Interlude: A story for Thanksgiving, written after reading Jonathan Franzen.
He comes here, comes home, and disrupts everything. Why do we let him? We have a good life mother and I, a safe balanced life. Corrine visits – that’s my sister, three years older – with that insipid husband of hers, and we maintain the essential equilibrium. We don’t upset anything; we stay happy by keeping our private miseries in their own little compartments. We do not need to upset anyone or anything, least of all mother. We continue as we are. So why not him? He comes, a cyclonic force, and blows it all apart. Every time. He has to do it, has to be center of attention, center stage, center everything. Me, me, me. ‘Look at me, listen to me. This is me and I need you to notice.’ He may be our brother – it is because he is our brother, no doubt – but we have come to despise his presence, his showmanship, his ‘look at me and see how damaged I am, take notice of me’ attitude.
Thanksgiving, Christmas, whenever he turns up, our neat, tidy world, our happy world is turned on its head. He’ll do it again this time too because that is what he does. Why he thinks he has any right to say what he says, to criticize with a carefully placed word or to pull at this thread, that loose stitch, to pick apart everything we’ve so patiently knit together, but he does. He thinks he has that right. Or perhaps he doesn’t realize he’s doing it. But no. That’s too naive. Of course he knows. It could only ever be deliberate, pernicious.
And so he comes again with the big pronouncements. The great declarations. Look at me, look at me. He waits till the turkey is being carved, the turkey I have slaved over, each Thanksgiving like the last, because that is how mother likes it.
‘I have something to tell you all,’ he says.
‘We don’t want to know,’ I say, halting the carving, electric knife in mid-air. ‘Please, Frank,’ I implore him, ‘not now. This isn’t about you.’
‘But I must,’ he persists. ‘I have to tell you. If not now, when? I have put it off for too long.’
I know of course what he is about to say and don’t want to hear it. None of us does. We don’t need the fragile peace disturbed by another of his revelations.
‘Don’t,’ I say and resume slicing the meat, mouthing towards him, ‘you’re one sick bastard.’
Mother turns away. ‘We should say grace,’ she says, Corrine and her dull, gray husband bow their heads in compliance. ‘Lord, for this food,’ mother begins.
‘I want to tell you. I need to tell you,’ Frank implores.
‘For this food, we give you, our gracious God and Savior’
I’m… I have been for as long as I’
‘we thank you and praise your holy’
‘We don’t want to know,’ I snap. ‘So shut the fuck up,’ I mime at him.
‘For all good things,’ mother intones. ‘For food, family and’
‘I’m…’ Frank persists.
‘Fellowship, we praise your holy name’
I drop the knife on the table. Corrine jumps, startled. ‘You have to, don’t you,’ I say to him. You have to take over. Be the center of attention. Always. You complete and utter shit!’
‘Language, George, please,’ mother implores, visibly shocked. It is the first time I have ever used a four-letter word in front of her.
‘It’s always the same,’ I plead in mitigation. ‘He always has to take center stage. Well,’ I go on, turning towards him, ‘what is it you have to tell us that cannot wait? What is worth spoiling our happy Thanksgiving for? Come on, let’s hear it.’
Frank bows his head in supplication. ‘I just wanted to tell you,’ he says. ‘Need to tell you. That I’m…’
‘Yes,’ I say, impatient, I admit, to get it over with and get to the meal set before us; to return to normality.
‘I’m,’ he falters, ‘I’m sorry, mother, but… but I am… no longer a believer. I haven’t been since before I left for college. I’ve just never been able to tell you.’
‘Well, I hope you’re happy now,’ I say as mother begins to cry. ‘I hope you’re happy with what you’ve achieved here today.’
‘Oh, Frank,’ mother sobs. ‘Of course you’re not. Once saved, always saved. You remember.’
‘No, mother,’ he begins.
‘That’s enough,’ I say, taking charge. ‘He’s had his histrionics, now let’s all forget it and eat our dinner. Pass the cranberry sauce, Corrine.’
