Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Living in Sin

Robert Lanham (The Hipster Handbook), with his 2006 publication The Sinner’s Guide to the Evangelical Right, has created a humorous and pretty smart beacon to shepherd those outside the know into some comprehension of what the “The Base” of the Republican Party is all about. And what the Religious Right is all about, more than anything else, seems to be free market capitalism with a second and third being ushering in the Second Coming of Christ and antigay agendas. The book focuses on a number of the televangelists we can see on many cable channels and internet podcasts in depth and unapologetically. Like most satirical literature, within the tongue-and-cheek jestings there is a great deal of truth and insight making this a more valuable and intelligent book than its title would imply and much of the assessment made on the more famous of the bunch tends to be pretty spot on.

First there is James Dobson. What can you say about this bigoted “Focus on the Family” founder who got his start as a psychologist focusing on, well, the family, other than this man is ridiculous? This nut job, according to Lanham, speaks to former White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove on a regular basis and has had access to privileged government info since Bush came into office. James Dobson seriously hates gays. I mean hates them with such a passion that one would have to think something a bit suspicious is going on there in the old Dobson brain since the thing that which you most hate… as the saying goes. In the film For the Bible Tells Me So, Dobson is spreading his message of antigayness all over the place at a rate that would appear more or less constant and homosexuals an “A-BOMB-A-NATION” which apparently is calling for the government to nuke places like San Francisco where gayery and sympathy is rampant. With his base camp set in Colorado Springs just a stone’s throw away from the Air Force Academy, Dobson runs his ever hating message and eschatological BS to folks that are fighting a crusade against Islamist powers reminiscent of all the other crusades people generally thought were behind us. Now that we have the power to totally anialate ourselves through our WMDs, it seems insane to want to usher in the Second Coming of Our Lord Jesus Christ. But this maniac has political pull and is known to distribute voting guides to churches and members of evangelical Christianity.

But not all of them get involved politically, or so they claim. Joel Osteen, who pastors the absurdly large Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas, says he is beyond all that bullshit since he is all about Jesus and what-have-you. Yeah, I can’t really agree with Lanham on this one, I don’t really think Osteen has some anterior motive have to do with the whole destruction of church and state separation. I don’t think that his ultimate goal is really one of political power; no, his seems to be more financially based. Nor do I really seem him as evil since I really do think that he is furthering the Gospel in a way that is not quite as controversial as people make it out to be. As a Div School student at a supposed liberal Div School, I hear my classmates[1] bash a worldview that most of them are participating in everyday with mommy and daddy paying to fulfill any desire they may have making it pretty easy for them to denounce this shit or that since they don’t make the money that feeds off the human misery which their spending causes.[2]

But, I do think that Osteen is sort of missing the boat here with the core Christian message. What Osteen tells us is that his listeners or viewers or whatever should pull themselves up by their boot straps and make shit happen on their own. While this is pretty accurate as far as it goes, what one should really take from the message of JC is that we should all abolish this money and greed BS in favor of something that is beyond what we are born with which as a megachurch PK, Osteen was. This prosperity crap just confirms my longtime suspicion that richer and more powerful people are happy, better, and more interesting than I am, which, of course, is not something I want from my religion.

While Osteen doesn’t all out ask for money, televangelist and churchwatch.org investigatee Creflo Dollar has no shame and Lanham rips him a new one. He doesn’t run a church so much as a pyramid scheme saying that when you give “God will provide” making things like welfare sort of unnecessary and thus social issues irrelevant. As Lanham makes clear, it is apt that Creflo’s last name is Dollar since that is the only thing that he seems to really care about.

