Friday, June 1, 2007

PTL xxxx

When I saw the North Carolina license plate "PTL xxxx" this morning, I thought of the club started by the televangelicals Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker in the 1970's. "PTL" stood for "Praise The Lord." The late Jerry Falwell even got involved after the club fell on hard times owing to Jim's drugging and raping a church secretary. According to Wikipedia,
The September 21, 1987 issue of Time Magazine noted that Jerry Falwell "plunged" down a 163-foot "hellish" water slide in fulfillment to "a promise made during a fund-raising drive that netted $20 million for the debt-ridden PTL."
And PTL reminded me of a placard on the wall of my sister Mary's guest room: "Praise the Lord...anyway." That is, Praise the Lord not only because something good has happened to you (you're still alive, for example), but even though someone else may have been raped, murdered, or killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq....

We silly, magic-believing humans want God to be good. And for the bad that God is probably responsible for (if He, She, or It is responsible for other stuff), we make up reasons why that's really good too. Someone's got to die to make room on the planet, for example. One animal has to be slaughtered if another is to eat. Eat meat, anyway. Humans need bad stuff to happen so that they can have "learning experiences." Nevermind if the ones who get crushed under a bus flunk the exam immediately. Stuff happens, and they get to take a make-up in the afterlife. Maybe other animals don't get that second chance, but...well, they don't really feel pain anyway, right? Et cetera, et cetera.

I actually started thinking about this before I saw the "PTL" license plate. When I woke up this morning, my book tape player had of course gone all of the way to the end after I fell asleep last night listening to David Lodge's Small World: An Academic Romance. I figured I might as well wake up by listening to a few more "pages" before I got up. (I certainly didn't feel like springing out of bed yet—not that I feel that way often anymore, alas.)

I didn't know at what spot on Side 3* of the tape I'd fallen asleep (that is, approximately how many seconds I might need to rewind), so I tried to tune in to "my spirit self," which never sleeps and observes everything, and sense when he (or it? or she?) was telling me to stop. When I felt something, I stopped the rewind and, sure enough, I was at a spot I sort of remembered listening to not long before I fell asleep. It had worked again.

Whenever it "hadn't worked," I'd always thought that I had failed to tune in and so didn't sense when my spirit self was telling me to stop. But what I got to thinking this morning was that my expectation that my spirit self wouldn't try to trick me (that is, wouldn't lie to me) might be a false expectation. What if he let the tape run all the way back without saying anything to me at all? What if he said it almost instantly and kept saying it as I inched my way back? In fact, might this have been what was happening on certain occasions...?

And what if God plays tricks on us? He certainly seemed to play them on the other folks who didn't wake up this morning (or on those who died yesterday and didn't even get to go to sleep last night, and especially on the Iraqis and on the Americans that Bush keeps sending to Iraq for whatever his reason is this week).

Or, to "simplify" things (although I don't understand how it could possibly make things simpler), what if there isn't any spirit self, and what if God doesn't exist? What if there are other reasons or agencies—chance, neuronal activity, who knows what?

But we'd probably still believe in magic.
* This special recording medium from the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped has four sides packed at half-speed (15/16 inches per second) on each cassette tape.

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