27. I’d kill him in the Bible, and raise the rent

Steppenwolf—The Pusher

Charles was working on his Snagology website when he got a PayPal alert. Who the fuck has sent me money, he thought. He opened the PayPal app and saw that not one, but three people had sent him the $60 membership fee from the Snagology.com web­site. Oh my god! This is great! I haven’t even started to publicize my new religion and I’ve got converts!

Hmmm. They all have the same last name. It’s a family! Wow. Now I’ve got to get to work on the credo. Charles concentrated on perfecting the Credo page, then read it over to proofread it.

Snagology Credo

Snagology is the belief that there are pan-Universal reality show viewers who get a perverse kick out of me running into physical and virtual snags. Here are the tenets of Snagology.

Is it Solipsistic in Here or is it Just Me?

The first and most important tenet: I am the only person in the Universe, and I exist for the entertainment of the Viewerverse.

The Viewerverse is Entertained by Snags

Snags in my life, both physical snags (belt loops, wires, shoelaces) and metaphorical snags (unbelievably rare or devastatingly unlikely incidents) are entertaining or comical to the Viewerverse.

Renewal Equals Everlasting Life

I believe the Snag Masters control my fate, and that I must please them by reacting to these evidently hilarious snags in a comical way. Rather than gaining everlasting life by dying, as in most religions, I’m hoping to get everlasting life by pleasing my Snag Masters, so they renew me every season, forever.

The Origin of Snagology

All my life, I’ve been plagued by snags—constant, sometimes highly improbable, snags—physical snags, situational snags, general life snags. I started hoping this was all leading somewhere, like to some dramatic, life-saving snag that keeps me from plunging to my death.

One day I had a revelation: What if this is some kind of hilarious comic entertainment for a cosmic audience who find snags to be funny? It would explain why my life’s just chock full of snags. And to an audience with a sick sense of humor, these snags and pratfalls could be comical.

After this revelation, I started congratulating the puppet masters of the Universe for their novel snags and engaging in imaginary conversations suggesting that they give me a break, or sarcastically thanking them for their attention, or asking them why they have it in for me.

Dreams are Voyages Through Other Universes

When I dream, these same Viewerverse denizens, or maybe the night shift, flip the channels on me to see how well they can confuse me. Or perhaps it’s the maintenance crew, setting me up for the snags of the coming day.

In dreams, I pass from this universe through many others. My consciousness tries to make sense of the various transitions, which explains some of the weirdness of dreams. Sometimes I can fly; sometimes I’m running in glue—in a universe with different physical laws. And sometimes I meet doppelgängers of people I know in this universe, who behave in odd ways. But it’s all true. It’s all my experience, just in different times and places.

Aspects of the Viewerverse

There are other signs of the existence of the Viewerverse.

I think the universe that is controlling ours intersects with our universe at an angle, about 11.2 degrees in fact.

I’ve noticed over the years that when I’m not paying attention, I hold glasses and cups at about an 11-degree angle. There’s no good reason for this, and not only that, it generally happens at about 11 degrees in a southwesterly direction. Not so coincidentally, that’s about half of the tilt of the Earth from the ecliptic, and the difference between the North Pole and magnetic north is 11.2 degrees.

Plus, I think I can hear the Viewerverse, at least some of the audience. I sleep with earplugs. The least little noise wakes me up. I’ve discovered that you can hear some things better when you’ve got earplugs in. Often, when I’m lying in bed waiting to go to sleep, I can kind of hear these voices. I hear the rhythm of their conversation and their tones of voice, and it does seem like English, but I can’t make out the words. It’s like a far-off radio program muffled by a pillow. They are carrying on conversations, and not speaking to me. I’m eavesdropping. It’s hard to say if they’re talking about me.

So, one of the precepts of Snagology is: Wear earplugs to bed.

Just Keep Them Interested

My goal, and the mantra of Snagology, is:  Just Keep Them Interested. Like MIT cosmologist Max Tegmark said: “If you’re not sure, at the end of the night, whether you’re actually simulated or not, my advice to you is to go out there and live really interesting lives, and do unexpected things, so the simulators don’t get bored and shut you down.”

Adopting Snagology

If any follower would like to prove they are a Snag Star, they must join Snagology and keep current with their tithing. Such followers must join the community and be subject to the questioning therein and from me as to the merit of their claim to Snag Stardom.

Should a follower convince me that they are a fellow Snag Star, they shall be blessed with that title and partake of the tithing. They must forsake all other religions.

Join now and prove I’m not unique.

OK, that’s as good as it’s going to get at the moment, Charles thought, and he pushed the update button to refresh the web page. Now I’ve got to create some kind of official certificate indicating membership in Snagology. He looked up some clip art and built a certificate in PowerPoint.

There. Now I can send my three new acolytes their official Snagology certificates. I think I’ll use the $180 to do some Facebook advertising. Next, I need to set up the community software on the website.

