July 23, 2014

Gore Vidal and the Sky God

Albert Mohler

Albert Mohler

Source: The Christian Post | R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

From the essay:

Gore Vidal was a controversialist, but in making this argument, he was simply saying aloud what many others in his social class and literary circles were thinking. He outlived most of his contemporaries and critics, but he lived a tragic life and he died a tragic death. Christians, sobered and saddened by the legacy of this “slashing literary provocateur” must not miss the troubling parable of Gore Vidal and the Sky God. It tells us a very great deal about the intellectual world Gore Vidal now leaves behind.

The death of author and controversialist Gore Vidal last week brought an end to one of America’s most gifted and flamboyantly offensive literary voices. Eugene Luther Gore Vidal was born in 1925 on the campus of the United States Military Academy at West Point. For decades, Vidal was one of America’s most outrageous men of letters. His life was marked by a long series of confrontations and he died as one of the nation’s most famous and infamous literary figures.

Like many in his literary generation, Vidal was born to privilege, but suffered from an unhappy childhood. His father, an aviation pioneer, was the head of civilian aviation in the administration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and later became a founder of TWA. His mother was a deeply troubled socialite who was the daughter of U.S. Senator Thomas P. Gore of Oklahoma. Most of Vidal’s childhood was spent in the Gore home in Washington, D.C. Vidal’s mother later married Hugh D. Auchincloss, stepfather to Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, and the young Vidal lived for some time on the Auchincloss estate in northern Virginia. He attended prominent private schools including St. Albans School in Washington and Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire, from which he graduated.

At St. Albans, Vidal dropped his first two names and identified himself simply as Gore Vidal, believing even then that it would be a better name for a literary personality. At the same school, Vidal developed a romance with another boy, Jimmie Trimble, who was killed in the Battle of Iwo Jima during World War II.

As Charles McGrath of The New York Times reported, Vidal claimed to have had over 1,000 sexual encounters with both men and women before the age of 25. Though he described his own preference for “same-sex sex,” Vidal denied the existence of both heterosexuals and homosexuals. Literary critic Michael Dirda of The Washington Post explained, “Again and again he insisted that everyone is really bisexual: ‘There is no such thing as a homosexual or heterosexual person. There are only homosexual or heterosexual acts. Most people are a mixture of impulses if not practices.’”

Upon his death, he was described by The Wall Street Journal as “a slashing literary provocateur and by The New York Times as both “an Augustan figure” and an “elegant, acerbic, all-around man of letters.” He was known for his outrageous public appearances and his leftist political views. In one famous encounter, Vidal opposed conservative publisher and author William F. Buckley, Jr. in a face-off during televised coverage of the riotous 1968 Democratic National Convention. The two exchanged insults in an infamous outburst and nearly came to physical blows before a live national audience. Nothing quite like it has happened in the mainstream media ever since.

Gore Vidal ran for elective office twice, losing a race for Congress from New York and a race for a Senate seat from California. He described himself as a populist but did not seem to like people. He once said, “I’m exactly as I appear. There is no warm, lovable person inside. Beneath my cold exterior, once you break the ice, you find cold water.”

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His literary talents were prodigious, though he scandalized the elites early in his career by writing a novel openly celebrating homosexuality. That 1948 novel, The City and the Pillar, was dedicated to Jimmie Trimble. Vidal found himself sidelined from the literary establishment with that novel, called pornographic by some reviewers, and he went to Hollywood, where he established both a reputation and a fortune as a screenwriter and dramatist. He rewrote the screenplay of Ben-Hur and was involved in a host of other projects for the movies and television.

He re-entered literary life with a series of novels. One of these, Myra Breckenridge (1968), was one of the first depictions of sex-reassignment surgery. He lived with a male companion for many years in Italy in what was described as a platonic relationship, later moving back to the United States.

