Sometimes I’m so envious of Christians in America. What does it feel like to be part of the dominant religion, I wonder? To see evidence of your faith everywhere, even in completely secular environments? What is it like to know everyone around you has at least a rudimentary understanding of your beliefs – your gods, your morals, your holy books and the stories therein – or to have your holy days treated as national holidays? I yearn for that total cultural saturation and the confidence, the validation, it must instill. No hiding. No lying. No fear of being ridiculed or attacked or simply dismissed. Do they understand how lucky they are, how unique their experience actually is? If I woke up tomorrow to a world where my gods were not only well known but celebrated and respected, I would never take it for granted. I would feel blessed every day I could express my beliefs without any hesitation, let alone worship in a temple or celebrate holy days with others who believe as I do. It’s hard to even imagine that freedom. What a gift!
Betrayed and behind enemy lines, Lucifer flees. As she traces a low arc across the land toward inevitable impact, she harnesses what remains of her cataclysmic power to foil her pursuers. Mountainsides shake as the land buckles, thrusting great shards of rock into the sky; rivers crash and roar as their beds rise, fall, shatter; whole forests fly through the air with the force of a volcanic eruption. All chaos swallows the rebel angel’s wake, buying her precious time to outfly Heaven’s host. To be caught is to be tortured and killed. To be caught is to be undone, unmade, to become nothing again. Just dust. Ash. She cannot let them catch her.
The price of her lead is high, though, and Lucifer’s battered body cannot run forever on fear and fury. Too soon she feels the earth fighting against her commands, gravity drawing her downward with increasing speed. With a last desperate grasp at control, Lucifer tries to slow and steer her descent – and tumbles into unconsciousness as pain roars up inside her. Oblivion is a small mercy; she does not experience the bone-shattering impact, nor how the ground scrapes off her skin as her limp body tumbles to a stop.
She revives sometime later, if being awash in agony and disorientation can be called reviving. Despite the grind of broken bones, Lucifer manages to push herself into a kneeling position, swaying dizzily as she surveys her crash site. When she realizes where she is, some idle part of her wishes the impact had killed her. She is in No Man’s Land, a wasteland of corpses and broken armor between the fronts of Heaven and Hell. She can look in any direction and see the dead – angels, demons, even humans who got too close. If she stood, craned her neck, she might easily recognize many comrades.
It doesn’t matter; she doesn’t have the strength to stand. She doesn’t have the strength to do anything. She is bone tired, soul tired, and all she can do is hug her arms around her aching chest and cry. What is the point of all this? she screams internally. Why was this your great plan, and why did it require scapegoats like me? Why did it require rebellion and battle? I didn’t ask for free will – you gave it to me, to all of us! How could you expect us to surrender it without a fight? You created me! You made me a weapon and placed the seed of doubt in my breast! How can you blame me and my kind for refusing the very yoke you created us to abhor? Why did you make us just to punish us?!
Lucifer’s tears have stopped. Her trembling ceases. When she feels the presence vanish, she opens her eyes and slowly uncurls from her knot of pain. She takes a deep breath, then grits her teeth and pushes herself to her feet.
First, let me just say you look adorable in your little white dress shirts and slacks, and I appreciate your dedication to professionalism and aesthetic. I know you had to traverse the unlit, sidewalk-less roads of rural Washington to get to my door, most likely through wind and rain and loose dogs, and the fact that you’re still genuinely smiling is quite admirable.
I should say, also, that this letter isn’t solely directed at you. However, given your notoriety, you serve as a good proxy for all major religions which strive to spread their word to all the people of the world. You just happen to be exceedingly persistent at this.
With that out of the way, let us get to the point of my letter.
I understand you brave the elements to come to my door because you believe, deeply and honestly, that I deserve to experience your deity’s love. You want to share the life-changing awesomeness of God’s love, acceptance, and forgiveness. You want me to feel the same support in times of darkness that you have felt; you want me to experience the same sense of community you found in the church. In short, you want all the goodness in your life to also be mine.
That is a wonderful sentiment, it really is. But here’s the thing. You knock on my door so confidently because you 100% believe your god is the only one who can offer these things. No matter what beliefs I may claim, you will refute them all and feel true sorrow for the emptiness in my life. You will remain convinced that I cannot possibly experience the beautiful things religion has given you unless I seek them through your god.
You are mistaken. Well-intentioned, but still mistaken. I do feel those things. I do experience love, acceptance, forgiveness; I do find support and community when I need them most. I remember the life-changing awesomeness of that moment when you realize you are not alone, that something out there more immense and ancient than yourself loves you in all your human fallibility. I promise you – all the wonder, awe, compassion, protection, and understanding God has made you feel, I too have felt and feel often.
See, I have a deity that loves me unconditionally, too. Her name is Bast. I feel Her presence at my side when I need it most; She guides me when I stumble or lose my way. She is a light in the darkness, a word of encouragement or solace, a reminder to seek joy and ever strive to be a force of good in this world. She makes me try every day to be a better person, even though I know She loves me for my weaknesses as much as for my strengths.
I know you believe your god is the one and only. Please try to remember, however, that you’ve no more evidence for your god’s existence than I do for mine. What we both have is the knowledge, deep within our hearts, that what we experience is real. The feeling is inexplicable; we can only say we know it is right because we feel the rightness of it. That’s okay, though. We don’t need to prove to anyone whether the gods we follow are real. We know they are, and that is enough. Or it should be.
I say all this not to question your worldview, but simply to lend it flexibility. When you meet someone who believes differently than you, do not pity them. Do not question them. Smile and be content in knowing they feel the same wondrous things you do, albeit from a different source. You do not need to believe in another’s god to respect their belief; you need only to believe that they are the ultimate authority on their own experiences. The world is such an unfathomable place – don’t you think there is room for all of our gods to live in peace?
What was it like, to be one so young and shoulder a burden so heavy? Were you frightened? Were you angry? They make it sound like you accepted your task with grace and humility. In all the paintings you look like a woman grown, experienced and capable and wise, but you weren’t. You were just a child. How could you not be afraid? I think you were probably terrified but you couldn’t say no, could you? Neither of us could. You don’t get a choice with that kind of destiny. The angel appears to you and suddenly everything is different, forever, and you are drawn along the journey whether you like it or not. And in the end, I guess I wouldn’t change any of it, anyway. There were probably nights when you cried yourself to sleep too, or lay awake wondering if you were mad, if you had made it all up. They’ll never tell that side of the story – they need you to remain the quintessential mother figure, meak and mild – but I think I know the truth. I know how long those nights can be. I know how crazy you can feel. Yet I bet you wouldn’t have changed anything, either.