BREATHE ON US, OH GOD!
By Dutch Sheets
Regal Books, 2001
There's a scene in the fourth "Living Dead" movie, Day of the Dead, where they capture a zombie and pen him in a subterranean lab. They want to examine a specimen in order to understand this mindless cannibal breed that has taken over the United States.
It's a haunting scene, deeply sad in the way those Romero films are. It turns out that you can't teach a zombie much. "Bud" the zombie learns to answer a phone, but that's about it. Beyond that, there's not much to him but pus and fangs. Something almost human looks out of his eyes now and then, especially when he sees an Army uniform-- Bud was a soldier once, and he still remembers to salute. But it turns out you can't trust those flickering vestiges of humanity. The only way to deal with the beasts is to kill them all.
And that pretty much sums up the findings of my recent experiment in trying to understand the Christians. I thought it might be interesting to read an American Christian response to the WTC attacks, see what the drooling zombies who have taken over my country have to say about this calamity striking God's favorite country. I picked Praying for America off the Amazon lists because it looked relatively literate. This glossy pamphlet is the work of one "Dutch Sheets." (I know, I know: nobody could be named "Dutch Sheets;" it sounds more like the punchline to a pubescent joke-- and in a sense, it is-- but it's also the name of the author, pastor of a church in Colorado Springs, Colorado.)
Praying for America wasn't very literate, actually; Dutch has a prose style even a social scientist would be ashamed to own. But it was informative. Above all, I learned that the rightist American Christians have mutated, gotten a lot better organized than they used to be. Dutch says many times that he speaks for "the Church in America." This confused me at first, because I was raised to think "the Church" meant the Vatican; the Protestants were a disorganized rabble, a chaos of feuding sects. But that was long ago. The Bible-thumpers got smart and formed up. When Dutch talks about "the Church in America," he means it. They march in step now. Dutch doesn't even bother naming the particular sect he fronts for, because the militant Protestants are a single body now, far more united and a thousand times more powerful than the senescent Church of Rome ever was.
The Christians snuck up on us. We used to laugh at them-- and then suddenly they were on us, hordes of grinning zombies. I used to prate about Whitman and the cadences of the King James Bible, Pilgrim's Progress and Horatio Alger, Jerry Lee Lewis and Jim Swaggart, the Evangelical tradition in American literature, Stonewall Jackson, dying, delirious, murmuring "Let us cross the river and rest in the shade of the trees...." I used to refuse to indulge in Christian-baiting at Berkeley because it was, as I used to say, "unsporting."
All that seems like self-indulgent campy idiocy now. "Unsporting"? What does "sport" have to do with it? It's Romero time: hole up on the roof of a mall with a hunting rifle and pick them off one by one... you have to get them in the head, remember. They don't go down unless you hit them in the head.
And when you read their tracts, and find out what goes on in those heads-- believe me, shooting them is a mercy.
Where to begin? Well, take a deep breath, hold your nose, and dive with me into the rotting insides of Praying for America. It's a slick little pamphlet, with good graphics and a good sense of strategy. It borrows many technique from that venerable American literary genre, the salesman's handbook-- but that's nothing new. American evangelists and pep-talking sales guys have always slipped easily between their respective callings (e.g., Norman Vincent Peale).
Dutch is fond of epithets sales guys love: "Are you a history maker?" he asks. Along with "history maker," you might want to be "cause-minded," a "boat rocker," a "crossing-over guy," or "a life-changer, a rearranger, a cause producer." He wants us all to be "circumcised"-- but as he explains to his wincing gentile audience, "Our circumcision in the new covenant is, of course, of the heart." A circumcised heart-- not sure I'd like that, actually. One snip and the room gets an arterial spraying.