Most of the media coverage after his death dealt extensively with his homosexuality and radical politics. He claimed, for example, that President Franklin D. Roosevelt knew in advance of Pearl Harbor and that President George W. Bush knew in advance of the September 11, 2001 attacks. Many also mentioned his antipathy to Christianity.

But the true nature of Gore Vidal’s theological protest was largely, if not totally, missing from the national coverage. In his 1992 Lowell Lecture at Harvard University, Vidal attacked not just Christianity, but the very notion of monotheism.

In his essay, “Monotheism and its Discontents,” based on the lecture at Harvard, Vidal perceptively and blasphemously blamed the existence of a binding sexual morality on monotheism.

The great unmentionable evil at the center of our culture is monotheism,” Vidal asserted, “From a barbaric Bronze Age text known as the Old Testament three anti-human religions have evolved – Judaism, Christianity and Islam. These are sky-god religions.

He went on to describe the “sky-god” as patriarchal and jealous. “He requires total obedience from everyone on earth, as he is in place not just for one tribe but for all creation.”

He claimed that America’s founders were “not enthusiasts of the sky-god,” but that devotees have had an inordinate influence throughout most of the nation’s history. “From the beginning, sky-godders have always exerted great pressure in our secular republic,” he argued. “Also, evangelical Christian groups have traditionally drawn strength from the suppressed.” He blamed the “sky-godders” for “their innumerable taboos on sex, alcohol, gambling.”

In one scathing paragraph, he pressed his case:

Although many of the Christian evangelists feel it necessary to convert everyone on earth to their primitive religion, they have been prevented – so far – from forcing others to worship as they do, but they have forced – most tyrannically and wickedly – their superstitions and hatred upon all of us through the civil law and through general prohibitions. So it is upon that account that I now favor an all-out war on the monotheists.

He was not reluctant to state his main concern:

Christians should pay close attention to Gore Vidal’s argument, but the mainstream media have almost uniformly ignored it. The obituaries have celebrated his literary gifts and noted his radical political ideas and rejection of Christianity, but not his call for “all-out war on the monotheists.”

We should realize that Vidal’s rejection of monotheism, though blasphemous, was truly perceptive. He was certainly correct that a binding and objective morality requires a monotheistic God who both exists and reveals himself. He was also correct in pointing to the fact that a secularized Europe has largely abandoned a biblical morality when it comes, most specifically, to sexual behavior.

Gore Vidal was a controversialist, but in making this argument, he was simply saying aloud what many others in his social class and literary circles were thinking. He outlived most of his contemporaries and critics, but he lived a tragic life and he died a tragic death. Christians, sobered and saddened by the legacy of this “slashing literary provocateur” must not miss the troubling parable of Gore Vidal and the Sky God. It tells us a very great deal about the intellectual world Gore Vidal now leaves behind.

Adapted from R. Albert Mohler Jr.’s weblog at www.albertmohler.com.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr. is president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. For more articles and resources by Dr. Mohler, and for information on The Albert Mohler Program, a daily national radio program broadcast on the Salem Radio Network, go to www.albertmohler.com. For information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to www.sbts.edu.

Read the entire article on the Christian Post website (new window will open).

Comments

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    M. Stankovich says:

    Gore Vidal was a despicable, seemingly lifelong malcontent among his equally despicable boudoir of malcontents. While I can say honestly that I make it no practice, ordinarily, of questioning as to a persons “influences” (unless somehow obviously bizarre), I have never met a single soul who voluntarily offered “Vidal.” While acknowledging this to be statistically “meaningless” – and while I believe we are of a similar “era,” Abouna – I can’t say I know more of him than his much-publicized “antics,” which in NYC news circles usually began with, “Well, Gore Vidal has done it again…”

