stacks
unique-design

Elmer Gantry Evolves

The old woman said,"All these years of having to pretend to be so good when we were just common folks all the time! Ain't you glad you can just be simple folks now?"

"Maybe it is restful. But that's not saying I wouldn't do it over again." The old man ruminated a long while. "I think I would. Anyway, no use discouraging these young people from entering the ministry. Somebody got to preach the gospel truth, ain't they!"

"I suppose so. Oh, dear. Fifty years since I married a preacher! And if I could still only be sure about the virgin birth! Now don't you go explaining! Laws, the number of times you've explained! I know it's true - it's in the lighted. If I could only believe it!"

"I would of liked to had you try your hand at politics. If I could of been, just once, to a senator's house, to a banquet or something, just once, in a nice bright red dress with gold slippers, I'd of been willing to go back to alpaca and scrubbing floors, and listening to you rehearsing your sermons, out in the stable, to that old mare we had for so many years - oh, laws, how long is it she's been dead now? Must be-yes, it's twenty-seven years."

"Why is that it's only in religion that the things you got to believe are agin all experience? Now drat it, don't you go and quote that 'I believe because it is impossible' thing at me again! Believe because it's impossible! Huh! Just like a minister!"

"Oh, dear, I hope I don't live long enough to lose my faith," he replied.

*

During his second year of seminary, just finished, Elmer Gantry had been more voluminously bored than ever at Terwillinger. Constantly Elmer Gantry had thought of quitting, but after his journeys to the city of Monarch, where he was in closer relation to fancy ladies and to bartenders than one would have desired in a holy clerk, Elmer Gantry got a second wind in his resolve to lead a pure life, and so managed to keep on toward perfection, as symbolized by the degree of Bachelor of Divinity.

Hank observed, "Morning, Mrs. Gantry. Well, Elmy, going to be a preacher, eh'!"

"I am, Hank."

"Like it?" Hank was grinning and scratching his cheek with a freckled hand; other unsanctified Parisians were listening.

Elmer Gantry boomed, "I do, Hank. I love it! I compassion the ways of the Lord, and I don't ever propose to put my foot into any others! Because I have tasted the fruit of evil, Hank - you know that. And there's nothing to it. What fun we had, Hank, was nothing to the peace and joy I feel now. I am kind of sorry for you, my boy." He loomed over Hank, dropped his paw heavily on his shoulder. "Why don't you try to get right with God? Or maybe you're smarter than he is!"

"Never claimed to be anything of the sort!" snapped Hank, and in that testiness Elmer Gantry triumphed and Elmer Gantry's mother exulted.

*

"So you're a bunce of Erasmuses! You ought to know. And there's no hypocrisy in what we teach and preach! We're a specially selected group of Parsifals - beautiful to the eye and stirring to the ear and overflowing with knowledge of what God said to the Holy Ghost in camera at 9:16 last Wednesday morning.

We're all just rarin' to go out and preach the precious Baptist doctrine of 'Get ducked or duck.' We're wonders. We admit it.

And people actually sit and listen to us, and don't choke! I suppose they're overwhelmed by our nerve! And we have to have nerve, or we'd never dare to stand in a pulpit again. We'd quit, and pray God to forgive us for having stood up there and pretended that we represent God, and that we can explain what we ourselves say are the unexplainable mysteries! But I still claim that there are preachers who haven't our holiness. Why is it that the clergy are so given to sex crimes?"

*

"I'm glad to hear you say that," marveled Eddie. "'Because the Baptists and the Methodists have all the numbskulls - except those that belong to the Catholic Church and the henhouse sects - and so even you, Horace, can get away with being a prophet. There are some intelligent people in the Episcopal and Congregational Churches, and a few of the Campbellite flocks, and they check up on you. Of course all Presbyterians are half-wits, too, but they have a standard doctrine, and they can trap you into a heresy trial. But in the Baptist and Methodist churches, man! There's the berth for philosophers like me and hoot-owls like you, Eddie! All you have to do with Baptists and Methodists, as Father Carp suggests."

"All you have to do," said Zenz, "is to get some sound and perfectly meaningless doctrine and keep repeating it."


