Note: If you want to skip the intro and go right to story time, scroll down… to STORY TIME!!!
“Kill the beast! Cut his throat! Spill his blood!”
The sticks fell and the mouth of the new circle crunched and screamed. The beast was on its knees in the center, its arms folded over its face. It was crying out against the abominable noise something about a body on the hill. The beast struggled forward, broke the ring and fell over the steep edge of the sand by the water. At once the crowd surged after it, poured down the rock, leapt on the beast, screamed, struck, bit, tore. There were no words, and no movements but the tearing of teeth and claws.
-Lord of the Flies, William Golding
For those who have a hard time remembering Golding’s Lord of the Flies—or who never had the privilege of reading it in the first place—the story is simple yet haunting.
A plane of boys escaping a war-torn Britain is shot down over an uninhabited tropical island. At first, all is good and orderly as you’d expect from Brits: the boys elect a leader, Ralph, and sort out tasks, most importantly, keeping a fire burning in the hopes the smoke will lead to their rescue. The boys find a conch that Ralph blows to call meetings, but also stands as a symbol of authority.
However, as the story progresses, chaos infects the island. I won’t recount all of the events—it’s worth a read (or reread)—but the primary conflict is a schism that develops between Ralph and Jack, who Ralph appoints as the leader of the hunters. When Jack’s group succeeds in killing a wild pig, many of the boys begin to forget their British manners and descend into “savages” who dance and chant, paint their bodies and faces, and carry spears, breaking away from Ralph’s group to live at the other end of the island. They won’t listen to Ralph or any of the others, rejecting their reason and authority, ultimately killing two of the boys, Simon and Piggy.
After narrowly escaping, Ralph reflects: “He argued unconvincingly that they would let him alone, perhaps even make an outlaw of him. But then the fatal unreasoning knowledge came to him again. The breaking of the conch and the deaths of Piggy and Simon lay over the island like a vapor. These painted savages would go further and further…” (Golding 168).
He’s right: they don’t leave him alone. But luckily for Ralph, just as he’s about to be killed by Jack’s savages he staggers onto the beach and ends up at the feet of a British naval officer, who’s ship has seen smoke coming from the island. He’s rescued, along with the other boys, and the spell is broken. The story ends with Ralph crying: “for the end of innocence, the darkness of man’s heart…”
Growing up, my teachers, parents—nearly every well meaning adult in my life—taught me that making a good argument matters. That facts matter. That morality and honor and integrity and justice matter. It was in that spirit that I began my blog, chuckingrocks.com, hoping in some small way to put my thumb on the scales.
But all of that’s has been obliterated by the election of Donald Trump. Because while it’s never been easy to convince people to change their political views, neither has the other side so simply said, “The conch doesn’t count at this end of the island…” (Golding 137), Jack’s equivalent of Trump’s “fake news!”
In other words, I’ve realized we’re not going to convince Trump supporters or Republicans by writing blogs filled with facts and righteous indignation. You can’t browbeat people who think you’re the enemy, who don’t accept conventional truth or reality, who’ve traded their integrity for allegiance. The true believers.
Luckily, we don’t have to. Unlike Ralph, we’re not alone. The vast majority of Americans aren’t true believers who hang on every word from Trump or Fox News or right wing hate radio. They’re just people. Some of them vote Republican, not because they’re the savages who attend Trump rallies, but because they care about a handful of issues. Others are apolitical, whether by apathy or choice, choosing simply not to get involved.
Given the negativity and rancor with which we often discuss politics these days, I can’t say I blame them. And with that in mind, I’m going to change the focus of my upcoming blogs. I want to examine what DOES work, what kinds of arguments we can use that will actually make a difference, what political strategies are most effective in getting good and decent people elected to political office who actually care about the fate and fortunes of ordinary Americans.
I’ve already started to employ one of those strategies, which is to relate politics to stories, because stories break through in ways logic and facts can’t. Stories shift the focus from us vs. them politics to a human experience that, whether real or imagined, can teach us about morality and provides a perspective on how actual people are affected by policy or other socioeconomic dynamics.
