Abscence of god, Anti-theism, artistic integrity, Atheism, Batman Vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice, Black Humor, Black Sabbath, Blasphemy, Blasphemy for the Sake of Blasphemy, Book Review, Catch-22, Disasterpeice, Ego, Garth Ennis, graphic novel, Heavy Metal, Individual Will, John Wayne, Judith, Left Behind, letter, Lex Luthor, Margot Robbie, mortality, Narcissism, Negative Review, People = Shit, Philosophy, Preacher, Pulsifer, Punk Rock Jesus, religion, Shock Rock, Shock Value, Slipknot, Steve Dillon, Texas
You’re such an inspiration for the ways,
That I’ll never ever choose to be,
Oh so many ways for me to show you,
How the savior has abandoned you, Fuck your God!
Blasphemy is a bit of an acquired taste, and it’s a lot like salt: in small doses it can bring flavor, in large doses it just leaves you dry and wanting desperately for water as you gag on it. For the record that last bit is actually true. I once emptied half a salt shaker on an egg roll when I was around five and after biting into it I went into a shock before trying to rub the salt off my tongue on the sleeve of my mother’s dress. It’s not a terribly fond memory since we were in a group and most of the other people in attendance got a little chuckle at my expense, but the visual metaphor I think retains its poignancy as I decided I would write to you about the graphic novel Preacher by Garth Ennis.
Before I continue B—- I just wanted to make sure that you and Charlie are okay. In your previous letter you sounded like you and Charlie were having some problems. Now it is my first philosophy in life to stay out of other people’s relationships; people who offer advice freely about how to handle other people’s relationship problems are suspect to me and tend to be emotional leeches. If you ever want to talk about it know that I’m here and that I’m a listener first when it comes to people’s problems. Far too many people don’t realize that, when it comes to shit like that, all you really need to be is a listener.
Getting back to Preacher though, I recommended it to you because the last graphic novel we discussed was Punk Rock Jesus. To be honest with you I feel that that book succeeds far better than Preacher in terms of understanding and exploring the complexity of the theology and philosophy of Christianity in society. Whereas that book had a point to make about the mixing of capitalism and religion, Preacher seems, for the most part, to be blasphemy for the sake of blasphemy.
Since you told me you haven’t read it I’ll give you a brief synopsis of the plot. A minister by the name of Jesse Custer is giving a sermon in his church the day after a drunken outburst at the bar and in the middle of the service a being of color and light bursts through the window, occupies Jeese’s body, and creates an explosion that kills everyone in the church. The creature is called “Genesis” and it’s revealed later that it is the love child conceived when an angel from heaven and a demon from hell fell in love and made love. Genesis gives Jesse the “power of god,” allowing him to command people to perform actions against their own freewill. While he’s wandering he runs into a vampire named Cassidy and a woman named Tulip. The first volume follows Jesse, Tulip, and Cassidy through the first part as they make their way to New York City to figure out what Genesis is, in the second half Jesse and Tulip are captured by Jesse’s grandmother and her servants. Jesse’s past is revealed as the reader observes that Jesse was raised in an emotionally, physically, and psychologically abusive household which is putting it mildly. Jesse watches his grandmother’s servants shoot his father in the head, shoot his best friend, drag his mother away, and he himself is placed in a coffin which is sunk into a river and left there for weeks at a time. All the while Jesse is searching for god because, as it’s revealed in the book, god has abandoned his position in heaven and Jesse wants to know why.
Just describing the plot, I recognize that it sounds outlandish or crazy, but so is the plot of Catch-22 and that book is not only required reading but also one of the most influential books in the American literary canon. Preacher is unlikely to ever attain such status for like I said above Blasphemy for the sake of blasphemy is like too much salt, and at times Preacher is like taking a deep swallow of it.
Now to be fair be I’m not immune to this impulse. While I detest anti-theism there is at times an impulse to roll my eyes and make easy pot-shots at religion when my Christian friends wax philosophical about their faith and their beliefs. There is the impulse when, after a friend has explained why they believe in god and the afterlife and heaven and why they’re happy with the life they’ve chosen I do wish sometimes that I could yell:
“It’s a bunch of self-absorbing bullshit. You believe in god because you still buy into the idea that the universe gives a shit about you, and the outdated geocentric, human centered reality that man is the center of ALL creation. If you weren’t such a narcissist you might be able to get your head out of your ass and realize that human life, when set against the enormity of creation, basically amounts to the dick lint of infinity and no amount of ancient texts are going to change that.”
