Tinotopia (Logo)
TinotopiaLog → Modern American Religion (28 Mar 2001)
Previous entry:
New Condiments

Next entry:
“New” Urbanism
Wednesday 28 March 2001

Modern American Religion

This complaint has two inspirations, neither of them divine. The first is Mr. Frank Sinatra. He sings:

Bet your bottom dollar you’ll lose the blues in Chicago,
The town that Billie Sunday couldn’t shut down.

And I thought, what a different time that song represents! Frank Sinatra, one of the country’s most popular singers, celebrating the failure of the morals police to clean up the country’s second-largest city.

The second inspiration was a terrible made-for-TV movie that I watched a week or two ago. For some reason, the Tivo recorded Lifetime’s mid-afternoon presentation of The Jessica McClure Story: Baby Down The Well (or some such; about Jessica McClure, anyway).

The movie was made in 1988, shortly after the whole Jessica-down-the-well debacle. It is set in Midland, Texas, where the whole thing actually happened. It involves a couple whose infant daughter has fallen down a well.

And the movie features no prayer scenes at all.

If that movie were made today, there’d be praying from before the titles until after the credits. The credits themselves, in fact, would probably contain some line like "The producers would like to thank Jesus, without whose assistance this film could not have been made."

And there’s no way we’d see a mainstream pop star these days — remember that Frank Sinatra was, after all, a pop star — singing anything that denigrates religion, religious life or the dogma of any major officially-blessed religion, however slightly.

The United States has always, in my experience, been the most religious nation on Earth, excepting outright theocracies. Many, many more people go to church here than in any other place I’ve ever been, and a much higher proportion of people profess a belief in God. In public in this country, this almost always means a belief in Jesus (often pronounced "Jeeesuus") Christ. Though this complaint is not specifically aimed at "Christians", people calling themselves "Christians" are usually the worst offenders.

The devout in other countries tend to be quiet about it, seeing religion as a private part of their lives, not as the central piece of their public persona. You can’t imagine David Beckham, for instance, ever shouting, "Thank you Jesuuuuuus!" as Kurt Warner did after winning the Superbowl in 2000. He’d be laughed off the pitch.

(David Beckham plays midfield for Manchester United, an English football team. Kurt Warner is a quarterback for the St. Louis Rams, an American footaball team.)

Recently, though — just in the last five years or so — religious expression has become more and more and more public in the USA, possibly at the expense of the values that religion is supposed to foster.

This afternoon, I saw this car in the parking lot at McDonald’s:

I invite the reader to notice the Jesus fish on the back, the VMI sticker in the window, and the WE <heart> GOD license plate. We may assume from these indicators that this person believes in God and in Christ, and is a general supporter of law and order (VMI is Virginia Military Institute, a legendary military academy in Lexington, VA). Yet:

1. The car is parked on the line. Whatever happened to ‘honour thy neighbour’? People next to you in the parking lot are neighbors, too.

2. This is a $40,000 truck, with a serious trailer hitch on it. Presumably that hitch is used to tow a boat, or a big camping trailer, or something like that. That’s a lot of bread that could have been cast upon the waters.

3. This one is visual:

Not only is it illegal to stick things like that heart on a license plate, but as of the date of the photo, the plate had been expired for almost a month. These people are, in effect, tax dodgers: render unto Casear etc.

Now, I’m sure that the particular people who own this enormous vehicle are perfectly nice people, with no faults. I’m just using them as an example, because they happen to fit my argument perfectly.

The heightened religious fervor in the United States serves no purpose except to provide the religiods — or a vocal minority of them, anyway — a platform from which to attempt to control others.

We’ve got the appearance of religion and constant talk about a morals and ethics, but seemingly no action.

The person with the "WWJD?" bracelet is just as likely, in general, to attempt to swindle you as the next person. Britney Spears talks all the time about being a virgin and about her special relationship with Jesus, but she still appears semi-nude on TV and in magazines, and wears clothes that a hooker wouldn’t have worn in public 30 years ago. And the Republican Party talks about how good it would be to have religious organizations underwritten by the government, only to do an about-face when they realize that "religious organizations" includes the Moonies as well as Jerry Falwell.

And so I am forced to call for a moratorium on all the public religiosity in this country. If you are religious, fine. That’s great, and that’s your right. But scrape the fish off the back of your car, burn your "WWJD?" clothing items, stop talking about Jeeesus all the time, and start expressing your religion through acts and beliefs, rather than chotchkes and marketing messages.

Posted by tino at 15:00 28.03.01
This entry's TrackBack URL::

Links to weblogs that reference 'Modern American Religion' from Tinotopia.

Who said that having a Christian fish on the back of your BMW SUV (new around 65,000) makes you a selfish, creep? Hello? My husband studied hard, and worked hard to get to the nice 6 figure salary he makes today. We give, not to the church, because frankly our church is FULL of rich people who can give and do. We give to support local Animal Shelters and Food Kitchen for the homeless. And I don’t mind HOW much we give. It’s for a good cause.

We are comfortable. We have a Jesus sticker on our car. We love God and Country. I cuss like a salior. I’m anything but perfect! ANYTHING! I have a fish on my SUV! I do NOT park over the lines. I do honor my neighbors! Always and first! And I’m a good person. I drink beer from a bottle. I don’t attend church every Sunday. Church to me is a field of fall trees, on an October afternoon! I have a fish on the back of my SUV! And it’s expensive, and I’m rich, and I’m very attractive too. What’s that make me…empty?> No! So please don’t go bunching “fish” people into the same category!

BTW. I wouldn’t wear a WWJD bracelet if you paid me! Because, I know What Jesus would do. And he wouldn’t do any of the things I enjoy… :D Including flipping off people who don’t like my fish… LOL!

But; I love Him anyway. And I think you’re a hoot! Thanks for the smiles. There are a lot of hypocrites out there! Perfect example of one you saw!

Posted by: Trishma at October 3, 2004 07:23 PM

Regrettably, after:    (a) provocation from voters    (b) a brainstorming session to help the California budget crisis or    (c) both, California has fairly recently introduced the ♥ as a perfectly valid character in license plates.

The first time I saw one, I thought it was a tacked on sticker of some sort, but as it looked too solidly fashioned to be a sticker, and I found myself staring at the license plate like a Midwesterner looking at a trainwreck. (I can say that because I’m from St. Louis.)

Alas, it was both a real character, and indeed, it was a real license plate, too. My first thought was, “How the #$%& do the other 49 states’ computer systems deal with the high ACSII characters like that?!”

Nevermind the Canadians or someone in a FOREIGN country?! I’m sure some may ask, “Who cares if my plate can’t be read in [insert country here]?” Well, it’s like this, sometimes people DRIVE out of the country. Sometimes people even put their cars on ships and [gasp!] ship their vehicles to other countries for use in their time abroad.

Ok, let’s face it, a ♥ isn’t exactly in the “Official Guide to ‘Easy-to-Find’ Characters on Any Keyboards” I’ve put my paws on, but has it come to this either to save the state or in the need to be expressive in one’s daily motoring?! Puuulease. I’ve heard tell of a fabled Slavic keyboard with an astounding 738 characters and it doesn’t even have a ♥.

(Incidentally, you can pickup this book in the Reference section of your local Barnes & Noble or Borders; it typically gets shelved next to The Offical Scrabble Dictionary, but I digress.)

So, that said, who was asleep at the switch on this one? This really seems to be A Dumb Decision.

At least this one’s just a sticker.


Posted by: ebiinc at October 20, 2004 01:10 AM