The Grape of Wrath

There are times when I wonder what life would be like without the gustatory pleasure of barbeque, but from the looks of it, I don’t think I will ever have to find out! I was at work, sitting in my car in the middle of a windless night. I was listening to the crickets as I consumed a delicious pork sandwich. The sweet and tangy barbeque sauce tantalizing my taste buds, my teeth pulling apart layer upon layer of deliciously stringy and fatty pig intestine, my mouth was in a state of what could have been called – from a very Gentile and hedonistic perspective – “heaven.” With endorphins of delight released like Venezuela Falls from my temporal lobes, I was savoring every moment of it. Then, in a flash, I was rudely interrupted by my own diaphragm.

Inhaling at precisely the wrong moment, my dinner sent me into a coughing, chest-pounding fight to dislodge the swine’s flesh that had just taken up residence in my windpipe. It wasn’t long before my airway was freed of its obstruction and life went on as normal. The only lasting effect from the scary event was getting yet another reminder that the universe in which I live is not my friend, but my enemy.

Every natural thing with which we humans have to do has a deadly side to it. Death is only one step away from any of us at any particular time—and it is time itself that allows for our growth, healing, and maturity, but on the same note, gives us arthritis and kills us. We learn to go through our anally cautious lives, reading warning labels, checking the expiration dates on packages of food, holding onto banisters as we traverse a flight of stairs, looking both ways before we cross a street, and signaling before we reservedly change lanes on the express way. When we head outside, we spray ourselves with OFF bug spray to avoid getting West Nile Virus from infected mosquitoes. And yes, a good portion of us live long enough to learn to chew our food extra slowly to keep from choking on it because of the dangerous way in which evolution has jimmy-rigged our tracheas!

No matter where we look, the entire world stands ready to kill us—and the aforementioned are not even a fraction of the list of deadly things on this planet of ours. We haven’t begun to consider the woes of spaceflight; the poisonous gases that are plenteous on lifeless worlds afar, like methane and ammonia, brutal temperature extremes, crushing gravity, and deadly radiation that would cause us to literally rot on our feet…they are all out there, standing ready – like a well-funded assassin with a shiny, new rifle – to send us back to the cold elements of our origins. It’s as though the entire world hates us. Life on our planet is like a “bubble boy” or girl, who is forced to live out his or her existence quarantined due to a defective immune system; only one little blue bubble called Earth is habitable for us—and even inside our small, accommodating bubble we are met with frightening hostilities.

Believers want us to see this world (and even more amazingly, the
universe in its entirety!), as a colony for soul-making and worship.
But our world is more like a bandana-wearing gang of street thugs from a crappy, 1980s karate flick, where big-haired fighters seek to attack their opponents without cause. The abounding death, the random showering of tragedy, the needless waste on a cosmic scale, these are the things that surround us—hardly an environment for soul-making and worship.

Atheist or not, we two-legged bovines carry on through the daily regime with fears of potential disasters in the back of our minds—and we don’t miss a beat! We don’t let our children out in the front yard alone to prevent their being abducted by some gaunt sicko in a Camel cigarettes baseball jersey, driving a yellow, ‘79 Trans Am. We are constantly aware of our little ones trying to stick something metal into electrical outlets, or what babycakes might yank off a hot stovetop and onto themselves, resulting in third degree burns. Police, fire, and emergency medical services will never want for business in our “Shit Happens” world.

Now as an atheist, I have long since accepted the reality of my
estrangement as a living organism from the forces of this dead, godless universe. I have accepted that the chaotic occurrences that make life possible will forever serve to bring about my demise. What I cannot accept is the plea of a believer when he tells me with a straight face that such a world as ours was created by a loving deity who has the sole interest and wellbeing of humanity at heart. It is one thing to believe in a god who allows disasters to prevail, and quite another to expect someone else to believe in that god for the same reasons you do. The older I become, I find myself less tolerant of hearing that I am without justification for disbelieving in the so-called “benevolent” god of the modern religions.

Now let me tell you a story. It’s a sad story about a proud, young American boy in the U.S. Army who died last year in service to our country. You might be thinking right now of a bold soldier – gun in hand, geared in green for war – who died on a battlefield in Iraq, drenched in blood, glittered with sand in open wounds. You might suppose I am writing this piece, mourning the loss of a friend who
perished before I had the chance to say goodbye. Not so, to both assumptions. I didn’t even know the man, but my brother who is a medic in the army knew him, and was right there with him at the time of his death. The fellow died in the mess hall, joking around and laughing with his friends. How did he die? He died a meaningless death; he choked on a grape!

My brother watched a brave, battle-worthy soldier’s face turn red, then blue, and then purple, as he gasped for breath. A table full of soldiers did everything in their power to save the man’s life, but it was to no avail. What a bullet from the enemy’s AK-47 couldn’t accomplish, a small piece of fruit managed to do. Flailing his arms, his bloodshot eyeballs popping out of his head, staring up at the ceiling, the man died a most horrific death.

Though I wasn’t there, I see the man lying on the floor in uniform, his body motionless, his mouth still open like an expired trout on the cracked bed of a dried-up pond. Then my mind drifts away from the unsettling scene, from the frantic faces of shock on those around him. I’m coming back, back to myself, back to my life, now looking at my dashboard; it’s just me again, sitting in my car, staring at what’s left of the pork I almost choked on only moments earlier. “Whoa! I could have choked!”, I thought to myself.

And now it’s back to work, shining the strobe, patrolling for trespassers, vandals, and thieves. But unfortunately, I now have this terrible recollection in my head to spend the rest of my shift rolling over.

Believers put aside the magnanimous issue of human suffering, choosing to trust their God to one day reveal to them the answers to the big “why” questions of life. If a believer can maintain their faith in the sight of the soul-raping atrocities of our cosmos, then good for them. But the fact remains that for people like myself, our atheist convictions are only strengthened by the Christian God’s decision to permit the death of a Christian man – of a soldier who was more noble and brave than I will ever be – and to allow a fat-ass, foul-mouthed blasphemer like myself to continue to breathe God’s air, to bask in his sunlight, to live another day to keep sharing wrist-slashing atheism with the world—on the web and by the pen in my forthcoming book, Project Bible Truth: a minister turns atheist and tells all.