As you may have heard, the world is once again scheduled to end, this time on December 21st of this year. I’m with the majority of you in hoping that this is not really the case – I’d like to go on living for a few more years, at least long enough to see my kids grow up. And if you actually WANT the world to end, I’m sorry: you’ve been inflicted with the crazy and you need to be bundled in a straight-jacket and dumped in cold water repeatedly. The world’s a cool place. Except for people like you.
I’m also one of those who doesn’t actually BELIEVE that the world will end any time soon. I find it ironic that Bible-thumping doomsayers like Harold “I Took Your Money You Gullible Chumps and I’m Not Giving It Back” Camping claim they know when the end will come. Especially when their hallowed book, The Bible, specifically says that the end’s gonna be a surprise. Now, if things came to a close on December 20TH, that would be a coup. I think God’s got a sense of humor, and that… well, that’d be something.
Now like I said, I don’t WANT the end to be nigh. But if it were… I’d be okay with it.
Why? Well, for two solid reasons, and for one reason that depends on how the rest of this year goes.
Reason number one is that it’d confirm a lot of people’s faiths, including mine. You atheists have it easy – you can sit comfortably in your arrogance and intellect, absolutely sure that there’s nothing out there – no great divining force which exists eternally and exerts a powerful force of will on the comings and goings of the universe. Those of us who believe have it a little tougher. First, we have to put up with you dissing our intelligence because we choose to believe in something we can scarcely see or feel.
Worse though, is that we have to accept something that we can scarcely see or feel. But that’s why they call it faith.
Now, I personally think that sometimes we CAN feel or see God . To paraphrase a few people who said “it” better than I ever could, and who also happened to say it before I could: I hear God in certain pieces of non-autotuned music. I see God whenever one of my children smiles. And there’s GOT to be something to the Fibonacci sequence. There’s GOT to be.
If the world ended as predicted, chances are pretty good that God would have something to do with it. And so then us believers would have a few minutes of being able to say “Nah nah nah boo boo! We were right and YOU guys are the idiots!” A few minutes, that is, before we were all swept away in a maelstrom of holy fire and apocalyptic fury. But still. How satisfying would that be?
Reason number two is that I’m not as successful as I want to be. I’m not a failure by any stretch of the imagination – the sheer fact that you’re reading this is indicative of my relative success. Hell, I make a living as a writer. I’ve been published more than many, many people who are trying as hard as I am. I have a decent amount of followers on Twitter.
But I have yet to approach the level of success I think I deserve. And I recognize the distinct possibility that I never will.
If the world ended before I found huge success, I could blame the end of the world for everything. I could say, “I MIGHT have been the next Kurt Vonnegut or John Irving, except the motherfucking world ended.” If the world DOESN’T end, and I get old and have to start wearing diapers again without having found the success I deserve, then I can only blame myself – myself and an unjust world.
I’d rather blame Armageddon.
Finally, and I’m sorry to wax political at the end here, but it needs to be said – I’ll be even cooler with the end coming on December 21st should Mitt Romney, Ron Paul, Newt Gingrich, or Rick Santorum somehow oust Barack Obama as President.
You see, I think the U.S.A. is holding on by a tenuous thread to its greatness as a nation. And while I don’t think Obama is our savior by any stretch of the imagination, I think he does represents a step back in the right direction, or at least a stop gap to keep us from sliding over the edge and into a shitstorm of trouble. If a Republican gets the Presidency in November, and we keep our awesomely Republican Congress, I think it’s only a matter of time before the U.S. becomes a hellhole, unrecognizable as the once great leader of the free world.
If the end of the world comes, we won’t have to see the U.S. relegated to crappyness. We can still potentially go out at the top of our game. Or at least close to it.
One thing that really would make me sad about the end, though, would be that my children would never become adults. Sure, they’re still innocents, and according to most believers, innocents pretty much get into Heaven. Still - and call me selfish if you want to, I don’t care - watching them grow and flourish (and smile) is something I’d like to continue doing. The end of the world would pretty much mean I couldn’t. And that would suck.
So when December 22nd comes around, I guess you’ll find me breathing a sigh of relief along with the rest of you.
Breathing a sigh of relief and waiting for the next apocalyptic doomsayer to make his appearance. Which - and I believe this prediction is much more reliable than predicting the end of the world - he will.
Recent censuses taken worldwide indicate that less and less people identify themselves with a particular faith, and that more and more people have begun to identify themselves as having no faith at all. Being somebody who DOES believe in God, I am of course saddened. But I’m not surprised. Considering all the shenanigans that people who profess faith often get up to, it’s wholly understandable that some people outright reject religion. The real sadness is that it is often BECAUSE of the actions of professed religious people that less people follow a faith. And it is increasingly true that people with no faith - atheists and agnostics - are more philanthropic, more generous to their fellow man. Go figure.
