To God Or Not To God

By Eric Le Roy

Content 18+ I have always had a problem with God. I suppose that anyone who has shouted the words “God damn” as often I have (close to a million) can not in good faith (there I go again) declare himself a total atheist. Otherwise he would be crying out “Godless Damn!” Or, in a happier mood, “Praise the Nothingness!” In fact there are plenty of ‘atheist’ jokes, such as “There are no atheists in a foxhole.” My favorite is this – one I broke up after hearing: “I feel sorry for atheists because they have no one to talk to when they are having an orgasm.” Can you think of a better one?

But of course it all runs much deeper than that. When I was a clever young student eons ago, I used to take a swig of whatever I was clutching and pontificate (a.g.a.i.n I lapse) on the fact that God was just a figment of the collective imagination. I loved Nietzsche’s default dictum that “God did not create man (sic); man created God.” I suppose that I mostly still buy into that one. As a tutor in both English as a Second Language and World History,, I am fairly conversant with the beginnings of civilization and over the years I have learned to be impressed by the power of mythology. I understand now that Zeus and Aphrodite and Poseidon became gods simply because people had no better idea of how to describe the forces of nature and life as a whole. I mean, the sun rose and fell, the winds blew, flood and drought, feast and famine – what to call it? How to explain it? And more: How to stifle the existential terror that lay on the other side of every breath.

A rose is a rose, etc., and calling cancer ‘cancer’ doesn’t make it go away. But it does provide us with at least the illusion of control. (“Hey, I know what that malignant fucking tumor is up to, the rotten so-and-so.”). You think we don’t have mythology today? Well, then, what is a dollar bill? On the surface it looks like a worthless piece of paper with some old American guy’s face on it. But you can take it anywhere in that country and, by handing a certain stack of it over, walk away with cars, computers, ice cream and all the whiskey you want. Same with a plastic card, which in and of itself is equally as worthless.

Why can we do this ? It’s because we all agree on its (monetary) value. We believe in it collectively, and as long as we hold to this belief, the paper and the plastic– worthless minus the ‘faith’ , in which case it is no better than makeshift toilet paper or something to cut the cocaine into straight lines with, can purchase holidays in exotic places and expensive funerals in gilded caskets. Therefore, we believe in this concept – the dollar, the euro, the yen, etc. – which exists only in our imagination in the same way that the Egyptians agreed that the sun was a god, the Greeks imagined Dionysius and the Romans bowed to Jupiter. The same mythology holds true for our faith in the reality of Apple technology and Coca Cola. It is true because we imagine it to be true. And for no other reason.

So along came the Christians and chased the old gods away, replacing them with the One True God. And I think I know good reasons why this newfangled notion packed such a punch. I will discuss them: why they were compelling then and why they remain so to many people including me. But for the most part, I have never been able to distinguish between false gods and the REAL GOD. And over the years, as I saw no divine intervention when planes full of ‘innocent’ people were nosediving into the side of a mountain, or when little girls playing in the front yard with their balloons were abducted by pedophiles and raped, butchered, and left in ditches where the crows plucking out their eyes paid more attention to them than God ever did. All because Mom looked away for a split-second and Mr. Pervert Just Happened To Be driving down the street at Exactly That Moment – for these and sundry other examples I could dredge up, I have reached the seething conclusion that God is always Out To Lunch when you need ‘Him’. In other words, ‘He’ isn’t worth a shit in any practical sense..

So for all these years, it has not been a matter of not believing in God so much as just despising the negligent bastard, who is always on some kind of celestial holiday when ‘He’ is needed most.

Another problem I have had with God – with Christianity as a religion – is this idea that I should go about feeling guilty all the time. The whole Original Sin syndrome. My response is simple: the present-day human being who is willing to accept science knows only that he was a monkey once (which Christians will not accept), but before the origin of the universe some 14.5 billion years ago, he/she knows nothing. So, in fact, we don’t know where we really came from. Nor, quite obviously, do we have any idea at of all where we are going, although there are some very sharp people afoot (Yuval Avari, author of Sapiens being one of them) who seem convinced that as we evolve once and for all into Artificial Intelligence machines, it won’t matter anymore where we, as humans – who are only on the evolutionary track and not the final product at all – imagine to be our outcome; which is to say it will neither be in heaven nor somewhere in the stars but in a graveyard made by machines which have hacked our humanity and robbed us of our identities.