Charles formally unveiled his Snagology website on April 1st. He paid for Facebook and other social media ads and also posted comments on religious and atheist websites. He anxiously watched the traffic statistics and saw a steady stream of people coming to the site, but only two more memberships. He offered to pay his five congregants half the tithe of any new member they sponsored and got a half dozen more.

This is going nowhere fast, he thought. Perhaps I have to hit the speaking circuit. He booked himself into several Unitarian meetings and a couple of atheist and secular humanist Meetups, including getting a keynote spot on the Black Nonbelievers convention at sea. This last took some doing because not only was he not black, but he was pushing a religion. His audiences ranged from flabbergasted to tentatively accepting to actively hostile. Nonetheless, the trickle of members grew to a stream.

Charles maintained a regular schedule of “Ask Me Anything” events on the Snagology site, discussing and arguing with members who challenged his assertion of being the only being in the Universe. While he enjoyed these sparring sessions, he enjoyed even more the litany of snagging stories that poured into the Snagology community from new members. People were snagging themselves on all manner of objects, including silverware drawers, wire fences, folding chairs, and errant tree roots. The most offending object was the lever-style door handle. Interestingly there was a pattern to these snags. The people who were the most snagged by these handles were between 5’6” and 5”10” probably because their belt loops were the same height as the handles.

The most snagged objects after belt loops were pants pockets, headphone cords, keys on lanyards, backpacks, and surgical gowns and scrubs. Charles was fascinated by the banality of these events. Even if they don’t seem hilarious to me, perhaps the Viewer­verse is roaring with laughter, he thought.

There were some snags that seemed worthy of investigation for Snag Master involve­ment. One poor schmuck got a screen door handle embedded in the crook of his elbow. Another snagged her nose ring in a holey towel and ripped it from her nostril. After hearing this and other potentially deadly snag stories, Charles theorized that either there really were other people in the Universe, or the Viewerverse Snag Lords had a dark enough sense of humor to throw these stories at him as a way to mess with his mind. As the stories accumulated, he slowly began to realize that he might not be the most-snagged person in existence.

Charles started engaging in the online community with an interesting acolyte named Lawrence. As they argued back and forth via text message, to Charles’s surprise, he started to think there might be other beings in the world.

During a conversation early one Saturday evening, Charles was holding his own until Lawrence messaged, “Solipsism is the opposite of empathy. You have to have zero emotional understanding of others to be a solipsist.” Good point, Charles thought. Am I really devoid of empathy? I’m a solitary introvert, but I don’t think I lack compassion or empathy. As Charles thought this over, Lawrence typed, “What would Jeannie think about you being a solipsist?” Charles was stunned. His jaw dropped as his confusion mounted. He read the message again and again. He replied, “WTF? ”

Lawrence continued, “She became the ghost in the machine to save the fucking world. Can an electric ghost count as another universal being?”

Son of a bitch, Charles thought, and typed, “Fuckin’ hell! Is that you Chip?”

Chip replied, “Took you long enough, shit for brains! ‘Tis I, your loyal opponent who, BTW, shelled out 60 clams just so I could pull your leg a bit. You’re fond of quoting that Chaos Magick guy about the Universe being a joke played upon itself. Well, me and Uni sure pulled one over on you. Laughter is your only tenable reaction to the major con I just ran on you!!!!!!! Sucked you right in! And BTW, you owe me a coupla dinners for sure on accounta I had to pay to metaphorically pants you, Slim.”

“Oh, my fucking god! Damn. You got me good, asshole! What’s worse is you about had me convinced there was another soul in this Universe. And if there were to be only one, I’d hope it’d be you.”

“Shucks, you sappy asshole. You’re gonna make me cry. I still can’t believe you fell for it. I even used my real name.” Charles had forgotten that Chip’s first name was Lawrence. Damn, did he put one over on me!

Chip typed, “Now where are we going to dinner? It better be someplace expensive. And I’m feeling kinda hungry.”

Later, at dinner, after about 15 minutes of Chip crowing over his victory, Charles decides to try to change the subject. “Look, you made a good point there, Larry.” Chip gives him a sharp look and then points at Charles. “That’s one. You get one.” Charles smiles. He knows Chip hates his given name, but he had to get back at him somehow. Charles continues, “I get it, what you said. Solipsism is the anti-empathy—pain only means my pain. There is no concept of others’ pain. But if others are just shadows on the wall of my existence, can’t I still feel empathy for them? Like they’re a movie that makes me sad? Does feeling really need to be just for real people? You didn’t cry when Old Yeller died?”

“Oh, sure,” Chip concedes, “you could look at it that way. But don’t you think a solipsistic mindset would inevitably devolve into a lack of empathy or other positive feelings for the simulated others in your universe? That’s only one of the problems with your sham religion. Here’s another one: You can’t have a religion comprised of one person.”

“Dude, I have almost 1,000 apprentice Snag Stars now. I’m rolling in dough. Plus, anytime I feel like a good argument, I engage them, like I did you, and watch as they struggle to convince me of their reality.”

