(Part one of two; part two will appear next week.)
God is a jerk!
At least that’s one hypothesis.
How many times have you, or somebody you know, suffered a loss or setback so devastating, so bereaving, that the sufferer blamed God for the troubles? At least in the short run, it happens all the time. People reason that if God causes or even allows horrid suffering to occur, then the suffering must be God’s fault.
That is the starting point, psychologically, for Madison Jones, the central character in Mad Jones, Heretic, my novel released at Amazon on Friday by Liberty Island Media. In his grief after a series of horrid tragedies, the fictional Mad Jones pens a series of religious theses (a la Martin Luther; hence, next week’s column) that begins in pain and anger. By Thesis 12 (out of an eventual 59 of them), Mad has worked himself into the declaration that “God is a jerk.”
Of course, that’s the beginning, not the end, of the saga I explore in what will be a Mad Jones trilogy, one which finds ways to satirize modern media, politics and religion while exploring the nature of individual redemptions large and small.
For purposes of this column, though, let’s pause right at Mad’s starting point. The early make-or-break point for readers is if they can buy into the idea that Madison Jones can attract an instant social-media following by posting theses that include an assertion of God’s jerkiness. (My publishers call the three-novel series as a whole the Accidental Prophet trilogy because indeed Mad does attract, unintentionally, such a following.)
For nearly a century beginning in the late 1800s, the intellectual world (if not broader society) was aflame almost to the point of self-parody with what it considered to be the excitingly exotic idea promulgated by Nietzsche that “God is dead.” For people of a certain mindset, it is deliciously tempting to “stick it to polite society” by mouthing simple slogans that appear to pierce the very heart of bourgeois values.
But even for the most self-absorbed counter-culturalist now, it is beyond cliché to say that God is dead. And as Western culture even in the traditionally faith-filled United States experiences steady erosion in the number of religious believers, there’s nothing daring anymore about treating God as either dead or nonexistent. Especially when so much of modern culture is full of self-absorption, something more daring, more anti-bourgeois, is needed to capture attention and shout out loud one’s sense of personal victimhood.
If “God is dead” is trite, why not re-create God as a jerk, all the better to cast oneself as a heroic player in one’s own drama of “me against the big bad world”? It’s a lot less heroic to ignore a dead God than it is to fight against an active, all-powerful jerk and prevail, now isn’t it? Or, if not prevail, then to have a better excuse for failure. As in: “Well, how can I be responsible if God Himself was against me?”
Thus it is that, at least for the purposes of satire, one can envision a mass subset of Americans finding appeal in someone who dares to assert God’s jerkiness.
Besides, aren’t there numerous Old Testament examples – at least without surrounding context – that describe God as mercurial, vain, and vindictive? Didn’t God torment Job for years just to win a bet with the devil? Didn’t God so quickly lose patience with the Hebrew people that he was on the verge of destroying them until Moses changed his mind?
We recently had a president, Barack Obama, who openly bragged about being a blank screen onto which people could project their own hopes and dreams. Why could we not have as an accidental prophet some faith-based version of a tabula rasa – one with a certain charisma, to be sure, as does the character Madison Jones – onto whom a gullible public can project all sorts of virtues in gratitude for giving them permission to stomp their feet, and call God a jerk, as a way to protest their perceived misfortunes?
With all sorts of crazy ideas and even conspiracy theories these days spreading like wildfire via social media; and with so many people so angry at their (actually rather comfortable) lives; and with people finding that not even protesting a flag or anthem is a satisfying enough way to express a barbaric yawp, isn’t it imaginable that a whole subset of people would find appeal in taking their frustrations to the very top by protesting against God Himself?
At some level, my Accidental Prophet trilogy (each of the books short-ish, in the 180-age range) just assumes, as part of a broader plot, that this sort of phenomenon is possible, rather than analyzing and explaining it as this little essay does here at PJ Media. My point here is to lament that our culture has fallen so far – so far, indeed, that a novelist can even semi-plausibly imagine and describe a mini-mass-movement growing organically around a grief-wracked protest at God.
Of course, I don’t for a moment believe that “God is a jerk.” Just the opposite, in fact. But if you want to put that slogan on a billboard with a 1-800 number, I bet you’ll get lots of interested phone calls asking how to participate in the anti-God demonstration.
Therein lies a social pathology. And therein lies the need, from all of us who do believe, to find better ways to explain God’s existence and His real nature, so that even a confused modern culture can understand us, and believe.
Quin Hillyer is a veteran conservative columnist with a Theology degree from Georgetown University. His novel, Mad Jones, Heretic, is available at Amazon.com.