“Wouldn’t you die laughing, if it didn’t totally creep you out, to discover one day that great numbers of watches around the world have organized themselves into various cults and factions centered around the worship of us, their intelligent designer?”
[On a bright May morning in 1953 the immortal Aldous Huxley took four-tenths of a gram of mescalin and waited for the results. Later he walked out to the street and encountered a large pale blue automobile at the curb: "At the sight of it, I was suddenly overcome by enormous merriment. What complacency, what an absurd self-satisfaction beamed from those bulging surfaces of glossiest enamel! Man had created the thing in his own image - or rather in the image of his favorite character of fiction. I laughed till the tears ran down my cheeks." 
The concept of God has the same effect on my mind as Huxley’s pale blue automobile (and that’s without the mescalin). At the sight of it, I am suddenly overcome by enormous merriment. What complacency, what an absurd self-satisfaction beams from the bulging surfaces of church, synagogue, mosque. Man has created the thing in his own image – or rather in the image of his favorite character of fiction. I laugh till the tears run down my cheeks.
Oh but how man loves the cars and gods he creates! Let me count the ways. He loves them both to the depth and breadth and height his hypocrisy can reach, having lost all sight of the true ends and means of life. He loves them both to the level of countless counterfeit and suffocating needs, destroying great swaths of land and sea with pious creeds and toxic greed. He loves them freely, as world-class fools hell-bent on right strive for might. He loves them purely, as aforesaid fools plot and scheme for ill-gotten gain. He loves them with a passion ill put to use in temporal feuds, and shot through-and-through with fear and retribution. He loves them with a love he seemed to lose, when earth-based human kindness he subverted, and filled the world with junk and hate. He loves them both with all the bathos his fevered brain can ooze; and if his bogus god but choose, he shall love both better in apocalyptic doom. 
At Thanksgiving time in the early zero years I boarded a public bus at the Oakland airport bound for Santa Rosa. As an express line, it had a limited number of stops on a route of about seventy miles. I sat on the left side of the bus, one row in front of the long bench-seat at the back; which I might have taken, but four comely youth had already staked it out. They were organizing personal items on the bench-seat next to the bathroom and talking among themselves. They were well-groomed and conservatively dressed. The men in dark slacks with shirts and ties; the women in mono-colored blouses and skirts cut below the knees.
The bus pulled away from the shelter into a powerful storm arriving from the north Pacific. I was reading an article predicting failure and corruption in a militarized response to 9-11, but the wind and rain lashing the bus was too compelling to ignore. As we ascended the highway with panoramic view of the urban-scape, the modern city, impervious to the redeeming water of rainclouds, appeared not as a symbol of human ingenuity, but as a diabolical eruption of infrastructure threatening to eviscerate the planet.
My travel mates in the back were also staring wistfully through the windows at the storm. Twisting in my seat a quarter turn, I said to the young man sitting behind me, “The four of you compose a striking quartet. May I ask where you’re from?” “Yes, sir, from Utah,” he said. I introduced myself and got their names in return. Claron was behind me, Monette to his right and beside her Gemia with a commanding view of the aisle. Traver had moved to the empty seat across the aisle from mine.
“I traveled through Utah once; the wilderness is stunning. Must have been difficult to leave. Are you here for college?” I asked.
“That will be later,” said Claron, “We’re here to fill a mission in the Church of Latter-day Saints.”
“Starting right now?” I asked feeling silly for the mistake and not knowing what to say next.
“No time like the present,” he said.
“What are your mission boundaries?” I asked curious about the details.
“You haven’t said what you’re doing,” he parried.
“Oh, my mission’s very informal,” I said, “Just traveling north for a few days to visit a friend.”
“Will there be any time for worship?” I heard him ask.
“How honest would you like me to be?” I prefaced.
“As honest as you like,” he replied.
“As honest as I like may be more honest than you like,” I said amiably, “but I accept the invitation. I don’t find the concept of God to be compelling.”
He paused. “I like to meditate,” I added.
“It’s not the same thing, is it?” he pointed out.
“Thankfully not,” I said straightforwardly.
“What if I can prove to you that God exists?” Traver said joining the conversation with his feet in the aisle and forearms on thighs, “Would you be interested?”
“Of course,” I said, “I love a good proof. Let’s hear what you have.”
“All right then,” he started, “imagine you’re walking through a field and you find a watch…”
“Old Paley’s pocket watch, right?” I interjected.
“So you know it?” he asked.
