Ho ho howdy folkses! Welcome to the Sixth Day of our second annual The Twelve Days of Shitmas celebration. Our Day Five offering was a Christmas story in spirit only with its themes of charity, generosity and redemption and its primary story elements derived from one of the most famous Christmas stories ever written, but it was otherwise devoid of the usual trappings and customs we usually associate with the holiday and featured no references to the day's religious significance. Today's program, on the other hand is all about religious significance, albeit told from a very particular American Evangelical perspective, and it all but asphyxiates the viewer beneath an avalanche of anemic Christian platitudes, insidious fundamentalist group-think and pedestrian songs of praise. Plus it's got a creepily soft-spoken, sleepy-eyed robot who knows the Bible like the back of his silver metal claws.

Shitmas is the reason for the season.

We're posting a brand new review of a Christmas Special every other day, culminating in what we consider the worst of the bunch on Christmas morning. It's the gift that keeps on shitting all Shitmas long.

I know it's only our second year of this feature and it would therefore be premature to say that any particular patterns are emerging in the sorts of specials we present, but I find it mighty curious that last year on this date we presented a silly sing-along special featuring an annoying robot and a bunch of over-enthusiastic children which I repurposed satirically to be about a religious cult, because this year we're presenting a silly sing-along special featuring an annoying robot and a bunch of over-enthusiastic children that actually is about a religious cult.

It's the kind of symbiosis that, from a writer's perspective at least, would normally please me mightily, but this thing hits me maybe just a little too close to personal experience. No, I've never been in a cult...but oh how those Evangelists have tried.

Kindly indulge me as I tear off on a brief polemic rant:

Y'all know me as that obnoxiously opinionated slinger of snark and occasionally amusing, but far-too-often didactic and self-indulgent articles about weird, bad or obscure pop culture artifacts, but I am so much more.

I'm also a filthy, unrepentant, Godless heathen, and because I don't identify with one particular religious movement or another, I've often become the target of "concerned" Evangelicals who fear for the ultimate disposition of my eternal soul. At least that's what they claim as they seek to absorb me into their particular brand of Christian-flavored social conditioning.

I can get along with almost anybody. In fact my wife says if somebody doesn't like me they must be doing something wrong. Of course she's biased, but she also knows me better than anyone else on the planet. Because my parents were bitter lapsed Catholics, however I grew up feeling a vague mistrust of organized religion, and church people actually kind of frightened me. When I was old enough to start seeking some spiritual truth on my own I set those preconceptions aside and decided to look into what I'd missed by being raised passively as a somewhat grumpy agnostic.

Pastafarianism notwithstanding. Actually I don't believe in that either...but I kinda wish I did.

I've shared worship with Catholics and discovered that they love guilt and ceremony. Likewise Jews love guilt and Chinese food, Black Baptists love fiery sermons and raucous music, Episcopalians love coffee and committees, Muslims love humility and routine, Hindus love garish festivals and unclarified butter, Buddhists love peace and quiet, and Quakers love pretty much everybody. It turns out that the basic moral tenets of all major religions can be boiled down to the same basic principle: whenever possible you should try not to be a dick.

Unfortunately I also met some Evangelicals. I have no problem with faith or worship or Christianity or any other religion, but I do have a problem with having any of those things forcibly shoved down my throat while I'm trying to eat my lunch. You know, in those 15 minutes I have to myself before I go back to work helping a homeless person connect with the appropriate housing agency, or making sure someone with schizophrenia is taking their meds consistently and getting enough to eat. What I'm saying is why not put the energy they're wasting flapping their jaws at me into doing a little direct good for someone else instead?

Evangelicals are obsessed with three things: the Rapture, letting everyone know what martyrs they are and making converts so they can have more friends to complain with about how unfairly everyone treats them. As I've mentioned in previous articles I'm married to a Catholic, but she's never once tried to convert me. Say what you will about Catholics, and there may be a lot to be said, they simply do not give a shit about my personal salvation, and that's something I can heartily appreciate.

So there's the gauntlet I'm throwing down and here's a warning: this review might piss some people off...and you know what? I can live with that.

