By Jason McClain (@JTorreyMcClain)
American Gods is a pretty wonderful book and I can’t help but think about what a friend said after her husband read it. He said, “I think this book would have blown my mind if I read it when I was eighteen.”
I can totally relate to that and I don’t mean it as a criticism, it’s just that it’s those years that really are the time when we explore religion. We take the actual step into adulthood. Eighteen is the age to go off to college, to find a job, to move out of the house and find your way in the world. Faced with such a change in lifestyle, we all contemplate what it all means. Is it money? Is it happiness? Money may not buy happiness, but it certainly makes it easier, right? (I mean, how many of the fights that we saw between our parents were about money?)
If it is money, then we can measure how well we do in life by the amounts of money we make. There is a measure to tell us how well we are doing.
Then after four weeks working at a campus snack bar, we hope that isn’t true. Getting to the level of Steve Jobs, Bill Gates or Carlos Slim seems to be way out of reach.
So, maybe it is happiness. Maybe we can find it and “win” at life. So, we go to the local Christian church to find the joy, the power of an unconditional love and forgiveness. We know that there will be trials and tribulations on Earth (and we’ve seen that first hand with that first paycheck that will never, ever come close to paying our rent), but if we love our neighbors, if we follow those commandments, if we turn the other cheek, we will find eternal happiness in about 49 years.
However, as teenagers, that seems way too far away and won’t help us at all with the possibility of missing our cell phone payment or a lifetime of chronic masturbation that faces us if we can’t get a date for this weekend.
How do other cultures find happiness? Soon we look at the stories of heroes, of rebirths, of meditation, of inner peace and we can pick and choose what we like and what we don’t (or maybe we find a religion that suits us perfectly in every which way – though like a political platform, I find that less and less likely.)
Then we come to the realization that we’re the only person that believes in the combination Hindu-Buddist-Norse-Egyptian-Aztec-Judeo-Christian-Flying-Spaghetti-Monster belief system that we’ve described and defined in a three-ring notebook complete with commandments, tenets and a very liberating dogma. That also means that the weekly prayer meetings are very lonely and dates for many of the following weekends look less and less likely if we keep following this path.
At that point, we look for things that help us to connect with more people. Instead of being the only person under the age of twenty, thirty or even forty at an Audubon Society meeting, maybe we start to volunteer at the campus radio station. Instead of constructing a really cool Dungeons and Dragons adventure that will probably never be played by another living soul, but if it was, they would get so many experience points, we sign up to go to football games with a big group from our dorm floor. Instead of going home right after work, we think that a beer does sound like a good idea with the rest of our co-workers because they know the bartender and he’ll let us drink even though we’re underage. Instead of living in a dorm, we join a fraternity, an organization that promises friends, lifetime bonds and the chance to meet girls on a regular basis. Instead of staying home for the weekend, we go to WonderCon, DragonCon or many other trade shows/festivals where there are thousands of people with the same interests.
Soon our beliefs are that there is no way the Yankees will ever miss the playoffs, Batman is so much cooler than Superman and we have had enough dates to actually hold an opinion on the question of whether blondes are better than brunettes. (The answer is brunettes. For now.)
We have found happiness. We have surrounded ourselves with friends that like to do the same things, that love to talk about music, movies, comics and sports and we share the cool things that we find with each other. We are no longer tied around a building where a lone figure talks to us from a stage on Sunday mornings, but rather a bunch of like-minded folks that we connect to on a daily basis, there for us when we need to keep busy to forget about money, break-ups or our other problems. Sure, there are still those occasional Sunday meetings 6,000 strong in Hall H at San Diego’s Comic-Con listening to Steven Moffat, or the Sunday afternoon 30,000 strong in Dodger Stadium, because we all generally still have that day free to follow what we believe.
We believe in watching our DVR’d episode of Community. We believe in community. It may not include a promise of eternal life (or it may because we have just added our faith in the Christian God to our other beliefs) but it is a promise that our days don’t have to be spent in solitude, that as Kurt Vonnegut proudly exclaimed, “Lonesome No More.”
Would this book have been better as I transitioned to being an adult? Sure. Is it great now that I have become an adult and can look at all of my beliefs, my loves that I have brought around the world and thought about so furiously (please, please, please, let the St. Louis Cardinals win and let Albert Pujols hit three home runs for my fantasy team; please, please let Hurley survive the island; please, please, please let “Dogtooth” win an Academy Award) and wonder how they would effect the world Neil Gaiman has created? Absolutely.
A book through the eyes of a child, a teen and an adult can be three very different things. I may not know how American Gods would have affected my younger self, but I do know that it made for some really cool reflections and an enjoyable read right now.