As an example of something infuriating (at least to me) that certain religious people do, I’d like to take this opportunity to rant about a gigantic irony pervading the political climate in the U.S. these days, particularly with Republicans.
Recent surveys I found put the percentage of Fundamentalist Christians among Republicans at somewhere between 40 and 51%. Now, before it looks like I’m agreeing with Ann Coulter when she says that Democrats are all godless heathens, let it be known that the disparity between the number of Christians among the two parties is NOT that big. Yeah, the Republicans have a few more supposed Christians - and way more of the Fundamentalist variety - but a significant number of Democrats believe in a Creator, and often believe he sent the Christ to Earth to die for man’s sins.
Now, according to a 2007 Barna Group survey, found here, 57% of Republicans assert that the Bible is accurate in all of the principles it teaches. This means, for everyone who hasn’t had a heart to heart talk with a Fundie, that the Bible - a document of over 1000 pages, translated from as many languages as Jesus had fingers and maybe toes, which is easily over 2000 years old, and whose translations, interpolations, iterations, and derivations have mostly passed through white men with political agendas and axes to grind - is the absolute perfect message that God wanted us to receive. Screw the myriad contradictions, the uncertainty of some of the source material, and the glaring omissions.
Well, I don’t think the Bible is the PERFECT WORD OF GOD. But on one subject, time and time again, it’s pretty clear. Let’s look at some passages, shall we?
“He who oppresses the poor to increase his wealth and he who gives gifts to the rich - both come to poverty.” - Proverbs 22:16
“Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. There will be equality, as it is written: ‘He who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered litte did not have too little.’” -2 Corinthians 8:13-15
“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ He will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.” -Matthew 25:41-45
A friend of mine (What’s up, Kym?) told me recently on Facebook that it’s easy to manipulate what the Bible says to match your ends, and seeing what I’ve seen, I tend to agree, but these passages are pretty straightforward, and since I’m not a Bible adherist, I gravitate to the straightforward bits. Like these.
These seem ridiculously obvious to me. Even their surrounding context doesn’t contradict or undermine what they say. And what they say is this: if there are poor people among you, do what you can to help them out. If there are those who have a little more than average, then they should give up some of what they have to those who have a little less, just to even things out a little.
Those are essentially (and Bible adherents can’t reasonably deny this) commands from “on high.” And hey, you know what? Centuries later the absolute common sense of “taking care” of your poor and underprivileged was underscored by such prominent philosophers as Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Adam Smith - philosophers which the Founding Fathers of the United States studied, honored, and drew inspiration from.
Flash forward to the United States, circa… now. Now we are told by the political party that contains so many Fundamental Christians to let the poor fend for themselves - it’s typically their fault that they’re in the condition they’re in, so why should we help somebody so lazy and desperate? (By the way, I invite you to make it through the month playing this game. I did, with $24 left, but WOW, my poor children suffered for it.)
Now we’re told by the millionaires of our country to leave their money alone. It’s theirs by right, and they need all of it - they can put it to better use than any poor person can, creating jobs and such (BTW, this has been proven false in more ways than the Bible has). We’re told by those who say the Bible is PERFECT to simply disregard these few passages (oh, and a LOT of other ones, too) simply because, well, it inconveniences them.
Now I know a lot of you have figured this irony out already. This post isn’t really for you, except to underscore what you already know, and to let you know that a “person of faith” understands the ironic difference between the things that certain other people of faith say and appear to believe.
The purpose of this post is to ask people who claim to be Christian, ESPECIALLY those who claim that the Bible is the perfect Word of God, to reconsider their position toward the poor. I suggest that maybe they go back and read their perfect Book without some preacher with an agenda and an axe to grind looking over their shoulder. I suggest they use their common sense, and THINK about what happens to a society that doesn’t take care of its poor.
“There are three things you can buy for a dollar: a lottery ticket, a taco, and these stories. Two of the three are a sure bet, but only one of those two won’t leave stains on your pants.”
That’s what one reviewer said about ‘The Giant’ and ‘The Littlest Goblin’, the two short stories I currently have available on Kindle, Nook, iPad, and just about every other e-reader you can imagine. Despite such “ringing” praise, the reviewer only gave me 4 out of 5 stars. You see, he had some quibbles with the stories: with ‘The Littlest Goblin’, he demanded that I write more, to flesh out the tiny fantasy world I created as back story for my (I believe) otherwise straightforward morality tale.
