Waiting for pizza


From Christian Century (October 5, 1994)

by William Willimon

LIFE AFTER God is life lived in front of the TV in dreary synthetic places. Life after God is life with people whom we know only in glimpses, in momentary meetings while waiting for the pizza to arrive. In a world without God, we never really know anything, at least not for sure. Things come at us in small bits, without connection.

Following his widely celebrated Generation X, Douglas Coupland's newest work continues to explore life in the fast-forward age. Life After God appears to be a collection of short stories, but these stories are more like snapshots, bites of contemporary life that defy connection. With occasional insight, wonderfully wicked humor and a pervasive cynicism, Coupland gives us glimpses of what it's like to have been raised by the first generation that stopped believing in God. By the time Generation X became adults, there was nothing left not to believe in. They appear to be stuck with the TV on mute, drifting through relationships and having only occasional insights into what is going on in the world or in themselves.

Life After God is charmingly modest, understated and somewhat distant from its subjects, as is fitting for a generation without a clue. Coupland's own modest line drawings accompany each piece. The prose is as sketchy, inconclusive and disconnected as the drawings. One's impression from reading this book is that in postmodern fiction or art, there is no perspective, point of view, plot or character development because in a world without God these things do not exist. No one has enough character to develop.

Though I was initially skeptical about the book, by the time I finished it (it can easily be read in about an hour) I felt that Coupland provided an exceptionally accurate, compelling collection of snapshots of his generation. Indeed, to the next person who asks me, "What are today's young adults up to?" I will say, "Read Life After God."

Here is a generation expecting to be incinerated at any moment (Couplands recall of his apocalyptic nuclear dreams are hilarious) and whose parents had no good advice to offer because they were so unsure of their own lives that they dared not pass anything on to their young. All of this is either a smug confirmation of the Christian conviction that without God the world is nothing and we are nobodies or a rather charming secular assertion that we ought to quit feeling sorry for ourselves and live each day the best we can. How you read this book depends on your prior conviction about whether it is good or bad to hive in a culture without God.

Riding through the desert, the narrator finds that everyone on every radio station seems to be talking about Jesus, and it seemed to be this crazy orgy of projection, with everyone projecting onto Jesus the antidotes to the things that had gone wrong in their own lives. He is Love. He is Forgiveness. He is Compassion. He is a Wise Career Decision. . . . I was feeling a sense of loss as I heard these people. I felt like Jesus was sex--or rather, I felt like I was from another world where sex did not exist and I arrived on Earth and everyone talked about how good sex felt, and showed me their pornography and built their lives around sex, and yet I was forever cut off from the true sexual experience. I did not deny that the existence of Jesus was real to these people--it was merely that I was cut off from their experience in a way that was never connectable.

Though the narrator talks a good line of cynical detachment and unconcern about lack of insight into all this, I was not surprised to find, on the book's next to last page, Coupland's possibly autobiographical confession:

Now--here is my secret: I tell it to you with an openness of heart that I doubt I shall ever achieve again. . . . My secret is that I need God- -that I am sick and can no longer make it alone. I need God to help me give, because I no longer seem to be capable of giving; to help me be kind, as I no longer seem capable of kindness; to help me love, as I seem beyond being able to love.