Is It Time to Put the Pastors Out to Pasture?
In the magazine world we have a lot of appointments, and it's hard to get around in this town. There's incredible traffic, what with all those sight-seeing buses and rickshaws and billboard trucks. And with our state-of-the-art city planners there are always improvements that haven’t quite kicked in—like the redesign of Houston Street and its eternal construction, which has traffic backed up from the West Side to the East River; or the new bus lanes on Broadway downtown, which have yet to show any improvement in traffic (maybe because the police have the right lane of Broadway blocked, while they ticket everyone with the temerity to move out of the left-side gridlock into the totally unoccupied right side of New York’s most famous avenue). And so magazine editors take a lot of Town Cars.
These are better than taxis because they pick you up and drop you off where you want, and they wait for you. They rarely curse you or try to overcharge you, and the cars are usually not too smelly and, even if it seems like the driver is suicidal, he will usually slow down if you ask. So we get to know a lot of these drivers.
Today I had an interesting guy. I knew he was different right off because he looked like a college professor. He had the classical music station on, and in the back-seat pocket he had The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the latest issue of The New Yorker. He was quiet and careful (a little too methodical, I’d say, because I had to wait while he wrote out where I was going), not a speed demon like the former Soviet Socialist Republic guys I usually have, who are getaway drivers, geniuses at getting you to your next appointment on time. This guy, I’m sorry, was a bit of a nerd. He was just the wrong guy for the job.
Anyway, I had many stops on this day and so I wound up talking to the guy. Turns out he’s a white-collar professional who was a computer programmer until his job was sent to India when he was 55 years old, along with every job in his department at a Wall Street firm. He studied philosophy and comparative religions and has a degree in biology. He seemed like he should have been teaching rhetoric at Hunter College or molecular biology at City College. But he didn’t have any education courses and he’s got a teenage son studying music, so he’s got to work. There are guys like this driving cabs and flipping burgers and selling underwear.
Things like this make you think there’s really something wrong somewhere. It’s a waste. I asked him if he was supporting Obama, since McCain is a free-trader and, despite denials, the record shows that Clinton backed free-trade agreements until it became inconvenient for her campaign. This fellow complained that Obama hadn’t talked about it much. I suggested that perhaps this was because all the media wants to talk about is the record of Obama’s ex-pastor back in Chicago, or else the “bitterness” thing, about lost jobs driving people to the church or their guns and the issues surrounding them. Nobody in the press wants to talk about the real issues—it starts at the top with despicable panderers like George Stephanopoulos and Charlie Gibson and trickles down to the morons who write letters to the tabloids.
The fact is that Barack Obama, like just about every other politician, goes to church. The things that are said in church are often outlandish and over the top. There’s nowhere, not even in Congress, where hyperbole works better than in church. Generally speaking, Christian sermons are dramatic and drama relies on overstatement.
Overstatements like: “God damn America…” in a sermon dealing with the drug epidemic in black communities and the mass imprisonment of young black men. Or: “We bombed Hiroshima, we bombed Nagasaki, we nuked far more than the thousands in New York and the Pentagon… and we never batted an eye. We supported state terrorism against Palestinians… and now America’s chickens are coming home to roost.”
Inflammatory? Sure. But that’s what preachers do. They take a grain of truth and blow it up until it inflames.
The reaction to Wright is really about the fact that he talks about things that one is not supposed to mention. But that’s what pastors do. I think you’d be hard pressed to find anyone pastoring to a politico who hasn’t said or done some stupid shit.
Hillary Clinton’s former pastor, William Procanick, is serving a three-year sentence for inappropriately touching a 7-year-old girl. John McCain proudly accepted the endorsement of Pastor John Hagee, who calls the Catholic Church “the Great Whore” and he has blamed Hurricane Katrina on God’s wrath over a homosexual parade scheduled for that city.
Our current president was put up to running by his pastor, the Reverend Mark Craig, who hooked him by telling the story of Moses and the burning bush (Exodus 3-4). And I suspect that Bush’s extraordinary immunity to criticism might be rooted in a bible verse he often cites, and no doubt picked up from Reverend Craig: “With me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. I do not even judge myself. I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart…” (I Corinthians 4:1-5)
What Jeremiah Wright talks about seems kind of reasonable compared to God’s divine choice of George W. Bush as our infallible President. But speaking of infallibility, how about the biggest pastor of them all? Recently the U.S. Department of Homeland Security admitted to the United States Joseph Ratzinger, a former Hitler Youth who now goes by Pope Benedict XVI, who was once involved in covering up child abuse by Catholic priests in the U.S. and who now preaches that it’s okay for Catholic clergy to excommunicate political leaders who support abortion rights and, presumably, birth control. Such as former presidential candidate John Kerry. It’s funny how we can allow a foreign head of state who believes in the supremacy of divine law as much as any Shariah-preaching Islamic dictator to visit this country in an election year and mess around with the electorate.
Meanwhile the United States denies entry to artists like Amy Winehouse, author Sebastian Horsley, singer Cat Stevens, rapper MIA, the Israeli singer Rita, the band The Field, five Cuban Grammy award winners, dancehall star Mavado, and Emma Louise Jordan of the Ballett Freiburg. Of course, discriminating against artists is a U.S. tradition and during earlier repressive regimes Graham Greene, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Dario Fo, and Pablo Neruda were turned back at the Statue of Liberty.
It’s rotten, what’s going on, and it’s all in the name of ignorance. How dare Obama say that people without jobs are bitter and turn to religion? How dare the pastor, whom he’s been forced to denounce, suggest that the United States ever did anything wrong? The mass media knows a good circus when it sees one, and its Barnum-like tendency is to stir up hysteria rather than appeal to reason.
I grew up in Ohio. I made money for college by working in the blast furnace division of Republic Steel. Steel once accounted for about a third of the jobs where I grew up. Today those mills are closed. Throughout this country whole industries have been wiped out as America transitions to a “service economy.” Whom do we service? That’s a good question. Maybe it’s debt that we service. But I know that when intellectuals are chauffering Town Cars because their jobs were shipped to India to save $20,000 a year, there’s something essentially wrong with the system. I actually think Mr. Obama would like to talk about these issues, but it’s tough when the media doesn’t cares what the candidate thinks, but what his preacher thinks.
I’m hoping that Bill Maher’s new film Religulous, which comes out this summer, is the An Inconvenient Truth of 2008. Maybe he’ll get a Nobel Peace Prize for pointing out that religion is the bait and switch that’s been for deluding the people for the last few thousand years. Funny, but my driver whose job went to India is very interested in religion even though he himself is not religious. He highly recommended Richard Dawkins’ book The God Delusion, as well as his book The Selfish Gene. The driver prefers Dawkins to Christopher Hitchens’s God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. From his reading my driver thinks that religion is an innocent error, being a biological system of visualization which developed as a survival mechanism and which has outlived its usefulness. The ability to see demons, he says, might have made a child growing up in a hostile environment more likely to survive. He thinks that these instincts may eventually disappear. Perhaps they will be replaced by instincts that lead to taking teaching courses in case one’s industry is moved to the third world.