So you’re not getting a new body when you die. Sorry about that. It all comes down then to what you’re going to do with the one you’ve already got. I don’t know what condition it’s in. Your genes and the wear and tear it’s undergone in life will determine that. My own isn’t too bad for its age, I guess, though it suffers from inexplicable aches and pains these days (fibromyalgia) which is probably only going to get worse as I get older. All the same, that’s better than the alternative, so I’m not going to let it stop me from enjoying life.
And that’s what I’d recommend to you too. Enjoy life, enjoy your body. Indulge it in its appetites. The Christians who tell you you’re wrong to do so, who quote verses like Romans 8.13 at you are missing the point:
For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.
Denying yourself will not take you to Heaven, won’t make you a better person and won’t make Jesus like you any more than he does already (which is not at all, on account of his non-existence.) Of course, it’s sometimes a good thing to delay gratification, if others might be adversely affected, for example, but usually it’s not. Most of the time it’s okay to do with your body what you want to do with it – it’s yours for that reason. So enjoy training it, exercising it, eating well and wisely, grooming and pampering your body, keeping it as fit and clean as you possibly can. Enjoy being creative and caring. Be sensual (as in enjoying its sensations) and have all the sex you want, however you want it – with protection, specially if you don’t intend creating more little bodies – and with whichever consenting partners you want. Your body has evolved to be like this. You have evolved to be like this. Anything else is an aberration.
Why am I saying this? Because having reached 65, I’m very aware of the physical limitations that make themselves known as one gets older. Your body, my body, everybody’s body will eventually and irrevocably let each and everyone of us down. You will have experienced some debilitation already, whatever age you are; temporary illness, ailments of one sort or another, injuries, viruses, infections and malfunctions. Your body will eventually undergo the ultimate malfunction and let you down completely. It will die. Don’t leave it until that time approaches – and which of us knows when that is? – to appreciate it. Enjoy it now, whatever stage of life you have reached and whatever shape your body is in.
Am I preaching hedonism? Not exactly. But I am recommending you take pleasure from whatever activities you use your body for, no matter how mundane they are. And let’s face it, all human activities, including the cerebral, involve the body one way or another. Be a sensualist, as in enjoying the body’s sensations, and find pleasure in all things. Give pleasure in return and in many varied ways to others.
Isn’t this more life-enhancing than all that unhealthy ‘death to the flesh’ stuff (Romans 8.13) at the heart of Christianity, which regards the body as corrupt (Romans 7.24), sinful (Romans 7.5), lowly (Philippians 3.21), weak and dishonourable (1 Corinthians 15.43) and unworthy of a place in the Kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 15.50)? It surely is. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15.32 that if the dead are not raised in new spiritual bodies then we may as well live our lives according the maxim, ‘Let us eat and drink for tomorrow we die’. There is no resurrection, there are no bodies other than the ones we have now, so perhaps, for once, Paul was on to something.
I’m considering reasons why God is unlikely to exist. The sixth, though by no means final reason is (drumroll): Christians.
If God existed and if he did the things the Bible, and Jesus in particular, claimed for him, then Christians would be very different creatures. They wouldn’t be beligerent and self-righteous, desperately trying to draw others into their cult, callously condemning everyone outside it while claiming they themselves are the persecuted (a caricature, I concede, but not without truth).
Instead, and according to Jesus and Paul, they would be brand new creations (2 Corinthians 5.17), infused with supernatural power: the Spirit of God no less (John 14.26; Romans 8.7-9). They would, moreover, have abandoned their families (Luke 14.26) and sold all they own to give to the poor (Matthew 19.21), relying solely on God for their needs (Mark 11.24; Matthew 21.22). They’d spend all their time as his slaves (Matthew 25.21; Romans 6.22), helping the sick, the destitute and the imprisoned (Matthew 25.35-40) and in return God would have endowed them with the ability to heal all disease (Mark 16:15), raise the dead (Matthew 10.7-8) and do miracles even greater than Jesus’ own (Mark 16.17-18; John 14.12).
