J. Robert King

Steak or Savior

Tonight, I walked past our nameless beta fish. We inherited him from a preschool classroom where my wife works, and we feed him when we remember.

That’s why this beta has learned to dance.

The beta saw a human-sized person moving obliviously past his bowl, and he danced.

I saw the dance and said, “Has anyone fed the beta?”

“Not in a while,” said my wife.

I pressed a few pebbles of fish food to my index finger and rolled them free above the hole, where the beta fish gulped, receiving them gratefully. “He’s looking at me like I’m  his savior.”

“Or his steak,” said my thirteen-year-old son.

That took me back. My freshman year at Valpo, Ted Ludwig, Ph.D., said that people tended to worship their source of sustenance. Agricultural people tended to have fertility goddesses. Those who lived in city-states tended to have war gods.

The people of the plains worshiped the Great Buffalo.

And why not? As Freud said, we have two fundamental impulses: sex (life) and death (death). To a starving person, there’s nothing as sexy as food (cue the TGI Fridays commercial).

Of course my beta has learned to dance when oblivious humans waltz past. Of course the fish has learned that by dancing this way, he gets fed.

So. here’s the thing: If every other evolutionary adaptation of humanity can be explained because it increases our likelihood of surviving, then why would religion somehow be the opposite?

If religion were a maladaptation, it should have been extincted over the hundred thousand years of our existence. The fact is, it has only grown stronger.

The fish who dances gets fed. The fish who take no notice of the world of hypothetical “air” beyond its hypothetical “bowl” dies of starvation.

So, am I saying that God is a distracted owner who doesn’t feed us unless we dance? Maybe. After all, I do want that fish to live. I would be grieved if it dies. But I’m also trying to raise three sons, be a good husband, work a fulltime job, and write three novels. The fish isn’t the first thing on my mind.

Now imagine if I were working on dark matter and cold fusion and the Big Crunch and the Big Rip. Being God, I would not have much time to care whether Rob King got enough sleep last night. I need some reminders.

It helps when the fish dances. It helps me remember to do for him what I want to do for him.

So, am I a savior or a steak?

I’m both.

And God can be both for me, as well–source of life and source of sustenance, the distracted being trying to keep it all going, keep it all in balance, who sometimes forgets to pay attention unless I dance.

And those who have seen me dance know that God is infinitely merciful.

May 4th, 2009
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