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The Liturgy

By Closet Agnostic ~

Over the past 2 years ,I slowly went through the transition from committed Calvinist to agnostic. What makes this especially painful is that admitting my agnosticism would almost certainly result in divorce from my wife, and isolation from most of my friends and family. The piece below is fiction in its presentation, but its more truth than fiction. It represents the logical problems I have found in Christianity, as well as what's it like to have to go to church week after week in utter disbelief. Enjoy.

The Preacher is a volcano of boiling, beaded sweat and mercy. Drops and driblets of righteousness ooze from his brow and slide down his cheeks like the slow crawl of black tar. Thin, evanescent wisps of steam serpentine out of his ears, dance a nervous dance of pity and judgement, and vanish. His eyes are like a perfect pane of glass in front of a bright orange flame. They are still as granite. The preacher does not blink. The preacher has never blinked. The muscles that hold his eye lids could sustain a bridge. They are perfect, unwavering muscles. They are a marvel of engineering, allowing the omniscient eyes to scan the rolling sea of pews. The preacher thrusts his hands above the congregation, confidently, penitently saluting the groveling grunts of the army of the Lord. He opens his mouth, booming booms of Amens and Praise His name and hallelujahs. The walls of the chapel vibrate and wince, but they don't crack. They are built to sustain the fury of a benediction. The faces in the pews sway like the pieces of wind chimes. They are gray faces without features. A whitish, dull gray, smeared harshly over each tired, dozing oval.

Lest you forget the power of God, the Preacher belts, Remember that God hath made the world in 6 days, resting in the 7th. Sure, I think. God made sun and moon and stars in a week, and all the creatures that walk therein. With His might He fashioned each creature and called it good. And the world was perfect, and without sin. But just for amusement, just to ensure the impossibility of human epistemology, He formed the creatures as if they'd been born from ages of death and adaptation. The appearance of evolution is among His best jokes, but the creation of all things from nothing? Divine. Glorious. Because we all know that nothing is nothing, and to make something from nothing is, so to speak, really something. I am glad that the stars, which are only 10,000 years old, have tricked us into thinking their light takes millions of years to travel. Stars are more fun when they're duplicitous.

And lest you think that God is patient, the Preacher says, remember the Flood. Remember that God, sickened with what his creation had done, drowned it in whole, saving a righteous man and his family. Yes. Noah the righteous man. The Lord mercifully placed him in a boat, and Noah thanked him by taking off his clothes and getting drunk. I shudder when I think on it. I shudder when I think that, in order for the earth to be covered in the span of 40 days, the waters would have fallen fast enough to boil the seas, to cook the ark like a kettle on a stove. I think on the impossibility of cramming 2 of every clean and unclean creature into a ship of conceivable size. I think about how much God loved the antediluvian infants. How He punished the sins of their fathers by filling up their lungs with the raging waters of His perfect world. Killed the infants and blessed it with the kiss of a rainbow. And our Lord is merciful, the Preacher pleads. He does not punish you, my sheep, for the sins of your fathers. For he says, 'The son will not bear punishment for the Father's iniquity. Each is to die for his own sin. Most merciful, I know. Which is why God also says, I will punish children for their parent's sin up to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me. The third and the fourth, and maybe the fifth is the first stop on the mercy train. I reflect on this square wheel for a moment. I try to roll it somewhere, anywhere, hoping desperately for up to
be up and down to be down. Is that too much to ask from the inerrant cries of the prophets?

And then the Preacher cries, pleads, stamps his beet red fists on the pulpit and spits more words of righteousness. Did you forget how the Lord your God brought you out of the land of Egypt? How His people were enslaved for 400 years, sweating under the whips of Satan and his Pharaohs? How God killed the firstborn in the land of Egypt? How He trapped the armies of the Pharaoh in the Red Sea and closed up the watery gates? Count my memory as foggy. The hard work and sweat of archeologists has come back with cobwebs, frowning as the removal of stone after stone turns up nothing. A whole people enslaved in a known area? No evidence. A whole army swept into the sea? No traces. In an act of grand humility, I am to take historical events as an act of faith. God gave moses the law, the Preacher screeches. The law that is good and sweet as honey. The law that is like honey in a famine, like the medicine dabbed onto an infected, festering wound. I will remember that. When I heed the cry of the Lord to be fruitful and multiply, I will also heed the Lord when my offspring speak words of daggers, and I will take their warm, soft skin and bright eyes, and I will turn their youth black and blue and red. I will stone them.

I will celebrate the glory of the law with the bludgeoned skull of a child, and if God ever asks me to slay a child for His honor, I will do it. I won't dare ask if that violates His law in the first place. I won't care if He has a goat in waiting. If He does I will slay the goat and the boy. Is there ever enough blood for glory? I will be fully prepared to be a butcher. Let the little children come to Him and His butchers. And above all, the Preacher says, be a man after God's own heart. Like David and Solomon. Sing the songs of the Lord your God. And the congregation bursts into song. The sound is like the sound of many waters, piercing the walls of the chapel, peeling the paint off of the walls, turning the chapel foundation to dust. The cries of holy, holy, holy, are the new and improved nuclear fission. Hiroshima has never seen such an atom bomb.

