Suspensions of Disbelief

"Every morning I killed all the sinners on earth."
—Psalms 101:8

"It's not a cult."
—Senator Orrin Hatch

Suspension from school was a regular thing for me during prepubescence. I am fortunate to have undergone brat-hood in the days before Ritalin and Prozac and Luvox. Otherwise I would have been doped into submission instead of banished. Not a bad boy, exactly, I was just following parental orders when I refused to stop arguing the origin of species with a certain sacerdotal functionary who spent his weekdays posing as a public school teacher.

It was this crypto-proselytizer's "Utah history" class from which I was continually being ejected. My fourth- or fifth-generation excommunicated Jack-Mormon atheist dad sent me there each morning with a bad attitude and a head full of amino acids, primordial soup and other evolutionary decoctions, and a directive to challenge the "Elder" on the tenets of Creationism.

This was just one of the several ways in which Dad, in his own words, "systematically corrupted" me. He had started the process early on, trying to subvert my socialization already in kindergarten. Filling my head with locally heretical doctrines would help ensure my never backsliding into some "hare-brained throwback Latter-Day-Saint crapola," as my nephew Shawn Bradley famously did. The NBA's premiere shot-blocker, Shawn hawked the faith of Brigham Young in Australia for two years when he could have been earning about sixteen million bucks getting his nose and collarbones broken by ebony elbows under the hoop. The fans throw bottles at him and call him The Great White Ope because he looks and acts and sounds like an elongated version of Andy of Mayberry's fair-haired boy.

Rather than allow anyone in our branch of the clan to be sucked into such a downward spiral, my father was bent on getting me officially and publicly expelled from the second most potent disseminator of Mormon "culture," the Salt Lake City public school system. He would cite my permanent record to embarrass me into relenting if I ever, by some freakish twist of circumstance or some gross overdose of mind-bending drugs, decided to get baptized by full-immersion, and convert to the sect that had spilled and nearly expunged our very Bradley blood in one of the many episodes of savage tyranny that have since been deleted from the pages of early Utah State history.

In the 1850's Mormon missionaries enticed us all the way across the Atlantic from the coal mines of Sheffield, England, only to kick us almost immediately out of their territorially omnipotent church, and drive us naked into the wilderness. We howled at the moon and subsisted like Neanderthals and interbred for two generations, or maybe three (amid such genealogical chaos, spouses and spawn are difficult to differentiate), self-creating in a literal sense.

It was only in the past sixty years or so that we Bradleys had begun to shamble back down from the federally designated Primitive Area, high and deep in the Rockies, where it's still legal to kill anything not worshipped by the aboriginals as long as you eat it. We'd stealthily settled among the very folks who had, for reasons still in dispute, chased us off like flatulent pets so long ago. Keeping a low profile, not receiving the benefit of the Mormon welfare system, the Bradleys were socially ostracized (thank Christ almighty: I'd have made a horrifying missionary). The only career opportunities open to the likes of us were sordid positions among the communists and alcoholics and other deviants at the non Mormon university.

I remember when we planted a great-grandma (or great-great-auntie-- nobody knew) who, before senility claimed her, could sputter a few spasmodic syllables of the private language her cousins (siblings?) had invented among the stalagmites, Brontes without the basic literacy skills. This was one family which hadn't forgotten its victimological heritage.

So I cut my rhetorical teeth facing down the "Elder." He was a textbook paranoid-schizophrenic who had ninety-eight percent of the Book of Mormon memorized, and who, in order to be able to keep his own animalistic self contained in his polygamist pants, simply had to believe that he bore absolutely no relation whatever to the naked chimps that hung their private parts between the bars at the zoo and flung excrement at people.

I fully intended to be an obedient child, and to continue rubbing the rock salt of natural selection into the open sore that was the "Elder's" psyche, until I got an outright parole from formal education (every real boy's dream). When and if I ever succeeded, I wasn't sure whether Dad was planning on coughing up the exorbitant tuition for the local Episcopalian parochial school, or on home-educating me, as our friend Mr. Singer did with his own children before the state authorities came and shot him to death on his front porch for such lawless presumption.

But my limited debating skills had only managed to get the lunatic to kick me out for brief periods. So Dad, with all the reluctance of an army general deciding to go nuclear, took me aside one night and supplied me with the strange idea of Eternal Recurrence.

This was ammunition, to stow in my arsenal alongside Darwinism, for salvos against the "Elder," that indoctrinator of the Latter-Day-Saints' world-view and faith. I was equipped with Eternal Recurrence for use as a further prod, a second prick, as it were, to torment the crew-cut educator, just in case I ever succeeded in getting him to engage me on even more cosmological questions than the origin of species. I have retained this peculiar notion in the back of my head, where, to this day, it percolates and deposits layers of something or other in the fatty synaptic clefts of my central nervous system.

The idea, bluntly, is as follows: the way God, or the Demiurge, or whoever, would build, say, a car would be to take the components and throw them against a wall again and again, over and over, for however long it took for those components to fall accidentally into the right places to produce a car. He's got time. No efficient assembly lines for him. Henry Ford was no child of this unhurried crap-shooter deity.

Dad would always drawl it out, "Gaw-w-wd the Faw-w-w-wther," in such a way that I could feel the quotation marks like fishhooks. This was definitely not the guy the "Elder" groveled to and praised so piously in pseudo-science class. Not a regular sort of guy at all. For example, he didn't appear to have a whole lot of personality. In this way, Dad's god resembled most of our neighbors, come to think of it.

