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Saints & Sinners

av Lawrence Wright

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452428,030 (3.63)Ingen/inga
In this fascinating book about religion in America, one of this country's most probing yet sympathetic journalists puts forth stories not only of real grace but of despair, sexual scandal, and attempted murder. Lawrence Wright's Saints and Sinners are Jimmy Swaggart, who preached a hellfire gospel with rock 'n' roll abandon before he was caught with a, prostitute in a seedy motel; Anton LaVey, the kitsch-loving, gleefully fraudulent founder of the First Church of Satan; Madalyn Murray O'Hair, whose litigious atheism sometimes resembled a brand of faith; Matthew Fox, the Dominican priest who has aroused the fury of the Vatican for dismissing the doctrine of original sin and denouncing the church as a dysfunctional family; Walker Railey, the rising star of Dallas's Methodist church, who, at the pinnacle of his success, was suspected of attempting to murder his wife; and Will Campbell, the eccentric liberal Southern Baptist preacher whose challenges to established ways of thinking have made him a legend in his own time. By letting us listen to their voices and see the individuals in all their complexities, Lawrence Wright has written a richly fascinating book about the passions, triumphs, and failures of the life of faith.… (mer)

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I have read many of Lawrence Wright's books, and I wanted to read this one mainly for the section on Madalyn Murray O'Hair. I lived in Austin for many years, and had the opportunity to meet both Madalyn and her granddaughter because of their pets. These ladies were big animal lovers, and I knew when I heard they were missing and had left their dogs behind that they had been murdered. The most interesting part of the interview with Ms. O'Hair was her prediction of the rise of neofacism, and this book was published 25 years ago. The one mistake people made with Madalyn was underestimating her intelligence. She had an abrasive, abusive personality, and liked nothing better than a good fight. Her failing was letting people close to her that were murders. ( )
  kerryp | Jul 4, 2020 |
Wright has written a very personal examination of some religious trends in the United States. Fundamentalism, or Primitivism as some would call it, is certainly on the rise, a new "Great Awakening", if you will. Lack of an established religion, many have argued, creates the perfect medium for the development of cults and other fringe beliefs. It has also become " a patchwork of mysticism, hypocrisy, hucksterism, and violence, with an occasional dash of sexual perversity."

This book is not written from the perspective of a non-believer, rather as one who believes in the power of faith. “ I have seen it in prisons and ghettos as well as in boardrooms and chambers of power. I have often found myself admiring people who held views I strongly disagreed with—for instance, the Black Muslims, who believe that I am a devil because of my race but who have generated the moral power to bring order and dignity to prison life. Where addiction rules or where social values have collapsed, it is usually only those rare persons of faith who can survive and sometimes even transform their seemingly hopeless environments.”

Nevertheless, he takes a rather perverse look at the symbols of both religious and non-religious icons such as Jimmy Swaggart and Madolyn Murray O’Hair.

Wright first examines the tragic case of Walker Railey, his minister in the large Methodist Church in Dallas, a man who engaged in an affair with a member of his congregation and then probably killed his wife. Transformative faith?

None of these people is particularly nice even as they held considerable power over their faithful but each was engaged in his own kind of spiritual struggle and the author’s personal struggle. “The lesson I had drawn from Walker Railey’s life so far was that good and evil are not so far apart either. They were both inside Railey, warring for control—as they were in me as well. Whether or not Railey was guilty, he had caused me to look into myself and see the lurking dangers of my own personality.”

I must admit to being one of the gleeful watching the downfall of Jimmy Swaggart. I had watched his TV show on several occasions, mesmerized by his excessive sanctimony while attempting to strip his viewers of their bank accounts. I’ve always speculated that people specialize in their deficiencies so having him self-destruct in the arms of a cheap hooker virtually in plain sight suggesting his perverse desire to be caught was gratifying. “Sex is the great leveler, the shadowy companion of the transcendent spirit.” Swaggart had equally gleefully brought about the collapse of Martin Gorman, pastor of one of those mammoth churches. “Swaggart accused Gorman of having had numerous adulterous affairs. Although Jim Bakker [who was to have his own spectacular fall] took Gorman’s side and actually pleaded for his forgiveness, Swaggart muscled Gorman’s show off the PTL Network. The Gorman empire, such as it was, quickly collapsed. His church, his television stations, and especially his reputation were lost to him. He was reduced to preaching in a drafty warehouse in Metairie to a congregation of folding chairs. There he began to consider his revenge.” Sordid

Moving along to Madalyn Murray O’Hair, who sued the author, interestingly. She the most accomplished of the self-promoting, she made a fetish out of trying to protect everyone from every hint of religiosity. In the end she became nothing but an embarrassing spectacle, in my view, although one has to credit her with some important victories like that of O’Hair v Hill which prevented Texas (of course) from trying to institute a religious test for office contrary to the Constitution.

Ironically, the least interesting of the characterizations is that of Anton LaVey, the supposed father of Satanism. He just tried too hard to be something he clearly was not: “the evilest man in the world.” Having been a circus performer and carnival barker, his career in satanism seemed just a continuation of that former self. On the other hand, as he noted, Satan is probably religion’s best friend; without it religion would not have survived so many centuries. His connection to Jayne Mansfield was rather titillating.

Will Campbell is surely the most interesting of the bunch. A Baptist minister, reviled by the leadership of his church, he was a vigorous supporter of civil rights and good friend of Martin Luther King who ministered to James Earl Ray and other Ku Klux Klan members. He was one of only four whites who held hands with the little black girls in their attempts to integrate schools in Little Rock. His uncompromising positions earned him hate letters from both the Right and Left.

The book is easily read as separate essays and the only element that ties them together is the author’s personal journey and reactions to the individuals he interviewed. As such it’s of perhaps more interest for its historical value than a memoir. Wright’s more recent books: The Looming Tower and Going Clear are more important. If this review seems to ramble, blame it on the book. ( )
  ecw0647 | Nov 23, 2015 |
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In this fascinating book about religion in America, one of this country's most probing yet sympathetic journalists puts forth stories not only of real grace but of despair, sexual scandal, and attempted murder. Lawrence Wright's Saints and Sinners are Jimmy Swaggart, who preached a hellfire gospel with rock 'n' roll abandon before he was caught with a, prostitute in a seedy motel; Anton LaVey, the kitsch-loving, gleefully fraudulent founder of the First Church of Satan; Madalyn Murray O'Hair, whose litigious atheism sometimes resembled a brand of faith; Matthew Fox, the Dominican priest who has aroused the fury of the Vatican for dismissing the doctrine of original sin and denouncing the church as a dysfunctional family; Walker Railey, the rising star of Dallas's Methodist church, who, at the pinnacle of his success, was suspected of attempting to murder his wife; and Will Campbell, the eccentric liberal Southern Baptist preacher whose challenges to established ways of thinking have made him a legend in his own time. By letting us listen to their voices and see the individuals in all their complexities, Lawrence Wright has written a richly fascinating book about the passions, triumphs, and failures of the life of faith.

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