    I am concluding the teaching of a summer “crash” section of Psychology 101 (“crash” meaning 5-days a week, 3-hours a day, for 4-weeks), so, having a “captive audience,” I thought I would ask this “crew” today of their knowledge of Vidal, “his social class and literary circles,” his celebrated works, and his lifelong bitterness and scathing degradation sparing neither heaven and earth. Any takers? Not a one. Selection bias? Probable. But the point is, Vidal has passed to his Sky God, leaving nothing appreciable but another empty seat on the ice floe formerly occupied by Mailer and Capote. Leave it to a “hard-nosed” Baptist to ascribe to Vidal in death, what he never had in life: acknowledgement that he was simply nastier than others in his social class and literary circles. Shouldn’t someone tell Dr. Mohler that “shelf-life” and legacy are a different cut of cloth? A 1,000 sexual encounters before age 25? Can you imagine the wait for a table? Whatever… He’s got nothing but time now.

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      Geo Michalopulos says:

      Mike, while I agree with you, Vidal was much more influential than we realize. Not only was he the litterateur of our immoral society, he bravely (albeit obscenely) vocalized what our elites believe.

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      Fr. Johannes Jacobse says:

      George’s point is why I published the piece. Vidal spoke what many of the cultural elites believe, even obliquely.

      And this point, while obvious to some will appear prescient to others:

      We should realize that Vidal’s rejection of monotheism, though blasphemous, was truly perceptive. He was certainly correct that a binding and objective morality requires a monotheistic God who both exists and reveals himself. He was also correct in pointing to the fact that a secularized Europe has largely abandoned a biblical morality when it comes, most specifically, to sexual behavior.

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    M. Stankovich says:

    Well, gentlemen, then you must educate me as to who these “cultural elite” might be! As I read the “elite” obits, Mr. Vidal happened to be “the last of a breed,” considerably less influential than Mailer (remember his rousing endorsement of Jack Henry Abbott, who murdered again before the parole papers were dry; oh, and that business of stabbing his (5th?) wife nearly to death) and his constant attempts at influencing politics & the press; and still less offensive than Capote, who on account of his uncontrolled drinking produced nothing literary – save obnoxious incoherence – in the second half of his life. Apparently Vidal had in genetic longevity what he lacked in character. And I would note that terms such as “controversialist,” and “provocateur” are reserved for characters of refinement and articulation, not the obscene attention-seeking “gossip” of Gore Vidal.

    I needed Gore Vidal to tell me characters like Silvio Berlusconi, Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, or François Mitterrand, among many, “largely abandoned a biblical morality” when it came to their very public displays of sexual behaviour? Europe has been awash in such abandonment long before the “keen verbalization” of Vidal. Good lord, Abouna, weren’t you the one publicly debating the source of morality? I don’t recall you or your opponent citing the “truly perceptive” thoughts of Mr. Vidal in your exchange. That he shared similar views with many qualifies him as insightful, influential, prescient, or as a visionary? Less than 10 blocks from me, neighbors are battling in the City Council against a guy who put up a giant sign on his house: “These are the last days!” The NY Times said Vidal “presided with a certain relish over what he declared to be the end of American civilization.” Quelle difference!

    I say again, R. Albert Mohler, Jr. has picked a despicable, seemingly lifelong malcontent and fashioned a graven image of him, which he neither earned nor deserves. He was a wreck of a human being, consumed by his own obscenity. Why did our society tolerate such objectionable characters like Vidal, Mailer, and Capote? Because they were influential, gifted, and elite? They behaved like animals, literally. And like any “passion” and “temptation,” their sort of behaviour was seductive because it was unpredictable, base and debasing, and attracted uneasy laughter – indicating all involved understood it was wrong. Dr. Mohler has mistaken seduction for influence over “elites” everyone seems to know but me, and decided to hang his hat on an old dog that, for no other reason I can see, happens to be dead and available.

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      Fr. Hans Jacobse says:

      Vidal, Mailer, Capote, and I would add Updike are all gifted although I could never endure them because while they were good at describing the landscape of their own souls (Updike especially was a master wordsmith) I never found it interesting enough to finish any of their books. I’m not interested in, say, Capote’s Warhol-esque elevation of popular culture, Updike’s preoccupation with adultery, and so forth. But the New York Times did and so did other influential cultural gatekeepers. In fact, the New York Times article about Vidal you cited was largely laudatory. I read it.

