Bad Theology

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Biff and Paul Get Acquainted

One day, I loaned a suit to my cousin.

My new cousin Paul had come into my Santa room. All the bubble lights percolated cheerily, the reindeer and an elf glowed with interior lights, and Paul's eyes kept darting around, trying to take it all in. Santa stood and waved his friendly wave, like always; his gears whirred, like always.

"Tell me about yourself, Paul," I said.

"Well, I'm just a little older than you, by about a year and half or so; my sister Callista, she was the one that got killed ... can I touch Santa?"


Paul walked over and put his hand on Santa's shoulder. "Wow, you can feel the vibration of the motor."

Suddenly I thought to myself, "That looks like fun." I put my hand next to Paul's. We grinned at each other. Then I remembered.

"I'm sorry your sister got killed."

Paul took his hand away. "Yeah, thanks." He looked down. I looked at his shoe - the laces flopped over and lay on the floor. They had black dirt all over them.

"So I guess you are here for the funeral."

"Yeah, my rich uncle, I mean, your father, he's gonna have a big deal for her. Lots of flowers and stuff. I'm supposed to borrow a suit from you."

I nodded. "Okay. Let's go to my room." I went to the control panel I'd had built the summer before. I flipped a few switches and Santa stopped moving. The room went dark, except for one white light overhead. We walked out into the hall.

"Do you have any other neat stuff? My Dad said you had a lot of toys," Paul said.

"Well, I do have some things, but they're not toys, really."

"Like what?"

"Oh, a train, some guns, a horse." I opened the door to my room. "Here we are."

"Oh, man, a train?"

"Yes. Oh, and you can see the color TV in the corner."

"All this is yours?"

"Yes." I'd never realized my room was anything special. I suppose I took for granted the sitting area with the chairs and TV; the large bathroom, and the combined closet and dressing room. I took Paul to the dressing room and picked out a black suit. He tried it on.

"Perfect fit," he said. I thought the sleeves and pant legs little short, but said nothing. Suddenly, I thought of something.

"Let's go show my father."

"OK," Paul said. We left my room to look for them downstairs.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Biff Meets A Cousin

One day, an older boy wandered into Santa's room.

I was sitting face to face with Santa, when I heard the door open.

"Wow" said a voice. I turned and looked.

The boy wore overalls, like a very young workman. Thick glasses sat on the bridge of his nose, and white socks peeked out above his old, dirty sneakers.

"Who are you?" I asked.

"Paul," he said. "My name is Paul. You must be Biff."

"What are you doing in my room, Paul?"

"Your stepmom told me I'd find you up here." He pointed at himself with his thumb, "I'm your cousin."

At this I stood up. I went over and shook his hand. "Pleased to meet you," I said. I kept my voice calm, just like Daddy would have, and hoped he didn't notice the slight quiver in my voice.

"This is, like, the coolest place I've ever been. Is all this stuff yours? Where'd you get the Santa? Can you play with this stuff?" Paul took a breath.

"Yes," I said, "Everything in this room belongs to me."

"Wow," Paul repeated. "It's sure great to be rich."

"Yes, it sure is." I could not help bouncing up and down on my toes. "It sure is."

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Biff's Cousin is Murdered

One day, I found out I had a cousin.

I was riding on my train when George came running up, all out of breath.

"Biff, your Daddy got a telegram." George had to trot to keep up with the locomotive. "He wants to see you in the parlor."

I kept going.

George stopped. "You'd better hurry," he called out.

I set the brake and turned the throttle down to idle. "George, would you mind taking the engine back to the machine shed?"

He nodded. "No problem," he said.

Daddy wore a serious expression; not worry, because Daddy didn't ever worry about anything. Sad, he looked sad. He motioned for me to sit down next to him. He looked me in the eyes. I got that queasy feeling in my stomach.

"Biff, you have..." he paused. "You had a cousin named Callista. She was murdered."

I looked away.

"I needed to tell you this before you hear it at school. I'm taking you to the funeral, which will be in about 10 days."

