For those who no longer believe in Hell, the DMV can serve a very useful function. Actually, the Department of Motor Vehicles is truly the great leveler of society—just about everyone has to cross its threshold, it is just that they all try to do it at the same time. Waiting in lines has always been a problem for me. It’s not that I think my time is more important than anybody else’s, it’s just that I have so much to do without standing in endless lines. Especially since work keeps me away from useful pursuits for over eleven hours out of every twenty-four, weekends seem somehow too sacred to be spent at the DMV. But the Devil must be paid his due. When paying the Devil, I take along Stephen King to pass the time. So it was over the weekend that I found myself reading “Children of the Corn.”
Of course, like most horror movie fans, I have seen the movie a time or two. I’d never read the story before. This is one of the King tales based most directly on religion gone wrong; the children, as any reader/watcher knows, have distorted Christianity into a midwestern corn-god religion. It may seem unlikely to urban folk, but I have stood next to corn stalks that have towered high above my head, ominously silent like triffids on a sunny Wisconsin afternoon. It can be unnerving. Almost a religious experience. But turning back to King, the story differs from the movie, of course, and what the written version makes clear is that the children distort the New Testament, but leave the Old Testament intact. King, like many horror writers, is biblically literate. Yet, this picture of Old Testament god versus New Testament god is stereotypical and a little misguided. The god of Christianity is a deity of many moods. The wrath in Revelation, or even some of Jesus’ sermons, however, stems directly from Yahweh’s darker moments.
How do we know what is demanded by this mercurial deity? The theological ethicists argue over this daily, but nowhere in the Bible does God have a problem with people treating each other as they would want to be treated. Some of the punishments for minor infractions seem a bit severe—or very severe—but the basic principle, given the Weltanschuung in which it operates, need not cause undue fear. Women, homosexuals, gentiles, Jews, anybody reading parts of the Bible will no doubt be offended by the details. As the saying goes, the Devil is in the details. And that’s why I’m spending my entire Saturday morning at the DMV.