In Dutch's theology, God is a sort of travelling salesman, impregnating farmers' daughters (of either gender) as the mood takes him. Using the laughably bad attempts at Classical etymology which are another feature of his rhetoric, he underlines the fact that he really does mean "penetration" when he talks of God's way with us sinners:
"Because 'abar' is a transition word, it also means 'to penetrate,' as in penetrating territory, or even the human heart. [Note the repeated switch from genital to cardiac zone, as in 'circumcision' above.] And not trying to be overly dramatic or graphic, it is indeed a word used to designate the physical relations between a husband and wife that results in pregnancy [Sometimes, Dutch, they don't even have to be "husband and wife"!]. Yes, 'abar' does mean to impregnate."
Now we know what Dutch means when he says, "Several months ago, God began to grip me...." These divine rapes are confessed with pride, of course; to be so "penetrated" is a point of honor with the devout. Like a great deal of American Evangelical discourse, it begs a medical, rather than theological interpretation. There's a name for people who talk to god and feel Him gripping them: "schizophrenics."
And the match between Evangelical theology and schizophrenic symptoms is perfect. When a word comes into Dutch's head, it's from God. Take "Shechem," the name of some town mentioned in the Old Testament-- the ramblings, in other words, of an unmedicated Levantine schizophrenic two millennia dead. This is how Dutch explains the way "Shechem" came into his head: "... During that... October evening, the Lord deeply impressed into my heart the thought, 'I am calling this nation to Shechem.'"
"But Dutch," you ask in that annoying way of yours, "how can we know it was a truly Divine inspiration?" Dutch has an answer ready for such doubters: "Since everything else I felt during that encounter with the Lord has proved to be very accurate, I have great confidence that this thought is accurate as well." And if that doesn't convince you, I don't know what will.
So Dutch is not at all shy of passing on his neurotransmitter-depleted epiphanies. Every time he has a dream; every time a place-name or set of numbers comes into his head; every time there's a coincidence in his daily schedule; he takes it as a sign of God's direct intervention in his mental processes. Sometimes Dutch's sense of God's tinkering with his mind (using the term loosely) is so much like textbook schizophrenic reasoning that you're amazed the guy's still walking around. He spends three pages detailing the series of coincidences involving the number sequence "222":
"It began on a cross-country flight. I noticed that my departure time was 2:22, I was seated in row number 22 and the total travel time was 2 hours and 22 minutes."
Well, if that doesn't smack of direct divine intervention in the flight schedule of one Dutch Sheets, D.D., I don't know what does. The only thing that worries me is that 222 is exactly one-third of 666. So if Dutch buys three tickets, does the plane go down?
Laughable as it sounds, this sort of paranoiac drama gives you a sense of why Christianity appeals to so many lonely Americans. Unlike the Catholicism I knew, this religion makes the worshippers the center of the universe. God, no less, is manipulating your very flight-times to give you the word about Satchmo, or Shinbone, or whatever it was. The Protestants are nice that way: they coddle their worshippers, set them up with plain, chubby, equally devout dates, and bring food around-- Protestant food, with lots of casseroles and marshmallow things-- when they're sick. They make you feel important, in a pitiful sort of way. The Catholics had a simpler attitude: "You owe the Church everything; the Church owes you nothing." And they wonder what went wrong!
One thing that went wrong for the Catholics is very clear from Dutch's tract: the militant Evangelicals stole the best bits from the Catholic agenda. Tops on the list is abortion. Thirty years ago, abortion was a Catholic obsession. The Protestants didn't give a damn about it, and associated it with Rome's mad drive to swamp the Anglo-Saxon lands in a tide of brown babies. But the Evangelicals grabbed the issue somewhere along the line. Dutch can't shut up about it. It's perfect: a guaranteed source of sin, at which he and his fellow pastors can rail forever, licking their chops as they get the calculators out to tote up the ever-rising total of dead babies which can be laid against the sinners' tab: "We have now killed over 40 million babies in what was supposed to be their safe haven of nourishment...."
