Captain Simon Suggs: Old Timey Televangelist

Upon my reading of Twain’s “The Notorious Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” and Hooper’s excerpt from “The Adventures of Captain Simon Suggs”, I could not help but notice the similarities between them. Besides the obvious use of the vernacular, I drew a parallel between both stories in reference to the “con man” character. Each story features some sort of reprobate personage that cheats money from the pockets of normally kind folk. In Twain’s story, we see that the con man himself is later conned. However in Hooper’s story, it is not the con man himself that is conned, but the clever idea of “playing along” to the crowd’s nature that wins Simon Suggs the prize. He forms a bond with the people involved, becomes one of their fold, and charms his way into their purses and checkbooks. This is very unlike the character Smiley from “The Notorious Jumping Frog of Calaveras County”; he simply bets on everything possible and is outwitted by a stranger. That relationship was a quick acquaintanceship, whereas Simon Suggs weasels his way into the hearts of his victims. The setting of Simon Suggs’ treachery, the revival camp, couldn’t help but remind me of the awfully scandalous televangelists that have been popping up all over daytime television over the past few decades.

Preachers, ministers, pastors, priests, or whatever the title of one’s spiritual mentor, normally get to know their congregation quite well. They serve as role models, counselors, and leaders of their communities. Many even attend seminary or receive some form of theological training. In all aspects, the spiritual mentor who guides you should be there to guide you, without thought of his own agenda. However, certain people cannot contain their greed, grow selfish, and turn to manipulation of their trusting flock to make money.

Televangelism can be defined as ‘evangelism through religious programs on television…usually hosted by a fundamentalist Protestant minister….conducts services and often asks for donations” (Britannica). A few televangelists have used the ability to preach to massive amounts of people via the television to their own scurrilous advantages. Many scandals have occurred over the past few decades, ranging from sexual misdeeds, abusive behaviour towards staff or family, to faking supernatural abilities. But what is relevant to the stories we’ve read is the issue of money. Notice that the above definition states “often asks for donations”. That is not a requirement to donate, simply a request to further the mission of Christianity. However, in the mid 1980’s, a man named Oral Roberts “told a TV audience God would ‘call him home’…if he didn’t raise $8 million. He ended up raising $9 million”. Also establishing a university in Oklahoma, Roberts and family were later sued by that particular university for using “University money for their own personal use” (Popeater). Another desperate man, Bob Larson, started to have visions, “like the one where God told him to raise $1,890,000 to ‘revive Christian radio’”. Supposedly, at the ‘1998 Ectoplasm Tour’ he let his true colours slip, proclaiming, “This is the most sacred aspect of this ministry!” whilst holding up his wallet (Televangelist Hall of Fame). As we can see, these men have charmed their way into their followers’ checkbooks by manipulating their religious convictions, just as Simon Suggs has at the revival camp.

Captain Simon Suggs spent his time at the camp “grovelling in the dust…gave vent to even more than the requisite number of sobs, and groans, and heartpiercing cries” (section 136-7). After his repentance, he told the surrounding believers of his vision of ‘the alligator’, whom is concluded to be Satan, and how he fought him off. Towards the end of the story, Suggs takes up a collection to “start a little ‘sociation close to me” (section 142) as he states his own monetary dilemma cannot support the start of a new church near him. Suggs very quickly and wisely manipulates those who try to slink out the door by throwing out the word “blessing”. He speaks to their spiritual beliefs, concocting a ploy to pray over the money at the swamp (where his horse is conveniently hitched) so he will be alone with the money. Of course, we as readers know that due to his exact monetary problem that he used in combination with religious manipulation, he is going to simply run off with the money. He does it! Suggs pulls off the ultimate religious betrayal, trading the spiritual for money; he is the Judas of that revival camp. He, like the preachers cited above, is someone the world would be a little better without.

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Bob Larson, the scandal man.

Check this out: Oral Roberts…preachin’.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rGi_vRS9zH8