Thursday, June 09, 2005

Life After God

Last weekend, I just re-read one of my favorite books of all time: Douglas Coupland's "Life After God." It's a collection of short stories with a mildly (though not necessarily) autobiographical tone. They are stories of family, faith, hope, pain... at times hysterical, at times profoundly sad...

I find the stories of "Life After God" to be absolutely beautiful. As far as I know, Coupland would not call himself a Christian -- nor might anyone else, for that matter. Yet he touches on themes that are highly spiritual and deeply meaningful (perhaps moreso than a majority of "Christian" authors). He writes in short stories that could easily be disconnected and separately digested, yet the entire collection breathes common vapors and drinks from common pools of thought. As I'm pulled along from one story to the next, the larger themes unfold in front of me. I can't exactly place what it is, but something in his words simply resounds in a core part of my being, and not just me but also my generation. In my humble opinion, "Life After God" is one of the most powerful and poignant works of art for this era.

A lot of times, in my own writing, I catch myself trying to sound like Douglas Coupland. So I wanted to share some isolated passages from "Life After God." They're not as good by themselves, without the context of the larger stories, but they are still beautiful. The book can be irreverent at times and even vulgar -- but I recommend it as a case study on the spiritual temperament of those men and women born into the Western world during the closing decades of the 1900s... From here, I'll let the work stand for itself:

"You are the first generation raised without religion."

* * * * *

"And there were Christian radio stations, too, so many many stations, and the voices on them seemed so enthusiastic and committed. They sounded like they sincerely believed in what they were saying, and so for once I decided to pay attention to these stations, trying to figure out what exactly it was they were believing in, trying to understand the notion of Belief.

The stations talked about Jesus and salvation and I found it pretty hard listening because these religious types are always so whacked out and extreme. I think they take things too literally and miss too many points because of this literalism. This had always been the basic flaw with religion -- or so I had been taught, and so (I realized) I had come to believe. So at least I knew one thing for sure that I believed in.

The radio stations all seemed to be talking about Jesus nonstop, and it seemed to be this crazy orgy of projection, with everyone projecting onto Jesus the antidotes to the things that had gone wrong in their own lives. He is Love. His is Forgiveness. He is Compassion. He is a Wise Career Decision. He is a Child Who Loves Me.

I was feeling a sense of loss as I heard these people. I felt like Jesus was sex -- or rather, I felt like I was from another world where sex did not exist and I arrived on Earth and everyone talked about how good sex felt, and showed me their pornography and built their lives around sex, and yet I was forever cut off from the true sexual experience. I did not deny that the existence of Jesus was real to these people -- it was merely that I was cut off from their experience in a way that was never connectable.

And yet I had to ask myself over and over what it was that these radio people were seeing in the face of Jesus. They sounded like their lives had once been so messed up and lost as they spoke; at least they were no longer so lost anymore -- like AA people. So I figured that was a good thing."

* * * * *

"I felt sad because I realized that once people are broken in certain ways, they can't ever be fixed, and this is something nobody ever tells you when you are young and it never fails to surprise you as you grow older as you see the people in your life break one by one. You wonder when your turn is going to be, or if it's already happened."

* * * * *

"Our curse as humans is that we are trapped in time -- our curse is that we are forced to interpret life as a sequence of events -- a story -- and that when we can't figure out what our particular story is we feel lost somehow."

* * * * *

"Life was charmed but without politics or religion. It was the life of children of the children of the pioneers -- life after God -- a life of earthly salvation on the edge of heaven. Perhaps this is the finest thing to which we may aspire, the life of peace, the blurring between dream life and real life -- and yet I find myself speaking these words with a sense of doubt.

I think there was a trade-off somewhere along the line. I think the price we paid for our golden life was an inability to fully believe in love; instead we gained an irony that scorched everything it touched. And I wonder if this irony is the price we paid for the loss of God.

But then I remind myself we are living creatures -- we have religious impulses -- we must -- and yet into what cracks do these impulses flow in a world without religion? It is something I think about every day. Sometimes I think it is the only thing I should be thinking about."

* * * * *

"I'm trying to escape from ironic hell: cynicism into faith; randomness into clarity; worry into devotion. But it's hard because I try to be sincere about life and then I turn on a TV and I see a game show host and I have to throw up my hands and give up. Too many easy pickin's! Clarity would be so much easier if there weren't so many cheesy celebrities around. Agreed?"

* * * * *

"Some facts about me: I think I am a broken person. I seriously question the road my life has taken and I endlessly rehash the compromises I have made in my life. I have an unsecure and vaguely crappy job with an amoral corporation so that I don't have to worry about money. I put up with halfway relationships so as not to have to worry about loneliness. I have lost the ability to recapture the purer feelings of my younger years in exchange for a streamlined narrow-mindedness that I assumed would propel me to "the top." What a joke."

* * * * *

"Sometimes I want to go to sleep and merge with the foggy world of dreams and not return to this, our real world. Sometimes I look back on my life and am surprised at the lack of kind things I have done. Sometimes I just feel that there must be another road that can be walked -- away from this person I became -- either against my will or by default."

* * * * *

"Now -- here is my secret:

I tell it to you with anopenness of heart that I doubt I shall ever achieve again, so I pray that you are in a quiet room as you hear these words. My secret is that I need God -- that I am sick and can no longer make it alone. I need God to help me give, because I no longer seem capable of giving; to help me be kind, as I no longer seem capable of kindness; to help me love, as I seem beyond being able to love."


At 10:32 PM, Anonymous mom said...

Sounds like a very interesting book! I'll have to see if the library has it...


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