Monday, March 29, 2004

Oh, For Nothingness' Sake!
The kids are at it again. Asking the tough questions. Now they want to know, "If God created everything, who created God?"

"That's easy," I said. "Santa."

"Da-ad." Two syllables. Busted.

"Go ask Mom."


"I'm serious," I said, consulting an imaginary clipboard. "She's in charge of math, science, social studies, foreign language, humanities, art, PE and secular proof of the existence of God. I'm in charge of Language Arts and ... well, Language Arts."


"OK," I said, taking a more solemn tone. "You've asked an important question that's challenged the world's great thinkers -- Plato, St. Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Soren Kierkegaard, Bertrand Russell, Mel Gibson -- for centuries. And they all agree. The answer is..." and then I pointed over their shoulders to a spot behind them and said, "Hey! Is that Jessica Simpson?" When they turned to look, I ran away as fast as I could.

Whew, that was a close one. But as I ran, I began to think about their question's implications. Is there a God, really? There must be. Proof is all around me. For instance, when my little nephew Wylie jumps on the bed and smacks the daylights out of me with pillows, the experience feels too profoundly cool to have come about by random evolution. Maybe it's just me, but I've found it's hard to have a really great pillow fight with a cute tow-headed kid while remaining an atheist.

But that's just the tip of the Godberg. My wife. My kids. My family, my friends. The Red River Gorge. Homegrown tomatoes. Geodes. The harmonies in that Barenaked Ladies song, "If I Had A Million Dollars." Also: bare naked ladies. There must be a God. And clearly, God has a sense of humor (Ozzy Osbourne, the manatee, flatulence).

But wait. If there is a God, how can you explain veal? The 2003 Yankees-Red Sox ALCS Game Seven? Fox News? Those forms they make you fill out when you go to the doctor? Mitch McConnell? I guess there isn't a God after all. (So maybe I should change the name of this blog. Let me know if you have suggestions.)

Still running (the kids were gaining on me), I decided instead to think about riddles that were easier to solve, such as Why did Mel Gibson make such a bloody, gruesome, pornographically violent movie about Jesus Christ? Answer: because there is something wrong with his brain.

That much is obvious. But that doesn't explain why so many people went to see it. Most movies dealing with Jesus' crucifixion show him getting whipped, crowned with thorns, and nailed to the cross with a few brief shots of the torture and grimaces on the actor's face. You get the idea: ouch. Torture. Pain. Suffering. Check. Got it.

So why do we suddenly need to see a movie so graphically violent that it would undoubtedly have appalled Christ? WHILE he was being crucified. Are people in our culture so numb from the never-ending cycle of fictional violence and real violence that we can't understand the idea of torture without such a jolting display? At this rate, pretty soon we will have to BE tortured to get the idea (and I'm not talking about David Spade movies). Hint: If they're issuing thorns and nails with each paid admission next time you go to the movies, you might want to stay home and rent School of Rock instead.

But clearly, Mel Gibson is onto something. Now that he's cemented himself as master of the salvation-via-bludgeoning genre, I'm sure he'll want to branch out:

Mel Gibson's upcoming biopics:

Fangs for the Memories: the Story of Beowulf
In a 90-second montage, the mighty warrior Beowulf rescues the Danish king Hrothgar from the monster Grendel, and kills Grendel, his mother, and a fire-breathing dragon. But Beowulf is mortally wounded by the dragon's poisonous fangs, which rip his flesh to bloody, ribbons of mealy meat, exposing the bones and ligaments and warrior goo and internal organs and hairy pustules of putrid unknown innards, which is the subject of the film's final 180 minutes. Major themes explored: courage, loyalty, and the smell of human entrails, which is broadcast into theaters using innovative new SurroundSmell technology. In Old English, with New, Improved English subtitles.

Joan of Arc: Some Like It Not So Hot
After an exhaustive half-minute examination of The Hundred Years' War, the movie turns its attention to King Charles VII and the magical powers of young Joan (for another seven seconds), then warms up the audience with a 119-minute bonfire, during which the young, soothsaying warrior's body burns to a cracklin' crisp. A bloodthirsty crowd taunts Joan as her hair and face catch fire and the movie uses slow-motion and stop-action to great effect as each eyebrow hair combusts individually, while Joan's agonized grimace is ultimately obscured by the large blisters and, finally, black-seared flesh that consume her entire body. Major themes explored: heresy, witchcraft, evil, hot chicks in armor. French, with English subtitles.

Gravity is a Bitch: The Wile E. Coyote Story
The movie's first twelve seconds explore the desert food chain, the complex relationship between predator and prey, and the redemptive value of everyday objects, such as paint and anvils. The remaining hour and forty five minutes of the movie is an extended scene of the coyote falling off a cliff, including a ten-minute-long, highly stylized close-up of the impact, after which countless boulders rain down upon the already pile-driven animal's body and three grisly lumps rise from his head, spewing a never-ending stream of blood and bits of coyote flesh. Major themes explored: suffering, deception, and the momentary, ultimately futile ability to overcome gravity by running in place in midair. Subtitles: mostly in the form of signs held up by the coyote. Product placement: Acme Corporation.

But then the kids caught up.

"I'm glad you're here," I said, trying to catch my breath. "Sit down and let me describe the story of God, as told by Mel Gibson... Hey! Come back here!..."