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!"

And God says, "Huh? What's that?"

"He wants a seven for twenty-one."

"Give him a ten. He'll leave Me alone."

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.

The Vent

  23 March 2008

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