Monday, November 14, 2011

Propitiating the Volcano

On page 144 of Stephen King’s Needful Things, there is the following passage about Pete Jerzyck’s thoughts about his cantankerous wife, Wilma:

“He did not just live in fear of her; he lived in awe of her, as natives in certain tropical climes once supposedly lived in awe and superstitious dread of the Great God Thunder Mountain, which might brood silently over their sunny lives for years or even generations before suddenly exploding in a murderous tirade of burning lava. Such natives, whether real of hypothetical, undoubtedly had their own rituals of propitiation. These may not have helped much when the mountain awoke and cast its bolts of thunders and rivers of fire at their villages, but they surely improved everyone’s peace of mind when the mountain was quiet. Pete Jerzyck had no high rituals with which he could worship Wilma; it seemed that more prosaic measures would have to serve. Prescription drugs instead of Communion wafers, for instance.” That means that Pete put anti-depressant pills in Wilma’s coffee or tea to calm her down.

This passage about religion reminds me of what Job did in Job 1: Every day, he offered sacrifices on his sons’ behalf because he feared that they might have cursed God in their hearts, and Job sought to appease God for them, perhaps so that God would not punish them. This was before Job experienced his calamity. He was offering these sacrifices when things were going well for him and his family. He may have felt that he was keeping things as they were—-that he was covering his bases with God so that his peace and prosperity and that of his family might continue. The ritual of offering sacrifices probably gave him a peace of mind, even though I suppose one could argue that the very fact that he was making them in the first place indicated that he did not have perfect peace, for he saw God as one who would strike his loved ones dead for cursing God in their hearts.

What is interesting about the Needful Things passage is that it is acknowledged that the rituals did not prevent the eruption of the Great God Thunder Mountain, but that the rituals were a way for the natives to channel their fear when things were going well—-so that they could feel that they were at least doing their part to keep themselves safe, whatever the god ultimately decided. Otherwise, they’d be terrified on a continual basis. I can sympathize with that use of ritual—-an attempt to control the uncontrollable. And I’d be lying if I were to deny that such a mindset is somewhere in my own religious beliefs. But what I try to hold onto is that God loves me and my loved ones, whatever may happen to us, and that this present life is not all that there is.

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