Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Sex, Lies, and Suicide Bombers

I ate a late breakfast at Waffle House this morning— cheese omelet with a side order of grits. Whenever I eat at Waffle House I sit in the corner booth and read USA Today. This morning I found it hard to concentrate. A couple of guys in the booth next to mine were having a fascinating discussion on religion and terrorism. I couldn’t help but eavesdrop…

One guy whose tan work shirt had the name “Fred” printed on a patch stitched over a frayed breast pocket said, “Look I’m not losin’ my faith or nothin’, but ya gotta admit sex with seventy virgins is not a bad deal. Seriously, I can see why Mooslems [that is how he pronounced Moslems] turn to this suicide-bombing thing. Seventy virgins, damn!”

“That’s bull, man. They don’t get no virgins. God sends ‘em to hell.”

“No way, man. Virgins. I heard it on the radio, and my pastor told me its true.”

“True that some terrorist gets seventy virgins from God for killin’ people?”

“True that they believe so. I ain’t saying it's true. It ain’t. But if I believed it was true, damn ya gotta give it some thought.”

Now that he mentioned it, I was giving it some thought. I should have kept my thoughts to myself, but I didn’t:

“How do you know God sends them to hell?” I said to the guy sitting across from Fred. “How do you know God doesn’t give them the 70 virgins?”

For a second, I worried that my neighbors would be annoyed with me for butting into their conversation, but they didn’t seem to mind a bit.

“Look,” not-Fred said, “they don’t even believe in God, they believe in Aylah [Allah], and Aylah ain’t God.”

“Actually, Allah is the Arabic word for God. Allah and God are the same thing.”

“No way, man,” Fred said, “God don’t have nothin’ to do with no virgins.”

“Well, that ain’t exactly true,” not-Fred said. “I mean God has a kid with the Virgin Mary. You know, Jesus.”

“OK. God has one virgin and keeps her for hisself, but he ain’t about to give seventy virgins to you jus’ because you blow yerself up in a hotel or something.”

“But you don’t really know that,” I said. “You don’t believe it, but you don’t know for certain. And since you don’t know for certain, you have to entertain the possibility that God does reward those who kill in God’s Name. God kills lots of people in the Bible, and when Jesus comes back he is going to kill thousands maybe millions more. You can’t say that God doesn’t condone killing. It is just that we want God to kill people we want killed. God is like our hit man.”

“Yeah,” Fred said. “God is like Tony Soprano.”

“No way, you jerk,” not-Fred said, “Tony Soprano’s Catholic.”

“Look,” I said, “God kills people God doesn’t like; Allah kills people Allah doesn’t like. God rewards his killers and Allah rewards his killers. What’s the difference?”

“First of all,” not-Fred said, “Aylah— Ahh-laah— ain’t God. He’s Satan. He lies. God don’t lie. Aylah says God never had a Son, but we know that ain’t so. Jesus is God’s Son. So I don’t doubt that this lyin’ Aylah tells people that he will give them seventy virgins if they kill some Christians. I only said God— the real God— don’t reward nobody with virgins.”

“Why not?”

“’Cause Jesus was a virgin and God don’t want us foolin’ around like that. Are you just stupid or what?”

“Maybe stupid,” I said, “but God rewards martyrs in Christianity and Judaism, why not in Islam? All I’m saying is that it is arbitrary to say God rewards our martyrs and not their martyrs. And it is presumptuous of us to say that if God wants to reward His Moslem martyrs with seventy virgins He is not allowed to do so.”

“Man, you are crazy. And I think you’re bullshittin’ me.”

“I am not trying to be obnoxious,” I said. “I’m genuinely curious. If your pastor told you that God wanted you to kill some Moslems and promised you sex with seventy virgins if you did it, wouldn’t you at least be tempted.”

Before his friend had a chance to reply, Fred got up, slapped not-Fred on the shoulder and said, “We gotta go, man.” As he stood to leave, not-Fred turned to me and said, “I’ll tell you what, virgins, seventy or seventy thousand, don’t appeal to me at all. You ever had sex with a virgin? It is too much work. Now, if God offered me seventy whores, then I might be tempted. I don’t want to break in seventy virgins. I want women who know what they’re doing.”

Then he laughed. Then not-Fred laughed. Then I laughed. But only on the outside.