The Lion, The Lamb And The Mission Child

There is a little children’s table grace in a certain European language that goes, in literal translation, “Thou that feedeth the little bird, bless thou our food O God.” This provokes a couple of questions: whether the children of Christians notice the contradiction when singing this ditty over a chicken dinner; and whether they would sing this in the mission field after a playmate had been carried off and eaten by a lion. Perhaps the grace should go, “Thou that feedeth the man-eating lion” instead. Or was it a different God who fed the bird and the lion?

Some Christian fundamentalists are so embarrassed by the predatory nature of life on earth that they insist that lions ate grass before the Fall, and only took to eating meat in consequence of the sin of Adam. However biologically ridiculous it may be, this position is much less morally ridiculous than that table grace; for it recognises that our eating a chicken and the lion’s eating us are equivalent. In suggesting that neither action would happen in Paradise, it is more consistent than the conventional religious position that God directs the lion to eat the lamb but that the lion then goes beyond his mandate by eating the human.

A mission child who saw his friend eaten by a lion and then had to sing grace about God providing for all the animals might be forgiven for asking some hard questions; talking nonsense on autopilot is the prerogative of the adult, who has had plenty of practice in not seeing things. Such a child will probably have been repeatedly informed that God is looking after him and would never allow anything bad to happen to His little ones. Clearly this is not entirely the case. Since many adult Christians confuse salvation with superhero invulnerability, or treat prayers for protection as instructions to their deity, the child’s father may be equally sure that nothing bad can happen, because he has Faith and he has Prayed. So, how does he explain away the lion, both himself and to his child?

Believers define the rules of this game in such a way that they cannot lose; for any event whatsoever can be interpreted as an answer to their prayer. The unpleasantness of the event is no objection, since it means that God is saying No or setting them a Test. Neither is unexpectedness an objection; for the ability of a believer to forget what he said about God a few minutes ago is spectacular. He is certain that God will protect his loved ones from harm; but the moment the harm comes, then it is the will of God.

These two paradigms are kept quite separate. Before the harm occurs, the believers do not talk in terms of the will of God, but only of the protection they imagine (but cannot document) that God has promised them; after the harm has come, however, they no longer talk of the protection they imagined previously, but only of what lessons may be drawn from the harm. They promise converts and one another happiness, but when misery is delivered instead, instead of apologising, like a lazy waiter they pretend that this is what you ordered all along.

In fatal cases, they say that He has taken their loved ones to be with Him, which is in accordance with His perfect plan. That is, it was all along His perfect plan to take little Jimmy to Him, via the belly of the lion, at the age of four. If that is so, then their previous certainty that He would not allow such a thing must have been in error; but this they never admit, by the expedient of forgetting that they had ever thought it. Only if they cannot manage this last reconciliation does the narcissistic system collapse and they “lose their faith”. This happens much more often when little Jimmy is their own child, rather than someone else’s.

It would be interesting to study the processes by which children are acculturated to their elders’ unnatural practice of believing two ideas simultaneously, each of which is perfectly logical on its own, but which unfortunately also excludes the other. In marketing, this technique is known as the bait-and-switch: you attract the customer into the shop and then sell him something else entirely.

For a Muslim, of course, there is no doublethink, but only one truth: namely that Allah is sovereign and will do whatever He wills. Ergo, whatever has actually happened, including little Jimmy being eaten by the lion, was the will of Allah. He even has different words for prayer; in Arabic the ritual prayers are called salat, while intercession is called du’a or shaf’a. The thing that no good Muslim should say or think is that “God will protect me and not allow anything bad to happen to me in this life”. The fatalist school also includes Job, who asked whether we shall accept good from the Lord and not evil – what actually upset him was being told that it was all his own fault – the Apostle James, who warned the brethren against saying that tomorrow you will do such-and-such, and Clement of Alexandria.

The religion that agrees that in this life Shit Happens but tells you to get yourself into heaven, where it won’t happen, is consistent in its own terms. Christianity used to be such a religion, but in some hands has become a religion in which Shit can’t Happen, because God won’t let it – until it does, in which case He meant it to Happen.

Posted on June 13, 2009 at 10:00 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink
In: THE LONGEST CON, Shit Happens

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