I wasn’t sure if you knew this or not, but there’s a church out by me, on the eastern end of Long Island, that’s been advertising its new web site, itpaystoquestiongod.com. I’ve heard the ads on local radio stations while driving and seen pieces written about it in local papers.
The whole concept is this: You go to the site, you type in some big, huge, burning question you’ve been meaning to ask God (well, you), and then the church donates $5 to one of four, pre-selected, local charities. Now, even to an atheist such as myself, this sounds all well and good. I was even contemplating going on and plugging in the question “What’s the difference between supper and dinner?” just so a local charity could get five bucks. Then I figured I’d just write to you directly, bypass the middleman, and use the money on cat food.
So I ask you, what is the difference between supper and dinner? Is it a cultural thing? Perhaps a geographic thing? Does the answer vary from country to country? If you don’t know, then I don’t think anybody will. Maybe I shouldn’t have bothered with this letter at all and just gone straight to Wikipedia.
Writing this to you as a mostly atheist (and yes, I know this makes me sound like the people who call themselves vegetarian but still eat fish and chicken) I realize I’m writing to a fictional character (it’s ok though, I have, after all, written to dead people and corporations before). But what a fucking character you are. In fact, you’re not only most likely the most well known character in all of literature, but you also seem to elicit more passion from Bible readers – whether it be hatred or pure adoration – than any other protagonist from any other book. Though, I suppose you’re more of an omniscient narrator than the protagonist. But then this passion spills out from the pages of the Bible and into real life. Think of how many crazy things have been done in the name of a fictional character?
Now, this is the thing: Atheism scares me just as much as God/religion. Because, as a mostly atheist, if I’m wrong, then I’m screwed when I die. I might have been the nicest person to walk the planet – you know, helping old people cross the street, taking in stray animals, turning the other cheek, etc. – but as soon as I say I don’t believe in God, then I imagine Hell is the only place I’m heading.
As a Catholic school graduate, having read quite a bit of the Bible and having spent far too much time around nuns and other religious folk, I know how vengeful you can be. I mean, Sodom and Gomorrah? You dislike their sexual preferences and practices, so you threw some fire and brimstone their way. Sure, you gave Lot, a good man in your divine eyes, and his family the chance to escape these damned cities. But you turned his wife into a pillar of salt when she turned back to look at Sodom as they fled! That’s not cool. And the story of Noah? The human race pissed you off as a whole, so you drowned those suckers. I mean, come on, you didn’t even attempt to have a Town Hall style meeting first? Your immediate reaction is to wipe them out? This does not bode well for modern society, with 2012 fast approaching (you know, assuming I’m totally wrong and you exist).
And let’s not even talk about the Book of Revelation. When I took a class called Passion, Sin and Miracles, which studied the Bible as literature, when we got to that segment of the course I had to use my allotted absences to avoid having to read it. And when it came time to choose a final essay topic, I avoided anything involving the apocalypse and instead wrote about apocrypha.
But the scariest story of all is the story of Job, who was actually one of your most devout followers. Instead of a pat on the back, you turn him into nothing more than a plaything one day when you and the devil wager on exactly how much it would take for Job to break down and renounce his faith in you. Boils, plagues, killing off his children, taking away his wealth. And all for no reason other than your amusement.
After first reading about Job in middle school, that’s when I knew exactly who I was dealing with – a God who destroys because he can, for no rhyme or reason. And the nuns and hyper religious, lay religion class teachers didn’t really help either. They’d try to tell you, basically, be good, or else. I mean, they’d sugarcoat it with colorful picture books of Bible stories, hippies playing the guitar, fun activities (I vaguely recall making a lamb mask out of paper plates and cotton balls and then crawling around an altar during mass at summer Bible camp) and the rewards of heaven.
But for me it always went back to Job: If you feel like smiting me, I will be smote, no matter how awesome I am.
Where, I ask you, is the incentive to be a good person? It’s all simple psychology. If there’s a piece of cheese at the end of the maze, a carrot on the end of a stick, well, then I’ll be going in whatever direction you’re trying to make me go. But you made your mistake by including the story of Job in the Bible. It just showed me – and I hope it showed others – how arbitrary and tempestuous you are and that clearly I could do whatever the fuck I wanted, because you were coming after me no matter what I did.
This was my reasoning when I entered high school – an all-girls’ catholic school I affectionately refer to as lesbian boot camp. That’s about when I also started to think of the Bible as nothing more than a work of fiction, no different from Greek and Roman mythology (can you imagine taking Theogony by Hesiod literally?), a good summer read.
So I drank. I swore (I’ve probably taken your name in vain on several occasions). I cut class. I stopped going to church every weekend so I could sleep late. I came out of the closet without fearing fire and brimstone (though let’s face it, I was never really in the closet, it was more like a cubby hole.) I basically went down a list of the Ten Commandments and crossed each one off as I broke them.
For the most part, this is how I live my life to this day, with no fear of retribution in the afterlife for all my worldly foibles and misdeeds.
But there is that nagging doubt in the back of my mind, because I don’t think anyone can ever be entirely certain about anything. I’ve never been one to think any possibility was a sure thing. So there’s that .01 percent of myself that’s thinking, “Oh shit, if I’m wrong I am totally screwed for eternity.”
With that, I’ll let you get back to work, assuming the 99.99 percent of me is wrong. But if I am wrong, can you get back to me on supper/dinner question? You have my e-mail address.
PS Are you there, God? It’s me, Tiffany. Can you please not kill me in my sleep for writing this letter?