I keep breaking my own rules on this Gene Perret “25 favorite jokes” project. Since I didn’t write any of these rules down or make myself pinky swear to myself I guess it shouldn’t matter. Firstly, I was gonna make one entry a day for all of February and then I’d be done by March. That was one ‘rule’ that I broke. Somewhere around my birthday and Valentine’s Day that idea went out the window. Secondly, another unspoken rule I didn’t lay down for myself but feel bad about breaking anyway is that I wanted to spotlight a different comedian every day. I mean I could write a blog post about every joke Paula Poundstone has ever publicly conveyed, cuz I adore the stuffins outta her. I gotta draw the line somewhere.
Earlier this month I wrote about Bill Cosby’s rendition of Noah, which despite his lifetime of magnificent writing and performances, is still arguably the best combination of words Cos ever threw down. It’s simple in its elegance, honest in its forthright execution, and anyone who has read the book of Genesis or heard that bible story will find his sentiments funny. To that extent, it’s all encompassing and appeals to a wide audience, as is much of Cosby’s work. So I’ve already covered Bill Cosby. I shouldn’t devote a whole ‘nother post to his work without going around the circle of other great comedians I enjoy. For some reason though none of the other comedians I enjoy have inspired me to publish another blog post for several days now, and I’ve been beginning to think if I just ran out of steam for this project as I have for so many projects before this one. However, I was just reminded of another piece Bill Cosby wrote several years after Noah. which he performed as part of his “Bill Cosby Himself” motion picture.
My wife and I have five children, and the reason why we have five children is because we do not want six.
How I was reminded of it probably wouldn’t please Bill Cosby himself. Fortunately he will never read this. As I understand it, he’s still a god fearing man despite of or perhaps even because of all the hills and valleys he has experienced in his life, and I would never wish to change his mind about that. Perhaps he would find some solace in knowing that his words are one of the things that kept me a believer for so long, but ultimately even his interpretation of Christianity has not been enough to convince me to ignore common sense and deductive reasoning, but I get ahead of myself.
I was talking with YvettesPuzzle on Twitter earlier today (and thank you Yvette for inspiring me to post something to my blog). She had mentioned how she waited so long to ‘come out’ to her family and friends with regards to her atheism because she was concerned with how they would take it. She felt that “the attack from family and community” would be too scary. Her statement caused me to contemplate my own journey and it was rather the opposite. I had for the longest time refused to accept my own atheism. I didn’t come out to myself for years after apparently I was one. I still held desperately to my beliefs long after they had stopped making any rational sense to me, for reasons I’ve explained in detail before. After I realized that atheism is for me the only rational option left, it’s not like I had a choice about coming out to friends and family. I didn’t really think about it. In fact I don’t recall formally coming out. I just one day answered questions and responded to every day events as an atheist, and began actively dropping the concept of “beliefs” from my daily repertoire, which has surprised many. I’ve lost a lot of friends over it, but I don’t blame JUST that. It’s been more of a slow drifting of many friends due to many factors. My atheism is not a singular culprit. People just drift apart and new people enter your life. It’s a natural thing to me.
My parents never smiled! Because I had brain damage! My wife and I never smile because our children are loaded with it!
I’ve been more concerned with how this new outlook affected me than how it affected other people around me. I used to be depressed all the time. Now I’m not. Realizing my atheism is arguably the best thing I’ve ever done, but it wasn’t really a choice. I didn’t have a choice. My choice HAD BEEN to cling to stupid beliefs. One day I just couldn’t do that anymore. It’s like I used to be brain damaged and then one day I woke up and I wasn’t brain damaged anymore.
One thing that allowed me to cling to my beliefs for so long was Pascal’s Wager. I didn’t know that’s what it was called at the time but I had looked at the variables, and not knowing whether or not there’s a god it seemed to make sense that one should give god the benefit of the doubt. If there is no god, it won’t matter. However, if there is a god, believing in him is everything.
However that alone is not a consolation. That alone doesn’t answer why there is so much suffering in the world. If a benevolent, omnipotent god created this universe, then it should be safer than it is. When parents create a home for their child to live in, they don’t fill said home with booby traps for their child to intentionally find. Perhaps some parents are not forward thinking enough to child proof their home before the child arrives, but that’s because parents are not omnipotent. God supposedly is. I heard this dilemma echoed again today in Yvette’s tweets.
