My Old Kentucky Homesite

One Nation, Under the Shrimping God

Posted by Larry Wallberg on 06/16/2010

Sort of like our preacher-in-chief was last night, I’m pretty much speechless. But I have to say: If the government asks me to sacrifice a goat, I’m going to refuse.

[T]ime and again, we have refused to settle for the paltry limits of conventional wisdom. Instead, what has defined us as a nation since our founding is the capacity to shape our destiny -– our determination to fight for the America we want for our children. Even if we’re unsure exactly what that looks like. Even if we don’t yet know precisely how we’re going to get there. We know we’ll get there.

It’s a faith in the future that sustains us as a people. It is that same faith that sustains our neighbors in the Gulf right now.

Each year, at the beginning of shrimping season, the region’s fishermen take part in a tradition that was brought to America long ago by fishing immigrants from Europe. It’s called “The Blessing of the Fleet,” and today it’s a celebration where clergy from different religions gather to say a prayer for the safety and success of the men and women who will soon head out to sea -– some for weeks at a time.

The ceremony goes on in good times and in bad. It took place after Katrina, and it took place a few weeks ago –- at the beginning of the most difficult season these fishermen have ever faced.

And still, they came and they prayed. For as a priest and former fisherman once said of the tradition, “The blessing is not that God has promised to remove all obstacles and dangers. The blessing is that He is with us always,” a blessing that’s granted “even in the midst of the storm.”

The oil spill is not the last crisis America will face. This nation has known hard times before and we will surely know them again. What sees us through -– what has always seen us through –- is our strength, our resilience, and our unyielding faith that something better awaits us if we summon the courage to reach for it.

Tonight, we pray for that courage. We pray for the people of the Gulf. And we pray that a hand may guide us through the storm towards a brighter day. Thank you, God bless you, and may God bless the United States of America.

After he’s done fixing the mess in the Gulf, perhaps Obama’s deity will help America conquer Jericho, or vanquish the armies of the demon king Ravana, or maybe even get Helen back from the Trojans. Gee, I sure hope he doesn’t decide to turn Michelle into a pillar of salt — although a swan would probably be OK. But, really, if the president’s god is going to do that bird trick, an American brown pelican might be more useful.

[Update – 06/16 at 3:10 p.m.: Instead of reciting a boring ol’ prayer, maybe Obama should have led the nation in song. Please note that the first 21 seconds of the video are silent so that you’ll have time to turn to the appropriate page in your hymnal.]

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49 Responses to “One Nation, Under the Shrimping God”

  1. Locking up the faith based vote for 2012.

    I’m curious to hear what these “different religions” are, because I doubt there are Hindu priests or Buddhist monks down there on the docks, although perhaps Tom Cruise might be there for a photo op with a thetan meter.

  2. Philly:
    Locking up the faith based vote for 2012.

    That’s some savvy politicking on Obama’s part, since we all know he’ll get lots of support from the Christian right. If his content-free blather earned him one new vote, though, I suppose things may work out well for him. That vote can replace mine. Because I’ll be looking for a candidate who doesn’t respond to a crisis by asking for help from imaginary characters.

  3. If we sacrifice an oil company executive (preferably a CEO, and it doesn’t have to be from BP), one every day, I’ll bet the crisis will be resolved in two days.

  4. I have never heard an Obama speech that was so religious in tone. He hasn’t made a big deal out of attending church or prayer breakfasts and other such activities like past-presidents.

    I think he is a closet agnostic and is rolling with God solely to boost his (Obama’s) approval ratings. I agree there are no votes to be gained at this point, but Barry does want approval.

  5. I have never heard an Obama speech that was so religious in tone.

    While he tends to pay lip service to god on most occasions, he’s never been so blatant about it as he has here. That worries me, because if he had something good to tell us, or some substance to his plans, whatever they are, he wouldn’t be falling back on religion, he’d just tell us.

    Religion is the refuge for the ignorant, the incompetent and the untrustworthy. So which of those is he today?

  6. Aside from garnering approval and future votes, he wants to raise morale, right? The fact that he has to resort to this shit means he has no other means, like announcing A FUCKING PLAN, to raise morale.

