There Is no God, but GodsJanuary 17, 2019
In Catholicism there are patron saints for everything, including beekeepers (Saint Ambrose), headaches (Saint Bibiana), and coffee (Saint Drogo).
Without fail, when an elected official in the US begins referencing the Bible or talking about Jesus, he’s about to advocate for cutting food stamps to single mothers. If Jesus, as dozens of congressmen believe, does return, I believe he will show up in many of their offices and vomit on them.
“Evangelical” has become synonymous with “gullible.” This voter group mistakes people who carry Bibles for those who have read it.
Despite not believing in God, I do have gods … or at least superbeings who come to me and tell me exactly what to do in non-negotiable terms. Role models, like brands, are powerful shorthand for how to behave. I have two of them, and they only have one commandment each for their flock of Scott.
Jesus comes to me regularly and says, “Love the poor.” I believe in Jesus. I just don’t buy into his lineage.
I can be such an asshole to people less fortunate. The Uber driver I get pissed off at when he ignores Waze. During yesterday’s ride to JFK: “Dude, it’s not that hard, look at the arrows on your phone and go where they point you.” The homeless on the subway, whom I avoid eye contact with. The waiter who doesn’t take my order promptly. Jesus (mostly) sets me straight and has shaped my political views as I’ve gotten older. My Jesus is constantly reminding me, when I get angry at the Delta ticket counter representative, to look at his life … and look at mine.
Because, here’s the thing, I’m only several million California taxpayers and an empathetic admissions director at the University of California away from standing behind that Delta ticket counter dealing with an asshole. An asshole clad head to toe in John Varvatos, complaining about his seat. I’m talented, yes. But more than anything, I’m fortunate. And my gods carry the water of reminding me.
My other god is my grandfather on my mother’s side. I never met him, but know him well — my mother used to tell me stories about him as I was getting ready for bed. Norman Levene was a London tailor who every Friday night brought a loaf of challah home. His six kids would run to the kitchen and encircle the table. He’d pull out a pocket knife and with surgeon-like skill divide the loaf into six perfectly equivalent slices, and say something nice about each child before handing them their prize.
My mom used to win ping-pong tournaments and was good at “maths.” When she was dying, I asked her to think about the most meaningful moments in her life and share them with me. She told me the challah story three separate times. She would sob when describing how much it meant to her to have her dad recognize her in front of her siblings. Money, status, things … nothing matches the raw love of a parent to give a child wings.
By 30, Norman had six children and was living in poverty. At 33, his nine-year-old daughter (their oldest) was run over by a lorry and killed. Run over by a truck. I felt like a failure when I couldn’t get my speech-delayed son into a prestigious downtown Manhattan preschool. These bad cliques posing as schools should be taxed into oblivion. Public schools in Manhattan should have smaller classes and much cooler uniforms. This will be my (long) bumper sticker when I run for mayor in 2021. But I digress.
At 39, Norman took his children to a London tube station underground to sleep, as their house had been destroyed in the Blitz. Later that year, his children were moved to the countryside. At 53, he died at home from bowel cancer. During his entire illness, he saw a doctor once. The god that is Norman Levene visits me whenever I’m feeling sorry for myself, which is too often (hate this about myself). My grandfather just stares at me until I can do anything but stare back. He grabs my hands and then whispers, “You. Have. No. Problems.”
Alone in Paris
I’m sitting alone at the restaurant of the Hoxton Hotel in Paris. A client of Gartner L2 asked me to come speak at their conference, where I mostly told them they are fucked in an Amazon world. I have no friends here, and didn’t want to have dinner with the client, as I’m too lazy to make conversation and feel I likely won’t live up to the image they have of me when I’m in front of 300 people.
I am severely jet-lagged and miss my boys. Their mother sent me a picture of my youngest in the Einstein costume he’ll wear when presenting his class project on historical figures. I notice he has grown. All the success, all the money, and my kids are growing bigger when I’m not there. I feel disappointment, sadness, and anger that I’m not successful enough to be the dad I want to be. A failure, in a cosmic, enormous way.
But then, Norman walks in. He spots me … and sits at my table. He looks at me, marvels at the walking works of art that are the people coming in and out of this Paris hotel. He laughs at the notion that my room will cost what he made in a year. He beams at the picture of our young Einstein, who looks like him and is named after him. He pauses, looks at me and — before he can say it — I preempt him and whisper, “I know. I have no problems.”
I don’t believe in god, but I have gods.
Life is so rich,
P.S. I was on Christiane Amanpour’s program talking about our worship of tech. And on Pivot, woke as a business strategy, ageism in tech, and who I’m dating!
Scott, Scott, Scott. I cried. Happy to admit it. Your words move people, well me at least. Thank you & Happy Christmas
Saw you on CNN last night and was fascinated. Now I feel like a dumb-ass for not knowing who you are; you’ve done so much. Big Sam Harris fan. Looking forward to getting to know all your stuff better.
Thanks for this, Scott. In writing it, you’ve role-modeled the Norman you describe.
A wonderfully written piece. Something I can certainly relate to.
So very lovely!