“G-D Was Busy”

Here’s a parable that confuses me a bit. You can find it all over the place, not just on Christian web sites and socially conservative blogs but sprinkled around Facebook and MySpace and really, wherever glib ideations go to spawn. It goes like this:

A United States Marine was attending some college courses between assignments. 

He had completed missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. One of the courses had a professor who was an avowed atheist and a member of the ACLU. 

One day the professor shocked the class when he came in he looked to the ceiling and flatly stated, “God, if you are real, then I want you to knock me off this platform. I’ll give you exactly 15 minutes.”

The lecture room fell silent. You could hear a pin drop. Ten minutes went by and the professor proclaimed, “Here I am God. I’m still waiting.”

It got down to the last couple of minutes when the Marine got out of his chair, went up to the professor, and cold-cocked him, knocking him off the platform. 

The professor was out cold. The Marine went back to his seat and sat there, silently. 

The other students were shocked, stunned, and sat there looking on in silence. 

The professor eventually came to, noticeably shaken, looked at the Marine and asked, “What the heck is the matter with you? Why did you do that?”

The Marine calmly replied, “God was too busy today protecting American soldiers who are protecting your right to say stupid stuff and act like an idiot. So, He sent me.”

And all God’s people said–AMEN!

Begs a question or two, dunnit? One wonders, for instance, how much the strapping Marine in this story actually values the professor’s (explicit and Constitutional) “right to say stuff” that the jarhead believes is “stupid.” He does, after all, slug said professor in the beak for offending his dogma.

One might also be excused for praying that the young Marine’s lack of impulse control in the classroom wasn’t reflected in his duty behavior. Three cherished principles inherited from our Founding Fathers are civilian control of the military, freedom of speech, and strict prohibition of anyone’s church controlling public dialogue.

“Freedom of expression” has never legitimized violent enforcement of one’s worldview, but this story comes off pretty funny when you consider the pompous windbag oppressing the class — this image is especially amusing to people who fiercely believe that you can’t learn anything of lasting value at a university — being knocked off his (no doubt ivory) perch by a clean-cut, morally upright Marine who put his life on the line for our country.

A strong young warrior whose best argument for a loving G-D was to knock out an old man.

If I’m a Christian believer, I’m meant to cheer for the puckish, dauntless, indestructible Marine and his powerful vindication of my G-D (side note: why would G-D need vindication?). If I’m a believer in some alternate theology, I’m supposed to realize the higher power of the Marine’s Higher Power is higher than the power of my faith’s higher power, and gratefully convert. And if I’m an atheist, I’m supposed to see the error of my ways… or else.

What I actually believe is somewhat different. I believe in Marines, their discipline and strong sense of duty. I believe in the bullshit detectors of skepticism, science and free inquiry — and also in optimism, visualization and the certain knowledge that humans are neither the foundational power of the universe, nor particularly adept interpreters (so far) of its mysteries. There are more things in Heaven and Earth than you, I or Horatio can bend our tiny little minds around, and there won’t be any comprehensive manual written in human language for millennia to come.

I believe that personal freedom and civil order are both high human goods, and need to be balanced — sometimes on a case-by-case basis. I believe that hotheaded, fictional jarheads are not the solons of choice for this negotiation.

Do I believe in G-D? Well, that’s between me and G-D. I definitely believe in Americans, though. I particularly believe in Americans who get up and do what needs to be done. Real Americans, not fictional Marines.

If you ask how I’m so sure this story’s a fairy tale, I’ll know right then that you’ve not met many leathernecks — there’s no way that kid would have referred to G-D protecting “soldiers.” Jarheads believe deep in their large but twisted hearts that the USMC protects soldiers (“army doggies” in Marine parlance); G-D watches over the Marines; and anyone who calls a Marine a “soldier” deserves the “ACLU Professor” treatment.

I believe in Americans who spend more time standing up for each other than facing each other down. I believe in Americans like the passengers of Flight 93, who voted to form up and take their aircraft down in a Pennsylvania field before it could be directed over an American city as a flying bomb. I believe in Americans like the quiet men who fought in Korea and came home to be bakers, tire salesmen, and reporters. I believe in Americans like the Smålanders who found Minnesota winters so comfortable that they became the butt of Garrison Keillor’s weekly humor. I believe in Americans like the Jews who put their lives on the line for black voters in the American south. I believe in Americans like my daughter, who’s unwilling to swallow anyone’s line of BS that won’t stand reasoned examination — including mine.

Thank G-D for that.

I believe that G-D is a useful idea and so is hatred, but that they should never be used for the same reasons.

