And God Said: "It's Complicated!"
You say it’s too painful to contemplate a universe without JHVH or some variant? You need some kind of religio-spiritual cookie with sprinkles? Tell you what we’re gonna do. We’re gonna hit you with #5. It’s complicated!
This may sound like a cop-out, but in fact it’s a philosophical thread running through almost all serious (i.e. non-fundamentalist) religious thought. God works in mysterious ways – you’ve picked that one on the celestial jukebox more than a few times when terrible shit happened.
How about this one? God is unknowable, unfathomable, ineffable, phantasmal, currently in a meeting or taking a call on the other line, and does not owe you an explanation.
Or check this out: Creation is never complete, and must be maintained by prayer at all times, like a beach ball in a stadium that will only remain aloft as long as the drunks in the bleachers don’t lose interest.
Or this: Heaven ain’t a sunlit theme park with an all-you-can-eat buffet of angel-food cake; it’s a pitch-black hallway with a pinprick of light glimering weakly in the distance, and the sound of whispering in a language you don’t recognize just audible beneath the creaking floorboards.
Confusing? Mais oui! Depressing? More than a little! But if metaphysical inquiry were meant to be fun, there’d be more keggers at seminary school. Unlike the sleazebucket parasite shitbags who sell more self-help books than we do, we’re your friends – and as such, we refuse to sugarcoat the hereafter.
Besides, for folks who walk the earth on the sunniest days immersed in thunderclouds of their own imagining – and you know who you are (ahem, Jews, cough, cough) – a deity that is unfailingly mysterious and inexplicable holds a certain allure, like a Chinese character you can’t decipher but must have tattooed on your bicep immediately.
Even if you later find out it means “moron.”
Postscript by Simon: In Case of Rapture, This Car Will Have Less Traffic to Deal WithIn the midst of all this theological reflection, while cooling my jets at a stoplight, I saw a license-plate frame on the beige Pontiac ahead of me that read “God Is Awesome.”
Were I inclined to believe in Divine Providence, which I kinda sorta really don’t, I might’ve believed that the Almighty His Own Self was delivering unto me some super new source material for my Atheistic rantings. After all, if you believe in the Big Guy, which I don’t, you also have to at least entertain the possibility that some folks who don’t believe in Him (which I don’t) are among His favorites. After all, I’m still supposed to be one of His chosen people, and if He made me, He made me a particularly hot exemplum thereof.
Anyhoo, I don’t believe in miracles but I do believe in seizing the thematic opportunities that fall into one’s path. “God Is Awesome” was printed in garishly yellow, jagged capitals and staring at me like a birthday-party clown as I waited at the light to pilot my ancient Nissan ever deeper into the San Fernando Valley. The weather was unseasonably hot; an NPR host was rabbiting on about the dollar’s headlong plunge; and the crooked teeth of that hideous, cheerful font began to gnaw on my soul.
The heavens did not part, as I pondered the words emblazoned on the back of that car, but the Skeptitron 5000 (as I sometimes call my brain) began whirring and clanging like a pinball machine.
“God Is Awesome” sounds, at first irritated blush, like mere redundancy. Um, yeah – the word “awesome” was more or less coined to render an apprehension of the divine. An experience of awe is what all sacred texts, including both testaments of the Bible – the original and the disappointing sequel (which we chosen ones sometimes call the Grease 2 or even the Godfather 3 of religion, but only behind the backs of our goyische friends) – strain to convey with bushel baskets of parables and metaphors. To say “God Is Awesome” is to say that God is God, or God is big. In other words, duh.
But our friend with the license-plate frame most likely doesn’t use “awesome” the way the Romantic poets did. I’m aware of the evangelical movement’s embrace of the catchphrase “My God is an awesome God,” which does bear the hallmarks of correct usage.
But that’s not what I saw dancing lamely before my eyes at that North Hollywood intersection.
No, I shudder to report, “awesome” in this case bears the sense it acquired in the waning days of the 20th Century – a word ideally yelped by a tow-headed moppet in a backwards baseball cap in some ghastly “family comedy” when somebody gets whomped in the nards. “Awesome” in the sense of “Dude, Nickelback’s doing a commercial for AT&T? Awesome!” or “Dude, I found some change in the couch and I totally have enough for a chalupa! Isn’t that awesome?”
If God is that kind of awesome – and if my smeller is to be trusted, that’s what Mr. Happy License Plate Religious Guy is cooking – I need a moment.
The implications are sobering. For despite mass culture’s tendency to ramrod the importance of what is euphemistically called “faith” down our gullets like grain down the neck of a fois gras goose, “God Is Awesome” sounds oddly defensive to me. As though the mightiest being of all, the King of the Universe (as our people like to say), had hired some beaten-down PR hack to run a campaign convincing people He was, you know, cool. Going after the youth market with some ugly yellow font and a glossary of buzzwords from 1988. “Hey, kids — what's the 411? Do you like skateboarding? That Lindsay Lohan sure is def! And isn’t God awesome?”
Is it fair to suggest that the license-plate frame was in fact a desperate cri de coeur? Why does God need to be “awesome” if He’s already awe-inspiring? The real truth was not in the wording (insincere, formulaic; a gingerbread house for the non-denominational Hansels and Gretels out there) but in the lettering: those sickly yellow sans serifs were practically shouting “Why don’t you believe? Why can’t you just blindly submit to our dogma, like your parents did?”
But increasingly, it appears, they won’t – T-shirts, Christian rock albums, 24-hour cable shows and license-plate frames notwithstanding.
And that, my friend, is awesome.