I would like to say that sometimes, but what holds me back is the fact that responding like that only clouds up the discourse with nasty rhetoric and I would come across as self-righteous and, even worse, “the typical all-knowing egomaniacal atheist.” I distrust the impulse to say these words B——, because they feel too cathartic. There’s nothing wrong with releasing emotion from time to time, but in conversations, especially philosophical ones, emotions should be contained as much as possible lest you dissolve the conversation into pathos and ad hominem attacks. What matters most in discussing whether or not god exists is not the arguments themselves but the way people express the arguments.
Looking at Preacher then there is a real problem because Garth Ennis doesn’t try to make a fair conversation about theism, he’s just pushing religious buttons hoping somebody somewhere will crack and try to yell at him. It’s shock value, and the problem with shock value is, over time, people become inured to it, and when they become inured they become bored. The reason why Marilyn Manson isn’t shocking anymore, the reason while Alice Cooper is a cartoon character, the reason why Black Sabbath now has fans that span at least three generations is that people eventually stop being shocked. I would argue though that the difference between Marilyn Mansion, Alice Cooper, Black Sabbath, and Garth Ennis is that the previous three actually make art that’s worth your time.
Also for the record B—— you should totally look up IOWA by Slipknot. It’s their Death Metal record so it’s going to be intense, but if you can survive through it you’ll love Slipknot till the day you die. People = Shit and Disasterpeice and Left Behind. Listen to those first.
Ennis’s book abounds with scene after scene of horrible people doing horrible things in the name of god or divine will and by the end if becomes difficult to find any sympathetic figure. By the end I did find myself liking the character of Jesse, but not because he was a good person, but because he was able to survive a living hell and find faith, not in god per say, but in himself. At this point though B—-, I imagine that I can predict your question.
The answer is yes Margot Robbie was a great Harley Quinn, and those lame critics on Rotten Tomatoes be damned, I fucking loved Suicide Squad. Definitely see it, if only to make fun of Charlie when Margot Robbie’s bodacious bootie wiggles around in those ridiculous hotpants. Seriously after leaving the film even my sister said they should have called the film “Margot Robbie’s Bodacious Ass Wiggles in Hot Pants…The Movie.”
The answer to your second question B——, is how exactly does one find any kind of redeemable reason to read a book like Preacher? This is a conflict because I don’t at first glance have an answer besides the fact that it is legitimately entertaining and does offer some opportunity for reflection about faith and blasphemy. For myself B——, the point of reading Preacher is about four pages in the book that allow the reader to be both shocked and reflective about the nature of faith.
Tulip is shot in the head in front of Jesse and is brought back to life by god who asks only that she have faith. She refuses, and reading this passage I think about my own position.
Here’s the point B—–. Even if god exists I would not have faith. Some people are able to balance the idea of a god with the “problem of evil,” but I cannot for that doesn’t absolve a creator. The reason I’m an atheist is because I do not recognize any empirical evidence for the existence of a divine being or creator, and even if there was, all that would change is my belief that god exists. My high school biology teacher, still one of the smartest men I’ve ever met, once held a religious conversation with some of his students. Dr. Bradford held a doctorate in biology but also had a Master’s in theology and so he asked them “What is faith?” a few of them began their arguments with “the belief in god,” but he would interrupt them with a solid “no” and finally they got frustrated and asked him what faith was. His response has never left me: “faith is trust. You trust in god. Even if you believe in god that doesn’t mean you trust him.” This to me is and always shall be everything. Even if god exists, and proof appears to validate this possible fact, I cannot in good conscience trust this god.
