Not Reception


The book states that, for him, the worst moment of his presidency was, not 9/11, or the hundreds of thousands he killed or maimed, or the millions he made homeless in Iraq and jobless in the United States, but when the rapper Kanye West said, in a fundraiser for Katrina victims, that Bush didn’t care about black people.

West was only half right. Bush is not particularly racist. He never portrayed Hispanics as hordes of scary invaders; Condi was his workout buddy and virtually his second wife; he was in awe of Colin Powell; and he was most comfortable in the two most integrated sectors of American society, the military and professional sports. It wasn’t that he didn’t care about black people.Outside of his family, he didn’t care about people, and Billy Graham taught him that ‘we cannot earn God’s love through good deeds’ – only through His grace, which Bush knew he had already received.

Right. He was done. This is my problem, right here. He was already okay with himself and the world no matter what he did or didn’t do in life, so this was all like Candyland to him, like a big adventure game where nothing was real. People like him have learned the wrong lesson from that book they like to talk so much about. It’s not, hey, you’re saved, now you get to kick back and be a dick the rest of your life. I really loathe the passivity with which we talk about religion a lot of the time, like you just sit around feeling things and that’s the point.

Yes, this is the part of the holidays where I talk about God a lot. I’ve spent the past year — I can’t believe it’s been a year she’s been gone, except as my aunt said at Christmas sometimes it seems longer and sometimes not — walking like a duck and talking like a duck and listening to two priests boil everything down to, basically, “try not to be such a shithead all the time, please.” I still feel very few urges to quack or to migrate and I can’t swim at all. I’m trying to be patient. It’s not like faith has a deadline. Act as if ye have faith, I say to myself a lot.

But … faith will be given to you? I’m not sure I want itgiven to me. Part of the problem with how I approach this is that I think about it as earning something. Working at it. Doing things. Even if it’s just prayer, whispered to probably a Void, that’s still action, still address and not reception. I don’t feel like this will ever be done. I don’t really think I’ll ever be a duck. I get irrationally pissed off at bumper stickers on the freeways: Don’t Let the Car Fool You, My Treasure is In Heaven, and I come home and reada guy writing about a science fiction show:

What if we’re not storing up riches in Heaven? What if there’s no Gods, and Earth is a lie after all? What then? This is why Communists are atheists: what if this is all there is? What if we keep running, forever? The lines we draw in the salt now, the systems we put in place now, aren’t just preserving the Colonies as they are, they’re creating the Colonies as they will be. The responsibility isn’t just to preserving democracy and the spirit of the Colonies while in a time of war, but making allowances for what happens if this never ends. If all we have left are rough spots, what then?

And I think, okay, what then? If this is it? Assume this is all there is, the responsibilities we have here to be decent people don’t go away. I really hate talking about God like he’s a get out of jail free card, talking about grace like it’s about deserving and undeserving. That’s what this comes down to, for Bush here, the idea of grace and forgiveness as a finish line, as a gold star on a school paper, as opposed to maybe the midpoint of a marathon, and you still have to keep running, hoping you’ll sprout wings and fly.


ps. Speaking of God stuff, did anybody but me really likeThe Book of Eli? Maybe it’s just my current post-apocalyptic kick, and Mila Kunis is crazy hot in it, but I’ve watched it twice now and I freaking loved it. It got bad reviews.

20 thoughts on “Not Reception

  1. There are no gods. There is no hell. This will give you more comfort than you will ever get from religion. Just stop thinking about religion as if it was a rational belief and it will end a lot of agony.
    It will also go a long way to explain people like Bush, et al.

  2. To me, religion is all about fear. I can’t get with that program. I don’t believe in a master puppeteer in the sky that has preplanned my destiny.
    I believe in positive energy and negative energy that we send out into the world. I try to keep it on the positive side.
    I like to think there is something after this life, but if there is, I don’t think there is a god that has anything to do with it.

  3. “…‘we cannot earn God’s love through good deeds’ – only through His grace, which Bush knew he had already received.”
    I know that’s standard evangelical boilerplate, but it never fails to astound me: the notion that salvation isn’t the culmination of a life well-lived, but some sort of word game to please or at least hoodwink the perpetually in-a-snit sky-god.
    And if you liked Bush, you’d love…Palin.
    Every time Obama disappoints me, which is plenty often enough, I keep thinking about the god-awful, no pun intended, alternative.

  4. Thinking about georgee burning in hell for an eternity is almost enough to make me a believer.

  5. There is a fundamental misunderstanding among fundamentalists. Oddly enough, (not) like every other willful misunderstanding, it serves to confirm their right to take control without taking responsibility.
    Funny how that works.

