THE SCOOP: "39 To Beam Up" in Rancho Santa Fe

THE SCOOP for April 2, 1997

"39 To Beam Up" in Rancho Santa Fe
God Is Dead... Again
[C]1997 Bob Harris

Date: 02 Apr 97
From: Bob Harris <75720.2644@CompuServe.COM>
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"Once blasphemy against God was the greatest blasphemy; but God died..." -- Friedrich Nietzsche, [Zarathustra's Prologue]

My grandfather was a Baptist minister in Rose Hill.

Rose Hill is a tiny little town in the far western tip of Virginia, where Kentucky and Tennessee squeeze in close enough that we used to climb up on the roof and watch it rain in three states. Grandpa was the minister for most of the town.

Rose Hill didn't see much of the outside world. In 1970, when I was almost seven, Neil Armstrong had already walked on the moon, bu the house my dad grew up in still got water from a well, heat from a fire, and personal sanitation from a big hole in the ground -- one preferably not too close to the well.

Once a week, the good people of Rose Hill came down to my grandfather's church for an hour of sermonizing. And Grandpa scared the bejeezus out of them, booming God and Satan like two pumps from a shotgun. Then everybody put money in the plate and went home.

It never make much sense to me -- I mean, anyone could see Grandpa was just an ordinary schmo with some fancy trim -- but his was the only version of religion a lot of them ever saw, and so their belief could be ferocious.

Things got pretty weird. If Grandpa said Methusalah really lived for 900 years, then Methusalah did. Samson lost muscle tone from a bad haircut, Lot's wife turned into a salt lick, and Noah had a shipful of animals --presumably including all 30,000 species of dung beetle -- and none of them ate each other. That was the Truth.

The danger was obvious, even to a six-year-old. Grandpa also said that black folks were marked so we would know them as descendants of Cain. And the congregation believed it.

Grandpa's God seems childish to most of us, although it probably wouldn't if we were born where he was. We've moved on. That's what Nietzsche was describing -- the end of society's need to create its traditional God.

These weren't stupid people. You try raising six kids while growing your own food without electricity. That takes some serious ingenuity. These were people who needed the church and Grandpa for a whole lot of emotional reasons that had very little to do with anybody named God.

Freud wrote that our concept of God springs from unconscious yearnings for a perfect father who can provide love, justice and security. And religions grow and prosper not because they are "true," but because they provide a structure in which values useful to societal survival -- primarily an emotional sense of belonging -- are encouraged.

That sure would explain Rose Hill. And Heaven's Gate.

But if Freud is right, that also means we all have different Gods, and all we're really worshipping is our own emotional needs.

That's a hard one to confront honestly. It isn't easy to separate what you [want] to believe from what you actually would if you didn't need to. Try it sometime. The results can be pretty disturbing.

I won't bother you with the details of my own beliefs. Let's just I've realized my brain would fit in a Priority Mail envelope, and you could probably send it without much extra postage. The spongy little device writing these words honestly doesn't think it has much chance of grasping the Infinite.

It can, however, understand the profound desire to do so.

What I do know is that love and compassion are good things. And whenever love is present in large amounts, I feel -- I don't know, but I [feel] -- that something holy is hanging around as well.

39 people died last week.

I watched the helicopter TV reports and listened to the lurid conjectures, rationalizing my interest as the groundwork for a scathing article about the irresponsible media coverage. Truth is, I just got off on the visceral thrill, like everyone else.

There was no grief, no love for the victims in any of the reporting I saw -- just the familiar parade of madness and trauma, pictures and numbers, shock and dismay, weather and sports. And there was no compassion in the way I or anyone I know talked about the subject.

I even did jokes onstage that night: "The officers on the scene said they gave up counting at ten; maybe we should make that Police Academy exam a little tougher next time..." The audience laughed. I laughed.

39 families still grieved.


Dead though their God might be to us, these people were still our brothers and sisters. When we forget that, we are diminished.

I know nothing of your God. But mine just hates it when I kill him.

A little compassion for people who died trying to find Heaven would be nice.


Bob Harris is a political humorist who has spoken at over 275 colleges nationwide. [The Scoop] is archived at To hear [The Scoop] in spiffy RealAudio, visit

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