"What if it's already happened?" the old man asked me. I'm usually one to ignore random outbursts like this on the bus. It's either that, or I'm a million miles away, spaced out on my iPod and looking out the window.
But there was something in this man's undisturbed tone that made me look over. There was calmness in his eyes as he and I and the bus bounced its way up the hill to Clifton and beyond.
"Well, then I guess it was a smart move for us to get the hell out of downtown," I said, always quick with the snappy retort.
"No, no, not that," the old man coolly continued, as if my wisenheimer response weren't quite as humorous as I'd led myself to think.
"What if we're all alone now, left to destroy ourselves as punishment? You know, abandoned by God?"
This was getting a little heavy even for me, but I didn't feel like moving to another seat either. These were some of the more interesting remarks I'd ever had thrown my way on a bus ride, and I wanted to hear where they were going. So stay with me. This isn't one of those stories where the old man disappears into the sky in a glow of tripped out lights, like an angel on acid or something. It's just a little chat I had with someone who seemed to have been around the block a few more times than I. I shot him one back.
"Do you mean like that stuff the Gnostics said?" I asked, referring to the ancient pre-Christian pagans, whose paths to communing with whatever God is were built on the mystical, individual experience.
I'd always felt a weird kinship with such druidic types, figuring why the hell would I need organized religion when I've got my own life to try and connect with the divine.
"Yeah, something like that," the old man said as his gaze began to drift to the sun-filled bus windows. I waited for him to continue but this seemed like all I was going to get out of him. Ah, the short attention span of the mentally deranged. He got off the bus halfway down Clifton Avenue and I kept riding into Northside.
Certainly not a merry concept to consider in this, our latest version of the modern Christmas season -- nature falling and rising all around us, in the end remaining while we destroy our place in this world. But seeing the state of the world in the news every day made me pause to consider it. I got off the bus and began walking home through the fading daylight, sorting through the jumbled memories of my college philosophy classes. And don't worry, it's not like there's going to be a quiz next week.
I remembered a concept called an "eclipse of God," a period in which the divine is absent from the world, a time of darkness or evil resulting from an abandonment by God. This is a variation of theothanatology, or the "God is dead" movement and is normally, though not always, understood as a historical period that might end. Or not. In philosopher Martin Heidegger's formulation, it is the period of "double lack," in which the old gods have passed away and a new God has not yet come.
Jorge Luis Borges, the Argentine master of short stories, once mused that perhaps God self-annihilated after creating the universe because that was all it was supposed to do and, after the universal birth, God didn't need to exist anymore. One strain of Gnosticism asserts that the universe was created by a lesser divinity called the demiurge and all our sensual and intellectual perceptions are limited to the material world. God and all previous human souls exist in a separate spiritual world, and one is reunited with that dimension after physical death.
I've always wondered if maybe God, whatever that is, isn't as omnipresent as the pamphlets make it out to be. Perhaps there's a metaphysical version of attention deficit disorder and God simply can't focus constantly on a little watery blue rock on the edge of one galaxy among billions -- if the divine whoever even exists, that is.
Everything else in this world has evolved over time. Yet many people today allow their spiritual beliefs to be held hostage to a 2,000-year-old dogma spouted by a desert deity half a world away. The Christian mythos, like government and mass media advertising, has simply morphed into a power structure, a tool to manipulate people's thoughts and emotions in order to control them.
I pity the fool because, at the end of the day, no one knows anything for sure about God. One comforting thought I carry in my jumbled mind is that energy, like the small sparks jumping from one synapse to another in my brain, can be neither created nor destroyed; it can merely pass from one form to another. So maybe I really am immortal.
I looked up from my street musings into the west and a violent pink sunset. I unlocked the door to my building and climbed to my rooms at the top of the stairs.
I'll see you on the dark side, suckers.
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