  7. Oaktown Girl said

    You know, if this huge oil disaster were an “act of god”, I suppose I could see a certain logic in bringing up how folks pray to the Shrimping God(s). But since this wasn’t an “act of god”, and it was purely the result of acts of human greed, selfishness, denial, and stupidity, I just don’t see how the Shrimping God(s) factor in.

    While I don’t think the Shrimping God(s) can do much for the Gulf at this point, maybe S/he can get us a Preview Button plug-in for this humble blog? I’d be willing to try praying for that.

  8. SI:
    But if we sacrifice oil company execs, who can Obama blame for his own failures in leadership? Mind you, I’m not saying that he had anything to do with the faulty oil rig or that he’s suddenly an expert environmental scientist. But Salazar is his Interior Secretary, and the MMS was not “cleaned up” when all that Change™ was happening. Perhaps the president was praying for Change™, but for some inexplicable reason, his god didn’t respond.

    Religion is the refuge for the ignorant, the incompetent and the untrustworthy. So which of those is he today?
    All of the above.

    Sixty:
    If Obama is a closet atheist, he has a strange way of showing it. For the 2008 South Carolina primary, his team sent out a mailer referring to him as “A Committed Christian” who has been “called to Christ.” Later in the campaign, he took part with John McCain in a special “Faith Forum” at Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church; there was no similar secular event until the debates. Once in office, he expanded the Office of Faith-Based Initiatives (now duplicitously referred to as the Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships) and has advocated for a National Day of Prayer. We lefties would like him to be an atheist, but if he is, he’s a mighty funny kind.

    Philly:
    He didn’t raise my morale. Nor yours, I’m betting. But, hey, God bless America.

    Oaky:
    I don’t think the shrimping god is in charge of preview-button plug-ins. That area comes under the auspices of Etaoin Shrdlu, the baboon-headed god of typos. I’ve prayed to her, but apparently she has no time for me because she’s too busy trying to get the Infinite Monkey Theorem to work. Here’s what she was able to force out of her typing primates so far:
    “To be or not to be, that is the xjkqffp.”

  9. the chaplain said

    And we pray that a hand may guide us through the storm towards a brighter day.

    If one must navigate through a storm, I think a compass would be more useful than a hand.

  10. No, not atheist, agnostic. All the examples you cite are politically expedient. I guess it’s just a feeling that he doesn’t wear his beliefs on his sleeve like every other recent president.

    BTW: how is the Lex-Her-Lead op ed piece coming? Approached USA Today to write for their Monday Religion page? You should.

  11. Each year, at the beginning of shrimping season, the region’s fishermen take part in a tradition that was brought to America long ago by fishing immigrants from Europe. It’s called “The Blessing of the Fleet,” and today it’s a celebration where clergy from different religions gather to say a prayer for the safety and success of the men and women who will soon head out to sea -– some for weeks at a time.

    This sounds like an experimenter’s dream. We could have a professional godsucker from each religion bless vessels randomly chosen. For it to be a valid trial, we should make it a blinded experiment where the sailors don’t know which god’s blessings have been beseeched (besought?). Once a statistically significant sample has been collected, we should be able to make definitive conclusions when it comes to the celestial pecking order.

  12. Ah, but the captains and crews no doubt are saying their own prayers, so how do you factor that in? What’s the result if a Christian shrimp boat with a crew making voodoo and native American prayers gets blessed by a Hindu priest? Who gets the credit or scorn for what that boat hauls in?

  13. Chappy:
    I don’t think a compass would do the trick either. Everybody knows where the Deepwater Horizon is. And anyway, it’s hard to read that thing, because its face is smeared with some kind of gooey material.

    Sixty:
    Yeah, you did say “agnostic.” In my heathen zeal, I must have misread that. Sorry. Still, the rest of my comment stands. I think I’ve shown a number of instances in which Obama has worn his beliefs on his sleeve. What he ought to be doing now is knocking his beliefs off and rolling up that fucking sleeve to act presidential.