Next on Lanham’s evangelical hit list, is the wildly popular author of The Purpose Driven Life, Rick Warren. I read the purpose driven life a while back and sort of found it helpful but had a few major critiques with the book—namely that Warren’s use of scripture which was almost entirely taken out of context[3] and never cited in text but instead in end notes. This sort of makes the work suspect in my opinion since many times passages are used in the same section that have nothing to do with one an other which together add up to support a given claim that they do not make on their own or in their biblical context. But this work is the best selling work of nonfiction ever.[4] As such, Warren has some political pull since that sort of thing illustrates his influence on what people think and believe and has ministered to people such as George W. Bush, Bill and Hillary Clinton, and Rupert Murdoch. He stress happiness in this life, as Lanham points out, but does not agree with Osteen and Creflo Dollar’s prosperity gospelling, which Lanham does not make clear.

Warren, as reported in Mark Pinsky’s January 2008 Miami Times article “The Gospel of Money”, “is vociferous in his opposition to prominent Pentecostals' embrace of the prosperity gospel,” in which he is quoted as saying “Success in any area often creates a spirit of entitlement – ‘I deserve this’ - that is the exact opposite of servant leadership,” Warren says. “It is evidence of insecurity and low-self esteem. Insecure people show off. Secure people serve.”

Like Osteen, Warren takes no salary from his church because he can afford not to but he has also returned every penny he earned before his success. Not only that but he also refuses to speak for money and one important fact that goes unreported by Lanham is that 90% of the book royalties from TPDL has been given away to charities in what he has termed “reverse tithes,” as reported in the Pinsky article. In that piece, he also says that “the opulent lifestyles of televangelists make [him] sick” as they do Lanham.

What Warren emphasizes instead are the social issues which I agree are at the top of the list of things Christians should be striving to improve. Quite noble, however, he does seem to have a conservative agenda despite claiming to be apolitical-- he has been known to motivate church members to register as voters and sent out 150,000 letters to pastors saying to encourage votes for W in 2004 (56). Plus, Lanham points out, he has some pretty freaky apocalyptic beliefs about actually ushering in the Second Coming of Christ making it a little unsettling that his programs receive more federal funds than any other non-government organizations (58).

Turning back to the megachurches, Lanham makes some of his most articulate and insightful claims. As a corporation that more resembles Wal-Mart than the small town corner congregation, megachurches desire more than anything else to keep growing. Lanham reports that in the 1970s, one megachurch pastor named Bill Hybels became the first pastor to employ market research to figure out how to grow more effectively by “knowing” their demographic. Since Hybels’s success, distinguishing their demographic has been priority #1 for the pastor-preneur and preachers like Osteen have been getting degrees in marketing or broadcasting rather than theology ever since. And as a result of all this research, the megachurch has cultivated a theology that gives their demographic what it wants most.

As social critic and communications theorist Neil Postman makes this all too clear in his extremely popular study Amusing Ourselves to Death, “There is no great religious leader… who offered people what they want. Only what they need. But television is not well suited to offering people what they need. It is ‘user friendly.’ It is too easy to turn off.” In other words, the megachurch pastor/televangelist ends up walking on eggshells so as to shatter their large congregational numbers and continue to grow. They must then avoid “scary religious symbols” like the Cross and refrain from “fire and brimstone” language and remain nondenominational.

Like most televangelists, Warren supposedly has a seeker sensitive style of preaching designed to be general enough not to offend. Thus many stay clear of things like hell fire and eternal damnation and even social problems (as explained above) since anything difficult could alienate the audience; Warren does not, however, ignore such problems and often talks about hell. They use ads and gimmicks to fill up the seats while often times ignoring social issues posing the greatest problems to the global since existence. Such televangelists then pull the old “bait-and-switch” forcing things like antigay and antiabortion agendas that Lanham implies Warren does with the lot of them, something little evidence is given to support.

Evangelicals, to support their antigay stuff as well as anything else they claim, partake in what is commonly referred to as “picking-and-choosing” which Bible passages suite their needs and use that as evidence to denounce this or empower that. Skillfully employing this practice, in the late 1970s, pro-business republican became synonymous with evangelical because of this. For example, many evangelicals will say “The Bible says ‘an eye for an eye’” while ignoring “Thou shall not kill” which they use to support the death penalty but then they will quickly quote that particular commandment in protest of abortion rights.

