Arses Puckered Too Tightly

TheSinnerby Brad Nelson   11/10/14
I partook of a The Waltons marathon yesterday. And although I often say that everything I needed to know I learned from the original Star Trek, that is not quite true. You have to throw this show into the mix as well.

Serendipity can sometimes make of one a causality. I had turned on my TV (a relatively rare occasion) Sunday morning in order to look for the NFL game playing in Wembley Stadium, London. I couldn’t find it. But I did run into something else that caught my eye. It was an episode of The Waltons titled “The Sinner” that was playing on the Insp cable channel. You can watch this episode in full on UltimateTube.

It’s one of their most famous episodes, and it’s from the first season. I don’t doubt that most of you are familiar with the plot. A new reverend has come to town. He’s a young man, wet behind the ears, or, as John Walton says, “He’s just a well-intentioned kid who tries too hard. He’s not seasoned yet.”

Speaking of sinners, it will be amusingly difficult not to see in the reverend the man who lived with two beautiful young women while pretending to be a homosexual (Three’s Company) in this character played by John Ritter. But his performance perhaps works doubly so because of that connection.

The new reverend is a real fire-and-brimstone man. One of the more humorous moments is when the preacher is out in front of the Walton house practicing his sermon to the air. Jim-Bob and John-Boy are within listening distance as they’re repairing a chicken coop. The reverend finishes and turns to them and asks “How’s my sermon?” Jim-Bob instinctively answers “Scary.”

Meanwhile, the ever-budding writer, John-Boy, is making enquiries of people regarding the nature of sin. He’s looking for an answer but no one can give him a simple and concise one. He wonders why it is sinful to dance, for instance. And there’s a wonderful moment between him and his father when John-Boy asks about the sinful nature of sex.

Meanwhile the preacher (and the dried-up missionary that Johns quips was “weened on lemons”) keep thumping their bibles with regular foaming vigor about the town. Whether they are but a stereotype in order to make a larger point, or are a living aspect of one side of this equation, is an interesting consideration. As one site characterizes it:

“The Sinner” comes down on the side of John Walton’s idea of forgiveness as opposed to Miss Prism’s unyielding legalism. They both have different reactions to the Rev. Fordwick having too much of the Baldwin ladies’ “recipe.”

The presence of the overzealous preacher and missionary causes a rift between the more old-school Olivia and her less brimstonesque husband, John. They eventually agree to disagree, but the hard-driving reverend forces the issue to the head again when he accidentally gets intoxicated on the Baldwin sisters’ “recipe,” which is some sort of powerful home-made moonshine. They refer to it as an “herbal drink” and the reverend doth partakeTheRecipe to the point that he pulls into town with Grandpa Walton, falls out of the passenger-side door of the truck, and passes out onto the dirt in front of the folks who were gathered to officially welcome him to town.

Thus “The Sinner” in this episode turns out to be the good reverend. He is shunned by the community and not only decides not to give that Sunday’s sermon but to quit the ministry altogether. John, not a church-going man despite his pious wife, has had enough of this. He does a rare thing and dresses for church, bringing the disgraced reverend along with him. He walks the reverend to the head of the congregation and reminds them that “Let he who is without sin throw the first stone.”

We thus see a nice playing out of what many view as the obnoxious or simple-minded aspect of religion that holds more to outer forms and words as opposed to John Walton’s more humanizing one wherein there is much more to the faith than rituals and legalism. And how interesting it is that our culture today seems almost incapable of thoughtful critiques of religion as was done back in 1972. All we seem to get today is either the tight-cheeked ritual/legalism aspect or the uber touchy-feely “Who am I to judge?” aspect which waters down religion into a soggy nothing — or the entirely obnoxious and poisonous views of the militant and mindless atheists, which is not a critique at all, depending as they do upon complete straw-man constructions.

In this series, and certainly through the character of John Walton, we get an often under-represented aspect of the religious question. It is an aspect whose resolution is generally not found in the extremes of either end of this debate. The Waltons was thus a sort of “Touched by an Angel” but with some balls.


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Brad Nelson

About Brad Nelson

I like books, nature, politics, old movies, Ronald Reagan (you get sort of a three-fer with that one), and the founding ideals of this country. We are the Shining City on the Hill — or ought to be. However, our land has been poisoned by Utopian aspirations and feel-good bromides. Both have replaced wisdom and facts.
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9 Responses to Arses Puckered Too Tightly

  1. Timothy Lane says:

    The Waltons? Star Trek? As any good science fiction fan knows, “All knowledge is found in fanzines.” Of course, I never watched the former, though I did catch bits and pieces when someone else (such as my mother) was watching.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      Okay, you can include the sci-fi fanzines if you want. I won’t quibble.

      What’s fun about this episode is seeing sin through the eyes of the innocent John-Boy. And he really is innocent far beyond his years. And the moral of the story eventually comes around to saying that those who know a little sin can perhaps better sympathize with and counsel those who are engaging in it.

