web analytics

Operation Romans 8: “Bah! Humbug!!” (Part 1 of 3)


P. T. Barnum was the Prince of Humbugs. He sold what amounted to nothing to the public and made his customers feel it was worth every penny. He hawked “curiosities” — albinos, giants, midgets, “fat boys,” jugglers, magicians, and “exotic women.” He defended these hoaxes or “humbugs” as “advertisements to draw attention . . . to the Museum. I don’t believe in duping the public, but I believe in first attracting and then pleasing them.” For him, hype was no problem; it was bald-faced deception that rankled him (since, of course, it would only hurt his business).

Barnum distinguished himself from the real con artists in The Humbugs of the World. He describes Grizzly Adams’ bears, the Davenport Brothers’ spiritualism, Mr. Pease’s Horehound Candy, Benjamin Brandreth’s Sarsparilla Pills, Joanna Southcott‘s prophesies, and Robert Matthews’ elaborate religious cons (you may also know him through his most famous follower/slave, Isabella, a.k.a. Sojourner Truth). The most amazing example he describes is the Miscegenation hoax. The pamphlet was a fraud — a complete fiction created by the then-Democratic party to ruin the anti-Slavery platform and the Republican party candidate, Abraham Lincoln, in the 1864 election.

The circus came late in Barnum’s career. That’s when he built the Hippodrome. But in America’s centennial year, the building didn’t house “the greatest show on Earth.” Instead, it hosted a Dwight L. Moody revival. In the midst of New York City’s surging unemployment and inflation, increasing domestic violence and drunkenness, Moody came to Madison Avenue.

So did 150 policemen, 500 ushers, 1200 choir members, and 1000s of listeners. Reporters saw lawyers, doctors, scientists, presidential press agents, clergy, and pickpockets in attendance. Now, it wasn’t until the Chicago revivals to follow that Moody, near the end of that stint, invented a special Prostitute night. You’ve heard of Goldfish Sunday? Well, this was a little different.

Bruce Evensen describes it all. In New York, street vendors sold counterfeit Moody and Sankey pictures for five and ten cents each to people who had never seen the revivalists’ faces! The Times reported that $40,000 was spent on the revival — two-thirds of a million in today’s dollars. Presbyterians, Baptists, Methodists, and Episcopalians came. All entered through Barnum’s big doors . . . on Madison Avenue.

In the midst of Barnum’s sawdust, the press puffery, the teeming masses, and the fake merchandising, here was Moody’s forehead-poundingly-ironic message:

We have to sink the self. We have to get our eyes off these things and toward the Cross.

Surprisingly, Moody’s pitch is not much different from Barnum’s. Evensen, too, connects the Revivalist Moody and the Humbug Barnum. Go read it for yourself. Both cut their professional eyeteeth in sales — Moody pushing shoes, Barnum Bibles. Both advertised aggressively. Both get lampooned by Harper’s. Both advertised aggressively. Both used the press skillfully. And the success of both “enterprises,” it seems, depends on the same suspending of the self.

Let me explain it another way. . . . We visited Walt Disney World this summer. Enjoying the whole park through the eyes of a 3.5 year old and a 1 year old is a scream although the heat, the crowds, and the prices do tarnish the fun. Grant and I tried our best to keep our 30-something sarcasm at bay, and Disney does pretty well at curing the Gen-X jaundice with attractions like Soarin’.

I still get the most giggles when Disney’s slip is showing — The Tiki Room and the Carousel of Progress, for instance. When you enter those now-quaint attractions, you have to work a little harder at enjoying the illusion. You have to give up more of your 21st-century sensibilities to enjoy the squawking toucans and corny humor of the jerky animatronics. With both Soarin’ and the Tikis, for the illusion to work, you have to give in to the fantasy. You have to detach yourself from reality. You have to let yourself go or, as some might even say, “sink the self.”

When Dorothy opens the curtain and confronts the Humbug, when you MST3K your way through Disney’s vision of the future, when the individual dialectically stands face-to-face with the corporation, when the sunlight shines on the smoke and mirrors, there’s no more “self to sink” since the humbug is sinking pretty fast on its own.

That’s why, when we’re in the middle of the humbug and working so hard at “sinking the self,” we might get a little peeved at the yappy Toto (who cares very little for humbug) as he races to pull back the curtain on the Great Oz. It’s startling and disconcerting and even disappointing to see the humbug for what it really is.