What hits you when you read these denunciations is that Dutch's churchgoing people loathe America, if only so that they can redeem and love it once more. It's the whore they can't resist, and that bipolar orientation makes for them an endlessly exciting ride. It's like marrying a cocktail waitress: at least you won't be bored.
But no other American sins are invoked in these lists. None of the horrors perpetrated in SE Asia, Latin America, or for that matter Chicago, show up on the lists. America must be denounced and despised for her sins, but only from the inside; America, when juxtaposed to any other country on earth, is right, period. All America needs is a president who stands with "the Church."
And that, finally, turned out to be what this odd little tract was about: the election of George W. Bush. Little anti-Clinton jibes pop up from the start: "And speaking of partying, our former president did a lot of it." It infuriates Dutch that no divinely directed lightning bolt slithered under the presidential desk to zap the presidential dick, as it tickled the Mon's uvula. "God is capable of dealing with... wicked, ungodly politicians," Dutch says. "When he doesn't, we need to ask why."
Well, not to give away the plot, but it turns out God inflicted Clinton upon us because there was a curse on the nation. Something about those McDonald's-like abortion figures: "Over 40 million fetuses hosed!" Or was Clinton the cause, rather than the effect, of the curse? It's not always easy to follow the logic of these people, but at any rate: there was a curse, OK? And there was only one magical cure: electing George W. Bush.
So when "God shared his passion for America with [Dutch]" in October 2000-- just before the election-- he, or rather He, told Dutch to start a "prayer alert for the upcoming election." I'll let Dutch himself tell it from there:
"This alert ultimately went to millions of people, resulting in a great mobilization of prayer for God's person to be placed in office.... And then, even when the election was finished, the identity of the next president had not yet been determined. The high level of spiritual warfare was very apparent... we desperately needed a president through whom God could work."
And with whom God could deal. See, you thought that slimy Florida banana-republic vote-scamming was all about payoffs and lawyers, but it was actually "spiritual warfare." Well, that's why we need people like Dutch, to explain the higher implications of these things.
Luckily, God's candidate won:
"At that pivotal moment in our nation's history, God's people made a choice to cross over. As a result, God gave us a sincere, humble man who loves God and through whom He [God, that is] can work to accomplish His purposes." This walker-in-righteousness being, y'unnerstan', one G. W. Bush. Dutch goes on to recount his trip to the Inaugural. It was a great occasion, he explains-- it was literally the lifting of a curse which had been upon the land:
"I watched and heard [GWB] end his swearing-in by saying with great conviction, 'So help me God.' Upon the uttering of these words, one well-known minister in attendance was heard to say, 'The curse is broken off of America.'"
This is where the dates get interesting. See, if God had gone and lifted the curse on America when GWB was inaugurated, how come those planes slammed into the towers only eight months later? Dutch wrote this tract while still strutting with pride over getting out the vote for his God-endorsed candidate. The inaugural was held on January 20, 2001. At that moment, according to the unnamed "well-known minister," "the curse [was] broken off of America." Now, leaving aside the minister's somewhat demotic phrasing, let us do the math. After all, Dutch has taught us all to look out for those zany little numerological omens the puzzle-addicted Deity so frequently lobs into our schedules.
And Dutch has also taught us to think of God as the great Penetrator, who when the mood takes him impregnates his followers-- male, female, or otherwise. Now, the Lord has put a great and terrible thought in my head. For lo, I realized that the Lord had counted the days, and the days between January 20, 2001 and September 11, 2001, that terrible day of wrath when the Curse was very definitely reimposed on America, amounted to eight months, the length of a (slightly preemie) pregnancy.
Yes, when God gripped America from behind on that Inaugural day, he begot a spirit of destruction; and that spirit was born on September 11, and it took the form of swarthy men with boxcutters, who rode in planes numbered 676-- only TEN NUMBERS AWAY from the very number of the Beast!
And the 676 times two struck the two towers, and subtracted them from two to zero, and caused to be burnt many a believer.
But not nearly enough of them.