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Religion in the News
by Peter Kurth
August 24, 2004

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Well, how about that? “Give me 20 lashes with a wet noodle!” as the late Ann Landers used to say.

It seems that the story I told in my last column about that poor woman in Arkansas, Georgann Williams, who supposedly died on a highway by jumping through the roof of her car in the belief that she’d seen Jesus and was headed for the Rapture, is an “urban legend.” That means it’s false, phony, fake and -- pertinently, in the circumstances -- “apocryphal,” like the Book of Revelation itself, a work that Thomas Jefferson, who wrote the Declaration of Independence, once described as “the ravings of a lunatic.”

But don’t take my word for it. That great debunking website, “The Urban Legends Reference Pages” (, has a whole one devoted to the putative Ms. Williams and her non-existent leap to Heaven.

“This inventive work of fiction was penned and released onto the Internet on 2 August 2001,” says the site’s co-founder, Barbara Mikkelson. “It was written by Elroy Willis, proprietor of Religion in the News,’ a site that warns visitors what they're in for: Some of these stories are really true. See if you can figure out which ones they are.’”

Now, that’s a challenge. I mean, it’s a real challenge, more exciting than the Olympics, even, inasmuch as the 24/7 “news” cycle has us all spinning in circles, all of the time. As I write this, I’ve just heard about the death of John Passmore, the Australian founder of “applied philosophy,” who, as a young boy, asked a nun at his Catholic school why all of humanity had to suffer through eternity just because Adam and Eve were a couple of dopes.

“He was surprised when [the] nun told him that he need not take the story literally,” according to Passmore’s obituary in London’s Daily Telegraph. Sister Mary Wiseacre plainly didn’t live anywhere near the Vatican or, for that matter, huge portions of the United States. And even then her words couldn’t quash Passmore’s lifelong concern: “Why, he wondered, if salvation could come only through the Church, did God wait nearly 2,000 years before allowing the Australian Aborigines to hear about Christianity?”

Hmm. Sounds like a question for Thomas Aquinas. There must be some tortured logic behind the Lord’s failure to assist the Aborigines, since he talks to George W. Bush every day of the week, except Sundays, of course, when both of them are resting.

It’s true! You probably missed the following story, and you can judge for yourselves whether it’s “real,” “fake,” “apocryphal” or whatever. But I swear to God, borrowing a phrase, I read it in The Scribbler of Lancaster, PA, helpfully posted online for those of us who don’t get down to Amish country very often. Evidently, Dubya was there recently on one of his “Ask the President” tours:

LANCASTER COUNTY, PA (AP) President Bush met privately with a group of Old Order Amish during his visit to Lancaster County last Friday. He discussed their farms and their hats and his religion.

He asked them to vote for him in November.

The Amish told the president that not all members of the church vote but they would pray for him.

That should be enough for one president, don’t you think -- especially as there was nothing “private” about Ding-Dong’s foray into the world of wimples and wooden shoes? But, no. The story continues:

Sam Stoltzfus, an Old Order historian and writer who lives in Gordonville, spoke with a number of people present at the session with the president. … An Amish woman … that morning had presented a quilt to the president with a card thanking him for his leadership of the country.

Bush said he would like to talk to the quilter and her family.

So the Secret Service invited the family to meet the president. Friends wanted to come along, and the entire assembly eventually numbered about 60. …

Stoltzfus reports: “It took a while to get them through the metal detectors as these were farmers and shop men, with vice grips, pocket knives, and nuts and bolts in their pockets. Some ladies had baby gear. All pockets had to be emptied.”

Once the Amish were “found not to be a serious threat to national security,” they were allowed in and waited about 30 minutes for the president to appear. … Bush said he had never met any Amish before and was curious about why the men were wearing straw hats rather than black wool hats.

The Amish explained that they wear cooler straw in summer. Bush tried on a hat. “One of the young girls wanted to give [him] a whoopie pie cookie,” Stoltzfus says. “Bush declined it. The Secret Service man took it, as presidents aren’t supposed to eat untested food.”

At the end of the session, Bush reportedly told the group, “I trust God speaks through me. Without that, I couldn’t do my job.”

Whether the Amish fell over dead or not, hearing these words, Stoltzfus neglected to say. I ask you, in any case: Wouldn’t you like to give the president a whoopie pie cookie? I sure would -- right between his beady little eyes. My guess is the Amish don’t know a lot about the First Amendment, or that most people who go around saying, “God speaks through me,” are locked away in mental wards, where they belong.

"Listen,” says Bush in his inimitable syntax. “It's hard to be a faith-based program if you can't practice faith. And the message to you is, we're changing the culture here in America.’"

We certainly are -- one whoopie pie at a time.

Peter Kurth is the author of international bestselling books including Anastasia: The Riddle of Anna Anderson, Isadora: A Sensational Life, and a biography of the anti-fascist journalist Dorothy Thompson, American Cassandra: The Life of Dorothy Thompson. His essays have appeared in Salon, Vanity Fair, New York Times Book Review, and many others. Peter lives in Burlington, Vermont. He can be reached at: Visit his website at:


Other Articles by Peter Kurth


* Beam Me Up, Mrs. Williams
* Such Emptiness! Such Depth of “Preparedness!”
* Absent on AIDS
* King James and King George

* Beheadings
* F--k this, Dick!
* Reagan Idiosis
* Chickenhawk Chic
* Letter to Mars
* Robbing "Defeat" to Pay "Appall"
* Standing Small
* Bible Time
* One Man's Flip Is Another Man's Flop
* Kee-reist is More Like It
* Star Wars
* The Breast That Ate Pittsburgh
* Monkey See, Monkey Do
* Crank Call
* A Cynic's Guide to the Top Stories of 2003
* Talking Turkey
* Let Them Drink Coke
* The Gang that Couldn’t Talk Straight On Iraq
* Party Rules