    By the way: Mainly for the benefit of old farts like you and me, I’ve now added an appropriate video to this post.

    I have no idea what op-ed piece you’re talking about. I offered the Herald-Leader an opportunity to commission an article on atheism from me, but the powers-that-be over there weren’t interested. FYI: I wouldn’t want to appear on a “Religion” page, because that merely feeds the myth that atheism falls under that category.

    Des:
    I’m all for that experiment, but I think we should have an office pool. My money is on Neptune.

    Philly:
    Perhaps each captain could keep precise count of his crew’s prayers. Hell, they’ve got nothing else to do at the moment, right?

  14. So that’s the plan: pray like you were a bayou fisherman. Fantastic.

  15. Philly:
    Nice article.

  16. the chaplain said

    We could pray between dances on the shrimp boats. If we’re really clever, we can pray to the shrimp boat dance tune and kill two shrimps with one gush of oil.

  17. Ralph said

    Being an ancient atheist I’m certain that prayer won’t change the situation. However, I do wish theist would pray to the proper god. Neptune is their only hope.

  18. Nothing says “sexy” like corny 1960-ish pop about shrimp boaters.

  19. Chappy:
    I’m not sure if the U.S. Government approves of dancing.

    Ralph:
    Well, Neptune works only for Italian crew-members. Obviously, the Greeks pray to Poseidon. If the crew is mainly Hindu, they might want to ask Varuna for help. If they’re Irish, they’d probably appeal to Lir. I doubt that any ancient Egyptians are out there digging for Gulf shrimp, but if so, they’re most likely talking without purpose to Yamm. Those few fisherfolk who come from Hollywood direct their supplications to Forrest Gump.

    Des:
    Well, the song in the post was popular in 1951 and 1952. According to the World’s Greatest Authority (Wikipedia) — it was on the Billboard Charts for 17 weeks. Of course, those were the days before the musical sophistication of Taylor Swift and Lil Wayne, even before the haunting melodies performed by Nirvana and Ratt. Hell, Jo Stafford’s “Shrimp Boats” actually predated the glorious song stylings of Fabian and Little Eva. The American music-listening public has never been famous for its taste.

    The important question is: Has it become an earworm for you yet? I remember singing that song over and over and over and over and over (and over) again when I was around three. I’ll bet that if you say the words “shrimp” and “boats” to any American who was alive during those years, that person will probably be humming the tune for weeks.

    I don’t think it was meant to be sexy, especially to women. It’s “Shrimp Boats,” remember? Although you know what they say about the smell of fish.

  20. Oaktown Girl said

    Rachel Maddow gives the speech most of us wish the President would have given instead of the Shrimping God speech:

  21. Oaky:
    Hey, thanks for that link. I don’t usually get too excited about Rachel Maddow, but while watching that segment on TV, I was sitting on the couch wondering “Why not?” Actually, many other commentators had good ideas, too. So how come the president gave such a shitty “performance,” when there’s so much speech-writing talent available? That’s a good question. I guess Obama works in the same kind of mysterious ways as his god does.

  22. Weeks ago there was a former oil company president who said the Saudis have a system for sucking up spilled oil but he can’t get anyone here to even look at it because it’s a method not invented here. Still, with the exception of the end, I liked it.

  23. Philly:
    You may have missed the news, but it’s now law that all speeches by presidents end with “God bless you, and God bless America.” Because, as everyone knows, if you don’t keep reminding a god to do his job, he’ll forget:

    Oh, Christ! Oops. Sorry son, I wasn’t specifically calling you. It was just an expression, medammit. Let’s see, I seem to remember that I was supposed to bless one of those dumb places on … I think maybe that planet with the dinosaurs and the talking apes. Shit, why don’t I write these things down?

  24. Lorena said

    Obama is trying to please the right wingers–people who will never vote for him, and taking for granted the liberals who actually elected him.

    The problem with him is that he’s trying to be nice to everybody–not a good thing for a leader of his calibre.

    As for his god talk, it doesn’t fit him. In my opinion, it looks totally fake.

