James K. Morrow (born March 17, 1947) is an American novelist and short story writer..
Born: March 17th, 1947
Quotes: 75 sourced quotes total
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What enormous potential for intermittent happiness the world offered.
You wouldn’t like him. Major fanatic. Confuses migraine headaches with God.
When a species fixates on the supernatural, it ceases to mature.
Better a citizen in hell than a slave in New Jersey.
Hell was not perfect, but it was paradise compared with New Jersey.
“You’re not very religious, are you?” said Irene. “I’m more into gravity.”
Babies are like kittens, Julie, they grow into something much more sinister.
Those who can kill themselves do, and those who can’t, teach philosophy.
Maybe I’ll end up on the fun side of her pants some day.
Curse God, and die. To George it seemed like remarkably sage and relevant advice.
My spirits rose: I could see the photon at the end of the tunnel.
I think you’re so full of shit you’ve got roses growing out of your ass.
I can’t help suggesting that a God who communicates through leukemia is at best deranged.
Now we’re getting somewhere, George told himself, although he sensed that this situation would not endure.
“The universe,” says Wyvern, “is a Ph. D. thesis that God was unable to successfully defend.”
Gravestones, he knew, were educational media, teaching that life has limits: don’t set your sights too high.
What good is it having God for a mother if she never sends you a birthday card?
There are none so blind as those who see angels...None so deaf as those who hear gods.
“Ah, yes, the spiritual realm.” In those days “spiritual” was my least favorite word. It still is.
People are always asking, does God exist? Of course she does. The real question: what is she like?
He smiled. Julie’s wedding, exquisite thought. Would his grandchildren be free of godhead? Was divinity a recessive trait?
Be sure to convict that chucklehead. He thinks a country’s Christianity is measured by the size of its thermonuclear arsenal.
The undergraduates lamented the high price of textbooks and the equally outrageous fact that they were expected to read them.
The Sermon on the Mount—it never ends for you, does it? If somebody kicks your right buttock, turn the other cheek.
As with the rest of Phoebe’s species, Julie must not let her become dependent upon supernatural solutions, trading one addiction for another.
Many are the consolations of literature, and not the least such solace occurs when an annoyingly virtuous hero succumbs to carnal temptation.
“A golden age, Londa calls it. She hopes it will return.” “Golden ages rarely return,” I said “especially if they never existed.”
To George, Overwhite still seemed like a windbag, but he was obviously a resourceful and intelligent one, a windbag woven of the finest material.
Fair are the daughters of men, and fairest are those who read. Is there any creature more desirable than a damsel in intellectual distress?
“The state flower of New Jersey is the common violet,” she explained, smirking, “the state bird is the eastern goldfinch, and the state fragrance is unrefined petroleum.”
For moral reasons, the young Reverend Peter Sparrow declined to join the Saturday night gatherings of the Erebus Poker Club. Gambling, he knew, was Satan’s third favorite pastime, after sex and ecumenicalism.
I shall never cease to marvel at the clarity of stars when viewed from midocean, each as sharp and bright as the laser pointer God uses when lecturing the angels on evolution.
I wish more English teachers helped their students engage the classics at the level of raw delight, instead of putting them on the scent of symbols. A novel is not a cryptogram.
“I’m really interested in this stuff.” Julie rubbed a carton labeled ELEMENTARY PARTICLES. “Physics?” “Physics, biology, stars, everything.” Howard said, “Good for you. These days most people prefer to impoverish their minds with mysticism.”
Is there anything quite so ludicrous as two intellectuals grappling in a philosophy-department parking lot? Each of us wanted to pummel the other to a pulp, but neither knew how to go about it.
“It must have been hard converting your elders in the Pentagon to this view.” “Ever try stuffing a melted marshmallow up a wildcat’s ass? It can be done, but you have to like your job.”
“Right before bed, I spend twenty minutes in this place. Then I can sleep.” “You mean you simply sit here, staring at everybody’s pain? All you do is look at it?” “Uh-huh. Just like God.”
The problem is, only a few people get to be scientists. You see the dilemma? Given the choice between a truth they can appreciate and a lie they can live, most people will take you-know-what.
“There’s something else, Beverly. I’m a minister of the Lord. This will be unusual for me, a kind of experiment.” “I know all about it, Reverend. You folks do more experimenting than Princeton’s entire physics department.”
The labels fascinated Julie—Cutty Sark, Dewar’s, Beefeater—each logo dense with staid print and Anglo-Saxon dignity, as if alcohol were really a type of literary criticism and not a leading cause of traffic fatalities and brain rot.
