86. smoke

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Note: This was written after a rough day and I didn’t feel like doing any carefully articulated writing. Please consider that when reading. Thanks.

One day when we came back from work, we saw three gallows rearing up in the assembly place, three black crows. Roll call. SS all round us, machine guns trained: the traditional ceremony. Three victims in chains—and one of them, the little servant, the sad-eyed angel.

The SS seemed more preoccupied, more disturbed than usual. To hang a young boy in front of thousands of spectators was no light matter. The head of the camp read the verdict. All eyes were on the child. He was lividly pale, almost calm, biting his lip. The gallows threw its shadow over him.

“Where is God? Where is He” someone behind me asked.

At a sign from the head of the camp, the three chairs tipped over.

The march past began. The two adults were no longer alive. Their tongues hung swollen, blue-tinged. But the third rope was still moving; being so light, the child was still alive . . .

Behind me, I heard the same man asking:

“Where is God now?”

And I heard a voice within me answer him:

“Where is He? Here He is—He is hanging here on this gallows . . .”

– Elie Wiesel, NIGHT.

This was the beginning of the end of my faith and belief in God.

The past couple of days I have had a number of conversations with theists of various persuasions and backgrounds. There is no conversation in particular that stands out— rather, it’s the whole thing. People who hold to belief in a benevolent and loving Creator God—who insist at the end of the day that God is good. All the time (as the song goes).

I used to say that. The thing is, I don’t even know if I believed it then. Did I believe it before I saw planes turned into bombs laced with human beings? Before I saw people jumping out of the Twin Towers rather than slowly burn to death in flames? Before we all saw pictures of the Rwandan genocides? Of the Darfur? Of the charred corpses of school children chained to metal posts and set ablaze?

God is not good.

God is far from good.

God is, at best, a swaggering, apathetic deity who shows up when it’s convenient, or (like a politician kissing babies or volunteering at the soup kitchen when the cameras are on) when it will make Him look good.

The rest of the time He can’t be bothered with the human race He allegedly created and then loosed on this earth—unless, of course, those human beings are picking up straw on the Sabbath, or using His name as a swear word, or loving (in every sense of the word “love”) someone of the same sex.

The best thing to do as concerns God is to stay as far away from Him as possible, and try and not get caught up in the destructive path of that divine tornado. The evidence is overwhelmingly clear that God doesn’t care about you or anyone other than Himself. Why should He be bothered if you are six months unemployed and running out of money, or your mother or grandmother has cancer, or you’re struggling to believe that He even exist— as long as His great Name is spread throughout the world?

God is a God who lets a child grow up in a home dominated by Christian fundamentalist colonialism, to be twisted by obnoxious doctrines such as that God loves sinners but hates sin, and is willing to throw you into an eternity in Hell if you don’t pray a magic prayer to Jesus (who He trussed up and killed as a figurative burnt offering to Himself).

Amongst other things, I learned that God can only accept you if you’re a heterosexual just like everyone else, and that homosexuals are sinners and therefore going to Hell unless they turn around, stop being gay, marry some women and start popping out Christian babies to twist and pervert.

So why am I so angry at Christians who continue to believe in God, or go to Church even though they don’t believe those things? Because they believe in a God who gave me the parents that I had; who doesn’t seem to give a fuck about the Creation; and who remains silent when someone psychologically beaten and bloody begs for just a sign He’s there. And all of the apologies from compassionate progressive Christians who insist that not all Christians believe or behave in the way that I and many other experienced Christianity growing up won’t make up for twenty-eight years of mental abuse I lived through.

Does this make me a “wounded apostate”? Perhaps. I prefer to think of it as having my eyes opened. At a certain age most of us drop our beliefs in Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy and other imaginary friends once we no longer need them and once our child brain is capable of evaluating evidence. Because I take His silence as a clear indicator of his non-existence.

So go ahead. Tell me I should believe in God. Tell me how much He loves me. Tell me that He’s good. All the time.

Not far from us, flames were leaping up from a ditch, gigantic flames. They were burning something. A lorry drew up at the pit and delivered its load—little children. Babies! Yes, I saw it—saw it with my own eyes . . . those children in the flames.

Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, which has turned my life into one long night, seven times cursed and seven times sealed. Never shall I forget that smoke. Never shall I forget the little faces of the children, whose bodies I saw turned into wreaths of smoke beneath a silent blue sky.

Never shall I forget those flames which consumed my faith forever.

– Elie Wiesel, NIGHT.

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