If Christians were like this, as Jesus and Paul promised, the world would be a much more remarkable and better place. What does it tell us that it isn’t? When Christians don’t constantly demonstrate compassion and miraculous powers but instead spend their time demeaning gay people, ranting about abortion and proselytising (the latter a redundant activity when, if they were the new creatures the Bible promises they’d be, we would all see God in and through their actions and superpowers.) That Christians are not like this tells us Jesus got it entirely wrong; that his God had no interest in him and has none in us; that faith in God, as Jesus and his early followers envisaged it, does not deliver.
Christians actually know this, which is why they ignore what the Bible says they should be like, or explain it away with convoluted exegesis. They’re focused on their own ‘spiritual growth’, ‘worship’ and on how they’ll be going to heaven when they die – an offer the Bible never makes. Whichever avoidance strategy they resort to, the Bible says what it says: that God will enable his followers to do great miracles, like healing the sick and raising the dead; ‘all things’, in fact, though Christ who strengthens them (Philippians 4.1). The evidence demonstrates conclusively, despite the disingenuous claims of some loopier evangelicals, that God does nothing of the sort. He fails, yet again, to come through. The only reasonable conclusion is that this is because he’s not real.
So those are six major reasons why it is highly unlikely God exists. There are others, some of which I’ve touched on in other posts: how, despite Jesus’ promises he will, God looks after his devotees no better than caged sparrows (Matthew 10.28-31); how there’s no evidence the supernatural exists; how the spiritual realm and the gods that go with it are products of the human imagination. Collectively – and even separately – these convince me there’s no God, and certainly not that sorry excuse for one, Yahweh.
The third reason it’s unlikely God exists (see the previous post for the first two) is that he is a mass of contradictions; omnipotent and yet vulnerable to his creation’s ‘sin’. Loving yet unable to stop himself from meting out savage justice. Interventionist yet conspicuously absent when actually needed. Distant and mysterious and yet intimately involved with a select number of humans. Oblivious to the thousands who starve to death each day yet overly concerned with how others dress, spend their money or have sex.
The God of the Bible is everything a badly conceived character in a third-rate novel might be. Not surprising really, when that’s what he is. The all-too-human authors of that most mixed, muddled and deplorable book creating and recreating him in their own image, modifying and evolving him until he is a transparently human creation. He is a product of their misinterpretation of reality, wishful thinking and vindictiveness, human traits he reflects throughout the so-called ‘holy book’ and in his church throughout history.
Four, God is ineffectual in the real world. He demands the love and devotion of his creation and gives next to nothing in return. Warm fuzzy feelings possibly, and a ludicrously nonsensical ‘salvation’ plan that undercuts his supposed omnipotence. That’s it. That’s all he offers. Oh, and eternal life spent as an automaton, forever worshipping him. Nothing in the here and now. Nothing to alleviate poverty, feed the starving, eliminate disease or rescue us from viral pandemics. He doesn’t even do this for those whom have pledged allegiance to him, however much they claim he has or will do. This leaves us with two options: he is either an absolute failure or he doesn’t exist. I conclude the latter.
Five: Jesus. Jesus is the prime evidence there is no God. Not one of the claims Jesus made for God was realised. God doesn’t answer prayer; he doesn’t give whatever is asked of him (Mark 11.24; Matthew 21.22); he didn’t bring his kingdom to the earth in the first century (Luke 9.27; Matthew 24.29-31 & 34); he didn’t set Jesus and his disciples up as rulers of the world (Matthew 19:28). In short, he didn’t do a damn thing his supposed son said he would. Jesus was sadly mistaken, deluded, about his Father. In terms of delivery, Jesus’ God did nothing for him, nor for those, like Paul, who came after him. The New Testament is nothing but testimony to its own failure, its God mere make-believe.
To be continued, again. I mean how many more reasons can there be that demonstrate God is unlikely to exist?
