Revolution #164, May 17, 2009
Praise the Lord and Pass the Reality Check
On April 8, 2009, Best Church of God comedy troupe (www.bestchurchofgod.org) and Revolution Books partnered in an interactive communion service featuring atheist and revolutionary, Sunsara Taylor, at the delightfully odd Chopin Theater in Chicago. I had never heard of BCOG, so I was not sure what to expect. The immediacy of parody lies in its hyperbolic power to blur the lines separating truth from fiction, and Best Church all but erases them.
BCOG is a hilarious, if uncomfortable admixture of traditional Roman Catholic ritual, feel-good Protestant piety and down-home mega-church preaching and histrionics, all wrapped into tongue-in-cheek quasi-improvisational theater á la the formerly edgy Second City variety. In fact, the troupe is located in the same Old Town neighborhood as that venerable institution.
BCOG takes no prisoners and is merciless and irreverent in all matters sacred and profane. No one, from Catholics to Jews to Muslims, gays to straights, liberals, commies and fascists and anything in between, is spared. If you're already a confirmed atheist, these performances will have you nodding your head in resounding agreement. If you think you are better off without gods, but still have not shaken the dust of religion and spirituality from your boots, this show can have a strange and unsettling effect on you.
As a liturgical musician who has spent over 30 years in the service of churches and seminaries, the performance was discomfiting, and I did more than my share of squirming and blenching. But I discovered that this had less to do with any religious fervor as much as it did with upsetting years of conditioning and long established habits of the heart. It's not easy confronting the truth about conventions culture regards as sacrosanct and beyond the reach of criticism. It's similar to discovering that your family is dysfunctional. It may be true, but truth is not always very pleasant or easy to accept.
Sunsara Taylor's debate with members of Best Church's caricatured though painfully realistic membership was at all times intelligent, rational and good natured. Ms. Taylor's arguments appeal to reason and are informed by careful and thorough study. Unlike fundamentalists and fascist talk radio hosts who go for the jugular by intimidating their listeners into coercion, Taylor was polite, listening to all sides of the argument prior to presenting hers. So much for fire-breathing, wild-eyed, Feminazi Communists!
Debate incorporated into theatrical performance is a powerful medium that enables us to come to terms with the harsh realities and contradictions of life that religion and mythology are hardly equipped to deal with. Both Taylor and the Church presented in bold relief the litanies of our present age: commodification of virtually every aspect of life, the bane of personal responsibility, biblical anomalies, ecclesiastical hypocrisy, the misery and suffering of much of the world's humanity, the subjugation of women and how religion feeds into rather than alleviates all of that. BCOG and Avakian's book, Away with All Gods!, forge a useful concordance, proving that the Bible and parables of Jesus are not always the warm and fuzzy stories presented to us in sugar coated Sunday school classrooms. Praise BCOG, Revcom and all those who seek to make the world a better place, not by invoking gods or reciting prayers perhaps never relevant to suffering humanity, but by waking us from our delusions, so we may see that the world's salvation is on our hands after all, and that redemption is not only liberating and possible, but underscores the essence of revolutionary activity!
Editors' note: The Best Church of God's "debate" with Sunsara Taylor is online at vimeo.com/4322256
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