The conversation was long: it turned chiefly on their form of
government, their manners, their women, their public entertainments,
and the arts. At length Candide, having always had a taste for
metaphysics, made Cacambo ask whether there was any religion in that
The old man reddened a little.
“How then,” said he, “can you doubt it? Do you take us for ungrateful
Cacambo humbly asked, “What was the religion in El Dorado?”
The old man reddened again.
“Can there be two religions?” said he. “We have, I believe, the religion
of all the world: we worship God night and morning.”
“Do you worship but one God?” said Cacambo, who still acted as
interpreter in representing Candide’s doubts.
“Surely,” said the old man, “there are not two, nor three, nor four. I
must confess the people from your side of the world ask very
Candide was not yet tired of interrogating the good old man; he wanted
to know in what manner they prayed to God in El Dorado.
“We do not pray to Him,” said the worthy sage; “we have nothing to ask
of Him; He has given us all we need, and we return Him thanks without
ceasing.” — “Candide,” Voltaire
I’m not about to try anything as futile as arguing the existence of God, or as potentially dangerous as debating who, if anyone, represents his divinity here on Earth.
Okay? You worship who or what you want — if there are no blood sacrifices involved, or burnings at stakes, or attempts to stop anyone from their own non-burning non-sacrifice rituals, I don’t care. I don’t even get upset anymore when people try to convert me into one thing or another. Truthfully, human beings do that all the time anyway, not just with religion but politics and sexuality and favorite TV shows and anything else they really identify with. I’m an asshole who dares to think he knows the truth, too; after all, I have a blog, which is pretty much an admission that I think I know something you might not.
No, my problem with religion — this particular problem — lies with its increasing tendency, at least in America, to give up all sense of community in favor of the personal. We’re a nation who has become greedy with God, using he/she/it in the same benighted way we’ve begun to use 911 — a button we push when we feel slighted, or persecuted, or simply don’t get what we want. The very unfathomable nature of God makes it a perfect out: not only does it give us an excuse to divide ourselves from other tribes, it gives us an excuse to divorce ourselves from all reality, all the time. If you want something, God must want you to have it, and if you don’t get what you want, well, God must have been saving the really good stuff for later. After all, we deserve it.
Think I’m exaggerating? Look at what I found floating around on Facebook. Here, I’ll quote some of it.
Me : Why did You let so much stuff happen to me today?
God : What do you mean?
Me : Well, I woke up late
God : Yes
Me : My car took forever to start
God : Okay
Me : at lunch they made my sandwich wrong and I had to wait
God : Let me see, the death angel was at your bed this morning and I had to send one of my angels to battle him for your life. I let you sleep through that
Me (humbled) : OH
God : I did not let your car start because there was a drunk driver on your route that would have hit you if you were on the road.
Me : (ashamed)
God : The first person who made your sandwich today was sick and I did not want you to catch what they have, I knew you could not afford to miss work.
Me (embarrassed) : Okay
Now, many of us have used God as our personal support system. Life is scary. But for the people who wrote the Bible, in that place and time, it was super scary. Any day where you were still alive at the end and still had all your limbs, that was a pretty good day.
The person who came up with the above conversation with God knows we’re a bunch of whiners, that our relationship with religion is supposed to bring peace of mind, not gifts, that it’s about about keeping calm during our troubles and not about never having troubles to begin with. I get that.
However — and this is where I jump off the God wagon — the creator of the aforementioned copypasta seems to think that his Creator wants to keep him, specifically, alive. Because let’s face it — if there’s a drunk driver on the road, someone’s getting hurt. Ditto a diseased sandwich “artisan.” And the Angel of Death? If there really is one, he’s winning all day long.
What makes you so special? Or me? Isn’t it that whole “free will” thing that makes the world such a crazy, dangerous existence in the first place? Isn’t that nightmarish reality still better than a world without free will? And if Jesus is watching over your sandwich, and your car, and your alarm clock, how do you explain everyone else’s death?
