Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Ultimate Outsider

Before Ted Haggard got caught getting a "massage" and buying crystal meth from his masseur four years ago, he was having breakfast with George W. Bush, shepherding a huge mega-church flock, and writing books about how to be a Christian in a complicated world.  Now he's a strangely compelling has-been living in the same city in which he was disgraced, with the same wife and family, and even in the same house.  He is a total exile, however, in every other aspect of his life, including his Christianity. 

Kevin Roose writes about this exile in a masterful article in this month's GQ.  This portrait of Haggard gives to us an odd hybrid of therapy-speak-ness, Jesus-freak-ness, sweetness, and Neo-Golden-Rule-ness, developing eventually into the ultimate depiction of an outsider.  Haggard exists in the shadows of Huge Ideas; his very existence is in contrast with "normal" dichotomies like Christian/Sinner and Gay/Straight.  His life after the bombshell that he was a homosexual (he now says he is "bisexual") mega-pastor has taken a twisted and absolutely novel route:  he seems to be trying to make sense not just of what happened to him, but how what happened to him might alter the way he treats other people.  He seems like a loudmoth, egotistical creep, of course, a sort of parody of a parody now, but he also has a strangely beautiful message:  "Do unto others as nobody did unto me."  And his relationship with his wife and children, in the way Roose represents it, seems authentic and loving and real. 

From politically correct, left/right prospectives he is a traitor and a hypocrite -- a shapeshifter who deserves erasure.  But Haggard has survived in the shadow of everything he tried to accomplish before he was "outed," and he still seems hell-bent on staying on message.  That's an accomplishment I think, and sheds light on how people who can't have access into the mainstream often develop their own subcultures, aesthetics and philosophies through reimagining themselves and their struggles in tropes and narratives beyond "therapy," "religion," and "politics."  Ted Haggard as Outsider Artist.  What the hell?

Read Roose's brilliant article if you get a chance:  "The Last Temptation of Ted," by Kevin Roose in February 2011's GQ.