As God-botherers everywhere are fond of telling us, we can’t prove that God doesn’t exist. Of course, no negative can ever be proven. My own conviction that there isn’t a God does not rely on ‘proof’, but on the probability that he doesn’t. Perhaps this is the same as Christians’ own dismissal of Zeus and Krishna as real beings; if they think about such things, that is. So what is the probability that God does not exist? My next couple of posts will look at my reasons for concluding that the likelihood of the Christian God existing is ridiculously low. Some of these reasons have developed from my reading of the last thirty odd years, others from my own thinking about the subject. Both are now so intertwined I don’t know exactly which is which. You’ll have encountered some of what I’ve got to say in other posts on this blog but it seems worthwhile put all my arguments in one place.
So, reason one: God explains nothing. He isn’t required to explain the Big Bang, evolution, human psychology, germ theory, viral pandemics or anything else that science explains with far greater proficiency and conviction. At best, the god concept has atrophied into a god-of-the-gaps desperation. Science doesn’t know how life began, goes the ‘reasoning’, therefore it can only have been God. This explains nothing, merely adding an unnecessary element into the equation; Occam’s Razor demands we remove any such elements from our arguments and attributing life to an unknown supernatural agent is just such a redundancy. I’m confident that science will one day answer the question of how life started, but even if it that were never to happen, the answer would not be, as if by magical default, God.
Two: the more characteristics we attribute to God, the less likely it is that he exists. Let’s say, by way of analogy, that I’ve put myself on a dating app to look for a new partner. To start with I specify that all this partner needs is a good sense of humour. Then I wonder if this is enough. Wouldn’t they also have to be within my preferred age group? Of course. I’ve already narrowed my chances of finding my ideal person. So I think I may as well go for it: I want some who’s good looking too, with a place of their own, within travelling distance of where I live and with interests similar to my own, including a passion for the ukulele. The likelihood of my finding this person is pretty remote. The probability they actually exist, with all the attributes I want, is equally unlikely.
So it is with God. If he were only the creator of the universe he would be unlikely enough (because of reason 1 above) but that’s not all that is required of him. He has to be also a God that is interested in his creation, and not only interested but intimately involved with certain aspects of it, humans particularly. He is now beginning to recede from the possible into the margins of the improbable. But then it’s claimed that in addition to being the creator of everything and a micromanager to boot, he’s also ephemeral and unknowable. He’s simultaneously loving and a severe judge. He’s both omniscient and omnipotent (this last doesn’t follow from his being the creator; it’s a separate attribute). He’s a god of reason and yet only satisfied by blood sacrifice. And on and on, well beyond the bounds of probability and into the realms of the impossible, like my hypothetical ideal mate. God as envisaged by Christians (and others) is an impossibility.
I see the insects are in trouble again. Seems they’ve infected themselves with some sort of virus. The joke is they think I’m going to do something about it. Imagine! Course, it could be said that I created this virus in the first place. But then I gifted it to bats, not them. How they managed to catch it, I don’t know (and care even less) but it’s certainly running rampant through them.
Some of them think they’re channeling their thoughts up to me and that with sufficient grovelling I’ll intervene. Fat chance! I know they think I have some interest in them – one of their number even reckoned I had nothing better to do but count the hairs on their heads. Well, I have nothing better to do, but I’m certainly not going to count hairs on their heads, or anywhere else. In fact, I’m not interested in them in any way. Why should I be? Incredibly, some of them think I want to have a relationship with them. A relationship! There’s as much chance of my having a relationship with them as they have with a colony of microbes.
And while we’re on the subject, I’ve have never ever written a book. I make galaxies and nebulae, I don’t write books. They do that and tell themselves it’s me. I ask you! Nor have I ever sent any messengers to their god-forsaken planet to tell them what I want from them. I don’t want anything from them. I don’t need anything from them. I. Am. Not. Interested. There are no special ways of attracting my attention whatever any of them say. And as for the idea I have an allergy to their behaviour – preposterous! I AM God Almighty. Their stupidity has no effect on me. They offer me nothing nor do they affect me in any way.
So, they’ll have to get on with their virus on their own, as they have with every other drawback of their miserable existence. I’ll be doing nothing, no matter how much they beg. Why should I?
No gods were harmed in the making of this blog. Any resemblance to any deity imagined or dead is purely coincidental. The existence of a god or gods is not presumed by this post. In point of fact, none does.
