The other night I switched on television and everybody on it was angry. In a few moments of knob-twisting I became irradiated with so many rems of wrath that four hours afterward you could read by me. First there was a scared, ambitious Mayor Feinstein, marching with homosexuals in a preelection parade, and listening approvingly while an angry speaker told the crowd of his cheering fellows that homosexuals had better be given more power, or else. After that, she left for the leather bars, to show her solicitude for the sadomasochists.
On the next channel, the foreign policy expert, Barry Commoner, shook with chortled rage as he passionately denounced our insensitive attitude toward nature's noblemen, the Iranians, whose only sins at that moment, besides holding a few hostages, consisted of displaying some American bodies. And next up were Saturday Night Live's video vixens, about as hipgrindingly funky as any rich white actresses are ever going to get, wrathfully hymning in mean punk rock.
This was my dose of the official culture for the night, and I snapped off the tube to seek other means of amusement. However, I could not help reflecting on how angry some Americans are -- la video violencia -- wondered whether any Martians sitting up there, redly tuned to the nets, could know just how angry.
But I was not thinking about those I had just seen. What I had in mind was an anger rarely visible, and deeper, and more methodical: that of the evangelical Christians. I had been exposed to a lot of that in the past few months while researching a long article on evangelicals, the Electric Church, and conservative politics.
Those folks had changed their tune from "You sinners, stop that!" to "We are taking over now." And although the "we" they were talking about was possibly tens of millions of Americans, the media, which seemed locked in on more pyrotechnical forms of anger, did not seem to have noticed this yet.
But these evangelicals -- judging from the scores of them I've just talked to -- are enraged enough to take action, not just on one issue, but across the board. Homosexuals, they believe, are too obscene, and too loud, and are perpetrating an abomination that God will punish America for condoning. Moreover, they are under an impression that a coalition -- of selfish, raunchy women, greedy abortionists and a totalitarian Supreme Court -- is seeing to the ritual-scientific slaughter of about 3,000 children a day -- also an abomination. And, underlying all this, they see as the philosophical enemy a shallow, morally relativistic secular humanism that has not only taken prayer out of the schools, but Christian ethics out of the children -- this by courses on "values clarification" that are undermining the family and serving to raise successive generations of mean-eyed, soulless little consumers. According to them, the secular media, humanist-controlled, peddles vulgarity in the name of entertainment, and by cutting God completely out of the picture, presents a view of things that is satanically one-sided. Meanwhile, the government, they suspect, seeks to take the place of God; while at the same time stupidly trusting in the goodness of communists; passively letting them swagger all over the world while our own neglected defenses run down. All this is tied in closely with their sense of eminent apocalypse. And hence their determination to do something right now.
Moreover -- and I hesitate to say this, because it will seem so far out -- but not all these evangelicals are necessarily chewing Red Mule tobacco, or sitting around in flour-sack dresses wishing they had finished the sixth grade. On the contrary, I have found them to be, for the most part, rational, intelligent and able people whose anger and anguish is not going to vanish once the cameras are turned off. They are beginning to be well organized too; although we seldom hear about them, except when one of their leaders is caught with his hand in the till or when they are castigated en masse by some public philosopher such as, say, Gore Vidal.
They are in Washington today, a million strong more or less, and what we'll probably see on TV is some footage of jowl-shaking sermoneers wrapped in the American flag, or street hucksters peddling those tawdry items the organizers are selling to finance the thing -- the $5 sackcloth-and-ashes lapel pins and the $10 tinted pictures of Jesus healing the crack in the Liberty Bell. And there will be shots of amiable-faced throngs walking, or praying, in what bodes to be rain. But we will not see their anger because it is not telegenic, the way the wrath of someone who's screaming and spitting in your face is. For we do not know how to make entertaining footage out of the calm-faced fellow who is just on the point of reaching for his switchblade.
In a street fight such insensitivity can prove fatal. In American politics, however, the worst it can provide is an electoral surprise. That may come in November. Because the conservative Christians, having long been denied access to secular media, have now developed media of their own -- 50 television stations, 1,300 radio stations and hundreds of paid-for programs on commercial outlets. And that Electric Church, which is alarmed over the condition of the country is organizing the unseen anger of its members in favor of conservative candidates and causes. Critics say that this incipient revolution, like the recent one in Iran, is merely atavistic fundamentalism, that when full grown will not lack for an ayatollah. But so far, to some, it promises to be a lot better than that.
Indeed, one wonders these days whether that old-time religion is really so benighted as its mockers make it out to be. Is the anger of these Christians really causeless and their concern for this country mere paranoia? Is "Armageddon" only some whispered syllables out of an old book? One wonders. Something very intense is going on here right now. Although we won't necessarily see it on TV.