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Nearer, My God, to Thee | The Nation

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Diary of a Mad Law Professor

Nearer, My God, to Thee

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I hung a sign on the door. GONE FISHING, it said. I needed to ponder the state of the world. I was feeling a little left out on a planet where the religious forces of Armageddon and the secular warlords of Global Imperium had finally stopped battling each other, signed a truce and gone into business together. The United Nations had been marked by The Sign of the Beast, said beast properly caged, and now naught but snapping and growling emanated from within. The three branches of government had melted down into one big happy family, although it could not be said that we the people were related to any of them. All the judicial activists on the Supreme Court had been replaced by obedient missionaries of The Word, who knew to address the President as Dear Leader, or on formal occasions, Oh Greatest of Great Leaders.

About the Author

Patricia J. Williams
Patricia J. Williams
Patricia J. Williams, a professor of law at Columbia University, was born in Boston in 1951 and holds a BA from...

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There was no more playing the race card, because the Civil Rights Commission was headed by a man who didn't believe that civil rights was the way to achieve civil rights. The Attorney General was a thoughtful fellow who advocated torture if and only when the electric chair was not enough. The Iraqi people had embraced their newest attempt at a Constitution in voter turnouts of a mere 98 percent in some districts. This number was widely interpreted as evidence of the diversity of viewpoints now flourishing with the emergence of democracy, recalling particularly that during the reign of Saddam Hussein a referendum supporting his regime was distinguished by voter turnout of 100 percent or more.

Even the contentiousness of reproductive rights, which had been such a fine source of profit for the female persuasion, had disappeared once one's opinion of abortion was finally conceded to be a private matter of "personal views" and theoretical speculation. (Of course, after the legislature renamed the actual act of abortion "murder," there wasn't much to argue in the nontheoretical sense either.) This freed up a lot of my time for more constructive debates about how many days it took God to make the ingrates who believe they were spawned by apes. These days I had time to think about why Heaven chose to punish prostitutes and female impersonators by making the levees to fail and the floodwaters to rise and the nursing homes to be washed away and the buses full of sick old people to explode on the road out of town. It was a mystery, all right. Earthquakes in communist countries were certainly much easier to understand. On a more cheerful note, the melting of the polar ice cap was good news for the cruise industry, which could now schedule little fun runs from Scotland to Siberia in half the olden time.

War and peace had been resolved as well. After the Defense Department stopped counting the numbers of enemy soldiers, they soon stopped counting annoying journalists, whistle-blowing bureaucrats and uppity doctors who wandered from their assigned places. From there it was only a small "aha!" moment before they realized they didn't need to count anyone's dead, including our own. The body count was depressing everyone no end, and besides, there is no such thing as death to a true believer. We're all believers now...

It's odd, I thought, as I lowered my hook, line and sinker into the sea. I remembered an age when calling yourself an African-American feminist was viewed as divisive. One was urged to say something like, "I am an American--of African descent, not that it makes a bit of difference." It seemed like eons ago that George Orwell, in his "Notes on Nationalism," complained of the nationalist's obsession with nomenclature and the order in which countries are named: "Certain Americans have expressed dissatisfaction because 'Anglo-American' is the form of combination of those two words. It has been proposed to substitute 'Americo-British.'"

Now all such nonsense had been laid to rest. It didn't matter my race, sex, ethnicity or job experience if only I chose to be reborn as a "good Christian woman." I sighed. Besides, I thought, ever since the Great Tax Cut, China, which had effectively underwritten the ensuing national debt, called in all the notes it held and Americans were quietly adjusting to neocolonial status. Soon I'd be reborn yet again, as Sino-Americo-African. Not that it makes a bit of difference.

A bite! A tug upon my line! A fish? A whale? A hope of such in these so-oil-slicked waters? It is an ancient bottle, a faded, crumpled message stoppered within:

I, poor miserable soul, being shipwrecked during a dreadful storm, came on shore on this unfortunate island, which I call the Island of Despair. I know not how many of my compatriots survived the dismal circumstances, but I commit my hand to record this most fearful of travails. The Ship of State set out from port a gleaming pride, her sails a-billow, her jolly crew singing "Pax Americana." The captain was strong-jawed and his countenance radiated a pleasing, manly appeal as he posed on the prow looking toward the future. He spoke of mission and accomplishment and God. We set off with high hopes of the bounty we would find in the course of our adventure.

The ship was well stocked with meat and drink and we sailed north with scarcely a care for many a month. When the wind picked up it was only a few of us who had any sense of foreboding. The first mate told the captain that he didn't like the sharp whip in the breeze, but the captain was insulted by his impertinence and replaced him with an obedient counselor. When the sky grew gray the second mate renewed the plaint but the captain took offense at his lack of deference and replaced him with a minion who pointed to the silver lining of the clouds. When the waves grew high and we saw icebergs nigh, a few of us went to the captain and expressed the burden of our misgivings. The captain ordered full ahead and threw us in the brig. Later that night we heard the awful sound of the splintering hull. O Captain, my Captain! we called. But the captain, by now in a well-appointed lifeboat that had miraculously appeared, rowed nimbly toward the horizon, whilst reproaching us for failing to pray hard enough. And that is how I and my poor shipmates were Left Behind to drown.

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