I went to a Baptist service in Moscow last Sunday. It's not that I'm getting religion. My attitude to Protestantism is summed up by the old joke about the ex-Catholic who, when approached by a Presbyterian missionary, says haughtily, "I, sir, am an apostate from the TRUE Church."
Look up "John Dolan" on Amazon and you'll find that authors with my name (and there are a lot) mainly write histories of Catholic doctrine. We were that kind of family. Among my father's ten brothers and sisters were two Jesuits and a teaching nun. Not a happy-go-lucky barfly among us; nothing but studious four-eyed Catholics, a teetolaling, non-cute subspecies.
California in the hippie days rescued me from a life in the chilly bosom of the Church -- who needs God when the hippie girls, so much more worthy of worship, are right there in school with you? Even describing myself as an "atheist" seemed excessive, a word for Victorian cranks who actually took the issue seriously. My view, a typical one in CA, is that serious interest in any religion on the part of anyone born in the developed world after 1945 is a symptom of intellectual disability.
But the problem is that America turns out to be a very Christian country. A Protestant, Cromwellian country, to be exact. I've been trying to understand what turned my country into a thrashing autistic monster in the past few years, and unfortunately, if you want to understand America, you've got to learn a little about radical Protestantism. Bush got the Southern Baptist vote by a stunning 68% to a miserable 38% for Gore. And the polls say that this same core of crazed Baptists intends to vote for the little freak again, after he's absolutely destroyed everything in America except Mexican food. And I hear Cheney's hired a consultant to figure out how to wreck Mexican food too. These people are mad, but their madness comes straight out of the real America, whose pure products go crazy.
And when a culture goes crazy, it falls back on its deepest, oldest delusions. So when America stopped taking its medication and started raving, sometime in the early 80s, it fell back on devout frenzies from the other Civil War, the Roundheads who considered Cromwell a squeamish moderate. They didn't die, they just moved west. They live now in Atlanta and Sacramento, everywhere the born-again majority tends its lawns. They gladly serve as the sucker base of the American pyramid scheme, happy martyrs to a half-million conmen.
And their purest expression is the Baptists. The Methodists are too kindly, the Presbyterians softpedal Predestination, the Episcopals are little more than a gay dating service. If you want to understand why Americans act like such suckers -- why dead GIs' mothers don't curse Bush's name, why Enron employees don't climb over their former bosses' fences with combat knives between their teeth -- you have to go see the Baptists. God knows they're easy to find. They're everywhere, even in countries like Mongolia. And naturally they're here in Moscow, listed online as the IBF, "International Baptist Fellowship."
So I set out for their rites on a cold Sunday morning, ending up at a drafty school building near Ul. 1905 Goda station, right behind a McDonald's. I'd rehearsed a fake name, "Tom Giffney," and a cover-story. I didn't really expect to need them -- but I did. Because the Baptists, I discovered, want to get to know you right from the start. They weren't going to let me into the service anonymously. When I tried to sidle past the guard, he led me to an American lady with a scared grin who asked my name and wrote it on a green nametag. With that ridiculous "Tom Giffney" badge pinned on my sportcoat disguise, I was at last allowed into the service.
But that was just the start of the interrogation. The minute I sat down, a tall American who seemed to be running the service asked all "newcomers" to stand up and introduce themselves. It's moments like this that make you realize spies have it pretty tough. Was I "Tom Giffney"...or was it "Gaffney"? I couldn't even remember my alias.