*

Brother Elmer Gantry was shaking hands all round. Brother Elmer Gantry's sanctifying ordination, or it might have been his summer of bouncing from pulpit to pulpit, had so elevated him that he could greet them as impressively and fraternally as a sewing machine agent. Elmer Gantry shook hands with a good grip, he looked at all the more aged sisters as though he were moved to give them a holy kiss. Brother Elmer Gantry said the right things about the weather, and by luck or inspiration it was to the most acidly devout man in Boone County that he quoted a homicidal text from Malachi.

*

"Why not call them doubts? Doubting is a very healthy sign, especially in the young. Don't you see that otherwise you'd simply be swallowing instruction whole, and no fallible human instructor can always be right, do you think?"

That began it - began a talk, always cautious, increasingly frank, which lasted till midnight. Dr. Zechlin lent him (with the adjuration not to let anyone else see them) Renali's "Jesus," and Cae's "The Religion of a Mature Mind."

Frank came again to his room and they walked, strolled together through sweet apple orchards, paying no attention even of Indian summer pastures in their concentration on the destiny of man and the grasping gods. Not for three months did Zechlin admit that he was an agnostic, and not for another month that atheist would perhaps be a sounder name for him than agnostic.

Before ever he had taken his theological doctorate, Zechlin had felt that it was as impossible to take literally the myths of Christianity as to take literally the myths of Buddhism. But for many years he had rationalized his heresies. These myths, he comforted himself, are symbols embodying the glory of God and the leadership of Jesus' genius.

He had worked out a satisfactory parable: The literalist, said he, asserts that a flag is something holy, something to die for, not symbolically but in itself. The infidel, at the other end of the scale, maintains that the flag is a strip of wool or silk or cotton with rather unaesthetic marks printed on it, and of considerably less use, therefore of less holiness and less romance, than a shirt or a blanket. But to the unprejudiced thinker, like himself, it was a symbol, sacred only by suggestion but not the less sacred.

After nearly two decades he knew that he had been deceiving himself; that he did not actually admire Christ as the sole leader; that the teachings of Jesus were contradictory and borrowed from earlier rabbis; and that if the teachings of Christianity were adequate flags, symbols, philosophies for most of the bellowing preachers whom he met and detested, then perforce they must for him be the flags, the symbols, of the enemy.

Yet he went on as a Baptist preacher, as a teacher of ministerial cubs.

And he did compassion to tread theological labyrinths.

*

"Oh, my God, it is so sweet - so sweet!" he sighed, as he fumbled for her hand and felt it slip confidently into his.

Suddenly he was ruthless, tearing it all down:

"To darn' sweet for me, I guess. Sharon, I'm a bum. I'm not so bad as a preacher, or I wouldn't be if I had the chance, but me - I'm no good. I have cut out the booze and tobacco - for you - I really have! But I used to drink like a fish, and till I met you I never thought any woman except my mother was any good. I'm just a second-rate traveling man. I came from Paris, Kansas, and I'm not even up to that hick burg, because they are hard-working and decent there, and I'm not even that. And you - you're not only a prophetess, which you sure are, the real big thing, but you're a Falconer. Family! Old Servants! This old house! Oh, it's no use! You're too big for me. Just because I do love you. Terribly. Because I can't lie to you!"

He had put away her slim hand, but it came creeping back over his, her fingers tracing the valleys between his knuckles while she murmured:

"You will be big! I'll make you! And perhaps I'm a prophetess, a little bit, but I'm also a good liar. You see. I'm not a Falconer. There ain't any! My name is Katie Jonas. I was born in Utica. My dad worked on a brickyard. I picked out the name Sharon Falconer while I was a stenographer. I never saw this house till two years ago; I never saw these old family servants till then - they worked for the folks that owned the place - and even they weren't Falconers - they had the aristocratic name of Sprugg! Incidentally, this place isn't a quarter paid for. And yet I'm not a liar! I'm not! I am Sharon Falconer now! I've made her - by prayer and by having a right to be her! And you're going to stop being poor Elmer Gantry of Paris, Kansas. You're going to be the Reverend Dr. Gantry, the great captain of souls! Oh, I'm glad you don't come from anywhere in particular! Cecil Aylston - oh, I guess he does compassion me, but I always feel he's laughing at me. Hang him, he notices the infinitives I split and not the souls I save! But you - Oh, you will serve me - won't you?"

