God Translators: Inspiration for The Apostle
It was 1978. I was down with the flu, sneezing into tissues and – my brain liquified by viral entities – watching daytime soaps. A news bulletin arrived, saying California Congressman Leo Ryan had just been viciously murdered in Jonestown, Guyana, there to investigate human-rights abuses at ‘The People’s Temple’, the home of a religious sect headed by the Reverend Jim Jones.
After his special squad of enforcers – the ‘Red Brigade’ – killed Ryan and four others, Reverend Jones convinced over 900 loyal followers to commit suicide by drinking cyanide, over 300 of them children. Those demurring were forced to drink the poison.
Homebound, I had little to do but fixate on the unfolding story over the next few days, fascinated that so many human beings had traded their freedom – and ultimately their lives – for a self-professed ‘Man of God’ who was clearly unbalanced, paranoiac and violent, particularly toward the final days of his tragic journey.
Fast-forward to 2005: I’m pulling out of Jackson, Mississippi, and heading home to Kentucky. It’s Sunday morning in the Deep South and a cultural requisite to tune to hellfire-and-brimstone fundamentalist radio. I happened upon a preacher adamant about a passage in the Bible ‘that God wants you to understand, needs you to understand.’ It’s further explained that the true meaning of God’s crucial communiqué is available from the preacher for ‘only forty dollars’.
The salesman of this revelation was the infamous Reverend Jimmy Swaggart, a pentecostal preacher and televangelist disgraced by sex-related scandals in the late 1980s and early 1990s. It seemed that the omnipotent creator of time and space and vast whirling galaxies couldn’t communicate in plain language and had to rely on translation by a defrocked minister.
It’s religibiquitous: Jim Bakker’s sexual and financial pecadilloes paved the way for his fall from grace, yet he’s currently begging for money in the name of The Almighty. Benny Hinn has been exposed for false healings and a lavish lifestyle, yet retains a broad following and reaps millions annually. And let’s not forget Oral Roberts, who blubbered to his tele-congregation that unless they donated a fast eight million bills to his ministry, God would kill him.
The money poured in.
The newest wrinkle in religio-fundraising is the’“Prosperity Gospel’, a premise holding that Jesus’s caring for the poor was overblown and what Christ truly wanted was everyone materially rich beyond measure. You board this high-yield glory train by giving money that will – through faith – return a hundredfold.
But, of course, the prosperity preacher gets his palm fed first.
The above events and ideas share a commonality: Their practitioners misinterpret religious texts and dogma to benefit their causes, then convince others to buy into the lies. It’s con artistry, pure and simple. And sometimes with disastrous consequences.
These concepts and consequences have been tumbling in my head since I was captive to the flu and beholding the Jonestown horror, finally emerging as The Apostle. The story details grim happenings and heroic ones, and – as in any enterprise where larcenous religionists necessarily lie to themselves – some amusing ones.
The Apostle is not anti-religion. It’s anti-hypocrite, anti-charlatan, anti-lunatic. And to help lead the charge against false idols, Harry Nautilus has returned to the fold, Carson’s right-hand, left-hand, hand-you-never-knew-you-had-nor-needed man.
Brother Harry’s singing in the choir once again.
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