“This can’t end well for you, buddy. These fools are gonna want their money back . . .”

“They sign an agreement that there are no refunds.”

“Yeah, but you offer to cut them in on the cash if they can convince you they’re real . . .”

“The agreement stipulates that it’s at my own discretion. I’m in charge. It’s perfect. What I can’t believe is that so many people have joined. Sure, at some point, I may need to accept a few acolytes into the money even if only just to help count it.”

“I still worry about you, man. Seriously. This could turn into pissed off villagers with torches.”

Charles had to agree there could be a downside. Well, he thinks, there’s only a thousand members so far. How bad could it get?

When Snagology reached 20,000 members, Charles found out. He had accepted only a small fraction of the acolytes as Snag Stars, and the rest were clamoring for recognition and, not coincidentally, a piece of the now quite substantial pie. Charles had to modify the precepts of his religion to create several new categories of followers, with each getting a little piece of the action.

One day, Chip told him, “Dude, this is so out of hand. You’re building a multilevel marketing pyramid scheme, not a religion.”

Charles had to agree. He had never intended Snagology to be hierarchical. That was antithetical to his opposition to established religions. I wanted an egalitarian religion of which I was the head, he thought. It was almost a spoof and a goof on the gullibility of humankind. But now I’ve got responsibilities, and the craving for position, and leaders, and structure is driving me crazy. Plus, it’s taking all my time. I’ve got no time to finish my novel.

 

One night, Charles read an article about antimatter. Scientists’ current theory is that there was an equal amount of matter and antimatter immediately after the Big Bang. The two types of matter should have annihilated one another, and the Universe should never have formed. But it did because one matter particle per billion managed to survive. Scientists can’t figure out why. They figure there must be some difference between the matter and antimatter, like differences in mass or charge. But there is no observable difference.

One passage in the article hit Charles like a punch in the gut: “Researchers have observed spontaneous transformations between particles and their antiparticles, occurring millions of times per second before they decay. Some unknown entity intervening in this process in the early universe could have caused these ‘oscillating’ particles to decay as matter more often than they decayed as antimatter.” Wow, Charles thought. Some force must have kept, and continues to keep, the two apart.

Charles was struck with an inspiration: God keeps them apart! God insulates us from total destruction. God makes our existence possible.

He sat paralyzed in his chair, his mind racing. Maybe this is the answer to life, the universe, and everything I’ve been looking for. It’s like that Emo Philips joke: “I pray a simple prayer every morning. It’s an ecumenical prayer. I think it speaks to the heart of every faith. It goes, ‘Lord, please break the laws of the Universe for my convenience.’”

Whatever that force is that intervened, it’s either God or evidence of God, Charles thought, ensuring, nanosecond by nanosecond, that the Universe doesn’t explode. This changes everything, literally.

Because of this revelation, and also his dissatisfaction with the religion he created, Charles decided he could no longer in good conscience keep promoting Snagology. He resolved to divest himself of the religion.

Charles started making discreet inquiries on the Internet for a buyer for Snagology. He concentrated on online evangelist networks, of which there were surprisingly many, including one that focused on evangelist marketing ideas. Eventually, he got a few nibbles, and one in particular looked interesting. It was a woman who had just come into a large inheritance.

Paula was in her mid-40s and was looking for meaning in her life. She was from a business-oriented, non-religious family that had prized material success over all else. But she knew there had to be more to life than the accumulation of money and things. Insular and never married, her only exposure to religion had been through a friend who was hooked on TV evangelists. They seemed to her to be just like the businessmen her family interacted with: bullies in empty suits.

Not long after her parents died two weeks apart, Paula had stumbled upon the Snagology website. It was a revelation for her.

“I’m plagued by snags, just like you,” she told Charles when they talked. “Your site is the first true thing I’ve found in my quest for meaning.”

Charles was flattered, but Paula’s attitude made him wonder if he was just enabling yet another evangelistic con artist.

He thought, she wants the money, but she seems honestly interested in the premise of Snagology. And she’s got the means to build Snagology further. Eventually, Charles decided she was the one, and together they created a contract which licensed Snagology and the website to Paula subject to several rules, including some that limited Paula’s ability to exploit the religion for her own gain.

After a little back and forth, they struck a deal. Charles would get a one-time payout and remain the titular founder of Snagology. He would be paid a stipend based on the revenues of the website. He would have no other relationship with the religion. Paula would step in as its head and run the religion within the guidelines they had agreed upon.

Once the deal was signed, sealed, and delivered, Charles was relieved to be out from under the administrative burden of running Snagology. He was no longer as sure about the existence of the Viewerverse as he had been when he began the religion. Clearly, he thought, my discovery of a godlike property of the Universe doesn’t mean this is not a simulation built for the enjoyment of a pan-universal audience. But there is some positive force out there, as I’ve always expected.

There is a reason to believe.

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