So gather around children… it’s story time! The following is actually an excerpt from my novel, Cherry City Pulp, but the political lesson is quite clear—indeed, appropriate for all those evangelical Trump voters:
Eventually, Sunday rolled around. The Smotherman’s, good Christians that they were, attended the Evangelical Christian church in West Salem—a veritable palace newly built for the salvation of Salem’s upper classes.
Destiny wasn’t a fan. The preacher was boring, prattling on about the evils of homosexuality, abortion, and the government. She didn’t care about any of it; she knew enough to know that they were all unpleasant conversations, and didn’t see what it had to do with Jesus—what little of Scripture she remembered from Sunday School.
Worse, as if the bitterness of the sermons weren’t enough, her mother felt the need to talk to every single person or couple she knew at the church before and after the service (always managing to meet a few more), and Destiny had to stand there and be nice to people she didn’t care about.
“Destiny!” her mother yelled from the downstairs foyer. “Hurry up, sweetheart… you know I don’t like to be late!” Destiny emerged from her door dressed in a red skirt that was short for life—not to mention church—white wool, knee-high socks, and a tight fitting gray sweater.
“Jesus Christ…” her father scoffed as she came downstairs. Ignoring him, she opened the door to the garage and hopped into the back seat of his Mercedes, cell-phone in hand. Her parents followed shortly after, getting in the car without a word. They pulled out of the garage and onto the street, still silent, Destiny checking her Instagram, Twitter, and Snap-Chat posts, everyone generally ignoring each other.
On the way, in between texts with her friends and scrolling through her social media feeds, Destiny looked out the window. No one was on the streets in their neighborhood, but once they pulled onto Center Street things became more interesting. Homeless people were strewn about sporadically, on street corners, walking to some unknown destination, or huddled on the porches of rickety houses, smoking cigarettes with fingerless gloves, talking and carrying on. Sometimes Destiny wondered what they were talking about, until she remembered that she didn’t care. Homeless people were losers. She noticed how depressing her hometown was, under the flat, leaden clouds and the oppressive drizzle, how simple and small it was, how pathetic the people were who lived their lives there. As her father pulled into the church parking lot, she couldn’t help but feel scorn toward him and her mother for raising her in such a boring place.
They opened their doors and got out of the car, Destiny finishing a text and then catching up, face still glued to her phone. Hunter had finally replied, saying, what r u doing wed night before thxgive?
“Destiny!” She looked up to see her father staring at her sternly, her mother already busy carrying on excitedly with someone she barely knew. “You need to put that phone away during church.”
“I know, I just…”
“I don’t want to hear any hemming and hawing young lady. Just put it away, and don’t let me see it out again,” he said, finality in his voice.
“OK,” Destiny agreed, trying to sound resigned while concurrently finishing her reply, uh…nothing…why 😉
Her father made as if to say something again, pointing his finger, but before he could, Destiny put her phone in her purse and smiled so sweetly he just turned around, motioned her mother to join them, and headed toward the building.
The Smotherman’s always sat in the same row of pews: seventh from the front, right next to the center aisle (her father told her it was because seven was a “holy” number, which prompted her to ask why they didn’t sit seven seats from the back—this received no reply but a push of the glasses up the nose, a sigh, and a headshake). Gradually, the parishioners settled into their seats and the program began.
To begin, there was a rock band that played three or four covers of the more popular Christian bands. They all stood up and clapped their hands; some raised their arms to the ceiling in exultation. There were even a few women who would take off their shoes and dance, poorly, where there was room in the front or in the aisles. Everyone seemed to think this was really great, but to Destiny it looked an awful lot like pretending. Whatever it was, it was corny.
She pulled out her phone to check if Hunter had responded, knowing that her parents would be less likely to notice with the commotion.
