Columns » Penny Post by Andrei Codrescu



White man speak with forked tongue. Literally. The state House in Michigan came a few votes short of prohibiting people from splitting their tongues. Fifty-three Republicans and Democrats voted against prohibiting the splitting of the tongue into two halves, in order to make it look like a serpent's, because it would infringe on a person's civil liberties. But 43 lawmakers voted in favor of prohibiting the forking of the tongue. Medically and esthetically tongue-splitting is dangerous and ugly, reasoned the nay-sayers, failing to see that the metaphorical consequences are even graver. The first persons to suffer from the prohibition against tongue-splitting would be politicians. Unable to speak with forked tongue, they might be obliged to speak the truth or at least stand firm on the side of a single opinion. They were voting, in short, for nothing less than prohibiting lying. Such a prohibition would not only eliminate politicians, but just about every human being. Science has determined that children begin lying spontaneously as soon as they begin speaking and do not stop until they are dead and cease speaking. To speak is to lie, said Plato, and nobody has been able to prove him wrong. The Cretan paradox has never stopped functioning since the birth of speech, but the Michigan legislature nearly put an end to it by fiat. The legislators were not fully aware of the depth of the forked tongue problem, but they are religious people who have an intuitive relationship with the biblical serpent, Christianity's first liar. So do people who actually go to the doctor and ask that their tongues be split. They do this, despite the risk of "excessive bleeding, infection, nerve damage, swelling and permanent speech impediment," to quote one representative. They split their tongues because they identify with the serpent and are eager to tempt Eve. Their beliefs are kin to those of the serpent-handlers who, taking their cue from the gospel of Mark, "will take up serpents" and "speak with new tongues." These folks reason -- and it may be the only time they do -- that having taken up serpents their new tongues should look like those of the faith-imbued vipers in their arms. This is a new thing indeed in a wondrous world of faith: no longer content to just speak in tongues that may or may not be new, they are now literally making themselves new tongues. Blessed be the poor in spirit because the Michigan legislature is on their side. Civil liberties live and plastic surgeons rejoice. Liars become literal and white man keep up the faith.

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