From Cryptonomicon

It’s funny sometimes where you find the things that you want to aspire to. There are all kinds of books about Christianity, and how to be more like Christ. Sometimes you find things where you don’t think you should. The following is an excerpt from a book, Cryptonomicon, by Neal Stephenson. He’s quickly becoming one of my favorite writers. There were a couple of one-liners in a previous book I read by him that also made me think. This is a bit longer. The book is by no means a work on Christianity, but something in this passage resonated with me. As a quick background, the main character in this story is talking about people’s reactions to him breaking up with his girlfriend. Not really relevant, but it gives you some context.

He embodies (he realizes) just about the worst nightmare, for many women, of what might happen in their lives. As for the men he saw last night, they were pretty strongly incensed to back whatever stance their wives adopted. Some of them really did, apparently, feel similarly. Others eyed him with obvious curiosity. Some were openly friendly. Weirdly, the ones who adopted the sternest and most terrible Old Testament moral tone were the Modern Language Association types who believed that everything was relative and that, for example, polygamy was as valid as monogamy. The friendliest and most sincere welcome he’d gotten was from Scott, a chemistry professor, and Laura, a pediatrician, who, after knowing Randy and Charlene for many years, had one day divulged to Randy, in strict confidence, that, unbeknownst to the academic community at large, they had been spiriting their three children off to church every Sunday morning, and even had them all baptized.

Randy had gone into their house once to help Scott wrestle a freshly reconditioned clawfoot bathtub up the stairs, and had actually seen the word GOD written on actual pieces of paper stuck to the walls of their house – like on the refrigerator door, and the walls of the children’s bedrooms, where juvenile art tends to be reposited. Little time wasting projects they had done during Sunday school – pages torn from coloring books, showing a somewhat more multicultural Jesus than the one Randy had grown up with (curly hair, e.g.), talking to little biblical kids or assisting disoriented Holy Land livestock. The sight of this stuff around the house, commingled with normal (i.e., secular) kid-art-junk from elementary school, Batman posters, etc. made Randy feel grossly embarrassed. It was like going to the house of some supposedly sophisticated people and finding a neon-on-black-velvet Elvis painting hanging above their state-of-the-art Italian designer furniture. Definitely a social-class thing. And it wasn’t like Scott and Laura were deadly earnest types, and neither were they glass-eyed and foaming at the mouth. They had after all managed to pass themselves off as members in good standing of decent academic society for a number of years. They were a bit quieter than many others, they took up less space in the room, but then that was normal for people trying to raise three kids, and so they passed.

Randy and Amy had spent a full hour talking to Scott and Laura last night; they were the only people who made an effort to make Amy feel welcome. Randy hadn’t the faintest idea what these people thought of him and what he had done, but he could sense right away that, essentially that was not the issue because even if he thought he had done something evil, they at least had a framework, a sort of procedure manual, for dealing with transgressions. To translate it into UNIX system administration terms (Randy’s fundamental metaphor for just about everything), the post-modern, politically correct atheists were like people who had suddenly found themselves in charge of a big and unfathomably complex computer system (viz. society) with no documentation or instructions of any kind, and so whose only way to keep things running was to invent and enforce certain rules with a kind of neo-Puritanical rigor, because they were at a loss to deal with any deviations from what they saw as the norm. Whereas people who were wired into a church were like UNIX system administrators who, while they might not understand everything, at least had some documentation, some FAQs and How-tos and README files, providing some guidance on what to do when things got out of whack. They were, in other words, capable of displaying adaptability.

That was a really longwinded way of getting the idea across that I think it is extremely valuable not necessarily to be the most outspoken Christian, shouting your beliefs from the rooftops. Granted, I think that there is a time and a place for that. I think the most effective thing we can do though, is just to live our lives and demonstrate through our lives the things we believe in. It may just be that I’m a sucker for the computer analogy, which is probably true. I like how Stephenson described being wired into a church as giving us a framework for being able to deal with the world around us, but doesn’t give us all the answers. Like I said, something in that part resonated with me. Hopefully it gives you something to think about too. And if you’re looking for a good book, check out Cryptonomicon.

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~ by jerquiaga on December 23, 2006.

One Response to “From Cryptonomicon”

  1. Wow, that post really sums up a lot of stuff I have had a difficulty articulating. I shall definitely look into that book. How are things, by the way?

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