A Novel for the End of Days
by R. F. Dietrich
This page contains the first chapter of The Final Solution.
After reading it, you may want to order the printed novel. It can be ordered from all major online bookstores, such as www.bn.com, www.addall.com, www.amazon.com (Search under ISBN 0595132731) or call iUniverse at 1-877-823-9235.
"The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath."
The Gospel According to Jesus According to Wolf
END OF CHAPTER 1
- 1 -
God, I hate religion.
For one very relevant reason, because religion is the weapon of choice of bullies, tyrants, and mass murderers.
But I don't blame Jesus for that. At least, not my Jesus. My Jesus tried to tell them otherwise. In fact, back in the days when I was religion's darling, Jesus recruited me to be the teller of this truth for my time. When he visited me near the end of my twelfth year.
1948 was also the year the infant United Nations accepted Israel's proclaiming itself an independent state and the Arabs immediately fought that. Never having given up on making something worthwhile of his fellow Jews, Jesus hoped to get me to accept a "mission to the Jews" that would nip in the bud the horrendous, tragic future he saw for Israel and, as a consequence, for the world as well. He hoped to transform Israel from what he saw it becoming-the world's curse-to the world's blessing.
"The Israelis can be just an annoying bunch of quarrelsome cranks whose tribal obsessions will endanger the entire world or a welcome group of special people with the keys to the kingdom," said Jesus. "It's their choice, but they're inclined to follow false messiahs."
"Huh?" said I, at twelve.
"Never mind," said Jesus, "a child shall lead them." He smiled and winked. "With me whispering in the ear all the time, better a child than not, in fact." Jesus then looked very annoyed. "I would do it myself, but I'm a prophet without honor in my own country." I would later come to appreciate that better.
The declaration of Israel's nationhood was on May 14, but Jesus waited until Christmas to visit me, knowing that I would be most receptive at this favorite, favored time of the year.
Ah, Christmas, let me count the ways. In my first six years my parents, encouraged by doting Grampa Wolf, had gone way out of their way to make Christmas morning magical. When spectacularly decorated Christmas trees that weren't there at bedtime on Christmas Eve suddenly, by the grace of Santa Claus, were so miraculously and breathtakingly there! the next morning, with their red-blue-green lights shining off the tinsel in the dark of early morn and piled high with beautifully-wrapped presents, when red ribbons led mysteriously from the tree into the basement with intensely-wished-for-but-too-large-to-go-under-the-tree presents attached to the other end, and when among the presents under the tree one year appeared a red bow-tied box with a wriggling brown puppy in it, which I immediately recognized as boon companion for years to come, well, under those circumstances I grew to expect magic at Christmastime.
"Come see little Wolfie dancing for joy," Grampa always excitedly shouted up the stairs on Christmas morning, rousting my sleep-deprived mother and father out of bed. Grampa was always waiting for me in the dark, on the couch facing the glorious tree, as I descended the last step and went into dancing ecstasies.
Never mind that the death of Santa Claus, and Grandpa Wolf, at my seventh Christmas then killed the magic for about eleven months; it was miraculously resurrected the next Christmas at the birth of Christ, which I had begun to take very seriously.
When I learned that Christ wasn't just for Sundays and Christmas but for every day too, I tried hard to imitate Christ. A sheep in Wolf's clothing was I, in the early days. And my name came to annoy me, I didn't care if my naming was in honor of Grampa Wolf or not. Later, of course, my name was a boon to the campaign of religious irony I conducted amongst the "Pagans for Jesus."
But for many years yet every bedtime came, sans irony, with the prayer-"Now I lay me down to sleep, / I pray the Lord my soul to keep./ If I should die before I wake, / I pray the Lord my soul to take." Which ended with my own tag line: "But if I live to once more pray, / I pray to follow Jesus' way. Amen."
By the fourth grade I was so sincere about the Imitation of the Prince of Peace that I was very much thrown when one day, in defense of a crippled friend, I was forced to fight our worst playground bully, the infamous, hulking, scowling, leather-jacketed Billy Diago. As the Imitator of Christ, I properly abhorred the fight at the start and tried to avoid it. But even then I had a booming voice and an actor's instincts, and when before my positively prophet-like denunciation the bully rather sooner than expected backed down, I was amazed at the joy I felt at pounding the back of the fleeing Diago, though my fists did not do the damage my anathema had.