"Okay, Daddy." I didn't know what else to say.

"Your cousin's father is my brother. He's never amounted to anything much. But since she was my niece, and the papers will be sending reporters, we are paying for a nice service for her."

Now he looked away. "They caught the sick bastard who killed her. He tied her up, raped her, and then cut crosses in her flesh. She bled to death. She was only eleven. I would be very surprised if that filth lives long enough to get a trial."

Neither one of us said anything for a minute.

"Daddy, do the crosses mean the sick bastard is a Christian?"

"I don't know. Maybe he thinks he is. God knows Christians have committed plenty of atrocities."

"What's that mean, Daddy?"

"You'll learn soon enough what kinds of people call themselves Christians. Run along now and play."

I walked away slowly. Did I have other cousins? Maybe kids my age? I didn't ask myself why Daddy never told me about my cousin.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

The Second Commandment Preached at Biff

One day, preacher man talked about the second commandment.

I guess I said amendment when I wrote about the first one. Wrong word, that.

Preacher man told us these are God's orders to humans.

He says we're not supposed to make a graven image of anything. I tried to figure out what that means. I thought from the way he talked, it meant like a picture; but there's a big picture of Jesus in the church, so that can't be right.

Maybe it means like a picture or carving of a bird or fish or something, but that can't be right either. There's a big fish on the sign outside of church.

I wondered if my mechanical Santa would be an idol. Probably so. Good thing I don't take this churchy stuff seriously.

But preacher man made it pretty clear that it was really bad, because not only would the sinner who did this (whatever it was) get punished, so would his kids, grandkids and great-grandkids. That doesn't seem fair to me, to get punished when you can't even figure out what it is you're not supposed to do. And its definitely not fair to the kids, who had no say over it; but this God and Jesus baloney doesn't have to make sense.

I just pretend to believe, like Daddy said.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

I Talk to Santa

One day, I spilled my guts to Santa.

I knew Santa only cares about if you're bad or good, and if you're good, he gives you stuff.

Santa can't make Crystal stop taking me to church. He can't fix the bad smell that comes out of Nanny Alice after dinner. And he can't do anything about that old windbag preacher man.

He just rewards being good with stuff.

But I felt so sad, and alone, I had to talk to somebody.

I went into Santa's room on the third floor. I turned on the bubble lights and plugged Santa in. He smiled and nodded and waved, just like he always does. The lights filled the room with a warm glow. Santa's elves and helpers were there, too. So was Rudolph and two other reindeer - I forget their names. They don't move, but they do light up when you plug them in.

I sat in front of Santa on my little mat, with my legs crossed. I chatted away. I told Santa all about Crystal, and how mean she had been to me. As I was talking, I realized Crystal wouldn't get anything good from Santa. In fact, she would get coal and ashes. I didn't know what that meant, exactly, but it sure didn't sound good.

I asked Santa for somebody to talk to. I wanted a real, live person, not just motorized plastic. I knew it was silly even as the words came out of my mouth, but I asked anyway. I figured if I asked and got nothing, so what? It's worth a try.

I Meet a Poor Man

One day, I met a guy who slept in the park.

Crystal decided to take me and Nanny Alice to the city. Crystal went shopping. Nanny and I went to the park.

As we strolled along, I noticed a man sleeping on a park bench.

"Why is that man sleeping there?" I asked Nanny Alice.

"Well," she said, "I suppose he has no place else to go."

"How is that? Did Daddy take away his house?"

"No, no, your father most likely had nothing to do with it. At least, I don't think so. That man must be a drunk."

When we got real close to the bench, the man sat up. "Lady, can you spare some change?" he asked. His suit was all dirty and torn.

Nanny Alice looked away, grabbed my hand, and sped up.

The man called out after us, "Jesus said, when your brother asks you for something, inquire not of his need, but give freely."

After we were well away, I asked Nanny Alice what the man meant.

"Well, Jesus did care about the poor," she said. "At least, I think so. And I think he did say we are supposed to help them. But Jesus said God helps them what helps themselves; and also, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer." She sounded sorry, "that man back there, he don't want to help himself. He wants your poor old Nanny to give him money, my money I work hard for."

