by A Lump of Clay
A funny thing happened the other day. I was at the mamak stall having a relaxing chat with some friends. I needed that before going on the compulsory annual stress-test called Christmas shopping. As usual, (when I am lured into a conversation and teh-tarik lebih manis is within reach), the topic veered, like a car badly in need of alignment, towards the subject of the Supreme Being. As the banter rolled across the various definitions, forms and formulae of the various entities that are touted to be “god”, it eventually morphed into the inevitable “feverish debate” stage. Maybe it was the bout of sneezing I was having lately, but I stupidly blurted out the inevitable oil-on-the-fire:
“But there is only One True God – Our Father - the Great I AM - …….”
There was a clap of thunder and the sky suddenly opened up above the zinc roof of the mamak stall. And these words bounced against my eardrums:
What th…..!! Must be the sugar boost kicking in. Waving away the sulphur fumes, I turned my attention to the gaping hole above me. There sitting on the roof, framed against the glare of the eleven o’clock sun, was the Thing-with-the-tail again, horns and all, a glass of limau ais in one hand and tapping out a message on the i-phone with the other.
“There are many gods, you dimwit! You still harping on that ignorant ancient Jewish fairy tale that ‘…the LORD our GOD is ONE…’? I thought my co-brother from Nicea already debunked that centuries ago! Sheesh! Get with it, man. This is the age of the GPS. Look! Recognize this guy?”
I glanced at it’s i-phone and immediately recognized the familiar silvery locks on the skinny figure sipping tea on the little screen. Wow! That’s some medium-earth orbit miracle! I stared in wonder at the amazing i-phone as the Thing-with-the-tail went on a rapid-fire tirade against my obsession with the One True God. Handing me a large tissue, it continued.
“Here, you drippy-nosed sod, take this and let me enlighten you on how multi-divine, multiple-choice and all-inclusive the celestial deities really are.”
The Thing-with-the-tail pulled long at its limau ais and began an interesting expose as I scribbled on the tissue as fast as I could.
“First off, there’s the Absent god. He randomly threw a few chemicals into a big cosmic soup-pot, and then took off. Millions (or zillions) of years later, he returned to check his handiwork and voila, here you guys were - wearing Armani and lording it over the earth (after passing through some hairy stages of course). Observing that you have evolved to such an advanced stage on your own, the Absent god took off again and has not been heard of since. The vast majority of the scientific community (those brilliant chaps who can come up with solutions to all your earthly needs– from paper clips to i-pads) are die-hard devotees of the Absent god. See how they have endeavored to cook up convenient reasons for your three-score and ten years on terra firma, i.e. primarily to ensure the survival of your species.”
“Survival? And then what?” I asked. “End up in the great cosmic recycle bin? Shucks, nothing more to life other than this pot-to-bin cycle under the Absent god, is there? No thanks!”
“Well then, there is the Stressed-out god who painstakingly put together a beautiful landscape of earth, sea and sky and populated it with all manner of plant and animal life.”
“That sounds more like it.”
“Then he decided to put you people in it. But instead of taking off like the Absent god, the Stressed-out god sat around biting his nails, worrying what would happen next. Well, what COULD happen? People being people, things started to go wrong. Rules got thrown out the window and you guys practically ran amuck. The Stressed-out god was soon running around in circles trying to solve problem after problem. Conflicting prayer requests by various groups didn’t make things any easier for him either. And with billions of you folk whizzing around the earth, it was just a matter of time before things really got out of hand. (It can get QUITE stressful, you know. Just ask the bug-eyed air-traffic controller who was on duty during the 9-11 raid by my co-brother from Afghanistan). So while the Stressed-out god de-stresses at the celestial spa, it’s every man for himself. Until he is fully recuperated, just head on down to Kuala Lumpur’s Masjid India - I have despatched a whole bundle of good luck charms, fengshui and a friendly witch-doctor who will analyze your signature to help set you straight.”
I shook my head and the Thing-with-the tail went on.
“Or you could try the LLB god – who apparently has learnt a thing or two from the Stressed-out god. This god operates strictly on a ‘no-ask-no-get’ policy. Devotees are required to state their needs loudly, clearly and specifically – preferably in writing. And I mean SPECIFICALLY because he obliges meticulously - to the letter. He really does exist, you know? There is this story of this chap who was about to be financially ruined by his expensive dentist. So he prayed to the LLB god for a perfect set of teeth. There was a knock at the door and the postman delivered a package. In it was – TA DAAA! - a gleaming set of perfectly formed goat’s teeth, courtesy of the neighbourhood wet market. Hwa hwa hwa…..”
