Getting Old and HoaryYou always know you are getting old and hoary when the graduate students start sending you long requests for information about something you did back there in the Dark Ages. I just got a ten-page questionnaire from a fellow working on his Ph.D. thesis at a school somewhere in the Middle West. His project concerned a petition Jeremy Lansman and I filed with the Federal Communications Commission back in 1974.
At the time, we were very concerned for the future of public broadcasting in the United States, and so in our "Petition for Rulemaking," we raised several questions (mostly technical) about ownership of non-commercial "reserved" frequencies and the funding of educational stations. Out of personal spleen, I threw in a request for a freeze on all applications by religious broadcasters. I said that since they were not "public" in the best sense of the word, and since they were tying up non-commercial broadcast channels, the FCC should determine if their programming practices were truly educational. We filed the petition and promptly forgot all about it. The Commission gave it Rule Making Number 2493, and also tried to forget all about it. All of us failed.
Since that filing, the FCC has received more than 25 million letters demanding that it not ban religious broadcasting. That's twenty-five, with six little zeros after it. Forty years after the fact, letters are still coming in, and each year the Commission issues a solemn pronunciamento, explaining that the petition was not seeking a total ban on religious broadcasting (it wasn't), that they turned it down in August of 1975 (they did), and that people should not be gumming up the goddamn mail room with all those letters. (Earlier this year, one of their releases said "We simply can't deal with the amount of mail we get on this issue. . . ." They can't).
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In his questionnaire, the graduate student asked, "Do you have any regrets that you filed RM-2493, now that you see the trouble the Petition has caused the Federal Communications Commission and the paranoid reactions from the religious community?" I've always found it hard to regret past loves and silly jokes. (We estimate correspondents have spent at least ten million dollars to badger the FCC on an issue that does not exist.)
The whole experience is more than a joke, though. It is immensely revealing, especially as to the modus operandi of sincere - - - and not-so-sincere - - - religious folk. By keeping this issue alive, fundamentalist ministers are posing themselves as martyrs to a vague threat of censorship by a distant and disinterested government. In the process, they not only appeal for - - - and get - - - more money, they tell us something bizarre about their belief systems.
They are reacting to a fantasy (at first, mine - - - now their own) with a savage anger and a deep fear. They are saying that without radio and television, their divinity, like Marx's mythic state, will wither away to nothing.
It strikes me that those who live the great and humble religions of the world - - - Buddhists, Friends, Confucians, Hindus, Taoists - - - seek (and find) a power and a glory deep within the self. They do not need an external force to develop control, hope, love, saintliness. True spirit-based religions know that the divine lies deep, deep within; and that a noisy man preaching at them through a voice-box is nothing but another delusion.
Through their 25 million letters, 25 million innocents in this country are saying that they fear, and fear greatly, what they have already lost. They are afraid that the disappearance of the voice of Oral Roberts, Jimmy Swaggart, Jim Bakker, Pat Robertson, or a thousand minor preachers means an end to their sacredness. They are saying that without that sweating man on the stage whipping them with fear and guilt, they become godless, bereft of divinity.
It is passing strange that they don't recognize the power of Jesus (or Buddha, Krishna, Mohammed) residing in another, more divine box - - - a tiny, glowing, jewel-encrusted, light-emitting device that all of us carry around inside of us. It is a box of power and love that sure as hell don't need an official permit from the feds to be heard, seen, felt, or known. God help us all when they finally figure that one out.
And I'd be the last one in the world to tell them. After all, I tried, so many years ago, to give them a hint of it, give them a chance to move themselves a bit further down the great golden road of Divine Truth.
I tried, O Lord, I tried - - - and look at all the vituperation I got for my selfless effort.