The Prodigal Goes Home
The moment I came out of my mother's womb and the doctor spanked me, I'm pretty sure my first thoughts were, "Hey there! What the fuck?"
I was about ten years old when a Sunday school teacher told me that unless I found Jesus. I would burn in hell FOREVER. I can still remember the moment and even where I was sitting in the classroom when it happened.
It was pretty much the EXIT the Garden moment in my life. I was pretty young to be so skeptical, but I was morally offended that an adult thought that burning people forever was an acceptable practice, an one that was also condoned by the creator and apparently my parents. That day I learned that people weren't trustworthy, especially Baptist preachers and Sunday school teachers who wanted to scare their fellow church members into believing in God.
I've often wondered why I was I wasn't susceptible to that line of reasoning. I think it was because I was already someone who read a lot. I once sent in a coupon from the back of comic book that put my parents on the hook for a book of the month subscription without their permission. I was lucky that my mom let me keep the books.
Reading is based on reason. A reader has to figure out the meaning and the context and sometimes has to use both a creative imagination and intuition to come to a complete understanding of what was written. There is also a lot of meaning contained in the writing that is not implicitly stated. If you write everything down exactly like the computer commands before Windows, even a small story would take volumes to tell.
The thing is that at that critical moment I was led into doubt. I doubted God. I doubted the Sunday School teacher, I doubted my parents for putting me in a room with a person who felt that placing people in everlasting flames was a good thing to do.
A little later, in the sixth grade, the state of California, in it's infinite wisdom, decided I needed to learn Algebra via osmosis. They passed out these cheaply bound red books and told my teacher to use them to teach the students who were ready to make the leap into algebra. There were two of us in the class. I wasn't taught; I learned absolutely nothing but how to cheat. I was allowed to self correct my work, so I did.
From that experience, I learned to doubt the government, the educational system, male teachers, but mainly myself. I have always believed that I am learning disabled when it comes to math, but I also know that I wasn't prior to being subjected to the SMSG program.
It also didn't help to alleviate my growing sense of skepticism when JFK was murdered that same year and the true details of his death covered up for decades.
Many people would disagree with me over that last statement. However, It only takes one factual detail to blow away the lone assassin theory. There is a tape of LBJ discussing a problem right after the assassination. Or, there was a tape. It is the only recording missing from the tapes of LBJ's conversations in the Oval office during that period. Fortunately, whoever took it forgot to destroy the transcript of the call. In it, LBJ and J.Edgar Hoover discuss the fact that the man posing as Oswald, prior to the assassination, at the the Soviet Embassy in Mexico City was clearly not Oswald.
This single fact exposes the idea that Oswald acted alone is simply not the truth. It is certainly worthy of a thorough investigation which has never happened. Someone knows who the man was. They have a photograph and voice recording, and yet almost sixty years after the fact, authorities have chosen not to pursue the identity of the man. This, of course, caused me to have more than a little doubt about history, at least the way that it has been taught in schools and used by power hungry politicians.
In her powerful essay about the late sixties and early seventies, The White Album, writer Joan Didion talks about our tendency to put everything we see, feel, or hear into narrative form and to supply meaning to the whole thing according to what makes the story work best in our mind. Didion points out the uncomfortable fact that once one scene is spliced (or new exculpatory information is discovered) the whole story changes, so the meaning that we supplied is not permanent.
"The problem was that my entire education, everything I had ever been told or had told myself, insisted that the production was never supposed to have been improvised: I was supposed to have a script and had mislaid it. I was supposed to hear cues and no longer did. I was meant to know the plot, but all I knew was what I saw: flash pictures in variable sequence, images with no "meaning' beyond their temporary arrangement. I wanted still to believe in the narrative and in the narrative's intelligibility."
Later, she explains that by sensing that the narrative could and would be altered as she aged, "Was to begin to perceive that the experience as rather more electrical than ethical."
In chapter one of The Twelve Rules for Life, Dr. Jordan Peterson explains the meaning of the story of the expulsion from the Garden of Eden far better than any preacher that I've ever heard. He explains about the need for a random factor to be found amongst all the perfection that surrounded Adam and Eve and their family.
The serpent is in the Garden too, and it had to be God who placed it there. Otherwise, creation becomes frozen and never changes. It is a lesson that is also illustrated by the Second Law of Thermodynamics where it states that in a closed system entropy (disorder) will increase and everything else will even out, or become frozen. That is, unless a new source of energy enters the equation.
The Bible is big on the idea of the Return of the Prodigal Son. In my mind, it is the idea of that new source of energy that is described. There are at least four or five times in the Bible that the story is inferred beginning with the original expulsion from the Garden. The story of Cain and Abel conveys the same idea in different form, as does the Hebrew sojourn in captivity in both Babylon and Egypt. There is also Christ's designation as the one true king, a king who has been outcast and will one day return to claim his throne. Christ talks about it himself in the story of the Prodigal Son.
Like Didion, I have come to sense that life is narrative. I think it has been the hidden secret passed down for the last four-five hundred years in fiction and literature. Life follows a plot line. We are supposed to be doubtful and dissatisfied so that we move forward in our efforts to steer ourselves back to the Garden.
This secret is constantly being lost and hidden as more and more debris and flotsam is placed upon it. We follow sport's teams, listen to narcissistic politicians, and hang on every utterance of people who have nothing to say. They guide us along paths that lead, at best to nowhere, at worse to a place between walls that are closing in.
I doubt so I don't get stuck believing in the lie that human life is meaningless. It can certainly appear so and many a mangler has dedicated his/her life to proclaiming it as true. And as Didion points out, in this overly complicated world of flashing lights, discordant noises, convenient history, and fake news, life seems to have become detached from it moorings. So much so, that it sure seems more electrical than ethical.
There is a climax point in every story where heroes are often convinced that their efforts are fruitless, yet still they walk head on toward the monster that bars their way. It is also a time where so much inner energy is released that the monster dissolves into nothingness and the hero morphs into something new.
When we reach the end of our journey and stand before the mirror that turns our scars and disfigurements into beauty marks, it will not be because of the certainty that we possessed throughout our life, but rather in the doubts that we overcame.