Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Message Sent, And Received

Jesus continued: "There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, 'Father, give me my share of the estate.' So he divided his property between them. Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.

"When he came to his senses, he said, 'How many of my father's hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.' So he got up and went to his father.

"But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

"The son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.'

"But the father said to his servants, 'Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let's have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.'"
(Luke 15:11-24a, NIV)


Adam Hanft dissects Christine O'Donnell's latest televised spot (video below) and finds in the second sentence

She asks us to ignore the firestorm, the archival Bill Maher videos, the attack ads. “Take me as I am” she is saying, as I take you for who you are. It’s a savvy presentation of faux-nakedness, a high-school girl telling a guy not to believe the rumors that she’s slutty.

Hanft notes the Republican candidate's "daring leap of mutual self-identification" in her second sentence, then

Having established the “I’m you” bond – a cosmic one-ness with her audience – O’Donnell then performs a fantastic rhetorical pivot. She says, simply:

“None of us are perfect.”

This is a central, errr, stake of the commercial. It’s a direct acknowledgment of the flawed nature of humanity – we are all sinners – we are all living with the consequences of, as Milton put it, “Man’s First Disobedience, and the Fruit Of that Forbidden Tree, whose mortal taste Brought Death into the World, and all our woe.”

I’m not being grandiose here. O’Donnell is sending out a Christian dog-whistle that calls upon a whole brain attic of memory and desire. Then, having established the enduring power of Original Sin, she shifts to a statement of mutual dismay at the current state of affairs.

The subtle message embedded in "none of us is perfect" is followed, apparently illogically, by "but none of us can be happy with what we see all around us," with no evident connection to the statement immediately preceding it.

But as Hanft would understand, "none of us is perfect" is a signal to all who would believe

For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God... (Romans 3: 22b-23, ESV).

This passage is preceded (emphasis mine) in Romans 3: 10b-11 (Paul harkening back to Psalm 14:3) by

None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.

O'Donnell's strong, but subtle, message to her base is recalled by the first statement of this ad:

I'm not a witch.

In O'Donnell's most famous video (way below) on Bill Maher's Politically Incorrect, she blurted out "I was a witch because I dabbled in withcraft," though clarifying "I never joined a coven."

Now generally viewed as a gaffe, the remark was made in 1999, seven years before O'Donnell would run (unsuccessfully) for the GOP nomination for the U.S. Senate and nine years before she would run unsuccessfully in the general election against Senator Joe Biden- but three years after she attended the Republican National Convention. Perhaps in 1999 Christine O'Donnell did not admit to withcraft but bragged about it, suggesting to conservative Republicans a kinship to the prodigal son.

Recently, Mike Newall of the Philadelphia Inquirer visited a few of O'Donnell's fellow graduates from Moorestown (N.J.) High Shool, class of 1987. He reported

"It's been hysterical, actually," said Matthew Brickner, 41.

The Class of '87 had only about 265 students.

"Everyone knew each other," said Jennifer Wichterman, 41, of Moorestown, another classmate and a former Inquirer newsroom employee.

And nobody remembers any witches.

"Who were they? That's what we want to know," she said.

Oh, now it's possible that these students were not in the know about witches covens, though, as the sort of students planning an (informal) reunion, they probably were not oblivious to school gossip. They could have been lying, though in these days of "hey, look at me" non-reality Reality Television, it is more likely they would have claimed knowledge, rather than ignorance, of odd behavior at their school.

Or it could be that a prescient Christine O'Donnell was making it all up. Not probable, but possible. In some quarters, once a witch, now a Christian is a powerful and compelling story.

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