Next — Dorothy vs. The Great and Powerful Oz

[tags]Fundamentalism, Dwight L. Moody, P.T. Barnum, Wizard of Oz, Humbugs[/tags]

6 thoughts on “Operation Romans 8: “Bah! Humbug!!” (Part 1 of 3)

  1. I never knew Moody did such things! Raise all that money to finance a revival, by deliberate fraud! And to do that with no shame,embarassment or guilt? Just goes to show, how such revivalists, had such poorly , non-functioning consciences, cared less, how their worldly, greedy, sinful , selfish behaviour brogught reproach to Christ! And I thought lying and stealing was a sin! I guess the man and his assistants, ‘cut those commandments’ OUT of their Bibles! And to think a favorite fundy jingle, sung to the tune of “My Hope Is Built On nothing Less, Than Jesus Christ and Righousness”, has been: the fundy words go: “My hope is built on nothing less, that Scoffield notes and Moody Press!’ Scoffield’s notes, by the way, which deny that christians even ‘need’ the Beattitudes for ‘today’! I wondered where the virtues went, when they brushed them out with Moody dent!” Put a dent in the Bible, and cut the virtues ‘out.’Then get up in a podium, and shout, shout, shout! Who ‘needs’ them, virtues,anyway, when, ‘our way is the highway’, is the way ‘WE’RE’ going to go ‘anyway?’ Know very little about Moody, only that he did found a major Bible Institute named after himself. And Bob Sr. did the same thing too. Have such insitutions merely become ‘edifices’ unto the men who built them, edifices ‘unto man?’ And I thought idolatry was a sin too! I guess some men have cut ‘that’ commandment out of their Bible as well. Lord have mercy. Thank God for Billy Graham, who showed mainstream christianity, and all good people, both inside and outside regular church membership and attendance, that christian leaders ‘can’ be Godly and set a ‘good example’ consistently, and leave us with such a wonderful example. Thank God for Billy Graham! I wonder if Moody’s track record of questionable behaviour, has been a root cause of the general practice of painting most revivalists with bad and negative judgement? One wonders what kind of ‘quality’of converts actual ‘became’ who were converted in Moody’s revival services? One wonders!

  2. Camille, thank you so much for posting these amazing articles. I didn’t even know they were on your web! This is ‘pure gold’ for me personally, in my research for more insight and understanding of fundamentalism’s history and the evovlving of its’ members’ developing, changing, and reverting ways of thinking. I am adding these links to the emails that I send to myself, something I started doing when I could’nt find my way back to where the headings of posts were on your web page. Just ‘my problem’ as your web page does have an excellent search engine. Now I email myself the links before I close the particular posts page I’m on, so I don’t lose them. And it’s as easy as can be. Now I can link these excellent articles to other articles I am saving up to study, when I get caught up in the fall cleaning. I really want to study this subject thoroughly. Knowing that I have all these ‘links’ I must ‘restrain myself’ from looking at them, until I get caught up in fall cleaning. And if you’ve wondered if I ever get much work done around the house,when enjoying your web page as much as I do, the answer is ‘not much.’. We just canceled a big trip to Rome. Too ehausted to go. Hope we can get most of the airline ticket money back. Now we can face the big challenge of recycle, give away, and throw away. Thanks again for the excellent articles. They are simply DYNAMITE! If you were still at BJU and people were reading this good stuff ‘on the inside’, there would be a ‘revolution’ there, in people’s thinking, and lives, and maybe even a riot! A good one! God Bless you in your effective minsitry to people like me who used to gullibly believe everything people said, simply because we believed the best of them, and did not look beyond their charming venere! We need not stop loving one another. We can forgive one another. We do need to learn to love ‘with discernment’ and ‘not’ give our brains away, or ‘leave them in the vestibule’ simply because some weisenheimer in the pulpit says ‘such and such’ that sounds like so ‘much!’, when it really aint that much after all, but is a lot of opinion, and very little of God. It’s just the words of man being spouted off as ‘The Bible says’, and “God says’ when neither one says such and such ‘at all’! We can love. We can forgive. And we can live, keeping our brains attached. Allelujiah! And everybody says Amen! God I love this blog!

Comments are closed.