With ‘The Giant’ he claims I blasphemed against God.
And maybe he’s right on both counts. Even before the reviewer and a couple of other friends of mine asked for more stories of little Emys and her Goblin friends, I’d outlined another story set in the same world, with Emys once again challenged, this time by a rival modeled after U.S. Speaker of the House John Boehner. (Guess who wins and who’s the dick.) Emys had already interested me as a continuing protagonist, so I’m okay with the reviewer’s quibble with that story. There will be more Emys some day.
I’m also okay with his quibble regarding ’The Giant’, mostly because of the other thing he said in the review: he said that I made him think.
As I read it - as well as the other reviews of the stories - and as I’ve also sat and spoken with my friends who’d bought and read them, I’ve become really, really happy with the amount of thought everyone is giving to the stories’ meanings, their themes, and their messages. Sure, I want to sell a lot of downloads, mostly to make up the expense of having them thoroughly edited. But I want more than that.
I realize now that what I want - what I really, truly want - is to get into people’s hearts and minds and make them either think, weep, laugh, or… demand my head on a stake. I want to entertain them as well as challenge them, to inspire them as well as give them a few hours of distraction. I see the reviews and I talk about the stories with people who’ve read them and I realize that, in a small, simple, humble-were-it-possible-for-me-to-be-humble way, I’ve done just that.
These stories are by no means masterpieces. They’re short, simple, and unassuming. And yet I’ve affected a small portion of the world with them, ever so slightly. It is both encouraging and awe-inspiring to think that I could do that. It is also frustrating to know that I have not been allowed to do it on this scale ever before.
In the near future, I intend to publish another, larger set of short stories, for .99 cents just like these, and I’m also looking into publishing a novel. I want to broaden the satisfying experience these stories have given me, and I think that’s by far the best way to do it.
If you’re interested in trying these simple stories on for size, check them out at the following places.
When I was a kid, I was clumsy. As a result, I wasn’t especially good at sports. I was awkward with girls, and a prime target for bullies. What’s more, I was poor white trash with a drunk for a mom and a failed pig farmer for a dad.
But I was smart, and I lived on the edge of 400 acres of thick forest that no one except me and my brothers and our equally awkward friends ever set foot on. I developed an intricate and elaborate emotional and spiritual life, based in large part on exercising my vivid imagination, and based in large part on exploring those woods. When I got a little older, I began going to church, and I started a relationship with God, who - because I was so in touch with my spirituality - wasn’t silent or invisible, as he’s so often accused of being. Instead, he was omnipresent and very, very real. I could feel him coursing through my arteries and veins.
I became a master of the visceral, exceedingly comfortable in that spiritual and emotional world. I was romantic. I was full of conviction, and I wasn’t afraid to show my emotions - even to cry. And despite my awkwardness and the circumstances of my upbringing, I was happy.
I stayed that way for years. I’m pretty sure I was still a romantic when I met my wife. You can ask a lot of my college friends and former college friends - I was often fiery with conviction (which is why some of those people are FORMER friends now).
But then - and I don’t know when exactly - something started to shift. At some point, I became more comfortable in my own skin. At some point, the circumstances of my childhood dissolved into mere memories, replaced by my much more materialistically satisfying adulthood. My imagination became less of a place to inhabit and more of a tool to use to get what I wanted.
God became quiet, obfuscated. I started thinking that romantic notions were silly and hokey and contrived. I found it harder to cry.
Now, that visceral world I was so comfortable in has become a much more physical and logical world. I don’t follow convictions because I’m emotionally charged by them - I follow them because they just make sense. The existence of God still makes sense to me, but I’ve come to realize that He/She/It is a lot more complicated than my former visceral self could have guessed.
I’m no longer comfortable in a visceral world, and when I touch the visceral, I feel out of my element. In other words, when a movie or book or song moves me emotionally, when someone expresses a certain level of sentimentality, when I go to church - I feel discomfited. Bothered. Awkward.
Here’s the thing, though: if you’re reading this and thinking that I’m telling you all this because I’m no longer happy, then I’ve misled you and I need to make my point better. I am happy - happier than I ever have been.
Those emotional highs and lows are volatile and ephemeral. They come, they hit me hard, they make my heart race and my eyes fill with tears. but then they go away, and often leave me wondering if they were genuine. Or necessary.
The cool logic that I feel comfortable with now never goes away. It’s constant, reassuring, and reliable.
There are two questions I ask now, whenever a quiet moment overtakes me:
Why did I change? And which state of mind - the visceral or the logical - is healthier for me?