This and a few other occasions through the grade school years when I neglected to turn the other cheek gave me pause. I was discovering that one of the principal difficulties in establishing a Christian world is the requirement of unilateral disarmament. How could you turn the other cheek unless you were sure your enemy would do so too? And so, in rare reflective moments, on my way home from the cowboy movies I so loved, say, or as I practiced "quick draws" with my own six-shooters in the back yard, I wondered if I was really cut out for Christlike behavior. But the pauses and questionings were never for long. Sunday School always recharged my Christian batteries, and from Christmas I always received a major jolt of Christian juice.
I was particularly thrilled at the way Christmas Eve had been made magical by my assisting at the birth of Christ, first in the non-speaking role of shepherd at the age of seven and later in speaking roles, culminating in this twelfth year with the role of the angel who spoke to Mary (which reminds me that this must have been the origins of my thespian self! Was the actor born in me the minute I saw what an elevating experience it was?). The angel role was usually given to a particularly sweet-faced girl, but with my blue eyes and blond locks I was thought so angelic-looking that the pageant director conceded that the church could, for once, afford to follow scripture by having a male angel.
Certainly I was qualified for angelic roles by virtue of my virtue, or at least the reputation of it. Somehow I had gotten pegged as "a good kid." Although, mind you, I stopped well short of goody-goodyness and namby-pambyness. More than once the pastor had to speak to me, for instance, about my playing some rubber ball game against the wall in the church's basement, which besides spotting the wall created a ruckus as my pals joined me (and this was a game I despoiled the walls of my school with as well). For another example, in Christmas pageants past I had had no scruples about joining my hilarious fellow shepherds in gassing the cast during rehearsals. And at the rehearsal for the Christmas pageant in this twelfth year, my angelic lips having accidentally touched the Virgin's ear, I had spoken closer and longer than needed into the ear of a pretty brunette named Dolly, whose giggling version of the Virgin made something strange happen in my chest and some wonder arise in my mind.
But generally I was blissfully unaware of the hormonal magic stirring within me that was about to start mixing with the Christian magic like beer with baptismal water. For now, I was still more taken by the rock the angel rolled away than with either Rolling Rock or a roll in the hay. As you would expect of "a good kid."
And so, well tuned up by my angelic appearance the night before, drunk on the bounty of generous, single-child parents, and perhaps overdosed on turkey and trimmin's as well, on my twelfth Christmas night I was visited by Jesus.
Groaning with my third piece of banana cream pie of the day and comically wishing my parents good night with my hands on a seemingly pregnant belly (an old bedtime routine), I climbed the stairs to my bedroom, followed by my faithful dog. Quickly I got into flannel jammies, turned off the light, and jumped shiveringly into bed, my dog curling up at the foot.
As the snow whirled off of the great frozen lake our house looked out on, I listened to the wind howl about the house. Not a proper Christmas wind, it howled and howled, and I couldn't get to sleep. Whenever I peeked out to see the wind, the two blinded windows off the foot of my bed looked like the huge staring yellow eyes of a haunting soul.
The howling grew in intensity and seemed more and more to speak with a human voice. Strangely, as I listened closer and closer to what it was saying, the voice of the wailing wind more and more reminded me of all the people in the world who did not have such wonderful Christmases as I did. Eyes wide open now, no longer even pretending to sleep, I began to see their sad faces. One by one, emerging from the staring yellow eyes of the blinds, they appeared before me--black, red, yellow, and white faces, all sorrowful. At first each face was distinct, but increasingly the faces sped past until it all became a blur. Moaning before me, each face moved off to the sides or receded past the foot of my bed. Suddenly the faces stopped coming. Then, gathered in their millions, they moaned as one, a bloodcurdling sound.
I was brought to a sitting position in my bed as the moaning faces formed into a scarifying vision that now panoramically filled my room, of a planet endlessly tormented by murder, war, pestilence, and famine, with everywhere vague human figures writhing in excruciating pain and death-agonies so palpable I writhed with them.
