Category Archives: Books

Two Rulebooks

I was reading along in The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap when the following passage by Matt Taibbi smote me in the eye:

As a very young man, I studied the Russian language in Leningrad, in the waning days of the Soviet empire. One of the first things I noticed about that dysfunctional wreck of a lunatic country was that it had two sets of laws, one written and one unwritten. The written laws were meaningless, unless you violated one of the unwritten laws, at which point they became all-important.

So, for instance, possessing dollars or any kind of hard currency was technically forbidden, yet I never met a Soviet citizen who didn’t have them. The state just happened to be very selective about enforcing its anticommerce laws. So the teenage farsovshik (black market trader) who sold rabbit hats in exchange for blue jeans outside my dorm could be arrested for having three dollars in his pocket, but a city official could openly walk down Nevsky Avenue with a brand-new Savile Row suit on his back, and nothing would happen.

Everyone understood this hypocrisy implicitly, almost at a cellular level, far beneath thought. For a Russian in Soviet times, navigating every moment of citizenship involved countless silent calculations of this type. But the instant people were permitted to think about all this and question the unwritten rules out loud, it was like the whole country woke up from a dream, and the system fell apart in a matter of months. That happened before my eyes in 1990 and 1991, and I never forgot it.

This sounds so familiar to me. In the dorm rooms, classrooms, church auditoriums, and camp cabins of fundamentalism there are also two rule books. Don’t listen to music with a beat, unless you’re the son of a favored deacon. Don’t go to the beach, unless you’re a big tither. Don’t wear the wrong clothes, unless you’re the pastor’s granddaughter.

And above all, don’t fall from grace or else the indulgences granted to you by the local Baptist pope will be rescinded and you’ll find that the same rules that apply to the unwashed masses are suddenly laid on you as well.

Famous Fundy Novels


photo by Stewart Butterfield

Call me…Pastor. (Moby-Dick)

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a preacher boy in possession of a bible school diploma, must be in want of a wife. (Pride and Prejudice)

It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. (no change required to 1984)

Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life is a foregone conclusion. I’m an evangelist, how could I not be? (David Copperfield)

It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents, except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the house-tops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness. We went soulwinning anyway. (Paul Clifford)

The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel, the only real channel that any good Christian should be watching given the filth on television these days. (Neuromancer)

I am a sick man . . . I am a spiteful man . . .(no change required to Notes from Underground)

It was like so, but wasn’t. At least that’s what the pastor kept insisting. (Galatea 2.2)

All this happened to the evangelist, more or less. (Slaughterhouse-Five)

Elmer Gantry was drunk. (no change needed to Elmer Gantry)

It was a pleasure to burn Vatican Corrupted Bibles. (Fahrenheit 451)

Miss Brooke had that kind of beauty which seems to be thrown into relief by frumpy jean jumpers. (Middlemarch)

Once upon a time, there was a woman who discovered she had turned into the wrong person. (No change needed to Back When We Were Grownups)

He was an inch, perhaps two, under six feet, powerfully built, and he advanced straight at you with a slight stoop of the shoulders, head forward, and a fixed from-under stare which made you think of a charging bull. Then he’d introduce himself as Doctor Pastor Brother Hyles. (Lord Jim)

Justice?—You get justice in the next world, in this world you have the law. (no change needed to A Frolic of His Own)

They say when trouble comes close ranks, and so the fundamentalist people did. (Wide Sargasso Sea)

Do you have any to add? Let’s hear them!

Trial By Fire (Bob Gray cries “Persecution!”)

Bob Gray (Texas) has a new book out exploring the trials and tribulations endured by Independent Baptists. Oh, how they suffer.

Topics covered include: “Satan’s Attack on Pastoral Authority”, “Satan’s Attack Using Calvinism”, and and that ever present question: “Why Do Adult Children Rebel?” To that last perhaps not thinking of them as “adult children” and just calling them “adults” might be helpful.

Disappointingly, the only way to get your hands on this literary masterpiece right now is to direct order it from Bob himself. However, Christmas is coming up and I’m hopeful that one of these may find its way into my fireplace stocking. I can’t wait to see if there are any veiled references to SFL in its pages.