Thursday, July 19, 2007

Puritanical Schizophrenia

I live in the Bible Belt South, a region of the country where it is considered perfunctory to inquire openly about such things as church attendance, church affiliation, belief in the almighty, the status of one's soul, and general religious conviction. I've had garbage men, shopkeepers, and bus drivers ask me whether or not I have been saved. In my cheekier days, my response was Sir (or Ma'am), I was never lost.

Perhaps then you can understand how growing up, I always felt this degree of proselytization stifling to a large extent. Indeed, I felt this way for years, but around three or four years ago a Yankee transplant gave me a new spin on it.

She said, It's so freeing to be able to openly discuss your faith. Up north, religion is a private matter and it creates discomfort when someone talks so effusively about his/her faith.

Most people here are Christian by default and often times rejection of Christianity and teenage rebellion come hand in hand. Certainly when I was 16, my own personal mantra was that of Patti Smith, circa 1975: Jesus died for somebody's sins but not mine.

So when I heard about
Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) and his links to a D.C. Prostitution Ring, I really wanted to gloat over it. It's not very Christian of me, certainly, but we humans have a unfortunate impulse to want to kick someone when they're down. As is well known by now, Senator Vitter pushed hard for the impeachment of President Clinton and advanced an agenda heavy on conservative family values. Thus, as we native Southerners know best, though we may all be sinners, it is best not to make one's own imprudence public knowledge.

Those of you who live outside the South may not have the same perspective with which I grew up. Louisiana politicians and Louisiana politics have a long tradition of rampant corruption, going back decades, beginning in the 1930s with Huey Long. New Orleans, pre-Katrina, was considered a city of sin and decadence and yet it seems like we all ended up going there at least once to let down our inhibitions and engage (albeit briefly) in some degree or another of debauchery.

I was reminded of something I read of the satirist David Sedaris, who now lives in France with his boyfriend. Towards the end of his collection of humorous pieces, Me Talk Pretty One Day, Sedaris mentions the native reaction to Clinton's impeachment proceedings. Seemingly everyone in France made a point of mentioning how foolish it was to prosecute a politician merely on private indiscretion. The French viewpoint is rather fatalistic. All men cheat. All politicians are crooked. Why rail against the inevitable?

During Clinton's impeachment, a bumper sticker began making its rounds amongst the good folks of suburbia. With white letters showing prominently against a blue background it proclaimed: Values do matter. Such stickers were as common as those cursed W stickers that I still see adorning automobiles around these parts.

And it's true. Values do matter. That's what we on the left have had to reconcile the past several years. In my opinion, we did it to ourselves. Instead of embracing faith we shunned it as an antiquated relic and began to drift towards nihilism and post-modernism. I am grateful to see politicians like Barack Obama and a few others on the left make open displays of their faith and I believe the trend will continue.

Most people are gullible. Most people are followers. Most people want to believe in something. This is why, over the years, many people have fallen prey to hucksters, tricksters, and Elmer Gantrys. Admittedly, I have rejoiced when the mask is pulled off of hypocrites and deceivers. Such is human nature. I admire the painter Bosch, whose leitmotif in most of his works is human gullibility. One of my favorite works is The Magician, which you can see directly above you.

Rather than bemoaning that fact and decrying it in terms of ain't it awful, let's seek to the best, the most authentic, the most true to our convictions as we can be. Good has a way of shining through in the end, I do believe.

1 comment:

Alicia Morgan said...

I live in LA, but I grew up in Florida, and so I'm very familiar with the 'have you been saved?' query. I don't know if it's still that way anymore, but you were definitely defined by your family's and your church-going habits when I was a kid growing up in Tampa.

It took me a long time to come to my own belief system, along a very circuitous path, but I hope that my Christian faith is a faith that guides me to being the person I believe God wants me to be, and helps me to 'take the log out of my own eye before telling my brother about the speck in his'.