“The watch is in Natural Theology; the Paley I like better is in the Principles – attacking slavery, defending the stealing of food if starving and poor, taxing progressively to prevent society-dividing concentrations of wealth, the parable of the pigeons – have you looked at any of that lately?”
He shook his head no, as if I were crazy for asking (which I was pretty sure I would seem).
“Me neither,” I said sympathetically.
“The parable of the pigeons, what’s that?” asked Monette.
“If you ever see ninety-nine pigeons in wheat field gathering a lot of grain into a heap all for the benefit of a pigeon gone bad, who eats like a glutton, doesn’t share and wastes all the rest; and then you see the flock attack and destroy another pigeon hungry from working when he tries to eat a few kernels from the heap, you might reckon something’s wrong in Pigeonville. Yet this is business as usual, says Paley, in the world of human affairs. 
“How strange, I never heard about the pigeons before,” said Monette.
“I’d be surprised if you had. Pigeons aren’t good for advancement. They later scuttled Paley’s opportunity for appointment to bishop. I think the moral of the story is: don’t talk about pigeons if you want to be bishop. But we’re off track, and I haven’t heard the story of the watch in years. Can you refresh my memory?” I said turning to Traver.
“Yes,” he said delighted to continue, “so you’re walking through a field, everything is natural, then suddenly you find a watch lying on the ground. And maybe you’ve never seen a watch before. Still just by looking at it, you know it wasn’t created naturally. You know it’s not part of nature in the same way as rocks, plants and animals are. So you know its creator is different. And the design of the watch is complex, so it must have an intelligent designer. Now what about us? We’re so much more complex than a watch. How can it be that the watch has an intelligent designer, but not us? That doesn’t make sense.”
“I see your point,” I said in a genuine effort to help the case, “If the complexity of the watch implies an intelligent designer who created it for a purpose, then the complexity of nature including everything in it, from DNA to human beings to spiral galaxies, must also imply an intelligent designer who creates for a purpose, who is more intelligent, complex and powerful than his creation, of which, of course, we’re just a tiny part.”
“Our part may be bigger than tiny,” he said, “but yes, that’s what I’m saying. Isn’t that a powerful proof?”
“Seems plausible,” I said, “Watch is to watchmaker as man is to God. So long as we’re using the former relation to shed light on the latter, let’s ask the watch a few questions and see what happens. It’s only fair, don’t you think?”
“Like what kind of questions? How can you ask a watch a question?” Monette queried anxiously.
“Well, like what can the watch know and how can it know it? Can the watch know the watchmaker?”
“You can’t be serious,” Traver said, “That’s absurd; the watch can’t know anything; it’s dead.”
“The watch knows time,” Claron said with sardonic grin.
“Good points both,” I said, “though it may be more accurate to say the watch keeps time and doesn’t meet our definition of life or consciousness. But we just gained something by asking a seemingly absurd question. The watch keeps time and ticks with borrowed energy. The human body keeps time and ticks with borrowed energy, which, like the watch, may be what it really loves to do – its true function and purpose. But never mind about that. We have a life and consciousness different from the watch. Except for that, maybe we’re not so different.”
“Really? So you don’t think that’s a big difference between us and the watch?” said Traver ready to score me as a moron.
“No, I think I’m thinking what you’re thinking. That’s a huge qualitative difference. Now what do you suppose the qualitative difference would be between us and an all-knowing, all-powerful supernatural being, not subject to space-time, who creates whole universes as easily as we create watches? Can we honestly claim to know a being like that? And if so, how?”
“Yes,” cried Monette, “I know it in my heart.”
“I think I know certain things in my heart too,” I said, “But we’re not talking about hearts right now, are we? We’re talking about Paley’s pocket watch. And if you ask it what it knows about a watchmaker, it answers with complete honesty saying, ‘I’m not qualified to speculate about a watchmaker. I only know what I do. I tick with borrowed energy and keep my own counsel.’ By analogy then the enormous qualitative difference between us and what religion calls God would render us unqualified to speculate about such an entity – much less to worship it.”
“So there’s a God, but we can’t know there’s a God – is that your point?” asked Claron.
“If we have no way of knowing there’s a God, how can we say there’s a God?” I said, “Language is tricky. You have to watch it all the time. We could leave it at that, but let’s go a little further. Do we lie to the watch and say it was created by a supernatural being not subject to space-time? No, a natural force at work in the universe existing under certain conditions created the watch. That would be us, exerting a kind of evolutionary pressure on the watch, you might say, making it better suited to its environment all the time. See what’s happening? First the analogy shows us we’re not qualified to entertain thoughts of God; then it counsels us to seek an origin for ourselves similar to that of the watch – in natural forces at work in the universe existing under certain conditions. Strange to say, but without knowing much science you can almost arrive at the theory of evolution by interrogating a watch.”