The man was fat. His belly arrived like an advance guard, heralding the bulk to come, huge shoulders, a surplus chin. His white cassock had settled over his body like a tarpaulin dropped on a blimp.
Dexter Padula, a member of that ubiquitous academic breed, the professional graduate student, forever revising his dissertation while eyeing external reality with the anxious demeanor of a nursing infant struggling to imagine life beyond the tit.
“Myriad contradictory worlds,” lectured Professor Jerome Delacato, “forever splitting off from each other like branches on a tree, so that, somewhere out there, I am presently giving a lecture explaining how the many-worlds hypothesis cannot possibly be true.”
I know the God hypothesis has its partisans, but, oh, what a boring idea. Where did the universe come from? He did it. How do we account for rivers and rocks and ring-tailed lemurs? He made them. Ho-hum.
He was a devout believer in the second chance. To the man who asked, “What’s the point of closing the barn door after the horse has been stolen?” Murray would answer, “The point is that the door is now closed.”
Neither Dexter nor I knew the first thing about running a small business. We were entrepreneurs the way Abbott and Costello were watercolorists. And so naturally it came to pass that Pieces of Mind was a hands-down, thumbs-up, flat-out success.
Her libido blazed to life. She smiled, impressed by the party-crashing shamelessness of sex, its willingness to show up anywhere—a funeral, a sermon, a final farewell. This was the way to go out, all right, thumbing your labia at the cosmos.
“Actually, the answer’s quite simple.” Two red eyes floated in the mist. “Really? Tell me. Why does God allow evil?” The red eyes vanished, leaving only the lantern and the night. “Because power corrupts,” said Wyvern’s disembodied voice. “And absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
“You see God as an engineer?” asked Urpastor Phelps. “I don’t see God as anything at all.” “An engineer, you said. An incompetent engineer.” “Incompetent, perfect, who knows? God is whatever we agree to pretend God is. God is our image of God.”
What most people don’t realize is that something unprecedented has entered the world. Bang—science—and suddenly a proposition is true because it’s true, Julie, not because its adherents have the biggest churches or the grandest inquisitors or the most weeks on The New York Times bestseller list.
“Don’t believe everything you hear about hell. Next time you run into some anti-hell propaganda, consider the source.” “You inflict eternal punishment on people,” Julie countered. “Merely because it’s our job. And remember, we persecute only the guilty, which puts us one up on most other institutions.”
“I’ve been good, I’ve been bad—nothing gets her attention. What am I supposed to do, sacrifice a goat?” “Perhaps you should start a religion. You know—reveal your mother to the world.” “How can I reveal her when I don’t know what she’s like?” “Use your imagination. Everybody else does.”
As Jean-Paul Sartre reminds us, in the case of human beings this metaphysic is reversed: a person’s existence precedes his essence—he is a subject among objects. The danger, says Sartre, following Heidegger, is that he will “fall” into the world of objects, becoming ever after the prisoner of arbitrary strictures masquerading as universal principles.
I figure that, given our “thrownness,” as Heidegger called it, we should work hard to become as bewildered as possible by this strange state of affairs, asking the most impertinent and audacious questions we can imagine. To do otherwise—and instead hand over the mystery of it all to dubious cults of expertise—is to waste one’s life, I feel.
Although Bix Constantine disbelieved in hell as intensely as he did in heaven, he knew what the place would be like. Hell, for Bix, was jealousy. It was failed journalists seeing their enemies receive Pulitzer Prizes. It was compulsive gamblers seeing jackpots gush from adjacent players’ slot machines and sex-starved young men seeing their friends piled high with naked cheerleaders.
“You want a motive, William? I’ve got a motive. Vengeance may not be a pretty word, but it’s what’s expected of us.” “Right!” said Sverre. “We owe it to all those millions of dead people to make more millions of dead people. Be careful how you rewrite strategic doctrine, General, or you’ll come out of this war without a single medal.”
“Which alternative is worse, I wonder?” she said. “To deny death and thus risk never being wholly alive, or to face oblivion squarely and risk paralysis by dread?” “Nobody knows,” I said. “It’s ambiguous.” “If I ever get to be God,” she said, unleashing the grin of the person who’d invented Largesse, “my first act will be to make ambiguity illegal.”
What I love about fiction is the way this form of expression allows an author to wrestle an idea to the ground, as opposed to the bumper-sticker dialectics that pass for political and philosophical discourse in most sectors of our culture. In the age of mass communication, we need the quiet, contemplative and often ambiguous medium of the novel more than ever.
