Rolling Stone goes undercover at John Hagee’s evangelical church.

April 24, 2008 | By | 8 Replies More

Rolling Stone writer Matt Taibbi assumed the role of a true Believer in order to see what it’s like to be one.   In Taibbi’s entertaining and well-written article, “Jesus Made Me Puke: And other Tales from the Evangelical Front Lines,” he describes that he almost got too caught up in the situation:

It’s not something that’s easy to explain, but here goes. After two days of nearly constant religious instruction, songs, worship and praise — two days that for me meant an unending regimen of forced and fake responses — a funny thing started to happen to my head. There is a transformational quality in these external demonstrations of faith and belief. The more you shout out praising the Lord, singing along to those awful acoustic tunes, telling people how blessed you feel and so on, the more a sort of mechanical Christian skin starts to grow all over your real self. Even if you’re a degenerate Rolling Stone reporter inwardly chuckling and busting on the whole scene — even if you’re intellectually enraged by the ignorance and arrogant prejudice flowing from the mouth of a terminal-ambition case like Phil Fortenberry — outwardly you’re swaying to the gospel and singing and praising and acting the part, and those outward ministrations assume a kind of sincerity in themselves. And at the same time, that “inner you” begins to get tired of the whole spectacle and sometimes forgets to protest — in my case checking out into baseball reveries and other daydreams while the outer me did the “work” of singing and praising. At any given moment, which one is the real you?

You may think you know the answer, but by my third day I began to notice how effortlessly my soft-spoken Matt-mannequin was going through his robotic motions of praise, and I was shocked. For a brief, fleeting moment I could see how under different circumstances it would be easy enough to bury your “sinful” self far under the skin of your outer Christian and to just travel through life this way. So long as you go through all the motions, no one will care who you really are underneath. And besides, so long as you are going through all the motions, never breaking the facade, who are you really? It was an incomplete thought, but it was a scary one; it was the very first time I worried that the experience of entering this world might prove to be anything more than an unusually tiring assignment. I feared for my normal.

The Rolling Stone article also provides a clear description of Hagee’s disturbing views on Israel and the end of the world.

In 2006, I also wanted to know what happens in evangelical churches.   To do this, I spent a couple hours in the pews, prior to writing one of the first posts on this site:  “What it’s like to go to an evangelical church.”


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Category: American Culture, Politics, Religion, snake oil

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (8)

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  1. Dan Klarmann says:

    I found this excerpt more revealing, and chilling:

    By the end of the weekend I realized how quaint was the mere suggestion that Christians of this type should learn to "be rational" or "set aside your religion" about such things as the Iraq War or other policy matters. Once you've made a journey like this — once you've gone this far — you are beyond suggestible. It's not merely the informational indoctrination, the constant belittling of homosexuals and atheists and Muslims and pacifists, etc., that's the issue. It's that once you've gotten to this place, you've left behind the mental process that a person would need to form an independent opinion about such things.


    By the end of that weekend, Phil Fortenberry could have told us that John Kerry was a demon with clawed feet, and not one person would have so much as blinked. Because none of that politics stuff matters anyway, once you've gotten this far. All that matters is being full of the Lord and empty of demons. And since everything that is not of God is demonic, asking these people to be objective about anything else is just absurd.

  2. grumpypilgrim says:

    Hagee's a scary guy. I've seen him a few times on one of the religious television stations in my area, and I can only take a few minutes of his imbecilic, ranting sermons before I have to shut it off and give my brain a rest. Hagee subscribes to the notion that whatever you scream loudly enough and often enough will become the truth. His methods, style and cadence remind me very much of newsreel footage of Hitler's speeches: identify a "demon" (scapegoat), rant against the demon, venerate everyone in the audience who will also rant against the demon — Hitler's demons were Jews, Hagee's demons are atheists…both appear borderline insane and drunk on power.

  3. Monica says:

    "So long as you go through all the motions, no one will care who you really are underneath. And besides, so long as you are going through all the motions, never breaking the facade, who are you really?"

    This is so unfortunately true in so many cases, even my own at times. I wonder what it would look like for more Christians to actually live out who they are underneath and allow that real person to be changed by God. I had a crisis of faith recently where I stopped pretending nothing was wrong. Instead of counting my blessings and looking on the bright side, people at church asked how I was, and I replied honestly: not good. To my surprise, they didn't try to blow sunshine up my butt. They sat with me in my confusion and sorrow. I spent a lot of time asking God if he was really there and if he was really good; standing silently with tears welled up during praise and worship time because I couldn't pretend. That experience was far more real and valuable than if I had gone through the motions anyway, and in the end I felt a quiet comfort from God, not a frenetic urge to dance and sway.

  4. grumpypilgrim says:

    Monica's comment can perhaps be summed up as "honesty is the best policy." If someone asks you how you're doing, and you honestly say you're not doing well, chances are good the person will listen to your concerns and try to help if they can. Not everyone will, of course — it depends on the setting and circumstances — but surprisingly many. There are a lot of good samaritans out there, and it need not be due to invisible supernatural deities. Humans are social animals, which means we possess many socially-useful traits — empathy being one. Other social mammals (porpoises, primates, dogs, etc.) display similar behavior.

  5. Tim Hogan says:

    What is most scary of all is how much John McCain went after Hagee's endorsement after condemning W in 2000 for hanging out with "apostles of intolerance" and forcing W to apologize for his support.

    My Hagee favorites are how the Roman Catholic Church is the "Whore of Babylon," the "anti-christ," and a false cult." I don't suppose that will keep St. Louis' archbishop Raymond Burke from endorsing McCain because he's "pro-life."

  6. Tim Hogan says:

    Hagee hates Catholics, too! It's a wonder that the Pope didn't gag when he saw Bush for all the kowtowing the GOP and McCain does to Hagee. None of this will keep the good Archbisop Raymond Burke in St. Louis from endorsing McCain!

  7. Mark says:

    Unfortunately as a believer I have to accept that Hagee with all his warts is my brother. I don't get to judge him as a person but I am allowed, and even commanded to judge his words and his fruit. Hagee has been drinking from a theological pool muddied by Tim Lahaye and a few other heretics who in the name of militant Christianity turn their backs on true religion and look for an escape clause whereby they are exempt from actually doing anything about poverty, disease, inequality, racism, or injustice. Just preach about it and collect the plate. We could use a man like Jesus, he'd know how to treat even Hagee.

  8. Greg Cameron says:

    I have to admit I found Matt Taibbi’s article on ‘infiltrating’ a Jesus bunch to be rather disappointing. No one is better (in the U.S., anyway)writing about the financial disasters of our times than Matt, but I found this particular piece to be uncharacteristically lazy. Think about it. Matt went into this Bible-puncher lot without thinking up a proper cover story – no social worker, spy, or con artist trying to infiltrate a group would be that careless in regards to a cover story. Beaten by a drunken clown father, indeed! Matt was not quick on his toes there. It’s a wonder they didn’t turn him out on his ear. Or maybe their Christian charity(whatever that might be) was kicking in. Granting that I’m over-educated, but I’d never have bought that story in a microt. Matt’s article was funny in a broadstroke sort of way, but he really is capable of much more than this. My take, anyway…Greg Cameron, Surrey, B.C., Canada

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