She rambled on. I started stomping on the flowers and weeds that came up in the cracks in the sidewalk. She looked a little upset.

"If I give my money to that man, why, then I'd just encourage his lazy ways. I'd be no better than a communist." She paused. "You know, the Russians tried that, and it didn't work out for them." I thought maybe she was worried about the man on the bench.

"No," she said, "I'm pretty sure that when Jesus said we should look after the poor, he didn't mean we should just give them money, or just hand them the things they need. I'm pretty sure he meant something else. I just don't believe exactly in what Jesus said about the poor."

"I don't believe in Jesus either," I said.

That really made Nanny Alice mad. I think she would have hit me, if she thought she could get away with it. As it was, she chased me for half a block. I laughed at her. Later, in the car, she told Crystal what I said.

"We'll teach him better," said Crystal. "I'll see that he gets to church every Sunday from now on."

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Preached the First Amendment

One day, preacher man preached the first amendment.

He yelled and screamed a lot. He said we were all a bunch of sinners and were going to hell.

Crystal made us sit in the front row. I could see spit coming out of his mouth sometimes. I wondered what his problem was.

The loose flakes of floor crunched when I ground my heel on them. I pushed my foot down real hard and tried to smash the chunk under my foot.

"Be still," Crystal whispered to me.

Preacher man glared at us. "Thou shalt worship no God but the Lord God," he yelled. His voice sounded kind of raspy. "Worship of false idols is the sure path to hell." His voice dropped to a more conversational tone. "False idols are not just movie stars and political leaders," he said, "they can be anything that you substitute for the living God. Anything other than God that you worship. Anything other than God that you pray to. God hears your prayers, hears your requests, whether you ask him or pray to a false idol. "

I wondered if all the little kids asking Santa for stuff were going to hell.

Not likely.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Crystal Drags Me to Church

One day, Crystal decided I needed to go to church.

I told Crystal I did not, either, need to go to any stupid church. I already went once, and didn't like it.

Crystal said if I didn't go to church and get baptized and stuff, that my immortal soul would burn forever in a lake of fire. She said I needed to be saved.

I told her I didn't believe her. I didn't want to be saved, whatever that was. If what she said was true, everybody would go to church; but Daddy didn't go, and I wasn't going either. She could not make me.

Crystal go all red in the face. "We'll see about that," she said. She left. I went down to the billiard room to shoot some pool.

After a while, Daddy came in. "Son, I want you to do this for me."

"But I don't like church and I don't like Jesus either."

"Biff, this has nothing to do with what you like or not, or what you think of Jesus. Someday, you'll understand."

"Tell me now Daddy. I can't wait for someday."

"Okay." Daddy looked down at the green table. He fingered the cue ball for a second. "You keep what you really think to yourself. Don't give anything away. If people know what you really think, they can use it for their profit at your expense." He looked in my eyes. I always got nervous looking into his eyes. The blue part was like the highest part of the sky on a bright, cloudless day. When he looked into your eyes, you couldn't look away. No one else ever had eyes like Daddy.

"What's important is what people think you believe. You have to act like you think like them, even though you are much smarter and don't believe their silly ideas. But if you want them to buy from you, they have to think you believe the same way as they do."

I didn't see that at all. "So, it's like a trick you play on people?"

Daddy smiled and nodded. "Yes, that's about it. You have to go to church so you can act like you are like other people."

"But I don't have to be like them?"

"Just pretend. You'll understand when you are older."

"Well, I still don't like it. But I guess you are the boss." I hesitated. "Why don't you go?"

"I already paid for the church, and I'm the boss. Any other questions?"

"No sir." I knew I had to go. Daddy said I did, and no one ever didn't do what Daddy said. But I didn't have to like it. That darned Jesus sure stirred up a lot of trouble.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Santa Remembers My Train

One day, I got my train. This was before Crystal came to live with Daddy.