Am I an unclean animal? Am I a man after the heart of God? David was, and in his heart-of-Godness he eyed the beauty of Bashiba, and he, as all righteous men do, kissed and caressed and had her. Loved a child into a her, sending her husband off to die. And I don't pretend to know the infinite mysteries of providence, but I know the child was to blame. It seems as if a child is always to blame. And God punished David by killing the infant, by dishing that infant bastard the full penalty for the crime of the father. But God is good. Another infant got a chance, and what glorious thing. If there was no King Solomon, who would have permitted infant sacrifice in the high temples? Who would have so honored the covenant of marriage by taking thousands of wives and hundreds of concubines? Who else could filled the role of the wisest man to have lived, son of David, man after God's own heart? Who could have caused to Kingdom to split in two? Who could have been responsible for those poor, old, poked out eyes of Hezekiah? Solomon did this, really. He was long dead, but he marched thousands of scared, cold, screaming people into the Babylonian wilderness.

God is the only one who makes things possible, the Preacher says, no signs of slowing, the psalms bubbling forth. The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want. And the Preacher plays the psalm on his tongue, letting the words fall like the pitter patter of rain: He maketh me to lie down in green pastures. I lie down in the pew and I play another Holy psalm in my own head, and it says, blessed shall he be who takes your littles ones and bashes them against the rock. He leadeth me beside the still waters. Blessed is he who bashes. He resoreth my soul. Blessed is he who bashes. He leadeth me in paths of righteousness. Blessed is he who bashes. For His name's sake. Blessed is he who bashes. Yeah, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death. Blessed is he who bashes. I will fear no evil. Blessed is he who bashes. For thou art with me. Blessed is he who bashes. Thy rod and thy staff. Blessed is he who bashes. They comfort me. Blessed is he who bashes. Thous preparest a table before me. Blessed is he who bashes. In the presence of my enemies. Blessed is he who bashes. Thou annointest my head with oil. Blessed is he who bashes. My cup runneth over. Blessed is he who bashes. There is no goodness and mercy in the Preacher's psalm. Surely, I will not wait for goodness and mercy to follow me.

I will wait patiently for the Preacher to finish, so we can all herd out and proceed to kiss and eat and sleep and pay our bills and taxes, just like every godless hardworking heathen, God have mercy on their souls. Your souls, Preacher cries, are in the hands of the Lord Jesus Christ. For he came in the flesh as a baby, and Herod was angered and worried for his throne, and he killed the young children of his land. And it's a good thing that I learned this from the holy book, that my immaterial, immeasurable, untouchable, intangible, ungraspable soul was in danger, and that Herod tried to steal my salvation. I'm glad that the Holy book reported the slaughter, another just river of infant blood, because no other historian thought that the great baby slaughter was worth the news, but Herod killed and this I know, for the Bible tells me so. So repent, Preacher scolds, for Jesus came and died, and his sacrifice paved the way, but all I really wonder is when Jesus died. One gospel says passover, another gospel says the day before, and the Preacher says that the Bible is the perfect, inerrant word of the one true God. God died and was risen, the Preacher says. Jesus died, but Jesus is God. So if Jesus died, God died, and dead God raised the dead Jesus. Jesus has given you a gift, Preacher says, and to neglect this gift is to risk eternal torment in the fiery pit. I think on this, the idea that Jesus pays for my cosmic injustice, and that he does so by suffocating in gruesome fashion for three days, and how my payment, if not rendered by Him, is thereby increased to eternity.

Eternity is coming, the Preacher cries, and Jesus will come on a cloud, and the elect will be caught up in the sky, and the just will be rewarded and the wicked punished, and I think that I'm no genius, but didn't Jesus promise that this was supposed to happen during His day, that the elect were the be gathered up, and that the heavens would be rolled up like a scroll, before His audience passed? Didn't old covenant prophets get stoned by getting little facts like this wrong? Jesus died, and the next generation said he was one His way. And another generation said as much, and another, and another, and another, and now we make movies out of it. My bologna sandwich is in a Left Behind lunch pale. It's slick and stainless steel, and best of all, it's rapture-proof. Guaranteed to follow me to the pearly gates.

I sit back up, and I see the preacher beaming, smiling, sobbing, and clenching his teeth toward the end of his liturgy. Let's sing, he says. Let us come to Christ as children, with innocent, unquestioning faith. His voice is deep and beautiful, and he sings, and I sing. Jesus loves me, If a man not abide in Christ, This I know, he is cast forth as a branch, for the Bible, and is withered, tells me so, and men gather them, Little ones to Him belong, and cast them into the fire, they are weak, and they are burned, but He is strong. Yes, Jesus loves me. Yes, Jesus love me. Yes, Jesus loves me. The Bible tells me so.

The entire congregation pauses for air. The sounds of heartbeats and breathing fill the room. The Preacher gently lowers his arms and looks at me. Deacon, he says, would you mind offering a closing word of prayer? With my bible tucked under my arm, I take the long walk to the pulpit. I can hear every bead of sweat crawl down my neck. Every part of my body creaks and moans. I position myself in front of the congregation and look to the people. But instead of the people I see a sea. A large, dark, gently rolling ocean. The waves come in slowly, turning from black to a foamy, calm white. They soak into the sand, thrust back, and retreat into the darkness. I know that there is nothing behind the darkness. The waves go on, traveling under moonlight, and there is nothing but the darkness: the good, welcoming darkness and the sound of the surf. I look down at the good book. I want to open it, page by page, and weep. I want to set it on a raft, push it into the darkness, and sit. I just want to sit and listen to the waves crash against my toes. I look up again, and the sea has become a sea of people. I open the good book and smile.

Good morning, people of God. Let's pray.