The only possible answer is ego: that you consider yourself more worthy of living and thriving than other people. That’s the only way to justify thinking that God’s saved you. The feeling used to be that people who somehow survived a calamity that others didn’t were simply being saved for a more important purpose. That, however, means you have to go out and have a purpose, and well, that’s just too much work. Soul-searching is not the prime directive in Century 21. Too messy. Better to assume that we’re God’s chosen person, not people, even, but one individual person, and run with that. We’ll save that horrible realization of our own insignficance for our deathbed. Assuming we’re lucky enough to get one.
For comparison, here’s the famous 23rd Psalm:
1 The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
2 He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
3 He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
5 Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.
See the difference?
Bubba Watson won the Masters on Sunday, after that sex pagan Tiger Woods couldn’t make it out of the Top 40. For those of you not following golf, Bubba’s sort of the Tim Tebow of the sport, except he’s very, very talented. He’s also a nice guy: open-minded enough to chat on the Ellen show, compassionate enough to adopt a child, emotional enough to cry after his big win. He thanked Jesus when he got the green jacket, but did so in a way that suggested he was merely citing him as a source of strength, not, as so many celebrities and sports figures do these days, as a personal agent.
However, the day before he won, he did tweet this:
I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:14) #Godisgood
St. Paul’s letter to the Phillippians was written while he was in Rome, awaiting the trial which would result in his beheading. A victim of religious persecution, he wrote to the Phillppi colony of Christians — the first in Europe, and therefore the cause of much animosity — to assure them that death in the service of the Christian cause would lead to life everlasting.
I’d like to believe that Bubba’s tweet was not about winning the Masters, but rather about composing himself as a Christian should, with grace and humility, while on the world stage. However, he must have felt that some divine will was behind his sudden-death playoff shot from the pine straw, which put him within two shots of the win. Or maybe that impossible hole-in-one over the pond in his practice round, an ace which actually got there by, um, walking on water.
But what of Louis Oosthuizen’s double eagle, only the fourth in Masters history… was the Lord behind that? Or both men’s endless and breathtakingly dramatic series of missed putts, which forced the playoff round in the first place? Is it CBS that God truly loves? And what of Zach Johnson, who won the green jacket in 2007? He exclaimed, “It was very special to win the Masters golf tournament on Easter Sunday. I’m very blessed. I would like to thank God. I felt Jesus Christ with me on the golf course every step of the way.”
I’m not trying to suggest that if God is Zach’s caddy (or Bubba’s), then he couldn’t possibly be saving that guy up there from the Angel of Death, or from a bad sandwich. I accept the idea that any god, by definition, must be omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent all at the same time, even if it does bring him uncomfortably close to the traditional ideas we have about, oh, Santa Claus. If God’s walking with you on the beach, or carrying you during your hardest times, it doesn’t take away from anyone else’s quality of life. We might all do well to ponder what we expect of such a being, however.
For example: 10,000 Americans were not saved by Jesus from drunk drivers last year. Half that number of US citizens ate that bad sandwich and died. Every night, 89,000 people around the world die in their sleep. And don’t even get me started on the sheer amount of money, talent, training and luck it takes to win the Masters. If you live in a first-world country, and are fortunate enough to have a mouth and deep-fried Twinkies to cram into it all day, perhaps, just perhaps, you should not complain through it. Not because Jesus or Allah or Santa let your tire go flat because he somehow knew, Final Destination-style, that a bus would hit your car if it was running, but because lots of people don’t have cars. Or feet.
You’re not special. Even if you’re special, you’re not special. Spirituality is there to help you, not to serve you; there to prop you up, not raise you above everyone else.
Back up just one chapter in Phillippians, and you have some pretty good advice from St. Paul, true Christian ideology and the kind of thing I would tweet if I was about to lose some of my humility in Augusta:
3 Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem the other better than himself.
4 Look not every man to his own things, but every man also to the things of others.
5 Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus,
6 who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God,
7 but made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men.