To the sinner, Lanham then introduces the most powerful evangelicals in what is and evangelical role call that identifies them, says what they believe, and what kind of influence they have politically. Some of those discussed: Philip Anschutz (the multibillionaire owner of Walden Media that is responsible for the “Narnia movies”, primary share holder of Regal Entertainment, named the nations “greediest executive” by Fortune magazine), Michael Gerson (nicknamed the scribe by W, became a Bush policy advisor in 2005, convinced Bush it was a good idea to call the war on terror a crusade, coined the phrase “axis of evil”, and said “Just because some don’t get it doesn’t mean it’s a plot or a secret” when responding to allegations of Bush using religious code words in his speeches which is so stupid it practically drools), Jim Bakker (exposed as a phony and did time for fraud and conspiracy, opened a Christian theme park called Heritage USA, married Tammy Faye), the infamous Pat Robertson (good God where to begin, the 700Club host, ran for president, is totally insane, will be remembered as the most important evangelical leader of our time, said that homosexuals “want to come into our churches and disrupt church services and throw blood all around and try to give people AIDS and spit in the faces of ministers”, God help us), Billy Graham (most popular evangelical preacher ever who has advised every president since Eisenhower, pretty inclusive as far as he goes, thought Hillary would make a good president) and son Franklin Graham (his inept piss and vinegar son who is also a minister), Jerry Falwell (the famous fucking fat bastard who started Liberty University and pretty much hated everybody, God smote him down a year ago so we wouldn’t have to hear anymore shit about gay kids’ shows or stuff like after 9/11 when he said “ I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way, all of them who have tried to secularize America. I point the finger in their face and say 'you helped this happen'”[5]), Luis Cortez (idiot Hispanic televangelist who said “this is what I tell politicians… you want an endorsement? Give us a check, and you can take a picture of us accepting it”), Paul Crouch (a gay bashing evangelical who turns out to be, you guessed it, gay), Benny Hinn (exclusively in ministry for the money), T.D. Jakes (supposedly apolitical minister of the largest black megachurch in the U.S. who was the keynote speaker at Bush’s National Day of Prayer), Joyce Meyer (Tammy Faye wannabe televangelist who actually said—I shit you not—“make your checks payable to Joyce Meyer Ministries/Life in the Word. And million is spelled M-I-L-L-I-O-N”), Jay Sekulow (Jew for Jesus who heads the conservative answer to the ACLU—the American Center for Law and Justice), Ralph Reed (oh this asshole is going to hell), and Jimmy Swaggart (televangelist who had the infamous breakdown on television after getting his rocks off with a prostitute and said “if one [a gay man] ever looks at me like that, I’m gonna kill him and tell God he died”).

5. Ted Haggard/Evangelical Vatican City
Oh my Lord. Unfortunately, the Sinner’s Guide was published a couple of years before the incredible downfall of Ted “the Duke of” Haggard; but still, Lanham manages to make the Duke look like the absurdity that we now know he has been all along as he turns to this evangelical and what has been termed “the Evangelical Vatican City” of Colorado Springs, CO. The facts about Haggard, which one would have to hope are outdated since he has proved to be a hypocrite in his antigay ramblings after getting forcibly tossed out of the closet by his long time male escort for his deep (and I do mean deep) affinity for purchasing hot man-on-man-meth-enhanced-pillow-biting action breaking at least two federal laws as well as numerous unwritten evangelical ones, is that he talks to W every Monday giving him an unknown amount of influence on legislation and that he really, really hates gays. Jimmy Kimmel (of ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel Live) seems to have hit the nail on the head when said “This is a good rule for life: Look for whoever is the most against anything and you can almost guarantee they are that something they are against. The guy who devotes his life to fighting gay rights is gay. The guy working to pass the laws against child pornography is sending sex messages to teenage interns.” The point of this is pretty clear and often tends to be true: guys like Haggard who appear way too opposed to any issue or lifestyle to be human possible must be treated suspiciously and often have those overtly overcompensation type reasons for being so anti anything.

