Author’s Note: I’ve had this sitting around for a few years. After I wrote it (and for reasons I no longer remember), I decided to turn it into a piece of fiction, which I called “True Believers.” This is the original material behind that story.
my god my god why have i forsaken you
I lived fully immersed in the Christian story for half a century, feasting on the marrow of that spiritual tradition. And I’m talking about a righteous, no bullshit, organic mythic experience. Full childhood immersion, accredited clerical training, two decades of experience as a Christian pastor, and then a classic slow and painful disillusionment followed by the expected wandering-in-the-wilderness sequence.
I’ve got the credentials is what I’m saying. And I think I know how this thing works.
It is impossible for a human being to live without a guiding life narrative. A worldview, a myth, whatever you want to call it, some explanation for the whys and what fors of life. And it’s not just that we desire these myths. It’s more than that. We are incapable of living without them. Human beings cannot abide a metaphysical vacuum.
You are born into your parents’ narrative, which is kind of like your hometown. If your family is reasonably healthy, the myth they bequeath to you is a comfortable womb in which you can develop. But at some point you’re going to pack your bags and leave home to find your own way. Some people don’t venture far from home. They take the myth they were born into, make a few personal adjustments, and pretty much grow into a second generation of their parents. That’s classic. That’s the way humans have lived for most of our history. Nothing wrong with that.
But a lot of people leave home and move far away, seeking their fortune, which I think means seeking a new narrative for their lives. And here’s an interesting thing: most of these intrepid seekers will simply adopt some other packaged worldview they find along the way. These ready-made myths are the worldview equivalent of tract homes. And because they have developed over time within the boundaries of human communities, most of the kinks have been worked out.
And there are so many of them to choose from.
Right-leaning, evangelical, small town, married with kids, bowling league, friends for life, with an assortment of hobbies and weekend activity worldviews.
Highly educated, politically correct, vegetarian/vegan, natural clothing/childbirth, local everything, cause-oriented, crusader worldviews.
Hell raising, bandana wearing, weekend motorcycle riding, generic American theist with strong social ties to work worldviews. These come in both right and left wing political versions.
Religious patriot worldviews are popular these days. Your god and government are the good guys. Your enemies’ gods and governments are cast as Satan. These come as stand-alone worldviews but are also available as add-on modules you can bolt to the side of your existing worldview like a high school boy adding a second tail pipe to his Chevy. Then you can tear around town not doing shit for god or country but making a helluva lot of noise.
Pay close attention to this next part.
If you choose a packaged worldview, you will receive a nice selection of emotional, intellectual, and social benefits that are pretty much yours for the taking unless you totally fuck this shit up and shoot yourself in the foot. There is a tendency among some humans to self-destruct inside any myth you put them in. But maybe that’s their narrative. And many of the packaged myths need a fuck-up character in them to provide the community with an acceptable outlet for its anger. So it’s all good, in a larger sense anyway.
But not everyone likes these packaged myths. There are some rebels out there. And if that’s you, well, you’ve got your work cut out for you.
You can try to cobble together some kind of narrative of your own, pulling what appeals to you out of existing myths and making a kind of mash-up for yourself. You can try that. Lord knows I have. But you probably fancy yourself to be a lover of truth, so let’s face a hard fact squarely, shall we? That tin shanty narrative you’re living in is one butt-ugly dog of a myth. It looks like a rusty mobile home on the beach with an AC duct running to the window of a van with no wheels where your buddy Moon Dog sleeps. No one can build a decent myth on her own. You just can’t do it. You’re not smart enough and you haven’t lived long enough. Human narratives require time, community, conflict and resolution between varying points of view, and lots of trial and error.
I mean, just look at that train wreck of a myth L. Ron Hubbard created. And he was a helluva lot smarter than you or me.
So what do you do if you just can’t stomach the packaged narratives and your own creations are too ugly to live in? I’ll be god damned if I know. But that’s where I am. I seem to have lost my way when I left the ministry, and now I’m a wandering soul in the wilderness. I keep returning to the stories of my people, the flesh pots of Egypt, sniffing around, trying to find a way to go home again. But I’m afraid American Churchianity just isn’t doing it for me anymore.
But something exciting has been happening to me. I keep running into other lost souls. Other people wandering around, looking for a story, living between the various myths of our culture. People whose reality cannot be defined by whether or not they are religious, or whether or not they believe in a god that can be easily defined. People with a passion for truth and a hunger for meaningful ritual and community.
I never saw these people when I was within the walls of the American Church. That’s my fault. I wasn’t looking for them. But I see them now. I see them streaming out of the cities and marching along, sharing provisions and conversation as they journey by stages toward the Negev.
And you know what they say about the Negev, don’t you? You have to go through it to find the Promised Land.