Along with atoms crapped sans surcease against the wall, came irrefutably the concomitant notion that Dad, and even (unlikely as it may sound) little Tommy Bradley himself, right along with everything else, would eventually happen not just once, but again and again, infinite numbers of times, over the course of eternity for, if the atoms fell in these particular configurations once, what's to stop them doing so again? Dad assured me this was an idea tailor-made to irk the ire of any mainstream Utahn with the basic intellect to grasp it.

Only later in life did I discover this to be the self-same Eternal Recurrence that tortured Nietzsche and tickled Schiller. I suspect cheerful Schiller was Dad's source, assuming he had a source, and didn't independently arrive at this conclusion—which seems so obvious and inevitable and common-sensical, once your brain's been exposed to it.

We were both assuming, like those two fine old Krauts of yore, that the process was restricted to currently available matter, such stuff budgeted from day one, shuffled and jumbled but undestroyed if not uncreated. God was grounded in a backyard, with a fence.

"But," asked little Tommy, "how do we know matter is finite?"—and answered his own idiotic question with another question before the former completely exited his mouth. Do you see a density as of lead between the surface of your corneas and Alpha Centauri? Matter is palpably finite.

Eternal Recurrence would be just the thing, my father evidently thought, to drive the Latter-Day-Saints wacky all the way and get me expelled altogether. Darwin was only good for suspensions—but this was dynamite. I, on the other hand, doubted the idea could be introduced into my teacher's clouded mind with sufficient clarity and completeness to raise so much as a half a hackle. Besides, I didn't think explosive results were guaranteed. I still don't.

It's no weirder than what they're already taught to believe. With a little bit of tinkering here and there, you could probably adjust Eternal Recurrence to jibe more tightly with the Mormon world-view than the Catholic or Protestant (neither which they share, being a deeply unChristian outfit, despite the posturings of a certain recently failed Republican presidential candidate).

If you are a Mormon male, and if you discreetly marry and fecundate as many females as you possibly can without going to jail, meanwhile tithing faithfully off the top every month "without stint or surcease," and if, via the conduit of your plural spouses, you bring down to earth a grotesquely large contingent of the finite number of pre-created souls from heaven, or whatever repository they are stored in (my nephew Shawn never clarified this point for me), and if you baptize them into the Utah church and teach them to tithe—then, upon death, you will become a Mormon god yourself, and be furnished with your own planet, and a harem of secret, eternal, nameless wives, upon whom to get souls with which to populate that planet, who will tithe, and tithe, and continue to tithe still more, and so on ad infinitum.

It seems to me that the metaphor of a perpetual crap shoot could be substituted with a semen shoot of comparable duration, and the rest of Mormonism would fall right into place.

Every month or so they tell us a bit more about what's in outer space, and so far it just sounds like one big hazardous chemical dump. The multitudinous Mormon gods up there are committing the sin of Onan on a very large scale, perpetually spilling their seed on the most barren ground. If the rest of our solar system is any indication, the extra-terrestrial universe must comprise more worlds with sulfuric acid rain and nitrous oxide atmospheres, maybe a squalid wretch of a microscopic worm here and there, more mud than life—but mostly this toxic idiocy, repeated over and over in the context of billions and quadrillions of galaxies and so on.

That sounds to me like just about the right number of trial runs and abortive attempts and false starts it would take, throwing a limited number of atoms against the wall for an unlimited period, to produce, this time around, what's coiled and tucked so neatly behind my personal eyeballs and between my Jack-Mormon ear-holes.

I was too young, and my father was usually too late for work, to broach the horrible subject of the identity of energy and matter, and the more recent theories of time, which limit and bend its duration in very messy ways. But it wasn't as though the "Elder" would be prepared to throw these in my face by way of refutation. My classroom was a nineteenth century time capsule, and there was no need to hit the books and arm myself with the latest conceits—which tend to be no fun, anyway.

But now, an adult on my own two feet in the great world, I no longer have the luxury of that Intermountain ignorance. And I shudder when I realize what was required to bring this essay to your eyes from this obscure Japanese island, where I languish in economic exile, having long ago been deemed too unsocialized even for the non-Mormon university back home. (Father's program of son corruption succeeded beyond his dreams.)

Account has been taken of Einstein's temporal relativism. The signals of the email message to which these words were attached traveled so far at the speed of light that the newfangled wishy-washy time was obliged to slow down for them. After bouncing off whatever communications satellite hovers over the ocean between here and there, they arrived on the surface of America too late, even though the whole transaction was instantaneous. The receiving dish in Kansas or wherever was necessarily nudged just the right distance toward my modem in East Asia, to compensate for the earth's rotation that we, but not my ideas, lived through in the meantime. Thanks to the account taken of this newly enfeebled fourth dimension, my words were prevented from swishing right past you-- and thus is illegitimized the very basic assumption of all: the immutability (and hence purely unproblematical nature) of time. Time, it turns out, is indeed a problem.

My ultimate act of unfiliality, of Dad-betrayal, is the practical negation of the doctrine he taught me for my own self-preservation. How can you have Eternal Recurrence when time is compressed and stretched like poorly rendered animal jelly? Eternity itself becomes a non-sequitur, "recurrence" an oxymoron, the moment you blur the good old-fashioned distinction between then and now.

So I'm left with no secret weapon against the "Elders" of this world. I might as well kiss ten percent of my monthly income goodbye, undo my belt, and just backslide. I should sign up for baptism into the faith that nearly wiped us Bradleys out long ago. God knows there are plenty of missionaries eager to dunk me here on my Pacific Patmos.

Tom Bradley has written for such magazines as Salon.Com, Exquisite Corpse, and LitKit. His novels have been nominated for various awards in America. One or two of his short stories were translated and published in Japanese, or so he's been told. Read excerpts and reviews of Tom's books, and hear him read, at .


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