  25. Lorena:
    Why is it that when Bush used god talk ad nauseam, liberals were quick to point out that he was a right-wing Christian nut. But when Obama uses even more blatant god talk ad nauseam, those same liberals are convinced that it’s “totally fake.” I don’t get it. You insist on evidence about religion, but you just make shit up when it comes to politics?

    And, hey. Even if Obama’s rah-rah for god is totally fake, it’s still aiding the agenda of the theocrats, who have now been empowered by official Democratic presidential “acknowledgement” that the citizens of the United States need heavenly assistance. And why wouldn’t we? America is a Christian nation, right? That’s basically what Obama implied, isn’t it? (Oh, yes, he slyly pretended for a split-second that his speech was pan-religious, but he still referred to a priest — clearly, he wasn’t talking about a devotee of Isis or Apollo — and he referenced a character named “God.” He might just as well have said “Jesus.”)

  26. the chaplain said

    Why is it that when Bush used god talk ad nauseam, liberals were quick to point out that he was a right-wing Christian nut. But when Obama uses even more blatant god talk ad nauseam, those same liberals are convinced that it’s “totally fake.”

    Primary reason – Because, every now and then, Obama tosses a bone to nonbelievers and other sorts of non-Christians; nonbelievers are so starved for acknowledgment that they’ll (we’ll) eagerly lap up the scraps he gives, then stand on hind legs (or even bend over) and beg for more.

    Secondary reason – Every team wants to believe that their guy is better than the other team’s guy.

  27. Two things wrong there:
    1. The very idea of teams
    2. Even if there were teams, each candidate plays for the same team, themselves, so stop looking at any of them as part of your team.

  28. Chappy:
    [E]very now and then, Obama tosses a bone to nonbelievers and other sorts of non-Christians.
    The operative word being “bone.”

    Philly:
    Yup. Our politicians are beyond Machiavellian. Machiavelli suggested using the ends to justify the means. America’s elected officials have no ends, except their continued aggrandizement. So not being able to show any actual accomplishments, they use xenophobia, empty promises, and superstitition to justify their means. We’re now a country of useless shrimp boats floating on an oil slick of rhetoric.

    But, hey. The health care bill passed, so I’m now feeling fit as a fiddle. Isn’t everyone?

  29. the chaplain said

    Philly:
    I agree with you about the wrongness of team-think in politics. That’s why I’m not a member of a political party. If I ever join a political party again, it will only be if I think it will provide means for me to increase my impact on events (am impact that I know would be uniformly good for all *grin*). It looked to me like Larry was using the term “liberals” collectively, in the sense of a like-thinking group, so I ran with the group/team idea. I know there were people who supported Bush no matter what he did or said, because they believed he (and they) were on god’s team. I know people who think similarly about Obama – they’re as uncritical in their support of him as Bushies were of Bush.

  30. Chappy:
    It looked to me like Larry was using the term “liberals” collectively, in the sense of a like-thinking group, so I ran with the group/team idea.
    Well, not exactly. I was using “liberals” in the same sense that I’d use “atheists”: anybody who defines him- or herself as one, is one. I’m not convinced that there’s necessarily any specific “like-thinking.” But you couldn’t have intuited that from what I wrote.

    You bring up a point that I’m going to have to think seriously about. Maybe I shouldn’t use the words “liberal” or “conservative” any more. Hell, I’m not sure what they mean nowadays anyway.

  31. I think team thinking is another one of those delusions, or as Sarge put it, “lubricants”, which most people need to believe in because they can’t accept the reality that they might be alone in the world. It pairs nicely with us vs them thinking, too.

  32. You bring up a point that I’m going to have to think seriously about. Maybe I shouldn’t use the words “liberal” or “conservative” any more. Hell, I’m not sure what they mean nowadays anyway.

    Using labels is a nice shorthand way of referring to a group of people, despite the fact that next week the same people might be in 57 different groups. Instead of having to say, “all those people who believe [list of 57 varieties of belief] you just say “all those [label name]s”.

    On a place like this where every reader has in their own minds what[label name] means, we’re never on the same page. Hilarity ensues.

