I Met God — God Without Religion, Scripture, or Faith

I Met God — God Without Religion, Scripture, or Faith: No Religion, Too


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Read the previous chapter Contact


I Met God — God Without Religion, Scripture, or Faith
A Book by J. Neil Schulman
Chapter 4: No Religion, Too


BRAD LINAWEAVER: Okay, let’s hear that.

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: And it happens in 1995 when I went to a summer event of the C.S. Lewis Society. It happens when I meet C.S. Lewis’s stepson, Douglas Gresham. He’s come to the United States and is talking at this event that I, as a member of the C.S. Lewis Society, am attending.

After my agnostic period pretty well ends in 1988, and I pretty well consider myself a theist from that point on, I start shopping around to see: am I supposed to become a Christian?

Remember, I don’t have anybody Jewish really vying for my attention at that point.

Again, I’ve met Dennis Prager and I knew he was a practicing Jew. But I was left out of it. In other words, again, the performance aspect, the behaviorist aspect, of Judaism — the rituals, the tradition all that — these were still not things which were appealing to me. My God encounter wasn’t drawing me in that direction, and Christianity was.

And it reaches the point where I meet with Douglas Gresham. He’s giving this talk, and I really, really warm to the guy immediately. I mean, all my prejudices were in favor of him. I’d read a lot of Lewis and here’s his stepson — in essence, one of the only two sons he ever had, the other one being his brother David, who wasn’t there.

Douglas Gresham was a very fundamentalist Christian, and on this day, where I attended a C.S. Lewis event at this monastery where Douglas Gresham was the speaker, I had a long conversation with him, and I was right up to the point of thinking maybe I should convert to Christianity at this point. Maybe I should go through the whole thing and be baptized and take Communion. Maybe that’s what all of this as been leading to.

I contemplated it and bounced. I tried to take the leap into Christianity and I bounced off it as if it was a solid wall. The results of that are memorialized in the last poem in the Self Control Not Gun Control volume called “A Non-Christian’s Prayer to Christ.”

BRAD LINAWEAVER: I agree, it’s in there, more than any of your other poems.

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: The poem is dated June 29, 1995, and so this event happened June 28, 1995.

And the results of it were that I discovered in Christianity something that bothered me about individualism for the first time. That was the idea that if I were saved because I accepted Jesus the way that Christianity was being taught to me – that it demanded that as a precondition to being a Christian you had to accept Jesus as your personal Savior – it was going to be leaving behind everybody I loved. It was going to leave behind my mother and father, it was going to leave behind all of my friends, it was going to leave behind my sister – none of whom were Christians who had accepted Jesus into their heart as their personal Savior.

It seemed evil to me. It seemed wrong to me that I couldn’t do anything about that. I mean, I’m supposed to be so selfish as to save myself and leave everybody I love behind? What’s that? How could I do that? I can’t do that. I know that I’m never going to be converting all of them to Christianity. That means that I’m going to have to accept eternal life by myself.

That’s not a gift. That’s a punishment. And what god would set things up in such a way as to punish you for following him?

At that point I decided, as much as Christianity had been attracting me through C.S. Lewis and all that, if that was what Christianity actually said — if that was what the nut of it was — I wanted no part of it.

BRAD LINAWEAVER: I’ve shown your poem to “conventional” Protestants. I’ve shown your poem to “conventional” Catholics, quite a number of them. Since 1995 when this came out – we’re now in the year 2004 – so for almost a decade I’ve shown this poem to quite a number of “conventional” Christians. The reaction of most of them is exactly what you would expect.

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: Well, what is the reaction that I would expect? Tell me.

BRAD LINAWEAVER: The majority are deeply bothered by your poem because it’s making them consider the very point you just raised. Therefore they have to reject what your poem is saying because that’s where their minds start. They shut down their brains. To use a phrase from Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, when you stop thinking it’s a “blank out.” In Objectivism, if you challenge an irreducible primary — this is some of the content of their faith — it’s an irreducible primary.

However, from my perspective as a lapsed Episcopalian, what I’ve discovered that’s really interesting is those Christians who understand C.S. Lewis the best, when I showed themthis poem, their reaction is not negative.

Therefore, I use your poem as one more way of reaching a conclusion I’ve been moving toward for a large part of my life, which is that C.S. Lewis is so out of step with the rest of Christianity, it’s astonishing that most of Christianity — that uses him to try to make people into converts — do not understand the deep message of C.S. Lewis.

I don’t believe the “Mere Christian Church” idea in The Rainbow Cadenza is a foolish idea at all. Even though Lewis would think that it’s foolish, and maintain there’s something to be said for the denominations, that’s not essential to his message. His message is far more radical. I believe, in earlier eras, C.S. Lewis would have been condemned by all the Christian churches you’ve ever heard of as a Gnostic heretic, and I believe that C.S. Lewis’s Christianity is totally radical, when you consider what he’s actually saying in the seventh book of the Narniaseries, which was your first positive impression of a Christian mind — when you didn’t even know it was a Christian mind — and that is that the soldier who is worshiping what everybody else thinks is a demon or an evil god —

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: His name is Emeth.

