Short Fiction: Religion comes naturally as a worldview to some, not for others.
07 February 2012
(First Draft- Rev 1: one word change, one word deletion 02/12/2012)
The Drafters Tale
She will pray for him, she said. That summed up the conclusion of all their arguments since she found Jesus six months earlier. Her newly discovered interest was no passing phase, like the time she developed a passion for classical literature, or that two-year involvement in celebrity worship and the following stint in political activism with the Tea Party. She had not even in the heat of her passion for those commitments, displayed the depth of certainty that she now possessed for the Seventh Avenue Gospel Mission Church. The pastor there, Brother Marcus Lowell, told Randolph’s wife that her husband would suffer everlasting flames unless he received Jesus’ blessing through the Gospel Mission Church. She made it her mission to bring him into the fold.
Randolph tolerated her daily rituals of piety, the framed images of a sad-eyed hippy gazing eternally upward, and the ubiquitous crucifixes hung in every room—even the bathroom. He came to enjoy her four times weekly attendance at church functions; hours he did not have to listen to her word-for-word replay of Brother Lowell’s sermons or her bible readings designed to reveal to him the plight of his lost soul.
He made a fair living as a drafter for an architectural firm downtown, and the couple lived in relative comfort. He did not profess a religious affiliation, but he offered daily thanks to a benevolent universe for his good fortune when he read in the internet news of starving children, massacres in developing countries, and tyrannical dictators in the eastern world. Education, he believed, paved the way to happiness. He gave to charities dedicated to scholarships and to the enlightenment of the unfortunate. His training in architecture instilled in him a deep appreciation of beauty in the arts and sciences. He had lived within his means and saved enough to send his only son to college on his nickel. Anyone who discussed Randolph inevitably used the phrase, “a good man.”
When Beth’s religiosity seemed no longer a passing fancy, Randolph went to his brother—Charles—a psychologist who had put himself through school by means of a G.I. bill and a supportive wife.
“I’ll talk to you as a brother and not as a counselor,” his brother said. “I think that there exists a God gene. Some people seem born with a proclivity to religion, while others must be socialized or indoctrinated into it. And then, there are those, like us, who no amount of training or peer pressure can make sense of it. We just don’t have the gene for it.”
Randolph began to avoid his wife and her unending sermonizing. She had begun to speak in a new language—Christianese, he called it. She spoke in lofty terms like, “Let us pray unto our Lord for guidance,” and “Through Jesus you will know truth.” At times, he felt he hated her, and above all, he hated Brother Marcus Lowell, who he had never met.
One chilly October afternoon, alarm spread through the office. The stock market had crashed. He pulled up his 401(k) on the computer: his life savings had fallen by half. One hundred thousand dollars had disappeared to pay exorbitant bonuses to industry executives who had displayed unprecedented incompetence in the handling of their companies’ finances. By the end of the week, he found that the value of his home had also fallen to half its value. Over the next four months, his fortunes continued to evaporate, and early in February, he suffered the loss of his job in a massive downsizing of the firm to which he had given twelve years. The initial feeling of stomach-churning, heart-stopping free fall through empty space went on, unabated for twelve months. He instructed his wife to limit her tithing…to give the church more time and less money. He wrote to his son that, until things improved, he must limit his support for the son’s education. “Look for a part-time job,” he advised. Every day, he fretted over bills and every week, he found new ways to cut expenses. For a full year, his funds dwindled as bankers demanded ever-larger compensation for their miserable performance. Each month, his funds grew smaller. His unemployment benefits expired. Politicians campaigned on a promise of ending his medical and social security benefits. For the first time in his life, he looked into the future and saw abject poverty, homelessness, and rejection by his country, his profession, and his wife.
He instructed her on ever-increasing austerity measures designed to forestall the day of reckoning. “You’ll have to cut your church contributions to five dollars a week,” he said.
“There is no need for that,” she answered. “The Lord will find a way.”
“Damn your lord!” he shouted, slamming his hand on the table. “I don’t believe in that crap.”
“That’s alright, He believes in you. But I don’t. I want a divorce,” she said through clenched teeth.
Randolph again felt the world slip off its foundations. He had expected anything but this. His wife’s meager income was all they had. A divorce meant dumping the house on the market at less than half its value. It meant splitting a decimated nest egg, doubling their cost of living, the loss of their son’s education. It meant the finality of a once comfortable middle-class life.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I’m under a lot of pressure, and I snapped. I’m sorry.”
“I won’t file for divorce if you will go to church with me. Every Sunday.”
“No. I can’t do that. You know I don’t believe in that stuff.
“I’ll call a lawyer tomorrow.” She stood as if to leave the room.
“Okay, okay. I’ll go to church.”
She turned and threw her arms around him. “Thank you, Honey. You won’t regret it.”
Months later, Randolph marched down the aisle of the church with his wife, toward the baptismal font. She beamed like a new bride. Ahead of them, The Reverend Marcus Lowell grinned from the pulpit. Randolph could not meet the eye of the man he detested most. He fixed instead on the painted plaster statue of Christ that loomed over and behind the preacher. He prayed for the first time in his life; he prayed with a passion he didn’t know he possessed. He prayed that Jesus would find a way for him out of this mess.