I couldn’t catch the rest of the story over the cackling guffaws of the Thing-with-the-tail. But I got the point; you gotta be REALLY specific with the LLB god.
Taking another sip of limau ais, the Thing-with-the-tail continued.
“Heard of the Inertia god? - remains perfectly still in the serenity of his celestial divinity. However, he is known to respond if persistently badgered non-stop (preferably by relay teams throughout the night during public holidays). Starvation and self-mutilation also is guaranteed to grab his attention.”
Seeing my incredulous look, the Thing-with-the-tail leaned closer.
“Intercession via large multinational organizations (with robust PR departments headed by halo-ed mediators) also seem to carry weight with the Inertia god.”
“Yeah, yeah, I’ve seen the glossy testimonials in their equally-glossy bulletins. Doesn’t sound very appealing, if that’s what it takes to make him move…..”
“You think THAT’S unappealing? Do you have any idea how many people worship the Sleeping god who will only wake up if shouted to at window-rattling decibels, preferably with the aid of a powerful PA system?”
“Oh him I’ve heard alright. But he has not been heard of since he soundly slept through full-throated appeals to send fire down from heaven to prove some point or other, right?”
The-thing-with-the-tail shifted uneasily in the chair.
“Ok what about the Money god then - a.k.a Mammon. By far the most powerful god yet. Nothing this side of paradise moves without his say-so. Foremost on just about everyone’s mind. Has the divine ability to incarnate himself into various forms of paper, metal and polymer and can even whizz across vast oceans at the click of a button.”
“Unfortunately the Money god has created huge problems for many devotees because of his reluctance to stay in one place for a decent period of time.” I couldn’t help chuckling. “But you are correct though. The Money god has got most people terminally hooked, till death do them part.”
Refreshed by my concurrence, the Thing-with-the-tail puffed itself up.
“All hail the Cowering god for he is the one that really sees you fleshly mortals in the correct glorious perspective. Quite a popular god, for having raised you humans up onto such a high pedestal. No need for the humiliation of being mere ‘creatures’ or potter’s ‘clay’ or ‘filthy rags’. No way Jose! You can stand toe-to-toe with the Cowering god and throw really hard questions at him without any fear of being instantly zapped by thunderbolts. Real tough ones like,
‘Why do you allow so much evil and suffering in the world?’
‘How could you condone slavery?’
‘Why the tsunami?’
‘How could you wipe out innocent children and cute puppies?’
‘Why can’t you get rid of this AIDS nuisance?’
‘Why can’t I ever find a parking spot close by?’
‘Why can’t Arsenal take the Cup for once?’
‘Why don’t you go sort out all the above and leave me alone?’”
The Thing-with-the-tail punctuated each question with loud thumps on the table, and I stared straight ahead, hoping nobody notices the racket.
“You mean we can fearlessly slam fists on the table while the Cowering god cowers and fumbles for an answer?”
“Sure! And you know why? You see, the thing that makes the Cowering god cower helplessly is, he NEVER EVER interferes with his devotees’ free-will!”
Not wanting to create a scene, I thought I should play along, and I smiled, “Man, that’s so cool! I mean, just imagine! Mere everyday Joe’s like me can actually choose to throw a spanner into god’s grand celestial schemes! And he can’t do a darn thing about it, because he has granted us “free-will”? Yo man! Like a veto power over god. That’s a god to beat all gods for sure, I say.”
“Wait, there are more. Like the greatest discovery of 21st century seekers - the much talked-about Anything-goes god who pays absolutely no attention to your lifestyle, (as long as everything is done with lorry-loads of love). With just one T-shaped trinket and a ritual sprinkling of cold water when you were just a saliva-dribbling baby, he has officially banished all need for repentance.. In fact, the Anything-goes god has officially revoked all absolute moral laws, guilt and fear of the wages of sin, which everybody agrees is really progressive, in keeping with the times.”