Colby's Clubhouse was created by California pastor Peter Jacobs and his wife Hanekke as a series of record albums featuring original Christian songs for children, sung by the titular Robot and a screeching gaggle of his underage followers. A few direct-to-video specials were produced in the 1980's and early 90's, leading to a television series for the Christian-themed Trinity Broadcasting Network that ran for 43 episodes from 1995-2000. It's Almost Christmas was the fourth episode of the first season.

The opening credits gives us a pretty good idea of the kind of torture we're about to endure, with a montage of school play shenanigans from various Colby episodes and a Kidz-Bop-style chorale of slightly off-key tweens and tots posing the penetrating musical question "Have you ever wanted to be with friends who love God and really believe?"

Well I thought I did, but now I'm not so sure.

We open with a little girl named Delana reading a letter, allegedly from a 12 year-old viewer in Texas, who's asking what kind of stuff Colby can do. "Colby is a computer and he has the whole Bible programmed into his system," she explains, and he plays music so they can all sing songs about Jesus together. She says she wants to share why Colby and his Clubhouse are so special to her. It's all because of what happened the previous Christmas, which she describes as "The very best Christmas of my life!" when she'd first encountered the tuneful automaton's musical theater-loving sect.

She recites her dialog like she's delivering an eighth grade book report.

We fade back to the Christmas in question, at the Clubhouse itself, where the whole gang of glassy-eyed disciples is busy decorating for the upcoming high holy holiday.

Hope it doesn't rain.

The kids all shout emphatically at each other about how much they love this time of year and as we hear the tell-tale chords of a cheap electronic keyboard, they all form a dance line and sing a song called "It's Almost Christmas."

Featured performers include:

Token Black Girl #1, whom we will not see again.

Maurice, executive by day, wild man by night.

Overalls Girl, who puts on shows for her stuffed animals.

The one with the hat.

So the song ends and one of the kids shouts "Hey! Let's go look at the lights!" They all really like to shout.

The whole gang heads outside with Colby in tow, and the shiny, misshapen theocrat says "Oh, My! This is so exciting I can hardly wait!"

Every time he talks there's a bunch of little "bleep-bloop" computer noises like you'd hear in a generic 60's sci-fi movie, where some egghead scientist guy is waiting for a computer the size of a city block to spit out a futuristic paper punch-card with the solution to some conundrum vital to the plot.

Overalls Girl asks if everyone is ready, and when they answer in the affirmative--by shouting, of course--she plugs in the lights. They all "ooh" and "ahh" and fall over themselves to express how beautiful they are, and Colby loves them so darn much he wants to keep them up all year 'round.

Overalls Girl shatters his dreams of perpetual illumination, however, saying "Sorry, Colby. Christmas lights are only for Christmas time."

"Negative! My will is law! Stone the heretic!" *Bleep! Bloop!*

Just then one of the light bulbs pops...then another and another, hit by some projectile flung from behind the fence. One of the boys sees the culprit of the attack peeking over at them and yells to the others.

A backwards baseball hat is 90's shorthand for "juvenile delinquent who smokes pot and listens to rap music."

Some of the kids catch and bodily drag the vandal into the Clubhouse courtyard. In the melee the perp's hat falls off and the kids are all shocked to see that it's a girl, and we in the audience are substantially less shocked to see that it's Delana from the opening sequence.

Colby asks her what her name is, and without turning to look at him she replies "who cares?"

Colby claims that he cares, which--I gotta warn you, girl--is exactly how they try to get their hooks into you.

When Delana turns and sees that big, lumpy, pot-bellied, silver monstrosity staring back at her it gives her a nasty start. She asks sneeingly "Who or what is that?"

A club member I'll call Token Black Girl #2 steps in with her hideous poinsettia sweater to explain again, in case we all missed it, that "Colby is a computer and has the whole Bible programmed into his system." She says it with precisely the inflection Delana used when she said it earlier, so it must be one of the ritual liturgical responses they use as they worship him.

"Tell us again about Leviticus and why we hate gay people! That's our favorite!"

A slightly older kid who thinks he's John Travolta steps up and asks her how she was knocking out the Christmas lights. She pulls out a slingshot that looks like something from The Little Rascals. Next, a girl I'll call Future Karen steps over and grills Delana as to why she'd do such a mean thing to them when they were just minding their own business, loving god and grooving with their robot.