  33. Philly:
    Most people need to believe in [“teams,”] because they can’t accept the reality that they might be alone in the world.
    Nicely put.I agree. So does that mean we’re on the same team?

    SI:
    On a place like this where every reader has in their own minds what [label name] means, we’re never on the same page. Hilarity ensues.
    Hell, half the time I don’t even know what book I’m in.

  34. Lorena said

    Here is a question for you, Americans. Do you think Hilary Clinton would be handling things better, or did Obama get elected because he was the least of all evils?

    I think Hilary Clinton has more backbone than Obama.

  35. Lorena:
    In 2008, I thought Barack Obama would make a marginally better president than Hilary Clinton would. Now, I think she would have been a much better choice. But political what-ifs don’t prove anything, except maybe our ability to delude ourselves into thinking that a different electoral outcome might have mattered. That’s why so many people voted for Obama; he was the candidate of Change™. Nice slogan, sucky follow-through.

    But I agree with you: She seems to have more backbone than he does. Also, much bigger balls.

  36. If it was Clinton in the White House, I suspect the word “Bitch” would be bandied from both sides of the aisle with increasing regularity these days.

  37. SI:
    Only if she were effectively kicking some ass.

  38. I voted for her in the primary. Though she pretends she believes in sky fairies just like Obama, she wasn’t as obnoxious about it (like, say, Pelosi). It was simply a pragmatic choice, though.

    1) Polls regularly showed her with a better showing against McCain.
    2) After a decade and a half of desperately seeking dirt, the Republican machine found nothing useful.
    3) The Republicans can pretend they are being manly men when they call out “the darky” (you know they say it), but getting neutered by “the bitch” (again, you know they say it) would leave them listless and confused.
    4) Hannity spend hundreds of hours verbally masturbating on the air in hopes that of replicating the success Limbaugh had Hilary baiting the rubes in the 90s.

  39. Des:
    I’m not convinced that Hilary would have beaten McCain. If she’d been the nominee, I doubt that Palin would have been McCain’s vice-presidential choice; he probably would have gone with a less wacko, better known, woman. And if Palin hadn’t been on the ticket …

    We’ll never know. I, myself, was tempted to vote for a third-party candidate, or just write in my own name with Chappy as my vice-presidential pick. In the end, I was persuaded to vote for Obama — whom I really disliked for his constant god-pushing — only because the potential of a you-betcha presidency (in the event the old dodderer died) was too horrific to contemplate. Now, if Americans think about Obama’s broken promises, half-assed right-leaning liberalism, and non-inspiring personality, it’s entirely possible that he could lose to a Republican challenger that energizes the loons. Voila! The Tea Party. So it’s remotely possible that Sarah (or some similar jingoistic bible-thumper) will run and win in 2012. Not likely, but certainly more imaginable than it would have been if she’d headed the ticket two years ago. So basically, those of us who want to see the separation of church and state maintained are royally fucked.

  40. I admired Obama when he said he wanted government to be inclusive, and invited the Republicans into the process. But he should have jettisoned that attitude when they kicked him in the teeth a year ago, grown his own set of balls, and run the country the way he should, with a majority in Congress.

    Take a page from his hero: “You can’t please all the people all the time”.

    So get over it.

  41. At first I thought perhaps he was setting them up. Be Mr. Nice, talk inclusiveness, but then when the Republicans do nothing but cock block, put on a big show of how you tried to work with them but they don’t care about the American people, blah, blah. Not exactly the ballsy, FDR approach but it could have achieved more in the long run. Unfortunately, it wasn’t all part of some clever plan. It was just ineptness. How one gets so far, so fast, then turns deer in the headlights astounds me. Oh well.

  42. the chaplain said

    I was a Hillary supporter, and I voted for her in the primaries even though I had some issues with her. She has, on occasion, taken some very strange policy positions, which leads me to think that she may occasionally pull the trigger too quickly. I don’t mind Obama’s thoughtfulness (it’s a welcome and much-needed change from Bush’s customary my-balls-are-bigger-than-your-balls attitude), but he usually takes far too long to remember he has a damn trigger, find it, then pull it. Had Hillary been elected, I’m pretty sure she would have had both a stronger spine and bigger balls than Obama. Remember, she went through hell and back during Bill’s presidency; she earned her toughness. Yeah, bitch would be a household word now, but she can handle it.

