They’re different in the flyover states

Nancy Pelosi’s daughter, Alexandra — raised Catholic, but not currently practicing her religion — is selling her new movie, which focuses on Evangelical Christians. Her San Francisco Chronicle interview is worth reading, to my mind, for a couple of things. To begin with, it’s interesting to see Pelosi’s embarrassed, guilt-stricken defense of George Bush, whose campaign she filmed in 2000:

She [Alexandra] was a main character in “Journeys” as well as in her 2004 documentary, “Diary of a Political Tourist,” about the Democratic presidential primary scrum. In the first, Bush kisses her on the check; in the second, Karl Rove hugs her, and Democratic Sen. Joe Lieberman warmly calls her “Ally.” Everybody knew her, either as Nancy’s kid or as a TV news producer. She replies with gentle joshing, and gentler questions. Anti-Bush critics ripped her after “Journeys” came out for portraying the president as charming and benign — making him seem more palatable, and thus re-electable.

“I hate to be the one to defend George Bush, but you have to be able to disconnect the professional George Bush from the personal George Bush,” Pelosi says. “I know all the anti-war folks think he is a monster, but he is still a very personable, nice person.”

Imagine that. George Bush is not Satan incarnate, although it’s apparently a bad thing to have to admit that fact. Alexandra seems like a pretty nice person, but it doesn’t say much for the crowds she runs with that she’s ashamed to reveal that our President doesn’t have cloven hooves and a tail.

The above, though, is almost a parenthesis to the real point of the article and of this post, which is Pelosi’s view of the Evangelical Christians at the heart of her newest movie. I’ll start by quoting the article, and then follow with a few comments:

Pelosi doesn’t break much new ground. Instead she aims her documentary at people like herself, ignorant of evangelicals and with a “small worldview. Pelosi has spent a lifetime culturally landlocked in the blue states, having grown up in San Francisco until she was 17, attended college in Los Angeles, worked in Washington, D.C., and spent the past dozen years in New York.

“I was trying to show the people in the blue states, like me, that there’s this whole other world out there, a whole community of people who have their own wrestlers, their own miniature golf, their own rock concerts. They’ve rejected a lot of what the mainstream culture has given them because they don’t find it appropriate,” Pelosi says. “On the coasts, they have this very secular, coastal attitude that is very dismissive of the red states. I thought it was time to go into the belly of the beast.”

So she hangs out with grapplers on the Christian pro-wrestling circuit who preach to kids after the matches, and stops by a Christian miniature golf course. She listens to an anti-evolutionary teacher dismiss accepted science about human origins. The “most painful part” of the project, she said is how nearly every evangelical tried to “save” her off-camera.

But she rarely challenged anyone.

“I was not trying to get into a political debate with the evangelicals about their belief,” Pelosi says. “They interpret the Bible the way they want to.” But Pelosi was quick to add, “I don’t interpret it to say the things that they’re saying it says. I don’t believe that the Bible says we shall be gay-bashers.”

Learning about that divide was a shock to the woman who spent her childhood in progressive Catholic schools. “We were taught just to accept people, that was just a given,” Pelosi says. “I don’t ever remember being told at Convent of the Sacred Heart that gay was wrong. They never even told us there was anything wrong with abortion. They were just choices.

“That’s why it was weird when I’d go to these places and … people would say, ‘It’s in the Bible.’ And they fall back on the Bible for everything.”

I’m wondering why it was “painful” for Pelosi that evangelicals tried to “save” her off-camera? I’ll certainly admit that it’s painful when you’re burned at the stake, as used to happen to people who professed the wrong religious faith. It’s painful when you’re kidnapped and forced to convert at gunpoint, as happened to Steve Centanni and Olaf Wiig, the Fox news reporter and his cameraman. It’s painful when you’re put on trial with a possible death penalty for having the temerity to leave your faith (as happened to ex-Muslim Abdul Rahman).

I’m really having a problem, though, feeling the pain when well-intentioned people, hoping to preserve you from an eternity in Hell make the effort to convert you. It can become painful if they’re rude, crude or so aggressive in their proselytizing that it becomes a form of harassment. Otherwise, I think it’s a very kind instinct. As it is, I’m secure enough in my world view of religion (for those new to the blog, I’m Jewish and not religious), that I feel neither threatened nor pained by the effort. My most likely response would be “Thanks, but no thanks.”

The other thing I found peculiar in the above quotation is the religious upbringing Pelosi herself had. The article notes that she spent her entire life being educated within Catholic schools, including a Jesuit university. Nevertheless, she never heard anyone breath a word against gays (unsurprising, perhaps, in San Francisco), or against abortion (very surprising if you’re within the ostensibly Catholic education community). As long-time readers know, my views on both subjects are waffling and complex, so I’m not taking a stand about what Pelosi learned growing up. I’m just incredibly surprised that, despite 16 years of Catholic education, Alexandra never heard a word breathed against abortion. Indeed, if you look at the last paragraph from which I quoted, one wonders if she had any exposure to the Bible, which she treats as a dry reference book, not a moral touchstone. Basically, Alexandra seems to have learned Catholic-lite. This fact may explain her acute discomfort in the face of would-be saviours amongst the Evangelical sect. Alexandra feels that she ought to believe something religiously, and she probably senses that her education left a hole that the Evangelicals can fill. | digg it

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  1. Zhombre says

    Whatever happened to Ms. Pelosi’s documentary about Bush that reference is made to above? Has anyone seen it? I don’t think this piece of film got much play at all. Regarding this documentary on Red State Christians, I saw it advertised on HBO before the Rome second season premiere, and my first thought was (soaked in irony), Well, that’s certainly going to be a fair & balance peek into contemporary Christianity. I will give Pelosi points if she can look at people in the American hinterland w/o taking the pro forma elite coast view that they are species of mushroom oddly animated but potentially poisonous.

  2. says

    There are pushy and annoying people with no proper sense of boundaries all over the place. Have you run into anyone selling XanGo (, recently? Or any other multi-level marketing scheme?

    Some Christians are just like this…..but it’s not a “Christian thing”. In fact, not a “religious thing”, unless you think that selling Amway is a religion (and I’m not sure I’d argue with you.)

    If the pfC you mentioned countered with that phrase to me, I believe that I’d say “Pray for me, Brother – I have to go, now” and vacate the immediate premises. Eventually, if ANY person is so rude to pursue you when it’s plain you are trying to escape, you have no further obligation to be courteous. At least, that’s how it looks from here.

  3. says

    Bookworm, your take on Pelosi’s apparent “Catholic Lite” is, as usual, spot on. While the church and its catechism have always been forthrightly against abortion, for example, few priests or teachers are comfortable talking about why, even in ostensibly Catholic settings. Likewise, her paraphrase of Catholic teaching on homosexuality is wrong but instructive– the church condemns all “gay bashing” in no uncertain terms, while also calling homosexual conduct “disordered.” That there is a difference between a moral stand based on Biblical principle and a “bashing” seems not to occur to many people, including Pelosi.

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