A major part of my book CALAMITY involves a strange religious cult called The First Church of Jesus Christ the Empowered. They offer hope and confident direction, but as people begin to buy into the church and its tenets, those newest members discover that this church has a distinctly unholy ulterior motive. For Anthony Williams, the father of a crumbling family, his encounter with this church and their followers is a lesson in the dangers of religious zealots and when he decides to fight back, he discovers that he may have to lose everything he holds dear and even that might still cast him into Hell.
This story may seem a bit over-the-top and it is certainly very cynical in its depiction of organized faith, but there is a distinct truth to the plight of Anthony Williams and his encounter with The First Church of Jesus Christ the Empowered. There are religious zealots in this world, and numerous lower level proselytizers, who prey on people who only want assurance, and those unrestricted priests and self-ordained pastors can easily manipulate their parishioners into believing anything. And then doing anything asked of them.
Seem a bit negative? Perhaps. But this past Saturday, a pair of very charming Jehovah Witnesses rang my doorbell and instead of waving a fake severed head at them and chasing them down the street, I dared to engage in an intellectual discussion with them. They simply wanted to share some of The Good News with me. How harmful could it really be?
The main solicitor, a tall man in a clean suit with a slightly troublesome smile that couldn't quite cover protruding incisors, asked me several times if I had a Bible all the while referring to a slew of passages that foretold the coming End of Things. When I could finally speak, I told him I owned several Bibles, including the Christian version, The Book of Mormon, The Witchcraft Bible, and even more esoteric books of worship. In fact, I added as he kept that smile, I even took several courses in college on the Bible and the history of religion. He was surprised I had read any of it. "Most people haven't read any of it," he said.
And there in lies the problem. If you don't read it, you can't refute it. If you don't know what it actually says in that holiest of books, you are at the mercy of any zealot who wishes to manipulate those words for his personal gain. People say kids play too many violent video games or even read too many violent books--they ought to read the Bible. Indeed. Read away, especially if you like graphic tales of incest and murder. But don't take my word for it. Read it yourself.
I digress. I explained to these Witnesses that I thought it was extremely easy to manipulate the vast majority of people with a quick Biblical verse or two. "How can we trust anything in that book?" I asked. "It wasn't as if God dropped it right out of Heaven. The book was compiled by editors, people who chose specific passages for specific reasons. Who knows what was altered."
The man's smile never faltered. He explained that he, too, once had a healthy doubt about the Bible's veracity, but once he read the prophets, he could no longer find any reason to doubt that the Bible was the Word of God and that His word was one of imminent doom.
Instead of pointing out the fault in his thinking, I offered a bleak, and bit cliche, depiction for the end of days. Bring on the earthquakes. The hurricanes. The tsunamis. The mass flooding and deaths in the hundreds of millions. In order to survive, Man will have to unite. We will revert back to a clan mentality. We'll go South. Civilization will collect around the equator and the only way for us to survive will be as a collective force for good.
"So," I said, "say all that horrible stuff happens and yet humanity joins together to persevere. Does it matter if it is a simple positive force of altruism that brings everyone together or if it is a shared belief that this complete world change is God's will?"
He smiled and told me to read my Bible. "It's all in there. If the end is coming soon, don't you want to be on God's side?"
I had already imagined a new world where society was much smaller and far more devoted to religious matters. A world where different sects of faith struggled against each other for power, completely sure that their group alone was the chosen one, the one meant to repopulate the Earth. I could see the ensuing the wars. (And an intriguing idea for a new novel was well under way in the back of my mind.)
I began to explain my vision of this future which sounded just like our current world when the man with the jutting incisors interrupted me to say that he could talk to me all day but he had to get going.
I blinked. Had I outlasted them? Thirty minutes of intellectual debate was all it took to turn him away.
Unfortunately, I think he will be back. Religion may be deterred but it will not be defeated. If The End really is near, I'll be the guy squawking about the dangers of following any man who claims to know God's will.
Someone will, no doubt, hold up a Bible and declare that the truth was in there, even if he or she can't tell me who actually wrote it.
If you want to see how religious cults can pose a real danger, read CALAMITY.