  43. Lorena said

    Love your comment, Chappie. I am an H. Clinton admirer. As for Obama, I thinks he’s too naive. He lives in Alice in Wonderland. Hasn’t notice that some people are plain evil and that they can’t be pleased no matter what you do. And that’s bad for a politician whose job is to deal with fellow politicians, some of the most deceptive creatures on earth.

  44. SI:
    That inclusive shit is just a highfalutin’ way of avoiding taking a stand. Avoidance is not — or shouldn’t be anyway — a positive quality in a leader.

    Philly:
    As I’ve mentioned to you, Obama’s election and subsequent eunuch presidency always makes me think of The Candidate, in which an appealing pretty-boy, played by Robert Redford, runs for U.S. Senator from California. He’s very skilled and oh-so-smooooothon the campaign trail, running as a candidate of Change™.

    [***Spoiler Alert***]But when he actually wins …

    Lorena:
    You’re still buying into the Gospel of Barack. You think he’s too naive. But you think other politicians are evil or deceptive. Sounds to me as if you’ve subscribed to the One-True-God phenomenon.

  45. Chappy:
    Yeah, bitch would be a household word now, but she can handle it.
    Unless she decided that it was in her best interests to pretend to cry, instead.

    One of the things I’ve always disliked strongly about Hilary, was her insincere theatrics. But I think now that I may have been wrong to dismiss them. Raw theatrical moments are exactly what Americans need to see from Obama: furious anger, great sadness, cheery hope for the future, strong assurances. All kinds of melodramatic calls to arms that inspire his “base,” and attract new followers. Throughout history, demagogues both good and horrific have known that they must control and create public opinion. Of course, a leader runs a great risk when he or she banks on feigned emotional moments for rabble-rousing, and we skeptics definitely would be piling on the sarcastic criticism, as we should. But that kind of stuff from Obama would be a welcome relief from his robotic performances, which never inspire confidence, even if he actually happens to accomplish something. Do any of us actually believe that BP’s $20 billion will go to help the immediate victims of the gusher? (And see too, for instance, the “infuriated” Republican reactions to the namby-pamby health reform. Are Obama’s supporters confident that the bill he urged on Congress will stay in place?)

    I’m not arguing that Machiavellian crowd-manipulation is good. Personally, I don’t approve of bullshit in any form. I’m merely arguing that, as history has shown, it works.

    But, really: The emotions don’t have to be faked. Why can’t Obama wear his honest feelings on his sleeve? Doesn’t he have any unsuppressible gut reactions to what happened?

  46. Lorena said

    Larry,

    You are right. I’m still buying it. But not being an American, I don’t give it much thought. But remember, he rose to the top of politics world because he knows how to pander. He is likeable. And he is trying to be liked by the right-wingers. Otherwise, why would he bring god into the conversation?

  47. Lorena:
    Otherwise, why would he bring god into the conversation?
    The only reason that anyone would bring god into a conversation is to score points with the wingnuts? You’re teasing me now, right?

  48. Lorena said

    You have to keep reminding yourself that I am not an American and that I’ve never lived in the States.

    Yes, I think that’s the only reason. What other reason could there be? Lifting his hands to the heavens for lack of better solutions?

    Or is it that he thinks that’s what most Americans–liberal or not–what to hear?

    Are you saying that he actually IS trusting god to solve your guys’ problems? I don’t think he believes that, as I don’t think Bush believed that.

    I think Obama is faking his devotion as much as Bush faked the devotion. They’re just politicians playing the game. If Obama is using the word “god” is because he thinks it’s strategically good.

  49. Lorena:
    One of the assumptions that “smug” atheists tend to make is:
    If a person is smart in any area, he can’t conceivably be a devout believer.

    But I’ve finally come to realize that there’s no evidence, whatsoever, to support the truth of that statement.

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