A little while ago I confessed that I have a tendency, probably genetic, to approach a tale widdershins, and I can tell right away that this will be no exception. In my defense I’d like to say that I’ve always enjoyed the journey as much as the destination, or did, until I flew for the first time in one of those jet-propelled drainpipes posing as modern passenger aircraft. Fortunately for those of you still with me, that has no part in this tale. I just mention it as one of those things that lead my wife to repeatedly accuse me – possibly fairly – of being able to gripe about almost anything.
I’ve been re-reading America and the Americans, that wonderful collection of Steinbeck oddments, to make sure I’d remembered aright what first sparked my interest in, and admiration for, this country, its institutions and its peoples. Among this collection are articles he wrote about living conditions in the camps of displaced Americans, forced during the Great Depression to scrabble for an existence among the unimaginable wealth that was California’s horticultural industry.
Then on Thursday morning I found Mike Williams’ touching piece on Haiti, bringing experience, knowledge and humanity as a contrast to the horrors of the Tv reports. Mike’s story led me to Paul Raushenbush, who guided me to Pat Robertson one of that remarkable breed of moneygrubbers, the fabulously wealthy neoreligious who cause me, a non-Christian (non-anything really), to speculate about the particular version of the Gospels on which they seem to have based their business plans.
Robertson in turn led me to The Grapes of Wrath and Steinbeck’s Christ figure, Jim Casey. From Jim my mind wandered to Woody Guthrie’s Tom Joad and the origins of the Wobblies, from where, given my half-century-plus love affair with America’s southern folk music, it was just a short step to Joe Hill and the Wobblies’ Little Red Songbook.
And so I come back to Pat Robertson and the Righteous Right. In the midst of the horror that reduced me – along with millions of others – to tears, a Kentucky sect whose work apparently consists of building churches in Haiti worries for the cameras about its missionaries and Robertson spouts the sort of tripe that I thought disappeared soon after witch-burning was outlawed.
Pat, perhaps you and others like you should take a bit of a decko at the Wobblies’ book of “songs to fan the flames of discontent.” Joe Hill penned one that might have been written for you and your soulless, sin-sniffing ilk and I’d like to put part of it down here. Sung to that beautiful old tune, In the Sweet By and By, I’ve changed the first two lines very slightly to suit the times.
Wealthy preachers on TV every night,
Like to tell us what’s wrong and what’s right;
When you ask them for something to eat,
They will answer in voices so sweet:
You will eat, by and by;
In that glorious land in the sky;
Hope and pray, live on hay;
You’ll get pie in the sky when you die.
There you go, readers, I got here at last. Oh! and Pat – sorry, I’d almost forgotten about you. I found the comments about your business interests written in response to the Raushenbush piece most enlightening, but if you and your band of Sin-Finders are entitled to a place in heaven, then I’m bloody glad I’m not a Christian.
Cutline for illustration: Sin-Finder General can be a profitable occupation (Povah collection)