Lourd de Veyra: Why Does God Go Old Testament On Us?
Sorry to disturb you, but allow me to introduce myself. Wait, this is absurd. You know me, definitely. You being all-powerful, omniscient, omnipresent, and all that—Creator of everything and I’d like to think that “everything” includes myself and even Justin Bieber. You know what I do, what I just ate, the color of my underwear on the first day of sixth grade and what I’m going to do at exactly 3:30 a.m. later. You know exactly the number of strands of hair desperately clinging on my tragic follicles, or the Venn diagram of acne on my face. Oh, and about that thing with you-know-who last week, well, I was hungover. You do understand, right? I have, after all, been taught all my life about your boundless compassion.
As you may very well know, I have not been attending mass since, well, I’ve lost track. It’s been decades, and those last few years it’s always been about making Mother happy (that’s actually more for her succor than my personal sense of piety. She can get more furious than Moses about the state of my soul’s salvation). But, dear God, I hope that those years of intense prayer from grade school to high school would have more than made up for it. Remember? I used to look more solemn than Gloria Arroyo receiving communion from a Pajero bishop.
Personally I find the Latin mass much more engaging—the silence, the atmosphere of pure ritual, the mystery of an alien language. I agree with Joseph Campbell that Vatican II has robbed the mass of its solemnity—now it’s like That’s Entertainment, with bad jean labels, sandos, noisy brats, and mini-skirts. I disdain sermons—especially those that stretch on for infinity. I find absurd the notion that a human being can rant on for 30 minutes presuming to know what God thinks.
I’m writing because those heathens at Esquire Philippines have asked me to write an essay on God, which is to say, you, or depending on whose stylebook, You. I must say it would be quite a task, considering my day job requires me to present the weather and insult people (by the way, I’m not complaining. I have the best job in the world. And thanks for not making me work for Globe customer service). That, plus the fact that engagement in social media has vastly diminished my capacity for profound reflection. I have decided to become eight years old once again and just fire off a letter. I’m not really sure—this is like shadowboxing, or those Buddhist faithful who launch prayer lanterns off to the sky.
Does the fact that this letter takes on the second person confirm my belief in your existence? Twenty-five years ago I would have unequivocally said, “yes.” I couldn’t just shake off eight years of Dominican education. Although there was one point in high school life when the seeds of doubt were planted by that XTC song, 'Dear God.' Where I came from, that seemed like dangerously excommunicable shit. Remember: I grew up in households adorned with huge wooden rosaries, crucifixes, Santo Niños, and Virgin Marys. When the clock struck 6 pm we switched on the light above a glass-encased Jesus that looked extra creepy when a red bulb was used to light it. I have a mother who still raises her hand above my head à la Jimmy Swaggart every time I nurse a fever.
Thomistic philosophy has its virtues—how beautifully simple, especially the theory of the First Cause (and while we’re on the subject of St. Thomas, is it really true that you made his manuscript on the Trinity float from the Notre Dame altar as a gesture of critical approval?). But then again, it would seem like a dead-end notion—the impossibility of demonstrating the existence of God, except as an article of faith.
That was freshman theology. Everything changed afterwards. The UST Central Library was a goldmine of the non-Catholic, of books once considered heretical (by the way, are those heathens still burning in hellfire?). I started reading up on Zen, theosophy. Interest in the Beats led to dabbling in Eastern mysticism and a brief fascination for Tibetan Buddhist aesthetics after attempting to read The Tibetan Book of the Dead. It was, ironically, in that school where I first came across the Existentialists (by the way, dear God, who occupies a lower circle of hell: Sartre or Camus?). All these, plus Slayer albums and a bunch of death metal records, perhaps changed my perception of a Higher Being. But some scars are permanent.
If there’s one image that graphically illustrates my view of God, it’s a cartoon from a Jehovah’s Witness pamphlet I saw as a kid in Tacloban: a guy whose facial expression suggests masturbation or something equally selfish and pleasurable. And little does he know that God is watching—although I am not sure if God was depicted here with an angry beard. You can imagine the damage this image has done to my psyche—up to now, whenever I engage in activities that are selfish and, uhm, pleasurable, this image haunts me.
