Chapter Four: Human Liberation
On the face of it, it was highly improbable that James Weldon would make it to India in the Peace Corps, given his background. First, he had grown up on a farm in supreme isolation near a small town in the Midwest. Only a few members of his class ever went on to the university.
The isolation was produced by not only religion, which cut the family off from most of the local society, but by the psychology of not desiring any social life. There were many rural families who lived in relatively isolated places but on the other hand, they generally had some sort of social life. But James’s family did not.
Outsiders hardly ever “came down the hill” to the old house on the farm where the family lived. When they did, from time to time, it was not unusual for James to run away and hide behind the house.
One regular visitor was a salesman, Mister Riggins. He was an older man who walked with a limp and sold McNess Products. He pedaled his wares from house to house. James’s mother would be home when he suddenly appeared in an old blue car. His father would be working in the field. While she did not particularly need any of the things he had to sell, she would buy a couple of things just to get him back on the road on his way. He usually refused to leave until she bought something. This was usually a very large metal box of ground black pepper or other spices. Sometimes it would be coffee or tea. The products were generally quite overpriced.
James usually ran away and hid when Riggins showed up, but he remembered the strange crude man, spinning his lies to make a sale. He had a gruff voice and spun out his practiced phrases to convince rural housewives. He swore that a severe shortage of pepper was eminent. Better stock up on it now. Not having any cash on hand, his mother would have to write him a check, which he would cash the same day. Then his father would complain when he came home about being robbed by this Riggins character who had come down from Preston. It was frightening to see him appear. But his mother did not have time to run away like she did when the preacher came.
James also remembered a Bible salesman. These guys were popular in the rural Bible belt. They sold expensive, overpriced, Bibles. But how could one pass up the deal. No one could afford to pass up the manifold blessings and Manna that was sure to fall from heaven as a result of their purchase. He did remember that his mother had bought a Bible. Even though overpriced, his father could not object very strongly. Nevertheless, he hated these salesmen.
His father had his own Bible, a well-worn one that he had ordered years before from the Gospel Publishing House in Springfield, Missouri. It was a Scofield Bible with a concordance. That was all his father ever read or studied, tracing every verse back and forth through the scriptures with the help of the references. It was exactly as a Marxist true believer who tried to understand every word that had ever been written by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels.
James recalled that one day a salesman arrived selling a thick bound volume of sheet music between white plastic covers which was also excessively priced. But since his older sister had learned to play the piano, it was purchased on the installment plan.
The relatives who visited the family were few and far between. But his uncle Clay often did some farming on his father’s land. When others would come, his mother pretended to be pleased, but only wanted them to leave as soon as possible.
When the children started to school, the church they attended, the local Assembly of God, taught that it was a sin to do almost anything that was the least but enjoyable. It would be a sin to play games or sports, such as baseball, football, or basketball. His parents refused to ever attend such events. It was also a sin to dance, to go to a movie, to wear makeup and for women to cut their hair. One could not drink any alcohol. It was a sin to swear.
Outside of the school, the only activity was church. Church, church, church. Church was everything. It was ironic, then, that his mother did not actually seem to put much stock in it. Somewhat clandestinely, she actually liked Elvis Presley and Rock and Roll music, even though it was strictly verboden. The driving force was his father, driven, it seemed, by the notion that God was easy to get pissed off and that when he did, there would be hell to pay. And it seemed that having a little fun and laughter might just do the trick. God just didn’t like that shit. He was apparently a sour old bugger. So one had to walk the line and keep one’s nose to the grindstone. Hard work. Busting one’s ass was fine with God. He liked that. It would please him. Going roller skating would not. Nor would fishing. One had to be very careful what they did or thought.
As a result, the family went to church all the time. That was at least four times a week. Most people were astute enough to ignore the silly church rules, to be sure, but James’s father did not. He took them seriously. Most people went to ball games and so on. They went to movies. They did pretty much what they wanted to do. They were normal human sinners, within the context of the puritanical church doctrine.
And why not? If worse came to worse, it was incredibly easy to take out fire insurance from the ravages of hell. All one had to do was to “repent” and then God would forgive one. What could be more easy? Why deprive one’s self of enjoyment? Rationally, one should enjoy the hell out of life and then repent at the last minute before it was too late.
It didn’t take a lot of brains to figure that out, one would think. That way, one could clearly have their cake and eat it too. And there was that parable about the workers in the vineyard. Jesus had defended paying the ones who came later and worked a short time the same amount as those who worked the entire day. So why deprive one’s self of the joys of life. Getting “saved” in old age would have the same efficacy as if one had done it in youth. But one could have had a lot more fun in life.
Most people seemed to have figured that out. Perhaps God was testing them, giving them a sort of intelligence test. Perhaps the ones that couldn’t figure it out were not the clever type that he would want in heaven, anyway. Why would he want heaven filled with people with a quite low IQ.
Of course, if God got pissed off and squashed one like a bug it would be all over. One would drop into hell at once like a rock into a well. But there were so many thriving on their sinning it certainly seemed worth it to take the chance and go ahead and have some fun. Carpe Diem.
