God the Insufferable Jerk
I am delighted to report God still appears to be a bit of an unbearable twit.
Petulant. Uptight. Whiny as a third-grader with recurring lice. How do we know? Because, against all deeper understanding and without a single care that He’s not the slightest bit real in the literal sense, the Almighty still insists on keeping score, observing your every move, measuring your capacity to hate others who do not agree with your narrow view of life, or love, or America.
It’s true. If all reports for the past week – and the past handful of incoherent centuries – are to be believed, God does nothing but laze about the couch with a golden iPad, tracking how many times He’s mentioned on television, who won the Packers game, how often you watch porn or say something nice to a gay person, and who commits more acts of guilt-addled fear in his glorious name.
Oh, and love. There’s love in there somewhere. Maybe. Unless you’re a liberal. Or Muslim. Or gay. Then you’re on your own.
Recent proof? Easy. Did you happen to notice how Fox News was simply bursting at the fanatical seams to tell everyone that, during our recent pair of national political conventions, the Republican party mentioned God twelve times in their platform? Twelve times! They must really love God. They must love God, despite how their candidate believes God’s message appeared on magic golden plates to a huckster polygamist in the woods in the 1820s, and called it a religion. Never mind that now.
God was reportedly sort of pleased at being name-dropped a dozen times on national television (God is wildly vain that way), despite how the lesser-known Shotguns & Slim Jims Party mentioned Him a whopping 147 times during their convention, all while blasting mailboxes from the bed of a speeding Ford F-150 in rural Idaho. But of course, their convention was only broadcast on YouTube, so God was all, “meh.”
And what of the Democrats? They only mentioned God once during their convention, maybe, in passing, sort of under their breath, and apparently completely forgot the part about Jerusalem being the capital of Godlandia. Can you believe it? If there’s one thing God cares about most in the eternal flux of the vast and impenetrable universe, it’s regional cartography. And college football.
The Republicans, as you might expect, had a conniption fit at the Dems’ omission, to the point where Mitt Romney actually suggested that the president secretly wants to remove “God” from our national identity, our currency, our scared and angry America, and replace him with… I’m not sure who. Kobe Bryant or something. Horror!
God, of course, does not like any of this one little bit. The Almighty, as envisioned by the majority of spiritually malnourished Americans, is a bizarre, baffling, curmudgeonly creation, prone to raging outbursts, impossible to please but insanely easy to offend, wielding his moral compass like a hammer made of shame and fear and only trace amounts of the aforementioned love. But only if you really earn it. And of course, no one really does.
You disagree? You dare to deny this definition of God? You perhaps think the divine is some hippie-dippy notion of, say, pure light energy, divine anima, infusing and radiating from all things at all times everywhere including Muslims and Mormons, genomes and genders, dogs and donuts, babies and bison?
You maybe think God is actually something wider and far more beautiful? An all-pervasive sense of divine consciousness, perhaps, fully present and available to every single being at all times in an instant, requiring no church, no priest, no bloody cross, no cash outlay, no whiny political party to validate and empower? What are you, some sort of book-reading communist? Pipe down and go do some yoga, hippie. Scared people are running the world.
It is, of course, painfully easy to mock. It is terrific but sort of lazy (I admit) fun to jab at the tragicomic American definition of God as irritable grandpa-child who cares far too much about what happens at nauseating political conventions, gun shows, children’s beauty pageants, ad nauseam.
It requires a bit more compassion to understand that most Americans, like most of the world, are simply desperate for any sort of meaning, any sort of simple understanding amidst all the madness, war, and the lack of education. And therefore even just the mention of “God” on the dollar, in the national credo, in another insipid political platform, this somehow gives a hint of stability, a shared mythology, to an otherwise impossible and terrifying world.
It’s a little tricky to unpack, but sometimes it must be acknowledged: There exists in the American mythos this fragile, long-abused idea that when you buy a gun, or a beer, or a Chinese-made pair of Levi’s using a piece of tattered green paper with the word “God” on it, that it actually means something, that underneath it all there’s this tiny, microscopic hint of divine glue holding it all together, somehow.
It’s sort of charming. It’s sort of wonderful, this delicate notion of spiritual connectedness that’s been mauled to death by capitalism and politics and buried beneath a million layers of churlish ignorance and fear of Other so rampant and sad, many Americans are terrified to leave their hometowns, much less visit another country and see how the rest of the world rocks the divine wow.
Nevertheless, it’s there. Behind the Fox News witlessness, underneath the insulting political platitudes, despite organized religion’s furious attempts to kill it with dogma and sneering patriarchy, lies a certain sweetness, a cultural naiveté borne of a deep and inescapable desire to know, to understand our place in the cosmos, even just a little, even if it means sacrificing the radically self-realized spirit to some bland and politicized whole.
Or maybe not. Maybe it’s not all that sweet after all. Maybe it’s one of the sadder, more debilitating aspects of the modern American condition, given how it’s no secret that organized religion, conservative politicians, marketers and megacorps alike love nothing more than to prey upon the poor and the less educated, anyone desperate for structure and divine meaning, but not quite willing or able to figure it out for themselves.
This is why the Republican cause is so frantic to invoke God as much as possible. “God” implies there’s some sort of explanation, impossible though it may be for pathetic and sinful humankind to understand. Invoking a bitter, judgmental God you can never really access (much less fully embody yourself) brings wobbly balm to those who live in fear of a complex and impossible world, those who feel everything is out of their control.
Hey, at least Angry Republican Grandpa in the sky has it all figured out, right? At least I don’t have to think too much, look too deeply in the mirror, or listen to that nagging, deep-down voice telling me nothing’s really as it seems, right? I mean, whew.
© 2012 The San Francisco Chronicle