If I had some combination of poorer ethics and a more stupid and derivative writing style, I’d probably strike out as a “Christian writer.” The barriers to entry are negligible, the market for that kind of dreck is huge, and the potential payout is substantial. Just ask Joel Osteen.

The paradox, of course, is that the prerequisites for being a “Christian writer” are not being a Christian and being a writer. Ken White, the grand poobah and Twitter specialist at Popehat, is a church deacon and an excellent writer. He also has a custom of leveling withering attacks on scummy salesmen, and that’s bad juju in the kind of churchy circles that maintain high-power publishing houses. Salesmanship is very important to these people, which you can understand if you take a look at the underlying quality of their publications and imagine the difficulty of popularizing anything so shitty solely by word of mouth.

Then there’s the matter of his pottymouth. The “Christian” publishing industry is all about using “clean language.” It doesn’t matter whether the sentiments being expressed are in any way clean; what matters is that the language is Bowdlerized to death. Bowdlerization covers a multitude of sins, such as high-volume wire and mail fraud. After all, how could someone who speaks so highly of holy living and never takes the Lord’s name in vain in his speech ever be some kind of con artist? Surely not a pastor, right? I mean, my goodness!

So Ken is out. At this point, maybe you’re thinking, all right, even if Ken White’s brains have been scrambled by too much time around criminal defendants whom Ken regularly joins in the gutter, surely the Christian publishing industry can find less cynical men who have less impish fascination with their own routine debasement, such as David Kuo or Douglas Kmiec. Again, wrong. Those guys have an ethics problem, as in too much of the stuff, Kuo especially thanks to his exposure of George W. Bush’s dry drunk’s Christianity as something of a fraud on a constituency that he and his administration regarded as useful idiots. You know, David, it really doesn’t help others in their Walk with Christ to hear an administration insider question the faith of such a strong witness who was America’s first Catholic president.

What does help people in their Walk is a good God-fearing publication like the Christian Journal, so that they might be convicted of the need for increased Godliness in their lives as a result of having nothing better to read at the laundromat. If any developed country would have such a thing as “Christian” laundromats, it would be the United States. I’ve personally done laundry in at least three laundromats that provided tracts, one of which played “positive, encouraging K Love” over the loudspeakers. For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, K Love is a shitty radio network that broadcasts hideous emo “praise and worship” music throughout the West, especially in rural markets. Any kind of garbage that explicitly or plausibly refers to God and makes Death Cab for Cutie sound manful is fit for airtime on K Love. At least one of these “praise and worship songs” repeatedly refers to its subject in the second person in such a way that it’s impossible to establish for certain whether it refers to God or to a more worldly crush here on earth.

Now, if you’re thinking that “Kyrie eleison” by Mister Mister is an obvious match, once again you’re wrong. These Christian pop/secular pop crossover songs really only work when they cross over from temple to marketplace, and they’re best suited for the journey if they’re roundly shitty. “Kyrie eleison” has numerous flaws: manful, competent lyrics; genuine humility, as opposed to the overbearing, contrived kind that is in fashion; a solid, non-emo eighties power ballad accompaniment; overall coherence. It’s a clusterfuck of what I can honestly call goodness, as opposed to the personal character that so many Bible-thumpers see fit to pledge as collateral so that they might utter stupid, inarticulate oaths in a manner pleasing to God.

The stuff on K Love is more or less what Mister Mister would be if it totally sucked and were made up of a bunch of smarmy pseudohipsters on a warehouse stage in headsets and Steve Jobs turtlenecks. It was my terrible luck to be stuck listening to that shit on a Saturday afternoon when I had been unable to tune in to either Scott Simon or Sedge Thomson because the hotel where I was staying didn’t have radios in its guest rooms. To add insult to injury, K Love carries news bulletins from a fucked up little outfit called SRN News, which is a fun house version of an NPR newscast in which the aggressively Midwestern local anchors on “Family Guy” recite a litany of bad things that various secular governments recently did to churches to cause some combination of religious freedom infringements and aggravated butthurt.

