Some folks from the Christian Scientist community are upset over a line I used in a post-election analysis last week. In reviewing the losses by Republicans in Floyd County, I said:
Republicans willing to talk about the truck that ran them down at the polls felt like, as Tom Lehrer once noted, a Christian Scientist with appendicitis. Their discomfort showed.
Based on some comments posted here and a few more emails that came in over the electronic transom, the remark did not sit well with some who practice the Christian Scientist faith.
Songwriter-satirist (and math professor) Lehrer caught a lot of flak from the Christian Scientist community when he first used the line in his album That Was the Year That Was in 1965 (I’m an unabashed Lehrer fan).
In an introduction to the song, Send the Marines, Lehrer said:
What with President Johnson practicing escalatio on the Vietnamese and then the Dominican crisis on top of that it has been a nervous year and people have begun to feel like a Christian scientist with appendicitis.
While writing for The Alton Telegraph in Illinois in 1975 I first used Lehrer’s line in a political column about Republicans after the Watergate debacle and Ellen, a student at Principia College, a Christian Science school in nearby Elsah, came to see me about it. She thought the line was funny but said her parents banned Tom Lehrer’s records from their home because of the comment. We dated for a few months and I learned a lot about her religion during that time. I respected her beliefs although I did not agree with some of the tenets of Christian Science. I also learned that younger Christian Scientists could laugh at jokes about their religion while their parents could not. She knew a ton of Christian Science jokes.
Lehrer caught even more grief from the Catholic Church when he wrote The Vatican Rag, which opened with:
First you get down on your knees,
Fiddle with your rosaries,
Bow your head with great respect,
And genuflect, genuflect, genuflect!
And Lehrer went on to sing:
Get in line in that processional,
Step into that small confessional,
There, the guy who’s got religion’ll
Tell you if your sin’s original.
If it is, try playin’ it safer,
Drink the wine and chew the wafer,
Two, four, six, eight,
Time to transubstantiate!
When I was growing up in Floyd County the Baptists dominated the religious scene. My granddaddy used to say that a Floyd Baptist was "someone who went out and sowed wild oats on Saturday night and then went to church on Sunday to pray for crop failure." More than one Baptist told him he would go to Hell for such blasphemy.
Many people get touchy when you make jokes about religion but I’ve always felt God probably has a better sense of humor than some of those who invoke His name. The best Catholic jokes I know came from priests and ministers of other faiths (including Baptist) have told me some of the best, and raunchiest, jokes about religion.
Woke up this mornin’ turned on my TV set
There in livin’ color was somethin’ I can’t forget
This man was preachin’ at me.. yeah.. layin’ on the charm
Asking me for 20 with 10,000 on his arm
He wore designer clothing and a big smile on his face
Selling me salvation while they sang Amazing Grace
Asking me for money when he had all the signs of weath
Almost wrote a check out.. yeah.. but then I asked myself
Would He wear a pinky ring, would He drive a fancy car?
Would His wife wear furs and diamonds, would His dressing room have a star?
If he came back tomorrow there’s something I’d like to know:
Would Jesus wear a Rolex on His television show?
Would Jesus be political if he came back to earth?
Have his second home in Palm Springs.. yeah.. but try to hide his worth?
Take money from those poor folks when He comes back again?
And admit He’s talked to all those preachers who said they’d been-a talking to Him?
Guitarist Chet Atkins was a devout Christian but he told me in an interview that he was offended because "those who use God’s name take themselves way too seriously." After watching a televangelist on Sunday, he sat down and wrote these lyrics to a song later recorded by Ray Stevens:
I’m Presbyterian. If anyone knows any good jokes about us, please pass them along. I believe God likes a good belly laugh. Too bad so many of those who use His name so often don’t.