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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.


This guy is pretty damn sexy....I found him on you tube! WOW!!!!!
- Jill


It's fitting Mr. O'Brien thinks his driver should be teaching rhetoric at Hunter (where one of my degrees is from). Stump speeches, sermons and dare I say belief of any kind is dependent on rhetoric. Where would The Church be if not for its penchant and skill for frightening people? Where would this administration be if not for the same? It's nice to see Mr. O'Brien's views on our society are as spot-on, pithy and perceptive as his sartorial advice. This is a man worth listening to.

I know it is unfortunate that we cannot employ more people as "intellectuals", but as in any field of employment, the demand for them is limited. I think North Americans need to appreciate the value of education for its own sake rather than something you do to earn the right to a well paying job. I know that our governments need to do much more to make post-secondary education more affordable and to fund intellectual pursuits like the arts, but if education was just about employment, we would be even less educated and even more ignorant.

I was educated by the Jesuits for 8 years and have a great love for the mythology and pageantry of the church, and I guess I'm sort of a hybrid Gnostic Catholic Pagan Rastafarian--but when it comes to politics I'm strictly a deist and I am convinced that God had no part in Bush becoming President of the United States, and I'll go so far as to say that the devil didn't either. I do feel, however, that religion should have nothing to do with politics--there should be a firewall between religion and government. It's hard to oppose shariah and the stoning of gays when you let the bishops excommunicate your senators. As for globalization, I agree that it's one world and we should allow developing countries to develop, but at the same time the U.S. government has a responsibility to protect workers and their families. I'm as agnostic about the faith in the free market as I am about an activist deity.

Glenn, Im a huge fan of yours and a fellow product of Jesuit education. I wonder if there isn't some middle road here - a take thats more nuanced than Bill Maher, George Bush or the mass media can be trusted to provide?

As a Catholic, I have HUGE doctrinal issues with the Church's stance on a lot of things - particularly this Pope's flight from the most enlightened principles of Vatican II... but I still love the spirit embodied by much of Catholic social teaching - the obligation to find solidarity with the least amongst us, the necessity of striving for justice in all things, the imperative to serve rather than subjugate our fellow human beings. And I take the good with the bad - the church's ridiculous stance on birth control comes part and parcel with its noble refusal to countenance the death penalty, or (for the most part) war. Religion - in its most important manifestations is more than the mere "ability to see demons."

And what about the morality of a colonial system that kept us rich and India and so many other nations subjugated as a source for raw material for the industrialized nations? Do Indians have no right to a better job, an education, a standard of living beyond what is necessary to keep our lives comfortable and isolated from them? The fact is, as a commenter above said, globalization isnt perfect, the free market imposes costs on certain people and benefits others to be sure, but maybe it isnt as cut and dry as your post seems to suggest

I'm an avid reader of yours Glenn, but I find an issue with your recent article. Free trade is good for the economy. That is an absolute truth. There are losers in the short term, for instance your driver or the steel workers in Ohio (which I知 intimately aware of being from Cleveland), but, over all, the benefits outweigh the gains. It is an economic fact.

I agree with the idea that a lot of religious leaders make outstanding sermons but the idea that any politician associates with any religion I find ridiculous. Religion is a nice excuse to have pancake breakfasts but no one can make any sort of argument towards it legitimacy. Some people may kid them selves but, frankly, it is not real. I find the idea that a politician is "divinely" influenced down right scary.

Dear Glenn,
I'm a big fan of your writing.
But I disagree strongly with this piece.
while it is indeed sad to see a highly educated person forced to loose his job , forcing him to take a less prestigious occupation, due to competition from overseas, don't you think it is equally -- if not more -- saddening to see people in a country like India remained stuck in poverty just to preserve the status quo in an already super rich country like America?
The fact is, the former programmer still managed to get a job. His old firm probably saves a lot of costs, so hopefully they eventually can hire other, younger people. Meanwhile, the former programmer renders good service, as a driver, to you, so that you can do your job better. This "globalized" (horrible word, I agre) world is not perfect, but it could be a lot of worse. Just ask the North Koreans.

Its good to see that limousine liberals are not yet extinct. This post perfectly exemplifies the prescription put forth by that dying breed: Take a sample size of one, and dictate policy from there. I would suggest that you (and Bill Maher and Richard Dawkins, for that matter) are slightly out of your depth on these issues. I am a fan of yours Glenn, (and Maher's actually) but the mindset betrayed by a rant like this makes me cringe.

The collation between Religion & Politics is always a sticky one. The cliche to never talk about these topics in social setting is true. Because everyone wants to be right. Not so much in the sense of being correct but knowing that some one is playing on the same team. Here is a sermon from the church that I attend. I would like to get your view on this. http://sermons.hopewdm.org/sermons/01%20Mar%2030%202008%20-%20I%20Believe%20in%20God,%20Not%20Organized%20Religion.mp3

I agree with basically all you said. However, anything to do with atheism shouldn't be touched with a 10 foot pole.
Atheism is as flawed and arrogant as Faith, in that one is still saying they are 100% sure of something which they cannot prove.

And I would add that, even though I proudly sit on the far left of the politcal spectrum, I find Bill Maher positively abhorrent, for his blatant arrogance and contempt for the right wing; nothing but Dennis Miller's pinko equivalent (This, without even mentioning the fact that he doesn't tell any jokes in his stand-up routine, either [talking about foreign policy isn't a joke, it's a news story]).

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