Laughing gods for Easter bunnies and black whales

From the 4-23-2000 Sparks (Nev.) Tribune

If this is the best of all possible worlds, what are the others like?
– Voltaire (1694-1778)

Today is the day on which those of the Christian persuasion celebrate spring and rebirth. Such is not unique to Christians. Rites of spring pre-dated the carpenter from Nazareth and his 12 construction foremen.

Whether you celebrate Easter with metaphoric bunny eggs or merely want to prance naked through fields of flowers next Sunday on Earth Day, enjoy your youth.

What e.e. cummings called "this monster, mannunkind" is incredibly young and shows it. Elders may pooh-pooh and criticize teens for youthful indiscretion, but as a species, we are barely embryonic.

This pretty little planet has been circling its sun for about 4.5 billion years. The universe within which it spins is about 15 billion years of age, figured as a linear progression. (We haven't progressed far enough to express it any other way.)

One wise scribe said our God gives us threescore and 10 years in this form and in this place. If our planet were a person, it has lived about a third of the lifespan of its greater, more mystical body. Metaphorically and proportionally speaking, that makes Mother Earth about 23 years of age.

Given that standard, homo sapiens has been around about as long as the bat of a gnat's eyelash.

Someone smarter than me once figured that if the earth's existence were reduced to a 24-hour day, mammals have only existed for the last 24 seconds.

Given the lateness of our arrival and even later ascendance to the top of the food chain, we have accomplished some marvelous things.

We are capable of holding together at great speed. The orbital velocity of the earth is 66,000 miles per hour. We handle that high-speed spin cycle while the earth completely spins on its axis at 1,000 miles per hour. And most of us don't even spill our coffee.

In 1770, French philosopher Voltaire (François Marie Arouet) said "if God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him."

A couple of centuries back, even iconoclastic icons assumed that the Big Guy was a guy. Oscar-winning actor Rod Steiger came up with a corollary.

Steiger wrote a short story about the moving letterboard above Times Square in New York City. One day, the electric sign miraculously began flashing a single message: God returns to earth at noon next Friday.

"You couldn't get near the place," Steiger said. Promptly at 12:00, a huge black whale appeared on the building atop the dancing letters.

"I am the Lord, your God. Bow down and worship me," came a voice from the sky.

Stone silence from the multitude. Then a murmur. Soon, stones and pop bottles were hurled upward. "I am the Lord, your God. Bow down and worship me."

The mob got ropes and tried to pull the whale down to street level. God finally nuked the place.

Moral: Man will accept no god not made unto man's image and likeness.

The greatest moral lesson of our time came in the 1977 Larry Gelbart-scripted, Carl Reiner-directed cinema classic "Oh, God!" (playing eternally on a cable channel at your house). Supreme Being George Burns explains himself to grocery store manager and reluctant prophet Jerry Landers, played by John Denver.

"You know, Jerry, Voltaire may have had me pegged. He said 'God is a comedian playing to an audience too afraid to laugh.'"

So here we are, trying to maintain a straight face. Incredibly pre-teen, imperfect, often cruel, still evolving. We might attempt open-mindedness, but we still search for a standard set of rules to live by and a guru to explain the meaning of life.

The head of the Nazareth carpenters union got it pretty much right, but we seem to have forgotten: The kingdom of God is within you.

You are the holy man. Holy woman. Holy kid. Holy cow. Holy whale.

The more we try to explain the world around us, the more we witness the handiwork of Voltaire's comedian.

St. Thomas Aquinas (c. 1225-1274), in his fascinating but presumptive (and thus sinful) Summa Theologica, offered five proofs for the existence of God. It was sinful because presuming to know the mind of God, at least in Roman Catholic circles, is considered pretty serious stuff.

People can ask "what would Jesus do?", just don't take it to extremes.

"Reason in man is rather like God in the world," Aquinas once said, apparently attempting to excuse his presumption that human logic can explain metaphysical divinity.

His book isn't too readable. Jesus communicated much better by using interesting stories.

One of the Aquinian proofs goes like this: There is order in the universe. Something must have established that order, and this we call God.

Auld St. Tommy got it just a little bit right. Science has now proved that chaos, not order, rules the universe, right down into the kingdom inside our brains.

Normal folks show chaotic brain waves. The seriously mentally ill enjoy perfect order. Without the wondrous results of sub-atomic random chaos, the physical world we know could not have evolved, and neither could the minds which read, write, reason and aspire. Chaos gives us whatever order we experience.

Score one for George Burns as God the Comedian.

On this fertility feast of Springtime, laugh, enjoy, do something random, chaotic, unpredictable. Show up at church, even.

Celebrate the way the Easter Whale made you.

Be well. Raise hell.

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Copyright © 2000, 2005, 2008 Andrew Barbano

Andrew Barbano is an occasionally observant marketing man. He is a member of Communications Workers of America Local 9413 and editor of U-News, where the past four years of columns may be accessed. Barbwire by Barbano has originated in the Sparks (Nev.) Tribune since 1988 where an earlier version of this column appeared on 4/23/00.

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