The pain then transmuted into a huge, writhing white rose, and out of the rose a white-bearded, furrow-browed Godhead appeared, saying, magisterially, that He saw no point in trying to save the world anymore, so we should quit bothering Him because He was going into retirement. The only flood this time would come when He washed His hands of the whole sorry affair.
But then, after the Godhead grumblingly receded back into the rose, the rose became a white-capped wave. The wave quickly expanded into a storm-tossed sea, as a howling storm raced in from the east. Out of this scary tempest emerged a familiar white-robed Jesus, who came calmly walking across the emerald sea, arms extended and hands down in a calming of the waters. His face was the handsome Hollywood face framed by flowing auburn locks and beard that appears on church calendars. Except he had electric blue eyes, that looked straight out at you. And he was juggling strange icons, the icons, I know now, of the religious faiths his world had inherited. A career foreshadowing for me, I now realize, as I turn out books on comparative religion.
Suddenly, at the raising of Jesus' arms, the moaning millions sighed and vanished.
Coming up to me, smiling, Jesus sat at the foot of my bed and petted the dog. Then, looking solemnly straight at me, Jesus saith unto me-"Wolf, go ye forth and save the world in my name, spreading the good news that brotherly love brings life everlasting."
"Uh, okay," I said, looking doubtful. But I was thinking, "Why me?"
Jesus then went on to spell out the "Gospel According to Jesus" that he wanted me to spread, which mostly one can find scattered through the New Testament and the Apocrypha, although often imperfectly quoted or with different spins and mixed in with stuff he didn't say. Jesus' version was also without the supernaturalizing and personal crotchetings and forced prophecy-fulfilling, Old Testament tie-ins of the gospel according to everyone but Jesus.
And there wasn't much emphasis on piety. "The sabbath was made for man," Jesus insisted, "not man for the sabbath. Why can't they get this right? And worship the Jesus within, dammit, not the Jesus without. The Kingdom of God is within you."
But I wanted to hear more about the promise of life everlasting.
Jesus explained that by "life everlasting" he meant that a cooperative, communal spirit among mankind would ensure the fruitful continuation of life, whereas destructive competitiveness would not. It was not a matter of eliminating all suffering and competition and creating a bland utopia of harp-strumming, Jesus-praising, huggy-buggy "peaceniks" (where did he get those words? I wondered), but of reducing cruelty and destructiveness so as to make possible a significantly more productive humankind and faster evolving World Spirit. As though the speed of spiritual growth on this planet were crucial to the universe. The physics and metaphysics of this I still don't grasp.
Jesus then said, with some exasperation, that after two thousand years of craziness it was time to give his gospel a chance. The churches hadn't done that. They had simply added to the insanity. He hoped he had chosen better this time in "passing the baton on" to me.
"Umm, wellll," said I, trying to imagine the job. And I thought, "Why me?"
"Tell you what," said Jesus, "let me give you an idea." The electric blue eyes seemingly turning into projectors, Jesus then showed me a vision of the future that would unfold if I chose to accept the mission, the mission impossible.
In this amazing vision of the future, I saw myself begin by going to my church and getting Jesus "uncrucified," first by announcing that salvation was something you had to do for yourself, you couldn't put it off on somebody else, and then by leading the congregation in gently removing Jesus from the Cross, while ritually intoning an acknowledgment of the need to take the responsibility for salvation upon one's self. For redemption, Jesus explained, was here and now and every redemption was unique and self-activated.
Once the "uncrucifying of Christ" ritual had been set in motion (people very soon caught on and enthusiastically spread the word), all I then had to do was let the energy of the freed Jesus enter me. I found myself, in the next six years, exercising powerful suasion in promoting world peace all over the globe--"The Angel of America," I was called--and soon enough the United Nations saw the excellent wisdom of electing me the first President of the World, as I turned eighteen. I would be an elected savior, Jesus explained, because the universe could be democratic now that God was retired. As the vision rolled on, I then repaid the UN's sagacity with humane, tolerant, magnanimous, Solomonic governance, for a brief term of about eighty years (as the much-beloved leader kept getting reelected by landslides), which eventually brought a reconciliation universal enough to foster a dynamic global civilization and a faster evolving World Spirit. I was even allowed to see past my own time to a time when spaceships spread the gospel through the galaxy. Jesus was obviously "fast forwarding."
