Sunday, November 27, 2005

If God Appeared

What would the Christians do if God appeared?
Rejoice, right? Rephrase ‘I told you so’ into something more suitably high-minded? “This should come as no surprise for those who heeded the Word. Those who did not can no longer cower in their doubt.” But don’t begrudge them a little sportsmanlike gloating, some subtle showboating. Let them cluck their tongues at the unbelievers, let the mass of their celebrating be in the form of their sticky-sweet words for the losers. Let them shake their head and say “if only you had listened” as you file into the “unsaved” group. They were right, they did earn this, and besides, this may be the last bit of fun they have. Because when God arrives, Christianity will end.
This won’t be because God will smote them, or admonish them for doing a poor job. That may very well happen (from what I understand from snippets I hear from Christian media, we are doing a pretty lax job of repenting, serving God, and spreading the word. At least it seems that way. Otherwise, why would they constantly remind us?) Even if God praises them up and down on their service and faith, they’re still sunk. Because when God arrives, he’ll take away the Christians most defining feature. He’ll rob them of faith and, in UnGod-like stinginess, leave in its place the costume-jewelry version: certainty.
Faith and certainty are not interchangeable, unfortunately for any Christian after God’s arrival. No matter what a Christian will tell you, they are not certain of God. They have faith in his existence. Faith is believing something despite: despite the doubters, despite the physical evidence, despite everything. This despite is the joy of Christianity. Although unbelievers may say that Christians have no mind of their own, having faith is an extreme act of personal will. It is the ultimate way of having your own mind. To believe despite is to ask your own individual ego to rise above everything you hear and see. And that is what makes Christianity satisfying. The feeling that you are somehow special, not because of God’s grace, but because of the triumph of your ego over the ambiguous world.
When God comes, they’ll be no need for that. Certainty is not a willed thing. When something is certain, it becomes an imposition on you. You are not conjuring it up, you are not making reality out of doubt. God is here, pointing to and for, demanding this and praising that, and it has nothing to do with your belief. He’s just there, like anything else in life. Just like you don’t choose to believe in the poor weather the day God arrives. That certainty is imposed on you when you feel the big, fat raindrops on your head and wish you brought an umbrella and then wonder if you’d have to lower your umbrella, like taking off your hat, in the presence of God. It must not involve any great act of will to be certain of God if you have enough left to muse so absurdly.
The real Christians, strangely, seem preoccupied in the presence of their God. For some reason, they keep reminding everyone that they believed even before God arrived. It seems like such a small point now, I mean, God is here. Who cares who believed what when? Look, God! Is that how you imagined he’d be? Did he just look at me? I thought he’d be more like staring into the sun, where you’d have to look away. But He’s a completely accessible glory. I wonder if anyone has made the pun about him being more down-to-earth than they expected. I wonder if anyone said that to him. I bet he’d think it was funny only if you were the first to say it. Do you think anyone’s said that to him yet? Do you think I should? He’d probably remember me better if I did, but I’ll look really dumb if someone else said it first. I don’t think I could handle having God roll his eyes at me.
In the presence of God, everyone is having similar fun with their thoughts but the poor Christians. Everyone now sees what they thought only a very strong and special few could. No one seems interested in what it took to believe with few signs for so long. Before God came along, they felt like they has such identity. They alone believed. It felt so noble to carry that faith through a crowd of doubters, centuries of human suffering, and infinite personal trials. Now everyone believes. Even the unsaved say things like “gotta hand it to ya” and slap them on the back in recognition. Everyone is certain and no one needs to bother with faith. Without their faith, that ultimate defiant act of personhood, they are now truly just servants of God. But how they come to long for the days when that didn’t mean doing his bidding but instead meant faith in his existence--that private little triumph of self that sustained them so long.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Make the Price The Prize, the Toll the Goal, the Sacrifice the Reward

I occasionally have an argument with myself over my level of buffoonery. I’ve always figured my audacity, my lack of real, unified knowledge, and my propensity for pronouncements add up to this image: Monica is a entertaining, buffoonish lay-philosopher. She’s part crude peasant woman (with the attending plainspeakin’ wisdom) and part pure abstraction. She tests the limits of homespun-ness by keeping herself just ignorant enough of real ideas and research to maintain her simple charm, yet she reads just enough to keep the new ideas a’coming.
So the argument is this: On one hand, I know my ideas will never carry the weight of a real literature “scholar” or philosopher because I don’t bother with research or figuring out the “dialogue” of these fields enough to interject with something well-timed and on-topic. So, to talk the way I do, I risk looking like a buffoon. Sometimes I think: Monica, you’re just lazy. Or arrogant. Or defiant. Don’t even try to defend your buffoonery with some trumped-up logic.
But then I think….looking buffoonish is the price I pay to say what I say and how I say it. And then: that’s the PRICE I pay? Maybe that’s the reward. Maybe I want to preserve my buffoonery. Maybe that’s the PRIZE. You need to be a buffoon, I say to myself (and now being a buffoon is part of the “point”) You need to maintain your lack of discretion! You need to be this uncultivated!
It’s characteristic of my worldview to see the toll of something as the goal. I will look like a buffoon because of my silly certainty and unfounded ideas, so I start to see looking like a buffoon as a treat or reward for those very ideas. Which is likely why I integrated “buffoonery” into my ideal image. I think that we need people who just blurt out intuitive shit with little or no regard for the flow of things. People who keep a rapid-fire stream of philosophical ideas, not bothering to linger on one or two for a career (which scholars and philosophers do) but giving the full breadth of all that they can believe—save the depth ( the development, the proof) for the next lifetime or someone else.
It’s also characteristic of my worldview to see my personality—particularly its flaws—as serving some “essential” purpose in the world. Should I begin a self-help program, cultivating vices and flaws would be one of its cornerstones. As I like to say, cultivating only your virtues is like canoeing with only one paddle on only one side—you’re bound to go in circles. But nurturing both your virtues AND vices is like paddling with two paddles on both sides. You’ll be propelled ever forward on the alternating current of good and evil.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Laughing at the Prodigy

