I can’t tell you how much my life has changed since I let an imbecile sprinkle water on the top of my head in public yesterday. That’s because it hasn’t at all. Consider it a religious experiment: lifelong agnostic/atheist decides to let himself be baptized–for the second time, no less!–to test out this putative theory of Jesus’ magical healing powers, only to find once again that it’s a load of crap. Whew! What a surprise–not to mention relief.
You say: “Stew, you hypocrite! How could you do such a thing, kneeling on a pillow before a congregation of true believers, pretending to have finally joined their ranks?”
Well, that’s a good question. If I had any self-respect whatsoever, I probably wouldn’t have done it. I went kicking and screaming all the way–internally, but still. I guess I figured I owed it to my wife for leaving her at the altar all those years ago, even though the intervening years of teaching have enabled her parents to pay off the astronomical wedding fee (her father made her go through with the whole thing anyway in spite of my no-show, either to help keep up appearances, recoup on his losses, guilt-trip me into coming back with my tail between my legs and marrying her afterwards, or all of the above; I must say I was appalled by the video footage and photos of my poor bride looking absolutely miserable in her wedding gear and flowing white bridal dress. It’s one of several things I’ve done in my life I’ve yet to forgive myself for, adding to the parade of perennial health problems and soul-gnawing woes.
If you ask me how I could do such a thing, I can only tell you that Jina is as high-maintenance as the Chernobyl reactor. As for drinking the Kool-Aid yesterday, it was an empty gesture, and I puked it out afterwards anyway like Gus Fring kneeling before the toilet after he dispatches his Mexican drug-dealing enemies with that poisoned batch of tequila in Breaking Bad.
“Ay caramba, honcho! Es muy picante, no?” Read that line in the voice of the Mexican character on The Simpsons for maximum stereotypical impact.)
Although I’m still kicking myself for going through with the whole ludicrous ideal, which isn’t as hard as it sounds considering I “was born without a spine” (Jane Curtin, Saturday Night Live), at least I have one admirable role model in literature to back me up (although he’s also a good deal smarter and more open-minded than I am): Ishmael in Melville’s Moby Dick (I’m still waiting for the guy to call me; I guess some people are just inconsiderate). He participates in his roommate Queequeg’s pagan ritual, despite stopping short of joining him on his fast for Ramadan (Queequeg likes to mix and match his faiths, like a Japanese person with a statue of Buddha and a shrine to Amaterasu in his living room), then attends the service in the chapel in New Bedford to hear Father Mapple’s prophetic sermon on Jonah and the whale.
(For an informative exegesis on Melville’s masterpiece–or, as Alan Pierce would say, “Exit Jesus”–please turn to the recent book All Things Shining. I’m sorry I’ve forgotten the names of the two authors and I can’t refer to it at the moment as I just traded it in yesterday for a used copy of Primo Levi’s outstanding Survival in Auschwitz.)
Before going up on stage with my fellow dupes to suffer the pastor’s indignity in front of his obedient audience, I argued with Jina about the appropriateness of subjecting myself to such nonsense; since we were sitting in the fourth row, right behind the red-robed crooners of the choir, Jina tactfully wrote down questions for me to answer instead of asking me out loud:
“Are you alone?”
I shrugged. Sure. I mean, hell, who isn’t, right (unless you want to get all Buddhistic and accurate about things, remembering that we’re really all one, sort of like the Three Musketeers).
“Do you feel pressure?”
She whispered cryptically that I only had myself to blame. I’m not sure what that was supposed to mean, unless it was because I’d cavalierly agreed to be baptized to humor her a few weeks before, even though I’d euphemistically and wishy-washily and namby-pambily admitted that I don’t exactly believe in Jesus in quite the same way she does, which is putting it as mildly as the beverage known in Japan as “American coffee,” the flavorless swill served at your average McDonald’s (in other words, every McDonald’s), considering that her every word is sponsored and “pre-approved” by Christ, as my old telemarketing spiel would say.
She agreed to join me on the stage, and I figured I’d better go through with it at that point so as not to create a major embarrassment and add insult to the injury described above; one fart in the operating theater during open-heart surgery on someone who’d be better served with electro-convulsive therapy–or perhaps even a lobotomy– was enough.
We forgot to bring the slip of paper with my name on it transliterated into Korean, which would explain why the minister had so much trouble pronouncing it, even though the stupid bastard has “known” me all these years.
To say the man is creepy is a generous understatement. He makes Ted Bundy look like Mister Rogers. Okay, that’s an overstatement. Only Buddha can enable us to find the Middle Way in an attempt to describe this “jellyfish-slippery” character (to quote Dylan Thomas). He also has charisma. Mind you, his charisma has no effect on me, much as he has tried to hijack my soul with his pale greenish brown eyes that don’t look natural for a Korean, going for the old Charlie Manson staring contest. (It’s like the scene in the U.S. TV movie Helter Skelter, in which Manson stares down prosecutor Vincent Buglosi and seems to cause the latter’s watch to stop.)
Every Sunday when I exit the church with the rest of the suckers, the pastor is waiting with his cronies to shake my hand and quack platitudes; sometimes he holds on a little too long and tries to perform a Vulcan mind-meld on me, but luckily there are too many waiting in the assembly line for him to inflict any lasting brain damage. (I don’t know why he wastes his time; Jina’s already hijacked my salary and he gets his pound of flesh regularly. Must be an ego thing. I just hope I don’t have to share a room with him in heaven; that would be hell.)
Nevertheless, I felt a little queasy about letting him press his puffy palm against my scalp and intone his magic spell, surrendering my soul to Christ, whose resurrection precludes my damnation and absolves me of all my sins, including the one involving killing him nearly two thousand years before I was born, which is the biggest miracle of all. But hey, when you’re Satan you’re capable of performing these types of party tricks. Just ask the pastor. (As I said to Jina before while trying to talk her out of going through with it, “I have no rights.”)
After the spiritual hazing was over, I had to engage in the added humiliation of standing before the fluffy flock and frown at the clock above their bowed heads as they prayed up a storm, the whole thing recorded for posterity and marketing purposes on CCTV. The sub-pastor had gotten in some snapshots during the initial proceedings, taking a bite out of our collective aura with his camera with parasitic joie du vivre like a jubilant piranha. A bunch of folks waiting at the back of the aisle came down to greet us with bouquets of yellow flowers, handshakes, and smiles.
Finally, once the rest of the interminable and reliably boring service was over, I was relentlessly congratulated by scads of people, underscoring the pointlessness of the whole procedure.
Later in the day, in two different establishments, I heard what may be the worst song ever recorded, “I Want to Know What Love Is,” proving that if there is a God, he hates my fucking guts. One mitigating factor was that both times it was near the end of the song, so the brain worm didn’t have a chance to form (then again, now that I’ve mentioned the damn thing, it very well could–the power of persuasion is undeniable).
Let me close by saying I’m pleased as a punching bag to be the Lord’s prey.