Praying for America
By Dutch Sheets
Regal Books, 2001
"A cave is a dark place, similar to the present condition of America."
-- Dutch Sheets
There's a scene in the fourth "Living Dead" movie, Day of the Dead, where they capture a zombie and pen him in a subterranean lab. They want to examine a specimen in order to understand this mindless cannibal breed that has taken over the United States.
It's a haunting scene, deeply sad in the way those Romero films are. It turns out that you can't teach a zombie much. "Bud" the zombie learns to answer a phone, but that's about it. Beyond that, there's not much to him but pus and fangs. Something almost human looks out of his eyes now and then, especially when he sees an Army uniform -- Bud was a soldier once, and he still remembers to salute. But it turns out you can't trust those flickering vestiges of humanity. The only way to deal with the beasts is to kill them all.
And that pretty much sums up the findings of my recent experiment in trying to understand the Christians. I thought it might be interesting to read an American Christian response to the WTC attacks, see what the drooling zombies who have taken over my country have to say about this calamity striking God's favorite country. I picked Praying for America off the Amazon lists because it looked relatively literate. This glossy pamphlet is the work of one "Dutch Sheets." (I know, I know: nobody could be named "Dutch Sheets;" it sounds more like the punchline to a pubescent joke -- and in a sense, it is -- but it's also the name of the author, pastor of a church in Colorado Springs, Colorado.)
Praying for America wasn't very literate, actually; Dutch has a prose style even a social scientist would be ashamed to own. But it was informative. Above all, I learned that the rightist American Christians have mutated, gotten a lot better organized than they used to be. Dutch says many times that he speaks for "the Church in America." This confused me at first, because I was raised to think "the Church" meant the Vatican; the Protestants were a disorganized rabble, a chaos of feuding sects. But that was long ago. The Bible-thumpers got smart and formed up. When Dutch talks about "the Church in America," he means it. They march in step now. Dutch doesn't even bother naming the particular sect he fronts for, because the militant Protestants are a single body now, far more united and a thousand times more powerful than the senescent Church of Rome ever was.
The Christians snuck up on us. We used to laugh at them -- and then suddenly they were on us, hordes of grinning zombies. I used to prate about Whitman and the cadences of the King James Bible, Pilgrim's Progress and Horatio Alger, Jerry Lee Lewis and Jim Swaggart, the Evangelical tradition in American literature, Stonewall Jackson, dying, delirious, murmuring "Let us cross the river and rest in the shade of the trees...." I used to refuse to indulge in Christian-baiting at Berkeley because it was, as I used to say, "unsporting."
All that seems like self-indulgent campy idiocy now. "Unsporting"? What does "sport" have to do with it? It's Romero time: hole up on the roof of a mall with a hunting rifle and pick them off one by one... you have to get them in the head, remember. They don't go down unless you hit them in the head.
And when you read their tracts, and find out what goes on in those heads -- believe me, shooting them is a mercy.
Where to begin? Well, take a deep breath, hold your nose, and dive with me into the rotting insides of Praying for America. It's a slick little pamphlet, with good graphics and a good sense of strategy. It borrows many technique from that venerable American literary genre, the salesman's handbook -- but that's nothing new. American evangelists and pep-talking sales guys have always slipped easily between their respective callings (e.g., Norman Vincent Peale).