iOS app Android app More

Art Levine

Art Levine

Posted: May 29, 2008 03:58 PM

Hagee, Bad Jesus Movies and McCain: New Firesign Theatre CD?


Now that John McCain has been pressured to throw overboard the lunatic evangelists whose support he begged for, perhaps he can unwind with The Wittenburg Door's home screenings of the "Ten Worst Movies About Jesus."

No matter how awful the movies, they probably could teach McCain something about Christ, and they're closer to the truth about Jesus than the distorted Christianity being peddled by the nutty evangelical leaders allied with the GOP and McCain for so many years.

In fact, perhaps the country's leading expert journalist on right-wing evangelicals, Sarah Posner, author of God's Profits: Faith, Fraud, and the Republican Crusade for Values Voters will be a guest this afternoon in the second half of the D'Antoni and Levine Show, co-hosted by Huffington Post blogger Tom D'Antoni, on our BlogTalk Radio show, which starts at 5:30 p.m., EST. The guest in our first half-hour will be the amazing Phil Proctor of the Firesign Theatre, a troupe still doing unequaled, cutting-edge, rapid-fire, surrealistic comedy after all these years. Can humor keep up with political reality when you have people like Hagee on the scene, an unwitting comedian for the endtimes? It's all straight out of a Firesign Theatre album.

Humor is certainly the only possible response to the shlocky religious movies and even seamier evangelists that have been the target of The Wittenburg Door over the years.

As David Gallagher starts things off in the latest issue of the magazine:

"These are the movies that make the story of the Son of Man look like the story for Son of Flubber. The Robe Keeping Jesus off camera for most of The Robe is the only thing 20th Century-Fox ever did to help Christianity.This film may have been nominated for an Oscar, but so was Norbit..."

The Wittenburg Door is, as it once described itself, "pretty much the world's only religious humor magazine," an arm of a crusading Christian fellowship, the Trinity Foundation, led by the heroic Ole Anthony . The organization is a scourge of phony, corrupt or extravagant evangelists, such as Robert Tilton and Benny Hinn, conducting numerous investigations in alliance with broadcast magazine shows.

But, in an era when appeals to faith have been debased as political tools to divide us as a country and gain raw political power, Anthony and his loyal band of light-hearted believers are proponents of a true Christianity, serving the poor and homeless, as Jesus meant it to be. As George Bernard Shaw said, in his preface to Androcles and the Lion, after 2,000 years, "Why not give Christianity a trial?"

That's what Anthony and the Trinity Foundation have done, using humor, devotion to God, service to others -- and razor-sharp investigative skills.

Anthony and several of his associates are licensed detectives, prompting me to dub them "Detectives for Christ," in an admiring article I wrote about them several years ago for U.S. News and World Report. While Karl Rove, and now McCain, have attempted to build the Republican majority by currying favor with extremists and exploiting the fears of evangelicals, Anthony has created a national model of direct service and outreach to "the least among us."

Contrast that with John McCain's seamy descent into the ugly backwaters of evangelical politics, all from the one-time "maverick" who had once called such preachers as Jerry Falwell "agents of intolerance." But as Sarah Posner, the author of God's Profits and a columnist with The American Prospect, pointed out in a recent column:

The embrace of these televangelists by Republican politicians -- exposed in my new book, God's Profits: Faith, Fraud, and the Republican Crusade for Values Voters -- elevates them in the eyes of their followers and promotes their ideology as moral and pure. Parsley, whom McCain called a "moral compass" and "spiritual guide," proudly boasts about how presidential candidates seek his advice. Hagee claims the admiration of the White House, members of Congress from both parties (Joe Lieberman has compared him to Moses), Republican Party officials, and even the former director of the CIA, James Woolsey. When President Bush compared Barack Obama to Nazi appeasers last week, he was tipping his hat to Hagee, who routinely charges political enemies with appeasement as well, while portraying himself and his followers as modern-day Churchills.

She concluded in a recent column on Parsley and Hagee:


When Hagee and Parsley were revealed to have spewed bigotry from their pulpits, many people wondered if McCain had a "pastor problem" like Obama's supposed problem with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. The rejoinder from the McCain camp was that he was not responsible for every sentence uttered by people who endorse his candidacy. But his pastor problem is not just his own, it's his party's too. And it's not about candidates bearing responsibility for odious sermons. It's about bearing responsibility for propping up religious demagoguery in order to win elections.

While McCain and the Republicans have sought out such religious hustlers, the Trinity Foundation has been exposing them for years:

An early skepticism about the way religious programming is bought and sold prompted Trinity to conduct a controversial research project on the audience demographics and ratings of religious broadcasting. By the time scandals rocked the religious television industry in the 1980s, Trinity was already monitoring religious programming and reporting abuses of the public trust. In the 1990s Trinity Foundation became the leading "watchdog" of religious media, conducting investigations and providing information used to expose fraud and abuses committed in the name of God.

The foundation regularly provides assistance to print and electronic journalists investigating suspected fraud or other abuses of the public trust by members of the religious media. The foundation maintains a private investigative license with the State of Texas and frequently provides undercover operatives to news programs like PrimeTime Live, 60 Minutes, Dateline, CNN Special Reports, 20/20, British Broadcasting Corporation, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, and Inside Edition, among many others. We have also worked with the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, the Economist, London Independent, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, U.S. News & World Report, and the Dallas Morning News.

Foundation representatives have testified for Congressional hearings examining abuses by America's television evangelists. The foundation has also provided investigative reports to various agencies of state and federal government.

Victim's Helpline: The foundation sponsors and staffs America's only nationwide toll-free help line (1-800-229-VICTIM) for people who believe they or a loved one has been victimized by a televangelist.

Meanwhile, as Posner has reported, Congress is just starting to catch up with the apparent scams of the "prosperity ministers" who fleece their audiences and parishioners, while mostly Republican candidates grovel for their endorsements and the voter turnout they can offer.

McCain's new emphasis on gutter politics, even if he's cut Hagee and Parsley loose, shows his willingness to combine fear-mongering with blatant appeals for donations -- just like his prosperity ministry allies. All this goes on as he calls Obama "naive," while stumbling, flip-flopping and obfuscating the truth about his views on the economy, tax policy and the war.

UPDATE: As Max Blumenthal reports, Sen. Joe Liberman will be appearing at a pro-Israel Hagee conference after McCain dumped the minister and Hagee's comments about Hitler being, essentially, God's gift to the Jews became widely publicized. I assume that at some point in the next 48 hours even Joe Lieberman will change his mind about headlining Hagee's summit, but, with Lieberman, we can't really be sure.
***********************


You can hear these and other political controversies discussed each week on BlogTalk Radio's "The D'Antoni and Levine" show, co-hosted with Portland broadcaster Tom D'Antoni. Here's an excerpt from last week's show of our talking about Obama's appeal vs. McCain's alliances with sordid, hate-spewing ministers (at the 9:31 minute mark on the media player). We also looked at Hillary's drive for a delegate floor fight at the Democratic convention, inspired by Rachel Maddow's analysis.