It is difficult here not to relate any Haggard self hating gay jokes since he is such an asshole and has been so vocal about the sinfulness of homosexuality. I mean, what kind of a person hates what he is so much that he would make the number one group that he puts all his energy into depriving of supposedly God given rights is actually the group he secretly identifies with and finds himself a part of. People really thought he hated gays, and following his bigoted rants, the people who listened to him and had misguided trust in what he was saying as being true, he brought others into his hateful nook and cranny. He put true meaning into a fight that is all about flagrant injury to fellow human beings. The message he spread is toxic and hurtful and noxious. And for all his maniacal moralizing, he couldn’t live up to his own code of heterosexual conduct. Oh fuck it. The Sunday after Haggard was caught paying a gay male prostitute for sex, his congregation, clearly shocked, wanted an explanation because he had always been such an outspoken critic of gay matrimony. In defense, Haggard exclaimed “Hey! It’s not like I married the guy!”[6] With stuff like this, Haggard has no doubt learned that when you claim moral high ground and you fuck up by exposing yourself for what you truly are, you are going to be portrayed as idiotic, your supporters irrational, your denials comical, your apologies ludicrous, as you are mocked and humiliated and parodied seemingly without end with your entire outraged oration unmasked as the sanctimonious bullshit that it has always been. Such was the case with “the Horrible Haggard” and so it will always be; as Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Bakker can verify, once that holy-than-thou persona is invalidated, there is no relegitimating that fragile trust that their transgressions have shattered. Mass media giveth, mass media taketh away.

Haggard, who implores his evangelical listeners to not do anything “weird”, sure as hell shot that to shit. Forgetting all the stuff I just mentioned which honestly doesn’t really have much to do with this review, pretty much all we have seen of Haggard is him doing something weird. For example, Lanham, illustrating a Haggard oddity, sites the reverend’s appearance on Dateline when he Barbara Walters she was going to Hell on national television, bitched about some fictitious liberal tyranny while being obvious about his goal to influence political legislation, and also swore that “God is not a peaceful God” numerous times evidently confusing Jesus with Kali from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom or something (plus stuff I am not even going to get into about his outdated fanatical support of Trickle Down Economics which makes me think “What?”).

In this chapter detailing Haggard’s antics, Lanham also recounts his journey to the city Colorado Springs nicknamed “the Evangelical Vatican” where Haggard and Dobson call home base. In your reviewer’s opinion, at no time is Lanham more on point or more hilarious as he is when relating this pilgrimage to the evangelical headquarters which sounds just awful, I mean just awful, as a place to live. The pamphlets passed out by one Christian organization asks it’s barer to ponder the question “If you were to die today, do you know where you’d spend eternity?” and Lanham pleads to God that it won’t be Colorado Springs. Their itinerary here should clue you in (128-132):

Evil Shenanigans in Colorado Springs: Lanham and his group of godless pagans walk the mean streets of CS where they are advised by evangelical well-wishers to avoid downtown CS and the neighboring town Manitou like the plague since both are apparently filled with “sex fiends, drunks, and drug addicts,” which they took as an endorsement after too much megachurch hours logged. This promising news, however, was ill-advised as their “vodka-paved tour” of downtown was met be more evangelizing. After leaving a dance club with a frat-boy-and-date-rape theme, Lanham and crew dump into “Jesus fiends” instead of the elusive sex ones that no one can ever seem to find. Bummer. They then reluctantly accepted some church literature which they might as well have been saying “here, you throw this away” but the lack of sex starved chicks with drugs were no where to be seen.

