THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 854, January 10, 2016
Why are you outraged? Didn't our short-sighted
ancestors set us up for this kind of thing two
and a half centuries ago when they got rid of
a monarch without getting rid of monarchical practices?.
Putting the Fun into Fundamentalism—A Review of Robert A. Heinlein's Job: A Comedy of Justice
Attribute to L. Neil Smith's The Libertarian Enterprise
Not a bad winter this year.
Been wanting to write another piece for the Norseman's Diaries but it will be hard to justify the time and energy—at least until Norseman's Hell decides to show some more teeth to make such an article worthwhile. Which it may yet do as while the above normal temperatures in December going into the new year have helped me greatly by running out the clock on winter—there are still two more months left of it and even March can get downright treacherous and nasty.
In the absence of hell of the frozen variety—there still remains the fiery sort that is sometimes hard to forget in a world taunted by corruption and war rumors of war. With ISIS and aspirations for an Islamic bomb and this week: North Korea bragging about testing a hydrogen bomb! So much for the assumption 20 years ago that the end of the Cold War would be the end of History or at least the end of cultural pessimism and the End Times Blues and beginning of a bold new era in which America was going to cash in on the Peace Dividend and get serious about reaching for the stars once more.
Instead we find ourselves right back where we started from in a situation reminiscent of Charlie Brown with Lucy and the football. Or better yet—the protagonist in Robert A. Heinlein's Job: A Comedy of Justice which I rediscovered as an audio book online. It was one of my favorites from college days that was also very sacrilegious; doing with the Judeo-Christian faith what Solomon Rushdie did with Islam in The Satanic Verses. Only it's actually funny as opposed to Rushdie; who's novel I could not understand why Muslims would even bother to be offended with as the story was a crashing bore and not at all funny.
I first read Job in the cusp between college days and enlistment in the Air Force at a time when the search for productive employment with a liberal arts degree—English Writing—was about as fruitless as trying to land a blue collar job in the Rust Belt of the time. It was also a time of great cultural malaise in the region and internal turmoil for me as I was being torn between my own religious and cultural roots and the appealing vision of the High Frontier that myopic people on both the Left and Right were doing their best then—and continue quite successfully—to deny us today. Though I am more into space opera of which Heinlein is among the great masters—his book; Job: A Comedy of Justice was an enjoyable exercise in lambasting the dystopic mindset of those who delight in the End times as the Fallen Angels novel authored by Larry Niven, Michael Flynn and Jerry Pournelle did for Only One Earth or Earth Only.
And the novel was well timed and even prophetic like one of Heinlein's other religious themed novels Revolt in 2100 set in a future age of America under the heel of dictatorship by morally decadent fundamentalist theocracy that was also easy to remember when the Reverend Jimmy Swaggart—the man who put the fun back into fundamentalism—[read an article]—really put the fun back into it by getting caught with a prostitute who had the sleazy and scary hard look of a biker mom! That was in 1988 following on the heels of what had been a year of scandal with other well known television preachers being exposed for major malfeasance along with the fall of the promising Democratic candidate Gary Hart and the Iran/ Contra hearings.
There was plenty of schadenfreude to be had in those days as there naturally is with any failure on the part of institutions revered by those who would rather stifle freedom and mire us down from a much more desirable destiny in the stars. Like the greenie weenies and the Proxmires—the world view of the religious apocalyptic is an equally depressing scenario. Which was why Job: A Comedy of Justice showing the lighter side of the End Days makes for such an enjoyable read.
Heinlein's version of Job is based on the biblical namesake involving a fundamentalist preacher named Alexander Hergenshimer who wakes up on an alternate Earth in a parallel universe after doing a fire walk in Polynesia. A world quite different from his own with blatantly libertine morals where everyone is calling him "Alec Graham" who is apparently a gangster involved in some sort of money laundering scheme and an affair with a ravishingly beautiful blonde Danish stewardess named Margarethe who ends up traveling along with him as more world changes continue to bounce the couple from one universe to another where they have to struggle with the issues of finding employment and understanding and adapting to the changes in social mores while trekking and hitchhiking their way from Mexico to Kansas where Alec/Alexander is native. Often starting over from scratch as their personal belongings (sometimes even their clothing!) along with their jobs are lost during the process of shifting between worlds and whatever money they might have accumulated in the previous universe is usually worthless and can even get them into trouble with the law if they try to spend it.
It was kind of neat going through the story again after all these years and having a more comprehensive understanding of the plot and characters than I did circa 1985 when I first read the original novel.
Mainly because my understanding of things like immigration and many other issues made it easier to comprehend the situation of Alec and Margarethe in Mexico where they have to work off their debt owed for being rescued after a shipwreck that happened after their first world change as a couple and many other things like the comparative value of money between different universes where in one everything is ridiculously inflated and then the next one you can get a steak dinner for less than $3! And other things that kind of went over my head way back when as the controversial aspects of religion and utter blasphemies were the focus on my rebellious anti-religious youth. That after being raised as a bible thumper when I made that turn in rebellion against the cultural pessimism prevalent in the Rust Belt and in the attitudes of family and friends. That has always been the downside of my beloved Greater Appalachia I ended up forsaking for a while. I appreciated the significance of William Jennings Bryan who became President in the 1880s which was the significant point of divergence that defined the universe of Alexander Hergenshimer.