“Yeah, like when pretty things wink at you from under little red bulbs in sleazy backlanes, and here we are keeping away, weighed down by guilt and moral absolutes right? No wonder we have been recently assured by the church that,
and all and sundry were exhorted to
“And oh, here’s one specially for you – the Music god – irreverently referred to as “The Punk” by conservative worshippers (tut tut). He is actually a triune god made up of the String-god, the Skin-god and the less visible Air-god, presiding over the guitars, drums and horns respectively. The Music-god is so into music that you can get away with sheer blasphemy in the lyrics, so long as the music and the rhythm rule. He doesn’t even mind mucky presentations; only the emotion-moving music and hand-waving, body-shaking rhythm matters. And the louder the better! Widely worshipped by musical wannabes (and their fans). In fact the 3-in-1 Music-god empowers his worship leaders with such charismatic powers, entire crowds of devotees willingly follow every instruction – “stand up, clap, smile, raise your hands, repeat the chorus….” etc, - without the need of a whip! Music Rules Okaaaaaay yeaaaaaaaaah ooooooooooh……!”
I raised my hand to stop its soprano. It sounded good, but a bit hard on my ageing ears.
“You will surely love the next one, you being non-confrontational and all – the No-offense god ha ha ha ha ……….”
For some reason, this seemed to really crack up the Thing-with-the-tail.
“Truly the most polite god to deal with. Will never utter a single word of rebuke to anyone, even if their eternal lives depended on it. A close cousin of the Cowering god, the No-offense god is meticulously careful not to upset his devotees. So, your routine nonchalant shenanigans (even if it amounts to openly mocking his name) will never invite a harsh warning. All are required to greet even blasphemy with a cordial handshake, close an eye to obvious transgressions and never EVER sound judgmental. Even the priests carefully avoid raising controversial subjects (like, sin, judgment, hell etc) out of respect for the devotees’ wide-ranging world-views.”
“Hmmm! So with no one rubbing you the wrong way, life with the No-offense god must be really smoooooooth – like traveling on the North-South highway on our brake-less express buses at 160km/h in a tropical thunderstorm at 3am. I’ll skip this one.”
“Suit yourself. Look behind me - in the corner.”
Peering at the musty wall, I could only see what looked like an old 40kg sack of capatti flour in the dark corner.
“That’s the old Corner god. You people only discovered him following Edison’s invention of the electric light bulb. Perfect for the convenience of the fast-paced 21st century devotee.”
“But why is he in that dirty dark corner?”
“Shhhh….! Sometimes mistaken for the Shy god, the Corner god is most happy to be relegated to a quiet, undisturbed corner of your life, where, away from public scrutiny, he is dutifully worshipped on prescribed days and times. Hand-me-down rituals and elaborate festivals all unmistakably point to his existence, because outside of these defined occasions, devotees are free to behave as they see fit, therefore causing many casual observers to mistake them for devotees of any other god. My master – The-one with-a-pitchfork - highly recommends the Corner god to all who wish to avoid discussing god in public.”
“Damn, that counts him out for me” I said, disappointed.
“I know you won’t care for the next one, but like you, I like a comedy break now and then, especially now. So here he comes – the Fall-down god.”
There was a loud ‘thump’ behind me. I turned to see the chubby waiter doing the split on the dirty floor. The Thing-with-the-tail cackled loud and long. Life must be a bore on the other side of the furnace without the Tom and Jerry channel.
“Ooooooh my, that was a good one. Devotees who come to worship this god feel somehow compelled by some strange force to just go into a fit of jerking, shaking and trembling before collapsing to the floor in a heap. Not to worry, able-bodied assistants (who have acquired immunity to these muscular fits) are assigned in advance by the Fall-down god, to be at hand to ensure that you don’t hit the floor too hard.”
“Funny, the only jerking and falling that I came across in the old Scripture, used to happen BEFORE being touched by God. Must be some sort of recently discovered cosmic technological upgrade,” I mused.
“Sheesh! You are one wet-blanket bugger. A real party-pooper. No wonder nobody wants to down a pint with you. Okay, back to business. Would you like a Pet god?”
"You mean, pet dog? Nah, I prefer fighting fish – no need to take them out for walks.”
“I said Pet god.”
Not sure whether it was the teh tarik lebih manis or not, but scenes of glowing beings on a leash suddenly crossed my mind, triggering another bout of allergic sneezing.