I believe that securing our future is more important than rearguing our past, and I believe that religion — like tobacco, sex, alcoholic beverages and binding contracts — should never be forced on undeveloped little humans who haven’t yet reached the age of judgment. G-D can wait for understanding and enlightenment, eternally if necessary; He personfies (deifies?) love, after all, and as the story goes

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.  —1 Corinthians 13:4-8

All of which is to say that Love, the very benchmark of humble Christian practice, does not punch people in the nose. It doesn’t have to. G-D remains confidently above the fray, never getting staining His hands with filthy human blood (which, if memory serves, was created from dirt). If He didn’t stay out of our paltry earthly affairs, Jerusalem could never have fallen to the Seljuk Turks.

Nor to the Frankish Christians.

Nor to the Saracens.


You see how this goes? G-D doesn’t get blood on His (Her? Its?) hands. People who believe that they are G-D’s appointed agents on this Earth are dangerously delusional wielders of temporal power. That includes evangelical preachers who invoke the Holy Hurricane, popes who excommunicate young women who abort the holy fruit of rape, and even Marines who ignore the warning contained in Romans 12:19:

Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.

See, I also believe that G-D is busy with bigger issues than insubordinate professors and such-like humanist scum. Whether He exists or not, and regardless of which Good Book we read, it has perennially been more tempting to punish the deserving than to help the needy.

The problem is that our record on deciding whom to hang up next is somewhat imperfect. If you don’t believe me, ask that Jewish carpenter from Nazareth. Human judgment went rather hard for Him.

I choose to believe that we can do better. Whether we worship your G-D, my G-D, or no gods at all, most people have a well-developed idea of right and wrong and every single one of us knows what humans need to live in reasonable comfort and safety. All of us know damn good and well that we should cherish our poor, not our dogma; nurse our wounded, not our grudges. Perhaps after a couple of thousand years, this idea’s time has finally come.

Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the LORD. –Leviticus 19:18

And that’s why I also believe that the other students in the class, brave Americans all, wrestled the intemperate young man to the floor and called in campus police officers, who promptly and professionally arrested him — not for speaking his mind or because the State wants to crush religion, but for the mundane felony of simple assault.

I also choose to believe that the professor in this little psychodramatic parable, realizing somewhat late that he’d acted like a sanctimonious jackass, refused to testify against his student.

Reluctantly convicted by a sympathetic jury of his peers, the Marine was sentenced only to treatment for anger management. He subsequently enrolled in VA health care and received counseling for his post-traumatic stress disorder.

And America said, “Hell, YEAH!

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  1. Hell yeah, and amen.

  2. Hell yeah, Dad.

    I like it when you tell stories. You always could make them better.

  3. Naomi Rivkis says

    Hell, yeah. Beautifully written, and my thanks for saying a lot of what I try, less successfully, to explain sometimes. I’ll be signal-boosting this one in a lot of directions.

  4. Naomi Rivkis says

    P.S. I have recent reason to know that there’s an alternative to that reluctant conviction: for some assault crimes, apparently, they can suspend prosecution (with a waiver from the defendant of their right to a speedy trial). If the defendant completes their anger management program successfully (along with whatever else they may need, like substance abuse treatment or other mental health care, if and as applicable), and doesn’t get in any other trouble with the law over the following twelve months, the case is dropped. It serves the same purpose as sentencing them to anger management, but it doesn’t go on their record, if the defendant fulfills their end of the deal.

    So, for the Marine’s sake, I hope he and the prosecutor arranged for his prosecution to be suspended pending good behavior and participation in anger management and PTSD treatment, and that at the end of twelve months that got him well started on the path that would carry him to good mental health again, the charges were quietly dropped, allowing him to go on with his life without a felony assault on his record. And that somewhere along the way, he and that professor met in their respective business on campus, fell to talking, and mutually apologized.

  5. Paul Ritter says

    Very nice essay Jack. I have a nit to pick however. You refer to a “Jewish carpenter from Nazareth;” I presume you mean the man we know as Jesus, son of Mary.

    Jesus was not a carpenter – that was his step-dad Joseph’s profession. And yes, in those days a son usually followed in his father’s line of work, but remember it was known that Jesus was not Joseph’s son. He is never called “Jesus son of Joseph” as in the normal Jewish fashion at that time. It’s always “son of Mary.”

    From the bible stories of Jesus I would guess he was a rabbi.

    Yeah I know it doesn’t effect your well-written essay but sometimes I just can’t help myself.

  6. Good point, Paul. My dad never managed to make me a fighter pilot, but Christ’s dad kept him in the family business.

    Of course, fighter pilots would tell you that it’s a far better gig than being G-D.

  7. Bravo Zulu, well said, Continue the Mission.

  8. “Humanist scum”?? An odd contradiction in an otherwise beautifully expressed essay.

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