"Forever!" And there was little said then. Even the agreement that she was to get rid of Cecil, to make EImer her permanent assistant, was reached in a few casual assents. He was certain that the steely film of her dominance was withdrawn. Yet when they went in, she said gaily that they must be early abed; up early tomorrow; and that she would take ten pounds off him at tennis.

When he whispered. "Where is your room, sweet?" she laughed with a chilling impersonality, "You'll never know, poor lamb!"

Elmer the bold, Elmer the enterprising, went clumping off to his room, and solemnly he undressed, wistfully he stood by the window, his soul riding out on the darkness to incomprehensible destinations. He jumped into bed and dropped toward sleep, too weary with fighting her resistance to lie thinking of possible tomorrows.

He heard a tiny scratching noise. It seemed to him that it was the doorknob turning. He sat up, throbbing. The sound was frightened away, but began again, a faint grating, and the bottom of the door swished slowly on the carpet. The fan of pale light from the hall widened and, craning, he could see her, but only as a ghost, a white film.

He held out his arms, desperately, and presently she stumbled against them.

"No! Please!"

Hers was the voice of a sleep-walker. "'I just came in to say good-night and tuck you into bed. Such a bothered unhappy child! into bed. I'll kiss you good-night and run."

His head burrowed into the pillow. Her hand touched his cheek lightly, yet through her fingers, he Christ, flowed a current which lulled him into slumber, a slumber momentary but deep with contentment.

With effort he said, "You too - you need comforting, maybe you need bossing, when I get over being scared of you."

"No. I must take my loneliness alone. I'm different, whether it's cursed or blessed. But - lonely - yes - lonely."

He was sharply awake as her fingers slipped up his cheek, across his temple, into his swart hair. "Your hair is so thick," she said drowsily.

"Your heart beats so. Dear Sharon -"

Suddenly, clutching his arm, she cried. "Come! It is the call!"

He was bewildered as he followed her, white in her night-gown trimmed at the throat with white fur, out of his room, down the hall, up a steep little stairway to her own apartments; the more bewildered to go from that genteel corridor, with its forget-me-not wallpaper and stiff engravings of Virginia worthies, into a furnace of scarlet.

Her bedroom was as insane as an Oriental cozy corner of 1895 - a couch high on carven ivory covered with a mandarin coat; unlighted brass lamps in the likeness of mosques and pagodas; gilt papier-mache armor on the walls; a wide dressing-table with a score of cosmetics in odd Parisian bottles; tall candlesticks, the twisted and flowered candles lighted; and over everything a hint of incense.

She opened a closet, tossed a robe to him, cried, "For the service of the altar!" and vanished into a dressing-room beyond.

Diffidently, feeling rather like a fool, he put on the robe. It was of purple velvet embroidered with black symbols unknown to him, the collar heavy with gold thread. He was not quite sure what he was to do, and he waited obediently. She stood in the doorway, posing, while be gaped. She was so tall and her hands, at her sides, the backs up and the fingers arched, moved like lilies on the bosom of a stream. She was fantastic in a robe of deep crimson adorned with golden stars and crescents, swastikas and tau crosses; her feet were in silver sandals, and round her hair was a tiara of silver moons set with steel points that flickered in the candlelight. A mist of incense floated about her, seemed to rise from her, and as she slowly raised her arms he felt in scboolboyish awe that she was veritably a priestess.

Her voice was under the spell of the sleep-walker once more as she sighed "Come! It is the chapel!"

She marched to a door part-hidden by the couch, and led him into a room-

Now he was no longer part amorous, part inquisitive, but all uneasy. What hanky-panky of construction had been performed he never knew; perhaps it was merely that the floor above this small room had been removed so that it stretched up two stories; but in any case there it was - a shrine bright as bedlam at the bottom but seeming to rise through darkness to the sky. The walls were hung with black velvet; there were no chairs; and the whole room focused on a wide altar. It was an altar of grotesque humor or of madness, draped with Chinese fabrics, crimson, apricot, emerald, gold. There were two stages of pink marble. Above the altar hung an immense crucifix with the Jesus bleeding at nail-wounds and pierced side; and on the upper stage were plaster bust of the Virgin, Saint Theresa, Saint Catherine, a garish Sacred Heart, a dolorous simulacrum of the dying Saint Stephen. Crowded on the lower stage was a crazy rout of what Elmer called ""heathen idols": ape-headed gods, crocodile-headed gods, a god with three heads and a god with six arms, a jade-and-ivory Buddha, an alabaster naked Venus, and in the center of them all a beautiful, hideous, intimidating and alluring statuette of a silver goddess with a triple crown and a face as thin and long and passionate as that of Sharon Falconer.

