I was awakened last weekend, on a beautiful Saturday morning, by a knock on the door… Okay, I wasn’t awakened, it was 11:30, but I’d just gotten up and I was brushing my teeth when I opened the door, and I was greeted by a pair of shiny, smiling, well-dressed people wearing their very best “Sunday Go To Meetin'” clothes and carrying Watch Tower magazines.
Now this in and of itself isn’t a problem. I have two brothers who are Jehovah’s Witnesses. I’ve heard all the sales pitches, I’ve read the magazines, I’ve been to the meetings. In fact, I find that this familiarity with the pitch, this hipness to the word, is actually a great defense against these early morning attacks.
“Thank you,” I say, “but I have two brothers who are Witnesses. I don’t really need to have anything explained to me.” That usually puts the kibosh on the whole thing right there. “Ah, well,” they will surely say, “if his own brother couldn’t bring him over, well then, the Force is strong in this one.”
But not this time.
“Oh,” she says, “You’re Steve’s brother.”
Now, I’m not sure exactly why but it got the hackles up on the back of my neck … I felt like I had a target taped to my soul.
My immunity to Salvation, apparently, is legendary. Rather than being an indication that I am immovable, rather than marking the doorway with some invisible, unseen sign of the Dark Side that will keep future Witnesses at bay, protecting them from the black malevolence that is my resistance to divine rescue, there is instead a price on my head. My soul is now the Great White Whale of souls… the El Dorado of souls… the Super Bowl of souls. My soul is the stuff of legend… and my name is whispered in the smoke-filled back room of the Kingdom Hall.
So rather than throw their hands up in desperation, they looked at me with a gleam in their eyes, one very nice Church Lady, with lace around her neck and sensible shoes, and a fat, sweaty, happily rosy-cheeked guy with a suit and a tie that squeezes his neck out of his collar like a water balloon through a napkin ring.
“So your brothers are witnesses, and you … are not?”
That is correct, I assert. I am, in fact, not a Witness.
“Do you believe in God at all,” they press on, “or are you just a … non-believer?”
I’m not comfortable discussing this with you, here, in my doorway, in my sweats, with a toothbrush in my mouth, I answer. I haven’t had my coffee. This could go very wrong, very quickly.
“Just one last question,” he presses on, “and you don’t have to answer now. I only ask that you think about this.
“Do you actually believe that there is no divine intervention, no way to assure our everlasting salvation, that Mankind will just continue to go on, forever, in his current, depraved, selfish way, destroying himself, and the planet, wreaking havoc in a global attempt to consume and ravage and rape and kill, and that it will never end? That there is no higher purpose? That we can’t be forgiven for our fundamental nature and invited into the Kingdom?”
I thought he was going to ask me something hard.
“Of course,” I say, “What a stupid question. People are selfish, and short-sighted, and angry, and spiteful. They want cheap CD’s and free sex and more Jackass. They want cell phones, and DSL lines, and microwaves, and each and every one of them wants more than they need. No, there’s no higher purpose. It’s about instant gratification. Don’t you know? That’s why we have religion. It excuses us from being self-destructive rampaging pricks. Sorry, God, we didn’t mean to wipe your precious owls off the face of the Earth, we’re just men, we’re born with sin, it’s not our fault! You’re counting on that, or you wouldn’t be able to sell your little magazine with the picture of the lamb and the lion on the cover!”
In fact, it’s true that people want what they want, they want it cheap, and they want it now. Consequences be damned, whatever the price, I’ll eat hamburgers fried yesterday and warmed under a heat lamp if I can have it for 49 cents. I’ll buy a 50 gallon drum of mayonnaise if it gets the price per-ounce down under a nickel.
We’re a society of people who stand in front of the microwave and screams “hurry up! I can’t wait more than 30 seconds to get that macaroni and cheese inside me, give it to me now, make it go faster, screw it I’ll just snort the cheese powder through a straw and inject the noodles past my gag reflex with a turkey baster!”
We are a culture that measures the quality of our lives based on how instantly we get gratification. What is this, the Olympics? Is this life the hundred-yard dash of consumerism? What am I going to do with an extra 7 seconds? Does anyone actually organize their life in 7 second increments? Do I really need 7 more seconds of Ricki Lake, Internet porn, or Survivor? Whatever happened to the thrill of the hunt?
So I’m standing there in my sweats, without my coffee, with my toothbrush hanging out of my mouth, in my doorway, with this stranger trying to sell insurance against my eventual and assured Damnation, when the phone rings and I turn to them and say “Sorry, but I’ve got to get the phone.” They say goodbye, wish me a happy morning, and they are on their way.
I pick up the phone, and on the other end is a lilting Southern voice that says “Hello, Sir? This is Elvira from AT&T about your platinum card. I’d like to offer you a free service, to protect your purchasing power and your valuable credit rating, by insuring your balance and making your payments in the event your ability to pay is compromised. The service is free, Sir, for the first 30 days, and anytime you want to cancel you just call.”
“No thank you,” I reply, “I have two brothers with credit card protection, and I’ve heard all about it.”
“Just one last thing,” she pressed on, “and you don’t have to answer now. I only ask that you think about. Let me leave you with an 800 number, just in case you change your mind.”
So go ahead, that’s the message, overspend, consume, buy more than you need, make poor decisions, it’s what you do, it’s in your nature, it’s your original sin. It’s not your fault, and we won’t make you pay, there’s always an insurance policy, it’ll just cost you 3% of your balance per month and after you die we’ll send you to that Golden Valhalla where everything is free, the rivers run with wine, and elephant crap Web sites download in less than a tenth of a second.
That’s it. That’s all I got.