To Billy Sunday, by Carl Sandburg

Untitled document  Nov. 19, 1863 - Nov. 6, 1935 Billy Sunday was a well-known fundamentalist in the early 1900's, famed not only for his crusading against liquor (and for Prohibition), but for also becoming as rich as Croesus in the process. His sermons were of the classic "fire and brimstone" variety. Carl Sandburg wrote his own fire and brimstone sermon against Sunday and his firey moralizing. Originally titled "To a Contemporary Bunkshooter" with references to Sunday removed to avoid libel, it was only printed in its original form after both men had passed on. In his way, Sunday is stronger than ever, thanks to the modern-day versions of him who have carried his legacy deep, deep into the halls of power; if there is one overwhelming threat to our freedom today, it is the glee with which the wall between Church and State is being demolished, and how some refuse to acknowledge its validity at all. The portrait Sandburg paints of a conman in preacher's clothing hasn't faded one bit in the ninety years since it was written. If anything, now that the charlatans run the place, it's more important to remember what they are.

You come along… tearing your shirt… yelling
    about Jesus.
    I want to know… what the hell… you
    know about Jesus.

Jesus had a way of talking softly and everybody
    except a few bankers and higher-ups among the
    con men of Jerusalem liked to have this Jesus
    around because he never made any fake passes
    and everything he said went and he helped the
    sick and gave the people hope.

You come along squirting words at us, shaking
    your fist and calling us damn fools so fierce the
    froth of your own spit slobbers over your lips —
    always blabbing we're all going to hell straight
    off and you know all about it.

I've read Jesus' words.  I know what he said.  You
    don't throw any scare into me.  I've got your
    number.  I know how much you know about

He never came near clean people or dirty people
    but they felt cleaner because he came along.  It
    was your crowd of bankers and business men
    and lawyers that hired the sluggers and murderers
    who put Jesus out of the running.

I say it was the same bunch that's backing you that
    nailed the nails into the hands of this Jesus of
    Nazareth.  He had lined up against him the
    same crooks and strong-arm men now lined up
    with you paying your way.

This Jesus guy was good to look at, smelled good,
    listened good.  He threw out something fresh
    and beautiful from the skin of his body and the
    touch of his hands wherever he passed along.

You, Billy Sunday, put a smut on every human
    blossom that comes within reach of your rotten
    breath belching about hell-fire and hiccuping
    about this man who lived a clean life in Galilee.

When are you going to quit making the carpenters
    build emergency hospitals for women and girls
    driven crazy with wrecked nerves from your
    goddam gibberish about Jesus — I put it to you
    again:  What the hell do you know about Jesus?

Go ahead and bust all the chairs you want to.
    Smash a whole wagon load of furniture at every
    performance.  Turn sixty somersaults and stand
    on your nutty head.  If it wasn't for the way
    you scare women and kids, I'd feel sorry for
    you and pass the hat.

I like to wash a good four-flusher work but not
    when he starts people to puking and calling for
    the doctors.

I like a man that's got guts and can pull off a great
    original performance, but you — hell, you're only
    a bughouse peddler of second-hand gospel —
    you're only shoving out a phony imitation of
    the goods this Jesus guy told us ought to be free
    as air and sunlight.

Sometimes I wonder what sort of pups born from
    mongrel bitches there are in the world less
    heroic than you.

You tell people living in shanties Jesus is going to
    fix it up all right with them by giving them
    mansions in the skies after they're dead and the
    worms have eaten 'em.

You tell $6 a week department store girls all they
    need is Jesus; you take a steel trust wop, dead
    without having lived, gray and shrunken at
    forty years of age, and you tell him to look at
    Jesus on the cross and he'll be all right.

You tell poor people they don't need any more
    money on pay day and even if it's fierce to be
    out of a job, Jesus'll fix that all right, all right —
    all they gotta do is take Jesus the way you say.

I'm telling you this Jesus guy wouldn't stand for
    the stuff you're handing out.  Jesus played it
    different.  The bankers and corporation lawyers
    of Jerusalem got their sluggers and murderers
    to go after Jesus just because Jesus wouldn't
    play their game.  He didn't sit in with the big

I don't want a lot of gab from the bunkshooter in
    my religion.

I won't take my religion from a man who never
    works except with his mouth and never cherishes
    a memory except the face of the woman on the
    American silver dollar.

I ask you to come through and show me where
    you're pouring out the blood of your life.

I've been in this suburb of Jerusalem they call
    Golgotha, where they nailed Him, and I know if the
    story is straight it was real blood ran from his
    hand and the nail-holes, and it was real blood
    spurted out where the spear of the Roman
    soldier rammed in between the ribs of this Jesus
    of Nazareth.


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