The Legends of the Fall author and poet on aging:
"Obviously I need courage to deal with my current dysfunctional body. And religion? The bible says that the kingdom of God is within you. If so, I haven’t noticed it lately. I’m not making light of devotion or a mother praying to bring her baby back to life after it’s been cut out of the stomach of an anaconda in Venezuela. Human suffering has to be the largest of all question marks. You must beware of hope, a radically dangerous emotion. Hope can roll over and crush you. I went to a dozen doctors last winter in Tucson for shingles relief and each time I had a wide-eyed Midwestern hope and faith that was promptly smeared. Hope is a bourgeois Tinker Bell toy that can transform into a guard dog of the most vicious nature. You raise your expectations then are gutted like a deer. However, if you need to say a little prayer, go ahead and moisten your lips for the deaf gods, although it’s like fly fishing in a sewer: 'Raise your chin, o son of man, your doom is around the next corner on the left.'"
PUBLISHED: Nov. 26, 2012
LENGTH: 9 minutes (2391 words)
Adapted from Witchel's forthcoming memoir All Gone
. A daughter adjusts after her mother develops stroke-related dementia:
"Mom faced me. 'I want you to kill me,' she said solemnly. For decades, she insisted that if she was mentally compromised in any way, her children were to pull the plug. But the situations we’d imagined never included her being compromised outside of a hospital, lasting years on end.
"'I can’t kill you,' I answered steadily. 'I have a husband and two stepsons and a mortgage. Someone will find out, and then I’ll have to go to prison.'
"She sighed, exasperated.
"'I know this issue has always been important to you,' I said. 'So if you feel strongly about it, I understand that. You can end your own life. There are plenty of places that can help you do that.'
"She was monumentally offended. 'Committing suicide is against the Jewish religion!' she declared.
"I was dumbfounded. 'So is committing murder! Did you ever think of that?'
PUBLISHED: Sept. 7, 2012
LENGTH: 14 minutes (3614 words)
Radio broadcaster Harold Camping predicted the world would end on May 21, 2011. It didn't. A look at what happened to some of Camping's followers:
"I was struck by how some believers edited the past in order to avoid acknowledging that they had been mistaken. The engineer in his mid-twenties, the one who told me this was a prophecy rather than a prediction, maintained that he had never claimed to be certain about May 21. When I read him the transcript of our previous interview, he seemed genuinely surprised that those words had come out of his mouth. It was as if we were discussing a dream he couldn’t quite remember.
Other believers had no trouble recalling what they now viewed as an enormous embarrassment. Once October came and went without incident, the father of three was finished. 'After October 22, I said "You know what? I think I was part of a cult,"' he told me. His main concern was how his sons, who were old enough to understand what was going on, would deal with everything: 'My wife and I joke that when my kids get older they’re going to say that we’re the crazy parents who believed the world was going to end.'"
PUBLISHED: May 18, 2012
LENGTH: 11 minutes (2809 words)
A history of sprawl and escape routes in a Central California town, from the perspective of one family searching for its own escape:
"As I started high school my mom became convinced my dad had ruined her life. They’d married quickly, and for superficial reasons. Two immigrants from the same country, raised in the manacles of an obscure religion, who both had a hunger to build a familial kingdom of their own. It could have been done with anyone. As my brother and I neared adulthood, the fervor of kingdom-building had subsided, and so too the optimistic glow it had brought. My parents had their dream careers, their dream family, and had just built their dream house. There was nothing more to want except each other. But they didn’t like each other."
PUBLISHED: May 18, 2012
LENGTH: 15 minutes (3850 words)
The early origins of separation of church and state in America. Williams was a Puritan minister, banished from Massachusetts, before creating the settlement Providence:
"He bought the land from the Narragansett Indians and wrote that 'having, of a sense of God’s merciful providence unto me in my distress, [I] called the place PROVIDENCE, I desired it might be for a shelter for persons distressed for conscience.'
"By 'conscience' he meant religion. His family and a dozen or so men with their families, many of them followers from Salem, joined him. Few as they were, Williams soon recognized the need for some form of government. The Narragansetts had sold the land solely to him, and in all English and colonial precedent those proprietary rights gave him political control over the settlement. Yet he drafted a political compact for Providence, and in it he demonstrated that his thinking had taken him into a new world indeed."
PUBLISHED: Jan. 10, 2012
LENGTH: 15 minutes (3939 words)
So you have to understand, when Robert Jeffress says things like “Mitt Romney is not a Christian,” or “Islam is a false religion based on the teachings of a false prophet,” or that Oprah Winfrey is “a tool of Satan,” he’s not just trying to say something bombastic because he likes the attention. He says it out of love. He truly believes the culture is in decline and that he is slowing the decay and that this could prevent you personally from spending forever with your flesh on fire.
It’s the reason Jeffress has his own radio show, his own television show, and why he’s about to publish his 18th book, Twilight’s Last Gleaming: How America’s Last Days Can Be Your Best Days. It’s the reason First Baptist Dallas recently decided to undertake one of the most expensive church construction projects in modern American history. At a cost of $128 million, the new campus will feature a glass skywalk, a giant cross-shaped fountain, and a sleek 3,000-seat sanctuary that will rival Madison Square Garden.
PUBLISHED: Dec. 21, 2011
LENGTH: 25 minutes (6432 words)
The dark force in Syria is not the Alawi religion. It’s not exactly the cult of Hafez Al Assad, either. Only the aged and the infirm refuse to acknowledge his death. But love for the sacred sanctuary he invented, the one protected by the blue-eyed family of pilots and horsemen, has not died. The dark force in Syria is excessive belief in this realm of unreality. All those people who served in its police force, killed on its behalf, and kept the silence while the killing was going on carry its banner. This species of belief is a non-denominational phenomenon. It is enforced by the Alawis but Sunnis—and Kurds and Christians—are most welcome. For the time being, it is holding fast.
PUBLISHED: Oct. 4, 2011
LENGTH: 22 minutes (5670 words)
These are theological questions without theological answers, and, if the atheist is not supposed to entertain them, then, for slightly different reasons, neither is the religious believer. Religion assumes that they are not valid questions because it has already answered them; atheism assumes that they are not valid questions because it cannot answer them. But as one gets older, and parents and peers begin to die, and the obituaries in the newspaper are no longer missives from a faraway place but local letters, and one’s own projects seem ever more pointless and ephemeral, such moments of terror and incomprehension seem more frequent and more piercing, and, I find, as likely to arise in the middle of the day as the night.
PUBLISHED: Aug. 15, 2011
LENGTH: 14 minutes (3706 words)
The stick would soon hold a videogame unlike any other ever created. It would exist on the memory stick and nowhere else. According to a set of rules defined by Jason Rohrer, only one person on earth could play the game at a time. The player would modify the game’s environment as they moved through it. Then, after the player died in the game, they would pass the memory stick to the next person, who would play in the digital terrain altered by their predecessor—and on and on for years, decades, generations, epochs. In Rohrer’s mind, his game would share many qualities with religion—a holy ark, a set of commandments, a sense of secrecy and mortality and mystical anticipation. This was the idea, anyway, before things started to get weird. Before Chain World, like religion itself, mutated out of control.
PUBLISHED: July 15, 2011
LENGTH: 14 minutes (3554 words)