Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Is God a TV Zapper or a Pinball Player? Irreverent Pop-Theology as Seen by an Obsessive Agnostic

At the beginning I was a proper Calvinist. Before it got watered down in the 18th century, Calvinism was very often about predestination vs. free will. So when I started researching the subject, I went back as far as the English Puritans and moved forward to Jonathan Edwards, who was certainly the most reasonable and convincing of all the Puritan theologians.

That got me to thinking that if Edwards were alive today he might describe predestination as a fourth dimensional necessity. For God, time would simply be another dimension that SHe would perceive instantaneously as we perceive the other three dimensions, which means that God would perceive in an instant what we mere mortals perceive as eternity.

(I have been wondering which pronoun to use for God, and have considered He, She and It. I decided on SHe as being gender neutral while still being personal. I thought of adding It to the SHe, but that could lead to an inappropriate combination of letters.)

Back to the main stream in the person of that contemporary philosopher, Elvis Costello. My son the poet tells me that Costello once said that he thought of God as lying on a big circular bed surrounded by an infinite number of television screens. In Costello's vision, God holds a tele-command which enables Herm (objective case pronoun proposal) to intervene when things start going wrong.

Now, even though Edwards probably did not own a television set, let alone subscribe to cable, he would certainly have objected strongly to Costello's vision because it detracted from the idea of God's omnipotence. I would agree with Edwards. What kind of a god would it be who didn't get everything right in the first place and had to keep zapping to set things straight? Besides, I have cancelled my cable subscription and now watch TV only over the internet.

Further meditation led me to another theological insight, which I feel corresponds closely to American WASP religious thinking. Conceive of God as a pinball player using a very advanced, holy machine. Each time SHe pulls and releases the plunger it sets off a Big Bang in one universe or another. Obviously God would use that plunger with such finesse that the big ball would cross the table just as SHe had planned. Certain souls would be saved and others damned. But God might change Hers (possessive adjective proposal) mind and jog the table from time to time to modify the ball's trajectory. Doesn't that leave a little room for human exercise of free will, perhaps even for someone else to jog the table directly? In any case, that's what Edwards's followers decided, thereby leading to today's Christian compromise.

This idea is most appealing to us ex-pinball players. But our agnostic leanings make us doubt that this is more than an illusion. Nevertheless, I sit and wait, sometimes hoping God will invite me over to play. Sometimes I even think I'll walk over and put a quarter in the machine, or maybe just give it a little jog while hoping it doesn't light up TILT.

Copyright: Edgar Farrar Richardson

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