For those Americans who are sensible enough not to give a shit about this kind of idiocy, it’s inconceivable, but in a good swath of what might sanctimoniously be called the Heartland, it’s a cultural power center. Listening to it in a laundromat in Mansion Flats, oddly one of the better neighborhoods in Sacramento, was enough to make me want Mark Fuhrman to start jamming the whole operation with his own “negative, discouraging K Hate.”

The notion of a “Christian” laundromat is bizarre from a biblical perpsective since laundromats are one of the most obvious predations on the American poor. “And Jesus went into the towns, and ministered to the poor, and charged twenty shekels for the soap that the town soapmakers sold for one shekel….” Of course, this assumes that the Gospels have a bearing on business practices, rather than their existence being used to speciously justify whatever extraneous sleaze American businessmen find expedient. To give away the ending, it’s the latter.

So what one finds to read at the laundries, amidst the months-old issues of People and Good Housekeeing, is the Christian Journal, an insipidly stupid outlet catering mainly to the State of Jefferson, although also to captive audiences, as it were, as far away as Chino. The authors one finds in this rag include a fellow calling himself Petey Prater, because nothing conveys credibility better than the adoption of the most juvenile nickname possible that still relates to one’s given name, or writing about how after a period of prayer to become more receptive to the Holy Spirit, one started receiving subtle, at first indiscernible, messages from God, messages that one ignored because they seemed pointless but that turned out to be big time-savers. Thus was Petey Prater instructed to buy fruit at the grocery store, but it seemed like a fool’s errand, that is, until a few hours later when a friend arrived from out of town and said that she would love to have a fruit salad.

Hey, if God will tell that doofus to buy pineapple, can I sign up for bus schedule alerts? It’s kind of annoying to have to text OCTA for arrival times. Would it not be cheaper and a lot easier to just get the information from the Master Bus Scheduler Himself?

According to Mr. Prater, or as his friends in the South would presumably call him, Mr. Petey, his stupid article about all the ways that God gave him Twilight Zone errand lists had something to do with obedience. You see, the theme of that issue of the Christian Journal was “OBEY.” In that spirit, the reader got to hear from a goody-two-shoes RN who bragged about how wonderful her childhood was because she always followed the rules and how terrible she felt when she went to check on a patient and didn’t even look her in the eye because she was “invested in machines.” Actually, the way she phrased it was “one time I went to check on a patient so invested in machines that I forgot….” Apparently she wasn’t so invested in syntax, but the story was a good opportunity to brag about how she cried because she hadn’t made eye contact. This woman was a floor nurse, and she was crying because about that. Now, to paraphrase what I wrote about that sensitive neurosurgeon’s scrub nurse, it was her piddling mistake, and she could cry if she wanted to, cry if she wanted to, cry if she wanted to; you would cry, too, if you happened to have no perspective about your job. Maybe there had been other stressors; I certainly hope so, because if there wasn’t, I wouldn’t want someone that emotionally volatile as my nurse. That would be like listening to United captains make pants-shitting announcements about upcoming chop.

Impressively, these were two of the more coherent pieces in the Christian Journal. The letters to the editor were atrocious, with the partial exception of one from an Adrian in Chino (more on him below), One of the full-length articles tried its best to be chatty but instead came across as completely unhinged, like a Charlie Sheen stream-of-consciousness essay Bowdlerized by Mitt Romney. The thing is, when you reach a certain level of batshit, it doesn’t matter what subjects or word choices are off-limits; the sheer craziness will carry you through. Your raging case of teh Nutz will get a nice extra boost from its proximity to ads for nondenominational churches that feature the Star of David in their insignia as a sign of backhanded support for “the Jewish people,” the same kind of support shown by my fellow passenger on the OCTA 29 bus a few months ago who told a guy over the telephone that he was “planning on visiting my Jewish friend Adam” but had decided to go to church instead. (Huntington Beach is a great place for such people. They like to do their evangelism in really swanky places with nice weather and cool surfer types, or alternately skiiers or country musicians or generic rich people who might be persuaded to bankroll their “waiting on the Lord.”)