  6. It sorta explains the global warming denial and American exceptionalism, dunnit?
    Doing everything in their power to create Armageddon, while fully expecting to come through it unscathed.

  7. To quote Joseph Campbell, “There’s no real conflict between science and religion. Religion is the recognition of the deeper dimensions that the science reveals to us. What is in conflict is the science of 2000 B.C., which is what you have in the Bible, and the science of the twentieth century A.D. You have to disengage the messages of the Bible from its science.”
    If you understand the purposes of science and religion, then you can understand that science and religion are not in conflict, because religion is the simple understanding that the world is bigger than you, and science is mankind’s best attempt at objectively understanding it. This is something Buddhism has understood for about 2500 years or so, and why Albert Einstein felt that Buddhism was the perfect companion to science.
    The problem is not between religion and science, but religion and freedom. Indeed, religion has never had a problem with using science to control a population, whether through war or the Internet. It is when people use rational thought processes to question such things as why priests have the lock down on communicating with God, and can thus excommunicate you, or why this belief is better than that belief, that science becomes the enemy.
    Maybe there is a heaven, or not, or enlightenment, or not, or reincarnation, or not, but the only people who know for sure are those who have been there, and they’re not talking. Anyone who says otherwise is either crazy, or trying to use you to their ends.
    It is no mystery that people who profess to be atheists or agnostics know more about the bible than those who profess to believe, because they have taken the time to actually study it objectively. However, in my humble opinion, it takes as much faith to be an atheist as the most devout Christian, because atheism attempts to use science to prove something that science is incapable of proving. The only rational statement one can say is “I don’t know.”
    So, when people ask me what I believe, what I say is, “Based on what I have studied, the only answer I can give is that the universe is bigger than me, and I’ll figure out the rest when I get there.”
    Until then, the one thing I can consistently believe in is peace.

  8. >>The only rational statement one can say is “I don’t know.”<<
    It's not only the only rational statement, it may well be the only truth there is. And the most likely correlative is: there's nothing to know. A more accurate statement when people say they know something would be that they believe.
    As for me, give me freedom FROM religion.
    Regarding the question: I liked the idea of Book of Eli, and I consider Denzel Washington to be one of the best American actors on screen, but I was truly disappointed in the movie. The most interesting character was the right-hand man to Gary Oldman's character – the only one I thought I might want to know more about.

  9. m, I wanted to know more about Redridge, too. In the sense that he was played by Ray Stevenson and I wanted to know more about what he looked like with his shirt off.

  10. I very much liked The Book of Eli as well, but it entailed an awful lot of suspension of disbelief. Fortunately for me, that’s not a big problem.

  11. A friend of mine said that was the big deal of evangelical Christianity. “Grace without good works.”
    One time in high school I signed in the back of a mini-bible that I accepted Jesus Christ as my own personal lord and savior.
    That was it. That was the ticket to heaven. If felt like a great legal trick.
    That when judgment time came I could say, “Hey, back in high school I signed a pledge that is a get into heaven free contract! You need to keep your agreement!”
    It’s the kind of douche move that right wingers do all the time. Ignore the law until the the consequences get them and then whine when they are busted.
    “But you said that I was saved!”

  12. It’s not, hey, you’re saved, now you get to kick back and be a dick the rest of your life.
    It certainly is not and I have to say, I don’t know *any* Christians who believe that, even the Evangelical types I’ve worked around in the Christian music field. I think about all of the stuff the Jars of Clay and dc Talk guys do, hell even Amy Grant is a workhorse for the sick and poor. If that’s the message George W Bush got from Billy Graham I’d be shocked. That certainly is not the message Billy Graham preaches.
    I suspect Bush’s “kick back and be a dick” perspective, if he indeed has one, stems more from his position as a privileged member of the white upper class. These are the “checkbook Christians,” the folks accustomed to writing their end-of-year donation to whatever non-profit strikes their fancy (or offers them a nifty seat on the dais for their big press-the-flesh fundraiser).
    And it does indeed show what a phony “populist” Bush is. The people who fawned over him in their churches are far more accustomed to rolling up their sleeves and getting to work to help those in need, while Bush mouthed platitudes abut “compassionate conseveratism” before hitting the golf course at his private whites-only country club. Hell, even the Huckabees helped out the homeless in Arkansas. I remember reading that Mrs. Huckabee spends a night at the homeless camps under a bridge in Little Rock every year.
    I’m not giving conservative Christians a pass for looking away when Bush launched his wars. That hypocrisy is why I had to leave Christian music, I couldn’t even talk to some of these folks any longer. But not all of them were Bush cheerleaders.
    This kind of shit makes me nuts. I do think a lot of lefties are ignorant about Christians because we disagree with them on so much, and the media has stereotyped them a certain way. But it’s true that Bush and his cohorts exploited the faith community in their quest for power, blood and oil.