Tour of Focus on the Family: Visiting the home of the Pope, Dobson’s Focus on the Family, Lanham describes the building’s contemporary architecture as a hybrid with the theme being a blend of an “elegant Citibank Corporate office” that meets Six Flags in one unholy marriage of indecent tastes; evidently, the place feels more like a mall than anything else—it has its own bookstore with a book titled (no kidding) Really Bad Girls of the Bible, a movie theater playing continuous loops of W’s greatest moments (?), and a three-story children’s slide strategically positioned (this is not bullshit as it turns out) next to the buildings antiabortion and antigay initiatives. The art that hangs from the walls throughout is really just kitsch by this guy G. Harvey described by some as “Norman Rockwell meets Hallmark” and looks to me like that repellent hotel-art-type that is just so bad and stupid it actually makes your head hurt you think about how shitty it is so much it is so bad and stupid. An example of one titled Early Boston Market that reminds me of something from the work of Pam in The Office that only Michael would love is incredibly bad. Other Harvey paintings have names like Genteel Nation and 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue that are just as bad and insipid as this one. They are just bad. Anyway, the tour’s apex comes after giving the FF history stuff, is visit to the recording studio found right there on the compound. We are told that plenty of shitty little name approriations are deployed for names of different areas of the compound like the “Chapelteria,” where visitors socialize, pray, and feast on the stuff evangelicals eat. In this auspicious room, there is a hole that is visible for all to see that eventually leads to a bullet that stands a reminder of the time a guy came in to the FF Center and went postal: taking hostages and what have you.

Debriefing: Apparently, Dobson’s people run a paranoid ship as the group was stopped before they were able to slither away by his PR manager, one Gwen Stein (sounds awfully Jewish to me Pope Dobson), when she was notified, presumably by the Holy Spirit, that there were reports in their midst. After being questioned about the “perspective” of his research, he ballsidly asks for an interview with good old JD. Piss-and-vinegar not withstanding, the PR lady tells him that Dobson “chooses to do the press that best promotes the beliefs of his ministry.” So, unfortunately, until he gets caught with his dick in some guys ass or does something otherwise detrimental to his image, he is going to come out looking like he doesn’t have a direct pipeline to Hell.

Getting the Fuck Out of Dodge: On their way out the door, after receiving the standard “God bless you”—which, like “aloha,” means hello and good-bye in Christianese—the group was approached by some old broad on their tour who was probably like every crazy old lady you saw talking about their screwed up theology of retribution and God’s Will taking one of her kid’s life because it was his plan to make her stronger and they should elect Benny Hinn President and only God knows what else that you ever saw. Turns out, she too wanted to know what perspective their book was going to take. They responded with vagary, telling her it was going to be “comprehensive.” This wasn’t the correct answer.
Flailing about wildly, she barks that “There is only one perspective. Christian and not Christian,” and then she probably, I don’t know, ascending into heaven or something. Or more likely, as indicated by the flailing, she was possessed.

6. Tim LaHaye/2nd Coming of Christ
Turning his sinning stare to the incredibly shitty evangelical writer Tim LaHaye, who has crapped on our literary tastes with the apocalyptic Left Behind series which in the little I have viddied, am able to surmise that the man has constructed a large body of work that proves little more than an encyclopedic example on how not to write an English sentence. In this blasphemy, LaHaye tells of the rise of the Antichrist and the resulting Rapture where fundamentalist Christians are magically taken up to Heaven via Tinkerbelle Jesus who sprinkles pixy dust on those who buy, read, and believe this absurd reading of the opinions of some guy.

