Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Excerpt 10

Excerpt from It seemed Funny at the Time...) rough

To make my father’s edition of the American Dream a reality, Reality was viewed as a nightmare, one to be rescued from by God’s Will when He calls us to Heaven.

A few years after my birth, my father converted our family to a new religion. As a traveling salesman, he began to listen to a radio evangelist that spoke to his mindset. Herbert W. Armstrong, of the grand sounding “Worldwide Church of God,” preached the superiority of the descendants of Briton (the real lost tribes of Israel apparently moved to England and are the actual chosen people). Everyone else were just heathen filler in this world, or jealous pretenders to the throne. I can imagine my father driving down long stretches of paved prairie roads with his eyes focused on the rapid metronome of the striped white line. The bombastic radio prophet of the Second Coming must have been music to the ears of an Anglophilic male in the early 1970’s. Burl claimed we were Scottish, descended from the Mac Kendrick Clan. My mom says he only claimed Scotland as a rejection of England, which he hated (he thought they were pussies during WW II). My dad claims to trace us back to Lord Kenric, the Lord Mayor of London in the 1100’s. The genealogy research began after he realized he had to be a British descendant to claim his Pass to the World Tomorrow.

He downplayed, as much as possible, the blood of the native savages that coursed through his being. Burl had the gene that made the skyscraping, girder-waking Cherokees famous in the East coast construction world. Perfect balance at high altitudes with no fear. That was too monkey-like for my dad. He got high as an aviator, an eager member of the first generation born into the age of aerospace. It is the literalists’ way of getting closer to God.

Armstrong had a habit of setting dates for the Apocolypse. The end times were supposed to begin in 1936. That apocolypse was postponed to 1943, then 1972. For real this time. The moment of Tribulation was surely upon us. The Book of Revelations in my fathers Bible was well worn. The pages were full of tiny notes in the margins and glowed with yellow and blue passages he had meticulously traced with highlighters. The media was secularizing the nation; primitive beats and screams were coming from the radio, women were upsetting the natural order by clamoring for equal rights on TV news, and the Jews were surely in control of the movie industry. Outside noise was infringing on his American Dream, as it seemed to grow thinner and thinner. Heathens and blasphemers were insidiously displacing the white Christian majority. Something had to be done. There could only be one American Dream.

One of my earliest memories is sitting on my father’s shoulders looking at a throng of wildly enthusiastic people cheering for a man on a stage. He was just talking and people would periodically erupt into cheers and applause. When finished, he held both hands up making V signs with his fingers. The response was even more enthusiastic cheering. It was impressive.

The Neo-Conservative movement had yet to be called such. Complex arguments did not have to be made to win major Ruralite support. Nixon and his ilk were able to sniff out the common fears of the white American dreamers and reflect them back on the crowds with simple clarity and base conviction. In particular, marijuana was singled out as a common pleasure for the blacks, the hippies, and other disenfranchised types that so frightened ma and pa. Criminalizing the plant criminalized the fans of its qualities, and the Us vs. Them polarization of the Union gained significant steam. The irony of curtailing liberty to preserve the American Way of Life was lost in a nostalgic patriotic fever. The generation that was imprinted with the American Brand™perspective as they watched the U.S. defeat Evil on the newsreels of nickel movies failed to recognize their own hastening of our descent into fascism.

The Church defined my childhood. I was a not so eager member of a generation born into the age of the Televangelist. The faith husker Armstrong was working the same angle as Nixon. Feed the fears and harvest the trust, and the bucks. Admission to the World Tomorrow was only a 10% tithing of ones yearly income. And another tithe to pay for the family trips to annual national Church events. Oh, and a third tithing that was only required every third and sixth year of a personal 7 year tithing cycle.

My family’s particular church was good kinky fun even for the Mid-Western standards of the time. Many called it a Cult, and rightfully so. We were Kosher, observed Passover, fasted one day a year, and didn’t celebrate “Pagan” holidays such as Christmas, Easter, Solstice, Halloween, and birthdays. Sabbath was sunset Friday to sunset Saturday. To be reported breaking the Sabbath meant excommunication from the Church. To talk to someone that had been excommunicated, meant excommunication. The Sabbath was the day of rest. I didn’t find it restful. We were up early to drive 50 miles to church. My mom woke the kids, made breakfast, laid out clothes for everyone, including my dad, fed the pets and corralled us into the car (the 5 kids that is. My dad would shower dress and eat, then start the car and honk and yell at my mom to hurry up). We called it a church, but we attended services in the auditorium of a Tulsa area high school. Men were supposed to look, dress, and groom like men: clean cut, no facial hair, dress suit. Women were supposed to look, and act, like women: long dresses, little make up, styled hair, and obedient. After church was a family dinner with all the forks. While my mom cooked a pot roast and set the table, my dad would relax on the couch and watch the PBS’s World at War” docu-series. After dinner my mom did the dishes and my dad would have his one drink of the week, a Crown and Coke, and watch the ABC Saturday Night Movie.

My exposure to the world was filtered through a fear-based dogma that hounded my perceptions into a good/bad, right/wrong internment. My parents were not examples of a life style that I wanted any part of. My house was a microcosm of a Bush Presidency; secretive, authoritarian, abusive, intolerant, racist, sexist, etc. There was an inability to grasp the power of metaphor. Any questioning of the dogma was an invitation of the Devil, and was dealt with swiftly and accordingly.

“Knowing thy enemy” doesn’t have the same meaning to a Fundamentalist as it would to, say, a considerate person. Fundamentalists know their enemies, in that they know their names. But they actually know very little about whom they have chosen to be in conflict with. “Do not entertain the Devil lest ye succumb to temptation and fall from the cleave of the Lord.” (I put quotes on that, but I just made it up) It’s best to know nothing about the enemy, and better to make it so that no one ever will by destroying them utterly. For God. The enemy’s are arbitrary and necessary foundations for the basis of fundamentalisms. Defining oneself in opposition to an enemy gives the personality an identity. Fundamentalists pour themselves into the mold of evil to give themselves structure and definition. The greater the evil they conceive to fathom, the greater their heavenly reward must be, you know, after they die. Meanwhile, in this world, they wear the mask of evil they have impressed upon their minds, not allowing their face to be shaped by the beauty of creation.

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