The fission bomb was a costly mistress. Consider, your Honors. In 1979 this planet celebrated the International Year of the Child. Of the one hundred and twenty-two million children born that year, one of every ten was dead by 1982, and most died for lack of inexpensive food and vaccines. Yet in 1982 the world spent one trillion dollars on weapons. One trillion dollars!
“Your disciples will expect something even grander from you. They’ll want you to become a deity.” She snickered and said, “I’m not ruling out that possibility.” “What sort of deity? A hamadryad? Plato’s demiurge? The Creator God of Judeo-Christian revelation?” “That job’s already taken,” she said. “But you could do it better,” I said. “When it comes to the physics, no, but in other areas—you’re right.”
The wonders of nature, she learned, from wing of bee to sonar of bat to eyeball of baby, were not so much perfect machines as adequate contraptions. If nature bespoke a mind, it was a confused and inchoate one, a mind incapable of locating the optic nerve on the correct side of the retina, a mind unable to accomplish much of anything without resort to jerry-building and extinction.
She asked, “Do you believe science has all the answers?” “Huh?” “Science. Does it have all the answers?” “Everybody thinks he’s being oh-so-deep when he says science doesn’t have all the answers.” Done. All of it. Virginity gone, flesh ratified, mother spited, mission discovered—the gospel of empirical truth! Yes! Oh, yes! “Science does have all the answers,” said Howard, withdrawing. “The problem is that we don’t have all the science.”
“If Western Europe and the United States committed seven billion dollars annually to the cause of clean drinking water worldwide, that investment would save four thousand lives a day”... “Seven billion dollars. That’s less than what Europeans spend each year for perfume and Americans for cosmetic surgery. Before he went to the gallows, Enoch Anthem spoke often about Christ turning water into wine, but he never once implored Christendom to turn perfume into water.”
Recent biblical exegesis by Anthem’s newest organization, Hermeneutics Unlimited, had established beyond doubt that Jesus Christ was adamantly opposed to universal health-care insurance, class-action lawsuits, and corporate whistleblowers. Several prominent postrationalist theologians had successfully exposed public education for the misguided Marxist boondoggle it was, while a majority in Congress now advocated replacing the secular school system with private academies committed to sparing children the bad news that Charles Darwin had brought back from the Galápagos Islands.
With a rush of joy, I realized that this Darwinist stance would appeal neither to secular Marxists, for whom moral lessons lay exclusively within history’s brute curriculum, nor to evangelical Christians, for whom a naturalist ethics was a contradiction in terms, nor to middle-class mystics, who detested any argument smacking of biological determinism. A philosophical position that could simultaneously antagonize the collectivist left, the God-besotted right, and the Aquarian fringe must, I decided, have a lot going for it.
Late in my senior year, I went through a crisis of doubt when my provisional girlfriend, a willowy physics major named Morgan Piziks, informed me at the end of our fourth date that anybody seriously in the question “Why?” should look not to philosophy but to the physical sciences—to cosmology, quantum mechanics, molecular biology, and the periodic table of the elements. My mind went blank. Try as I might, I could contrive no riposte. I felt instinctively that Morgan’s claim enjoyed the nontrivial virtue of being true.
Murray held his daughter at arm’s length. “Does God...er, visit you?” “She doesn’t even whisper to me. I listen, but she doesn’t talk. It’s not fair.” God didn’t talk. The best news he’d heard since Gabriel Frostig announced his embryo. “Look Julie, it’s good she doesn’t talk. God asks her children to do crazy things. It’s good she doesn’t whisper. Understand?” “I guess.” “Really?” “Uh-huh. Where’d the crab go? Is he looking for his friends?” A profound weariness pressed upon Murray. “Yes. Right. His friends. It’s good God doesn’t whisper.”
“Pop, do we have heaven?” he’d asked on the day he discovered the (dead) cat. “You want to know a Jew’s idea of heaven?” his father had replied, looking up from his Maimonides. “It’s an endless succession of long winter nights on which we get paid a fair wage to sit in a warm room and read all the books ever written...Not just the famous ones, no, every book, the stuff nobody gets around to reading, forgotten plays, novels by people you never heard of. However, I profoundly doubt such a place exists.”
