The Black Jesus Internet Caféby Brandon Edmonds / 26.04.2011
There was an IOL news story last week about a “shape-shifting monster” in a small Karoo town. “The community says the monster changes shape while you’re looking at it,” a cop told reporters. It changed from a man in a suit to a pig then a bat according to an eye witness, and appears chiefly at night near the local church. I love how the monster never escapes the imaginative limits of the community: a man in a suit, a pig, a bat. These are all things people in the area are likely to have seen before. You’ll notice the monster didn’t appear as a Vegas showgirl, a llama, a fast-talking Latvian car-salesman or a groomed Silicon valley venture capitalist in Italian loafers.
The Karoo monster illustrates how communities determine their own wonders. The supernatural invariably has a reasonable basis in everyday life. As Freud put it: illusions are “derived from human wishes”. Notice how the phantasm “changes shape while you’re looking at it” – it’s a phrase that neatly sums up postmodern relativity for us, how there are very few credible overarching authorities left, and we are each expected to hazard our own values in a fallen world.
Karoo police are asking people to “take a photograph of the alleged monster”. A major aspect of the general retreat of religion is the rise of Science as a belief-system, entailing habits of technological verification, testing, mapping, imaging, rather than faith. Swap “shape shifting monster” for God in the Karoo monster story and you just may have a thumbnail history of Western religion.
Now both houses on either side of my own contain Christians. Sure I’d prefer a more congenial social group. Sex addicts. Hot beach volleyballers. The local chapter of Emily Blunt Look-Alikes. But hey tolerance is a virtue.
To the left is a pastor and his family. The wife has a voice fit for the Welcome Lounge in hell. An oblivious self-righteous whine, someone the Bible got to before experience ever could. On the right is the Young Christian Women’s Association. Mostly sporty American under-grads with freckles on their noses and Bush in their hearts. The showers don’t face my windows, but sometimes I can hear them singing in there with the water going. Chaste Christian girl-flesh licked by steam. Ha ha. My all-time favourite Pavement song is “Starlings of the Slipstream” with a line that’s stayed with me: “I put a spy cam / in a sorority”. Tempting, but wrong. Christians to the left of me, Christians to the right. A Faith baguette. They’re the buns, I’m the cold meat of doubt. Anyway.
My Ethernet cable broke over this long Easter weekend. A tiny orange cable snapped. I could see it inside the protective casing. Disconnected. A broken sliver of fiber had offlined me. No updates. No downloads. No porn. Offline. I noticed the weather. I picked up a book and even thought about people I hadn’t thought about in a long time. Offline.
Wi-Fi! But I don’t happen to have the password to my landlady’s network. And she’s forgotten what it is. “Somewhere in my files,” she says. People and passwords. Besides her network is weak. It wavers. Seldom pops up as an option in my room far from her office where the router resides. Now the Young Christian Women’s Association Wi-Fi is always available. There it is. Steadfast. Unwavering. Ideal. But password protected.
What’s the cliché about God moving in Mysterious Ways? I spent the Easter weekend thinking up religious-themed passwords to steal Young Christian Women’s bandwidth! The religious holidays forced themselves on me. Inadvertently. The Holy Spirit had found a way to fuck with a devout non-believer. All weekend I thought up religious-themed passwords. Not what would Jesus do exactly but what had the Network Administrator of the gentle young women who believe in Him chosen as a protective shield?
I tried Jesus. Mary. Joseph. All the disciples. Many of the big names from the Old Testament. Noah and Isaac and Abraham. I tried the same names with numbers. Jesus46. Daniel11. Bathsheba8. I tried the shopping list the Wise men brought to the new born king. Incense. Myrrh. I tried Commandments. I tried 666. I got fancy and tried Yahweh and Jehovah. God67. Paul19. I tried Tammy Faye. Ray McCauley. Hansie. I tried Billy Graham and John the Baptist. And Deuteronomy. I tried P.O.D and Creed. Leviticus and Shembe. I tried Judas. I tried MotherTheresa69.
I tried Bible snippets by throwing the good book in the air (like the iChing) and taking a phrase from the page where it landed. I tried Inquisition. I tried Faith. I tried Love. I tried Eternity. Nothing. I tried Nothing. New Testament. Blood. Lamb. Covenant. I tried Rosemary’s Baby.
I tried Boeing 747 thanks to Richard Dawkin’s immaculate refutation of Creationists who insist the world is designed by God because a tornado in a junkyard can’t randomly assemble a plane. I tried Golgotha. I tried Popemobile. I tried DarwinSucks and ChooseLife. I tried EasterBunny. Still nothing. Wrong Password. No access. Everytime. No entry. I got so desperate I began to imagine the password mechanism was conscious, like HAL in 2001, and would open only when it sensed I believed. That the password must be faith itself! I wanted to believe. I longed to be a believer! Jesus, I am a believer, now please let me check my email. Still nothing. The girls’ bandwidth remained as elusive as starlings on the slipstream.
And I remembered a Kafka parable called “Before the Law”. A guy spends his whole life waiting outside an open door asking to be let in by a guard. Finally, as he’s dying, he asks the guard why in all this time nobody else has come along to get in? The guard says, “Nobody else can get in here. This door was assigned only to you and now I’m going to close it.” Who knows what it means? Who knows if the Karoo monster exists? Who knows where to buy an Ethernet cable?