Monday, May 05, 2008


Rolling Stone reporter Matt Taibbi went undercover in the megachurch of Rev. John Hagee as part of his research for his new book The Great American Derangement. In one of the group sessions, Taibbi was expected to relate what part of his past had given him a spiritual "wound." This is what he came up with:

My heart was pounding. I obviously couldn't use my real past — not only would it threaten my cover, but I was somewhat reluctant to expose anything like my real inner self to this ideologically unsettling process — but neither did I want to be trapped in a story too far from my own experience. What I settled on eventually was something that I thought was metaphorically similar to the truth about myself.

"Hello," I said, taking a deep breath. "My name is Matt. My father was an alcoholic circus clown who used to beat me with his oversize shoes."

The group twittered noticeably. Morgan's eyes opened to tea-saucer size.

I closed my own eyes and kept going, immediately realizing what a mistake I'd made. There was no way this story was going to fly. But there was no turning back.

"He'd be sitting there in his costume, sucking down a beer and watching television," I heard myself saying. "And then sometimes, even if I just walked in front of the TV, he'd pull off one of those big shoes and just, you know — whap!"

I looked around the table and saw three flatlined, plainly indifferent psyches plus one mildly unnerved Morgan staring back at me. I could tell that my coach and former soldier had been briefly possessed by the fear that a terrible joke was being played on his group. But then I actually saw him dismissing the thought — after all, who would do such a thing? I managed to tie up my confession with a tale about turning into a drug addict in my midtwenties — at least that much was true — and being startled into sobriety and religion after learning of my estranged clown father's passing from cirrhosis.

It was a testament to how dysfunctional the group was that my story flew more or less without comment.
I have to admit that I find it hard to believe that this scene could have occurred, mostly because I can't manage to say that clown bit out loud with out bursting into laughter. If Taibi was able to do that with a straight face in that situation that is a truly impressive feat.

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