Tuesday, September 14, 2010

On Disliking God

The reason the mass of men fear God, and at bottom dislike Him, is because they rather distrust His heart, and fancy Him all brain like a watch. —Herman Melville, "Letter to Nathaniel Hawthorne, June 1851"
I'm trying to decide when I began to dislike God.

Perhaps when I was forced to read about Him and wanted to read something else—most likely a Hardy Boys book. That would have been in Chalmers, Indiana, near the time of my baptism, at seven or eight years old.

Or when I was told to pray to Him before lunch in Mrs. Staley's first grade class, standing in line at the classroom door in Knoxville, Tennessee, surrounded by hungry classmates.

Or when I asked Him to stop my parents' fighting—that, too, would have been in Tennessee—and from my knees listened to the world (it's true) continue to crack.

Or much later, when He denied me Darlene Barrett's body (the first of many bodies to choose Him over me, despite my trembling, my gentleness, my self-evident innocence).

Or when I danced manically one afternoon to "Money for Nothing" and my father, speaking with God's voice, told me to get control of myself. And I did, and I never danced like that again.

Or when I saw a girl—why bother with the names, anymore?—climb out of a pool from night-swimming, and sit on its edge in her bra and panties, gleaming in the dim light.

Or, days later, when that same girl betrayed me with my best friend. And I decided that I'd been emasculated by my obedience.

Or when I allowed myself to admit that The Book of Mormon was a terrible bore, and chose instead to read Love in the Time of Cholera. That would have been in General Belgrano, in Argentina, during my Mormon mission. After finishing García Márquez I read A Tale of Two Cities, which my mother had been suggesting I read since my early adolescence, and I wept bitterly at its famous conclusion, undergoing, I think, my own decapitation.

Or when I sat on our family room's red shag carpet in our Austin, Texas, five-years-old, and watched Secretariat destroy Sham at the Belmont Stakes to win the Triple Crown.

Or when I read Othello for the first time.

Or, better yet, when Tom kissed Becky.

Or when I saw my grandmother dead in her coffin.

Or when I saw my mother weeping at the pulpit, trying to speak.

Whenever it was, I hope that I rebelled first against God's seriousness. Older now, it's possible to imagine—but only imagine—that He was laughing all along; that nothing is serious; that the truest religious journey is from seriousness to laughter. But that's a journey almost no one makes. I have made it only in my imagination—and perhaps not even there.

I do wonder, though, if Melville isn't right—if just about everyone dislikes God, especially those who most claim to love Him. Shakespeare, who was Melville's progenitor and can teach us everything, has already warned us about those who insist too much.

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