The most coherent article in the paper came from Adrian Torres, lately of Chino, whose contribution ot the literature of groveling sycophancy included a complaint about fellow inmates who shouted “keys on the tier” whenever a guard entered their wing, so that the miscreants could hide whatever they were doing wrong, probably including drugs and being “lost in the sauce,” as the drinkers in the federal system say. This was the best organized essay in the whole paper, and it came from a California prison inmate; then again, Chino is arguably the flagship campus of the California Department of Corrections, its prison law library the Boalt Hall of how do I get the fuck out of this hellhole. But it was an awfully low bar that Torres cleared. Staying on topic was enough, even if the topic was scolding one’s fellow prisoners who weren’t down with Jesus for doing things that would get them written up and trying to hide these things from the guards. He didn’t say what these infractions were, but I suspect they weren’t particularly heinous; “keys on the tier” isn’t enough warning to cover up a murder scene.

Torres sounded like the teacher’s pet who rats on his classmates for passing around lewd drawings during boring lectures. This may be an effective adaptive mechanism for a brutal environment, but it certainly doesn’t sound dignified or principled. The inmates in a well-behaved tier, he scolded us, don’t have need to yell “keys on the tier” as often as the miscreants on badly-behaved tiers, but really what should happen is that in recognition of the lordship of Jesus Christ, when we hear “keys on the tier,” we should respond “amen hallelujah!”

The kind of people who publish this sort of shit minister to prisoners for a reason, and it isn’t a good one. These publications are crude social control mechanisms, and social control mechanisms work best on people with limited options. Being locked up is a pretty serious limitation by any reasonable standard, and preaching “freedom” to prisoners rather than advocating on behalf of their release or remand to a more flexible type of supervision would seem to be a rather cruel sort of bottomfeeding. The fucked up thing is that the publishers of this sort of newspaper have a different conception of “freedom” than you and I. Being incarcerated isn’t the real infringement of freedom; a criminal “justice” system that puts the highest percentage of its citizens in the world behind bars isn’t the problem; the problem is not having a personal relationship with Jesus, and that’s why you should sponsor a subscription to the Christian Journal for an inmate for just $20. Adrian Torres himself said that that subscription will give an inmate freedom, and he knows that because “I’m an inmate too.” With an attitude like his, you figure he might be a trustee as well.

These people aren’t honest enough to put it the way the satirical federal prison warden put it in “America: the Book:” “Free your mind, because your ass ain’t going anywhere.” That’s a big part of the problem with American penal politics in general. The “Christian” publishing industry isn’t just indifferent to criminal justice reform; with its disingenuous, frankly dishonest definition of “freedom,” it’s actively obstructive. Nothing gets done when a citizenry has its head that far up its ass.

I’m thinking maybe I should publish a “Christian” rag of my own, since Jesus is the reason for the season, but so is a bunch of pagan stuff, and definitely ugly sweaters. Baywatch, for one, looks super hot in an ugly sweater, and I’ve told her as much. She doesn’t wear that kind of thing for the God-honoring modesty of it all, either, but it doesn’t much matter since there are no keys on her tier. The “Christian” publishing industry resents that kind of freedom, the real kind, and Adrian Torres may, too, but there’s no need for us to let the crabs drag us back into the barrel.

This seems like a good time of year to publish The Bad Christian’s Guide to a Drunken and Slatternly Advent. Yup, it’ll be a bit sacriligeous, to the extent that it is published at all, but so is pretty much everything that’s marketed as “Christian,” just differently, and more disingenuously. It’s fixing to be an improvement over the extant literature on the subject, to say nothing of the music.

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