[Marxism] Latest From Joe Bageant

Gilles d'Aymery aymery at ix.netcom.com
Wed Mar 23 07:28:36 MST 2005


Sunday in a red state

By Joe Bageant

If Jesus reappeared on earth tomorrow it would probably be at 
Daytona or a Cracker Barrel Restaurant.
---Punk Wilson, local wiseass


Indeed, Cracker Barrel has to be the most appropriately named 
restaurant chain in America. The last time I entered one with an out-of-
town black friend, nearly all heads turned in unison toward us. My 
friend took one look at the wall-to-wall porky white faces and said, 
"Get me back to the fucking car. I can grab a happy meal on the way 
out of Deliverance." 

Nevertheless, I'd be the first to admit that the food at Cracker Barrel 
is damned good for a chain restaurant 
 authentic white trash taters 
and beans. To be authentic Southern food it has to be inauthentic in a 
trashy sort of way, but still flavorful, if you know what I mean. It's one 
of those things like serving store brand cola with a tomato and 
mayonnaise white bread sandwich in the summer---authentic. 
Anyway, if Cracker Barrel ever perfects a catfish batter the fare will 
be legit honky soul food. 

So I am at a Cracker Barrel on the Virginia/West Virginia line with my 
minister brother following his Sunday worship service this morning. 
Located not far from the church where Brother preaches, the place is 
always jammed on Sundays with pie-and-coffee Christian 
fundamentalists, plus a smattering of  blue-collar Yankee tourists 
down from Pennsylvania to paw over the gift shop's Taiwanese 
hillbilly crafts and rebel flag beach towels. 

The customers, mostly beefy well-scrubbed locals, are shaking hands 
and slapping backs as if they don't see one another three times a 
week in church: "How ARE yall! My, my, my, you look SO GOOD 
Sister Clark!" As much as I love their familiar ways, I'm sorry to say 
that I do not like fundamentalist Christians much. Particularly in 
groups. They tend to pack up like wolves and become hypocritical, 
mouthy and intolerant. It reminds me too much of myself when I'm 
drunk. 

Even after all these years I'm still a bit surprised my little brother is a 
preacher. He's not like that at all---mouthy and hypocritical, I mean. I 
shouldn't be surprised though. We have any number of "brush 
preachers" in our family tree, Pentecostals and Baptists mainly. And 
our parents did meet at a Billy Graham tent revival during the Second 
World War. In my generation of Bageants however, the Holy Spirit 
seems to swell through the decades like a fire shut up in the bones. At 
some point in all their lives it bursts into the flame of conversion. 
Except for me. 

I escaped the Christian life almost 40 years ago to eat LSD, consider 
Buddhism and let a couple of marriages go to hell. Eventually, to my 
family's amazement and relief, I managed to come to rest with a far 
better woman than I deserve, two dogs and high enough blood 
pressure to keep me scared back a respectable distance from the 
scotch bottle.

(#)
My brother's church is what is known as an "independent Baptist 
church." Independent enough of your world and mine that he says 
things like, "I helped cast out my first demon yesterday, Joey. I wish 
you could have been there." Actually, I do too. Independent 
fundamentalist churches are wild and woolly places theologically, 
whose characteristics and belief systems can accommodate just about 
anything "Preacher Bob" or "Pastor Donnie" or preacher whomever 
can come up with from misreading the Good Book. The "clergy" arise 
from within the church ranks and are usually poorly educated. (Hell 
they went to public school in America, didn't they?) This has always 
been true of American fundamentalism since the backwoods stump 
church days, and it continues to provide the nation with charismatic 
literalists whose reading and abstracting ability is minimal to zilch. 
Combine that with 30 years of  Christian school growth, and you can 
begin to understand how we got in such deep shit today
why so 
many states find themselves revamping their educational systems so 
that the fables of Adam and Eve may replace Darwin and we can all 
be reassured that David slew Goliath despite the complete lack of 
evidence of either's existence.

