For way too many years, I’ve been a voyeur peeking through the window at born-again Christianity, simultaneously repulsed and fascinated by what I see. Mostly that window has been the Trinity Broadcasting Network, the evangelical powerhouse founded almost forty years ago by small-time wackjobs Paul and Jan Crouch (she of the massive pink wig), who subsequently built it into a tacky, gilded, sequin-studded empire. They own fuck-only-knows how many TV stations all over the world, have produced films like The Omega Code and One Night With the King (big hits with the church crowd), and even have their own Bible-themed amusement park, The Holy Land Experience in Orlando, Florida, which you saw mocked all too briefly in Bill Maher’s film Religulous, if you’ve watched that.
Watching TBN since I was a teenager has had a profound and shaping influence on me. For one thing, it helped convince me that the incoherent bullshit the Crouches and their fellow charismatic carnies were selling could not possibly be the truth about life, God, or the universe, or remotely useful, moral, or true. For another, it introduced me to a veritable pantheon of colorful characters — evangelists and creationists and fat old helmet-haired crackers belting out gospel tunes.
There was John Hagee, the ever-expanding Texas Baptist who I watched deliver a five-part series on “The Theology of the Titanic,” conveniently timed to coincide with the theatrical run of the James Cameron film, the point of which was basically that God sank the Titanic, dooming hundreds to a horrible death in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, to prove a point because some clueless human declared it unsinkable. That would be the same God whom Hagee has spent like fifty years telling his congregation to love and to worship. I know I’ve mentioned this a few times before, but Hagee also once took the occasion of a Christmas sermon to remind his flock that homosexuality is an abomination and that all those faggots are gonna burn in hell, you’d better believe it.
Of course there’s also dear Benny Hinn, perhaps the most blatantly phony faith healer in the history of that contemptible field. He’s been exposed as a total fraud more times than I can count, investigated by Dateline NBC and Inside Edition, called to account by more than a few of his fellow born-again Christians for making the rest of them look bad. But none of it seems to stick, at least not as far as his audience of devoted widows and retirees is concerned. His claims to have presided over the healing of cancer, arthritis, blindness, deafness, heart disease, AIDS have been definitively proven false, but the true believers pretend they don’t hear. To them, the ones who send him checks totaling millions and millions of dollars over the years, the ones who make it out for his arena-filling “Miracle Crusades,” Benny is bulletproof.
And there’s delusional creationist Carl Baugh, weasely missionary Ray Comfort and his partner former Growing Pains star Kirk Cameron, and the Crouches themselves, who are like The Addams Family only way, way scarier. But my favorite TBN mainstay of all might be that clean-cut, non-threatening slab of Italian sausage, Carman Licciardello.
Who is Carman? He’s a singer, songwriter, storyteller, rapper, preacher, actor. Most importantly, he doesn’t perform especially well in any of these roles, which makes him one of the most entertaining personalities in all of television. If his underlying message to the gullible Christian youth of America wasn’t so hideous, Carman (who performs under his first name only, like Madonna, Beyoncé, and Jesus) would be grade-A quality cheese. As it stands, he still affords us one of life’s great pleasures — the opportunity to, without a hint of guilt, laugh not with him, but at him.
The crucial trait of Carman’s persona is an unshakable and wholly unjustified confidence in himself and his talents. He’s a terrible singer, an even worse rapper, and a songwriter so shitty he makes the guys from DC Talk (with whom he has performed in the past) look like fucking Jagger and Richards. No lyricist I am familiar with has ever employed “Webster’s Dictionary defines . . .” as an opening phrase with more frequency, or to less effect. But Carman’s utter and all-encompassing incompetence as an entertainer would be news to him; I once heard him say, totally in earnest, to a young fan who he clearly expected to be blown-away by the revelation, “I never wrote a single song until I got saved.”
He couldn’t have possibly done any worse . . .
Carman has released over 30 CDs in his long career, including titles like Some-o-Dat, Yo Kidz!, Addicted to Jesus, and the humbly titled The Absolute Best, and even starred in a few movies, but he’s really made his bones as a video artist. He’s like the über-Christian Michael Jackson — grandiose, egomaniacal, and not to be trusted around children. To give you a taste of how truly, truly awful Carman is, and of what passes for good music in the minds of lots and lots of your fellow Americans (and Christians — I know it ain’t just the hell-bound heathens reading this shit), and this being Friday and all, here is a representative sampling of his considerable video output.
This first one is “The Courtroom,” one of Carman’s many so-called story songs. Though it’s not really a story song — “Nebraska” — now there’s a story song — it’s more of a story, with some cornball music playing underneath the narration. Note, if you will, that Carman himself portrays God, Jesus, Satan, and does a bad Rod Serling impersonation as the narrator. Note as well that the only major role he doesn’t play is that of the accused Sinner — he got some black dude to play that part.
Next is “America Again.” This song (again, not really a song — more of a sermon, a misinformed and badly rhymed fundamentalist harangue with some hokey fife-and-drums behind it) was released in 1993 and contains the line, “The only way this nation can even hope to last this decade / Is to put God in America again.” So, you know . . . a little dated.
Finally, here’s “Mission 3:16,” Carman’s epic spy adventure. He casts himself in the 007 role as Agent 3:16 (get it?!), on a secret mission to . . . what, exactly? Spread the gospel? Defeat Satan? Something like that. Anyway, watch this and then take a minute to re-evaluate your personal choice for Worst James Bond. I think we all owe George Lazenby an apology.