We will not exist anymore – not because of nuclear or chemical warfare – but because we became our technology and mired away our imagined souls amid a data-fueled Immensity that by then will know us better than we ever knew ourselves. It is already happening. The prelim to job interviews is often that the company surveys our FB posts and analyzes them for quirks and tendencies; there are also electronic devices which can determine our state of anxiety during the interview itself. Big Brother is no longer just watching us from the outside, but from the inside also. No more dirty little secrets, guys !! In the future you will be found guilty of the crime before you even committed it because the Big Data Crew will have sussed you out completely. .

The power of the human experience on earth has changed from the Religious to the Political to the Corporate to the Data-Driven. The future rulers of the world will be DATA. Right now, the Data is riddled with intelligence but devoid of emotion and morality. When the Data knows our thoughts as well as it does our inclinations, then it will be able to tell which Iranian boy at the age of 6 is in fact gay (long before the boy knows it himself) and turn him over to the Ayatollah for an early hanging. The prospective adulteress will be stoned to death long before she ever gets the dick in her mouth. I saw a bumper sticker which said, speaking of God, “Before you were in the womb, I knew you.” So will Big Data.

What about God then in the wake of all this? One can not dismiss Him (let’s stick to ‘Him’ just to avoid getting caught up in a rush hour pissing match full of vying pronouns) at least inasmuch as the world still numbers more of the Faithful than the Disbelievers. In fact, every day, it seems, a new fanatic is born, a new sect arises to seize the world and annihilate the infidels. Religion, per se, is dead only to those who reject blind, dogmatic mental orthodoxy in favor of sifting through the plain evidence provided by mathematics and science. And Data. So what do you want to do: get drunk on religion and be judged by Judge Lord, or sobered up once and for all by the dissecting machines that chased God away like buckshot aimed at a rabbit?

Now, it is a truism that as people age and the scythe-man cometh, they start to lose their bravado and return to the fold. And at this point, a lot of them start begging forgiveness and even asking to be ‘reborn’. (I have always loved that ‘reborn’ shit. A guy can be a complete heel for years and years and then, so he believes, by ‘accepting Christ as his Lord and Savior’, ALL his sins are forgiven, every last one of them, and he is thus, for all intents and purposes, ‘reborn’. The door to heaven, which has been slowly shutting every time he fucks somebody over, now swings open again like those of a Wild West saloon. Hey, what a bargain THAT is! Talk about a nickel whore ! Talk about a bunk in heaven going for a song!!

So pride blocks the way for me, and I am glad it does. It’s too late to start the Begging Game, the whining, “Lord, I meant well, I don’t know why I stole the money, screwed my best friend’s wife, robbed the bank and killed the teller and the guard, O Heavenly Father, what could I have been thinking? So P.L.E.A.S.E. FORGIVE ME !!.....You do? Really??? Well, thank you soooo much God. Can I get off my knees now?”

God would have to be a real sucker to buy it.

So, far from begging forgiveness, I have begun to feel sorry for God. After all, I have always rooted for the underdog. In China, where I have many students, most of them very young, God has about the same status as Santa Claus. It is a bit unnerving when an eight-year-old informs you that there is no God in the same manner of speaking that a bored relative would identify a distant cousin’s dead body at the morgue (“Yep that’s her!”) or a Saskatchewan landlord would hand you an eviction notice on the coldest day of the year. And God has been evicted too: a bounder, a ridiculous interloper, an imposter worthy only of scorn. Down at the Science Lab morgue he lies, vanquished. As that great pop song went, ‘just a stranger on a bus.’ One of us.

And to think: this was the deity that men sent other men to the stake and fire over, and these were the men and women who were burnt in full agreement with their fate and whose faith was never more pronounced than when rendered in their wild screams as the tongs of the searing flames bit them and melted their living organs to ash even as they gasped for breath. All that smoke and sizzle and screaming, that wild wild agony, all for God, all in the desperate hope of salvation.

I would have fled. I would have betrayed Christ a thousand times to avoid watching my dick turn to candle wax and my cheeks roast like piglets on a spit. I would have made a saint out of Judas, a role model out of Beelzebub. I would love to believe I wouldn’t, and who knows, maybe under the ultimate duress, I might surprise myself and dredge up the pluck to ‘play the man’ after all. But I am not going to announce it beforehand because I know myself.

