The Breakfast Table

God in the News

Good morning, Ken. I’m sorry I’m late today. When I went out to move my car, I discovered that another vehicle had sheared off my taillight and part of my bumper. The culprit was a New York City Sanitation truck.

Of course, there is massive text everywhere today about the Big Tech News: genome mapping. “We have caught the first glimpses of our instruction book, previously known only to God,” the New York Times quotes Dr. Francis S. Collins, the director of the National Human Genome Research Institute as saying. It’s interesting how these major scientific discoveries by humans always evoke the God comments. Scientists are naturally awed when they glimpse big chunks of the order of things. I share that, but I’m also terrified when I reflect on the disorder of things.

For example, the other God-invoking story that attracted my interest was the cover story of the New York Post, “Volpe Finds God.” Justin Volpe is the ex-cop who sodomized Abner Louima with a toilet plunger and was sentenced to 30 years last December. He basically went nuts in prison–who wouldn’t?–became extremely depressed, was waking up screaming and becoming suicidal. Now he has found religion via the help of a black female Harlem preacher, the Reverend Betty Neal.

Is Volpe just glomming onto a distracting painkiller for the moment? People in terrible situations, their minds spinning a relentless reel of self-condemnation, fear, and dread, are naturally drawn to the nice and hopeful-sounding promises of religion. It can be just a palliative. But for many, it’s a sort of psychic technology that helps them deal with evil, despair, and redemption. Where is the map of that? Does Rev. Betty Neal have some kind of access to it? Is it different from the map of the brain and chemicals like serotonin? Will the Genome Project help anybody get a handle on that stuff?