Future Karen already looks like a housewife and mother of twelve, asking to speak to the manager at a Wendy's because a hispanic family got the last Frosty dessert and she has to wait ten whole minutes while the machine is refilled.

Things rapidly devolve into a pissy, bickering standoff where Delana is making fun of Colby and the "stupid clubhouse" while the deeply offended congregation fall over themselves to defend them.

Colby magnanimously suggests that perhaps Delana might like to take a look inside, and as she struts haughtily past him he reminds the gang that they're a family, God's family, and they should be nice to Delana so they can maybe lure her in and make her one of them...which certainly scans with my own Evangelical Christian experiences. They're always on the prowl for vulnerable, impressionable people so they can earn the sweet holy merit they believe they'll get from converting them.

Delana lays down a bumptious little gauntlet of her own now, aiming her slingshot here and there and boldly claiming "I don't believe in families, I'm not even sure if I believe in God!" The other kids stand open-mouthed and slack-jawed at this outrageous assertion, as if they've never encountered anyone beyond their own little Fundamentalist bubble or heard anything at all about the rich spectrum of theological beliefs that exists outside of it...and I'm sure they haven't.

Delana explains that she's never had a real family, and that every foster family she's ever had has given her up, so she's decided she doesn't need anyone but herself. Colby says he remembers now that the Miller family had told him they were taking in a foster child. He asks Delana and she confirms that she is that kid.

Colby keeps extensive files on all children and teens within a three mile radius of the Clubhouse.

Colby tells Delana how excited the Millers have been that she's coming to live with them, but she brushes him away, saying sure, that's how they all start, but eventually they'll get tired of her and send her away like the rest of the foster families. She says she's her own family and that's all she needs.

Colby explains that some of the kids in his, his Clubhouse have both a mother and father, some have only one parent and some live with their grandparents. Conspicuously absent are any references to kids with two mommies or two daddies, but I digress. He says that although they all come from different situtations they're all part of a much bigger family. He invites Delana to join them as we segue into another song called "The Family of God."

Featured performers include:

Li'l Pinkie, just a few years away from a life-changing encounter with LSD.

The one with the teeth.

The song ends and Delana says all that "Family of God" shit is fine and dandy for them. They're good kids and they belong in a nice place like the Clubhouse, though I think that last part might be a subtle bit of shade because that shack is clearly a shithole. Delana says she's a bad kid and therefore doesn't deserve to be a part of God's family.

Colby counters that everyone does bad things but that God loves them anyway, unless they're Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Catholic, Pagan, Atheist, Agnostic, transgender, gay or on welfare. He says that God's love can make you good, and heal all of the hurt in a person's heart.

Delana calls just a little bit of bullshit. She says these soft, coddled, well-fed goody-two-shoes can't possibly understand what she's gone through, reiterating that they're just plain good and she's just plain bad, and besides every time she lets anyone get close to her they abandon her anyway.

This leads us to a flashback where a woman is on the phone telling someone "it's just not woking out," and asking "how soon could you place her?" as a toddler version of Delana chews on her fingers and pretends to haz a sad.

She's been so neglected she's had to resort to self-cannibalization.

We fade back to the Clubhouse where Token Black Girl #2 is telling Delana that she totally understands everything she's going through because she never even knew her real dad...and I'll try not to read too much into the fact that they chose the only Black person with any dialog to be the only other kid besides Delana with a broken family.

Token Black Girl #2 says it hurts sometimes when she thinks about it, but at least she knows she has a Heavenly Father who will never leave her.

Now Future Karen steps to offer up some false equivalency bullshit about how when her Grandmother died she "was sad for a long time, even though I knew I would see her again in heaven," because that's exactly the same level of psychic trauma as being shuffled from foster home to foster home for your entire childhood.

Go back to Wendy's, Karen.

All this chatter gives Colby an excuse to talk about the different kinds of hurt we all feel, and how that's why we need each other and that's why we need God, too. He says the most important gift we can ever give one another is ourselves, and that God did just that when he sent Jesus to Earth and gave us Christmas.

If you think that sounds like segue to another musical number you're astute, intelligent and probably damned good-looking, too.