In the churches, the preachers kept admonishing one to come down to the altar and “get saved” because God might get impatient and send a truck to mow one down in the street if they did not. James took that pretty seriously, but was pretty sure that he could avoid getting hit with a truck, even if God had sent it for him. He always checked the street pretty closely before crossing.
All in all, I seemed that God had set up a system that was pretty easy to beat if one was a little bit clever and used one’s brains. After all, the brains too were given by God too, or so it was believed. So he surely expected that people would use them.
The problem was that James was not allowed to be clever. He had lived his life under the conviction that he was headed straight for hell and there was not much he could do about it. That was all there was to it. The preachers had always convinced him that he was a sinner. Even if he got saved, he was not terribly interested in living the boring life laid out for a good Christian. It just could not appeal to a young man that had any ambition in life. If one wanted to have a good life, la dolce vita, one had to sin. That was clear enough.
Because of this regimen, James had missed out on having a proper socialization and so was quite socially retarded. It was the incredibly stupid brand of religion that was largely the culprit, plus the fact that his family had been stupid enough to believe in it.
The lucky break came when he was fortunate enough to escape from his family and his home town for the state university. His normalization was not automatic. He had been deeply scarred by this sort of youth. It had taken him all of three years to begin to see the light, to get out from under the system of human terrorism and hell fire preaching that had been blasted from the pulpit all those years. It had taken him that long to realize just how goofy he had been up to that point. The idiocy that was rural life started to become clear.
But then, religion always made one goofy as far as he could tell. At least there was an inordinate amount of empirical evidence to that effect.
It suddenly dawned upon him that the Bible thumpers had it precisely upside down. It was heavenly to go in for the “hellish” things and hellish to go in for the “heavenly” things. It was not at all certain that there was a hell in the after- life, or a heaven for that matter. But what was certain was that those country preachers had made his life a hell on earth, while the other kids and many others too were enjoying heaven on earth. Those assholes should just mind their own freaking business and leave others the fuck alone, he concluded. Why were they anyway?
He had read that many villagers in India did not buy the religious myth of heaven and hell. The only heaven and hell that existed was right here on earth. Life for some was heaven and life for others was hell and that was all there was to it. If one had money and wealth in life, one lived in heaven. If one was poor and had to toil just to live, then life was hell.
Those country preachers liked to lie and pretend that they had been the biggest sinners on earth, running around in honky-tonks with so many women and having a glorious hot time, just to get the local farmers jealous of them. Then they would pretend that they had made a huge sacrifice and given it all up for God. It was a patent fraud, but it worked, from a marketing standpoint.
Nevertheless, the Bible was no antidote to hormones. They went right on secreting and people kept right on sinning, as long as it was physically possible.
So his third year in the university, James chucked the church. He started dating some girls and drank a few beers. He went to movies with the girls. He got a date and went to the homecoming dance. He went to all the football games. He started having a good time, and sure enough, it was heavenly. He didn’t know if he would go to heaven died, but what the fuck? He was not enjoying a little bit of heaven right down here on earth. Maybe that was what God had intended all along. If God was in charge, why did he allow all those sinful things that were so much fun?
If God did not want people to drink beer and wine, then why did he make it so tasty and inebriating? Why did Jesus perform that trick at that wedding when he turned the water into wine. He was certainly responsible for getting some of those peasants drunk on their ass that day. Why didn’t he just let them drink water? Maybe Jesus wanted to see them go wild and dance and have a good time. They had spent their whole life in painful toil and still could not get ahead. They needed some freedom to blow it off from time to time.
And why did God give men and women such beautiful genitals if he didn’t want them to use them. Why did he give them the fiery yen for sex day in and day out and all night? This was unlike some animals that only mated at a certain season of the year for reproduction. Apparently, men and women were given genitals for more than just the reproductive function. More than just to increase the population, as in animals. It seemed that humans were meant to increase their enjoyment. Perhaps that was what made them human in the first place. Why should sex be only animalistic? It had been designed to be human. A form of human liberation. And why did God make people want to dance, if it was a sin? Why did he make them happy, if they were supposed to mope around and dwell on religion all the time?
Why did God put up with the devil? Why didn’t he just squash that son-of-a-bitch? Why did God go after people and not him? If God was all powerful, as was said, it should be pretty easy to get rid of that asshole devil if he wanted to.
Somehow, it seemed that it was part of the larger scheme. God needed the devil to get his work done, the same way the United States needed the Soviet Union to be a super power. Maybe the “devil” was just another face of God, like the Hindus believed. That would make more sense. Both God and the devil were in basically the same business. They were both recruiting souls for their kingdoms. It was a matter of marketing. But one had to admit that the marketing of sin was a heck of a lot easier than marketing religion. The devil had the advantage. It was just the same with politics. It was easier to market socialism than capitalism, because the majority benefited from socialism and were just exploited by capitalism.
The upshot was that those theological principles just made no sense. One could just spin out theological Sanskrit all day and night and no one could have a clue about what was wrong or right. But it was pretty clear that making people miserable was wrong, even if it was done in the name of religion.
James had made some inroads into freeing himself from his small-town and religious background. The university had opened up his mind. Now his experiences in India were set to open up and expand his experience and thinking upon a new and higher plane. He had nothing to lose and a lot to gain.