      This episode is a refreshing look back at a serious (for TV) handling of an issue. If you look at how modern-day “artists” handle the issue, it’s usually done using liberal caricatures. Mr. Kung was lamenting that aspect in the libtard handling of a recent Father Brown episode.

      And, yes, this issue of fundamentalism vs. non-fundamentalism was written intentionally in a stark contrast. But I don’t think any of the characters in this were unreal. Although surely most do not stay in the stage that John Ritter found himself, many pass through it. And surely the point of view of John Walton isn’t to forgive and forget all transgressions (for we know he is a bit of a hard-ass in this regard). We do see where too much “holier than thou” simply makes things worse. We see people denigrating humanity as they try to be larger than humanity themselves.

      John Walton exemplifies not the sort of schmaltzy “tolerance” that is all the mindless rage these days with the narcissists (religious or otherwise). He instead exemplifies the trait of wisdom. And wisdom isn’t something easily packaged in one bible verse, a single ritual, or demonstrative prophesies of damnation. That’s why we see a thoughtful John-Boy struggling with the issue…himself having too easily condemned the reverend for what was essentially a simple and harmless slip. By no means did the reverend mean to get drunk. Chances are he had no idea what he was drinking and what it would do.

      As that one linksummed it up:

      This is an episode that clearly comes down on the side of John’s spirituality of forgiveness. The rigid religious tone of the Bible-quoting Miss Prism is shown to be remote, emotionless and devoid of compassion. For the young Fordwick, the experience of his humble request for forgiveness — and receiving it from the community — has transformed him from the rigid legalism of Miss Prism.

      • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

        I did not see this program, but it sounds like there are a couple more implicit messages. 1) a person should be able to learn from one’s mistakes. 2) things should be seen in the proper perspective by all sides. Neither the preacher nor the congregation were able to do this until John Sr. put on his Sunday best and explained it to them.

        • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

          Neither the preacher nor the congregation were able to do this until John Sr. put on his Sunday best and explained it to them.

          So true. Much of what passes for religion is just the Holier Than Thou Club.

          I think John Walton’s character evoked wisdom that does not spring forth from zealousness or simple-mindedness but comes from experience and even-headedness.

          In the case of the drunken reverend, John Walton seemed to be accommodating the stage of moral development that the reverend was at. He saw him as a young man who knew relatively little of the world. The reverend wanted to do good. But the only template for “good” that he had was fire and brimstone, much as an arrested-development Muslim has only some insane notion of Jihad as “good.” John Walton, instead of just condemning him (which would not have imparted much of a lesson), showed him (and the viewer) that trying to live and judge via complete perfectionism (another craving by mankind for utopia) is highly destructive and is a sin in itself.

          And in this episode, John Walton was also cognizant of the strict fire and brimstone aspect. He admitted that in the case of Yancy Tucker (who nearly burnt down his barn due to drunkenness) that Olivia might have had a point. And yet John was able to overcome his anger and see that Yancy was truly repentant and that he was sincere in his desire to make full restitution. So he eventually shook his hand. And that was far from excusing Yancy from guilt. But what he didn’t do was go all Medieval on his ass.

  2. Rosalys says:

    There are some old TV shows that are as good watching today as they were 30 – 60 years ago. To me The Waltons is one of them.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      You bet. And with so much garbage on TV, there’s still much to watch from yesteryear. Many of the great series I barely watched at all as a kid so I guess one can always go back.

      But I do remember sitting around the living room with the family watching The Waltons. I won’t say that we had an ideal Walton-like life ourselves. But we all make due as best we can. And it’s funny how, for better or for worse, we often relate to these TV families like real families.

      This Waltons marathon on cable that I watched was interspersed with reminiscences from Richard Thomas (John-Boy). Talk about a man who hasn’t apparently turned into an arrogant liberal dimwit. He holds fond memories for the show. And he related how people identified with it. There is one episode he said where John-Boy is trying to buy a printing press. One lady wrote in to the show with a check for $100.00 to go toward the press.

      We probably ought not to depend upon the idiot box for our morals. But morality tales have always been a part of passing on our cultural values and illuminating them. Surely everyone remembers the parable of the Ant and the Grasshopper that highlighted the virtues of hard work and planning for the future. Stories (whatever the medium) are very useful for articulating those values. (And it’s a truly conservative parable compared to The Pajama Boy and the Julia of today’s nancy-boy crowd.)

      So I do have the idiot-box factor in mind when trying to mine anything from TV. And yet some great art has appeared on the boob tube from time to time. It’s relatively rare, but it does happen. And certainly the best moments of The Waltons contain some great morality tales.