Jesus then reversed the time travel to replay the scene he obviously considered the crux of the matter--the "mission to the Jews"--which he ran in slow motion. I got to see clearly that I began my UN presidency by persuading the Jews of Israel to become the blessing onto the nations prophesied for them by being the first to officially subordinate their cultural identity and national sovereignty to world citizenship. But how I got the rest of the world to follow that splendid example was unfortunately skipped over. At least I understood that Jesus was first and foremost giving me a "mission to the Jews." Jesus had said flat out that "it will all start there or it won't start at all." It was then that Jesus made his remark about the new state of Israel and the chance Israelis would have to bring great pain or great peace to the world. And about how a child would have a better chance to lead the Israelis to choose peace than the prophet who was without honor in his own country.
But Jesus quickly changed from annoyance to enthusiasm as he pointed out "the best part" of my future as savior--the elimination of any need for a crucifixion. They could vote me out of office whenever they pleased. Although, in fact, as I had already been shown, universally-applauded I would keep getting reelected. When, nearing a hundred, I at last declined to run for reelection, I rather looked like God.
And that was the future if I accepted "The Call."
All I could say was "Wow!" "Why me?" I was thinking.
This time Jesus answered my thought. "How many lucky boys with golden voices care enough for the world's agony on Christmas night to see and feel it and want to change it? That's why."
I granted that, no offense intended toward the Creator, my deepest wish was to make life better. But, still, I hesitated, caution being a seed in my soul that would grow and grow and eventually bloom with amazing persistence. I asked if I could think it over.
Covering his disappointment, Jesus said, heartily, "Sure. Just whistle. I'm always within earshot. The offer's good for a lifetime. But the future changes if you delay, and everything will happen differently." Boy, did it ever!
Then, after petting the dog once more and flashing those electric blue eyes at me one last time, Jesus walked out back over the emerald sea, turned around once to wave, and then disappeared in the night. I waved back, but it suddenly seemed awfully chilly with half of my body out of the covers, so I invited the terrier under the blankets and hugged the blankets around us.
I could still hear the wind singing of the world's sorrow, however, and forevermore howling winds would sing the Song of Man for me. I buried my head under a pillow in a fruitless attempt to drown out the howl. And that went on for over forty years.
- 2 -
And so I grew up thinking the dream of peace was the only dream worth pursuing. But because I was also being schooled in modern skepticism, I slowly replaced my belief in an actual visitation from Jesus with a realization that it had been a symbolic dream, no doubt inspired by the hopeful appearance of the United Nations after World War II. I eventually inferred that the calming of troubled waters Jesus symbolically illustrated in my dream was to be accomplished by establishing a world state, by making brotherhood global and governmental. Not that you could force such things. It had to be by consent of the governed. Persuading people would be my job.
At seventeen, I actually misled my pastor into thinking I was headed for the ministry because I had myself been misled into thinking the Christian ministry was where you best pursued the dream of peace. My pastor rewarded my zeal by appointing me to teach Sunday School to younger children, and I saw immediately what a wonderful effect my dream could have on people. The kids were used to tired old sermons and lessons, but I stoked 'em up with a passion unknown to them. I knew from the start how to act the savior.
As an adult (until recently) I lacked the conviction to accept the role, but as a teenager I went around thinking Jesus had passed the old messiah baton on to me. Partly inspired by Michelangelo's portrait of God reaching down to touch the finger of Adam and partly by being a relay-runner on the track team, I often envisioned Jesus handing down an actual sprinter's baton to me, and I saw myself take off running, Zot knows where.
As an adult, remembrance of the dream occasionally inspired half-hearted or half-assed attempts to realize the "Gospel According to Jesus." And, especially, lying there in the back of my mind, it gave me a nagging sense all my adult life that I was denying my essence, postponing my destiny. Many's the time, viewing a disastrous world, and especially after one of the Arab-Israeli wars, I thought to myself, "it's time to whistle for Jesus." But I could never quite bring myself to do it. I worried that I had "dropped the baton."
Partly I feared the scandal of it. Almost from the beginning, I realized that I would have to be careful not to tell anyone about Jesus' passing the old messiah baton on to me. Eventually I learned what the word "megalomania" meant and understood better the need for secrecy. From time to time during my teenage years certain choice souls were let in on some of the details of the New World Order I thought I had been called upon to establish, but not a word was breathed of anyone's being nominated for messiah.
