So earlier this week I received an e-mail from a guy named Jason. He threatened to beat me up.
In case that sounds like an exaggeration, these were his words: “Next time I’m in your area, I will get together with you and explain in person just how much of an internet tough guy I am. I’m guessing I probably outweigh you at 6’3 /210. So it’s fine if you bring a friend to help you.”
Later on, we made peace. Which was a preferred outcome to a 6-foot-3, 210-pound stranger punching me in the face. It seems Jason was upset over something I’d written, long ago, about God and the book, “Heaven is for Real,” about a kid who died, met God, then returned. So he reached out, threw down a few threats, then kindly apologized. He strikes me as a nice fella who lost Internet control. Lord knows I’ve been there.
This morning, after telling him I don’t believe in God, he wrote: “I’m not trying to be a pain Jeff. But could I ask why?”
Jason, this is (respectfully) for you …
I don’t believe in God because if you believe in God (in the Christian sense) life is reduced to a game show. Follow his commandments, live life to his specifics—mazel tov! You win an eternal trip to bliss! Don’t follow his commandments, have premarital sex, sleep with someone of the same gender—bummer! You’ll spend eternity with Satan. It’s so painfully simplistic. Sooooooo painfully simplistic. And the lack of nuance is jarring. My wife, for example: Gave one of her kidneys to a complete stranger two months ago. Out of compassion, kindness, decency. Also happens to be a moderate Jew who certainly does not believe Jesus is the son of God. Well, tough shit—hell. Forever embers and flames. Why? Because God can read your heart, and He (always a He) knows what you’re thinking. Meanwhile … Hitler. Kills 10 million people. But at that last moment, about to die, he repents, finds love for the Lord deep within his heart. Now he’s on a cloud with Alois and Maria? Really?
It is utterly preposterous. All of it. Think of the sheer number of gays and lesbians who have A. Been forced to live lives of shame; B. Been killed—all because God has been interpreted to deem them as unholy and unworthy (but—worry not—Jesus loves them. Until they’re burning. Then he doesn’t love them. Bummer). Hell, sex as a thing. The layers of guilt, shame, shame, guilt inflicted upon people by churches. The need to apologize—apologize!—to a child-raping “virgin” sitting behind a screen because you had lustful thoughts about a bare-chested Steve Harvey?
Wait. Was that aloud?
I digress. The origins of organized religion are, at best, iffy. God handing tablets to Moses? Likely didn’t happen. Burning bush? Noah’s tour ship? The seas parting? Also likely didn’t happen (But wait! There’s “historical” proof! (No, there is not)). It has long been used as an amazing form of societal control; of keeping people beneath the thumb of structured obedience. I mean, Emile Durkheim writes about this at length. So does E.A. Ross, as stated here in his 1896 essay:
It all began with Jesus rising from the dead. Which we know happened because—well, we just know it. People saw it! And it was awesome! So awesome! They found splinters of a cross in Jerusalem! They found Jesus’ tomb, too! Look, Jesus is in my chocolate milk! He’s on this tree stump!
And now, centuries later, he is the Lord and Savior. Because, eh, he’s the Lord and Savior. And the Bible is the absolute word of God. Which is weird, because the inconsistencies are bountiful …
As are the cruelties …
It’s all too much.
But for me, here’s the biggest problem: Right now there are 4,200 religions across the world. Four thousand two hundred religions. They all have followers, they all have belief systems, they all claim (in one form or another) to offer The path to God and salvation. Yet if we are to believe that the lord is one, we must also believe that 4,199 of those religions (if not 4,200) are incorrect. And if 4,199 are incorrect, odds are yours is incorrect. Statistically speaking, the odds that you have chosen (or been chosen by) the righteous path toward God are …
Yup. .00023. Round up, if you’d like. It’s still .00024.
Lastly, here’s what always gets me worked up: God loves you. He’s blessed you with so much. Beautiful wife. Tremendous kids. A car. A house. Your dream president, @realdonaldtrump. And that’s terrific, and we here at jeffpearlman.com salute your wonderful state of being. But … what about this guy and his daughter? Are you saying that God and Jesus meant for them to die in a river while simultaneously meaning for you to drive a BMW to your $200-per-month gym? Did God want 10 million people to die in the Holocaust? And not just die—first be enslaved, then watch others die, then be placed in a ditch and shot. That’s part of God’s plan, right? Because right now, while kids are being detained in a holding cell/cage at the border, I’m sitting at a table inside a Dunkin Donuts, sipping from a large coffee and a eating an english muffin with egg. Why? Why did God decide I’m here, and they’re there?
Oh, I remember: It’s all part of His (always a His) great plan. And our tiny human brains can’t understand, but just know that He loves us all.
Except for these people.
Because they’re sinners.
PS: And I get the appeal of eternal life. I totally get it. It’s a huge roping-in point of organized religion. This idea that one day we’ll float on clouds with Grandma and Uncle Phil. But why is a finite life so hard to grasp? There’s something empowering in knowing you have one shot at this.
PPS: Friend DMed me this after reading the above post …