Despite his incessant literary output that is equivalent to me putting shit to paper just after defecation and insanity, he unfortunately found the time to architect the Moral Majority with other notable shit-for-brains and founded the political group Council for National Policy attempting to abolish the separation of church and state. He doesn’t think that women should work but rather should be a good Christian wife and cook him dinner or whatever. However, LaHaye doesn’t really have his wife in check like he should since she heads a Christian antifeminist movement that is working to set women back to the dark ages. Maybe he should take her to the back porch overlooking the plantation, fetch a good switch for spanking, and teach her a lesson. But I am sure that she assures him that once her mission is complete and woman are once again property without any of those pesky civil liberties, she will gladly go back to the kitchen and shut her fucking mouth once and for all. While I would normally whole-heartedly support anything that would get LaHaye’s cum dumpster to just shut the fuck up, I believe that women are more than just subhuman. The scariest and hardest book to get out of your head written by LaHaye, so terrifying that once read (so I am told) is like there haunting you for all time, happens to be coauthored by this bitch-from-hell wife of his Beverly. The book, (Why Lord?) is titled The Act of Marriage and is a self-help guide (The horror! The horror!) of the couple’s formula to sexual (GOD NO!!! NO!!!) satisfaction which is more than enough to make anyone throw up. I can think of no better advise given by JC in light of this than “tear out [your eye] and throw it away” (Matthew 5:29).

Plus, LaHaye has got to be clinically paranoid; he pretty much hates everybody and says enough hateful things to offend us all. Don’t fool yourself just because you believe in this mythical, non-biblically Rapture; he hates you too. Some of the groups LaHaye’s tirades alienate include homosexuals (no shocker there), Jews, Muslims (surprise surprise), the wicked (code for liberals), women who work, Catholics, and non-fundamentalist evangelicals. Fuck it, the man is insane. Yet some believe his work to be gospel (It is unclear to me how literally you should take this last statement of mine [that people take this as gospel—a.k.a. good news—truth, not to be confused with I-don’t-know-how-factual-you-should-consider-the-Left-Behind-books-to-be since it is antireal and antichristian and wrong] which itself scares the hell out of me [again not the Rapture because I see no evidence to suggest that Jesus ever even remotely referred to this event] to even think about).

So where does he (or anyone for that matter) come up with all this Rapture shit? Uh… the Scofield Reference Bible, maybe, fun fact/reality check LaHaye, no King James Version or New Revised Standard Version ever once mentions the Rapture. That’s right, it’s not even in the Bible, this Rapture thing. So by fundamentalist logic, wouldn’t that mean if you believe in Rapture you are going to Hell to burn with Gandhi and Mohammed? And by the way, Calvin and Luther would be appalled.

7. Paul Weyirch
LaHaye’s homey is up next for Lanham to take down a peg or two. But with the wheelchair bound Paul Weyirch, that is damn near impossible to do since this man’s machine half is pretty solid. Like most evangelicals who support W and those conservative fuckers in power, Weyirch believes there is a vast liberal conspiracy out to get him headed by Hillary Rodham Clinton who is trying desperately to run shit (coming up is what I think is the real reason Hillary want just fucking concede already like everyone wants her to) so she can push Weyirch down the stairs of Capital Hill to watch him tumble comically on his face a la Walter style in The Big Lebowski, which after learning about this evangelical Dr. Strangelove, actually sounds pretty sweet. But instead of this happen, fulfilling what has become my number one desire since making it up twenty seconds ago, Weyirch counters by creating a rightwing conspiracy which is sort of factually discussed by Lanham.

Facts about Weyirch are he is Catholic but still has love for the Protestants who dissed his beloved RCC beginning with Luther and continuing to this day, he was integral (along with LaHaye) in founding the CNP, created the Religious Right, and believes that God is a republican. Fuck this guy. I can’t even talk about this asshole without getting all worked up and pissed off so just take my word for it that Lanham lays it on thick with his Weyirch critique that was more than deserved (the guy has ties to the Nazi Party for fuck’s sake).