Nothing. Was he teasing? Toying with her? He’d often text, she’d reply, and then he wouldn’t respond for several hours—even a day or two. Maybe he was just busy, she thought. Or maybe he was busy fucking someone else! Ugh! She hated this game, but she knew she couldn’t double up on back to back texts—that would look desperate—girl code, according to Maddy.
“You see Desi,” she’d told her the morning after they went out, both lying in bed, hung over, “you can’t do the chasing. It’s girl code. Girls never chase—that’s rule number one. If you chase, then the boy knows he has you, and men are best when they’re uncomfortable. It makes them pliable,” this, Maddy explained, meant that you could start training them, which was girl code rule number two: “all boys need to be trained. You see Desi, men are actually much more emotional and passionate about things than we are, despite our society’s belief to the contrary. So they have to be trained to master their impulses. That’s our job. Rule three is that sex with a girl is always a privilege, never a right. If they beg, plead, or don’t deserve it, you shouldn’t have sex with them—even if you want to. Pussy is the one thing they want most in life, and we have it. Use it to your advantage.”
Disappointed and anxious, she put her phone away as the music ended. The next part of the program included a group of prayers that everyone said in unison, followed by a few bible readings from members in the church. After that, the preacher climbed up to the lectern from his seat in the front row. Destiny noticed her father lean forward in anticipation. Maybe Hunter would text her and then she could text him back during the sermon?
The preacher, Reverend Spiller, began quietly as usual, “Well, children of God, I am so glad you are here today on this fine Sunday morning. I know it might surprise you, but every week I get a little nervous and excited at the same time to speak, because the simple truth is I love you all, and I so desperately want to preach the Word as best I can… well, because you’re a great congregation and you deserve it.” Destiny noticed her father nod and smile.
“Anyway, enough of my frailty’s—the focus of our time today is salvation, specifically, what you need to attain it. We’ll start with Proverb 16:3, which says, ‘Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and your plans will succeed.’” He paused for a moment, to let the words sink in, and immediately, on impulse, Destiny prayed silently for God to make Hunter Foxx marry her. “I said, commit to the Lord and you will surely succeed. It makes sense, right? I mean, any person knows that without faith, we walk all our lives in darkness.”
Here Spiller paused again, for anytime darkness was mentioned during a sermon, it meant the parishioners were supposed to say, “praise His light,” which they did, until the whole church spoke in unison. Spiller fed off it, nodding his head, emerging from behind the lectern. This, Destiny knew from experience, is where he would start ratcheting up the intensity until he had everyone frothing at the mouth, dripping with righteousness. Just then her phone vibrated in her purse.
“Yes, commit to the Lord and you WILL SUCCEED!” the sermon continued, drowning out the “praise His light’s.”
“But do we do that folks? I ask again, DO WE DO THAT?” A pause, during which Destiny’s father and several others yelled, “NO!” Quickly and discreetly, Destiny bent down and slipped the phone out of her purse. It was Hunter. Continuing the ruse, she folded her hands over her phone on her lap, looking attentively toward the front.
“You’re right! We don’t commit to the Lord. We commit to fantasy football. We commit to drinking beer. We commit to gossiping about the neighbors. We commit to our children’s sports, practicing free throws far more than we ever sit with them to read the Bible. We commit to fishing trips, and prom dates, and television shows. We commit to sending our kids to schools where teachers try to convince our children that being homosexual is A-OK, where secularism rules. You see, we commit to everything but the Lord, and then we’re disappointed when things don’t work out for us.”
Through an opening in her hands, Destiny read Hunter’s text: cause I was thinking we should go out and get some drinks…will u b back then? Just as she was about to reply, her father glanced sideways and saw the phone. He mouthed, “put that Goddamn thing away,” turning back disgustedly as the sermon continued.
