Tuesday, March 25, 2008

A Parable

I am too often reminded of The Lightning-Rod Man by Herman Melville.

In the 19th century, peddlers traveled from town to town and door to door making fraudulent claims to sell their questionable wares like snake oils and lightning rods. Melville's tale starts on a thunderous night with a doleful knock on the door from such a huckster.

The hard-sell begins. The storm is not "fine," it is "awful." The hearth is not warm, it is the most dangerous place. Do not pull the bell wire, it conducts electricity. Be scared. Buy this rod. It will save you.

But the host is smarter than his visitor. He asks questions. He knows that the rod can rust or break. He knows the peddler is not divine. He throws him out of his home.

Door-to-door salesman are not part of our modern world, but we can still recognize the lightning-rod man today. He comes during a storm, strikes fear with his stories, has something to sell, and has something to gain. The Lightning-Rod Man is an enduring parable about consumerism, religion, and politics. Buy me, pray to me, vote for me or you'll end up dead.

No comments: