Saturday, April 17, 2010

Thugh Lipsmacker

A long, long time ago there was a big fellow by the name of Thugh LipSmacker, who lived in a large cave by a swift stream with a great many other people, all of whom were very, very dirty.

Thugh had dark hair, a squashed, squat nose, and a barrel chest that he was always defiantly puffing out to disguise the fact that he was pretty much afraid of anything he couldn't bully: the stream, the animals in the forest... even the other people. What scared him more than anything else, though, was the suspicion that at any moment the others might discover that he was afraid. Big men cannot be scared.

All Thugh really wanted was for them to love him. He was terrified that if they knew what he was really like, they would kick him out of the cave and he would have to wander the world alone. He was a big man, after all, and big men (like small men and medium men) hate to be alone.  

Then one day, Thugh made an important discovery. He realized that everyone else was just as scared as he was. It occurred to him, then, that if he could expose their fear before they could see his, he would be safe. He would have power over them, and then they would have to look to him for love. So he began to tell stories. Every night in the cave by the light of the smoky fire, he would tell them a story in which horrible ghouls and spiny mastodons and sabre-tooth swamp-rabbits lurked behind every tree and rock, waiting to disembowel them and use their body parts for castanets. They believed him - partly because he sounded so sure of himself, but also because they knew that there were, in fact, things that went bump in the night.

Ugh became a predator before a crouching, cringing prey. They listened as he spoke these gruesome tales in his singsong voice, and their eyes grew wider until he imagined he could actually smell their fear. He tasted it and built it, gradually, larger and larger. In these spellbinding moments, he wasn't afraid of anything. No, he imagined that he was completely in control of the entire world (which, of course, he was not). And just when the others began to quiver to what he knew was a breaking point, he crescendoed the story not in their gruesome deaths, but by offering them a savior... himself.

"Yes, the ghouls and mastodons and swamp-rabbits are real," he said, "but I know how to defeat them - I, and I alone. Stick with me (and give me the choice cuts of meat and your finest women) and I will make sure nothing bad ever happens to you."

The more he said these things, the more he believed them. He was still very, very afraid, but the stories made him feel powerful, and he began to equate power with fearlessness.

Thugh's plan worked exceptionally well. He eventually got everyone else to do all the hunting and cooking and protecting, while he stayed in the safety of the cave, telling his stories. He became rich and fat, by caveman standards, and sired a great many belligerent, squalling little children by all the women of the cave. This bothered the other men (and the women, of course), but they were too afraid to do anything about it.

Time wore on. Things changed. Thugh began to notice a disturbing trend - those very same scared people whom he was manipulating soon got used to their fear... to the point where his stories stopped working. He began to notice that his power over them was diminishing, and that they were growing restless. This scared him immensely, so he invented other, newer fears. He built them and built them.

Time wore on still further in this manner, and Ugh grew old. Looking to the future, he began to train some of his sons to tell his stories. At long last, Thugh Lipsmacker died, but by then the fear was so widespread that there was no stopping it. Each generation the system of fear grew a little bit bigger; because no matter how scared Lipsmacker's descendants made the other people, they always got used to it. They always began to wonder why they kept sacrificing the choice meats and healthiest women to the whims of their supposed protectors. New stories had to be invented, refined, and re-shaped to fit the changes that began to happen in the world. They had to be made into systems, and other people had to be appointed to maintain those systems.

Other story-tellers came along, wise men and women who saw what Lipsmacker's descendants were doing. They were afraid, too, because the world they lived in was, in fact, a very scary place. They were more afraid, however, of the Lipsmacking lies - lies that were growing so fast that it seemed they were about to swallow up the truth itself. These new story-tellers tried to counteract the lie-stories with tales of their own, truth-tales in which the people became their own heroes by learning to face their fears and love each other without trying to control everything. There had to be something more, these stories suggested, than just the ever-growing fears of the Lipsmackers. There had to be an uncontrollable truth that was bigger than the stories that people could tell.

A few listened. For most, however, it was impossible. The Lipsmackers they could see and hear, but this hope - this invisible faith that the other storytellers were trying to argue for - this was too scary to dream of. They were too afraid of being unloved - too cowed by a habit of fear to take the terrible risk of being the first to let go and begin to really Live. On and on it went, the battle of the storytellers, with lies and truth mingling and mangling to the point where no one knew how to tell them apart.

And no one knows if it will ever end, or how, but one thing is certain: the Lipsmackers keep smacking their lips... getting fatter.














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*Note: Any resemblance in this story to people who make church signs in Charlotte, North Carolina, is probably intentional. 

4 comments:

  1. ...so stories of eternal damnation are fabricated to give Christians power over unbelievers? Signs exhorting people to fear the Lord, which is a Biblical command, are bullying tactics? A sign by the highway cant be the only way you share the Truth, but what if we get to heaven and God asks us why we didnt all put signs about Him out in front of our houses, explaining truths and inviting people in for discussions? Sometimes an eye catching sign can start a seed of thoughts...sorta how some signs got you to start thinking, and then write about them in your blog.

    Jo-Ben

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  2. Weeeeeeeeeeelllll, Brother-O-Mine... not exactly what I was getting at, but close enough. I don't know all that much about all that much, but I'll try to answer your objections.

    First of all, I have come to believe that the whole "eternal damnation" thing is just a tad more complicated than we've been taught to believe. For starters, the Old Testament Jews had no real concept of an afterlife of any kind, let alone one of fiery torment, and when Jesus talked about hell he almost always used the term "Gahenna," which was an actual place outside the walls of Jerusalem where they burned the garbage. It was a really unpleasant place, with fires always burning, and only the most unclean people (like lepers) went there.

    So it's possible that Jesus was talking about Gahenna as, you know, a sort of a parable. I'm not saying that's what he was doing, just that it's possible and that the whole idea of "hell" isn't as cut and dried as we may have been taught. Lots of people who put their faith in Christ (like, say, C.S. Lewis and most of the Catholic Church) have had very different ideas about hell than what we've grown up with (which, consequently, is a fairly recent conceptualization).

    What's more important is WHY Jesus talked about hell, which was generally to suggest the sort of justice that would be done to those who did not care for the poor and the oppressed. I went over all of that before in my Previous Post on Hell (http://barkingreed.blogspot.com/2009/04/what-th.html - if you're curious), but the key point I'm making is that when you focus on eternal damnation and a very narrow interpretation of the phrase "the fear of the Lord," then you are not, in fact, teaching a Biblical worldview. Instead, you are teaching an uneducated polemic perpetrated on people by a clergy that has found it easier to scare people into behaving than to just preach the incredibly mysterious, indescribable, lovely, elegant doctrine of Grace. As I suggested in this story, I think this is because they are afraid. They are afraid to allow God to be responsible for justice because that would require them to focus their attention instead on doing what God has VERY clearly said ought to be their focus: the love of God and of their fellow humanoids (and most especially the poor and downtrodden).

    Those signs are an insult. Not only are they often misspelled or stupid to the point of hilarity (like the one that said: "what if we used our Bibles like cell phones" - I mean, can you picture THAT?), but they also make Christianity look smug, aggressive, and spiteful. If you really do believe in eternal torture in real, physical fire, then signs like that have got to be just about the most ineffective way of convincing people to come inside. I fail to see how thinly veiled threats can constitute "good news."

    Signs like that preach to those who are positive that they're on the winning team, and it bothers me how stupid stuff like that makes it nearly impossible for me to have a real conversation with a real human being about who Christ was/is.

    They used to make me very angry, back when I thought that somehow Christ was affected by all the idiot things that people calling themselves Christians do. Now, I think Christ transcends all of that, and it mostly just makes me very sad.

    But it also makes me laugh. Because delusion is funny, when it's someone else's.

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  3. I read this and thought it was a pretty great metaphor for how the whole construct of religion and God and Satan and angels and demons and especially Thugh Lipsmacker as the pope (or Muhammed or Joseph Smith or L Ron Hubbard etc. etc.) came into existence and gained so much control over people and their lives. But you only meant it as a way of talking about a specific group of people who make dumb signs. And that's valid, too. I agree with you fully that the signs are not meant to actually 'draw in non-believers' but that their true purpose has to do with giving the people who already think they know the answer a little pat on the back for being so smart and having figured out the truth. It also gives them the added little bonus of feeling like they are "sharing the good news" which, as you pointed out, they're really not. The "join us or rot in hell" approach is at best ineffective, and at worst downright counterproductive.

    Really though, this story works SO much better if Thugh Lipsmacker actually represents the entire Catholic church. Every time I see clips of a Catholic service or ceremony I am amazed at how unrelated or even completely counter to the message of Christ the whole thing is. The gold everywhere, the gestures and symbols and revering of priests and worshiping of the pope and all that stuff is just...baffling to me. What does it have to do with Christ? Why are these men powerful and not subject to the same rules and laws as "ordinary" men? To me, your story is a beautiful explanation of the Catholic Church and how it came into being and how it continues to work. But that's just me.

    Anyway, love reading your writings, Josh. Keep it up~
    Dave Symonds

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  4. Thanks, Dave. It's not like I'm completely oblivious to the fairly obvious extrapolations available to the reader of this post. I just said it was about the church signs because I didn't want folks thinking I was implying that ALL religion is like this. Just striking a blow against fearmongering, that's all.

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