What will happen if God incarnates as a man and starts living with us? Of course, we will kill him and then worship him. Gods cannot be easy to live with though they may be great if kept at a safe distance. Richard Bach’s 1977 novel, Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah is about God’s incarnation in contemporary America. Donald Shimoda is God’s name.
Both Donald the messiah and Richard the narrator are engaged in the same profession of flying people in their small planes for a fare. Donald resigned as the messiah with God’s permission. Unlike the Biblical God who demanded the Christ’s crucifixion, Donald’s God tells him to do whatever he likes. “Not my will, but thine be done for what is thy will is mine for thee,” the voice on the hilltop tells Donald. “Go thy way as other men, and be thou happy on the earth.”
Thus Donald takes up the job of flying people. But you can’t hide your real self for too long. It becomes clear to people that Donald is not just another ordinary human being. The little girl who had a terrible fear of heights is taken for a flight by Donald. The man on the wheelchair who couldn’t take a step by himself also walks to his seat in the plane when Donald tells him, “Come on, let’s go.”
Donald is interviewed at the Jeff Sykes radio talk show and the right-wing listeners are agitated by his views on human freedom. Religions are inherently about controlling human freedom. What are religions without commandments and other restrictions? Donald advocates freedom, absolute freedom. But he does not impose his views on anyone. In fact, he doesn’t teach anything anywhere. He is answering questions that are being put to him in the radio show. That’s all. He is not bothered whether you accept his views or not. You are free to do what you want.
People don’t want teachings. They want miracles. Donald knew that. People don’t care about your truths and teachings. They just want miracles. Miracles. Heal their diseases. Change their water into wine. Entertain them by walking from New York to London on the ocean. Pull gold coins out from nowhere. They will love those tricks. But they won’t care for what you really want them to: internalise your message.
And what if they start taking your words seriously? They won’t like you. They will hate you positively. They will crucify you. They will shoot you. They will lynch you. And then, maybe, worship you.
Richard Bach is not a literary writer. You won’t find any student of literature doing research on his books. His books won’t be prescribed by universities. Yet Illusions deserves to be read for one reason: he forces us to take a look at our religious views and beliefs. What do they mean?
What does your religion mean to you? Does it liberate you or enslave you? Does it make you a nobler human being or a belligerent creature worse than the animals? What does your God mean to you? These are questions that need be raised again and again, especially in a world where there are too many religions and too little compassion.
PS. By coincidence, today is Good Friday, commemoration of the martyrdom of a messiah. Jesus was crucified for the same reasons as Donald Shimoda was shot dead: liberating or trying to liberate people from enslaving canons and rubrics. The essence of Jesus’ teachings is love. Where there is love, commandments and rituals are redundant. You can break the rules for the sake of love and compassion, Jesus taught. The priests of Judaism couldn’t accept that because that would erode their power over the people. So they decided that Jesus had to die. This would be the fate of any god who incarnates among men at any time. Will god dare to descend among today’s people?
PPS. This is part of a series being written for the #BlogchatterA2Z Challenge. The previous parts are:
3. The Castle