The day was good. Very good, thought the Preacher, his words echoing Hemingway, his literary hero. It was good because he had just won a debate with an arrogant atheist, who attempted to kill God with the argument from evil. “How could a good God create a world with so much suffering,” he emphatically asked, smiling, if not smirking, in what he thought was an unanswerable triumph. But the Preacher calmly and confidently addressed the students in the Introduction to Religion class, “God is good and gave us free will, which we have used to cause suffering.” After a moment of silence, the atheist began to reply, but the class was over, time was up. It was good.
Walking to the campus coffee shop, two students, their love beginning to delicately flower, talked about the Preacher. “I think he won,” said the young man, tall, muscular, and confident in his smooth stride, “That pompous atheist was lucky the class ended.” Releasing his hand, the young woman, slim and almost his equal in height, paused, “No, David, I think the atheist has an answer, one that would have ended the Preacher’s argument.” David was not sure where to go with this, the spring day was sunny and cool and he felt so moved walking with her. Yet, although they had dated for two months, having met in this class, they had never talked about their personal religious beliefs. “I don’t know, Lisa,” he said, suddenly and painfully confused, recognizing they might not be so right for each other. Coffee was silent and strained.
As the slightly overweight, middle-aged woman sipped her third glass of merlot, she thought about last Sunday’s holy communion at Mountaintop Community Church. She felt looked at, singled out, during the service, looked down upon, actually, when the Preacher railed against the sins of the body, its flesh warring against God’s purity. He was so upright, the Preacher, so known for his healthy habits, no smoking, no drinking, no overeating, no lustful looks. As a new member of his congregation, Erin was trying to be pure. She didn’t smoke and lusted not, except occasionally at night with a vibrating gizmo. Yet she did like her wine and chocolate chip cookies, which she had as companions in her lonely afternoons and evenings watching the news. After tonight, she thought, promising the Preacher and his God, I’ll be good, be pure, but now a half a bottle of wine beckoned along with half a dozen cookies. “Cookies and wine…my communion,” she said, as she smiled with gratitude.
After the debate, Professor Johnson talked with a student or two, then went to his office, unburdening his class materials. As he sat as his desk, he looked at the bookshelf, above his desk, his eyes settling upon a worn paperback copy of Camus’ Myth of Sisyphus. He sighed as he thought of the Preacher and atheist, who had tried to land a knockout blow in the 60 minutes they had to circle each other in the ring of argumentation. While he identified with the atheist, a colleague in the philosophy department, he admired, was impressed, by the Preacher’s strong presence and unmovable adherence to such a faulty belief. They had been undergraduates together at small Midwest liberal arts college, and while the professor had majored in philosophy, he had also minored in literature, which had been the Preacher’s major. Inexplicably, as the professor recalled, the Preacher’s favorite writer was Hemingway. When they had talked over coffee in the cafeteria, it was clear the Preacher was soaked in his fundamentalist Christian beliefs, but, as the professor recalled, there had always been this macho tone to his arguments, and, as today showed, there still was.
At home in his gym, the Preacher turned up the speed on his treadmill, wanting to outrace the desires chasing him. Not lust or other fleshly appetites. He had easily defeated those as a young man, a decisive victory. No, his current temptations were those of power and mastery over others, over his congregation at Mountaintop Community Church, a growing and prospering mega church, where he preached the word clearly and powerfully, telling his congregation how to live the life God wishes, nay commands. He brooked no contradiction, no waffling, sending holy tweets daily, which his flock and beyond loved and were expected to follow. This morning’s had been, “Transgenders are not God’s creation, we must bring them to Jesus, but not approve their corrupt lifestyle. To do this is good, God’s good!” Yet he worried that he might be abusing his gift, not accepting difference and weakness. While he knew that David, the young college student who led his youth group, was strong and unwavering in his faith, he worried about people like a sad middle-aged woman, Erin, who, new to his congregation, couldn’t seem to give up her addiction to the flesh. Yet, as he headed to the shower, to cleanse his body, he was confident that God had called him, and that calling was good. Very good.
Jack Hernandez is the Director of the Levan Center for the Humanities at Bakersfield College. He is also a BC Emeritus Professor of Philosophy and English. His fiction, non-fiction, and poetry have appeared in a variety of publications.