The Critical Mass

The Christians of Wrath

My Friend Bill and My Friend Connie were at the house last week when we got to talking about the epidemic of revelations showing men in powerful positions sexually harassing and assaulting women. And what’s behind these religious leaders who were throwing their support behind the accused child sex predator, Roy Moore? How could a guy like that even get as close as he did Tuesday night to the U.S. Senate?

And then Bill and Connie – they read books together, it’s kinda cute – remembered a scene early in John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath that might supply some answers.

My copy of the book was serendipitously on a shelf within arm’s reach, and Connie quickly found the relevant passage. It’s when Tom Joad, just out of prison after serving four years for murder, is walking down the road to his parents’ home. He comes across a ragged-looking guy sitting beneath a tree and recognizes him as the reverend who baptized him. Jim Casey, now a former reverend. They share a pint of whiskey, and Casey explains his downfall, on pages yellowed with age:

“Tell you what – I used to get the people jumpin’ an’ talkin’ in tongues, an’ glory shoutin’ till they just fell down an’ passed out. An’ some I’d baptize to bring ’em to. And then – you know what I’d do? I’d take one of them girls out to the grass, an I’d lay with her. Done it ever’ time. Then I’d feel bad, an’ I’d pray an’ pray, but it didn’t do no good. Come the nex’ time, them an’ me was full of the sperit, I’d do it again. I figgered there just wasn’t no hope for me, an’ I was a damned ol’ hypocrite. But I didn’t mean to be.”

So Jim Casey was using Jesus to take advantage of young women. A man of power, abusing his position. But then, a few paragraphs later, he insists that it wasn’t just he who was using Jesus.

“I got to thinkin’ like this – ‘Here’s me preachin’ grace. And here’s these people getting’ grace so hard they’re jumpin’ and shoutin’. Now they say layin’ up with a girl comes from the devil. But the more grace a girl got in her, the quicker she wants to go out in the grass.’ And I got to thinkin’ how in hell, s’cuse me, how can the devil get in when a girl is so full of the Holy Sperit that it’s spoutin’ out of her nose and ears. You’d think that’d be one time when the devil didn’t stand a snowball’s chance in hell. But there it was.”

Joad’s been in prison for four years, he interrupts and says maybe he should have been a preacher, because he’s been a long time without a woman and, “It’s gonna take some catchin’ up.”

Casey continues to ponder the hypocrisy. “An’ I says, ‘Why is it that when a fella ought to be just about mule-ass proof against sin, an’ all full up of Jesus, why is it that’s the time a fella gets to fingerin’ his pants buttons?’”

As Casey and Joad share the whiskey, Casey says he maybe has the answer. Who’s responsible for right and wrong in the world? “I figgered, ‘Why do we got to hang it all on God or Jesus? Maybe,’ I figgered, ‘maybe it’s all men an’ all women we love; maybe that’s the Holy Sperit – the human sperit – the whole shebang. Maybe all men got one big soul everybody’s a part of.’”

Yep, that’s what I figgered when I was hearing folks from Alabama proclaiming on news reports that Roy Moore wasn’t a middle-aged man preying on teenage girls at the mall, that he’s a good Christian man. Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. They’re hiding behind God and Jesus, so they don’t have to answer to their own conscious. Yep, that’s what I figger.

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