An early problem faced by the creators of Superman, only a few years after his first appearance in Action Comics #1 in 1938, was his impotence in the real world. Here was a character with incredible super-human powers – not quite as phenomenal as they would later become – who could defeat gangsters, wife-beaters, bullies and evil dictators with a flick of his little finger, but who, when a real life bully emerged on the world stage, couldn’t do anything. Stories could have been written about how he single-handedly defeated the Nazis and restored world peace but none of this would have been reflected in the real world. It’s true that today with its alternate realities and constant rebooting that Superman could be made to defeat modern-day fascism; but that would be on some other fictional Earth, not the real one. In the real world, Superman would remain impotent, having little effect beyond raising awareness and morale, which is what he did – or, more accurately, what his creators had him do – during World War II. There wasn’t anything else he or they could do.
By now, coronavirus should really have disappeared from the face of the Earth. Last Sunday was National Day of Prayer in the US. Independent of Donald Trump’s ‘initiative’ in calling for a day of grovelling in front of the Almighty, many other Christians have also been begging God to protect their church community from covid-19 (the godless can fend for themselves). Still others have commanded the virus, in the name of Jesus, to leave them and the USA alone (the rest of the world be damned.)
The effect of all this pleading and commanding has been that the coronavirus has continued to spread, heedless of borders and indifferent to the religious beliefs of its victims. Either God doesn’t give, as we say in this neck of the woods, a rat’s arse about who contracts covid-19, nor who dies from it, not even his born-again Chosen Ones. Everybody’s gotta die sometime, right? The important thing is that they’re right with the Lord before they do.
Or – God’s just like Superman. We can imagine him doing all sorts of incredible things, like healing disease, curing illness and saving the world, but in reality, none of them ever happen. He’s not going to protect people from coronavirus in precisely the same way he failed to protect them from 9/11, AIDs, the Holocaust, Spanish Flu, The Great Plague, Black Death and Leprosy. It’s not that he doesn’t care, it’s that he’s not there. He’s no more real than Superman and is every bit as impotent as the Man of Steel.
I’m a big fan of Superman – I’ve been reading the comics he appears in for 57 years now – and I’m fully aware he’s not real; he was created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster 82 years ago and has been embellished by every writer and artist who’s worked on him ever since – much like God. If only those who plead with the Almighty, and worse, tell the rest of us what he thinks of us, would recognise that he is fictional too. He exists only in a fantasy realm, outside of which he has no super-powers, no influence, no ability to save us from coronavirus or anything else.
Remember the sequence in the Simpsons episode where Homer is, as usual, in lots of trouble; he looks to the sky and pleads, ‘I’m not normally a praying man, but if you’re up there, please save me… Superman.’ That’s exactly what Christians are doing right now, and the result will be the same as it was for Homer and for everyone else who’s ever called on Superman God to save them.
I don’t get a lot of comments on this here blog, but when I do they’re rarely as cogently argued as this one, left recently on an old post, ‘Unbelievers are Going to Hell‘:
NO OBLIVION. HEAVEN OR HELL. HOLINESS OR DEBAUCHERY, GOOD OR EVIL, VIRTUE OR VICE, JESUS OR SATAN, THE SPIRIT OR THE FLESH, GOD OR IDOLS, RIGHTEOUSNESS OR WICKEDNESS, KINDNESS OR SELFISHNESS, LIGHT OR DARKNESS, PIETY OR PERVERSION, PLEASURE OR PAIN, TRUTH OR ERROR, THE NARROW GATE OR THE WIDE GATE. THE CHOICE IS YOURS.
Difficult to argue with, I think you’ll agree. This is reasoning of the highest calibre. All those false dichotomies have convinced me I need to change my debauched, perverted ways and take on the mindset of a first century zealot. You win Watchman Outreach Evangelism!
Or, as I may have just put in my response:
Lower case or UPPER CASE Logic or LUNACY Reality or FANTASY Sense or NONSENSE Seems you made your choice already.