Friday, August 22, 2008
You know that balloon figure that has Bill Donahue's knickers in a knot? Well, as I suspected, it may have just been a balloon gone astray. But Tantalus Prime has the story of its origin, via Mother Jones, that may be weirder than anything Donahue could have imagined:
As the annual convention of the Fellowship of Christian Magicians kicks off on a hot July afternoon, the campus of Indiana Wesleyan University is awash in displays of irreverent reverence. Ventriloquists converse with Scripture-quoting puppets, unicyclists pedal through the halls, and a man plays "Amazing Grace" on a turkey baster. In the gym, vendors sell mysteriously materializing Communion cups, paper that dissolves in water (perfect for making sins "disappear"), and fire-spouting Bibles ($50 each, they open "with or without flames"). Visitors to the auditorium are greeted by a Noah's ark and Jesus, life-size and complete with cross and crown of thorns, made from balloons by a group of self-described "balloonatics."Apparently this has quite a history:
Gospel magic dates back to at least the early 1900s, when the Reverend C.H. Woolston, pastor of the East Baptist Church in Philadelphia, began using candles and bells as props in his lessons. He became a sensation, especially with children, who another preacher claimed would "gather around him...like bees around flowers." Woolston wrote the first gospel magic book, Seeing Truth, and assembled the first convention of "gospel illustrators" in 1917.But doesn't the Bible prohibit magic?
With time, missionary magic was taken up by a group of preachers who called themselves "magi-ministers." In 1940, J.B. Maxwell explained in his book Magical Object Lessons that "Objects of any kind are valuable to use in teaching lessons, but when the objects are used in such a way that a mystery results, the interest is not only more fully aroused, but also the lesson connected with the mystery is more indelibly stamped upon the mind."
Contemporary critics have lumped magic shows in with Dungeons & Dragons and Ouija boards as another example of Satan's deceptions. J.K. Rowling's wizards inspired a stream of anti-occult critiques, including the book Harry Potter and the Bible: The Menace Behind the Magick. And when two secular Scottish magicians created a TV show in 2005 called The Magic of Jesus, in which they replicated biblical miracles, a Pentecostal bishop suggested that they attempt a new trick: crucifying themselves.As one participant says:
Laflin agrees that the Bible forbids magic, but says it's a "terminology thing." "The magic that it's speaking of is trying to speak to the dead or cast spells on people," he explains. "What I do is sleight of hand. It's literally optical illusion. It's not what the Bible forbids at all." Gospel magicians regularly assure their audiences that they don't possess real mystical powers. ("I do tricks, just tricks," Laflin tells his audience. "But the power of God is real and wonderful.") Some have eliminated the word "magic" altogether, referring to themselves instead as "gospel illusionists."Could there be a better metaphor for organized religion than sleight of hand and illusion?
Billy-Boy is such an unending source of amusement.