WJB kind of reflects the values of many democrats I've known who are religious conservatives and populist at the same time. In the real world Bryan ran on the slogan of the farmers being crucified on a cross of gold back in the Gilded Age and later in life he was state prosecutor for the Scopes "Monkey" Trials in Tennessee where quite a bit of hell was raised over the teaching of Evolution. I found out his role in the Scope's Trials only recently and that made me understand democrats much better. The populist ones tend to be conservative on moral and religious matters but progressive when it comes to economics issues, wanting the government to be their shepherd in the absence of the Lord. And they are anything but liberal. They don't like change and want to be protected and taken care of at all cost. In a way that is very rational self interest but the price tag like that of serfdom or following the Plebeian tyrants of Roman Times is very high and could very well cost us the stars.
A major theme in the relationship of Alec/Alexander and Margarethe is the struggle of the protagonist to bring his splendid heroine to a state of grace. Marga despite her ability to turn heads is a very loving and loyal wife. But Alec fears for her immortal soul because in Marga's universe the deities of Norse mythology are worshiped in place of the monotheistic Judeo-Christian religion—and she seems destined to the fires of hell. The world changes, both of them have come to believe might be the meddling of Satan or Loki—the Norse god of fire and mischief. Perhaps this is a test in the fashion of the trials and tribulations of the biblical Job and also signs that the end of the world is near and time is running out for Margarethe.
The audio book version of Heinlein's novel is very well done and made me realize the best part of the story is Margarethe who is a really swell gal much like one I happen to know who is also a Teutonic bombshell and the epitome of swellness! This beautiful smart girl who is nice as pie—yet worldly—sort of becomes Alec's wife—even though he's still married to his first wife—Abigail back in his own universe where he is a fundraiser for CUD—Churches United for Decency. And it's funny how once he gets to Heaven after being taken up in the Rapture (and Marga doesn't make it) she is referred to as his concubine and it's considered ok by the powers that be. And even more hilarious when Abigail who turns up in Heaven get's thrown out of Saint Peter's office for being disruptive.
Alec ends up quitting Heaven and going to Hell to look for Margarethe. The devil turns out to be a cool dude and Hell turns out a rather fun place with lots of hot babes and hot sex. New arrivals land in the Lake of Fire but it is said ; they don't stay there. Not for long! Usually a team breaks their fall with a net before they hit. To this day because of the zany religious preoccupations of a family member with mental health issues who considered Greenlick Lake to be the Lake of Fire—I always visualize Alec coming down into the one down the road and the greeting party that netted him being stationed atop those bluffs.
Lake of Fire???
Progress with the audio book is slow because it is long winded and I have been reading it at work after I clock out at the end of my shifts to take advantage of the hospital's faster network.
Thursday night I tarried again to listen to more of Job. Got as far as the entry into heaven after the rapture. Back in the day it was the sacreligious content that was funny. But this time around it's the marital spats between Alec & Margarethe that I find even funnier—Alec being an uptight Bible thumper gets freaked out when his wife wears short shorts which he deems indecent. And then she asks if he gets an erection when he looks at her bare legs? Maybe because it reminded me of a situation a few years ago when another lady friend asked if I wanted to have phone sex via IM or a text message! Funny as in outrageous. Some expressions of religious dogma and things said by crazy people and extreme ideologues fit that category also. Like Ed Schultz's tirade of wanting to use Dick Cheney's heart as a football. Or the idea that Greenlick Lake is the "Lake of fire"!
I can't help but laugh at stuff like that. Probably at great risk of ending up in the Hellfire Club myself. Laughter is one of the most grievous sins in fundamentalist religious though, as much as it is to the politically correct McCarthyism of the hard Left. Like outright blasphemy, laughter is sinful because both camps have little tolerance for intellectual challenge or being made fun of. Face is everything to those who embrace orthodoxy. But reacting in knee jerk fashion they become their own worst enemy. Were it not for the fatwa issued by the Ayatollah Khomeini or Catholics picketing movie theaters ; Who would have even heard of The Satanic Verses or the Last Temptation of Christ? In contrast: Job: A Comedy of Justice never got the notoriety it truly deserved.
Heinlein's Job is probably the best Devine Comedy since Dante's Inferno and ought to be made into a movie someday being much funnier than some of the attempts by Hollywood at the same. Next best thing to Job is Philip Jose Farmer's novelette The Making of Revelation Part 1 that I read sometime in my military days. I'd give my two front teeth to read it again as it was very funny with a plot involving Satan quitting hell and moving to New York where he signs up for welfare and refuses to play his role in the end time prophesy. So God resurrects Cecil B. DeMille to go talk to the devil and convince him to get back on the job—and get it all on film!
I already know the rest of the story with Job but still look forward to finishing the audio book version as it is very entertaining. Will likely do that by time this article goes into publication.
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