Friday, March 19, 2004

Why the Modern World Makes Me Puke

Via Fr. Sibley's Saintly Salmagundi we learn the story of a newspaper delivery man who was fired because he refused to deliver a newspaper whose art, he thought, mocked his religion. You can see the cover and the story here. There are at least three things here that make me sick.

1. Any abuse of my religion for commercial purposes makes me puke, and boring unimaginative abuse makes me puke harder. The age is preoccupied with boring abuse of my religion. Pictures of Jesus holding basketballs coupled with derisive use of the Scriptures, all to giggle about how seriously the locals take the game? That's about as shocking and avant garde as the next drip from a broken faucet. There's a reason that kind of pseudo-witty twaddle is called "sophomoric," and the reason's not intended to compliment sophomores.

2. Stupid cant makes me puke. Like John Yarmouth, the suit who publishes Leo, explaining, "It was certainly not meant in anyway to mock religion. It was an attempt to mock the passion devoted to basketball in this community." Sure, John, sure. It'll be like when I post a cover of Leo on my blog that shows how you work for Larry Flynt to print the American Association of Pedophiles' daily journal. See, my intention won't be to mock Leo, it will only be an attempt to mock how Larry Flynt pretends to be a journalist and how pedophiles want to mainstream their perversion.

3. Self-divinizing cant also makes me puke. Again, from Hustler executive John Yarmouth: "Yarmouth say he respects [the carrier's] opinion, but says it's not his job to give one. ‘You can't just do business when you allow a supplier or a vendor to essentially censor what you're publishing.'" Yeah, John, sure. You "respect" your employee so much you fired him. If Yarmouth were a man who at least had pretensions to civility, kindness, and decency, he would have just kept David Wine on, and paid someone else extra to do a double route. Or even -- gasp! -- deliver the paper himself. It's not like Wine's motives were unworthy, or that Wine's decided to exercise editorical control over every issue of the paper. A family's sustenance is worth something, and it's not to be lightly tossed away by a single misstep.

But in Yarmouth's world only other people make missteps; he certainly has no duty to react with charity or kindness to even the slightest glitch in his own plans. That David Wine refused to deliver the paper for what is, at bottom, the kind of worthy reasons our culture is supposed to praise -- "commitment," "character," "integrity" and the like -- is irrelevant. For Yarmouth, the Incarnation of charity and kindness is just a punch-line, and anyone who acts as though it were something more deserves whatever he gets.

Like all those puffed-up personages who Oliver Goldsmith called "Little Great Men," Yarmouth contemplates himself as a puissant prince of propriety. The carrier's insubordination was Censorship, pure and simple. It was a brutal and dire attack on the right of every man to be free, to quest for what is true, good, and beautiful -- the sacred human patrimony which can be kept alive only by purchasing copies of Leo magazine. Only a man of vision, a man of true guts, could repulse this minimum-wage earner's attempt to overthrow human civilization by depriving Kentuckians of one day's worth of Leo's wisdom. Stories like "Hello Norma Jean -- Did You Know that Marilyn Monroe Was Named After a Louisvillian?" put people in touch with the vital center of the human condition. Probing and thoughtful essays such as, "The Langford Files: WHAS weather gambit, other tacks put WAVE GM in the spotlight," are all that stands between Louisville and gibbering barbarity. To interfere with that is to trifle with the fate of mankind. When David Wine refused to deliver one single issue of Leo the lamps were going out all over Louisville, and we feared that we may not have seen them relit in our lifetime. Fortunately we had a Little Great Man like John Yarmouth to play the martinet plunge into the breach, to enforce his will by fear and punishment risk himself in the struggle for civilization by firing the only guy at Leo with principles worth acting on protecting Leo from the enemies of man. Yes, small people are going to get crushed in Yarmouth's Noble Struggle. But you can't call yourself the publisher of a trendy and eccentric magazine in a medium-sized city without breaking a few eggs . . . .

Of course, Yarmouth has graciously promised a Covenant with his recalcitrant creature. Wine can have his job back just as long as he promises to deliver every mocking, offensive, and ridiculous caricature of his own life which Leo might choose to publish. It's the kind of deal one expects a suit to offer, especially if the suit's made the same Faustian bargain himself, resolving in his heart to do and say anything to maintain his income. It's the kind of deal a man will refuse. Thank God David Wine is a man.

All this goes to show that people who make God into a cute tag-line haven't ridden themselves of the need to worship. They've just opened the list of candidates for divine honors. So we see that David Wine shouldn't respect Christ's rights. He should respect Leo's rights. Who does Wine say John Yarmouth is? Is John Yarmouth just employer, a man like any other man, or is He someone else? David Wine should obey Leo rather than man, you know, and what was it someone once said? Ah yes, "For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat." 2 Thess. 3:10 (KJV). Let no one say David Wine was fired for worshiping God. He was fired for worshiping the wrong god. In former days that god was something terrible, titanic, world-shattering. Like Hitler, or the Dictatorship of the Proletariat. Now it's just anybody. Like some suit named John Yarmouth and his little magazine.

To some extent this is a tempest in a teapot. Neither Yarmouth nor his magazine are important. They don't employ thousands. And this was a part-time job for Wine, and one hopes that the income he got from Leo will be quickly replaced. David Wine can do work around my house any time he wants the money. I know he's not going to declare himself to be God with the right to take or damage my property, or tell me I have to be happy with a disappointing performance. (Whereas Leo, apparently, discriminates against "ontologically-challenged" people who think other things are bigger than they are).

But I spend time on this story because it indicates what I think is a rising tide of hypocritical, self-divinizing cant in the United States, one which will ultimately be directed in hostility at every Christian who wants to live his faith. I think that -- especially during Lent -- we ought to praise David Wine and think about when and how we'll go about making the same choice he did. David Wine. What a name for our model in this regard -- Old and New Testaments, Christ and His kingly prefiguration, refusing to go along to get along, declining to sell his birthright for a mess of Leo's minimum-wage pottage. Let no one say God doesn't pay attention to little things.

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