Question of the Day: Postmodern Prayer

By Don Rollins

Question of the Day: Should the FAA cut payroll by using chimps as air traffic controllers? Question of the Day: Which American First Lady does Carrot Top most resemble? Question of the Day: Head lice or pink eye?

From your local rag to CNN to your neighbor’s daughter’s boyfriend’s blog, this is the age of the 24/7 invitation to sound-off about something to somebody, somewhere, somehow. Life is hard, times are tight, people are no damn good. So we call in or log on with our two cents. (Sweet Jesus, how we love to put in our two cents!)

The Question of the Day (QOTD) has become tantamount to The Great American Whine-In: Tell us what sucks about being you. Tell us what’s wrong with the government. Tell us why God loves you but pretty much hates the rest of us. C’mon, y’all, get it off your chest. For our part, we’ll pander to the cumulative superficial, feel-good, least-common-denominator American Zeitgeist. You? Well, you get to vent about things you can’t (or won’t) change. You’ll feel better. We’ll sell copy, make good radio and count website hits. Everybody wins.

But, dang it, I refuse to believe that the amorphous entity known as “The American People” has become so utterly shallow as to rent rooms in its collective head for the sheer pleasure of appearing certifiably dumb as a rake. Some of my fellow progressives explain the QOTD phenomenon as final proof that the right-wing media space shots now have everybody - lock, stock and liberals—drinking the media-as-circus Kool-Aid. But I’m holding out for the possibility that what’s at stake here is something more important than weighing in on whether or not Amy Winehouse is channeling the spirit of Kurt Cobain. Something deeper. Something more important. Maybe even something profound.

Perhaps I apply the tools of my trade too liberally (pun intended), but what if we looked at the QOTD as a form of unconscious, postmodern, secular prayer? A generally ineffectual offering to the gods that were supposed to look after sub-prime mortgage holders, semi-forgotten war vets and first-time soup kitchen patrons? Not prayers to that fickle Sugar Daddy, Gum-Ball-Machine of a God, but a psychologically primitive articulation of widespread fear, gut-level uncertainty and real suffering? A mass release of anxious, existential steam (in print, keystrokes and telephone calls) that was once reserved for bended-knee conversations with, as that eminent theologian, Kinky Friedman, is wont to say, the God of your choice?

I’m telling you, the QOTD as prayer for post-moderns is not as wigged-out as it may appear. Think about it. The QOTD is infinitely more tangible than praying to some medieval, string-pulling deity. No plaintive cry into the abyss, just concrete (if goofy) questions that let us soapbox. Ask me what I think, and I’ll send you an email longer than a Pinocchio nose on Dick Cheney. Ask me what I hate, and I’ll write a letter to the editor guaranteed to be censored like Jeremiah Wright at a Klan convention. Ask me what I want, and I’ll text you with a list that would make a cokehead Santa Claus blush. Big picture: Ask me the Question of the Day, and I’ll dump on you like a cow on ex-lax, then walk away feeling flat-out peachy. Maybe that’s how come those inane questions keep coming: they supply short-term feelings of relative power for those feeling long-term relative powerlessness. Folks feeling financially powerless. Politically powerless. Spiritually powerless.

You know, some of us are old enough to remember something called the social contract. The idea was that if you work as hard as you can, save as much as you can and contribute to the public good all that you can, you deserve a fair shake. That contract has become moth-eaten after decades of corporate mergers, outsourcing and unprincipled leadership. In its place are invitations to vent our spleens. Little wonder so many of us, in our largely unconscious powerlessness, want somebody, somewhere, somehow to feel our pain.

Question of the Day: Why the Question of the Day? Why, indeed.

Rev. Don Rollins is pastor of the Nora Unitarian Universalist Church in Hanska, Minn.

From The Progressive Populist, June 15, 2008

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