Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Who Will Tell the Truth?

"I think people do look to us [writers] to tell the truth in a way that nobody else quite will. Not politicians or ministers or sociologists - a writer's job, is to, by way of fiction, somehow describe the way we live." --John Updike

This struck me deeply when I heard it. One of those things that won't leave. For the last few months I've been discovering the treasure trove that is John Updike. He is a shocking writer. "Rabbit, Run" is full of bile and evil and the worst of human nature, with no moral or finger waving or God to save the scene in sight. Yet from what I can gather, Updike, like myself, was a lifelong Christian. But the book (published in 1960) reads like nothing any Christian I know would associate with. The only thing it would do is shock and scandalize them.

Which actually helps to give me insight into the quote. First off, knocking politicians is as necessary and simple as water; only True Believers think they can trust their horse as that person seeks to curry favor with as many people as possible to gain power over their fellow man. Calling bullshit on Politicians should be a skill taught and mastered before we are released into the adult world. But I was taken aback when he suggested that people can't expect to hear the truth from preachers. We must take it as a given that, like lawyers and cops and janitors, there are good and bad ones. But I did spend a few years in church leadership, and I've spent countless hours listening to dozens of preachers (I'm a theology nerd, ok?), and I've grown to love and have great respect for the profession. So it got my ire up to have someone suggest that preachers/ministers/pastors aren't giving us the unvarnished truth.

But then I got to thinking.

If you dig a little, maybe you can start to feel what Updike put his finger on.

Preachers certainly have the deck stacked against them to begin with. They are required to be spiritual paragons. Professionals by definition are good at what they do, and the perceived point of Christianity is to be good at following God's rules. But the truth is no one, no not even one, is good at following God's rules. I'm not accusing anyone of anything, but I'm saying clergy have the incentive to fudge their moral abilities. Need I remind you what human nature does when faced with an incentive? And despite their unfounded mystique, clergy do not have a leg up on human nature.

The power of the collar is such that its wearer might be wont to feel as if they have been infused with special moral powers and authority in exchange for their service. No such deal exists.

And our poor preachers put their children in straight jackets (don't even start trying to decide if I'm referring to you or your preacher--I am not--I am speaking to the reason for why we refer to their children as PKs) because their children are also supposed to be infused with the magical elixir that exonerates them from the implacable teenage proclivity to F*** Up. But God either did not get this memo, or decided to bump it off his desk when no one was looking.

I haven't even touched a third of the wrong-headed expectations clergy face, but I shall press on.

So we saddle them (and they saddle themselves) with all this and more and force them to preach to us Scout's Honor every Sunday.

If you don't think your preacher is tempted to make his best appear as his average, to make his sin appear as a small storm easily tamed, then I don't know if you've thought this through properly. Then this apparition of achievement is tacitly held out as an ideal to be achieved for all the spiritual weaklings in the audience.

What kind of discord, disappointment and depression over achieving an impossible ideal might that reap? My guess is it would not be difficult to under estimate.

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