Wednesday, January 25, 2012


Perhaps it’s only self-delusion but I like to think I’m a mentally well-rounded person who can converse with reasonable intelligence on a fairly wide variety of topics.

I’m not going to have anything useful to add when the conversation turns to cooking, knitting, Reality TV, car repairs, or anything “mechanical” for that matter. But I’d like to believe I can hold my own for a little while on topics such as art, literature, sports, film, and music.

The three areas in which I have acquired the most amount of knowledge are spirituality, including subcategories like “religion” and “The Holy Bible”; American West history, with special emphasis on mining camps 'n' characters; and politics, including everything from the Federal Reserve System, to the “New World Order”, to the life and times of Senator Joseph McCarthy. (I can more than adequately defend Senator McCarthy in any contentious debate with Liberals - as some Leftists through the years have come to find out and won’t soon forget.)

Therefore, some time ago when my friend Kevin, “The Kansas Kid”, sent me the small paperback book BIBLE IN POCKET, GUN IN HAND: The Story Of Frontier Religion’ by Ross Phares (first published in 1962), I was certain I would like it. How could I not? It simultaneously addressed two of my favorite subjects: religion and American West history.

However, considering that the book includes no photographs or illustrations, and the somber black and white cover shows (what appears to me to be) a Colt single-action pistol laid across a roughly-textured black leather Bible, I naturally assumed this book was going to be a very serious affair (not that there’s anything wrong with that!)

So, was I ever surprised – and pleasantly so – when I found this book chock full of funny stories and anecdotes. Make no mistake about it, Ross Phares has due respect for his subject matter, but he addresses it with a light touch, and many of the anecdotes - which were pulled together from a large variety of sources - are highly entertaining and sometimes even laugh-out-loud funny. Despite his respect and serious intentions, Phares is not averse to illustrating some of the contradictions and ridiculousness that accompanied the sowing of religious ideas in the newly opened Western frontier.

A number of these stories really deserve to be better known, and so I will share with you below some of my favorites – those that are short enough to be typed without too much strain on my fingers. Take it away, Ross Phares:

Many (preachers) by expert marksmanship saved themselves to preach another day. As basic precaution, they often traveled armed to the teeth and made it a practice to lay a pistol and the Bible side by side on the lectern.
. . .

Preachers were thwarted in their work by many of the backwoods people’s lack of a sufficient vocabulary to communicate with understanding on religion … A traveling preacher told of examining a woman at her home on her beliefs, and asking if she had any religious convictions.
“Naw,” she replied bluntly, “nor my ol’ man neither. He war tried for hog-stealin’ once, but he warn’t convicted.”
. . .

The establishment of schools did not quickly bring enlightenment. The story is told that a politician, after making a campaign speech near the Mexican border, was asked by a man in the audience: “What do you think of this teaching of the Mexican language to our kids?”
“I’m agin’ it,” he shouted. “If the English language was good enough for Jesus Christ, it’s good enough for me.”
. . .

The blessings they sought were simple and understandable. Someone has formulated their vision thus: “For the promise of the Word is that some day the children of the Word will find a land of milk and honey where each man may eat of his own vine, sit under his own fig tree and whittle on his own sticks.”
. . .

But unable to resist attention to the distinguished stranger, [the preacher] finally turned to him and said: “My friend, are you a Christian?”
The distiguished gentleman replied: “Sir, I am a theological professor.”
“My Lord,” said the preacher, “I wouldn’t let a little thing like that keep me from coming to Christ. … You can’t be saved with anything between you and God.”
. . .

A church member commented to a friend about a fine sermon he had just heard that lasted “nigh about two hours.”
“What was the preacher’s subject?” the friend asked.
“He nevah did say,” was the answer.
. . .

After listening to favorable arguments [for raising funds for the education of young ministers], this preacher rose to his feet and said emphatically he was agin’ it. “Not only that,” he said, “I thank God I have never seen a college.”
The bishop asked: “Brother, do you mean to thank God for your ignorance?”
“You may call it that if you wish.”
To which the bishop replied: “All I can say, Brother, is that you have a great deal to be thankful for.”
. . .

“You see, it’s this way. There’s an election goin’ on all the time. The Lord votes for you, the devil votes against you, and you cast the decidin’ vote.”
. . .

A Negro preacher was hearing the confession of a young man. In the middle of it he interrupted him: “Wait a minute, wait a minute,” he called. “You ain’t confessin’. You’s braggin’.”
. . .