Yet, look across the congregations of these churches and you see 
these aren't bad people. They are neither a minority nor a cult in this 
nation, given their millions, and are simply what the ordinary 
Americans are today---working class people whose interior lives 
were clobbered by the Twentieth Century. Unaware of it as they are, 
theirs is part of a global revival of fundamentalism, which emerged 
when triumphant materialism arrived in the wake of the enlightenment. 
Poor dear enlightenment! So brief! Then smashed by two world wars, 
Verdun, Dresden, Auschwitz, the gulags, nuclear weapons, impending 
ecological disaster
 Not that anyone in this church ever heard of the 
enlightenment.  Two generations of them were raised in Christian 
schools amid the unyielding hostility and fear of the Cold War and 
declining real wages and education. Is it any wonder they are so 
attracted to the Apocalypse both materially and literally? From home 
as they know it in this world, you look out the window what you see 
is the approaching end of the fucking world.

In response, they long ago collected themselves in what amount to 
mental and theological compounds, built thousands of Christian 
institutions and schools and trained two generations for a theocratic 
state. Fundamentalist thinker Gary North announced decades ago, 
"We will train up a generation of people who know that there is no 
religious neutrality, no neutral law, no neutral education, and no neutral 
civil government. Then they will get busy in constructing a Bible-based 
social, political and religious order which finally denies the religious 
liberty of the enemies of God." 

Well, they've done it.

(#)

But returning to the Cracker Barrel
  Brother is attacking his 
meatloaf and pungent, heavily peppered green beans with heart-
warming enthusiasm. Graying and handsome, his dark suit is stylish for 
a preacher in his type of church. It being hunting season, he has 
launched into deer-hunting story. Whenever he feels awkward with 
me he tells a hunting story. Brother uses the same guns our daddy 
used, hell, it's the same ones our grandpap used. Like them, he is a 
hunter who puts at least two bucks and a doe in the freezer every year 
and could probably bring home the same given only a bag of rocks to 
hunt with. If there is a hunting gene, he's got it. Ours is the kind of 
family where the first question asked after the death of a father is: 
"Who gets Daddys' guns?"  Alien as that sounds to many of urban 
folks, millions of Americans will nod and smile at the familiarity of that 
observation from their own family experience. 

Deer hunting is the second religion of many red states and especially 
here in the Blue Ridge. The echoing crack of a distant deer rifle or the 
wild chilly smell of a deer hanging under a porch light bulb on a snowy 
night still bewitches me with the same mountain folk animism it did 
when I was a boy. But I have not hunted in twenty-five years and 
never expect to again. So my mind drifts as he talks of hunting. 
Through the window are bleak gray-brown ridges full of unseen 
hunters. Brother's stalking of souls for Jesus is much like a deer hunt. 
Lots of quiet waiting for the exact moment of truth.
(#)
When I look at my brother, a kind man, an essentially brave and 
hardworking one, exemplary of all those things an American is 
supposed to be, I see that one of the biggest and most overlooked 
political events in America is how millions of people such as him and 
his flock were moved out of the apolitical camp into Christian 
activism. And how, despite all their claims of independence, these 
churches were so deeply shaped by modern zealots of the past thirty 
years. Yet the churches are unaware that the original source of their 
theological ideas is the dark, strange coterie of reconstructionist 
Christians, who want to stone homosexuals, kill disobedient children 
and build a theocratic state through the establishment of "Biblical Law" 
in America. (Go to www.theocracywatch.org or read anything by 
scholar of American fundamentalism Frederick Clarkson.) Via 
Presbyterian oriented educators, the Baptist school headmasters and 
pastors, and the charismatic telecommunications system, the radicals 
have managed to shape hundreds of thousands of Pentecostals and 
charismatic Christians, as well as many fundamentalist Baptists, not 
merely as voters, but as ideological activists for a reconstructed 
"Biblical world view" in government, law, education, the arts and 
foreign policy. As Fred Clarkson puts it: "Whether it is Operation 
Rescue activists called to anti-abortion work because of Francis 
Schaeffer's books, or Pentecostals who responded to the politicizing 
ministry and electoral ambitions of Pat Robertson during the 1970s 
and 1980s, this radical radicalization of Protestants is one of the major 
stories of modern American politics." Watching Brother mop up the 
last of his bean juice with his biscuit here at the Cracker Barrel, you 
would never guess he is at the center of such a storm. Yet he 
understands that he and his kind are at a pivotal point, thought they 
would put it in terms of the hand of Satan in the world instead of 
politics. 
(#)
Lunch over, we head for the door and Brother says,  "Joe, you know 
there is something we're got to talk about --- your salvation." Nothing 
makes me more anxious than when he wants to talk about getting me 
saved. And he wants to talk about it every damned time we get 
together, which for that very reason is not very often. 

