Although I come from a Christian background, I consider myself an agnostic. I have a very strong sense of the divine, but this intuition has never organized itself into a set of principles or certainties, existing instead as a great and ever-mutating question mark to which I will always be subordinate. In short, I imagine my understanding of the universe to be similar to a lobster’s understanding of the earth.
It’s hard for me to imagine a creature more physically dissimilar from a human than a lobster — an entity that inhabits the same planet as the rest of us but lives on the cold, dark floor of oceans. If we could imbue it with a human intelligence, could it possibly conceive of the terrestrial civilization above that actually farms and manages lobster communities and then eats them as delicacies? My guess is that no, the lobster is not thinking this, and so I assume that whatever my instinct is about what lies beyond the field of my imagination, the actuality is going to be so much stranger and greater that there’s absolutely no point in trying to codify it into a religion.
I have a friend who is a Charismatic Christian, and knowing that my wife was out of town one weekend, he invited me over for dinner with his men’s group. I did not know what a men’s group was. I imagined a bunch of guys who liked fantasy football, crossbows and the free market, and with that in mind went over expecting to eat a huge steak.
When I arrived there were about six other men sitting in the living room, as if waiting for me, as if they’d been waiting for me for their entire lives. There was something unusual about these men, an aspect of aggressive contentment that was entirely humourless and disquieting.
One man seemed to make a special project of me. He handed me a piece of paper upon which were what he considered to be numeric proofs of the immaculate nature of the Bible. After looking at it for a minute or two, and commenting on the interesting connections it made, I joked, “If the Bible were perfect, surely it would contain a few photos of Raquel Welch, don’t you think?”
I was being charming.
Men’s Group charming, I thought.
He gave me a long, hard look and then nodded to the other men, who over the course of the next fifteen minutes filtered out to the front porch to have cigars. Thickly built, the man was probably 20 years older than I was and gave me a look that suggested he’d seen my type before. We talked for a good half hour before he announced, “You know, when I was younger I was a sex addict.”
I nodded respectfully.
“There seem to be very few old sex addicts,” I couldn’t help but add.
“You think you’re funny, don’t you?”
“Not funny Ha-Ha, funny the other way, I guess.”
He snorted, “When I met a woman do you know what I saw?”
“No,” I said.
“Genitals. That’s what I saw. Just genitals.”
He spat out the word “genitals” in the same way a serial killer in a movie starring Morgan Freeman might. “But it was the Lord Jesus Christ who saved me from this sinful bearing!” And then he shouted something and raised his fist into the air.
“Come with me, son, I want you to see something.”
He led me out to the front porch where the rest of the men were, and for the first time in my life I saw people speaking in tongues, or at the very least, pretending to speak in tongues. With their arms up, aspiring for heaven, the men were shouting and crying. As a holy babble poured forth from their mouths, they twisted and spun, undulating, as if no longer owner’s of their own bodies. Ferdinand, the Congolese guy who had been addicted to heroin and cocaine, was so stricken by the Lord that he collapsed and fell into the Weber barbeque. I rushed over to him, and upon revival asked him what he had seen during his hallowed transport but he did not know what to say. His wide, innocent face just looked back at me, “ All was good,” he said, “all was glory.”
“But what happened when you collapsed into the barbeque?” I pressed.
“The Lord spoke his miracle into me.”
I looked at the men on the porch. Although in a state of ecstatic transference, they still managed to hold their cigars and glasses of whiskey. Each one was recovering from some life seizing passion, be it drugs, alcohol or an addiction to sex, and it was clear that they’d replaced one obsession with another. It was fantasy football, only with the Pentecostal Church replacing the NFL.
As I crouched near Ferdinand with what was likely a look of wonder on my face, they asked if they could pray for me, the black sheep. I was a little bit anxious about what this meant, but said yes and inched into their prayer circle clutching my scotch like it was a holy talisman. They all put a hand on me and lifted the other toward the skies, and then they really put their hearts into it. The man who had taken me on as a special project reached out to touch me, and when he did, he shuddered away as if suffering an electrical shock.
But he was strong, and reached out to touch me again. It pained him to do so, I could see it in his face, but he persisted, Satan was not going to beat him. Powerful, unguarded commands from his heart issued forth, and then he proclaimed that he saw a serpent wrapped around me, a serpent coiling tighter and tighter. The other men were shrieking and howling. “You must come to the Lord, the serpent is winding itself into you, I see it,” my exorcist proclaimed in a voice that seemed to come from a TV set. I nodded my head and looked at him, “No,” I said, “you don’t see a serpent. You’re lying. I think the serpent is wrapped around you.” And I looked at him like I was goddamn Clint Eastwood. And then Ferdinand, whom I think has peace-making instincts, distracted everybody by being struck by the Lord again, shouting, “The Lord has seized the Serpent, it departs!” before collapsing once again into the Weber.