Recently, a bishop of international renown, the author of several bestselling books, delivered a speech at his mainline denomination’s general assembly. For reasons that are not yet clear, that speech was never reproduced on the denomination’s website, nor were copies released to the press. Nevertheless, a handwritten transcription of that speech was leaked to First Things . The name of the bishop and the denomination have been edited out for reasons of charity . . . and until our lawyers can assess the copyright-infringement implications.
This past April, while presiding over the Easter Moment, now available on DVD, I was mocking the mindless credulity of Galilean fishermen—when suddenly, I experienced a realization, more like an unveiling, similar to a spasm, almost identical to a loud wheezing. In short, I understood in one blinding moment that what we need is a new god, or a new word that means what we used to mean when we said god . Words are what they mean, except when they’re not, like crinkle and Spam . What is Spam? Is it animal, vegetable, dirigible? And why would someone leave a cake out in the rain, especially when it took so long to bake it? And who knows if they’ll ever have that recipe again? But I digress.
Now that we know light travels at 186,000 miles per second, we can no longer believe in an old man in the sky who intervenes in human affairs. Because if he is an old man, then he is very, very old, and probably makes those annoying sounds when he gets up from a seated position. And if he is in the sky, then why can’t we see him on a clear day? And if he is personally involved in our lives, why couldn’t I get decent seats for The Nutcracker ? The logic is inescapable.
Some will say, “I never believed God was an old man in the sky.” So, a dirty atheist, huh? Well, this message is only for good Christians whose faith is founded on sand. I want to kick some sand in their faces before it gets in my egg salad and I have to buy from the machine.
We need a new god. We need a new drug. We need a new metaphor, because the old metaphor, I am a gazelle, leaves people with that funny look on their face.
What we need is not a god of judgment who says this is right and that is wrong. Who is to say what is right and wrong? What’s right for God could be wrong for me, like turning people into pillars of salt. Tried it. Didn’t like it. And what is wrong for God could be right for me, like doing Pilates at an Irish wake.
The latest scholarship¯which I have mailed to me weekly in freeze-dried packages¯reveals a three-part program that must become the foundation of a new Christian me-ology. Yes! ME-ology: the science of me—not thee, not thou—because my me is all I have. At least all I can claim on my taxes.
1. God is the All. And since the All includes Cheez Whiz, then God is also available in non-aerosol cans. Nonsense, you say? Open your minds! Remember, our denomination’s theology is like a three-legged stool, based on Reason, Common Sense, and a prescription sleep aid called Zonked.
2. God is Love. If God is love, then love is God. And if I love me, then I must be God. And as deities go, I’m pretty easy to get on the phone.
3. All Absolutes are Relative. All relatives are absolutely awful. I have no idea where I’m going with this.
Dead orthodoxy based on supernatural theism is nothing but a human concoction. But my concoction is not. Why? Aren’t I human? If you prick me, do I not sue? If you buy me one of those cheap port wines, do I not roll my eyes?
How can we endure the fairy tale of Genesis, with a creation myth that has man made from mud and woman from man, which makes her mud once removed? And not that good spa mud, but ancient icky dreck mud. Science has proved that we miserable humans are the mere accidental by-products of the big bang: an explosion of energy that spit out gobs of blue-green algae (now available in pill form) that blindly evolved into Isaac Newton (though what was with that hair?). From nothing we came, to nothing we will return. As Hemingway said, “Our nada who art in nada.” But for nada, we certainly whine enough.
For two millennia we have held up as a model for women a virgin mother. What possible relevance can this have for women today, reprobates that they are? What we need is an image that evokes power, not passivity; independence, not obedience. Like Wonder Woman. Or Will and Grace . Or this chick I saw on the bus. Do you think I would let my daughters call "blessed" some icon of perfect piety when what I really wanted were sons? Never! I made them get out there and make me proud. Winners are what I wanted! Winners in the big game of life! One is a professional wrestler, fights under the name of Jungle Jean. Another is a fighter pilot for the People’s Republic of China. And another teaches Third Worlders that abortion is a birthright and suicide a privilege.
Remember, Christianity gave us global warming, racism, sexism, antidisestablishmentarianism, years 15 through 27 of the Thirty Years War, and NASCAR. If only Jesus hadn’t lived, there never would have been a perversion of his true teachings, which are lost to us forever, but which I know intimately, being a Christian bishop and all. Wasn’t it the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob who gave us the Tenth Commandment about not coveting thy neighbor’s wife, chattel that she was? Why, a wife is no mere piece of property, like my manservant or my ass; she’s a living, breathing pain in my—hello? Is this thing still on?
In conclusion, let me leave you with this: The churches are outmoded dens of antiquity. Dogma is propaganda, opium for the masses. The sacraments, voodoo. The priesthood, an elitist refuge for dead white males.
But I’m keeping the collar.
In addition to which :
From the beginning, First Things has been a collaborative enterprise. It is not just a magazine but¯as we rather pretentiously put it¯a universe of discourse. Which is another way of saying that it is a moveable feast of personal and intellectual friendships. From time to time, we’ll be posting here pictures of some of the people who sustain the First Things conversation.
To access the running gallery, click here .From left: Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Lutheran bishop William Lazareth, and the late Fr. Raymond Brown at a conference on biblical interpretation.