Sermons Most Peculiar

09 June 2005

The Revealer‘s been sluggish of late, but we’ve a revival in the works. This fall, The Revealer will be going bi-coastal, drawing the on the combined powers of NYU’s and USC’s graduate journalism programs. In the meantime, summer updates will be slightly less frequent, but we’ll be publishing some original work by young religion journalists that bears reading and consideration.

First, though, we’ve some catching up to do. Following are several chunks of religion journalism we’ve been pondering lately. “Religion”? “Journalism”? The terms are vague, which is why The Revealer continues to define them by way of collage, a great big clash of stories and genres and opinions and facts. The stuff of sermons, you might say, only lots more exciting.

1. In his new book, Led Zeppelin IV, techgnostic Erik Davis goes talmudic on the band of our youth. Davis, writes Revealer colleague Mark Dery, “follows the hyperlinks of his sprawling erudition and far-flung interests wherever they lead him, riffing on rock history, fan consciousness, a 632-page crackpot exegesis by a Zep fan-turned-born-again-Christian (‘without a doubt the most exhaustive occult reading of Zep yet attempted’), the disembodiment of music in the age of mechanical reproduction, the creepily necromantic nature of dead voices resurrected by the phonograph needle, the 19th century occultist Austin Osman Spare (whose concept of the sigil unlocks the deeper meanings of those inscrutable Zoso glyphs), and the terrifying true nature (now it can be told!) of the ‘five seconds of pulsating electronic spooge’ that opens ‘Black Dog.'”

If you dig terrifying true natures as much as we do, enter the sprawling erudition of Davis and Dery in conversation.

2. Speaking of terrifying true natures, few can compete with that of Dr. W. David Hager, a Bush health appointee, as revealed by Ayelish McGarvey in a recent edition of The Nation. What’s so scary? “For… seven years Hager sodomized [his wife] without her consent while she slept roughly once a month until their divorce in 2002, she claims. ‘My sense is that he saw [my narcolepsy] as an opportunity.'”

Yeah, that’s scary. But why is it a religion story? Because Hager was and is a prominent Christian conservative speaker and, charges McGarvey, is also a Christian activist in what should be a realm of science — the FDA’s Advisory Committee for Reproductive Health Drugs. McGarvey should know — she’s a theologically conservative Christian herself, not to mention one of the most thorough journalists of religion around. This story leaves Hager nowhere to hide — except for the mainstream press, which barely grazed the story, one of the most disturbing portraits of religious hypocrisy to come out of this administration.

3. Still not scared? Then how about… Satan! Only, it turns out that there’s nothing less scary than Satanists in Manhattan. Jim Knipfel of Slackjaw fame celebrates the publication of a new edition of the Satanic Bible by visiting with a disconsolate member of the Church of Satan, recently relocated to Hell’s Kitchen, in Manhattan. What seems to be the problem? New York isn’t naughty anymore. Ok, agreed; Times Square has become the geographic equivalent of a handi-wipe, sterilizing our sin-natures in anti-septic oceans of advertising. But what’s really interesting here is how blandly transparent Satanists turn out to be, lamenting the good old days just like Edith Bunker. This would not strike as unusual were it not for the fact that The Revealer receives at least one email a week accusing us of New York Citified, blue-state, hedonistic elitism. To which our most effective reply is: If this is as carnal as we can be, we’ve got nothing on Topeka.

4. Onto Lowell, MA, for “Nana Dharma”: “Of his grandmother — who hails from Jack Kerouac’s hometown, Lowell, Massachusetts — Mark DeCarteret says, “She knew ‘beat’ when it meant working in a mill at sixteen, the thundering of the factory obliterating any attempts at reflection. Her observations are Old World practicality cut with a near Zen detachment. But mostly they’re just the words of an elderly woman who can’t help thinking that no matter where you stand in this world, it always seems to be on fire…

5. Also out of Lowell, a new radio show from Christopher Lydon, formerly of The Connectionand David MillerOpen Source, one of the first episodes of which features Jeff Sharlet,Real Live Preacher, and Sarah Dylan Breuer, talking about God and godlessness online.

Open Source may soon be fully national, but right now it reaches an oddly select audience, airing on public radio stations in Boston, Seattle, and Salt Lake City.

Clearly, God has a mission for Jeff Sharlet in Salt Lake City: The very next day, he joined Nick Burns on Radio Free Utah’s Radioactive to discuss his most recent Harper’s story, “Soldiers of Christ” — amped up on KRCL’s website it should be noted, with the addition of “armed,” “fundamentalist,” and “extremist,” which is, perhaps, a bit extreme, too.