8. Rob Bell/Emerging Church

This quasi-liberal sure as hell gets one thing right on the money—Christian rock is an abomination. He wants to make the church relevant again and he wants to do it with crappy gimmicks or messages of hate. He goes so far as to say that Focus on the Family is toxic to the Christian message and that is tragic; he is batting two-for-two here. The church should be countercultural not an extension of the mainstream. There shouldn’t be distinction, in Bell’s theology, between the religious and the secular in ways that label one and the other bad—salvation means universal harmony. I believe, however, above all else, Bell wants to be “hip” which is probably the reason why he went on record for a guy who wrote a book called The Hipster Handbook. Bell isn’t alone out there, there are others who are doing the Christian Left thing like Jim Wallis and apparently BioDome star Billy Baldwin—Good Lord. But doesn’t Baldwin’s skateboard ministry seem pretty gimmicky? And for that matter, doesn’t all of Bell’s hey-look-at-me-being-cool stuff seem pretty gimmicky? Lahan doesn’t go into the irony about this, which is legion, instead focusing on Bell’s conservative stance regarding homosexuals since he isn’t as forward thinking enough to think gay-marriage is an acceptable institution. Too bad, until this stuff is brought to light, Bell is batting a thousand. I guess he is just better than the alternative.

Speaking of which, did you know there are such things as evangelical videogames, comic books with the hero (I shit you not) Bibleman, and Bible-zines with questions on their covers reminiscent of Cosmo with a Jesus flair like “Top 10 Ways to Please Your God!” which makes me just want to throw up. That is just awful. I mean awful. Well now you know I guess.

Postscript/Mark Driscoll/Evangelical Quiz and Dictionary
But the craziness doesn’t stop there, there is now a newer rightwing church bringing youths over to the dark side in a sort of back lashing answer to the Emerging Movement. This guy Mark Driscoll, who is universally hated among my div school friends, is at the forefront of this shit. He claims to hate the term fundamentalist and thinks fundamentalists of any sort are dangerous but ends up being one when you come down to it since he believes in the inerrancy of the Bible. FYI, another guy in this camp is the guy who brought you the Dominos Oreo Dessert Pizza Mustache, owner of Dominos, and founder of Ava Maria University Tom Monaghan. Yeah, what a guy.

My Assessment

Although Lanham does seem to know his Bible thumping shit specks and is for the most part pretty funny, there are two and a half complaints I have with the book none of which are theologically or politically based. The first of these complaints is the one that only gets a half complaint status and it has to do with jokes that never take off the ground or explode midway through their run in a way that makes the reader cringe. While many of the book’s jokes are life-out-loud funny, the ratio of side splitters to totally bombs are just about 1:1. (At first I tried to keep track of duds like “Pass the sweet-‘n’-sour sauce. These McOsteen Nuggets is Yum-Mee,” when Lanham satirizes the franchising of megachurches, but they eventually became so frequent that it seemed like a huge waste of time to even bother.) But, as we all know, they can’t all be winners. The second complaint is the artwork that literally liters pages and looks something like a cross between Mad Magazine and shopping mall airbrushed tee-shirts. One of the only things I find creepier than rightwing evangelicals would be caricatures that resemble the ones people try to sell of Tupac holding hands with Christ and Scarface people always try to sell you on the street of any big city. Needless to say, I could have done without the visuals. But the most annoying thing about the book were the two cents thrown in by the “Cast” consisting of everyday evangelicals and one “Devil Rocker” named Ronnie James Dio who was apparently in Black Sabbath with Ozzy, and like the five “true to God” evangelicals, offers little insight that supports any of the claims Lanham makes in Sinner’s Guide. These “so whats” as I call them were basically the equivalent to popups that are one of the few things pretty much universally agreed upon as a serious pain in the ass.

Those things aside, I did find the book pretty helpful in teaching the laymen about this fringe group that has hijacked national policy and station airtime. As a divinity student writing a research paper on rightwing televangelists discussed in great detail in the book, I found most of the facts presented in it to be accurate if only a bit out of context. His sources are surprisingly good and he at times is extremely entertaining. If you can stomach the cheesiness of it, there is a great deal to learn from this book and from the website that furthers the study of this radically bizarre theocracy advocating religious minority.

