Besides writing non-fiction books, I also write novels, mostly science fiction. Sometimes stories come to me with the characters chatting amongst themselves. I swear I’m not talking to myself. Really.
Recently, I had an imaginary conversation with God. Look, I know it was imaginary. You don’t need to call out the men in white coats. It went something like this:
“The United States is an interesting place,” said God. “I like it.”
“But why?” I put down my cup of coffee and wondered that I had responded so calmly.
“You are a really strange group of people; but you’re very nice.”
“Nice? Isn’t that a bit, well, imprecise?” Surely a conversation with God wouldn’t really be this relaxed and ordinary would it?
God ignored my thoughts and went on, “Not at all. My description is very particular and precise. Consider. You value freedom. I value it more than just about anything else. That’s why I gave Adam and Eve the choice about eating or not eating from that tree; you know, the whole apple thing, except it wasn’t actually an apple. That was some preacher’s illustration that took on a life of its own. Anyway. If I didn’t value freedom I wouldn’t have allowed Adam and Eve to choose so poorly.”
“So, you Americans have learned to treat people well. Unlike just about everyone else on Earth. Of course, you didn’t start out that way. You’ve grown a lot. I understand why you get down on yourselves for how you treated the Native Americans and how you treated the Africans that you enslaved.”
“So how can you call us nice?” I took a sip of coffee.
“You repented. You were going in a bad direction, the same direction everyone else in the world was going, and had been going—and then you stopped. You turned around and started going a different way. So you changed. And you’re still working at changing your ways, becoming more decent, more just. You work on it all the time. Not something most countries do very much. In fact, most of the rest of the world spends its time gossiping about you instead of looking to their own problems. They enjoy judging you for your past sins, so they can pat themselves on the back for their perceptiveness. They criticize you for every little fault and feel better and they delude themselves into thinking they’ve accomplished something worthwhile as a result. Oddly, they hardly ever treat themselves with the harshness they reserve for you. They think they’re perfect in every way. You never do.”
“Everyone says we’re overly nationalistic and jingoistic: we chant USA at the Olympics, we wave flags…”
“Oh. How evil. Really? That’s your definition of thinking you’re perfect? That’s your great sin? Meanwhile you spend all the rest of your time trying to solve every problem in the world and in yourselves, constantly second guessing yourselves, nitpicking every choice you make and constantly feeling guilty for every bad thing you’ve ever done or thought since you began.”
“Look at it this way. Of all the countries in the world, all the peoples everywhere, who did I let discover and build the atomic bomb first? The Empire of Japan? Nazi Germany? The Soviet Union? France?”
“Well, no. We did that—with the Manhattan project during the Second World War.”
“So, when you developed the weapon, what did you do?”
“We dropped it on two cities in Japan.”
“To stop the war. A lot of people question that decision, though…”
“As I said, you’re always second guessing yourself. So. After you had the technology for the bomb, alone among all the peoples on the Earth, you conquered the world and pressed your boot to their necks, turning them into your slaves.”
“Um, no. We didn’t do that.”
“That’s right. You went home. And then you spent a lot of money rebuilding Germany and Japan, your bitter enemies, guilty of vile atrocities, responsible for unparalleled torture, death and destruction. Now you buy their cars and like them better than your own. And they look down on you.”
“You remain the most formidable military, cultural, and political power in human history. The Romans couldn’t even imagine the power you can wield and wouldn’t understand why you rarely do. If you so desired, you could conquer the world. You could launch nuclear weapons to totally obliterate your adversaries any time you chose. You could terrorize your rivals, your friends, everyone—and bring them to their knees. Instead, you just want everyone to get along, to be nice, and to leave you alone—so you can maybe go fishing or something.
“If I trusted you to invent atomic bombs, then why do you think you’re bad? I don’t trust bad folk. Imagine what the world would be like if I’d let anyone but you come up with the bomb first. Think the Nazis would have handled the responsibility well? The Soviets? You got it first. And you’re the reason no one else has dared use one since.
“So you really should relax a bit and stop being so hard on yourself. I know some good fishing holes…”