Encore: How God really “works”

[This post, originally published on August 28, 2007, has been my single most popular and reposted article, with over 36,600 hits so far.]

A blogger at passionateamerica.com has a bit of Monday Morning “humor” that (perhaps without meaning to) gives us a good hard look at how God really “works”:

A United States Marine was attending some college courses between assignments. He had completed missions in Iraq and Afghanistan . One of the courses had a professor who was a vowed atheist and a member of the ACLU.

One day the professor shocked the class when he came in. He looked to the ceiling and flatly stated, “God, if you are real, then I want you to knock me off this platform. I’ll give you exactly 15 minutes.” The lecture room fell silent. You could hear a pin drop.

Ten minutes went by and the professor proclaimed, “Here I am God. I’m still waiting.” It got down to the last couple of minutes when the Marine got out of his chair, went up to the professor, and cold-cocked him; knocking him off the platform.

The professor was out cold. The Marine went back to his seat and sat there, silently. The other students were shocked and stunned and sat there looking on in silence. The professor eventually came to, noticeably shaken, looked at the Marine and asked, “What the hell is the matter with you? Why did you do that?”

The Marine calmly replied, “God was too busy today protecting America ’s soldiers who are protecting your right to say stupid stuff and act like an a$$. So, He sent me.”

Funny stuff, eh? I mean, what’s not to love? The assault victim was not only a college professor (i.e. educated and thus automatically evil), he was also a “vowed atheist” (gasp!) and if that weren’t bad enough, he was even a member of the ACLU (swoon!). The author left out “Darwinist,” but that was probably just an oversight. Wouldn’t every passionate American just love to go around punching out liberals, atheists, and educated people? This isn’t just a joke, it’s a wish-fulfillment fantasy.

Like all good fantasy, this one draws its power from making the setting seem as realistic as possible. What makes the joke really work, especially on the wish-fulfillment level, is the faithfulness with which it reproduces the way God behaves in the real world. Notice, for example, that at no point does God ever actually show up anywhere in the real world. He does not show up in response to the professor’s challenge, nor does He show up to tell the Marine, in the sight and hearing of the other students, to go up and punch out the professor.

Nor, in fact, does He show up in the war zone to genuinely protect the soldiers. If God did show up in Iraq, for example, to point out where the insurgents were hiding and where the IED’s were planted, not only would our troops be in a lot less danger, but the Marine would be able to point to God’s visible and verifiable activity in Iraq as a satisfactory answer to the professor’s challenge.

But God does not, in fact, show up in the real world, an absence that the Marine finds frustrating and infuriating. He seethes with inner rage and helplessness, because God consistently fails to behave as though He believed the same things the Marine does, and yet the Marine cannot confront God about this nor can he admit, even to himself, that there’s anything wrong with God’s behavior. To do so would be to cast doubts on his own faith and his own personal sense of salvation.

This frustrated and impotent inner tension is what drives the joke, of course. The author, and his intended readers, all know first-hand how the Marine feels. God’s behavior is clearly inconsistent with what they believe about Him, and there’s not a damn thing they can do about it. They can’t even complain about it, because to complain about it, they’d first have to admit that it’s true, and that would be a denial of their faith. So they’ve got all this anger and frustration building up, and nowhere for it to go. What are they to do?

The Marine, in the story, takes the only available outlet: he makes the poor professor the scapegoat for his own inner turmoil, and lashes out violently against him. Many Christians feel the same way, though most of them (fortunately) are more self-restrained than the Marine in this story, contenting themselves with name-calling and nasty jokes (like this one) directed against whoever they decide should be the scapegoat this week. Ironically, after violently assaulting the professor for what he said, the Marine then self-righteously admits that the professor has a legitimate right to free speech, which his fellow troops are fighting to protect even as he, the Marine, is busy violating it.

But I digress. The main point is that the professor gets knocked off his platform–but notice, it took a real person do actually do it. Had the Marine not acted, the “work” (knocking off the professor) would not have gotten done. The real person did the work, and then tried to claim that God deserved credit for what was done.

This is the secret. This is how God really “works” in the real world: somebody thinks they know what God ought to be doing, then they sit there stewing about it because God’s obviously not taking care of the matter, then they jump up and do it themselves, then they claim that God ought to be given credit for having gotten the job done. A classic case of sock-puppet deity. Rather pitiful, really, but so long as God persists in failing to show up in the real world it’s the best Christians have to offer.

Mr. Anonymous And Probably Fictitious Marine, I salute you. You may have acted violently, ignorantly, and unjustly, but you at least gave us a clear demonstration of how Christians perpetuate the delusion that God actually does things in the real world.

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Posted in Encore, Society. 4 Comments »

4 Responses to “Encore: How God really “works””

  1. David D.G. Says:

    Nice work! I can’t wait to send this in response the next time I get one of those insipid forwarded emails enthusiastically repeating this absurdly contrived scenario.

    ~David D.G.

  2. Susannah Says:

    Remember how we were taught that it was “dangerous” to pray about a need, because God might just commission us to do something to help?

  3. Bacopa Says:

    I’m going totally hypothetical here because this never really happened: But I think the prof would have plenty of witnesses to back up an assault charge.

    But this fiction is useful. It illustrates what the fundies wish they could do to us. They want to punch us in the face.

  4. Citizen Z Says:

    I’ve seen this “joke” many times before, but I never saw the “protecting your right to say stupid stuff and act like an a$$” bit. Claiming to protect his free speech right after punching him for something he said, I’m choking on the irony.