One day I began to think I could cleverly avoid the whole messiah issue by forming or joining a brotherhood of saviors, so to speak. Which would spread the responsibility around. Wasn't that what Jesus meant by "brotherly love"? Or so I reasoned, in the belly of the whale.
More seriously then, in my late teens, I began to look around for, not disciples, for that smacked of hierarchy and exactly the sort of tyranny I wished to escape from, but for kindred spirits ready to take action. Like the ones that appeared in another recurrent dream as knights sitting as equals around a round table. The knights were strangely dressed in Buck Rogers outfits, however, because Science Fiction had replaced cowboy stories in my reading and movie-going; the Jedi Knights were on their way. After a "Responsibility Ritual" in which Jesus was "uncrucified" (that is, symbolically Jesus was gently taken off the Cross as the knights intoned a ritual acceptance of personal responsibility for their own salvation), the knights of the round table and I would go out to do battle. Together the brotherhood slew (over and over, with each replay of the dream) the dragons of intolerance, inequality, and injustice, "the chief persuaders of war, homicide, famine and pestilence," as I phrased it when I learned who the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse were.
Then along came a traumatic experience that further interpreted my dreams for me. As my Jesus dream had forewarned me, I as a high school senior experienced "the death of God" and the birth of cynicism, long live the terrible twins. Amazingly, soon after I received a pious lapel pin for ten years of perfect Sunday School attendance, which had inspired dreams of entering the ministry, one day Christ mysteriously just "stopped."
Ironically, it happened soon after I had given the most convincing display of my potential as a messiah by winning the district "Prince of Peace" oratorical contest, overcoming great obstacles to do it. After an exhausting two-hour varsity basketball practice, I had hastily thrown on a suit and tie and raced ten blocks to deliver from the pulpit of my very own church the most impassioned and moving speech of the five contestants. It was a speech in which I made them see how Lady Liberty, lifting her lamp beside the golden door of American opportunity, welcomed the whole world--red, white, yellow, and black--in a loving, Christian embrace. The burning noble words reverberated from stained glass window to stained glass window, and the people were made to see the truth. The audience sat in stunned silence for a few moments after my stirring conclusion, most of them probably never having heard such passion from a church pulpit (certainly not from Pastor Blau), then burst into enthusiastic applause. In recognition of my exceptional promise as an orator, the judges overlooked the fact that in my apparent possession by the Holy Ghost I had unknowingly repeated an entire paragraph!
"O no!" I afterward groaned to my parents, turning red, "which one? How could I do that!"
"It's all right, Wolfie, you won!" said my consoling mother, her wet blue eyes adoring her only begotten child.
"Don't call me Wolfie!" I snapped.
Nevertheless I went to bed that night exhilarated at my triumph and envisioning myself delivering that one speech before the United Nations that would turn all the world's swords into plowshares. Yes, fittingly, an American would lead the way to the Pax Americana, as my Latin teacher had put it.
That was one night I would have welcomed the Jesus dream, which I felt I had in part vindicated. But it didn't come. In fact, it hadn't come in many months. I don't remember dreaming at all that night. I had a severe charley horse in my leg in the middle of the night, as I sometimes did after especially intense basketball practices, and so, losing an hour's sleep to walk it off, I overslept the next morning. When I awoke my leg was sore but otherwise I felt nothing. My soul felt flat as a pancake and Christ the Lord was dead as a doornail. Like the flattest and deadest of similes, there was simply no life there. In some mysterious action of the sleeping brain, I had seen through it all, saw the fraud and fakery of "organized religion" (a contradiction in terms, I decided), and I awoke faithless.
At first I couldn't see how I could go on with my dream of world peace without the Prince of Peace, whose spirit after all had inspired the crazy dream. But as part of the dream's craziness was in its confusion over who was the messiah now, Jesus or me, the death of Christ as God was not inconvenient to resolving that confusion. A further benefit was that the death of Christ as God allowed for the rebirth of Jesus as Man, soon reborn in me.