A few days before Christmas, Nanny Alice and George took me on a trip. We went to some beach where there were no other people. I didn't like it much. The water was cold, you couldn't see the bottom, and I was afraid of jellyfish.

But I liked walking along the beach. Nanny Alice and I went for long walks most every day. We talked about stuff. She was a big believer in Jesus, the Virgin Mary, Joseph, St. Francis, St. Elmo, Archangel Michael, Satan and other gods. She believed in one chief God who ruled over all the rest, but I couldn't figure out if that was Jesus or Jesus' Daddy. I guess it was the Daddy God.

She prayed a lot, usually to Virgin Mary, but also to the others, except for Satan.

I didn't like to say much. I liked to just listen. Her voice sounded nice, though sometimes hearing her would make me a little sad. I don't know why.

The night before Christmas, we drove home. It was dark when we got back. I went straight up to my bedroom on the second floor and turned in.

The next day, Christmas, I came downstairs and found a huge box beside the tree, too big to sit underneath it. I ripped open the wrapping, and there was the locomotive for my train! Thank you Santa! Thank you thank you!

Later that day, George, Daddy's driver and some men I didn't know carried the locomotive out to the lawn. Santa had put tracks down, so I could ride to the stables, the garage, the gardner's shed and everywhere on my new train. George showed me how to start the engine, where the gas was and the brakes. Although it was very cold, I rode around on my train for quite a little while.

Santa really came through for me. My doubts about him were all wrong; I should have known I could count on him.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Crystal Makes Me Sad

One day, Crystal made me sad.

I don't remember what she said or did. Maybe I didn't know then either.

All I knew was I wanted to cry.

Daddy always said never show any weakness. He always said real men were tough and strong. I knew Daddy would not want me to cry.

I decided to go visit my shrine to Santa.

I went in and turned the bubble lights on, but left the regular lights off. I turned Santa on. He nodded and waved at me, like always. He smiled, like always.

I lay down on the prayer mat. Somehow, I didn't feel any better.

No one was around, it was just me and Santa. I started crying. "Ok if I cry just a little," I thought, "and if no one knows but Santa." After a while, I fell asleep.

When I woke up, I felt a lot better.

I knew I could always count on Santa.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Biff Gets a New Mommy

One day, Daddy brought me a new Mommy.

I was sitting on my mat, in front of my mechanical Santa. He smiled and nodded; his glass eyes sparkled. His gears whirred.

I heard Daddy's footsteps coming down the hall. I thought it odd; he never came to the third floor.

The door opened. "Come on downstairs Biff," he said, " I want you to meet somebody."

The woman had yellow hair and very dark, black eyebrows. She looked a little like Nanny Camille. She held out her hand; I shook it. It was like holding a glass full of ice water that had been out for a while. I wiped my fingers on my shirt.

"This will be your new Mommy," said Daddy. "Her name is Crystal, but I want you to call her Mommy."

I said nothing.

"She will take care of you on nanny's day off," Daddy said.

"Oh, he's darling," said Crystal. "What a little gentleman!"

"Biff, say something to your new mommy," Daddy said.

I didn't know what to say.

"Biff," Daddy said.

I thought for a moment. "How much did you cost?" I asked.

I never saw a woman's face get so red before.

"Biff, you can go now," said Daddy.

I went back upstairs. I decided to tell Santa about my new mommy. But then I thought, he already knows. "Santa sees you when you're sleeping, he sees you when you're awake."

But I told him anyway.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Daddy is Strict

One day, a man came to see Daddy at the house. They went into the parlor to talk.

I was playing on the veranda, and heard them through the open windows.

"You've got to give a little," said the man.

"No," said Daddy, "I don't. It's my company, I founded it, and if these jokers don't like the pay they can quit."

"I'm telling you," said the man, "This strike will ruin the business. You'll lose millions."

"I don't care," said Daddy, "Nobody betrays me, crosses me and wins."

"The bank is not gonna like this," said the man, "they're not gonna like this at all."

"Screw the bank," said Daddy. "I don't forgive and I don't forget."

