Phil Nugent, my favorite cultural critic, has a great post up about Oral Roberts.
Here’s a taste:
It was Oral the raving bull goose loony whose image was preserved for all time by Lenny Bruce in his epic “Religions, Inc.” routine (“Thank you very much! Thank you, boy, here, have a snake!”). A milestone in Bruce’s career and the history of stand-up comedy itself, it depicted Oral as a cynical religious con man with contempt for the “thick rednecks” who were his natural audience, which stands to reason, since Bruce’s most fertile approach as a satirist was always to describe the powerful and respected as if they were just another bunch of nightclub performers who’d come up from working in strip clubs and toilets and hustled aluminum siding between gigs. It’s most prescient when it caricatures the rage that the self-made man (and woman, Sarah) feels at the brainy types who would dare to patronize him for his lack of book learnin’. “Go ahead, laugh at him,” Bruce’s Oral says to the straw men he’s sure must think the worst of him. “There’s a dummy! Ha ha ha ha! I’m a dummmy. Yes, I’m dumb, I got two Lincoln Continentals, that’s how goddamn dumb I am. I’m dumber’n hell, I don’t know how much a whole lot of nines are!” The supreme skeptic Martin Gardner once wrote of Oral, “Insecure feelings about his early poverty and lack of education mix with an awesome ego. Oral will never consider that when he hears the voice of God he is listening to himself, that when he builds a bigger monument it is a monument to himself. His visions are too childish to be fabrications.”
Really, you should read the whole thing. But be warned: before you start, block out a few days to make your way through the entire Phil Nugent back catalog.