Dear Dirty America


Anorexic UK Religious Programming

February 19
13:00 2012
Perthshire, Scotland

I had encountered American evangelists in small doses on television here in Britain, on the likes of the Clive James show. To me, they seemed very far removed from the gentle preachings of the ministers of my youth. 

Due to my marriage to a Californian girl, I found myself in the land of the free in the summer of 1984. Wow, was that an eye opener. Country boy in the big city! At that time most people only had access to Four television channels. Arriving in Los Angeles, the channels were multiple! Not nearly the choice that there is now, but an eye bugging spectacle to a four channel viewer.

What really caught my attention were the late night religious shows. And they really were shows! Loud music was played. Lots of singing and clapping, sprinkled with shouts of “praise the Lord.” Compared with Scottish Presbyterian services, this was truly entertainment.

In a normal church service on Scotland, if anyone but the minister made any kind of noise, they were stared at and treated as if they had crapped in the font!

In the scheme of religion in Scotland, our wee village kirk was regarded as liberal compared to the Free Kirk. To the elders of this badly misnamed offshoot of the Presbyterian Church, music was the work of Satan! All hymn singing was done without accompaniment of any kind.  Not very jolly. But that of course, was the point.

In America, it seemed that religion was an altogether more entertaining entity. Although, I did wonder why people were sending vast amounts of cash they probably couldn’t afford, to these charming preachers.

There were names like Jerry Falwell, Jim and Tammy Bakker, Oral Roberts, and my favourite, Benny Hinn. It was amazing, they told viewers to hold their hands to the TV screen at the same time as the preacher did, and they would be healed. Fabulous!

Crippled children were made walk again, cancer was cured and all were rendered unconscious by the merest touch of the preachers hand. Amazing!

In the church in Scotland, the only time the minister touched someone, was to christen them. Otherwise it was strictly hands off. Here, I’m only talking about Presbyterianism. I’m not touching on the Catholic Church, as it were.

As far as giving money to the Church goes, a plate was handed round part of the way through the service. Children would put in the few coins their parents gave them. Adults put in small buff coloured envelopes, sealed tightly, to make sure no one else saw what was given.

Americans, on the other hand, threw money at these slightly greasy, smiling life savers. It was religious show business. It was also money for old rope! I remember seeing the Crystal Cathedral, and thinking, money from the poor saps who believed, has built this monstrosity and made the owners very rich.

Here, we have a few alternative religions. Generally offshoots. They are mostly of the happy clappy, smiley variety. All itchy sweaters and brown rice. They eat bread that looks and tastes like Harris Tweed. Mostly they are run by earnest young people who believe every DVD they have been forced to watch. They smile a lot but only with their mouths. There is an emptiness about them.

The American preachers always seemed able to fake sincerity really well. A real talent! As we now know, many of these life savers have been brought to book for their money making schemes. A good thing too.

In Britain, most of our religious scandals seem to be about sex. (I’m still leaving out the Catholic Church.) It’s usually a minister or, in the case of England, vicar, who runs off with a parishioner. Small time stuff. 
No, minister found in bed with sheep, type of stories. Mores the pity!

I like American religious programming. It is entertainment. Over here religious television programmes are very thin on the ground. And practically anorexic when it comes to entertainment!

The differences between American and British religious worship are many and varied. That can only be a good thing. Wouldn’t have it any other way.

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