May 15, 2018


The Faith of John Glenn (TOM WOLFE, Dec. 9, 2016, wsj)

The idea is to answer personal questions as remotely and briefly and in as moribund a deadpan as possible. That they proceed to do...until it's John Glenn's turn.

The others can't believe it. The man's ready with a discourse on the subject, complete with sincerity-steeped rhetorical inflections.

"I don't think any of us could really go on with something like this if we didn't have pretty good backing at home, really," Glenn says. "My wife's attitude toward this has been the same as it has been all along through all my flying. If it is what I want to do, she is behind it, and the kids are too, a hundred percent."

What the hell is he talking about? I don't think any of us could really go on with something like this... Schirra leans into his mike and says, "My wife has agreed that professional opinions are mine, career is mine." What possible difference could a wife's attitude make about an opportunity this big? What was with this guy?

It keeps on in that fashion. Some reporter gets up and asks them all about their religious affiliations (religious affiliations?)--and Glenn tees off again.

"I am a Presbyterian," he says, "a Protestant Presbyterian, and I take my religion very seriously, as a matter of fact." He starts telling them about all the Sunday schools he has taught at and the church boards he has served on and all the church work that he and his wife and his children have done. "I was brought up believing that you are placed on Earth here more or less with sort of a 50-50 proposition, and this is what I still believe. We are placed here with certain talents and capabilities. It is up to each of us to use those talents and capabilities as best you can. If you do that, I think there is a power greater than any of us that will place the opportunities in our way, and if we use our talents properly, we will be living the kind of life we should live."

A power greater than any of us! From the lips of a flying jock! The others do their best to locate some piety and stay in the game. Gus Grissom says, "I consider myself religious. I am a Protestant and belong to the Church of Christ. I am not real active in church, as Mr. Glenn is"--Mister Glenn--"but I consider myself a good Christian still." Deke Slayton says, "As far as my religious faith is concerned, I am a Lutheran, and I go to church periodically." Alan Shepard says, "I am not a member of any church. I attend the Christian Science Church regularly." He doesn't feel compelled to mention that when he went to church, it was because his wife was an ardent member. It was hard slogging, but Glenn had given them no choice. The wise thing was to imply somehow that you had piety to burn.

Glenn never gave up. He kept the pressure on. In his speech to Congress after the historic flight that made him the first American to orbit the Earth, he said some things that nobody else in the world could have gotten away with, even in 1962. He said, "I still get a lump in my throat when I see the American flag passing by."

Yet for all of this, I never see mention of Glenn's importance in the religious history of the United States. 

[originally posted: 12/09/16]

Posted by at May 15, 2018 5:40 PM