Skip to main content

Elmer Gantry for Modern Times

For the first time in years I've finished a novel: "Elmer Gantry" by Sinclair Lewis. I was inspired to read it by Burt Lancaster's performance in the movie as well as the supporting actor, Arthur Kennedy, who played the cynical and world-wise newspaper reporter, as he did a couple years later in "Lawrence of Arabia."

I was surprised to enjoy the novel as much as I did, since I'm weary of secular intellectuals trying to out-voltaire Voltaire a century or two too late. Poor old Christianity has been beaten up so much since the 1700's, why do "bold" free- thinkers think they are so heroic in attacking it? It's a case of arrested development; they are perpetual adolescents who are rebelling against the religion of their parents' generation.

What about people born in the 1960's? By the time they were adolescents, pseudo-Hindu-Buddhist fads were becoming pretty dated. Why didn't they rebel against them? They should be in their prime authorship years by now. I would love to read an updated version of Elmer Gantry by someone in that generation.

They might write about a professional scoundrel in one of the post-Christian ideologies that trend-setters have tried to substitute for Christianity. Consider a crusading Global Warmist, who flies to a scientific conference on an island in the South Pacific (in January) because it is being swallowed by rising sea levels. In the kickoff speech he gives the audience the bad news: the science is In, and the Apocalypse is coming sooner than they all thought.

Of all the scientific dignitaries, science reporters, and concerned natives in the auditorium, the most alarmed are doe-eyed dusky maidens who were encouraged to wear traditional and natural clothing, i.e., grass skirts and a garland of flowers around their necks. The native girls are so alarmed by the latest data that the formal proceedings are postponed for a day. Instead He offers consciousness-raising workshops at the airport Marriott, along with hands-on instruction in a breakthrough relaxation technique. "The key to composure is to always live in harmony with nature," He confides to the (now completely undressed) native girls.

Well, that's just one possible example. Amazingly enough Sinclair Lewis started to do that himself in Chapter 16. Elmer Gantry temporarily attached himself to the "New Thought" movement. I howled with glee to see how much this movement was similar to what we would call New Age today. Lewis wrote this book in 1927.