Monday, July 6, 2009

Imaginary Friends by Gil Waters

Imaginary Friends
by Gil A. Waters

I was a bland and humorless child. The causes of this condition are legion. Start with the combed-over, slicked-down hair, parted just above my left ear and extending in a single horrifying mass all the way to my right ear. Throw in debilitating shyness, paralyzing social anxiety, and a genetic inability to catch, hit, throw, or run while holding a ball of any kind, and you have the makings of one sorry specimen of American boyhood - me. And it was all down hill as I made my way into an awkward adolescence and dysfunctional young adulthood: glasses with lenses as thick as bricks, volcanic pustules of cystic acne, and a nearly terminal case of protracted virginity.

As if I didn't have enough somatic and psychological barriers separating me from the rest of humanity, I also had the misfortune of being born to parents who refused to lie to me. From the moment I was old enough to ask questions, they heartlessly provided me with real answers. "Where do babies come from?" "Who puts the presents under the Christmas tree?" No stork or Santa Claus; just sexual intercourse and rampant consumerism. Like a little missionary, I brought my joyless brand of objectivity to the juvenile masses. More than a few children shed tears of disbelief as I assured them that they were the product of hideous fluid exchanges between their parents, who also consumed the milk and cookies left for jolly Saint Nick. Not surprisingly, I had few real friends as a child, and I certainly wasn't about to create an imaginary one. All I could do was bide my time until the magical day when age and maturity would dispel the fog of delusion from the minds of my brethren. With the exception of a few magical epiphanies, I am still waiting for that day to arrive.

Thankfully, I no longer live in a world populated by Easter Bunnies and Monsters Under The Bed. But I have been forever ruined as a member of polite society when it comes to the topic of "God" (or "The Gods," as the case might be). No matter how hard I try, I can never quite wrap my mind around the fact that so many people I meet, even seemingly rational and intelligent individuals, believe that the Judeo-Christian god, or the Islamic god, or the Hindu gods, are really real. Why would you let go of the unseen imaginary friend from your childhood, only to replace him or her with another who is just as invisible?

Ironically, it's not the fundamentalists I have the most trouble figuring out. It is, rather, what you might call the "thinking theists." Fundamentalists of any religious stripe are easy to dismiss. Anyone who believes that their particular edition of one particular translation of a religion's book of fables is as literally "true" as a textbook can be pitied for being either woefully under-educated or psychotically deluded. However, people with the ability to distinguish between a religious parable and a scientific theory, who nevertheless believe in the existence of a supreme being who created the universe from nothing, guides human history with an unseen hand, and judges our morality or lack thereof - well, I just don't get them.

I've heard countless times that it's just a matter of "faith," yet that doesn't really explain away the intellectual quandary that "faith" presents. I might have plenty of faith in my belief that the aluminum-foil hat I wear is absolutely essential to prevent my mind from being controlled by the aliens who follow me around and incessantly beam telepathic waves at my head. But that faith probably won't win many followers to my unique faith-based belief system, and probably won't prevent my eventual institutionalization in a psychiatric hospital.

On the other hand, if I have "faith" in my belief that the earth is 6,000 years old and that the first woman was some chick named "Eve" who was sculpted from the rib of some dude named "Adam," I may be ridiculed by some of my peers, but I will also be welcomed into a sizable community of "true believers." Granted, the Adam-and-Eve story is contained within a large and widely read book of religious parables, but - well - they're parables! I could probably garner as much tangible evidence in support of my foil-hat belief by citing episodes of the "X Files" as a fundamentalist could for his creationist beliefs by citing Bible stories.

All of which is to say that the line between faith and delusion has always seemed to be non-existent from my perspective. If you're going to believe in an invisible supreme being for which there is no evidence, why not continue to believe in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, too? Which gets me back to the root off my psychosocial problem: If my parents had just let me believe in Santa Claus as a child, maybe my mind would be better equipped for the intellectual gymnastics required to believe in "God" as an adult. I'd get mad at my parents for leaving me in my present existential predicament, but they're dead. Hopefully, they're in heaven as well, so I can give them hell in the after-life for all the trouble they caused me in this one.

Author bio:

Gil Waters lives in Washington, DC, and likes to write. He has managed to publish one short story in The Battered Suitcase (March 2009) and can be read at Gil Waters.


Anonymous said...

How about a little perspective? If this God is what you seek, think about what it's role is. Creation and destruction, essentially. Who does that? You do. So if you create the world around you (oh, you better believe that you do) and you destroy it (yuppers) then doesn't that make you GOD?

Creation happens after you have an idea, any idea, and then you perpetuate what you have created by maintaining it, and eventually you stop creating it and it becomes destroyed, or you destroy it to make way for your next idea. These are the cycles that life goes through and if we took responsibility for just that concept - excuses and mindless searches for invisible people to lay blame to, or pray to will no longer control any space in our minds.

So that's my not so humble observation.

Unknown said...

Oh, I love you just for saying all this. I´ve been trying to educate the stupid masses too, although I could never have phrased my ideas as precisely (or as nicely) as you have!

Just like you say, no sane person can trust any book that has been reworked and translated by so many different people. But that doesn´t even bother me, I am convinced that the majority of people are really, really stupid and they just can´t help it.

The thing that really gets me though is how they can´t just live their follies but have to force their idiot ways on the non-believing part of the population.

I grew up in Bavaria which is really catholic and although I went to a state school, they would sell ham sandwiches on every day but Friday. Because Jesus - alledgedly - died on a Friday. I mean, how idiotic is this?