This one's a sappy, insipid offering called "Unending Love," and features Colby himself as preacher/soloist. This is also where things start getting really heavy with the "robot cult" vibe.

Suffer the little children...and everyone watching at home.

Also featured:

Stephen (with a "ph"), who after three unsuccessful rounds of conversion therapy would leave the church, marry a guy he met on Grindr and become a prominent lawyer with the ACLU.

Stephen (with a "ph") sings his solo directly to Delana, and we can see that the siren-call of Colby's minions is beginning to wear her down.

"Why did I even come here? I should've knocked over a liquor store instead."

The kids finish the song and Future Karen observes "It must have been hard for God the Father to let his his only son leave heaven and come down to Earth." John Travolta Kid says "You know, I never thought about that!"

"I guess I've been too busy racing hot rods, greasing my hair and dancing in discos."

Maurice the Wild-Man Executive says it must have been worth it for God to lose his only son just so he could have all of them in his family, five-star gems of Christian soldiers that they are, and Colby uses that statement to refocus on Delana's indoctrination, observing that perhaps now she's starting to realize just how much God loves her.

He furthermore asserts that is why she was brought to the Clubhouse, not to fuck with some wealthy, entitled brats and perform a little misdemeanor vandalism, but as part of God's master plan to lead her to the true path of robot worship and Christian contemporary music.

Token Black Girl #2 now tells us that her mom always says Christmas is special not because of presents but because of giving, and that every Christmas Eve the two of them go down to the local mission and help serve meals to homeless people.

I'm actually really impressed that she said "homeless people" rather than just "the homeless." We avoid the latter term in my line of work because it can be both distancing and dehumanizing. Kudos to them, but perhaps they might make it more than an annual event. People are hungry every day of the year, not just on Christmas Eve.

So Token Black Girl #2 explains that it's so special for her to be able to give God's love in an occasional, targetted way to people who could clearly use it a lot more consistently, and Colby says that she can only give it at all because God gave her that love first. God gives us all so much love, he insists, that it overflows, and sometimes you just have to share it. Sometimes, in fact you even have to sing to let it all out!

But do you have to sing right now?

Sadly they do. This time it's something called "Come to Worship Jesus," which is mostly a smooth-jazzed-up version of "Oh Come, Let Us Adore Him," but with a few extra words added so Peter and Hanneke Jacobs can claim copyright on it.

Featured Performers include:

80's pop songstress Tiffany.

Bow-Head Girl. She's really into crochet.

Overalls Girl (again).

The one with whatever the hell that is she's wearing.

During the song there are slow-motion, frosted-lens fade-ins of each of the clubhouse kids placing a figure onto a nativity set. As the song reaches its last chorus we see Future Karen handing Delana something wrapped in a red cloth. Delana walks over to the table, unwraps it, and places the final figure of Baby Jesus in the center of the display.

Then she's led to the fire pit for a mug of cocoa and ritual branding with a hot iron cross.

Next thing you know Delana is hand in hand with Future Karen, an arm raised in praise and singing to Jesus with the rest of the Clubhouse gang.

Resistance is futile. You will be assimilated.

Apparently, though she's still not completely convinced, especially after the humiliation of that painful buttock branding. She says she just doesn't get how everybody there talks about God like he's right in the room with them, like they can just go up and chat with him whenever they want. John Travolta Kid insists God is right there, and Colby elucidates, saying "He's like a best friend that will never leave you."

Delana eagerly asks "How can I make God my best friend?"

"You can't. He's already mine!"

Delana is confused, asking whether she has to be good before God will come live in her heart, but Colby tells her you let God in first and then he makes you good, that he'll even pull out your old heart and give you a brand new one.

If only it were that easy.

This idea that God can magically solve your problems and transform your life is a holy carrot Evangelists love to dangle before desperate people's eyes, but without offering the additional emotional resources necessary for real healing and self-actualization. Trauma doesn't go away because you pray about it, it requires relentlessly honest and often painful self-evaluation, it demands that you ask yourself hard questions and accept wrenching truths about yourself you might not want to believe. It also usually requires secular professional help from a trained therapist, counsellor or psychiatrist.

True spiritual growth, too isn't so much about supplication to an outside will as it is about strengthening your own. If faith in God can give you the courage to face down your challenges and traumas and do the hard work necessary to overcome them then it's a positive and useful thing, but that's not what Colby and company are selling here.

