Thursday, March 11, 2010

"The Certainty of Belief"

Eddie Izzard came out on stage. He’s my favorite comedian right now, and we went to see him in concert. Sometimes, he performs in a sequined dress. This time, he wore jeans and a jacket with tails. Not animal tails, tails like orchestra conductors wear.

Eddie Izzard talks about a lot of things in his act, from the use of elephants in warfare to what it was like playing Scrabble before the invention of words. But, as in a therapy session, there’s something ringingly significant about the first thing that comes out your mouth. The first thing that came out of Eddie Izzard’s mouth that night was this:

“If God existed, he would have flicked Hitler’s head off.”

An hour or so later, between two wildly unrelated subjects, he suddenly interjected,

“You pray for something, and it happens. You pray for something, and it doesn’t happen. That sounds very much like ‘random.’”

Two funny observations. You can’t help but be tickled, imagining some all-powerful Being placing his Giant Thumb over his forefinger, then releasing the forefinger, and flicking Hitler’s head off. And there is goes, bouncing along the cobblestone.

And those three sentences on prayer capsulize the absurdity of the praying activity. A pithy dismissal of “Dear, God, let me have this.” Or “not have this”, in the case of some disease you’d like God to take away.

But when he did those jokes, I watched Eddie Izzard’s face, and I listened to his voice.

He seemed hurt.

And alone, abandoned, and scared.

Which he covered with irritation and a lofty disdain.

(Author’s Note: There is always the possibility I misread the whole thing.)
Izzard wanted God to flick Hitler’s head off. And since God didn't come through, he feels royally upset. It occurs to him that his belief in a Supreme Being – which we all have at some point, I can’t imagine people are born atheists – has been entirely misplaced. And he decides that he’s not going to believe anymore.

He will no longer believe in the existence of God. That will show him.

“That will show someone you believe doesn’t exist?”

“Shut up!”

Izzard’s not the only comedian who seems irate with a God he is certain does not exist. On his HBO series, Bill Maher frequently “goes off” on the foolishness of believing, cranking up his wrath against organized religion and the devastation it delivered in the name of whatever God they were slaughtering people to honor. That stuff's just ugly.

The second part, I agree with entirely. Organized religion has a lot to answer for, from the “we’re holier than you are, so we’re killing you” mentality to selling “indulgences” to their followers, bribes to get into heaven, paid to ordained hucksters who have no control over the matter.

The first part, I’m not as enthusiastic about.

I’ve heard Maher equate the belief in the existence of God to the belief in the existence of Santa Claus. To which, I reply, in my fantasy where I’m a panelist on his show,

“It’s not the same.”

“How do you know it’s not the same?” he retorts, with patented Maherian indignation.

To which I reply,

“We know where the presents come from. We don’t know where we come from.”

You can hear some murmuring from the crowd, but nothing overt, because it’s his show and his audience. Still, there’s no denying that I’m right. Why? Because we know where the presents come from, but we don’t know where we come from.

In my fantasy, Maher appears chastened but unbowed.

“I still think it’s a load of shit”, he replies, saving face, without disputing my argument. And saying “shit”, ‘cause he’s on cable.

I’m not a believer. Sometimes, I wish I were. I envy their comfort and community. And their certainty. Maher derides such certainty as a passionate belief with no provable evidence.

And I think, “Who does that remind me of?”

Oh, yeah.


And Eddie Izzard. The difference is, true believers have a look of contentment on their faces. While atheists just look damaged.


Jon88 said...

I suspect the atheists might describe the looks on the faces of the true believers somewhat differently.

droszel said...

I enjoyed that post as much as any of yours I've read so far. And, I've read and enjoyed a number of them. My view of Maher? He's as pompous about people who believe as is Limbaugh about Democrats.

DougAZ said...

As a born-again Christian, I appreciate the sincerity and honesty of this post. There is no shame in skepticism. Your post confirms by belief that we are all hard-wired to believe in a Creator. Bridging the gap between wanting to believe and actually believing is part of God's work in our hearts. Sadly, many in organized religion have hindered, not helped in that process.

Anonymous said...

But when he did those jokes, I watched Eddie Izzard’s face, and I listened to his voice.

He seemed hurt.

And alone, abandoned, and scared.

Which he covered with irritation and a lofty disdain.
This is exactly what I have been thinking about Eddie's comments.

He's going through some hugh questionings.

In another 10 years, we may be hearing that he's being referred to as Brother Eddie.

moopot said...

I don't think we are born to believe in some divine creator - I have no memories of a time when I have thought to myself, "boy, i wish I believed in God." I think we are born to be atheists (or possibly agnostics), and external forces instill in some people a belief in the Great Sky Bully.

Frankly, I take a great deal of comfort in knowing that there is no God - that all the horrible stuff that happens in the world isn't preordained or sanctioned by some horrible a**hole in the sky, who thinks its okay to just whipe out six million people for no reason. I honestly don't really understand how the belief in God COULD be comforting to someone.

Miles said...

I love your work Earl, but I think you're completely wrong here. Plenty of "true believers" look hurt, and plenty of atheists are secure with their place in this world, indeed are happier not having the burden of arbitrary rules written by man and purported to be from god. Being in a muslim country right now only enforces that for me.

No matter what your take on the existence of a god, it is exceedingly obvious that organised religion has to be a sham - they can't all be correct.

And as to your question of - "we know where the presents come from - but where do we come from?" - well where does the god come from? If he can just "be", then we can't we? Or is it turtles all the way down?

steve macdonald said...

Well, Earl, as George Carlin used to say, "Joe bless you."