Midtown Manhattan is awash in litter, particularly on a Monday morning, or first thing after a holiday. I generally arrive in the city shortly after 7 a.m., before the detritus is swept away. Frequently I see, among the discarded food wrappers and cigarette butts, copies of Tony Alamo’s World Newsletter. You can get a pristine copy if you take the subway. An abstemious young man will gladly hand one to you with a smile. The articles are accusatory and unsophisticated examples of prooftexting of the worst kind. Even I know better than to use “you” all the time, implying that “I” am better. The following is typical: “It may seem fun to you to run wild, to do whatever you please, but remember…” Not that Tony Alamo would ever run wild, doing whatever he pleased.
I was curious about the movement. Ironically, Tony Alamo, according to Wikipedia, was convicted as a child sex offender in 2009. It is a pattern as familiar as it is unfortunate. Those who rail loudly against certain behaviors often find themselves practitioners of the same. Perhaps the most surprising aspect of this phenomenon is that it never seems to change, as if the learning curve is just too steep to climb. In the case of evangelists, it may be that treating the Bible as a magical book—mashing all verses together out of context, cherry-picking the one that best seems to fit the sin of the day, creates an impossible standard to follow. The Bible both indicates that you should love your parents and hate them. What it might mean depends on context. Those who snatch a verse from here and a verse from there are practicing the old form of treating the Bible like a book of spells. It can be done, of course, since it has one author (God) and mix-and-match is as good a method as any. What if God was having a bad day?
The lead article I was handed last time on the subway confirms this: “Why Does God Bless and Why Does He Curse?” the pastor wonders. The answer to the latter question, which I have eagerly sought all my life, is finally made plain. What seems to be God’s curse is your own darn fault. You deserve worse, since you are such awful sinners. Pardon me, I seem to have slipped into the second person, based on the vernacular I have been reading. Classic blaming the victim. One can hardly be surprised when evangelists resort to this inexpensive explanation—theodicy has historically been one of the most difficult problems faced by those who declare God all-powerful and all-good. The 6 train squeals into the station. As the doors clinch shut behind me, I see passengers eagerly reading the newsletter. There are those who might give more reasoned answers to life’s pressing questions, but they can’t afford to hire young proteges to stand in a dank subway station to hand out their wisdom. It has to be found by chance, like litter on the streets of the city.
A person’s car is a haven of sorts. Very expensive, dangerous and yet necessary, they have made life a fair bit easier than caring for horses when you need to trot down to the Apple store to pick up a charger for your iPhone. When we leave our cars we don’t have to strap on the feedbag, but in many parts of the world, we do have to lock them up. From a young age I was taught not to touch somebody else’s parked car. People are very possessive of them and some folks get upset at even a smudged finish. I always find it strange, then, when a flyer ends up tucked under the windshield wipers. Not that it happens often, but around the holiday season some promoters will go in for the cheap advertising trick of that paper that first makes your heart skip since it looks like a ticket, and then annoys you when you find out it’s just more junk mail. The other day my wife came home with a new type of flyer under the blades. It was from Tony Alamo Christian Ministries.
To be honest, I’d never heard of Tony Alamo before. I seemed to remember the last part of his name, though. In any case, the earnest-looking evangelist warned loudly in the headline “Never Take the Mark of the Beast or You Will Be Eternally Sorry.” This was a cheerful way to greet the holiday season, but I decided to give him a hearing, or at least a brief reading. By the second short column I’d discovered his “Bible only” technique included interpolating [in brackets] his own reading of the Scriptures, but still enclosing them in the quotation marks. This is, categorically, not so different from preaching—the practice of making your followers believe that you have an inside line on what God meant to say in the Bible, but obviously didn’t spell out very clearly. This is the problem with all Bible literalists movements: they claim solely Bible [but only when interpreted their way]. Those who’ve found their windshields thus violated have grounds to be suspicious [if I understand this technique correctly].
It turns out that Tony Alamo is currently in prison [one suspects the parallel to Paul of Tarsus, or at least Silas, has passed his mind] for ten counts of transporting children across state borders for illicit purposes. I’m not sure which Gospel condones child molestation [perhaps “suffer the little children to come unto me”], but from the Illinois State Pen he still reaches out to put his grubby flyers beneath the nation’s windshield wipers. He also seems to be terribly worried about the end of times. With a 175 year prison sentence, anybody would be [unless, of course, they’ve be persecuted for righteousness sake, in which case they are blessed—and that’s actually in the Bible]. So beware the paper that get wadded up beneath your wipers. Sometimes the Alamo is best forgotten.