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The Soul Searchers

I was minding my own business when I heard the thump of heavy footwear on the porch. I stepped outside in time to intercept two neatly dressed young women, carrying shiny briefcases and purses. Their aroma was pervasive but ambiguous, some unassuming middle of the road brand of perfume. For an absurd instant, I pictured them spritzing one another as they dressed, possibly shouting morale building slogans as they psyched themselves for a day of hostile brief encounters.

Over the past several years, different teams of these people have shown up at my place, all too frequently. "We're here to talk about the last days," they say, keeping their tone serious. "We're sure you noticed how bizarre world events have become lately." Etc. etc.

When I get a pair of those heavyset middle-aged men in brown suits and dark shoes whose heads resemble calcified jackolanterns, I can count on watching their temples glow and then pop, as we hash and rehash all obscure points of socio-religious history, theory and practice. I suspect these devout ambassadors would show up even if they knew I was a born arguer with a list of opinions longer than a Russian novel. It's something in their nature, and in the nature of self-righteous evangelism. It's almost funny, until you stop to consider — these people aren't out for the sport of it, they want souls.

Usually, they open the proceedings with a short lecture punctuated by references to scripture. I stare out at the sky, the trees, cats in the yard, as they explain their point for the day. They're never quite sure if I'm going to open up with a left jab or drop to my knees and beg for salvation. I resist speaking at all for at least the first two or three minutes, hoping that they will climb back into their conservative sedan and whisper back out to the County road. Of course, they never do. Silence is interpreted as a kind of ascent, and they produce books and periodicals for sale at low, low prices.

By this point, they will have uttered something open to dispute, and we will begin our contest in earnest. In this case, the lead woman brought up the concept of divine inspiration. I brought her up short by reminding her that "to inspire is: 1. to breathe in air, and 2. To breathe life into (as God)." She obviously had not considered the temporal application of the word, and I'd easily demolished her proposition, then led her into uncomfortable semantic terrain.

These people are nothing, however, if not coached. Her Bible fell open and her thumb landed on an underlined sentence. "Look," she said, "how this edition has been thoroughly cross-referenced so you never have to wonder what the Bible means. All the work has been done."

Excellent, Scripture for the TV generation; travel from question to resolution by ordained, ritual steps.

It was not long before we were discussing the legend of Noah's Ark. One woman maintained that it was entirely within reason to believe the waters had risen to cover the very mountains of the earth, rubbing out the great cities as well as humble villages without discretion.

I allowed that I could feature an inundation of that stature, however, I refused to speculate that it could have happened in any remotely recent geologic era, at least since the earth's crust began to harden and buckle.

They countered with a nasty remarks about Darwin's theory of evolution.

These discussions inevitably lead to questions of holiness, their position being that they have cornered the market on that worthy commodity. They especially enjoy making condescending attacks on Christianity in general, having been taught from infancy that their sect is, by virtue of peculiarity, morally distinguished. All others will die and rot into the ground, but these lucky souls shall enjoy bounty and paradise-on-earth, wherein beasts will forgo their traditional carnivorous appetites, and lambs will cavort unmolested across daisy-spotted pasture land. Woe to the non-believer.

I find this a most craven assault: attempting to procure promises of devotion by holding out the promise of immortality, even as organic systems are systematically dismantled. To presume a connection to spirituality is one thing, and not altogether bad, to use that intangible as a foundation for a philosophy whose effect in reality is literal destruction of the very basis of that paradiasical dream, that is not only faulty reasoning, it is murder.

"You're obviously someone who thinks about these things," they mumbled. I could tell they were getting ready to write me off as a wasted half-hour by the way they folded up their books and thrust several documents into my hands. I agreed to study their material if they would indulge me, and go hug a tree until they felt its heartbeat.

"But trees don't have hearts," said one.

"Doesn't matter," I answered, "Just lean on that tree long enough and you'll feel something. It will be a heart, or it won't be, but you might find out that God is a lot closer than you think."

And so they left. Thinking, I hope.

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