“So then, the question is: why don’t we commit to the Lord? Why? Does anyone here know?” No one dared answer, a tense silence hanging over the crowd. At last Spiller continued, “The reason… is tolerance. We tolerate it. We tolerate this, and we tolerate that. We tolerate the football games, and the television shows, and the blasphemy, and secularism, and the government invading our lives, because that’s what we’re supposed to be right, we’re supposed to be tolerant?” Here he took off his glasses, took out a handkerchief and cleaned the lenses. Destiny’s father leaned forward, aching for Spiller’s next word. Destiny decided that as soon as he began speaking again she could text Foxx back.
“Well,” he began quietly. “I’ll tell you… I’m not tolerant. Nope. I’m not. In fact, I’m sick and tired of tolerance. Tolerance is the ground on which faith stumbles! Tolerance is the reason we can’t commit fully to the Lord, because let me ask you, how can you be committed to the Lord when you tolerate the ungodly? You can’t. You can’t be committed to walking God’s path when you’re too busy stepping to the side to allow someone else to go ahead, to allow for someone’s sins to go unchastised! Can we walk with God in a society that allows women to prostitute themselves and clean it all up with abortions and birth control? Can we walk with God when pornography is just a keystroke away on the computer? Can we walk with God when the government takes your taxes away, builds secular schools and then forces your children to attend them, all the time at risk of being transformed into a Godless homosexual? Can we…”
The whole church was glowing with outrage and fervor, answering, “NO!” each time. Destiny quickly started punching the reply to Hunter: yeah I’ll b back. I suppose we could get a drink, but only if ur nice 😉 A flood of warmth ran through her—she would finally get to see him, get to go on a real date like a real adult—with a really hot guy who was rich and famous.
She couldn’t help herself. She just had to tell Maddy. Thumbs peppering the screen with abandon, Destiny let the ecstasy of expectation take hold of her. In the background, Spiller thundered on, “Can we?” and the crowd would answer, “NO!” Then, “is tolerance the answer?”
“Will you worship God with all of your might, with all of your strength?”
At this the crowd stumbled, a third still yelling “NO!” with all their hearts, some confused, the rest responding “YES!”
Immediately everything stopped, even Spiller, who stood with a look of disbelief, then began again to clean his glasses, shaking his head. A clumsy silence muffled the once jubilant congregation—a spiritual blue-balling—and it smelled angry.
But there was one smile yet, and it belonged to Destiny Smotherman, furiously tapping the keyboard on her cell phone, oblivious to everything around her. Then, just as Spiller started to open his mouth, venturing into the awkward void that pervaded his church, the silence was broken.
“GOD FUCKING DAMNIT DESTINY! PUT THAT FUCKING PHONE AWAY FOR CHRIST’S SAKE YOU STUPID GIRL!”
Destiny turned off her phone and slid it into her purse. Her father grabbed her by the arm and pulled her out of her seat, marching her down the aisles toward the exit, the realization of what he’d said settling into his reddening face. Then, just as they’d reached the double doors leading out of the sanctuary, a sound reached their ears. Hands. Clapping. The crowd was applauding, and then Spiller spoke:
“Now that, my friends, is precisely the point. Mr. Smotherman is walking with God today, because instead of tolerating his child’s disrespectful behavior toward God and this congregation, he spoke up, regardless of the consequences.”
Mr. Smotherman turned to face the crowd, who was still applauding, and then Spiller, too, added his applause, and the entire congregation stood, catcalls emanating off of the stained glass windows. Destiny yanked her arm away from her father’s grip and stormed out of the church, but he took no notice. Turning around, he basked in the thunderous approval of Glory Hill Christian Church.
If you like the above, check out my new novel Cherry City Pulp! An awkward, sexy, funny, and sometimes violent story about relationships, sex, high school, and young people growing up in Oregon, chock full of satire and social commentary. Also, please help us out by making a donation on our website ChuckingRocks.com. Every dollar counts. If you can’t make a donation at this time, the other way you can help is to spread the word–so please, like, share, email, tweet, and/or retweet our posts. Remember to follow me on twitter @Chuckingrocks or email me: firstname.lastname@example.org.