  3. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    One of the episodes featured in that recent Waltons marathon was “The Scholar” from season 1. The IMDB synopsis states:

    When Verdie Grant learns her daughter is graduating from college, she feels embarrassed by the fact that she never learned to read or write. She asks John-Boy to teach her, on the condition that he keeps it a secret.

    The operative condition in this episode is that Verdie is black and quite prideful personally (which, she is reminded by a friend — her mother?…I forget — is one of the traits that has allowed her to persevere). But she is painfully embarrassed at not being able to read and wants to make a trip to her daughter’s graduation in another city. She does not want to be an embarrassment to her daughter for whom she has sacrificed so much in order to try to give her a better life.

    John-Boy becomes aware of Verdie’s secret and offers to teach her to read and write for free. But Verdie will have none of that. She won’t take charity. So John-Boy comes to some arrangement with her and the lessons proceed.

    This is not likely an episode that could be written today. The writers (Earl Hamner Jr. and John McGreevy) do an extraordinary thing. They treat Verdie (and John-Boy) as real people and not just as representatives of a class. Verdie is prideful to the point of being hateful. But it is her pride and her hatefulness.

    When Elizabeth innocently lets it leak that John-Boy is teaching Verdie to read, Verdie becomes extremely indignant and belligerent to John-Boy who hasn’t a clue about why there should be this sudden change in attitude in Verdie. He’s at first shocked and has nothing to say. He’s simply bombarded by Verdie’s outrage one day when he comes to work with her as scheduled.

    John-Boy, without an apparent racist bone in his body, is truly perplexed. His mother, Olivia, gives him some historical context by saying “Remember how things used to be.” But John-Boy isn’t having any of this white guilt stuff. When he next meets Verdie (to deliver some wood for services that Verdie had rendered), he confronts Verdie and stops her in her tracks after she tries to chew his ear off again. He says something like, “I didn’t get a chance to say much last time. Now it’s my turn to tell you what I think.”

    Again, the writers (through John-Boy) treat Verdie as a unique human being and fault her for her shortcomings even while noting some of the context of those shortcomings. But never do you have the modern idiotic Cultural Marxist vibe thrown in whereby John-Boy just sits there and takes the abuse because of some “white guilt” that somehow sticks to him forever. And Verdie is not forgiven her transgressions (if only in bad manners and verbal abuse) simply because she is considered of the race that is forever a “victim.” Instead, the writers (and John-Boy) remain on the human scale.

    The large aspect of this is thus to recognize just how dehumanizing Leftism/Progressivism/Cultural Marxism is. A person is no longer a person in that paradigm. Individual transgressions no longer stick to the person, particular if they are of the “victim” class, nor is there any credit given to the virtues of one who belongs to the “oppressor” class. But in “The Scholar” all that hogwash has yet to poison our society and keep it from healing the old racial scars. Verdie is both virtuous and at fault. She is human.

    As you might suspect, John-Boy and Verdie patch things up. Verdie comes to see the error of her ways, and John-Boy is virtuous through his magnanimousness. But it’s not a magnanimousness born of white guilt (or the “white man’s burden,” for that matter) but of John-Boy’s own character as obviously formed by two parents who did not take the development of his character lightly.

    In today’s world, there isn’t likely a white person who would come within a country mile of Verdie when she turned belligerent. Grievance is grievance and can’t be cured, nor is their any virtue attached to trying to overcome it. Usually such grievance is considered justified in just being, no matter what, a virtue onto itself that no mere white person should even consider unvirtuous. A normal white person of today would thus steer clear of a Verdie seeing this as a no-win situation, for a person today knows he will not be judged on the content of his actions and character but by the color of his skin. And we’d have one more Verdie in the world who couldn’t read and one more stupid white liberal thinking “What a sensitive and caring fellow I am” for helping to validate this grievance by letting it be.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      Actually, a white person who was already a friend of Verdie would probably try to patch things up. I don’t know if that was the situation here since I’ve never seen the episode. (By the way, note that Earl Hamner Jr. was a writer for the Twilight Zone, often using rural settings.)

      Leftism has no use for the individual, treating people merely as members of various groups (or expending them as human fertilizer, as my father once pointed out).

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        As it plays out in the episode, it is Verdie’s sister (not mother) who is her friend and confidante and who tries to moderate Verdie’s reaction to the perceived betrayal of her secret. This is early 40’s Virginia. And Walton Mountain, by and large, is a pretty non-prejudiced place, all things considered.

        Today, I’m not sure even a good-hearted John-Boy would want to spend the time to overcome the burdens placed on white people because of “white guilt” in regards to overcoming “the angry black man.” I think you’d just wash your hands of it, as white liberals have today by playing to black prejudices and fears while being content to leave blacks with an inferior quality education system and neighborhoods that are riddled with crime and drugs. So long as they avoid the black wrath, that’s all that matters. The Religion of Leftism (quite contrary to the religion of Christianity as it plays out in The Waltons) doesn’t require real results. It’s enough to pretend to care.

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