Take Christians. I am surrounded by Christians. They are generally speaking a pleasant and agreeable lot, not noticeably different from other people—even though they, the Christians of the South, the U.S.A., the Western world have killed off more people in recent centuries than all other people put together. Yet I cannot be sure they don’t have the truth. But if they have the truth, why is it the case that they are repellent precisely to the degree that they embrace and advertise that truth? One might even become a Christian if there were few if any Christians around. Have you ever lived in the midst of fifteen million Southern Baptists? (Of course you have. You’re from Alabama.) No doubt the same might be said of Irish Catholics and Miami Jews. The main virtue of Episcopalians is their gift for reticence. Seldom can an Episcopalian (or an Anglican) be taken for a Christian. Perhaps that is what I like about them. A mystery: If the good news is true, why is not one pleased to hear it? And if the good news is true; why are its public proclaimers such assholes and the proclamation itself such a weary used-up thing?
If the good news is true, the God of the good news must be a very devious fellow indeed, fond of playing tricks.
But perhaps two can play at that game.
As unacceptable as believers are, unbelievers are even worse, not because of the unacceptability of unbelief but because of the nature of the unbelievers themselves who in the profession and practice of their unbelief are even greater assholes than the Christians.
The present-day unbeliever is a greater asshole than the present-day Christian because of the fatuity, blandness, incoherence, fakery, and fatheadedness of his unbelief. He is in fact an insane person. If God does in fact exist, the present-day unbeliever will no doubt be forgiven because of his manifest madness.
The present-day Christian is either half-assed, nominal, lukewarm, hypocritical, sinful, or, if fervent, generally offensive and fanatical. But he is not crazy.
The present-day unbeliever is crazy as well as being an asshole—which is why I say he is a bigger asshole than the Christian because a crazy asshole is worse than a sane asshole.
The present-day unbeliever is crazy because he finds himself born into a world of endless wonders, having no notion how he got here, a world in which he eats, sleeps, shits, fucks, works, grows old, gets sick, and dies, and is quite content to have it so. Not once in his entire life does it cross his mind to say to himself that his situation is preposterous, that an explanation is due him and to demand such an explanation and to refuse to play out another act of the farce until an explanation is forthcoming. No, he takes his comfort and ease, plays along with the game, watches TV, drinks his drink, laughs, curses politicians, and now and again to relieve the boredom and the farce (of which he is dimly aware) goes off to war to shoot other people—for all the world as if his prostate were not growing cancerous, his arteries turning to chalk, his brain cells dying off by the millions, as if the worms were not going to have him in no time at all.
On the contrary. The more intelligent he is, the crazier he is and the bigger an asshole he is. He becomes a professor and forms an interdisciplinary group. He reads Dante for its mythic structure. He joins the A.C.L.U. and concerns himself with the freedom of the individual and does not once exercise his own freedom to inquire into how in God’s name he should find himself in such a ludicrous situation as being born in Brooklyn, living in Manhattan, and being buried in Queens. He is as insane as a French intellectual. It has taken me all these years to make the simplest discovery: that I am surrounded by two classes of maniacs. The first are the believers, who think they know the reason why we find ourselves in this ludicrous predicament yet act for all the world as if they don’t. The second are the unbelievers, who don’t know the reason and don’t care if they don’t.
The rest of my life, which will be short, shall be devoted to a search for the third alternative, a tertium quid—if there is one. If not, we are stuck with the two alternatives: (1) believers, who are intolerable, and (2) unbelievers who are insane.
I may be a member of the second class, the unbelievers, and no doubt an even greater asshole than they since they generally perform good works, help niggers, pore whites, etc., but at least I’m not crazy.
Unlike them I demand an explanation and at last have contrived a way of determining either what it is or that there is none.
For some time I had believed that the Jews were a sign, a clue to the mystery, a telltale bent twig, a blazed sapling in an “otherwise riotous senseless jungle.
But now it appears the Jews may have not left North Carolina after all, and in fact are making porno flicks and building condos and villas in Highlands, enjoying the leaves, and in general behaving like everyone else. There goes the last sign.
Granted then that the situation is unacceptable, that both parties, the believers and unbelievers, are not only equally repulsive but also equally unpersuasive, what is one to do?
To the best of my knowledge, only one man in history ever made a practical proposal, that is, a proposal of which the rare sane unbeliever could at least make a modicum of sense. That was the famous wager of Pascal, who was the last French intellectual who was not insane. Though it has never been taken seriously, it does after all make sense. One makes the bet that God exists, though one doesn’t know for sure. One could just as well bet that he does not exist. But it is better to bet that he does because if he does, the bettor wins and picks up all the marbles. If God does not exist, the bettor has lost nothing. He has everything to win and nothing to lose. If he bets against God, he has everything to lose and nothing to win.
But it is after all ludicrous to reduce the question to a crapshoot at Vegas.
My father knew all about this, about believers and unbelievers and Pascal’s bettor. What he said was I’m having no part of any of you. Excuse me but I won’t have it. Good day, gentlemen.
That’s one way. The trouble with Pascal’s wager is its frivolity.
The trouble with my father’s exit is that it yields no answers. It doesn’t even ask a question.
I’ve discovered a better way, a more scientific method, in fact an experiment. If I’m going to spatter my brains around the Great Smokies, it will happen because my question was not answered, not because it wasn’t asked. And I will not pull the trigger. And my beneficiary will be assured of receiving his million from Prudential.
There is an extra pleasure in killing two birds with one stone: solving the so-called mystery of life and beating the Rock at the same time.
My project is the first scientific experiment in history to settle once and for all the question of God’s existence. As things presently stand, there may be signs of his existence but they point both ways and are therefore ambiguous and so prove nothing. For example, the wonders of the universe “do not convince those most conversant with the wonders, the scientists themselves. Whether or not this testifies to the stupidity of scientists or to God’s success at concealing himself doesn’t matter.
The peculiar history of the Jews may be a sign but no one sees it as such except possibly the Jews themselves. But if the Jews have stayed in North Carolina (I must verify this) and not returned to Israel, their staying is no more a sign than the blacks leaving for the North or the blacks returning to the South.
But what if one should devise a situation in which one’s death would occur if and only if God did not manifest himself, did not give a sign clearly and unambiguously, once and for all?
Would not the outcome of such an experiment be a clear yes or a clear no, with no maybes?
Unless I am mistaken, I’ve hit on the perfect, “the definitive experiment—as definitive as the famous Michelson-Morley experiment which asked a question about the nature of space which could only be answered by a yes or a no, no maybes allowed.
We have had five thousand years of maybes and that is enough.
Can you discover a single flaw in this logic?
I’ve got him!
No more tricks!
No more deus absconditus!
Come out, come out, wherever you are, the game’s over.
No, I do not mean to joke. What I am doing is asking God with the utmost respect to break his silence.
No, not asking. Requiring.
Didn’t Jacob, a Jew, require an answer of God by hanging on to him, rassling him until God got fed up with this Jew (what have I done to have picked out such a nagging stiff-necked people?) and gave him what he wanted. How odd of God to choose the Jews.
God no longer makes appearances as a rassler, but I have my own way of getting at him.
I shall do this by waiting him out.
My experiment is simply this: I shall go to a desert place and wait for God to give a sign. If no sign is forthcoming I shall die. But people will know why I died: because there is no sign. The cause of my death will be either his nonexistence or his refusal to manifest himself, which comes to the same thing as far as we are concerned. Only you know the nature of the experiment. I give you permission to publish the results in a scientific journal of your choice.