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"The national government will maintain and defend the foundations on which the power of our nation rests. It will offer strong protection to Christianity as the very basis of our collective morality. Today Christians stand at the head of our country. We want to fill our culture again with the Christian spirit. We want to burn out all the recent immoral developments in literature, in the theatre, and in the press--in short, we want to burn out the poison of immorality which has entered into our whole life and culture as a result of liberal excess during the past years."
--Adolf Hitler

It is between 50 and 60 years since I read it [the Apocalypse], and I then considered it merely the ravings of a maniac, no more worthy nor capable of explanation than the incoherences of our own nightly dreams.
--Thomas Jefferson, letter to General Alexander Smyth, Jan. 17, 1825

Let us bow our heads and pray, bruthahs and sistahs, for the dearly departed soul of the Rev. Billy James Hargis. The good reverend has left the room after a valiant struggle with seeeee-yin, Old Scratch oh for zip. Some of you students of the antics of Christian nut-jobs may remember Rev. Hargis, a monstrous, sweaty man with a fervid imagination and an eerie resemblance to J. Edgar Hoover, except with a prettier mouth and an even wilder imagination. His big caper: Releasing thousands of scripture-bearing hot-air balloons (a fleet of little, bitty Rush Limbaughs) into the USSR. Alas, Rev. Hargis' ministry blowed up when he admitted he had been engaging in the fine old tradition of Prima Noctae, that is, tapping new brides before the grooms got a shot at it. Nothing wrong with that--tradition being a touchstone of conservatism. Problem was, Brutha Hargis was doin' the grooms as well. (Shudder.) www.postfun.com/pfp/features/97/oct/hargis.html

Hargis joins a long list of frauds/lunatics who have been undone by the temptations and eeeee-veal that walk this earth. The good news is that Hargis is asleep in the arms of Jayzus; speaking the right babble will get you out of almost anything in the murky world of charismatic evangelism, where good acts will not guarantee you a seat on the Holy Express, but if you admit you are a sinner and that you're really, really sorry, you can screw chickens and it's all forgiven. www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2004/137/52.0.html

Well right here in little old Raleigh, the battle for the soul of America is not over sodomy, but Christm--oops--holiday decorations.

Everyone's heard about Pastor Patrick Wooden's full-page ad in the N 'n' O, right? There is more to the story.

Turns out that Wooden's attempt to enforce Christ Compliance (tm) in commercial holiday decorations extended to personal visits to area businesses. That's right. An acquaintance of mine who has a shop was treated to a visit by some "extremely polite" representatives of Pastor Wooden who kindly distributed some literature and very gently, well, gave him an offer he couldn't refuse. Jesus Compliance or we will destroy you by boycott. My contact didn't tell them to piss up a rope. He didn't want his name used, either. We both said it--extortion. It was OK as long as these kooks stayed in dark places where they didn't frighten the horses, but now they have decided that riding on the train isn't enough and have crawled into the cab like Dawn of the Dead, slicing throats and driving the thing off a trestle.

Since St. Paul dragged Jesus out of obscurity, the history of the Christian faith reminds one of wild dogs dragging a dead deer around the woods. When there's some discrepancy with what Jesus said and what "they" want him to have said, no problem, you just get out the old bone saw and the cat gut--a little cuttin' an' rearrangin', presto!

That these scoundrels have attained the unsettling level of influence they have is a ringing endorsement to the wisdom of P.T. Barnum. The beautiful thing is that you don't have to train elephants or sell cotton candy--nope, just elementary brainwashing techniques: make them feel like shit and after they've had a good cry, pass the plate. Perfect! Much tidier than dealing drugs and prostitution. You get to hang it all on some guy that isn't there! Beautiful! Amway without the soap!

All this is OK with me. I've got some ideas about the non-material world that might raise some eyebrows, and being a good libertarian, you are free to worship monkeys flying out of your butt or shove the rent into a spiritual crack pipe. But when you claim to have a straight line of communication with the Godhead, which sends you commands resulting in, say, the use of napalm on innocent civilians--well, the good doctor would advise forced restraint, bedrest and potent sedatives. www.blink.org.uk/pdescription.asp?key=5066&grp=21&cat=94

Bad news: Nearly half of Americans (48 percent) and 71 percent of evangelicals think that the United States has had special protection from God for most of its history and that after we blow up the world, the believers will ascend into the air and fly away. http://people-press.org/reports/display.php3?PageID=386

Think about that--half of the nation believes that we receive protection from someone who, well, isn't there. But just in case that fails (think 9/11), there is the part where rapture believers believe (after they complete what they seem to be well on the way to completing--destroying the earth) they will fly up into the sky. Recall the famous words of James Watt, Nixon's secretary of the interior: "God gave us these things to use. After the last tree is felled, Christ will come back." It's a novel stretching of end times prophecy that I can't seem to find, and really top-notch environmental policy.

I've always viewed this sort of thing as a form of a protection racket--give us the money first and we'll make sure you don't spend the rest of eternity turning on a spit. First: I don't think that Jesus would appreciate Christian goon squads intimidating merchants in honor of his own birthday. Second: It ain't even his birthday. And that's the most offensive thing--the kidnapping of the good old Roman Saturnalia (dedicated to Bacchus, the god of wine, where a body was free to do the boogaloo with anything that moved, wallow in orgies, and drag large erect phalluses around town. All in all, sounds like a fabulous time and something Rev. Hargis and his parishioners would be right at home with except, y'know, somebody always tattles and spoils things). www.goddess.org/religious_sex.html (Hot, hot stuff)

And if they got that one--the big day--wrong, no telling what else they screwed up. I don't need to go into the vast gulf between what these critters say and what they are repeatedly, hilariously busted for. No, the far more accurate description would be "con artists."

But so no one can accuse me of not giving a fella a chance, I spoke with Pastor Wooden (after going through both a receptionist and a secretary).

Pastor Wooden did not agree with the charge of "extortion." I had to remind him that the word wasn't something that I just came up with on my own.

Wooden said that the compliance drive was just a way to remind people that Dec. 25 was a day dedicated to Jesus, to which this skeptic inquired, sez who? (It was Constantine, that savage and opportunistic warrior/politician best remembered for hijacking the Christian faith at Nicea in 324. In other words--because we say so, and if you find any problems with that, well, we'll just burn you at a stake or something.)

That established, I wanted to know from Wooden why a church would even be interested in the soul-robbing business of forced consumption. Seemed to me a church's time would be better spent reminding their parishioners that Jesus likely would be horrified by the excess and the greed of the season. Wooden agreed with me and said that he would prefer if folks gave the gift money right to the church (overhead and staff costs being what they are, I suppose).

Back to the matter at hand, Wooden said, "We're not saying that a store decorations should only say Christmas, but they should include it."

"So they can have Chanukah, Kwaanza, whatever, as long as they include Christmas?"

"That's right."

"So what about pagan references?" I reminded him of Christmas' history. There was a pause.

"That's something I would not agree with."

Here we were again--a putatively religious man making the call on what is acceptable faith in an officially civil nation.

Wooden informed me that 96 percent of end of the year sales were "Christmas related."

"We want to remind merchants that Christianity is the 300 pound gorilla."

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