When I asked myself almost that exact same question several years ago, there was perhaps no turning back. However, Bill Cosby did put a cork in the genie’s bottle for me. He kinda answers this with his Brain Damage line of reasoning. Just as a parent can’t protect their child from everything, so too a benevolent god cannot wrap his creation in bubble wrap and lock it away in a cage. That’s not allowing the creation to live. In fact, one can argue the entire reason why we are on a seemingly insignificant little planet at an excruciating distance away from anything else in the universe that might be intelligent life could simply be because a god wanted to protect us from really dangerous forces in the universe that might cause us harm before we were old and wise enough to protect ourselves. God put that Tree Of Knowledge Of Good And Evil in the Garden of Eden because one day he wanted his creation to take a bite out of it, but not before he was ready for them to do so. Unfortunately, The Evil One thought Adam and Eve should have knowledge before they were smart enough to handle it. Yes, I got all of this from listening to Bill Cosby’s stint of Brain Damage. A parent can’t protect their child forever, but when a child steps outside preset boundaries, a punishment is laid down and an opportunity to learn is played out. I thought that explained a god’s motives rather well. Earth was a training ground for something more important that presumably kicks in after we’re all dead. Rather irrational now that I think about it, or rather now that i actually type it all out, and ultimately this is why I couldn’t remain a Believer. It simply doesn’t hold up under close scrutiny, but Bill Cosby’s words did slow down my eventual fall from imaginary grace. Indeed, Cosby’s later revisit of his Brain Damage idea echoes these sentiments, as was published in “Those of You With or Without Children, You’ll Understand” more directly connects this brain damage theory to the book of Genesis.
Quality of god’s work: good… The Man invented an automobile; called it “fantastic!” God did a tree; said “it’s good.” Man invented a refrigerator; said “amazing!” God did a rabbit; said “good.” The wheels fell off the car, and the refrigerator broke down. The tree’s still up, and the rabbit’s still runnin.’
Cosby’s sentiments are not only funny, but thought provoking, and linger in the mind of the listener on multiple levels. Cosby has always been not just a comic, but a philosopher. Not just an entertainer, but an educator. In his works he paints a world that while not ideal, is still better than the world his audience inhabits. He paints in the mind’s eye a familiar world, but one with less pain and more bubble wrap. This is more prevalent in his earlier work like Wonderfulness or Why Is There Air? He has a piece about The Chicken Heart which describes how a child can have difficulty separating fantasy from reality. In this story, he talks about how as a child his mother and father would forbid him from leaving his bedroom before they left for the evening, but they didn’t bother to hire a babysitter as from their perspective it seemed less safe to have a stranger watch their child then to just lie to the child about imaginary snakes. So long as young Cosby believed what his father told him, that the snakes would eat him if he stepped out of his bedroom, then the child would be safe.
Imagine my surprise many years later to learn that Bill Cosby’s real father left when he was very young. I had believed most of my life that Cosby’s stories were exaggerated but based largely on real life events. Not only were his stories elaborately exaggerated, but he invented a father figure out of whole cloth. Tho his mother may have entertained boyfriends off and on, there was no singular father figure in his life, as depicted in the stories he has told us over the years.
When I realized that, perhaps around my teen years, I recall being in a bit of a funk for days, not knowing what to believe. It wasn’t until I was over 40 years old that I realized the problem isn’t what I believed, but that I believed anything at all. Why does it matter to me whether or not Bill Cosby had a father figure growing up? He knew most of the people in his audience would relate to a father figure in his stories, so rather than tell his audience that he had no father, which wasn’t funny, he just invented a father that was funny. Whether or not people believed he had a father was not important. They just had to believe the characters he described long enough to get them to believe the story, and what the story meant.
Belief is much less important than people make it out to be. Yet we still pound our heads against walls about beliefs. Why? I suppose cuz we’re brain damaged children, not made by a god per se, but we are made of star dust. We are the product of gas giants that exploded many eons ago, according to astrophysics. We weren’t created with a mysterious plan by a benevolent god who is perfect and omniscient. We just are. So the brain damage makes even more sense now than when I believed.
Be sure to get yourselves a thick bible, so there are no words missing.
And this brings me to another unwritten rule about this project that I promised myself not to break. Don’t turn this comedy project into an extension of my obsession with atheism. Oh well. Too late now. Maybe tomorrow I’ll find a joke that makes me think of fuzzy bears, rainbows and butterflies. At the moment I’m just glad that when I hit send, my website will no longer still have a reference to Valentine’s Day staring at people when they click by.