  13. One more thing:James 2:14-26:
    14 What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? 17 Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
    18 But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your[a] works, and I will show you my faith by my[b] works. 19 You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble! 20 But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead?[c] 21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? 22 Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect? 23 And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.”[d]And he was called the friend of God. 24 You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only.
    25 Likewise, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way?
    26 For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.

  14. To quote Seth Bullock fromDeadwood: What is my part and your part? What part of my part is your part? Is my foot your knee? What about your ear? What the fuck is that?

  15. Southern Beale,
    I don’t want to get into trouble here but despite the very strong “works + faith” tradition in Christianity, which I very much admire, there is an equally strong and very powerful misreading of Calvin tradition in American Christianity (what Fred at Slactivist calls Calvin-ism) that does, indeed, put faith above works and even sees works as antithetical to faith. Look at the very strong cultural trope among Evangelical or Fundamentalist Christians in this country against the welfare state specifically because it supposedly replaces “God” with “the State” and makes gratitude towards god unnecessary/makes charity unnecessary. I’m not saying they are the same argument, exactly, but they are definitely related. CS Lewis argued in the Last Battle that all good deeds (works) are done for the correct god and all bad deeds are assigned to the false god. That’s another way of saying that good works are their own reward and that for whoever or however we do them we get justified in the end. But for a wide swathe of the American Christian fundamentalists whose work I read on line doing good works “just because” or “for everyone” or without trying to coerce a conversion is totally wasted unless you have also said the magic words.
    I’m not saying that people in all churches don’t roll up their sleeves and do good works–that’s a natural part of being in human communities. But I think you really can’t argue that the faith/works argument hasn’t been a pretty real one, throughout history and especially in the US.

  16. However, in my humble opinion, it takes as much faith to be an atheist as the most devout Christian, because atheism attempts to use science to prove something that science is incapable of proving.
    Bullshit. Atheism is the negative proposition that there is no evidence for a deity. It doesn’t require “faith” or “proof” (not that you can prove anything in science, anyway; proofs are for logicians and distillers); it requires merely the recognition that “deity” is an evidenceless assertion of extraordinary magnitude, which would require extraordinary evidence (certainly more than a book of fictional folk-tales or ten) to back it up. Saying that atheism requires “faith” is kind of like saying that “off” is your favourite television show. It also doesn’t require and is completely independent of science. I was an atheist before I knew what sciencewas, because I realised that this “god” stuff didn’t make any damn sense and couldn’t actually exist in the world I observed the way that people were trying to tell me it did, so it must not be real.
    So essentially, you’ve just created your argument out of fundamental misunderstandings of both atheism and science. Here’s a hint — science is not aboutproving things, it’s aboutdisproving things (ruling them out), and building better models based on the body of evidence left over.

  17. Denzel is indeed a great actor and Mila Kunis, whom I never much cared for was SMOKIN’and Ray Stevenson was criminally underused. The premise however sucked. The world would by FAR be better off without the King James Bible. Ruined the movie for me, even though it was obvious what the book was. Plus, the blindness of Eli revealed at the end is given lie by earlier scenes that indicate he has sight. Weird. Action scenes were great, and again the ridiculously hot Mila Kunis… so mixed bag. Entertaining.

  18. “The premise however sucked. The world would by FAR be better off without the King James Bible. ”
    i am in absolute accord with the second sentence. my thought regarding the premise, however, was not so much that it concerned the king james bible – which, in fact, almost made me not want to watch the movie myself – but the idea of creating an interesting story around the premise that there is some great truth that neither man nor circumstance can obliterate. wishful thinking, perhaps. indeed, i would not say the king james qualifies as great truth, but the wise seem to manage to glean whatever is of value from anything, including the king james (or a movie, perhaps) – the wheat from the chaff, as it were – and the movie would not likely have made as much money in the US had they substituted some Eastern tome of spirituality or even a Western philosophical treatise, scientific exposition, or “Tom Sawyer.” and, while hollywood may make movies to further an agenda, it doesn’t make them to lose money.
    apologies for being boring in that.
    “I wanted to know more about Redridge, too. In the sense that he was played by Ray Stevenson and I wanted to know more about what he looked like with his shirt off.”
    hahaha. i guess i’ve even passed that point in life. sigh.

Comments are closed.