As we get older and, let's face it, most of us do we have a tendency to look back at ourselves and wonder just how in the world we got this way. Being excessively introspective by nature, I do more of this than most folks, and with Easter at hand, I find myself with the discovery that a substantial slice of my own personal theology comes from a Bill Cosby monologue.
Seriously. It comes from the double LP 8:15 12:15, so named because it represented two versions of Cosby's late-Sixties standup act, the 8:15 "dinner show" and the late-night version, which latter one may presume to be slightly bluer, though not that much bluer: we're talking Bill Cosby, after all. Some of the same bits, though, appear in both, and one of them has to do with using the Lord's name in vain. Gamblers the recording was made at Harrah's Lake Tahoe are apparently notorious for this:
I hear it at the blackjack table. "Oh, God, give me a seven for twenty-one!"
This is trivial, but, says the Cos, you're distracting God: "He's working. He's working on problems. He's trying to solve the racial problem, trying to solve Vietnam without having it look like a miracle."
Now obviously "don't call on God" didn't make any impression on me "Jesus Christ on a crutch!" is one of my milder expletives but that last bit stuck, and stuck hard. God works, we are told, in mysterious ways; apparently the idea is to make sure that those ways remain mysterious, so they don't "look like a miracle." What your insurance company calls an "act of God" probably isn't; on the other hand, entirely too many prayers get answered for me to believe that it's all just a roll of the dice. (And there's always the possibility that all of them are answered, but sometimes the answer is "No," which makes a certain amount of sense to me but which, as a concept, I haven't quite embraced.)
I don't catch a lot of flak from atheists, at least partly because I don't give them the stereotypical "See you in hell" speech. I mean, if I see them, I'm there, right? And if I'm not there, well, I still think it's bad form to look down upon the damned, no matter what Tertullian might have said. Besides, I have exactly no idea who will populate the halves of the hereafter: all I have are the names of the landlords. Nor would it bother me if, say, noted atheist Isaac Asimov passed muster with the Almighty.
Still, the presence of even a sliver of faith is inexplicable to a certain percentage of the population. Oddly, some of the same people who would castigate me for possession of this sliver cleave to some demonstrably-wacky beliefs of their own: that it's somehow possible to rid the world of poverty by the action of the same governments that can barely keep the potholes filled; that mankind, whose destructive capabilities thus far have proven limited to the occasional (and extremely costly) demolition of a smallish city here and there, is somehow going to destroy all life on earth by driving to work and keeping the lights on; that if you exhibit no signs of belligerence whatsoever, everyone else on the planet will follow your example and there will be no more war. It's a lot easier to believe a Jewish day laborer was put to death and stayed dead for less than a weekend than to swallow any of that stuff.
As for distracting God, the Cos had a solution for that:
I have this friend named Rudy. He ain't doing nothing. We can call him all day. "How in Rudy's name can you say a thing like that?" "So he hit my Rudydamned car..." You get the same results.
Well, not all the time. Or so I believe.
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Copyright © 2008 by Charles G. Hill