You wouldn’t happen to be like that, would you? Because if yes, the notion of a bearded guy watching over our entire secret nocturnal liaisons, like a perpetual CCTV, strikes me as absolutely sick. But being raised Roman Catholic, I find it tough to wash away the stains of fear and guilt. It doesn’t help that every Sunday that bloody carcass is the cynosure of all eyes inside the church.
You won’t take it personally, I’d like to believe. What I can’t understand is if you’re the embodiment of perfection, why the need for adulations and praise, for words and gestures of undying fealty? We assume that “perfection” precludes insecurity and pettiness.
Voltaire once said that if you did not exist, it would be necessary to invent you—and that includes everything, like the concept of a Great Afterlife and the system of reward-and-punishment. Somebody had to invent the concept of an afterlife—because if this is as good as it gets, we’re fucked. What about the criminal who got rich, lived happily, and died comfortably? As opposed to the pious man who had lived a life of absolute poverty and sacrifice. The absence of an afterlife? It’s enough to drive a man insane.
But the questions remain: Why do you allow fanatics to blow up school buses and buildings in your name? Not only that: why place those idiots in high-ranking places of religious power? Like those who insinuated that Yolanda happened because the RH Bill was passed. Sorry, dear God, but I will punch the next person who says, “We can’t presume to know the mysterious ways of God.” You mean, there’s an actual explanation for a storm taking the lives of six thousand people? No sane god would justify such tragedies—unless he acts like Charlton Heston. That’s the damage popular culture has inflicted on my psyche. Like it or not my concept of God looks like the dude in The Ten Commandments. Another equally horrible phrase is “It’s God’s will.” How the hell do you know?
God’s will. How horrifyingly presumptuous. Like those who shout your greatness every time a rocket-propelled grenade hits a bus full of innocent children. It just makes me wonder how those nice people at the CBCP become privy to your displeasure over condoms and family planning. Please explain to me why there are people and faiths that disdain the notion of sex and flesh for the reward of an afterlife of complete debauchery resembling the finer points of such spiritual cinema as Barely Legal, Fresh Meat, and The Young and the Breastless. Explain to me those faiths that kill in the name of so-called morality, those religions that turn hysterical over certain livestock, shellfish, intoxicants, and all other things. There are faiths that would choose murder rather than allow the showing of a woman’s ankle. Sorry, but I admit to finding comfort in the term “godless” society. The Middle East has God and look how that turned out.
Do I believe in you? I think all great Art—and I capitalize, of course—makes us feel the presence of God. You are in the unhinged solos of John Coltrane, Charlie Parker, and Ornette Coleman, in the overlapping harmonies of Ravi Shankar’s sitar, in the cathedral-like mysteries of Wallace Stevens’ poetry, in the sonorous wonder of Beethoven’s Ninth, or the lingering monotony of a Messiaen overtone. I imagine your presence in the vast expanses of silence as visualized by Tarkovsky or Bergman, or an extreme close-up of a priest’s eyes in a Bresson film. You inhabit the feedback of Jimi Hendrix’s Stratocaster, or in the trajectory of Michael Jordan’s levitations. In the drunken swirls of Jackson Pollock’s brushstrokes, in the curves of Chagall’s lovers in flight, and even in the abandoned temples of Angkor, you are there. Even in the ingeniously simple design of the iPhone or the Technics SL-1200, which allows for the fulfillment of dazzling ambitions. That is the kind of God I would want to believe in—and not the one who allows the slaughter of children, or worse, the perpetuation of mediocrity.
For me, dear God, the highest morality happens when we do good not out of a middling sense of reward or retribution but out of sheer concern for our fellow human being. That we make sure he or she is perennially safe from harm not because we’ll be receiving brownie points in some cloudy afterlife. That we do not harm our brothers and sister not because of the threats of eternal hellfire—but simply because. In short, pure love. Beautiful, simple. The most godlike situation occurs only when we act virtuous even without your presence.
But seriously: Please make it better down here.
Sorry to disturb you,
Lourd de Veyra
P.S. Why’d you have to kill Christopher Hitchens?
P.S.S. Are all the members of Slayer going to hell?
P.S.S.S. What about that silly proposal to install wi-fi in churches? It’s just begging for punchlines like, “Finally, an invisible power that actually works.”
P.S.S.S.S. About the prayer thing...I’m pretty happy with Google.
This originally appeared in our April 2014 issue under the title "Dear God." Minor edits have been made by the Esquiremag.ph editors.