"Joe, I don't wanna be up there in heaven with daddy and God 
without you," he says with a pleading look. "Will you be saved?"

"There is time enough for that," I hedge.

"None knoweth the hour," he replies. After thirty years of being jolted 
by this question you'd think I'd have come up with a better answer by 
now. But only one answer will ever satisfy him. We walk outside into 
that kind of cold that makes your face hurt. Brother stops in front of 
his blue Toyota truck. Again that pleading look comes to his brown 
eyes. "I never did finish my deer-hunting story," he says. (It's too 
damned cold out here to be spinning yarns, as far as I'm concerned 
but, then, I've told you about the politeness thing
)

"Wellsir, that ole' buck come into view and this time I know I've got 
him
"

A shudder moves through me. My legs feel limp. 

"That buck looked right at me for the longest time. Square and straight 
on. I could see the sky like heaven in his eyes." Brother's voice is 
rising now.

The icy brown hills undulate around us
a leaden sky presses down 
and down, closer, closer, only to shatter revealing a piercing silver 
canopy. A roar fills my head.

"I raised up Pap's old '94
"

His hand comes to rest on my shoulder, heavy, yet weightless. An 
uncontrollable shaking grips me. The barren leafless ridges now ripple 
like stubbled backs of great beasts and a sharp rising wind groans 
long forgotten passages
I lift mine eyes unto the hills
from whence 
cometh my strength


Brother's face is flooded with a beautiful and terrible awe as he stalks 
on.

"The sights settled right in on his heart
"

I know that right about here you are thinking I got saved. I didn't. 
Instead, I recovered myself rather like a man falling from great heights 
who manages to grab onto that awning on the way down. It happens 
every time. It is being on the edge of the most exalted release, then 
pulling back because it also means the death of self as you know it. 
Would not life be a hell of a lot easier with our past sins, all the terrible 
things that make us wince at their recollection, placed solidly on the 
everlasting shoulders of Jesus? A clean start? 

So does the man who caught the awning on the way down feel even 
one smidgen of relief? Hell no. he just stands there in the parking lot 
uncomfortable as the proverbial whore in church, looking at his 
brother who is choking back his disappointment -- no, not 
disappointment, outright inconsolable sorrow. He is near tears. I grasp 
at the air, trying to lighten things up and, blame it on stupidity, I even 
try to broach the subject lightly.

"One thing for sure little brother," I say. "These near misses got to 
stop. My ole heart ain't what it used to be." 

"Oh, I didn't miss that buck," he says, a rigid grin now locked onto his 
face. "I nailed him at about two hundred yards." As I said, we are 
people who know the subtext but never comment on it. Sometimes it 
can jump right up and thump us upside the head and we still ignore it.

The snow flurries thicken as we say our goodbyes to another distant 
crack of a deer rifle. One more time I, the prodigal brother, have been 
snatched from proffered grace by pride's certain hand. Like the hand 
that pulls the trigger, bringing down the unsuspecting twelve-point 
buck, the hand of pride pulls me back into its own dominion, back 
across the waters of Babylon, a river so deep and wide even blood 
and brotherhood cannot breach it. Who am I to say that hand is not 
best called Satan's? 


Joe Bageant is a writer and editor living in Winchester, Virginia. For 
Joe's "Git down and pound the floor cause it tastes so good" catfish 
batter recipe, email bageantjb at netscape.net. (It's all in the cornmeal, 
folks!) Copyright 2005 by Joe Bageant.






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