Sunday, April 09, 2006


I watched "Marjoe," winner of the Oscar in 1972 for best documentary, a few nights ago. While shot in the cinema verite style, it had a definite point of view: that religion and con men don't mix.

The premise is this: Marjoe Gortner has been raised to be an roving evangelical preacher since he was four years old. (It has some amazing footage of an eight-year-old Gortner preacher that old time religion.) In his twenties, he realizes that he has been raised to be a con man, and he wants to get out of the preaching business, so he has a documentary crew follow him around on a tour of the South to expose his hypocrisy and, thus, end his career.

This film raises more questions than it answers: Is he being dishonest if he doesn't believe what he preaches? Does organized religion attract this kind of person? Is organized religion fundamentally dishonest? I have been involved with (or familiar with) some local churches (Faith Bible Church and Spokane Faith Center, to name two) that have been rocked by scandal due to con men. The film exposes hypocrisy of those types of charlatans, but it leaves the idea of spiritual belief alone.

In short, this amazing film embodies the cliche "thought-provoking."


Stacy said...

I’ll offer my opinion, for whatever it’s worth.

On the first question of his dishonesty I would say yes, he is being dishonest. I haven’t seen the documentary, so I don’t know how he went about his preaching once he discovered he did not believe. However, I think that many people who don’t fundamentally believe what they are “preaching” can sometimes want to so badly, that they continue to preach. I’ve met a few people like that. They were both of the “fire and brimstone” variety. Both of which eventually rejected their fundamental beliefs. I don’t think I would necessarily fault him for being dishonest, especially in light of the fact that it seems to be all he’s ever known. At least he wanted to get out of the business.

Does organized religion attract this kind of person? I have absolutely no doubt of that. I don’t have the writing ability to share with you all of my thoughts about this, but I’ll share a few. People are drawn to charismatic and inspiring individuals. Any “fire and brimstone” church is alive and well with folks getting caught up in the emotion of a fiery preacher. The dishonesty may not be manifest in financial gain, but more in power. If a person has power over a group of people, it is amazing. The money flows and wives are swapped…literally. Look at Joseph Smith for an example of charisma gone wrong. As I pick on the Mormons, I realize that it doesn’t necessarily take the charismatic preacher to get folks in line. It can sometimes come subtly and over a long period of time. I think that’s where a preacher like Chris Mueller comes in. He was, and I’m sure still is, a very bright and educated man. I think he may have started out with great intentions, but power deceives. Once a person is deceived by power nothing, short of being exposed, will stop him.

Is organized religion fundamentally dishonest? That is a question that requires more digging than I am willing to do. I would say that, based on my experience, it depends on who leads the organization. At the church I regularly attend, I would say that honesty reigns true (at least in the pastor, he’s the only one I know well enough to say one way or the other). Faith Bible started due to the congregational split in my church. A split, I might add, that was for the better. I went to Faith Bible Church and I can say, at least with some credibility, that there is no doubt that a professional manipulator ran the church. I heard that he stole some money. If I didn’t know otherwise, I would have said the man had a weak moment. He may have had to still step down as the leader, but at least it would have been easy to forgive. I might add that a respectable leader would step down out of principle. I, however, know well how he manipulated through power. I’ll admit freely, that it wasn’t until I stopped attending the church that I recognized it. I was a fool. I think that power breeds dishonesty if it is not kept in check. Anytime a manipulator (or manipulators) has power over people, dishonesty and oppression reign. I think that power, left unchecked, is far more harmful than anything else you may experience in a church.

I’ll wrap my thoughts up with this. I wrote a letter to my pastor a couple of years ago explaining how I “rejected Christianity as I know it” (that’s a very, very long story). He wrote back thanking me for my honesty, and encouraging me to keep pursing what I was looking for. That for me solidified my trust in the man. A manipulator like Mueller would have tried to guilt me into coming back to the “faith”. Not because he gave a rats butt about me, but the fact that he no longer had a grip on me.

On a very unrelated note, I am trying to learn how to write more better. Any critique of my writing skills, or lack there of, is greatly appreciated. Please be kind. I am a fragile person.

Eric said...

You write like a dream.

However, the phrase you were looking for was "rat's ass."

Stacy said...

Right. Posessive, not plural. Dang. I think that "ass" would have worked better as well. Thank you, and good day.