“No, you sneezy goose. The Pet god is a source of constant comfort for all ages, no matter what the circumstance. He doesn’t demand your sacrifice to be unblemished. In fact, he doesn’t demand ANY sacrifice on your part at all. The Pet god is so obliging, that everyday, devotees can keep asking for “ oru arputham nanggal kaana cheiyume……..” (let us see a miracle) every week."
“Like kids at the party asking the clown to show them ‘one more trick…. one more trick!’ Oh I’ve heard of him. It is rumoured that the Pet god could actually be female too, as devotees call out “chellamay”(darling) and “ammavum neeray…”(you are mother) etc without the least bit of embarrassment. Not for macho me though, no thanks.”
“Ok, you can’t run away from this one – ho ho ho! The ever cute Baby god who manifests himself only during the 12th month of the Gregorian calendar. No surprise that he is also adored by the devotees of the Pet god. During this very special month, devotees joyously celebrate this cute and cuddly Baby god, showering him with such Tamil Nadu endearments as “Thevan kulandai aanaar” (god became a baby), “Iraivan pirantha naal” (the day god was born) and similar cute lullabies. Your leaders even screen video clips proclaiming that the Pet god is here, wearing baby clothes and saying nothing more than ‘ga-ga’. So cute! ‘Tis the season for fat men (and slim girls) to masquerade in red suits, growing trees with electric lights in the living room, new clothes, fresh curtains, food galore and oooooh lots of presents……….”
“YIKES! I just remembered, I have a list of things to do and all those items are right there at the top. The missus will kill me if I don’t get it done in time. Gotta go now. Phew! All this hassle for this once-a-year Baby god? Wish he would grow up!”
“And spoil all the fun in the snow? Ha ha ha…….! Wait, don’t you want to know about the Triangle god, the Beggar god, the Magic god, the Laughing god……?”
I quickly finished my teh tarik lebih manis.
“Sure, sure. Another day. Gotta go…. the missus….”
Leaning towards me, The Thing-with-the-tail hissed, “You see? Now you know. There are many, MANY gods. Deal with it!”
and swooshed away skywards, cackling like crazy.
and swooshed away skywards, cackling like crazy.
“Well? What’s your answer, man?”
“Which scripture are you referring to?”
“Who says there is only One True God?”
“Cat got your tongue, huh?”
My friends’ sharp jibes brought me back to reality. The roof was still intact, but my tissue was fully scribbled. Yup, I had to admit, that Puddytat-with-the-tail really did got my tongue.
Back home, I went through what I had scribbled. The list went on and on, covering strange gods with even stranger names, some which defy all logical understanding …… but I’ll leave all of that for another day. I have to admit, the many gods (according to the Thing-with-a-tail), were quite familiar. Somewhere between hearty amusement and righteous indignation, it dawned on me that what we were taught in Sunday School doesn’t seem to have had a very lasting impression on many of my mates - one of the hazards of life in this luxurious, disaster-free land of plenty, I suppose. Is it really possible that there really are that many gods out there? None seemed to bear any resemblance to the Only True Sovereign God whom my Saviour and mediator prayed to. But something about this mamak-stall “revelation” was grating like new chalk on the board against something deep within me. I knew without a doubt, the old Scriptural foundation on which I was raised by my not-easily-shaken-in-the-wind father, God bless his soul, was raising the alarm.
That night, during our nightly ritual of spending a humbling moment before the Only True God as a family, my son read out loud from my favourite ancient Jewish Scripture. And the following verse rang out crystal clear:
“You O LORD are the MOST HIGH over all the earth; YOU are exalted FAR above ALL gods.” - Psalms 97:9
These words immediately recalled to remembrance the re-assuring words of an ancient Jew:
“(… indeed there are many gods and many lords), yet for us there is only ONE GOD – the Father - from whom ALL things came and for whom we live, and there is only ONE Lord – Jesus, God’s Anointed One - through whom ALL things came and through whom we live.” - I Corinthians 8:5-6
This must be surely be an unmistakable pointer to the ancient law set in stone by the Only True God Himself,
“Thou shall have no other gods before Me.” – Exodus 20:3
There! That sure cleared things up real quick. The foundation of my faith was still intact, unshaken by the scribblings in the snotty tissue. I went to bed reaffirming my TOTAL conviction in the comforting prayer of another ancient Jew:
“THIS is eternal life: that they may know You – the Only True GOD – and Jesus – the Anointed One whom You have sent.”- John 17:3