“A Darwinist! I knew it,” said Claron, “Sorry to say, but it leaves me cold. I’m completely unconvinced.”
“Funny you put it that way,” I said, “I find the concept of God to be chilling. It comes in as a wedge splitting people off from solidarity with the Earth and what it means to be human.”
“You know, this is all starting to feel like a big pile of words,” Traver said, “First there’s a God, then there isn’t a God. Or if there is, we can’t know him and he’s cutting people off from the earth. Look, maybe you can’t know God and maybe that’s why you think God is chilling. But I can tell you that’s exactly what prayer and worship is for – to know God and to love God, to get right with God.”
“Maybe you’re right,” I said, “It’s all just a big pile of words. But then it also had to be a big pile of words when Paley spoke for the watch without asking it to speak for itself. At least now we have a pile of salt that stacks up, instead of a formless blob of sugar.”
“I’m sorry you have these feelings,” said Monette equally unconvinced, “And if it won’t upset you too much, I’ll pray to you-know-who on your behalf when I get to the mission.”
“Thank you,” smiling I said with no irony, “And prayer comes in many forms including this conversation. But let me ask you all something. Wouldn’t you die laughing, if it didn’t totally creep you out, to discover one day that great numbers of watches around the world have organized themselves into various cults and factions centered around the worship of us, their intelligent designer? Imagine, all this time the qualitative difference in consciousness between us and them caused them to appear as dead. But then one day we learn how to read them as never before, and find out what they’re really up to. And what do we discover? That our precious little watches, symbols of our own intelligence and creative power, have been killing and warring with each other for a long time in Watchland. Why? Because some of them are worshipping Traver as God, and others are worshipping Claron.”
Gemia broke out laughing. Having sat through the whole discussion without saying a word, she added a dollop of laughter at the end, which took the rest of us by surprise. “Sir, I really think we’re finished with this conversation,” said Claron, “Our stop is coming up, so we need to be thinking about that right now.”
“I understand,” I said earnestly, “I know what you’re doing isn’t easy; it takes discipline and sacrifice. Yet filling this mission is perhaps not so much about task accomplishment as it is about yourselves, your own growth and development. In that endeavor I wish you all the best.” Traver, now sitting with his back to the window and a bent leg on the seat, was glancing about from under his brow. The ladies were sitting up straight, looking down, arms and legs crossed, Monette nearly motionless, Gemia pushing her lips from side-to-side. Claron was staring into traffic on the highway. I went back to reading but couldn’t focus. So I closed my eyes and listened to the bus trundle through the rain.
At the next stop they got off the bus, filing past me as if we had never met. I heard the muted din of travelers at the luggage well and luggage sliding over metal. Soon the driver was back on board. I stood up in the aisle to see what I could see, and spotted my travel mates on the open pavement, luggage in tow and umbrellas deployed against the storm. Traver, Claron, Monette, and Gemia last who wasn’t holding an umbrella, but wearing a hooded raincoat. As the bus came even, she stopped, pulled back the hood and scanned the windows. I saw the rain wet down the raven black hair along both sides of her face. And we smiled at each other for a moment, before the bus pulled away.]
Sometimes of a longing
the need to be in the arms of woman…
Sometimes of a fancy
the deep delight in the body male…
Sometimes of a beautiful day
in sweet spring when pods of mesquite
begin to ripe is my nature -
songs, songs’ visions of chia,
white sage, prickly pear,
screwbean, beavertail, arrowweed,
th’ agave ithyphallic makes
me wander out into yon desert
and myself sing ecstatic
‘gainst some granite rock big and hot
till the flower head go to seed
and the seeds, like the fluffy down
o’ dandelion, scatter in the wind…
And when I see the wild bee a-
light on lustrous pools of se-
men and the pismire carry a-
way my sperm…I…know…God…loves…me.
little big pine
1. Aldous Huxley, The Doors of Perception: Heaven and Hell (New York: Harper & Row/Perennial Library, 1990), 12 and 59-60.
2. Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Sonnet XLIII (of Sonnets from the Portuguese) informs and inspires this paragraph.
3. William Paley, The Principles of Moral and Political Philosophy (Boston: 1801) Book III, Chapter 1, 87-88.
Little Big Pine: citizen, patriot, poet; may be reached at email@example.com.