Rolling Stone‘s gonzo political reporter, Matt Taibbi, who has been called a latter-day Hunter S. Thompson (over and over again), has a new book about his “tales from the evangelical front lines.” Taibbi is a great reporter and a fantastic writer, but he doesn’t strike me as the kind of guy who would be inducted into GetReligion’s hall of fame. Not with writing like this.
“The Great Derangement,” his cynically named book, does, however, offer a number of interesting windows into life in the Rev. John Hagee’s “apocalyptic mega-ministry.” It is with Hagee’s Cornerstone Church that Taibbi attends a weekend retreat through which he tells his tale.
So here I was, standing in the church parking lot, having responded to church advertisements hawking an “Encounter Weekend” â” three solid days of sleep-away Christian fellowship that would teach me the “joy” of “knowing the truth” and “being set free.” That had sounded harmless enough, but now that I was here and surrounded by all of these blanket-bearing people, I was nervous. When most Americans think of the Christian right, they think of scenes from television â” great halls full of perfectly groomed people in pale suits and light-colored dresses, smiling and happy and full of the Holy Spirit, robotically singing hymns at the behest of some squeaky-clean pastor with a baritone voice and impossible hair. We don’t get to see the utterly batshit world they live in, when the cameras are turned off and their pastors are not afraid of saying the really dumb stuff, for fear of it turning up on CNN. In American evangelical Christianity, in other words, there’s a ready-for-prime-time stage act â” toned down and lip-synced to match a set of PG lyrics that won’t scare the advertisers â” and then there’s the real party backstage, where the spiritual hair really gets let down. I was about to go backstage, to personally take part in the indoctrination process for a major Southern evangelical church. Waiting to board the bus for the Encounter Weekend, I had visions of some charismatic ranch-land Jesus, stoned on beer and the Caligula director’s cut and too drunk late at night to chase after the minor children, hauling me into a barn for an in-the-hay shortcut to truth and freedom. Ridiculous, of course, but I really was afraid, mostly of my own ignorance and prejudices. I had never been to something like this before, and I didn’t know how to act. I badly wanted to be invisible.
Taibbi, of course, fails to remain inconspicuous. How could he after fabricating his “wound”—a concept, which Taibbi calls “schlock biblical Freudianism,” from John Eldredge’s “Wild at Heart”—as being the abused son of an alcoholic circus clown?