• If that story surprised me with an unexpected wave of sympathy for Helen Turrell, this story left me with a similar sense of pity for disgraced former mega-church pastor John Lee Bishop: “The Church of Living Dangerously: How One of America’s Biggest Pastors Became a Drug Runner for a Mexican Cartel.”
Both stories involve unreliable narrators. And both, I think, involve people led astray by their own unreliable narration of their own lives.
That’s yet another story of a “persecuted” hegemon “bravely” preaching anti-gay hate in defiance of the imaginary threat of being sent to prison for this courageous act of … reinforcing the status quo and siding with the powerful against the powerless. Guys like this are con-men, actively and knowingly lying to the rubes in the pews. Yes, Matt Powell’s bearing of false witness against his neighbors is nearly Phelpsian in its dishonesty and contemptuous cruelty, but that doesn’t mean Powell is risking imprisonment any more than it meant that for his role model.
Fred Phelps lived a long, crooked life ceaselessly preaching hate. And he was never arrested for that, never imprisoned. Fred Phelps proved that people like Powell are full of it.
Post-modernity — late capitalism, neoliberalism, what have you — is defined by sublimated theology. How could we claim otherwise after the sacrificial horror of religious violence that was 9/11? We’ve supposedly been at God’s wake for a century-and-a-half now, not noticing that He is over in the corner, nursing a drink and looking at us all with that sly smile of His. Not to beat a dead God, but not only hasn’t religion been exorcized from culture, it’s impossible to even imagine that it could be, because as Meghan O’Gieblyn argues in her excellent new collection, Interior States, to be a “former believer is to perpetually return to the scene of the crime.” Regardless of our individual faiths, we’re all guilty former believers in something.
(David Dark please call your office.)
Tara Isabella Burton interviewed O’Gieblyn for Vox. This exchange, I think, gets at something important:
TIB: You talk a lot about the evangelicalism of the late ’90s and early 2000s. In the past few decades, how have you seen that world change? Where has evangelicalism gone in America?
MO: It’s become much stranger.
I think it has. That’s hard to measure — it could well be that my (and O’Gieblyn’s) perception has changed as much as the thing itself. But I think that over the past 20 years, the “stranger” aspects of white evangelicalism have moved from its periphery to its center. O’Gieblyn goes on to say:
It’s become much stranger, I think, than it was even when I was a Christian. It’s interesting watching the movement evolve now, as an outsider. With the Trump presidency, and the overwhelming amount of white evangelicals who voted for him — that was an incredible disillusionment for me. … It makes it clear that [Christian politics] were about cultural dominance, Christian nationalism, patriarchy, white supremacy. I think the Trump presidency sort of revealed the extent to which maybe Christian politics were always about those issues.
Here’s another interview with O’Gieblyn in the LA Review of Books. I like her sense, here, of “personal testimonies” as a kind of response to evangelical salvation anxiety:
I always thought it would be wonderful to be Catholic, to tell all your sins to the priest and be granted absolution. In Protestantism, there’s no easy assurance — this was basically Max Weber’s thesis: You can never be certain you’re right with God, and this creates an ongoing sense of anxiety. The way we assured ourselves of our salvation, as evangelicals, was by “giving testimony.” Unlike confession, this was a decidedly public form. It was also, implicitly, an argument. You stood in front of a congregation and told the story of your life, emphasizing how God’s grace changed you. Rather than receiving absolution from a religious authority, your story itself was evidence that you were saved.
OK, one more — Min Li Chan interviews O’Gieblyn for Tin House.
• So “Old Town Road” by Lil Nas X has set a new record for streaming music (however they measure that). This happened both despite and because of the recent controversy over Billboard striking the catchy country/trap single from it’s official “Country” charts because “it does not embrace enough elements of today’s country music.”
Critics of Billboard’s decision, including artists like Moses Sumney and Billy Ray Cyrus, say it’s proof that the music industry doesn’t afford black artists the same creative license as white artists. …
Shane Morris, founder of BMD Agency in Nashville, says part of the push back against Lil Nas X wasn’t just related to race. It was also the country industry being afraid of how the rapper emerged; on social media, without going through the Nashville gatekeepers.
This reminds me of arguments I had 30 years ago about why the Rev. Al Green’s 1989 album I Get Joy wasn’t categorized as “contemporary Christian music.” The two-part answer was the same as here: 1) whiteness was an unspoken, but essential, part of the definition of CCM; and 2) “Nashville gatekeepers” — Green was on A&M and not on one of the official sectarian labels in NashVegas.
Anyway, the title of this post comes from “Blue Yodel No. 9” — a 1930 hit for Jimmie Rodgers that features Louis Armstrong on trumpet and Lil Hardin Armstrong on piano and thus, clearly, “does not embrace enough elements of today’s country music.”