Friday, July 3, 2009

Jay Wexler's "Holy Hullabaloos"

Jay Wexler teaches at the Boston University School of Law. He studied religion at the University of Chicago Divinity School and law at Stanford, and worked as a clerk to U.S. Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. He has published numerous academic articles, and reviews, as well as nearly three dozen short stories and humor pieces in outlets such as Spy and McSweeney's Internet Tendency.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Holy Hullabaloos: A Road Trip to the Battlegrounds of the Church/State Wars, and reported the following:
Kind of the main point of Holy Hullabaloos--though I don't say it explicitly in the book--is that we should see if we can get anywhere in our perennial debates over church and state by just chilling out a little. So much of our "conversation" about these controversial issues takes the form of angry shouting, intolerant badmouthing, and cruel ridiculing. I don't mind ridicule, so long as it's good-natured and parceled out equally to all parties (including to oneself). The experiment of Holy Hullabaloos is to see what happens when we use humor to talk about religion and government. Not "look at what an idiot you are" kind of humor but more of the "boy the world is confusing and difficult and we're all trying like a bunch of goofballs to try to make sense of it" kind of humor.

On page 99 of the book, I wrap up an imagined conversation among the Justices of the Supreme Court regarding a real case from a while back involving a challenge by the ACLU to a holiday display in Pittsburgh. The display included a very large Christmas tree, a large but not quite as large menorah, and a sign about religious pluralism. The question was whether this display, taken as a whole, "endorsed" religion in violation of the First Amendment. Pretty much each justice had his or her own idea of what message the display expressed. It's kind of standard for professors, when teaching cases like this one, to ridicule the justices for engaging in such a silly exercise. But in my little play, when I have Justice Brennan freaking out about the display, Justice Stevens breaking out into a "small dance," and Justice O'Connor adjourning the meeting for lunch, my point is not to criticize, but rather to show that--like all of us--these judges are simply trying their best to navigate the murky mess of our religiously-clothed public square.
Read more about Holy Hullabaloos at the publisher's website, learn more about the author at Jay Wexler's faculty webpage.

--Marshal Zeringue