      Many artists become a “wreck of a human being” but that doesn’t lessen their influence. Look at Hemingway and the glorification of alcoholism. I never bought it even when I read all of his books in high school. These men came of age in the fifties when the conflict between the dominant cultural morality and the false promise of libertine freedom was still a matter of hidden fascination. The damage would not become apparent until the larger cultural adopted the precepts of the libertines after the 1960′s (Free Love! by which they meant sex without attachments).

      Now we see it in the crassest forms — Madonna and so forth with the highest accolade being that they broke taboos. That’s a pretty low bar, but the danger is that most taboos exist for a reason and, once broken, it is hard to undo the damage that results.

      The art critic Robert Hughes also died last week. He was one of the men who puzzled me because he had the right understanding of the slide into meaninglessness represented by much modern art even though he lived the life of the New York gadfly. I recommend his “Shock of the New” to anyone who wants to chronicle the decline in the art world. (Roger Shattuck’s “The Banquet Years” that studies the rise of the Avant Garde in France is another great read.) He’s like Alan Bloom, another good thinker but a libertine in his private life. Usually they were raised in a morally sound home (Orthodox Judaism often) and even though they left their faith the childhood lessons gave them the moral depth to make the sound analysis that they did. Unfortunately, once they go who will be left? Certainly not their children if they had any.

      See all videos The Shock of the New.

      For another example of how the ideas of elites filter into and ultimately distort the larger culture read Tom Wolfe’s “Bauhaus is Our House.”

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    Cynthia Curran says:

    What is interesting is that Vidal wrote a book on emperor Julian who was not only a pagan but a cultural conservative that wanted to go back to the old Roman virtues and interesting Cato Institute gave Julian a good rating in terms of what today would be the free market but Julian reign was very short. Julian was also influence a lot by his christian upbringing he didn’t have sexual relations after his wife’s death. He was very ascetic and also wanted paganism to get into christian charity. Outside of Julian’s dislike for Christianity he didn’t have much in common with Vidal.

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    ciao says:

    Gore Vidal seems to me to have been a very conflicted and unhappy man.
    One doesn’t usually spend a lifetime of thought and effort in claiming there is no god unless one actually believes there is a god, but struggles within himself to deny him, as all militant atheists do. “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul?”. (Matt.16:26).

    They first believe there is a god, then they have to convince themselves and others there is no god and that that god is all the bad things one can think of in order to justify and feel good about loving and living in sin.
    Vidal seems to have both loved and hated himself at the same time, Since we can’t serve two masters at the same time, we must love one and hate the other as Jesus said. Satan rebelled against God, then blames God for being “unfair” to him.

    I just don’t see the tragedy of Vidal’s life and death, unless it is the tragedy that he could have been a happy, great man if he had used his passion for God, instead of the uselessness and waste of a life rebelling against God.
    ” We have wearied ourselves in the way of iniquity and destruction, and have walked through hard ways, but the way of the Lord we have not known.” (Wis.5:6-7).

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      Fr. Johannes Jacobse says:

      Related to your point ciao, ever notice that the God that militant atheism rages against is the God of Christian scripture? I think you are right. In order to deny His existence, you first have to posit that he is. That makes men like Vidal cultured despisers. Some atheists are aware of the contradiction of course, but the militant ones have to posit their thesis in this way if their attempts to retool the broader culture into their own image will have any effect.

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    Anon says:

    Vidal was an old school conservative of the pagan variety – he was not a good man though politically far less venal than the “conservatives” of today.

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  1. [...] within my heart… »See All Of This Item By Clicking Here!« ☆ ☆ ☆ 8) Gore Vidal and the Sky Godhttp://www.aoiusa.org/blog/gore-vidal-and-the-sky-god/By Fr. Johannes Jacobse on Thursday, Aug 9th [...]

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