There is no question, none at all, that many of those people were smarter and wiser than me. So what did they see and know that I can’t and don’t? Were they all fools? I meet many people today who seem insightful, clever, innovative, and even wise – thrifty in their business affairs and cautious in their dealings with other people; kind hearted types who will wish you a Happy Birthday and tell you to have a Nice Day – who seem to lose all reason when the conversation turns to religion. A spell comes over them, and one senses that this is something they have to clutch to themselves like blistering rosaries and never let loose of, this terrible magic that the dark and hawk-filled night commands like a seizure in the heart, a tsunami of the mind. Sometimes they are frightening, maybe as much as my vision of the Human Data Police, the ultimate rapist.

Those people then and now who are Believers, what do they want? Probably it mostly concerns a reprieve from nothingness, a ‘get-out-of-jail free’ ticket to avoid oblivion. Or maybe the imagined torments of Hell. Hey, I almost forgot how real Hell is to so many! Those everlasting ovens. Or would hell be as Sartre has it: eternity in a room with people you don’t like? Or, as a student wrote long ago when I was teaching with an assistantship at the university: being forced to sit in an auditorium forever, needing to pee and having to listen to someone sing out every name in the Greater Manhattan phone book to the music of “The Yellow Rose of Texas.” Again and again and again. Forever. And you really need to pee.

I myself fear not existing any longer. I mean, how can there be a Super Bowl without Eric watching? It is impossible ! But, more than that, I want somehow to be validated while I do exist. That’s what happens when you get old: you want to cry out to the passers by: “Hey I am still here!” – and they look around, vaguely, as if someone just let a fart. I want something to know that, as my unremarkable face fades into an Underworld Galaxy full of all the others, the everlasting Skid Row of Souls – as I disappear from view, as I am reduced to a shrunken particle, a group of specks, atoms and molecules free again to wander the Landscape of the Dead like the Hunter Gatherers of old, I WAS HERE!! I MATTERED!!! SOMEONE, SOMETHING KNEW ME AND ACCEPTED ME UNCONDITIONALLY.

Maybe loved me.

And that is the key, isn’t it? Religious faith has always been thus: As long as you respected the world and tread gently enough to do no psychopathic harm, a Force, an Essence, a Messenger of Understanding existed which fluffed the pillow of your existential, atheistic night, and said,

“Now lie down, little fellow, for here is where you start to dream.”

The great Christian author C.S. Lewis said (and I am not sure if I am quoting with total accuracy): “There is a god-shaped void in all of us.” And I have come to see, even against my will, my savage profanity, my rage and ridicule, that it is true.

I do not know, and I will die wondering, if there really is a God to fill up that void. But I know this much: When I walk into the great cathedrals and temples, I understand that it is better to forget the way and reason they were built: to flatter popes and buckle the poor as much as for the glory of God. There is something else that rises – gestalt – from the sum and total of their boards and stones and gold. Even against human will and in response to all human cynicism, there is a grandeur and it makes a catch in the breath. Maybe it’s just because you know that, for all folly and vice, millions of people have knelt here and humbled themselves. Those yielding spirits, those momentarily innocent beings. You feel their ancient and modern breath and you understand that some things are worthy of eternity after all. Even among sinners..

And indeed such glories, as strange and untouchable as imaginary justice for the Meek, seem, impossibly, to crown the air about those ceilings and, in the mosaic windows, capture the heart and mother and child and suffering and glory. And, there in Rome or Constantinople or among ancient ruins way up in the hills where the old centuries were lost, one feels, just for a second, the purity of it all, the majesty of vision, and capacity to believeth all things. And one leaves amid the timeless mutterings of faithful old women, probably the wives of husbands long dead. At this point it is impossible to know or not know. There is only radiance.

These sentiments are forgotten on the bus back to the hotel. But they come back; they come back too often to be ignored.

So in the end, I love the god I see in every lost dog on the street, every old soul kneeling in a cemetery. Every lamb led to the slaughter, every rebel or pacifist murdered by a firing squad, every raped woman and battered child, every man who thought he died a failure because that what was the world told him he was before he jumped from the bridge.

At such moments, the compassion I feel is what I imagine a just god, even as he retired to his inscrutable quarters, all miracles left on the shelf, would, if He were honest, hope that I felt.

Feel it, Eric, He would say, Believe it – He would tell me as he headed for the warm shelter of the shower or further deliberations in a farther room.

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