I’m running on a treadmill, and Death is jogging right behind me. He’s wearing an iPod on his arm, the white headphones disappearing into his faceless black cowl. But he’s not the strongest of runners and can’t catch me. I speed up the ramp and start taunting him, You’re never gonna catch me, Death. I’m too fast, I can run all day, and my cells will grow so strong and healthy that they will repel your icy sickle. I look behind me as I’m saying this. My foot hits the non-moving plastic thingy on the side of the treadmill. I fall and my head gets crushed by the ramp. Death appears above me, hands on his knees. Even though he’s gulping for air, his black cowl is shaking with laughter. Those treadmills will kill you, he says. Then I wake up in a cold sweat under a pile of cheeseburger wrappers.
I know I’m going to hell. When I say that, I don’t mean it. It’s a mind trick, like when I was a growing up, and before Christmas, I would keep my fingers crossed for that perfect gift: a new bike, an Atari, a chance to get inside Mary Lou’s pants. I’d tell myself: I’m not going to get it, I’m not going to get it. That way, if I didn’t get the bike, or the Atari, or Mary Lou told me to keep it above the equator, I wouldn’t be disappointed. But the truth is, I would be even more disappointed, because I would really expect to not be disappointed, then surprised that I actually was disappointed. That’s like multiplying two negative numbers together to get a positive or dividing by zero or something. I don’t know, I was too busy thinking about Mary Lou’s pants in math class. But if I did get the gift, it was getting two at once, like Mary Lou and Sally Lee in a sandwich. So I hope, by thinking I’m going to hell, I’m going to get to go to heaven. I’ll be so happy, I’ll probably give St. Peter a tip for letting me in. But if I go to hell, it’ll make eternal punishment that much more of a bitch. Especially when Mary Lou’s there, jabbing me with a pitchfork below the equator.
I don’t think anyone’s actually going to heaven. Have you read the manual? Good luck being employee of the month with that thing. I can’t even stop stealing pens from work. Do I really have a chance with capital-H Him? The Bible is the Word of God. Doesn’t God know we’re idiots? He created us, He should. Why all the stories and parables and whatnot? Just make it a rulebook so we don’t get confused.
Take masturbation. Don’t do that, it’s a sin, they told me. Why? I asked. Because of what happened to Onan. Onan was a Hebrew, and back in the day, when your Hebrew brother died, you were not only supposed to marry your sister-in-law, but knock her up! You didn’t even have to go on Maury Povich for a paternity test. But Onan had seen one too many porn tapestries, and he decided to “spill his seed,” which is Bible talk for a money shot. So God smote him. That’s why you’re not supposed to stimulate yourself.
But this story always confused me. Did Onan get smited for spanking it, or for dropping the batter before he made it to the oven? It’s an important point, because every man that tells you he doesn’t masturbate is bearing some serious false witness. So why not spell it out? Thou shalt not yanketh thine crank. Maybe it was one of the five commandments that Moses dropped.
The New Testament doesn’t really clear up the matter, either. Jesus said if you’re hand is the problem, cut it off and throw it in the fire. Well, my hand isn’t really the problem, it’s more like the unaware accomplice, a dealer in a casino he doesn’t know is crooked. My mind is the brains behind the whole operation. If I’m going to follow Jesus’s order to the letter, I should cut open my head and throw my brain on the fire. But that’s suicide, and that’s wrong, too. So let’s back up. Say I decide to make the hand the fall guy. My body is also supposed to be temple. Isn’t slicing through my wrist and leaving a bloody stump like vandalizing a temple? That’s at least a fourth circle Inferno felony.
It’s not just the sex stuff that’s confusing. Take the whole business about the poor. It’s great that Jesus has got the poor’s back. Give everything you have to the poor. Bravo. However...if the rich give everything to the poor, doesn’t that make the rich poor and the poor rich? Do the poor get to keep the money? Or do they give it away to some other poor people? And how long do they get to keep it? Is it like a wealth time-share? You get the mansion this week, I get the cardboard box, then we switch. It’s like some eternal pyramid scheme. Then one day, some rich poor guy gives you all his stuff, and the next day the Second Coming shows up. Jesus is getting ready to kick all the rich people to the curb, and you’re talking to him like a teenager talking to a cop: I swear to your Dad, this isn’t mine. Somebody just gave this to me. It belongs to that guy on Fourth Street who’s always talking to you.
I think God is really just pulling our legs. If the Bible is the Word of God, and so much of the Bible contradicts itself, then those contradictions have to be deliberate. There’s a lot of really great material there—love thy brother, clothe the lepers, get your sister-in-law pregnant. But then there’s all this other stuff—don’t love your brother when he needs to be stoned, don’t feed a hungry person pork, don’t fantasize about sleeping with your sister-in-law. I wind up doing a half-assed job following the regulations and then worrying about doing a half-assed job and then I get a stinging pain in my stomach. The doctor tells me not to worry so much and I say I try not to worry but I worry about worrying. He says to get some exercise and then my head gets crushed on the treadmill.
When that happens, and I’m in heaven, I’m going to throw myself at God’s mercy: I’m sorry about Mary Lou, I’m sorry about the lepers, I’m sorry about my seed spilling more than the Exxon Valdez. God will give me his best wrathful look, open his mouth and say, Dude, you’re so punk’d!