Most of the criticism of television evangelists is unfair—they are even attacked for their physiques. Ernest Angley, for instance, is disparaged for being plump and having a short neck. But, chiefly, the evangelists are lampooned and denounced because they ask for money and meddle in politics. Television is a mercenary medium. Since everyone on TV is out for money, in one way or another, it is unreasonable to single out the evangelists. I would as soon watch Oral Roberts sell “seed faith,” which, as I understand it, means that for every dollar given to Roberts the Lord will give the donor two dollars in return, as hear an announcer murmur the praises of a pile remedy that will make the user feel 20 years younger. If Roberts and his fellow preachers are avaricious, predacious and vulgar, then so is television itself. Criticizing a television evangelist for exploiting his audience financially is like criticizing someone for selling lottery tickets in a brothel.
As for mixing religion and politics, the issue would never have come up if the evangelists had aligned themselves with the left liberals rather than with the radical right. Nobody outside of the Ku Klux Klan ever maligned Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. for his involvement in politics. We may admire King and despise Jerry Falwell; the fact remains that King was a preacher just as Falwell is, and what was permissible for one ought to be permissible for the other. The TV evangelists also come under fire from the main-line Protestant churches, but that is because they deal in something that makes the main-line churches uncomfortable: religion.
I find Falwell, Roberts, Rex Humbard, Jim Bakker, Jimmy Swaggart, James Robison, Herbert W. Armstrong and the others repugnant not because they are mercenary or political but because they extol the virtues of a god who, if he were a human being, would be deemed to possess hardly a single attractive quality. The god of the electronic evangelists is a tribal deity. It is misleading to call him God, as if he were the God of St. Augustine, Samuel Johnson or Soren Kierkegaard. He bears a much doser resemblance to the god of the cargo cults of Papua New Guinea. So let’s give him a name of his own. Let’s call him Gadh.
This Gadh is not very bright. In fact, he comes close to being simpleminded.
The universe according to Gadh is not the infinitely complex and astonishingly various place perceived by artists, philosophers and scientists. It is a little one-storey house with an attic called Heaven and a basement called Hell.
Gadh lives in the attic and spends most of his time eavesdropping on the inhabitants of the ground floor. The strangest thing about these inhabitants is that they exist entirely outside of geography and history. Apart from their costumes, they are no different today from 5,000 years ago. The former tenants, such as Moses and Caesar, thought and felt in exactly the same way as the present tenants, which means exactly like the citizens of Falwell’s stronghold of Lynchburg, Va. In Gadh’s world, the knowledge patiently accumulated and the wisdom painfully acquired by the human race are simply irrelevant. Darwin was a fool and Buddha a heathen witch doctor. Art
The evangelists expect us to worship a deity who is patently less intelligent than the average human being
consists of plastic statuettes and doggerel “gospel songs.”
The evangelists expect us to worship a deity who is patently less intelligent than the average human being. And Gadh not only expects to be worshipped, he demands it. His appetite for praise is insatiable to the point of madness. He sits there in the attic with his ear to the floor in hope of hearing the people below say how wonderful he is. Gadh thrives on a degree of adulation that would have made Gen. MacArthur blush. The longer and louder you extol Gadh’s wisdom and benevolence, the better chance you will have of going to join him in the attic called Heaven. Once in the attic you will do absolutely nothing except eulogize Gadh, forever and ever.
You and I, if we were gods, would be amused rather than angered to find that there were human beings who did not believe that we existed. Not Gadh. He can’t stand it. If, in the course of his eavesdropping, he overhears someone mutter, “There is no Gadh,” he throws a tantrum and will not rest until the poor sod is shut away
in the basement called Hell.
Hell is run by the Devil. Now, the curious thing about the Devil is this: he torments those who obey him. Spit in the Devil’s face and you will go to Heaven, kiss him and you will go to Hell—not to be rewarded, as you might expect, but to be tortured with fire. Of course, that is Gadh’s story. It goes so contrary to experience that a man might reasonably suspect that Gadh wasn’t being wholly honest about the Devil. It could be that he torments his enemies rather than his friends—which would be bad news for Falwell, Roberts, Humbard and company.
Gadh’s conception of what is and is not important differs radically from that of most of us. This ought not to surprise us, since Gadh is a tribal deity after all, and, like any other tribal deity, has somewhat eccentric tastes. Gadh is not much concerned about war, famine, plague and pestilence. He is not concerned at all about the exploitation of one human being by another. What worries Gadh, what can positively infuriate him, is a naked human body. He is also obsessed with who sleeps with whom. If Gadh hears about someone hopping into bed with the wrong person, he pounds the floor of his attic with both fists. The guilty parties can obtain forgiveness only by being Saved and Born Again, which consists in publicly acknowledging the greatness of Gadh.
Gadh also abhors drinking, rock music and most books, apparently because of his abiding fear that somewhere someone might be happy. And he frowns on men who wear their hair long or let their beards grow. It being generally assumed that Gadh himself is bearded, this means that the world of Gadh is like Castro’s Cuba, where nobody wears a beard except the commander-in-chief.
I could go on listing the taboos and totems of Gadh, but that would be redundant. If you switch on a TV set on a Sunday morning, you will hear them expounded at length between the appeals (sometimes tearful) for contributions. In short, the deity described by the TV evangelists is grossly ignorant, unspeakably silly, despicably vain, insanely paranoid and disgustingly dirtyminded. As far as I’m concerned, those fellows on 100 Huntley Street can have him. I would far, far rather worship George Burns.
Alden Nowlan is a poet and author living in New Brunswick.
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