Have Fun at God’s Expense (He Won’t Care)

Here and Now (c) Jeff Stilwell

Believers in a rational world, whether or not they formerly held supernatural views, have taken a variety of creative approaches to sharing their enlightenment with an audience.

Take Jeff Stilwell, who earned a Master’s in Pastoral Studies from Seattle University’s School of Theology and Ministry. Why did he do that in the first place? I asked him, and here’s what he replied:

I went to seminary because, at the time, I believed that God wanted me for a minister. Years later, of course, I realized that I was creating the God that wanted me to do something. (Funny that. . . )

Far from pursuing what he’d thought was his “calling,” Seattle-based Stilwell now draws atheist-slanted comics. Here and Now: a whimsical take on God, is Stilwell’s full-length (100 pages, 100 drawings) book, and it’s available for Amazon Kindle on June 1. Here and Now stars Stilwell’s freethinking alter ego Thrashin’ Jack.

Jeff Stilwell’s comics appear on numerous blogs and sites, including that of the RichardDawkins Foundation, AtheistRepublic, American Humanist, FreeYourMindandThink, and regularly as Thrashin’ Jack on the well-known Brights Blog (where I blog as A Rational Woman).

So where did this Thrashin’ Jack character, the little guy on his skateboard, come from? Reports Stilwell

He just showed up a few years ago. I was going through a really rough patch, so I started doodling. Then, bit by bit, with my picking him up and setting him down over the years, he began to take on a more earnest shape. When I began Here and Now, he seemed the perfect fit.

Here and Now begins quite simply: “In the beginning, it was simple. We needed a God. So we created one.” The majority of historians, anthropologists, archeologists, and all sorts of scientists probably agree with that succinct analysis. “In fact, we created many,” the story goes on.

To give you a flavor of Stilwell’s tongue-in-cheekiness (always based more or less in reality, at least so far as the non-religious have figured out, I’ll quote one more early bit:

Gods are useful. You can explain things with Gods, such as why lightning hits a tree (God is angry), or why it’s raining (God is sad), or why it’s thundering (God is at the roller derby, or why there’s a rainbow (God is feeling artistically bohemian). . . .

Here and Now goes on to “explain” where all those varying religious rituals came from and evolved and how important they were to the different tribes, and when the rituals didn’t work, you either weren’t doing them right, or as the priests helpfully advised, you were on the bad side of God and had better do something to deal with that, such as paying money to the priest.

When Zoroaster came along, spoke up for one god, and included heaven in the package, that was pretty popular. As embarrassing as it may be for me to admit, I found that reading through Stilwell’s book (doesn’t take very long), his analysis of religious history makes sense and fits with what I learned a long time ago. Sure, it’s simplified, perhaps even overly so (it’s a cartoon book!), but Stilwell has a way with phrasing that makes me smile on every page. Like when he says Jesus’s followers saw him, after his death, as a sort of Assistant One True God.

Stilwell covers the most complex topics—the problem of evil, what makes all the different priests and leaders so sure of themselves, quantum physics—by way of his endearing comics. You almost need the illustrations to break up the minimal narrative, so you can take at least a moment to ponder whether you want to dispute any of his statements. Can God still be a comfort to you, even with the inexplicable evil that has happened to so many innocents? Does the idea of heaven make it more likely that religious groups will fight and kill one another, feeling certain they are doing God’s work and will never really die?

That’s a lot of heft for a mere cartoon book to carry, and yet Here and Now manages it. I can see this being appreciated by young people, though I suppose most parents wouldn’t  share it with anyone under, say, 10 or so. Or whatever age religious believers tell their kids fantastic stories about heaven, hell, and the value of prayer.

It would also make a nice little gift of encouragement for your friends who are on the fence. You know what I mean.

Here and Now’s Facebook page.

Copyright (c) 2014 by Susan K. Perry, author of Kylie’s Heel

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