Some might say that it looks like Joel and Ethan Coen have finally hit the big time—if some were inclined to the neo-Calvinist virtue that cult is meant to influence culture. In which case, plaudits by Christianity Today as prophets writing on subway walls would seem to be proof positive.
But some are skeptical. And, if you ask me, the Coens might be said to have arrived not by showing up in Christianity Today to help make a palatable point about morality, but showing up in A Secular Faith to help make a hard-nosed point about the two kingdoms:
Whilst on the run from the law, third Musketeer Delmar decides to join the crowd goin’ “down in the river to pray, studyin’ about that good old way.”
Everett: Well, I guess hard times flush the chump. Everybody’s lookin’ for answers…Where the hell’s he goin’?
Pete: Well I’ll be a sonofabitch. Delmar’s been saved.
Delmar: Well that’s it, boys. I’ve been redeemed. The preacher’s done warshed away all my sins and transmissions. It’s the straight and narrow from here on out, and heaven everlasting’s my reward.
Everett: Delmar, what are you talking about? We’ve got bigger fish to fry.
Delmar: The preacher says all my sins is warshed away, including that Piggly Wiggly I knocked over in Yazoo.
Everett: I thought you said you was innocent of those charges?
Delmar: Well I was lyin’. And the preacher says that that sin’s been warshed away too. Neither God nor man’s got nothin’ on me now. C’mon in boys, the water is fine.
Everett: Baptism! You two’re just dumber’n a bag of hammers.
Pete: The Preacher said it absolved us.
Everett: For him, not for the law. I’m surprised at you, Pete, I gave you credit for more brains than Delmar.
Delmar: But they was witnesses that seen us redeemed.
Everett: That’s not the issue, Delmar. Even if that did put you square with the Lord, the State of Mississippi’s a little more hard-nosed.
Remember when Pat Robertson lobbied to spring Karla Faye Tucker on the grounds of her faith? Evangelicals may like to swoon over how Marge Gunderson props up our collective and natural sense of what is right, true and good. But Ulysses Everett McGill brings us a better grasp of how law and gospel are dispensed.