What really got under Londa’s skin, I soon learned, was not the Messiah’s sermon per se but the discontinuity between its sublime directives and the ignominious course of Western history, a spectacle that, the more we thought about it, increasingly struck Londa and me as largely a fancy-dress danse macabre, Titus Andronicus on a hemispheric and ultimately global scale, though I hastened to point out that the chronicles of other civilizations were likewise awash in blood. What had gone wrong? She wanted to know. When and why had the teachings of Jesus Christ become an optional component of Christianity?
Imagine that a team of neuroscientists has just unveiled a technology that lets a person remove all trace of some terrible experience from his brain. Under what conditions, if any, would you use it? What might it be like to go through life knowing you’d once suffered an ordeal so dreadful that it demanded radical excision? How long could you endure this strange affirmative ignorance, this lost access to the unspeakable, without becoming neurotic, or even slightly mad? In the long run, might you not decide that such circumscribed amnesia was worse than whatever memory you’d felt compelled to erase?
“It’s an old story, perhaps the oldest on earth,” Joan said. “The sky rumbles, the clouds congeal, the sun spasms. Is that a saint I see on high? An angel? The Lord God Jehovah himself? Now a holy voice booms down, instructing the poor prophet to grab a sword and thrust it into a fellow human, or perhaps a hundred fellow humans, or even a million if the cause is sufficiently sacred. The prophet never talks back. The tradition existed before me. It flourishes to this day. The sword, the blood, the freshly created corpses littering the battlefield, exuding the stink of epiphany.”
—Then there is the final possibility, my favorite. —Yes? —The final possibility is that I’m God. —You’re God? —Just a theory, but the data are provocative. I mean, look at me. Faceless, shapeless, holey, undifferentiated, Jewish, inscrutable...and a hermaphrodite to boot. Years ago, I told you sponges cannot be fatally dismembered, for each part quickly becomes the whole. To wit, I am both immortal and infinite. —You’re God? You’re God herself? You? —The data are provocative. —God is a sponge? A sponge? There’s not much comfort in that. —Agreed. —Sponges can’t help us. —Neither can God, as far as I can tell. I’d be happy to see some contrary data.
The real reason Charles Darwin distresses people, I would argue, is not that he stumbled on an argument against theism. No, the problem was that he replaced theism—replaced it with a construct more beautiful and majestic than any account of the Supreme Being outside the Book of Job, a construct that invites us to see every variety of life, from aphids to archbishops, zygotes to zoologists, as vibrant threads in an epic tapestry, its warp and woof stretching across the eons and back to the Precambrian ooze, the seminal sea-vents, the primordial clay-pits, or wherever it all began. An astonishing construct, a mind-boggling construct, a construct of which Jehovah is understandably and insanely jealous.
“Are we innately aggressive?” asked Aquinas. “Was the nuclear predicament symptomatic of a more profound depravity? Nobody knows. But if this is so—and I suspect that it is—then the responsibility for what we are pleased to call our inhumanity still rests squarely in our blood-soaked hands. The killer-ape hypothesis does not specify a fate—it lays out an agenda. Beware, the fable warns. Caution. Trouble ahead. Genocidal weapons in the hands of creatures who are bored by peace.” “I think I’m going to throw up,” said Brat. “But the fable went unheeded. And the weapons, unchecked. And then, one cold Christmas season, death came to an admirable species—a species that wrote symphonies and sired Leonardo da Vinci and would have gone to the stars. It did not have to be this way. Three virtues only were needed—creative diplomacy, technical ingenuity, and moral outrage. But the greatest of these is moral outrage.”
“In the end Humankind destroyed the heaven and the earth,” Soapstone began... “And Humankind said, ‘Let there be security,’ and there was security. And Humankind tested the security, that it would detonate. And Humankind divided the U-235 from the U-238. And the evening and the morning were the first strike.” Soapstone looked up from the book. “Some commentators feel that the author should have inserted, ‘And Humankind saw the security, that it was evil.’ Others point out that such a view was not universally shared.”... Casting his eyes heavenward, Soapstone continued. “And Humankind said, ‘Let there be a holocaust in the midst of the dry land.’ And Humankind poisoned the aquifers that were below the dry land and scorched the ozone that was above the dry land. And the evening and the morning were the second strike.”... “And Humankind said, ‘Let the ultraviolet light destroy the food chains that bring forth the moving creature!’ And the evening and the morning—”... “And Humankind said, ‘Let there be rays in the firmament to fall upon the survivors!’ And Humankind made two great rays, the greater gamma radiation to give penetrating whole-body doses, and the lesser beta radiation to burn the plants and the bowels of animals! And Humankind sterilized each living creature, saying, ‘Be fruitless, and barren, and cease to—’”