The Sacred and the Profane

Or, Robert …

When Jeremiah Wright changed “God bless America” to “God damn America,” he did no more than Jesus did in the beatitudes. But he did it to America’s secular religion, which is, of course: America the Beautiful. At least, he did that when he was quoted out of his context, when the words of his sermon were cut away and that phrase was left standing, looking more like a raise middle finger than the flowering tree it had been. What does this have to do with Ricouer? America’s secular religion is, in Ricouer’s words, “centered upon a kernel-event,” largely these days the aftermath of World War II, but including selected portions of American history since at least 1776. That kernel-event has “both a historical import and a kerygmatic dimension,” the kerygma here being how “beautiful, for spacious skies” America is. The legends and isolated sagas of American history, isolated to make them more easily fit into the desired kerygma, are rearranged in a meaningful sequence so as to constitute a unique story: white America’s story. White, middle-class America’s story.

… and Jacob:

“Singing ‘God Bless The USA,’ Kristy Lee Cook.” And she does the fucker right, dude, with like red white and blue shit happening everywhere and a serious no-kidding stars and garters flag waving in the background. She heads over to one side of the stage and saves some puppies from Nazis and knits a doily for our boys in Iraq and paints a sign saying “Cancer Is Bad,” and then on the other side of the stage, Our Lord Jesus Christ gives her a high five and he’s like, “Remember that time I was walking on the beach and then there were those footprints? Thanks, Kristy Lee Cook.”

America is awesome. When you trot out this bullshit sentimental warmed-over brainless hateful crap, you are seriously disconnecting yourself from America and why it’s great. It’s like Hallmark cards: the opposite of caring. You cannot let somebody else tell you what your heart says. Just by singing this song, the Colonel is saying that she hates America. The real America that is made with blood and bravery and strength and love, the real America that demands that you draw your circle as wide as you can and spend every day serving it with your hands, that goes right out the fucking window when you pass the buck to some stupid shit song like this. And you know who eats it up, because it’s always the same fucking people that eat this vomit, are the people who are too lazy to think about America or love her in the first place. I hate this fucking song, I hate this stupid girl, and I hate that this is happening, because my whole theory about how this show reflects the wider culture cuts both ways and I don’t want to think about that. These are our people and they deserve to be loved, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to let anybody tell me that this is the best that we can be. We are more than this.

Two possibilities, with the story you tell about who you are.

Number one, that in an effort live up to your own words, you get up every day, and work at being the person you tell yourself you are. You get up every day and decide not to suck. (I’m working on this novel right now, in my head mostly and on Post-Its and a legal pad, about choices, about how it’s not just one choice, about how love and life are choices all the time, every day, and it could always go another way, so grab on to what you want and hold on tight and decide every day to hold on again.) That’s one way it could go. You get up every day and you decide who you’re going to be and you go be it. And the story about how you’re good, you make that story true.

The other way to go, of course, is that you use that story as a dodge, as a cover, as an excuse to paper over all the shitty things you do, and when somebody tries to point out that your cosmic slip is showing, just put your fingers in your ears and sing “Proud To Be An American” and paint “God Bless America” on your car and go get a tattoo. Pull that story over your head and go back to sleep, and don’t worry that you might be making the story a lie with your ignorance and your fear. The story’s enough, you don’t need to make it true, it just is, and anybody who says otherwise is a heathen who needs to be denounced.


6 thoughts on “The Sacred and the Profane

  1. You know, you could like try a third alternative, which is to accept that you guys live in a country just like everyone else’s, with some good points and some bad points, and that you’re really no better or worse than everyone else, just maybe a bit more powerful. That said, “powerful” is not synonymous with “better.” (I’d submit that the reason you folks wound up with the power right now has to do with a historical happenstance, but “lucky” isn’t synonymous with “better” either.)

  2. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, to do whatever YOU want and then cover it with “And God Bless America” is to profane the name of God (one of the 10 commandments). See the Sermon on the Mount where Christ said not to pray in repetitions of vain phrases. Or to put it in C S Lewis, it is to treat Aslan as a tame lion.
    So I have absolutely no problem with the Rev. Wright. First Black Protestant Churches have traditionally had a rather flamboyant preaching style. Second, even from the sound bite, I gathered that he was saying that you can’t do this, this, and this and then say “Oh, and god bless america. The End.”
    Iinstead, I say, may America behave in a manner consistent with God.

  3. Interesting how this dovetails with that other bullshit controversy about Obama not wearing a flag pin on his lapel. It’s the same issue—shallow, phony display that serves mainly to prop up your own self-image as a good and wonderful person vs. sincere effort to live up to the principles you claim you hold dear. Or latching onto something that is after all just a symbol (flag or cross) and plastering that symbol all over yourself while shitting on everything the symbol is supposed to symbolize.

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