At a time in our history when the biggest mouths in Christendom are screaming at the top of their voices that they are oppressed, that our government – more emphatically, our President – is making war on their religion, I am oh so glad that I long ago said goodbye to the fear-mongering and hypocrisy that is monotheism. If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you know that Mommie Dammit doesn’t deny the need for faith. I know that people – all people, have a need to believe in something greater than themselves. It doesn’t matter if you’re a monotheist, a polytheist, a pantheist, an atheist or an agnostic – we all have a need for that something greater that comforts our fears, inspires our hopes, and gives us the need to better ourselves.
I don’t care if its the Christian god, the Muslim god, one or many of the pagan gods, the Flying Spaghetti Monster or a stinky tennis shoe. If that “higher power” drives you to become a better, more caring, less selfish human being then I say “All Hail Nike!”
My grandparents raised me in a fundamentalist Christian home, back when fundamentalism meant you actually read and understood the bible, its history, and its value. They taught me its wisdom and warned me of its follies, that the written word we have today is the product of centuries of men – in all their egomania and fearfulness – putting their interpretation of an oral tradition on paper. They taught me that there was much to learn from the words, but that I had to listen intelligently and with the conscience of my heart to know what was Truth amongst all the detritus.
Today I had a chance to have that lesson brought home to me. I started the day reading the long list of blogs that I wade through over the weekend to catch myself up with what both the angels and the fools have been up to. You know as well as I do that it was more of the same… “Christians are being oppressed”, “Government is making war on religion”, “God hates (enter the target of the hour here)”, and the ever popular “God destroyed/killed/cursed/abandoned (next target here) because this nation tolerates homosexuals/abortion/taxes/Unions/Democrats/Jews… the list is as endless as the putrid gas fueling the hate and ignorance behind it.
Later in the day, after the dishes were done and the laundry well underway, I took the time to watch a movie I’d borrowed from my friend, Terri. The movie was “Mama I Want to Sing”, and, while the cast is mainly made up of B-listers of varying degrees of talent, it was the cameo role filled by Patti LaBelle that originally sparked my interest. When Terri let me borrow it I had no clue as to the story line, the plot, or the characterizations. One read of the back cover and I lost a lot of enthusiasm immediately. It breaks down to a mother/minister (Lynn Whitfield: The Josephine Baker Story) who disapproves of her daughter’s (R&B vocalist Ciara) choice to sing popular music instead of sticking with the choir. The son, Luke (Kevin Phillips), is largely taken for granted and treated as an afterthought – both my his mother and sister, as well as the script. Though they did manage to contrive a storyline for him ¾ of the way through the movie – he goes off to Baghdad to be an “embedded photo-journalist”, and then is kidnapped and killed by terrorists. This, of course, is the catalyst that brings mother and daughter back together and heals the wounds between them. While I’m sure that the producers and writers of this movie had something of an inspirational, feel-good story in mind – I hate to say it, but they failed on both counts. Perhaps if you have the I.Q. of a grapefruit, and the emotional complexity of Sponge Bob they might have succeeded in their aims. Mommie Dammit is no-where near that category. I’m a fucking genius, and five seconds on Dr. Ruth’s couch is all I’d need to have her drooling and needing to change her Depends.
And yet I can’t say that the people behind this movie utterly failed with me, either… after all, they inspired this post. Or rather, two sequences of dialog did. The rest was some of the most over-wrought, contrived, sniveling melodrama I’ve witnessed since I quit watching soaps 30 years ago. I truly hate it when something has the potential to give you a mind-blowing, orgasmic experience but leaves you wondering if there’s enough Viagra on the planet to get it up. Meh! Enough bitching… maybe.
The entire 2 hour ordeal could easily be boiled down to two scenes that comprise a grand total of about 10 minutes of the film. The first is one that is sooooooo on point with all the bile, faked self-pity, hypocrisy and flat-out lies coming from the bully pulpits of Christendom. It is a moment between the mother, Dr. Lillian Winter (Whitfield) and her production assistant, Holly (Shonda Farr).
Lillian: “Lillian Winter does not come back home to New York for a small crowd… I can not build a mega-ministry with empty seats… Too many ministers become bigger than their ministry, too many ministers are being worshiped while their followers should be worshiping God. That is not happening to me.”
Holly: “But it is happening.”
Lillian then gets a look on her face of combined embarrassment and indignation, but is saved from having to make a comeback by a knock at the door. Holly then ruins her moment of Truth by making a horrified (as in “I’m fucked! I need to say something quick, before I’m fired!”) apology, claiming she didn’t mean to be disrespectful. Holly, honey, speaking the truth is the highest form of respect – whether the listener wants to hear it or not. Kissing Lillian’s ego-maniacal, pompous ass would have been disrespectful of the entire planet. Lillian is but a poor dramatization of the problem plaguing the entire realm of monotheistic ministry: that so damned few pastors, preachers, ministers, priests, mullahs, or rabbis truly follow their holy charge – to be humble, modest, charitable, and meek. To teach the tenets of their faith with love, and not to sit in judgment. To show the same love and compassion to everyone, follower and fallen alike. To humble themselves before their god, seek that god in private prayer that is modest and submissive. Instead we get self-serving liars and frauds, child molesters and thieves. The bible says that Christ ran these people out of the temple, condemned them for their hypocrisy and shamed them for fouling the house of god. Then they were called “Pharisees”, today we call them “Evangelicals.” Two generations, amongst the many, who exemplify prayer as thinly veiled blackmail, “Do as I say, God, or I’ll cease to believe in you!” Prayer as hubris.
The second stroke of brilliance, amidst all the drek, was at nearly the end when Lillian has her “epiphany moment” – the moment when she suddenly hears the words coming from her own mouth, and realizes that she is as guilty as “sin.”
She stands before her congregation and begins to preach about how the world needs “God’s love.” She then turns to 1 Corinthians 13:4-13 in which the apostle Paul speaks of Charity, the purest form of love – Lillian uses one of the newer translations, which actually works better for the story line, so I’ll use her version: “Love suffers long, and is kind; love envies not; it does not vaunt itself, it is not puffed up…  Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things…  And now abides faith, hope and charity, but the greatest of these is charity (love).” She then turns to the gospel of Matthew 7:2 for inspiration and says that “We are judged with the same measure with which we judge others… as Christians we have got that bad. We judge others in the church, out the church, around the church, because of the church. We judge others, but we justify ourselves. We judge others, but we make excuses for ourselves…”
I look at these so-called ministers and Lillian’s words resonate like an aftershock. And yet I know that they are as a whisper in the face of the tempest. The baying of the wolves and the bleating of their sheep is far too loud, too strident, and too fearful. The targets of their hatred and bile will continue to suffer and die because of their words, and the hypocrites – like the Pharisees of old – will puff up their chests, jut out their chins, and claim it is the will of their god.
There is more to that chapter of Matthew that the Christianists and their monotheistic ilk conveniently forget. It is the words of their own Christ which condemn them for the fruits of their labor – for the murder, hatred, starvation, poverty, and broken lives left in the wake of their words. “Beware of false prophets which come unto you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits… Every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit… Not every one that sayeth unto me Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven… Many will say unto me in that day Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? And in thy name have cast out devils? And in thy name have done many wonderful works? And then I will profess unto them, I never knew you; depart from me, ye that work iniquity.” (Matt. 7:15-23)