-handed manner of propagating the faith. In their followers they promote a docility and learned helplessness that makes them susceptible to con artists and demagogues.
Like the Bush crime family. I just watched "Farenheit 9/11" for the first time, and seeing the Gestalt of the Bush phenomenon packaged together tightly induced a revulsion that is rivaled only by the human dung field I was compelled to use one time in India. Yow! It is still hard to believe the country has been so taken in by this third-rate scam operation. Not one of them – Bush, Cheney, Rove, Rice, Rumsfeld, Negroponte, Wolfowitz, Feith, Cambone, or the newcomers to the gang - are very formidable or impressive people. Yet the corporate elite, the news media, to a large degree the academic community, and almost half the American people are in lockstep with this criminal operation.
That is about to change. Criminal enterprises are always hard things to hold together, and real-world phenomena eventually intervene. A criminal gang that takes over an entire country, and uses religion to garner support, is on especially shaky ground. I have listed before several times the worldwide factors that play against the schemes of the Bush crime family. But what will seal their fate is when the fooled, especially the evangelical Christians, finally see the light, and realize what a criminal folly they have been sucked into.
No one, or at least almost no one, likes to think of him or herself as a criminal or a supporter of criminals. When supporters of the Bush crime family are challenged about their support, they should be challenged on religious grounds. They should be reminded that there is no attainment in supporting murder, maiming, theft, poisoning, torture, destruction, and deceit. All the talk about "End Times," is pretend, no more real than a small child’s imaginary tea party. It is made up, from the ethers, as it were. "Heaven" does not follow "Armageddon." Men, by nature imperfect, wrote the Bible, and it has been translated ever since by other men, all with their own agendas.
But the situation is not binary. "Leftists" tend to see the situation as "either-or," one side or the other, "us versus them," winners and losers, the "good people" against the "others." Shirts versus skins. It's the same with the fundamentalists.
Case in point. Television. I don’t get cable, having worked in that industry, but there is plenty of crude, tasteless, boring, violent, and prurient fare to be had over the air. I watch public television almost exclusively, except for an occasional Simpson’s episode, and even less occasional King of the Hill. I flick on Leno and Letterman from time-to-time for a check-in with mainstream America, but can only take a few minutes of either. I don't like them.
From the "Progressive," "Liberal," "Leftist" point of view, sexual prurience, violence, and crudeness on TV are matters of "free speech," versus "censorship," as if that closes the subject.
As societies have evolved all over the planet they have developed cultures that include drama, dancing, music, story-telling, and ritual, all integrated into the cultures, and providing feedback loops that reinforce and validate them.
Today we have "entertainment." And therein lies the rub. "Entertainment" does not provide a positive feedback loop, does not weave itself into the culture in a mutually reinforcing way, and does not respect the values of different segments of the society.
The reason for this is that "entertainment" is a commercial enterprise. It is done for money. Sexual prurience is used to titillate, and to sell products. Religious fundamentalists do not look at the nature of the prurience because they are as tied to the commercial system as anyone else. They have the added benefit of a constant threat from "others" to rail against. It makes for a negative feedback loop, and it’s the gift that keeps on giving.
This is another example of how we need a new form of dialogue, a new way of looking at things while we still have the opportunity. I gave up playing "cops and robbers" and "cowboys and Indians" when I was small. Is it too much to ask that we, as a civilization, do the same?