One [minister] applying for lodging at a tavern was addressed by the landlord: “Stranger, I perceive that you are a clergyman. Please let me know whether you are a Presbyterian or a Methodist.”
“Why do you ask?” responded the preacher.
“Because I wish to please my guests, and I have observed that a Presbyterian minister is very particular about his own food and bed, and a Methodist about the feed and care of his horse.”
“Very well said,” replied the minister. “I am a Presbyterian, but my horse is a Methodist.”
. . .

This [gravestone epitaph] was for a gambler – suggesting the hazards of both clumsiness and avarice:

Played five aces,
Now playing a harp.
. . .

Another couple came to a minister’s home late one Saturday night without a license. The preacher told them he could not marry them without a license – for them to come back Monday. The insistent, disappointed young fellow asked him: “Couldn’t you just say a few words to tide us over the weekend?”
. . .

One minister on Temperance Sunday, to offer undisputable proof of the evil effects of liquor, made an elaborate demonstration with a worm.
He first dropped the worm into a glass of clear water where it wiggled about with apparent delight. Then he removed it and dropped it into a glass of whiskey, where it died instantly.
“Now what does this prove?” the preacher asked, beaming with satisfaction.
A red-eyed brother from the rear rose up and answered: “If you drink plenty of whiskey, you’ll never have worms.”
. . .

Early Baptist preachers were sometimes paid in barrels of whiskey.
. . .

This illustrative story is told of a Negro girl who, accused of improper relations with the opposite sex, was brought before a church assembly and thought by the examiner to be either quibbling or without clear understanding of the charges against her. Finally he asked her the direct question: “Are you a virgin?”

Without hesitation the girl replied: “Yessuh, I is.” Then she hesitated in thoughtful meditation for a moment and added emphatically: “But I ain’t no fanatic about it!”
. . .

One pastor labored six days for his flock, but early every Saturday morning he went fishing and spent the day at it. … Called to account for his idleness, he was asked: “How can you waste a whole day every week fishing when Satan’s so busy in this community? He certainly doesn’t take any time off!”
“I don’t suppose he does,” the pastor agreed. “But I’m not following his example.” And he kept right on fishing and preaching in the same community.
. . .

A Negro pastor was found embracing one of the sisters of the congregation. When summoned before the church to answer for his actions, he defended himself with Scripture: “Doan it say in de Book dat de shepherd taketh de lamb unto his busom?”
. . .
The Methodists, who boasted of some margin of learning over the Baptists (though hardly enough, it would seem, to boast about), took digs at their ignorance. They gave one definition of a Methodist as “a Baptist who has learned to read and write.”
. . .

An old Negro, a member of the Baptist Church, was given a litter of puppies by a Methodist neighbor. Before he left with them the Methodist minister appeared, and to make conversation with the new owner of the puppies, he asked: “What denomination are they?”
In respect to the Methodist donor, who was present, he answered: “Dey’s Methodist dogs.”

A week later the preacher chanced by the Negro’s place, and seeing the puppies running about in the yard asked him again what denomination they belonged to.
“Dey’s Baptist dogs.”
“But you told me last week they were Methodist pups.”
“But dey didn’t have dar eyes open den.”
. . .

Because the people truly believed that God was real, and that His spirit abided in this part of the raw earth they were fashioning according to their beliefs, they approached Him as a deity of the backwoods who required little formality or polished manners on the part of His simple children. …

[One old man] said he did not think an intermediary was necessary to get in touch with the Lord; that “when a feller’s in a jam, the Lord can hear him if he’ll holler.”
. . .

One man at a weekly meeting rose and prayed with calculated restraint: “Oh Lord, we need rain bad, send us rain. We don’t want a rippin’, rarin’ tearin’, rain that’ll harrer up the face of Nature, but a drizzlin’, drozzlin’, sozzlin’ rain, one that’ll last all night and putty much all day, Oh Lord.” …

Downpours following prayer for rain sometimes brought the supplicants to their knees again to let the Lord know they had had enough. One drought sufferer, suddenly turned flood victim, pleaded: “Lord, Lord, stay thy hand! Enough! Art thou goin’ to drown us out like woodchucks?”
. . .

A band of immigrants held up their westward journey just outside Dodge City for prayer for protection, during which the minister-leader pleaded: “…On our long journey Thy Divine Providence has thus far kept us safe. We have survived cloudbursts, hailstorms, floods, and strong gales, thirst and parching heat – as well as raids of horsethieves and attacks by hostile Indians.

“But now, Oh, Lord, we face our greatest danger. Dodge City lies just ahead, and we must pass through it. Help us and save us, we beseech Thee. Amen.”
. . .