So it was really Christianity rather than Christ that stopped. The two parted company forever in my mind, as I consigned "Crosstianity" (as I eventually labeled it) to Barrabas and took Christ for my own, though only after elevating Jesus from god to Man and transforming him from unconscious rival to acknowledged noble precursor, passer of the baton in the race for the world's salvation. In short, I did what millions of intelligent, truly religious people have done. I separated Jesus from Christianity, the man from the maniac, and the message from the mystagogy.
And so, instead of a lessening of religious commitment, I then felt all the more need to find my way past my loss of Christianity to the point of religion and Christ's goal, everlasting life through the practice of brotherhood. Since the churches, busily separating sheep from goats in their usual unbrotherly way, were so irreligiously dedicated to frustrating Christ's end, it would obviously have to come by other means. And other messiahs.
Of such was the kingdom of Marx & Lenin, I discovered in college. But I gave communism little more than a yearning, Utopian glance, no help needed from Joltin' Joe McCarthy, the latest playground bully, to see that alternative as little more than wishful thinking. Besides, like a true democrat I did not trust any benevolent dictators that weren't myself.
With communism and "Crosstianity" thus dismissed, into the vacuum of my despair rushed Secular Humanism of the liberal democratic and Enlightenment sort, where I found Jesus and his Universalist message right at home. The essence of Secular Humanism was, in fact, summed up best by Jesus: "The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath."
It was clear now that only "Secular Humanism" (to which I was officially introduced as a freshman in college by a sardonic, wheelchair-bound History professor) was serious about Jesus' Universalism; the established religions preached it but would never practice it. To me, Secular Humanism was simply Christianity without everything that discredited it--the liturgical juju, the dubious dogma, bible fiction passed off as history, the corruption, hypocrisy, and tyranny of the churches, the sexual hangups of pious prudes, and so on, but, most especially, without the coerced trading of moral and spiritual freedom in the here-and-now for a bogus salvation in the afterlife. I now thought people who believed in personal immortality were supreme egotists for assuming the universe had been specially arranged for their perpetuance. They had let their fear of death overcome them.
Religion was the opiate of the people, as Marx had said, but I luckily saw that communism was just another opiate. Secular Humanism, critical and debunking, was the means to get them both off dope. This Greek humanism (as I came to know it) needed only to be leavened by compassionate, sermon-on-the-mount Jewish humanism to make the perfect program for global reconciliation. We would arrive at global brotherhood by sensible, determined extensions of America's liberal, secular democracy (as exemplified by the UN), after it itself had been reformed and purified to its noblest, most Christlike essence. I could see many years of my life devoted to that reform, but I imagined I was eventually headed for the United Nations, where I would be among kindred spirits leading the coming internationalization of the American dream into a New World Order. Clearly, it was a Fifties dream, when the United Nations still looked like it might amount to something.
But kindred spirits were hard to come by outside of dreams. Oh, so hard.
One day, in college, out of some starvation of the soul, I suppose, I shared much of my messiah dream with what I imagined to be the most kindred of kindred spirits. This was a mistake because the kindred spirit secretly had messianic aspirations of his own and thus merely twisted my dream to serve himself. Nothing to worry about if the dream twister has little or no power to harm, as happens in most cases. But in my case the dream twister appears to have unusual powers, powers that threaten thee and me, it seems.
This, then, is the tale of how I tried, Jonah-like, to avoid the role of messiah by sublimating it in brotherliness and thereby met the twister of my Jesus dream and of my "mission to the Jews." Twister extraordinaire, you wouldn't believe! You see, the terrorist weapons gone off in our world in the last thirty years are just the twister's opening salvo of a murderous crescendoing that is meant to end in a cataclysm called "The Final Solution" and which the twister sees as the true "Gospel According to Jesus." Jesus did not come to calm troubled waters, the twister thinks, he came to rile them up with the Mother of All Storms at the End of Days, so that the damned will sink and the saved will rise. The twister means to force this view of things upon the entire, crippled world in an Apocalypse Now!
Billy Diago all over again and writ large. Again, it's me against the bully.
Only I gave him the idea! And this is a Billy bully I once loved. Who still sings the siren song of the kindred spirit, of the Jedi Knights of Jesus and all those who cannot live without religion.
God, I hate religion!