The Parable of Marjoe

Meet Marjoe Gortner, child evangelist turned actor and public speaker. He estimates that he brought in at least $3 million, of which he never received a cent (even for bible college!), during his first stint as a preacher, which lasted from age 4 to 15 or thereabouts.

Actually, Marjoe was an actor all along; his childhood “ministry” was carefully stage-managed by his pushy, unscrupulous parents. He ran away from it in his teens, only to re-enter the fold as an adult, with even greater success. He himself never believed what he was preaching, but it took until the early 1970s, when this documentary was made, for him to finally come clean and exit the Pentecostal preaching circuit for good.

Much of what Marjoe says here is painfully frank. But sadly, after making a sensation and winning an Oscar in 1972, this film was all but buried. According to Wikipedia, it “was never screened in the Southern United States due to fears that it would cause outrage in the Bible Belt”. Too bad; it might have helped prevent the televangelist scandals of the 1980s, when everything from street-corner hookers and affairs with church secretaries to homosexuality and air-conditioned doghouses became fodder for supermarket tabloids. This film would have been the perfect vaccine against the madness that swept the US during that time; it might have even curtailed the destructive political influence of the likes of Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell. Everything Marjoe says about the “old-time gospel” circuit in here still held true in the age of televangelism.

It still does to this day. Preachers still employ the same old dirty tricks and gimmicks. And the money, as all those megachurches along the highways can attest just by their very presence, keeps a-rollin’ on in. It’s not God that makes it come; it’s the credulity of the “flock”. Science has shown that there’s a very real form of Pavlovian conditioning at work in those places, but so far, as with any addiction, the best cure for this sickness seems to be prevention.

And that’s the hard part, because as Marjoe points out again and again, there’s a LOT of social pressure at work to get people not only to join these doubtful churches, but to stay in them and never, on pain of hellfire and eternal damnation, question what they are told.

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1 Response to The Parable of Marjoe

  1. uzza says:

    My atheist group screened this a while back. It’s awesome, and I think it should be required viewing for everybody, everywhere.

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