Liquor, directly and indirectly, inspired a great deal of praying. An old deacon who had a decided weakness for the bottle got on a terrible bender one night, and thought he was dying. He called his wife, who was a devout woman, and asked her to pray for him. She fell to her knees and prayed: “Oh Lord, have mercy on my poor drunken husband.”
The deacon heard her from the next room, and called to her: “No, no, Margaret! Don’t tell Him I’m drunk; tell Him I’m sick!”
. . .

The frontier folk possessed such a capacity to laugh at themselves they told funny stories about prayer. Where truth ends and fiction begins is sometimes difficult to say. …

All-out faith in immediate answer to prayer is illustrated in this story of an old maid who, feeling that her opportunites for matrimony were fast coming to an end, went out into the woods, greatly distressed, to meditate upon the matter. She finally concluded that since there was no earthly hope in sight she would call upon the Lord for help.

She knelt down and prayed fervently: “Oh Lord, hear my prayers. This day send me a man. Send me a man, Oh Lord, that I may not be lonesome.”
At that moment an owl in a nearby tree sounded out: “Who! Who! Who!”
The old maid jumped to her feet and shouted with joy:
“Anybody, Lord. Just anybody!”
. . .

Evangelist L. M. White said:
“Just at that time, with everybody excited, a regular pandemonium reigning, I threw my Remington on the crowd and howled, ‘Sit down! We came here to worship God, and we are going to do it if I have to kill somebody’.”

- - - - - - - -

Hokey-Smoke! That is so similar to that classic line in the Paul Newman movie ‘The Life And Times Of Judge Roy Bean’ . . .

Tell them it's going to be a new place. It's going to be a nice place to live. I'm the new judge. There's going to be law, there's going to be order, progress, civilization, and peace. Above all, peace. And I don't care who I have to kill to get it.
~ Paul Newman (as Judge Roy Bean)

If you’ve never seen that movie, people, you have missed a great one!

Well, I hope you have enjoyed exploring religion in the Wild West with me. Tune in again next week when we will explore Marilyn Monroe in the buff.

~ Stephen T. McCarthy

The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean 1972 John Huston

YE OLDE COMMENT POLICY: All comments, pro and con, are welcome. However, ad hominem attacks and disrespectful epithets will not be tolerated (read: "posted"). After all, this isn’t, so I don’t have to put up with that kind of bovine excrement.


YeamieWaffles said...

I'm glad to be following somebody with proficiency in all three of those aspects man.

“You see, it’s this way. There’s an election goin’ on all the time. The Lord votes for you, the devil votes against you, and you cast the decidin’ vote.”

This line is amazing, it's so true and such a good way to make people relate to religion in my opinion, awesome stuff buddy.

Stephen T. McCarthy said...

Hey, thanks, my friend! I'm glad ya liked it.

To be honest, I am almost entirely self-educated, and my education (what there is of it) came it a cost: I selected knowledge over money.

Also, to really get a handle on what is going on - particularly with regards to spirituality and politics - it's necessary to investigate sources outside of the mainstream.

Anyone who thinks they can read the daily newspaper and watch the 7 O'Clock news and come away "up on" this world is simply made-to-order for those who would deceive them.

Anyway... thanks for checking in, Bro!

~ D-FensDogg
'Loyal American Underground'

Arlee Bird said...

Now I don't have to buy the book. You wrote it all here. Good stuff though. They should have written a musical piece to use in those Wild West churches. Could have called it "The Gunfight at the O.K. Chorale"

Can you interpret this dream?
A Faraway View
comming Thursday 1/26/12

Stephen T. McCarthy said...

Not hardly, Boid! There was plenty of other fun ('n' interesting) stuffs that I didn't post only because it would have required too much copy-typing, which I'm not very fast at.

Believe it or not, I've actually run acoss that "O.K. Chorale" pun before.

And for the record, if I had to make that decision all over again, I'm not convinced that I WOULD choose knowledge over money.

I think perhaps five year's worth of diligent, non-mainstream study and THEN the pursuit of money would have been a wiser choice.

Too much study just leads to frustration and loneliness.

Oh well, my next life will be better.

~ D-FensDogg
'Loyal American Underground'

Rae said...

Loved the book report! Sounds like a good read!

Karen Peterson said...

This post just made you one of my very favorite people.

Stephen T. McCarthy said...

What, you must be a Senator McCarthy fan too, eh?

~ D-FensDogg
'Loyal American Underground'