[1] All of whom are extremely rich and accustomed to that lifestyle I want to point out.
[2] Don’t get me started.
[3] Which it should have been grammatically and referentially and makes the most since one would sort of think.
[4] Unless you are a fundamentalist Christian in which case that would be the Bible.
[5] For the entire Falwell and Robertson post 9/11 insanity, visit http://www.commondreams.org/news2001/0917-03.htm

[6] As a public figure made to look ridiculous by his own doing, the late night talk shows are true to form in exploiting Haggard’s ridiculous. If you are interested, here are some of the better shots taken by late night pundits.
Jon Stewart of Comedy Central’s The Daily Show jests “Haggard, president of the 30 million member National Association of Evangelicals, resigned his post this weekend after a three-year relationship with a gay hooker. And he also used and purchased crystal meth. Because if you're the head of a gay-hating organization and you're having a gay affair, why not go nuts?” and “Haggard was exposed by a male escort named Mike Jones, who said he was troubled by the hypocrisy of Haggard's public support for a Colorado initiative to ban same-sex marriage. And you know you're in trouble when you've ceded the moral high ground to a drug-dealing prostitute.”
The unfairly (in my opinion anyway) treated network television martyr and notorious liberal host of HBO’s Real Time, Bill Maher tells his audience that Haggard “resigned because a gay male prostitute said that he and the reverend had been having lots of meth amphetamine-fueled sex. Now the reverend did the Christian thing earlier this week and denied it. Now he says, ‘Okay, I did hire a gay male prostitute, but only for a massage.’ To which Mark Foley* said, ‘I’m even calling this one bullshit.”
A slew of quips from NBC’s Tonight Show host Jay Leno: “Haggard released a statement saying he's a deceiver and a liar. See to me, I think it's way too soon to announce you're going into politics”, “Haggard ... has compared his gay sex scandal to John Kerry's botching of a joke last week. You think they're the same? To be fair, they both involved a slip of the tongue”, “Haggard, who has close ties to the Bush administration, has resigned as president of the National Association of Evangelicals after a gay male hooker said he had a three-year paid relationship with him. In fact, this is such a huge crisis for Republicans they are now offering John Kerry $1 million to tell another joke,” and “They say (Haggard) used church funds to pay for the male prostitute. That's like robbing Paul to pay for Peter.”
But, as has been the case circa October 2005, the most damning and critical comments came from Stephen Colbert as a satirical “defense” saying “Do you know how stressful running a megachurch is? It is mega-stressful. And he is supposed to get a massage from a woman? Any kinesiologist will tell you big muscular men get deep into your tissues, women don’t have the strength, getting a massage from a guy doesn’t make him gay, it makes him an educated consumer. Men know what men like. And as for the meth, I buy that stuff all the time and toss it out. To get it off the street and protect the kids.” I could literally go on days.

* This reference and the one made by Jimmy Kimmel has to do with the former U.S. Republican Congressman from Florida Mark Foley, who was one of the foremost opponents of child pornography serving as chairman of the House Caucus on Missing and Exploited Children. An all-round, world-class fuckhead, in 2006, Foley was accused of sending email and text messages to a former underage male Congressional page asking his for his age and photos. Freaking the hell out of the kid, he forwarded the emails to congressional staffers. The staffers proved useless as congressional staffers are wont to be and claimed they were innocent and Foley’s only crime was being “too friendly and too engaging” with the boy. Way to blame the victim there. The page remained unconvinced of Foley’s seraphicism forwarding yet another email during Hurricane Katrina asking “how are you weathering the hurricane…are you safe?” Innocent, sure, but then the email immediately takes the creepy turn telling him to “send [him] an email pic of you [sic] as well.” Responding as many an angsty teen would, the page replied by typing the word “sick” five or six times to get the old pederast off his youthful back. When the allegations went public, Foley claimed that his office has a practice keeping a photograph on file of pages who desire recommendations, which what the hell is that, but when another page came forward with more sexually explicit Foley requests, he was thoroughly fucked and in that sort rock-and-a-hard-place situation, it is either admitting to perversion/resignation or swallowing a bullet (if not both). So Foley is both an idiot and a terrible liar among other things.

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