When I was driving home the other day, I tuned into NPR and was disturbed by what I heard. A young piano prodigy was being interviewed, presumably still on stage. A male voice softly lobbed this question, as if it needed to be asked delicately: “Do you still get nervous up here with all these people watching?” “Sometimes I do…but when I start playing I stop shaking and just get into it…” She was eleven years old. Her speech had adult cadences but still retained the aural pertness particular to children. Or perhaps the cadence of her speech had something to do with being crowd-savvy. She knew when to pause for laughter and when she could resume. And there was so much laughter! When she said that children shouldn’t “sit on their butt all day and watch TV” this bit of wisdom was greeted with veritable roars. Even comedians are never greeted with such unabashed laughter. What was strange about the laughter is that it was all the same tone. If you ever really listen to a crowd laughing, you’ll usually hear, behind the braying of the lead laugher (the one that likes to lead the crowd into it and then punctuate with one last chuckle after everyone’s done) you’ll hear other laughs. Doubting sniffs. Knowing chuckles. Restrained snorts of half-derision half-amusement. Laughs that seemed pained, as if they’re an involuntary acknowledgement of something. Wild peals that seem as if they could only come from someone who hasn’t laughed in forever, someone who nearly forgot how and is celebrating the return of laughter in their very laughing. “Ahhhhaaaa I can laugh!” Regardless of whether or not all these types are represented, the point is laughter varies. Not everyone is amused in the same way. But this crowd all seemed to be uniformly tickled. It was all the Awwwww how cute! laughter, and nothing else. There wasn’t a single cynic to break that up with a scoff-laugh hybrid.
I suppose one could say that this is a wonderful thing. Its wonderful that we all are universally charmed by precocious children. That we all respect and delight in innocence enough. That ,even in this ever darkening world, with all its moral quandaries and tensions, we can still take a time-out to enjoy—and even benefit from—the simple wisdom of children. But I don’t see it this way. I think the way we laugh at precocious children is incredibly dark.
One reason I think we laugh at precocious children is that we love the naiveté of children attempting to act like an adults. No matter how hard a child tries to sound mature, there will always be a word or a tone that will give them away. So we wait for that sweet “giveaway” clue (like the piano-prodigy saying “butt) to laugh, presumably because we’re relieved to see that you can’t escape childhood through will. Isn’t it cute to watch a child fall back into their rank after adorably scrambling to look adult? We laugh at how absurdly naïve it is for a child to think they can appear as anything else. And we laugh in relief that children will be children and adulthood does, in fact, wait.
We also laugh, I think, a little out of admiration. It’s sort of noble for a child to fight back their stutters, their scatteredness, their naughtiness, and try to be more than they are. And they have a certain idealism that we adults lack. We know the limits of what we can be, and we know what we can and can’t control. But isn’t it heartening to see a child, unfettered by these truths?
Now I think this is all dark, because of what it says about adulthood. The fact is, no adult will EVER be laughed at the way the little girl was. Adults, quite simply, cannot be precocious, because we see precociousness as purely a child’s quality. Still, why couldn’t an adult be precocious—couldn’t those qualities appear later in life? Naively trying to be something older, wiser, and maybe better than you are. What would that be for an adult? Would that be an adult who tries to be “post-human?” Something better than the human race as is?
And the naïve part. Certainly there are adults who naively, we would say, pursue what’s out of reach, or don’t see their limits. But this group of people isn’t charming to us the way a child is with the same qualities. An adult like this may look brave, or admirable, or stupid, or short-sighted, but they will never look cute. They will never elicit that all-agreed-upon laughter we aim at the prodigy child, overstepping her little self.
There is then, a limit to how much an adult can charm us. To be charmed, so purely and thoroughly as we are by children, is our only real form of communal love. It is one of our few, if not only, universal affections, and it ends for everyone at about 14. We have a little hate for all adults, for their inherent un-cuteness (because we are adults, and see ourselves as "un-cute"), and that’s what makes what should be charming naiveté look like idiocy.
One final reason why I think we laugh at precocious children is that we need one outlet to laugh at how impossible it is, really, to be an adult. When a child slips up and shows her age, we sympathize so deeply, because we were forever slipping up ourselves. However, our slip-ups are never greeted with the warm laughter of strangers. We never laugh at another adult’s vain and misguided and painfully sincere attempts to get through the world. We should, though. We should see the whole fucked-up human enterprise as adorable in its limitations and endless, even glorious, earnestness.

Sunday, November 20, 2005


Welcome. This blog will cover the following topics in the following weeks:
1. Death. I'm convinced that I'm mere days away from conjuring up a theory of death that I'll find acceptable. It may not be true or logical but it will be pro-mirth and anti-bliss for sure.
2.Prodigies. I think the way we laugh at precocious children is extremely dark. The fact that an adult cannot be "precocious" is evidence of our lack of legitimate innocence.
3.Charm. All we can hope for from the earth is charm. To love the earth is to be charmed by it in all its naivitee and sad-sacness. Charm trumps beauty and truth because...
4.Cosmic Comedians. Its easy enough to imagine another race on another planet with social mores, traditions, foods and habitat. But try to imagine the comedy there, and you'll realize you haven't imagined another race at all.