Some might say that this is unfair or me, or claim that I simply cannot see the bigger picture. This may be true, but neither do my contesters. Like me they are limited by their humanity, their faults and bias, and so when they come to me speaking about the infinite wisdom of the creator and his unfailing love for them all I can do is roll my eyes. It’s not out of condescension, it’s more out of the recognition of cognitive dissonance. Man wants his god to be above him, to possess more wisdom than himself, but the opposite is true. Men make god after their own image and I have to fall back upon Lex Luthor for this in Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice:
Lex Luthor: The problem of you on top of everything else. You above all. Ah. ‘Cause that’s what God is. Horus. Apollo. Jehovah. Kal-El. Clark Joseph Kent. See. What we call God depends upon our tribe, Clark Jo. Because God is tribal. God take sides. No man in the sky intervened when I was a boy to deliver me from Daddy’s fist and abominations. Mm mm. I’ve figured it out way back, if God is all powerful, he cannot be all good. And if he’s all good then he cannot be all powerful. And neither can you be. They need to see the fraud you are. With their eyes. The blood on your hands.
The moment I referred to earlier in Preacher when god himself has appeared bathed in divine light after bringing Tulip back to light and he begs her to beseech Jesse to give him his trust and Tulips response is incredible, for it’s the exact same response I’ve had to the notion of god in my own life:
Growing up in the environment I did I desperately wanted to say, actually scream out often to god to “cut the shit.” In fairness, due mostly to retrospect, my problem was not with god but with Christians themselves. It was always a sell, it was always a dogma, it was always the call to blindly follow and wholly trust, and the problem was often that thus trust involved some sacrifice of my principles because “trust” meant bashing gay people, voting republican, being prejudiced against Mexicans and blacks (though this was always hinted at or suggested without ever being outright spoken, you know “those people”), and burning copies of Harry Potter.
That last one’s important because you don’t fuck with Harry Potter. Period.
If Preacher achieves any kind of artistic statement, it’s in these two pages because it affords a new reality for readers and individual thinkers. I know this may sound like pathos B——, but reading does open up new worlds and often times I feel like I’m living in a different world now that I don’t believe or trust in god. This doesn’t always make life easy, in fact sometimes it makes it far more difficult. My life has become painfully shorter for the benefit of an afterlife is gone, but this only places me in a position in which I have to “cut the shit” and really recognize my problems because there isn’t someone looking out for me. What I do with my time isn’t just a sentence, it’s a real reality. Living without god, or faith in god, is stepping out of narcissism because it reduces the ego. Once mankind steps away from god they step out of the center of all creation, and while life in this new space isn’t always pleasant, as Preacher clearly demonstrates, it does make you see the world in a new way.
Reading Preacher is not easy if you are easily offended or unused to having your religious or moral convictions challenged. It’s important to remember that challenges are different than outright assault, and being fair to the book, Preacher is a book designed to push buttons far more than it is about challenging the reader. Ennis’s book is about showing all the negative sides to Christianity, while also squeezing in some blasphemy for fun, and the problem with this is that it doesn’t really encourage reflection or growth. Reading this book becomes an exercise in “allright what blasphemous shit is he gonna write next?” The three pages cited earlier though do redeem the book B——, at least so far as to ask yourself: if there was a god, would you trust him?
You know where I stand.
Blasphemy for the sake of blasphemy becomes tiresome and repugnant, because long after the shock of blasphemy is over there’s precious little, if any, art worth mentioning. The conflict then is that if an artist doesn’t have anything better to do than shock his reader, then he really hasn’t produced anything worth reading. But at least there’s the spirit of John Wayne reminding Jesse to be strong, so it ain’t all bad.
Sincerely, yours in the best of confidence and support,
Joshua “Jammer” Smith
You may have noted that I sound a little bitter. I can assure you that only appears when I listen to poor arguments, or spot a Joel Olsteen book in a pile of “Local Favorites” at Barnes & Noble. It’s not that I’m a bitter man, I just can’t stand Joel Olstean. And to be fair is there any thinking person who doesn’t?
Waited till the end for this. I loved Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn but I hated those hot pants and those heels. Harley Quinn is a gymnast and she’s expected to do all those crazy stunts in heels? Bullshit. I’ve tried running in boots with a one-inch heel and I damned near fell and busted my ass, and Harley Quinn is supposed to be able to flips and kicks in stiletto heels? I’m willing to suspend my disbelief in super hero films only so far.
Now as for the hot pants I have to say…say…