If Texas Baptists had a patron saint, the Rev. George W. Truett would almost certainly get the nod. So it was a solemn occasion when the great preacher from Dallas arrived in "Jerusalem on the Brazos" in 1941 to preach a series of revival services at Baylor University, the planet's largest Baptist institution of higher learning. Then loud alarm clocks started ringing in the attic of cavernous Waco Hall, on three-minute intervals.
This pandemonium was, of course, orchestrated by Baylor's Nose Brotherhood. This club for satirists was born in 1926 and quickly became known for its "Pink Tea" spectaculars, which offered "vertical exercising" on a campus that, from 1845-1996, banned dancing. The secret society was "just a fun-loving bunch of boys," Brother Dude Nose Harrison told the Dallas Morning News in 1931.
The Nose became the NoZe in 1965 when, in an event that has achieved mythic status, a campus bridge that once a year was ceremonially painted pink mysteriously went up in flames. The brothers were temporarily banished, but began appearing in their signature glasses, fake noses and tacky wigs.
The question now facing America is whether the activities of the NoZe Brotherhood could cost the Republican Party control of the U.S. Senate.
Alas, this is not satire.
Kentucky Democrat Jack Conway has asked why Republican Rand Paul, in the ominous words of a television advertisement, was a "member of a secret society that called the Holy Bible a 'hoax,' that was banned for mocking Christianity and Christ? Why did Rand Paul once tie a woman up, tell her to bow down before a false idol and say his god was 'Aqua Buddha'?"
Being accused of "anti-Christian" activities is not a good thing in the Bible Belt. As the Washington Post put it, Paul stands accused of participating in a "secret society while at Baylor University that published mocking statements regarding the Bible."
The Conway campaign added: "This is an ad about things he did. He has failed to deny any of these charges."
At this point, I should stress that while I am a Baylor graduate from the same era as Paul, I am not, nor have I ever been, a member of the NoZe Brotherhood. I did know some NoZe folks, including one who became a White House speechwriter, and like all Baylor alumni I know that no non-NoZe knows the no-nonsense non-NoZe news that the NoZe knows.
The Republican has acknowledged participating in NoZe pranks. Meanwhile, one of his Baylor colleagues told the Louisville Courier-Journal: "We aspired to blasphemy and he flourished in it."
Sounds like the NoZe to me.
During my years at Baylor, the secret society mocked all kinds of people, including Dan Rather, Richard Nixon, Watergate special prosecutor Leon Jaworski (a powerful Baylor alum) and Bob Woodward of the Washington Post. I was present when Woodward was made an honorary member -- Brother Water NoZe, or some variation on that theme. As I recall, the NoZe crashed his campus lecture, presenting him with his own plunger, while seated on a rolling commode.
The NoZe mocked all things Baptist, targeting the many sacred cows that resided on campus. These NoZe drippings rarely achieved brilliance and often veered into college-life stupidity.
Nevertheless, the Baylor Library maintains a modest NoZe archive. While the brotherhood has been exiled from campus several times, its official historian -- the late Brother Short Nose (William B.) Long -- served on the Baylor board of regents and received his alma mater's highest honor, The Founders Medal.
Drawing on this respected physician's book, "The Nose Brotherhood Knows: A Collection of Nothings and Non-Happenings, 1926-1965," Baylor Magazine published a 2003 report that probed the philosophy behind the brotherhood's attempts to "put the 'pie' in piety" and "the 'pun' in punctilious."
The bottom line: It is, as a rule, quite dangerous to mix satire and religion.
One of the NoZe -- it may have been Brother Bilbo BaggiNoze or Brother IgNoZetius Reilly -- told the magazine: "I have no problems whatsoever with Christianity, but I think blind Christianity is a mistake. People are sometimes afraid to examine other religions, but it just makes your beliefs stronger in the end. I don't think a Christian mission means that we can't look at and study everything in the world. Furthermore, if education is really the goal of each student here ... certainly they'd want to be exposed to as many opinions and as many things as possible."