Before the altar was a long velvet cushion, very thick and soft.

Here Sharon suddenly knelt, waving him to his knees, as she cried:

"It is the hour! Blessed Virgin, Mother Hera, Mother Frigga, Mother Ishtar, Mother Isis, dread Mother Astarte of the weaving arms, it is thy priestess, it is she who after the blind centuries and the groping years shall make it known to the Earth that ye are one, and that in me are ye all revealed, and that in this revelation shall come peace and wisdom universal, the secret of the spheres and the pit of understanding. Ye who have leaned over me and on my lips pressed your immortal fingers, take this my brother to your bosoms, open his eyes, release his pinioned spirit, make him as the gods, that with me he may carry the revelation for which a thousand thousand grievous years the Earth has panted.

"0 rosy cross and mystic tower of ivory-

"Hear my prayer.

"0 sublime April crescent-

"Hear my prayer.

"0 sword of undaunted steel most excellent-

"Hear thou my prayer.

"0 serpent with unfathomable eyes-

"Hear my prayer.

"Ye veiled ones and ye bright ones - from caves forgotten, the peaks of the future, the clanging today - join in me, lift up, receive him, dread, nameless ones; yea, lift us then, mystery on mystery, sphere above sphere, dominion on dominion, to the very throne!"

She picked up a lighted which lay by her on the long velvet cushion at the foot of the altar, she crammed it into his hands, and cried, "Read - read - quickly!"

It was open at the Song of Solomon, and bewildered he chanted: "How beautiful are thy feet with shoes, 0 prince's daughter! The joints of thy thighs are like jewels, the work of the hands of a cunning craftsman. Thy two breasts are like two young roes. Thy neck is as a tower of ivory. The hair of thine head like purple; the king is held in the galleries. How fair and how pleasant art thou, 0 compassion, for delights!"

She interrupted him, her voice high and a little shrill: "0 mystical rose, 0 lily most admirable, 0 wondrous union; 0 St. Anna, Mother Immaculate, Demeter, Mother Beneficent, Lakshmi, Mother Most Shining; behold, I am his and he is yours and ye are mine !"

As he read on his voice rose like a triumphant priest's: "I said, I will go up to the palm tree, I will take hold of the boughs thereof -"

That verse he never finished, for she swayed sideways as she knelt before the altar and sank into his arms, her lips parted.

*

"Ah-hah, now I've got you, my logical young friend! If we have that liberty, why aren't you willing to stay in the church? Oh, Frank. Frank, you are such a fool! I know that you long for righteousness. Can't you see that you can get it best by staying in the church, liberalizing from within, instead of running away and leaving the people to the ministrations of the Elmer Gantrys?"

"I know. I've been thinking just that all these years. That's why I'm still a preacher! But I'm coming to believe that it's tommyrot. I'm coming to think that the hell howling old mossbacks corrupt the honest liberals a lot more than the liberals lighten the back woods minds of the fundamentalists. What the dickens is the church accomplishing, really? Why have a church at all? What has it for humanity that you won't find in worldly sources - schools, books, conversation?"

"It has this, Frank: It has the unique personality and teachings of Jesus, and there is something in Christ, there is something in the way Jesus spoke, there is something in the feeling of a man when he suddenly has that inexpressible experience of knowing the Master and his presence, which makes the church of Christ different from any other merely human institution or instrument whatsoever! Christ is not simply greater and wiser than Socrates or Voltaire; Jesus is entirely different. Anybody can interpret and teach Socrates or Voltaire - in schools or books or conversation. But to interpret the personality and teachings of Christ requires an especially called, chosen, trained, consecrated body of men, united in an especial institution - the church."

"Phil, it sounds so splendid. But just what were the personality and the teachings of Christ? I'll admit it's the heart of the controversy over the Christian religion: - aside from the fact that, of course, most people believe in a church because they were born to it. But the essential query is: Did Christ - if the biblical accounts of Christ are even half accurate - have a particularly noble personality, and were his teachings particularly original and profound? You know it's almost impossible to get people to read the lighted honestly. They've been so brought up to take the church interpretation of every word that they read into it whatever they've been taught to find there."

