Wednesday, January 6, 2010

You're Either For Me, or Else

(The above shocking news report may not be safe for work. Wait a minute -- you mean it's not news? It's like totally made up? Dude, that is so wrong....)

Finished Wide Awake later yesterday. In his acknowledgments, author David Levithan thanks "all of the people who have shared their stories with me about being gay and religious -- there are truly too many to name."

Of the four Levithan books I've read so far, I like Wide Awake the least -- not just for its religiosity, but for its politics. It was published, remember, in 2006, before the advent of Barack Obama, but in his depiction of the youthful members of President Abraham Stein's campaign organization Levithan caught very well the messianic fervor of Barack Obama's organization two years later; Wide Awake is the novel in which many seemed to have imagined themselves. It's most annoying when it's most earnest, and it's earnest too much of the time.

There are lighter touches, like the new post-Greater Depression consumerism Levithan imagines for the second half of the twenty-first century. Narrator Duncan explains it all to you:
... suddenly enough people realized it was ridiculously wrong to have people wearing thousand-dollar shoes at the same time that a large part of the world was starving. ... The Kindness Consortium launched the Charity Is the New Shopping campaign, which had lasted ever since. Some people – certainly not all – started giving what was needed instead of buying whatever they wanted. Because it was the cool thing to do. And it was cool because it was the right thing to do. One retail giant – it used to be called a department store – decided to take the C Is the New S thing seriously and opened the first non-shopping mall. It was kind of basic – you still spent your time wandering around, checking things out, trying things on. But then when you got to the register and the prices were scanned in, you made a donation to a worthy cause instead of buying the stuff. (If you really wanted to purchase, you could go home and order a nondisplay version, with a discount if you’d already made a donation.) You could be social while you spent for social justice. I loved it [42f].
Imagine a Heather reading those words aloud. Levithan punctures Duncan's social consciousness a few pages later, when Duncan recalls his style crisis, going through a good deal of nondisplay casual wear before his friend Mandy "told me I’d always had a style; I just needed to realize that style was like personality – it didn’t always have to be consistent; it just had to be something you lived with. I asked her how she knew that. She said she’d read it on an advice blog. Then she helped me bring all the W-necks to Goodwill [46]."

There's also Duncan's friend Guy, "my favorite gay Jesus Freak postconsumer activist. None of his clothes had labels, but he always made sure they fit really, really well" (34). During the protest in Kansas to save President Stein's election, Guy meets Glen, a guy who's almost as hot as he is, but reassures his friends before going off to spend the night with him in a tent, "You know I'm saving it for my wedding night. But oh my la, I'd marry him in a week and a day, if you know what I mean. It's like the first time we opened our mouths, our hearts just went leap-leap and have been snuggling ever since" (172). True Love Waits even in the late twenty-first century, and even among the Jesus Freaks. (The morning after, though, Guy reports that it wasn't True Love after all, but he's found another True Love by evening, and yet another one three days later. The True Love Waits bunny just keeps going ... and going ... and going ...)

If Levithan was aware of the irony in his depiction of his Jesus Revolutionaries I could find no sign of it. On page 166, Jesus Freak Janna explained:
“… It’s one thing to warn someone out of concern. It’s another to take it upon yourself to make the damnation. The last time I checked, it was the Lord’s call whether or not we go to hell. I hope whenever a person tells another person he or she is going to hell that the Lord notices and decides to hold it against the hell-caller when his or her day of judgment comes. I hope he or she gets up to the gates and the Lord says, It was so easy for you to send people to hell in My name that I’m afraid it’s going to be easy for Me to do the same.”
I trust that the Lord was listening, and will bear it in mind when Janna shows up at the gates. She has no difficulty wishing hell on other people, but of course only on the bad-guy, judgmental, haters of the Decent churches. Some atheist, Antony Flew I think, once wrote that if there is anything that can be known for certain to be wrong, it is to condemn anyone to eternal punishment for any reason whatever. (Of course many Christians deny that Jesus taught or believed in eternal punishment for the unsaved; my point is only that Levithan shows here a Christian character he seems to consider sympathetic, who not only believes in hell but that some people deserve it.)

In fairness to Janna and her author, Janna is mostly a decent (small d) enough character; the most appealing thing about her is that, confronted with Decent counterprotesters, she offers their hungry children her scanty food -- for which their parents attack her. In fairness to my critique, the Decents are depicted rather as the Christian Right likes to depict gays: at best, as tormented souls who know the Truth but won't, for obscure reasons, submit to it; at worst, as brute beasts who'd as soon kill you as look at you. It's always okay to demonize the opposition as long as you're the good guys, and everyone considers themselves the good guys. Denouncing Christian critics of rock'n'roll, for example, Frank Zappa (who apparently was an atheist) once wrote: "If there is a hell, its fires wait for them, not us." I admire his certainty, but I wouldn't second-guess the values of a supreme being who'd create a place of eternal torture in the first place; power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. I wouldn't send anyone to hell, but that's just one more way that I'm weird.