The vilest creature in the Sarah P. Duke Gardens can"t chase you, fondle your breasts, or steal your bling and sling it for crack. As a matter of fact, it can"t so much as budge, unless the wind blows or the Lord drops a squirrel. Yet be not deceived; the Datura stratamonium remains one of the most potent, and dangerous, hallucinogens known to man. Commonly called jimson weed, this plant grows in most states and ingesting a few of its seeds is enough to evoke delirium, fantastic visions and psychosis. On an Internet psychoactive drug forum, Erowid, descriptions of experiences with it bear names like, 'A Dark and Hopeless Hell,' ''Eating Bugs While my Friends Convulsed,' and 'A Tale of Nudity, Arrest, and Insanity.'
Yet I never realized that Datura stratamonium abuse was a major problem here until I read a press release from the Dean of the Chapel and Director of Religious Life posted on the Duke website, 'On God and Tsunamis.' As the first words slammed into my visual cortex, boom, I knew it; the posting had all the marks of a Datura trip, I mean the dude was just so wasted.
His trip starts slowly, with musings about the mysterious nature of human suffering, citing Professor Reynolds Price who describes it thus, 'the scalding encounter with the greatest mysteries--unearned suffering, the apparent punishment of the unquestionably guiltless.' Naturally we all are scalded by unearned human suffering like pudgy russet potatoes, unless of course we are one of the religious conservatives who endorsed Bush"s gratuitous, orgiastic, skull-exploding 100,000-soul bukkake blood-fiesta in Iraq. Saddam was a brutal dictator, but we ignore brutality where it pleases us: Darfur, Rwanda, along with the 3 x104 kids who die every day around the world from treatable diseases. We certainly don"t spend five billion every month trying to fix those problems, perhaps because they aren"t quite so sexed up with black Au. Even though suffering sickens us, it isn"t something someone as clever as Richard H. Brodhead should 'struggle to make sense of,' particularly when that suffering is caused by plate slippage, wave propagation in an aqueous medium, costal settlements, aerobic respiration and not by man. Awful, yes. A mystery? No.
But the tripping Chapel Dean doesn"t stop. By the end he is a real flat-out psycho, his heart pounding, arteries ululating like yak drums, delirious, the demons all around, claiming that God intervenes in human affairs, wants to give vibrant life to all but refuses to stop suffering and dying: 'Christianity claims that God does not stay aloof in the heavens, distant from human life, throwing cars into one another on highways, crashing planes into buildings, infecting some with cancer cells, or unleashing the fury of the sea on thousands upon thousands of unaware beach-goers. God"s will and purpose is to give life, flourishing loving life, to all of his children.' But then, several sentences later, he writes: 'God was in the depths of the churning water, clutching his children as they drown.' Does God really want to give flourishing life to his children? Why drown them like kittens, then, sir? And who are you to speak for the Big Fella"s whereabouts? The Chapel Dean may not actually be high on jimson weed, but I sure can"t tell the difference. His abdication of reason could hardly be more complete.
This farce, in addition to being a diarrheal waste of your tuition dollars, provides a sad example of how absurd religion has become in modern times. In the ages of ignorance, it was a powerful way of explaining and coping with phenomena. No longer. Science has solved the riddle of human existence and tsunamis and, in the centuries to come, will be the force to deliver us from evil. Reality may not be pretty yet, but it still beats the hallucinogenic theological fantasies that purport to explain it. Figuring out how to prevent disease, death and natural disasters are the best ways to respond to the world in which we find ourselves. Superstition has no place in these projects and ultimately must--and shall--be vanquished.
Matt Gillum is a Trinity senior. His column appears Wednesdays.
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