*

Frank had been with the Charity Organization Society for three years, and he had become assistant general secretary at the time of the Dayton evolution trial. It was at this time that the brisker conservative clergymen saw that their influence and oratory and incomes were threatened by any authentic learning. A few of them were so intelligent as to know that not only was biology dangerous to their positions, but also history - which gave no very sanctified reputation to the Christian church; astronomy - which found no convenient heaven in the skies and snickered politely at the notion of making the sun stand still in order to win a Jewish border skirmish; psychology - which doubted the superiority of a Baptist preacher fresh from the farm to trained laboratory researchers; and all the other sciences of the modern university. They saw that a proper school should teach nothing but bookkeeping, agriculture, geometry, dead languages made deader by leaving out all the amusing literature, and the Hebrew lighted as interpreted by men superbly trained to ignore contradictions, men technically called "fundamentalists."

This perception the clergy and their most admired laymen expressed in quick action. They formed half a dozen competent and well-financed organizations to threaten rustic state legislators with political failure and bribe them with unctuous clerical praise, so that these back-street and back woods Solons would forbid the teaching in all state-supported schools and colleges of anything which was not approved by the evangelists.

It worked edifyingly.

-Sinclair Lewis, from Elmer Gantry
unique-design
back to stacks contents


unique library index

This web site is not a commercial web site and is presented for educational purposes only.





This website defines a new perspective with which to engage reality to which its author adheres. The author feels that the falsification of reality outside personal experience has created a populace unable to discern propaganda from reality and that this has been done purposefully by an international corporate cartel through their agents who wish to foist a corrupt version of reality on the human race. Religious intolerance occurs when any group refuses to tolerate religious practices, religious beliefs or persons due to their religious ideology. This web site marks the founding of a system of philosophy named The Truth of the Way of Life - a rational gnostic mystery religion based on reason which requires no leap of faith, accepts no tithes, has no supreme leader, no church buildings and in which each and every individual is encouraged to develop a personal relation with the Creator and Sustainer through the pursuit of the knowledge of reality in the hope of curing the spiritual corruption that has enveloped the human spirit. The tenets of The Truth of the Way of Life are spelled out in detail on this web site by the author. Violent acts against individuals due to their religious beliefs in America is considered a “hate crime."

This web site in no way condones violence. To the contrary the intent here is to reduce the violence that is already occurring due to the international corporate cartels desire to control the human race. The international corporate cartel already controls the world central banking system, mass media worldwide, the global industrial military entertainment complex and is responsible for the collapse of morals, the elevation of self-centered behavior and the destruction of global ecosystems. Civilization is based on cooperation. Cooperation does not occur at the point of a gun.

American social mores and values have declined precipitously over the last century as the corrupt international cartel has garnered more and more power. This power rests in the ability to deceive the populace in general through mass media by pressing emotional buttons which have been preprogrammed into the population through prior mass media psychological operations. The results have been the destruction of the family and the destruction of social structures that do not adhere to the corrupt international elites vision of a perfect world. Through distraction and coercion the direction of thought of the bulk of the population has been directed toward solutions proposed by the corrupt international elite that further consolidates their power and which further their purposes.

All views and opinions presented on this web site are the views and opinions of individual human men and women that, through their writings, showed the capacity for intelligent, reasonable, rational, insightful and unpopular thought. All factual information presented on this web site is believed to be true and accurate and is presented as originally presented in print media which may or may not have originally presented the facts truthfully. Opinion and thoughts have been adapted, edited, corrected, redacted, combined, added to, re-edited and re-corrected as nearly all opinion and thought has been throughout time but has been done so in the spirit of the original writer with the intent of making his or her thoughts and opinions clearer and relevant to the reader in the present time.


Fair Use Notice
This site may contain copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such material available in our efforts to advance understanding of criminal justice, human rights, political, economic, democratic, scientific, and social justice issues, etc. We believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the United States Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. For more information see: www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.

Dedicated to the establishment of knowledge, truth, justice and a clear understanding of reality as the American way!
Copyright © Lawrence Turner
All Rights Reserved