Tag Archives: hypocrisy

Act II: Smile and Smile

Contrary to what some may think, it wasn’t the rules at PCC that started my path away from fundamentalism. Required chapel attendance, lights-out at 11:00, and even white glove may have been cause for some grumbling but in reality they caused no great disquiet in my soul. My whole life I had lived with rules and standards that were often stricter than the ones the college required. I was such a rule follower in those early years my roommates were often amused and annoyed by turns with how conscientious I was. Regarding the righteousness that was in the law I was blameless.

In the end it wasn’t the student handbook that got me, it was the hypocrisy.

Within a few weeks of being a student at PCC there’s a look you learn to spot, a smile of the kind that doesn’t come with teeth. The person in authority with their eyebrows raised painfully high and jaw set in a ferocious caricature of a smile will say the words “Excuse me. Can I get your name and ID number?” This is the PCC equivalent of the Soviet “papers please!?” It’s not a request you can deny.

That smile shows up everywhere. It’s on the faces of most ensemble members who go into the high schools and hedges and invite children as young as six to “come to the school with the water park!.” It’s on display at the front desk of each building where the attendant may just come reprimand you for talking to a girl due to the vagaries of the “chaperoned and unchaperoned” regulations. You’ll also see it on the face of your floor leader as he explains the Tolkien books on your bookshelf (although they’re found in the campus library) don’t “pass check” and will have to be confiscated until the semester ends. I suspect that those who wear that smile too long eventually forget how to really be happy.

The place where the absurdity of this fake cheeriness finally became obvious for me was during the three years that I sang in the Rejoice Choir, the only choir on campus that combined both staff and students to perform on Sunday mornings during the televised service of the Campus Church. It wasn’t the choir itself that was the issue. I actually rather enjoyed Gettys Allen, the choir director and practicing music for two hours on Sunday morning was far preferable to sitting through sophomore Sunday School with some senior preacher boy giving an alliterated lesson on fleeing youthful lusts. That choir would have been a great memory if not for one thing: the ironically named “Rejoice In the Lord” broadcast production team who seemed to think that screaming people into a joyful terror is the best way to make a choir look its best.

The embodiment of this need for manic levels of happiness was an elderly spinster who I’ll refer to only as “Miss W.” would stalk up and down glaring at the choir members as if they personally had stolen away the best years of her life.

“YOU’RE NOT SMILING!!!” she would bellow, completely ignoring that the current verse we were singing was about the crucifixion and probably not an appropriate time to look as if we were having a fit of the giggles.

“YOU’RE ALL TOO PALE!” she would scream (almost always directed at some much younger and prettier female). It wasn’t uncommon to see girls painfully pinching their own cheeks to color them when they spotted her approaching with a rouge brush in hand to “fix” the faces of those deemed unfit for public viewing.

Then, after having been harassed, harangued, and generally howled at, we would tromp out under the bright lights of the Dale Horton Auditorium and sing about how joyful we were to have a God so gracious and loving — although by that point almost none of us were sure that this could be true. If God were anything like Miss W. it was a pretty sure bet that He didn’t even like us unless we smiled and raised our eyebrows until facial cramps set in.

Can you serve a Christ who says “I am the Truth” by perpetuating a fiction of happiness in a place where so many have to fake a joy they cannot honestly claim? I could not seem to find an answer for this or for other even more disturbing questions would soon find me…

The Double Life

There is one truth of all legalists to which fundamentalist are no exception: they cheat. For when people set for themselves the task of self-made sinless perfection, they begin to realize almost immediately exactly how heavy and constraining the yoke that they have taken. However, rather than acknowledge that they have been too ambitious in their personal standards, they merely attempt make their lives at least somewhat tolerable by finding ways around their own rules.

Any good fundamentalist is strictly forbidden to love the things of the world and will touch not and taste not and handle not those abominations which are tainted by unbelievers — if there’s anybody looking. “Thou shalt not get caught” is the first fundamentalist commandment and every young fundy learns it at (or over) their parent’s knee. And the second is like unto it: “That shalt have a really good plan for hiding your behavior and explaining it away if it should be discovered.”

If a Southern Gospel song we really like has a little extra toe-tapping twang then that’s not the same as “rock” music at all. Why that’s merely good-old down-home country-fried music such as good Christian white people have enjoyed forever and isn’t really wrong. Godly music is whatever music I happen to enjoy.

If that movie contains cursing and violence then we rented it from that online place rather than risk ruining our testimony by buying it at Walmart like we were forced to do in the old days. (Thank God for technology!) The only real sin would be watching the movie in a dark room with lost people.

If this fried chicken contains enough cholesterol to ensure we suffer a cardiac event before the age of 40…then we’re really not sure what the problem is since there’s nothing in the Bible about that at all as far as we can remember. Pass the gravy!

For every man-made law there is a man-made evasive tactic that allows any canny fundamentalist to find a loophole his own arbitrary rule without compromising either his “standards” or his ability to judge others for not being as holy as himself. And nothing counts if nobody catches you out.