Later, the company filed for bankruptcy. The equipment was all auctioned off. Daddy went to the auction and bought the good parts for pennies on the dollar. He put them in a new company.

I guess Daddy was right. It pays to be strict.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Cult of Santaism Suffers Setback

One day, Santa let me down.

All I asked for was a train. You know, a small one to ride aound on. I could ride to the stables, the garden, up to the front gate, the shooting range, or anywhere.

Okay, I guess I asked for more than just a train. I guess I got most everything else I wanted. My new gun was pretty neat. It could fire almost three rounds a second.

I guess Santa can't always give us everthing we ask for. But he still gave me a whole lot of really neat stuff.

Beat that, Jesus!

Daddy Buys a Church

One day, Daddy bought a church.

Some men with big brown briefcases came to the house. Two of them wore nice suits and smoked stinky cigars. Daddy and the men sat in the parlor and talked for almost a whole hour. One of the men wore a black robe and funny white collar.

"Why are those men here?" I asked Nanny Alice. I think it was Alice. Lots of nannies came to see me as I grew up. It might have been Rachel.

"Your father is paying the debts of the old church. You know, the one down by the town square."
"Oh," I said.

"What a good man," said Nanny Alice, "And to think people say that --- your Daddy is doing a good deed." She nodded her head slowly. "God will certainly give him his reward."

Later, the church bought Daddy some cars, a beach house, and a boat. I guess God does reward good deeds.

Monday, April 10, 2006

How I started to Worship Santa

One day, when I was 7, I decided to worship Santa.

It was right after Christmas. I got lots of toys, my own black & white tv, a shotgun and a stud. I named the stud Hogan, after my favorite tv show.

Santa got me everything I asked for, and I didn't even have to pray. For my birthday, I prayed to that cheapskate Jesus, and I never got my dog or gun or pony or anything I asked for.

That Santa really delivered.

I made George take me to the department store. I bought a big mechanical Santa idol on clearance. George carried him up to the third floor and plugged him in. He had a cool motor and gears and stuff that made noise as he waved a friendly wave at me. He nodded his head. I could tell he liked me.

So I set up a shrine.

Over the course of the next year, I moved all of the furniture out. George helped me. Sometimes, George would look at me and just shake his head. I put in lesser dieties and helpers, like Santa's elves, Rudolph, the other reindeer. I had George string bubble lights all around the room.

I put a rug in front of Santa for a prayer mat.

At first, it felt kind of funny, praying to him.

But next Christmas, when I got a color tv, a motorcycle and a go-kart, I knew I was really on to something.

Try to beat that, Jesus!

God Helps Those who Help Themselves

One day, when I was five or six, it occurred to me my family is rich. I was riding in the car, on my way to school.

"George," I said to my driver, "Are we rich?"

"You are master Biff."

"How is that, George?"

"Your father is rich."

I pondered what that meant. After I got home from the academy that day, at dinner, I asked my father.

"Daddy, are we rich?"

"Yes," he said, "we have been very blessed. God helps those who help themselves."

"Why, Daddy?"

"Biff, I worked my butt off my whole life. I worked smarter and harder than anyone else, and that's how we got where we are today."

Later, I learned Daddy got his money from his father, who got his money from grandfather, who got it from the ancestor who's portrait hangs in the third floor hallway.

Ancestor is said to have used another man's patent. When the other man sued, after ancestor had made our fortune, ancestor settled out of court for a huge sum. In the report to stockholders, he said legal expenses are just part of the cost of doing business.

I guess they are.

And I guess God really does help those who help themselves.

Friday, April 07, 2006

The Power of Prayer

One day, I hired eleven women to pray for my father as he underwent surgery. They prayed for at least an hour each.

I gave them all $100.00.

Just to be safe, I made sure the company included a Jew, a Catholic, a Muslim, and Baptist. The Buddhists declined; I couldn't find a Hindu on such short notice. Also, I got a black and an Asian.

Daddy recovered quickly; he played golf just ten short days after they'd cracked his chest open like a lobster tail.

"Good" I thought. "Prayer really does work."