This is the empty promise of a miraculous, deus ex machina solution, a wispy phantom made manifest by a clan-like social contract and pie-in-the-sky platitudes. Ultimately it's a promise that can't be kept, but it's such a tempting notion that people often can't move beyond it even when it's repeatedly let them down.

Just ask all those folks who got screwed out of their money by faith-shilling shysters like Jimmy Swaggart, Jim Bakker and Robert Tilton. These guys all weathered major scandals ranging from being caught with a prostitute to rape allegations to financial fraud, with Swaggart being defrocked, Bakker doing jail time and Tilton being forced off the air for a time by some absolutely damning reporting by ABC. Once the smoke had cleared and sentences had been served, however they all went right back to fleecing the same old gullible victims in the same old well-worn ways.

Tilton was particularly brazen in his pleas for the faithful's cash.

So Colby clarifies that God will forgive not only all the bad things you've already done, he will also forgive any bad things you're going to do, which I think has proven mighty convenient for a teeming host of religious hypocrites over the centuries, including the ignominious trio from the preceeding paragraph.

All Delana has to do, he says, is to willingly let God into her heart. So the gang all join hands while she prays, apologizes for being a bad kid and thanks God for giving her a second chance.

"I wouldn't say no if you sent a little cash my way, too."

Once the prayer is complete The One With the Hat says "Well, looks like you have a family now. All of us!"

Delana proclaims that this will be the best Christmas she's ever had, and Colby gives his final benediction, urging everyone out there in Fundamentalist TV land to let God into their hearts and ask for His forgiveness, too. Amen!

The End.

I wouldn't be so hot under the collar about all of this if Evangelical hypocrisy didn't have such dire real-world consequences. As a voting bloc they've elevated a toxically narcissistic tyrant to the White House and supported him unquestioningly in every moral outrage he's committed, however dehumanizing, violent or anti-Christian, and they form the rigid backbone of a political party that routinely fights to deny basic human services like social security and food assistance to poor people and historically disenfranchised minorities because, as they claim, these folks just need to learn some "personal responsibility," and all of the systemic inequalities they've experienced will simply melt away in the light of their newfound pluck and determination.

It begs the question: What would Jesus do? But I doubt the Evangelicals would like the answer.

Fun fact: The highest concentrations of food insecurity in the United States directly correlate with the highest concentrations of people identifying as Evangelical Christians.

My personal experiences certainly haven't endeared them to me either. Evangelicals approach you with the arrogant assumption that you have no valid beliefs of your own and probably haven't ever really considered your own spirituality. The fact is I've studied world religions extensively and pondered deeply about theological and spiritual matters for decades, and with neither the advantages nor the burdens of having been raised in a particular belief system as a child I've simply come to a more nuanced conclusion that better suits my needs.

If these discussions were a two-way street, where both they and I could express our beliefs in an open and respectful way, I'd engage with them enthusiastically, but unfortunately they never are. They are right and I am wrong and that is that. In their eyes I'm apparently determined to take that one-way buggy ride to the hot place, with a flaming pitchfork stuck up my back passage, to be buried neck-deep in demon shit for the rest of eternity.

I know I am a deeply imperfect person, but I've worked hard to confront and purge my innate flaws and prejudices. More often than not I have done so successfully. I am not a God-fearing person by any means, but I strive to live truthfully, with as noble a purpose as I can, doing good works and easing suffering wherever I am able. I don't waste time worrying about my prospects in a potential afterlife, though I do actually believe in one. I'm just trying to do my best to be helpful and kind right here and right now.

I try to accept the beliefs of of others with grace and respect, but I can't help feeling that Fundamentalist Evangelicals are just plain wrong. Besides, a deity who values praise of itself over the virtues of service and compassion is a deity with whom I do not wish to associate.

Merry Christmas, folkses.

Next Installment: December 15th!

As always, Cheers and thanks for reading!

Written by Bradley Lyndon in December, 2020.

Questions? Comments? Expressions of disgust? Why not skip the middleman and complain to me directly?

comments powered by Disqus

Go ahead, steal anything you want from this page,
that's between you and the vengeful wrath of your personal god...