The first time I saw Apocalypse Now was when it first came out, on big screen. I was somewhere around twelve years old, expecting a cool war movie—and why not? War seemed a whole hell of a lot more fun than those peace-loving sentiments associated with the incredible boredom of having to sit through Quaker meeting every Sunday...but wasn’t expecting to see that family get blown to pieces for a puppy, or the guy holding in his guts and begging for water, or the mother’s voice on the tape that kept playing, wishing for the safe return of the son lying dead, or the hanging bodies...the horror, the horror...and so, with the Reagan/Bush era that, thirty years later, we have yet to leave behind looming a mere year or two in the future, I felt my first glimmer of political consciousness...Charlie don’t surf to this day sounding like as good a three word summation of a half century's foreign policy as anyone’s likely to hear...as well as a good Clash song...though a decade later, already burned out as a left wing anti-war activist, and watching it again on VHS, smoke far less toxic than that from napalm filling the air, I thought whooooah...this shit’s trippy...particularly the opening sequence and ending, comprising what is without a doubt the coolest rock video ever....of our elaborate plans, the end, of everything that stands, the end, no safety or surprise, the end, I’ll never look into your eyes, again....but it was only in my thirties, in therapy, probing through the wreckage with an intensity equally exhilarating, liberating, and terrifying, that I could understand what authentically drunken Willard said in between Jim Morrison’s lines, beneath that Saigon ceiling fan...when I was here, I wanted to be there; when I was there, all I could think of was getting back into the jungle...wondering if perhaps the apocalypse—that ultimate battle between heaven and hell taken so literally by fundamentalists and conspiracy freaks, and so overmined for imagery by heavy metal groups and horror movie scriptwriters—might, in fact, be always here, and always now....
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
Q. How Can You Tell That Your God is Man-made?
A. If He Hates All the Same People You Do.
One evening on the Appalachian Trail, I wandered into a shelter some few miles south of Delaware Water Gap. Sitting there already were another thru-hiker and a skinny guy whose jeans and flannel shirt showed he clearly wasn’t one, holding up his watch and asking what we thought he might get for it at a pawn shop. We made some guesses, and he told us a story of middle class woe—how he lost his wife, and kids with her, along with a house and three or four failed businesses, leaving, it seemed, only his “God”—a woman, as it turned out, who lived at some kind of ashram somewhere in New York state. He was walking to her. “She sees everything,” he said, “she knows I’m here right now.” We started preparing our respective dinners, and he just sat there quietly, until I asked if he had any food. He said no. “You hungry?” “Yeah!” I dug out a bag of instant grits I’d found somewhere, offering my stove once I was done with it. He didn’t want to wait, though, upending the bag and inhaling its dry and tasteless contents before pronouncing it good. That was when I realized his hunger wasn’t the haven’t eaten since lunch variety, but closer to haven’t eaten in days. Digging deeper, I found a bag of granola, which he wolfed down in no time, as well. It was the last food in my pack, which was okay, since I’d be getting into town in the morning anyway, and a diner breakfast would be all the better after a couple hours hiking on an empty stomach.
I didn’t see him again, but somehow doubt his “God” was gonna be too receptive to a supplicant showing up with empty pockets—no different in that way from third world dictators raising gilded cathedrals in their impoverished cities, or countless ministers of the "prosperity gospel" on cable TV with their bogus stories of people sending in their last dollars, only to have God drop hundreds in their path the next day. Those folks tend to be really into the apocalypse, too—no need to worry about global warming, the more things blow up in the Middle East the better, that just means the rapture’s coming sooner, so keep sending in your checks and you won’t get left behind. Faith can offer consolation to the desperate, certainly; all too often, though, it takes the desperate for whatever they may have left.
Thanks to Friendly Atheist for the God joke.