When I was 14 or 15 years old, I got religion for a couple of weeks. It was fine, I suppose, but it really didn’t take and still really hasn’t. I would like to think it’s not so much that I don’t believe in God so much as I just dislike religion. Looking back, though, my brief conversion was totally sincere; it just wasn’t sustainable. It was a tough age to find the Lord, what with the constant erections and the desire to try and drink as much alcohol and smoke as many cigarettes as possible. It just seems like kids and religion aren’t really cut out for each other… and that’s probably a good thing.
I’m not criticizing the upbringing. Going to church probably helped me more than I’ll ever really know. It gave me at least a little bit of decency and taught me that doing terrible things was a whole lot more fun when you knew they were wrong. I sat at church with most of my friends from school, and they quickly learned to feel pretty much the same way. This made it very easy for us to all become wild-ass teenagers at roughly the same time. Yeah, church at that age eventually had the opposite effect of what the intention was.
Anyway, at the time, my conversion was sincere. It was at some sort of revival deal the church would have twice a year. The preacher they brought in for the event seemed like a pretty streetwise younger dude who had dealt with a lot — booze, drugs, sex, all that. He managed to find God and come through on the other side. I sort of liked him, probably more for his stories of debauchery than for his born-againness; but either way, I went to the altar and said I wanted to be saved. I was, for a while. I was moved, but I really didn’t know what the hell it was all about. It faded quickly, mostly because I was a kid.
I was thinking about all of this because of a kid named Canon Tipton. You might not recognize the name, but I bet you sort of know who he is. He’s that freaky little kid that is called the “world’s youngest preacher.” I guess he’s on YouTube, but I was flipping the channels the other night, and there was a show about him on the National Geographic channel. I could have stumbled on a movie like Saw or Hostel, and it would have seemed far less creepy and unnerving to me.
He’s a tiny little freak show, and he has all the mannerisms of an adult freak show. He walks back and forth, just like the adult preachers. He says things like, “The Lord is here,” just like the adult preachers. I also get the impression that he’s full of shit, too, just like most of the adult preachers. He also seems to use the word “Pentecost” with a lot of regularity. I just sort of pretend I know what it means, so the little bastard must be smarter than I am; but then again, maybe we’re both just pretending.
He’s a third-generation Pentecostal preacher, which means it’s probably a lot of fun to hang out at their family reunions. Besides that, it probably means he’s had this stuff shoved down his throat since he was a baby. His parents say this is just the way he is. They insist he hasn’t been coached or anything. He is a blessing from God. Whatever. I know very few four-year-olds that shake their head and throw up their arms and scream “red hot revival” every 30 seconds.
The thing that’s even freakier than the kid is the people who come to see him. I get the impression that these are the same people who think it’s cute to dress up dogs and who think Kirk Cameron is a fine actor. Still, these people really get into it. They shout “amen” and slap their cheeks in disbelief that this child has been so graced by God. They also probably don’t believe in dinosaurs, so it’s not that easy to fool them; but it’s still just weird.
It reminds me of this thing Fran Lebowitz said in an interview. I’m paraphrasing, but it was something like kids can be prodigies at technical things like music or painting, but there aren’t any child prodigy writers because in order to be good you have to have lived through it. This kid may talk about hell, but he has no idea what it really is. I bet his rebellious stage in high school is going to be a humdinger.
I suppose I wish this little preacher the best. He’s a freaky little bastard, but I don’t hate him or anything. There’s usually a little part of me that can’t wait until he fails in adulthood, a little god-fearing Lindsay Lohan. In this case, though, I really hope he hangs in there. It’d be one of those cradle-to-grave stories where he managed to be pious for his entire life. On the other hand, though, it’s just not all that interesting. A lot of times, a thing like that only means something if you’ve seen the other side of the coin. I’m sure he’ll see the other side eventually. The biggest question will be whether or not he ever wants to come back.