BRAD LINAWEAVER: Right. Because he thinks that he’s worshiping the God of goodness, he is in effect and in reality worshiping the God of goodness, because his intent is such. Because he thinks he’s worshiping goodness, he is worshiping goodness.

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: What Aslan says is that no worship that is vile could be directed toward me and no worship which is good could be directed to the demon, that the prayers reach their true heart’s desire.

BRAD LINAWEAVER: This point I’m making, this is a very important point. Very few Christians or Jews, or anybody else, are going to pay attention but it’s very important. If I ever do become a Christian again, I will be of the C.S. Lewis stripe. When you’re dead — in the C.S. Lewis version — you are not finished and your chance to still hear the message of Jesus, and still be saved, continues after death.

Oddly enough, the Roman Catholic Church — which should take that position with their doctrine of Purgatory, something you would think would permeate Roman Catholic teaching — does not.

And oddly enough, many Protestants believe that when you die your chances are all used up. You can see that in all the fundamentalists and all the evangelicals.

Here we have C.S. Lewis who is an Ulster Protestant, a High Church Protestant, who I think has thought this thing through further than the Roman Catholic Church which has a structural legalistic afterlife bureaucracy that might be indistinguishable from Hell, or the militant fundamentalist Protestants who just can’t wait to send you to Hell if you make the least mistake. What’s fascinating to me is the Lewis version of Christianity is not normal Christianity at all.

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: And it goes back further than the seventh book of The Narnian Chronicles, The Last Battle. It goes back to The Great Divorce where you have a bus of people from Hell who get to visit Heaven and get new chances.

BRAD LINAWEAVER: And they stay in Hell because they turn it down.

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: But one makes it through.

BRAD LINAWEAVER: I know. But why are most people in Hell? Because, in effect, Lewis is arguing, they choose to be in Hell.

Now, I’ve heard all kinds of orthodox Catholics and orthodox Protestants, of different denominations, recite those words in various forms. You hear it on the surface and I swear, underneath the surface, they don’t mean it. They say the words but they don’t believe it. I’ve heard “conventional” Christians, Catholics and Protestants, who, when I read Lewis’ comment that the sins of the spirit are worse than the sins of flesh, they nod, they agree, they say the words right back … and they continue living lives that are absolute monuments to not believing one word they just said. They live as though they don’t believe it, as though they believe the sins of the flesh are worse than the sins of the spirit. That’s how they live. Then they say, “Oh, yes, of course Lewis is right — the sins of the spirit are worse than the sins of the flesh.” And they go right back acting like the sins of the flesh are worse.

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: And you’re right. Lewis did not believe that. He literally believed that the sins of the spirit are worse. What’s more, he believed that we retain our free will even after death. That we still have the ability to turn around. It may be harder then. It’s like we talked about how the Jewish conception of original sin is that it’s harder but not impossible.

BRAD LINAWEAVER:And every fundamentalist Christian, every evangelical Christian, and all too many Catholics, actually, have used the line from Jesus Christ, from the New Testament, “No one comes to the Father but through me” but they finish the sentence as follows: “Nobody comes to the Father except through me in this lifetime, in the choices you make in this incarnation, right up to the moment of your death, in this particular fraction of space-time.”

But that’s not what it says. It says, “No one comes to the Father but through me.” It doesn’t say how many chances you have. It doesn’t say when your opportunities end. It does not say!

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: Also, let me tell you something else it does not say. “No one comes to the Father except through me” does not mean that you have to say a particular recitation of words, do a Jewish sort of performance, such as “Yes, I declare that Jesus Christ is my personal Savior and I except Him into my heart!”

BRAD LINAWEAVER: Yada yada yada!

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: It’s not demanding the performance. It’s not demanding the behavior. It’s merely stating a fact like, “If you want to get to Los Angeles you have to take the I-10 Freeway. There’s no way to get to Los Angeles unless you get on the I-10.”

BRAD LINAWEAVER: You’re a guy who walked away from all that Jewish ritual and here’s your Christian alternative: Christian ritual. But the fascinating thing — and why I think that Jesus Christ is such an interesting figure to you — is you’re actually paying attention to some of the actual content that’s coming out of what he is supposed to have said, according to those gospel accounts.

And the last thing is, you are not having any of the conventional Jewish responses. You don’t have one molecule of that in you. And instead of getting rewarded by Christians for liking Jesus, your reward is, “Oh, but you’ve got to be just like us!”

You’re right back in Hebrew school.

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: Right.

BRAD LINAWEAVER: Do you think it’s possible that most conventionally religious people, Muslims, Christians, Jews and others — and we’ll throw in the Buddhists and the Shintoists and the Hindus — would not allow God to have a direct contact with them — would not allow a revelation from God to take place — if it interrupted one of their prayers?

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: I think your question is entirely on point. I think that religion for most people — I’m not going to say for all people, because there are always the exceptions within the system — but for the vast majority of people religion is not fundamentally about seeking God at all.

#

Next in I Met God — God Without Religion, Scripture, or Faith is Chapter V: Escape from Heaven

I Met God — God Without Religion, Scripture, or Faith is
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I Met God — God Without Religion, Scripture, or Faith: Contact


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Read the previous chapter First Doubts


I Met God — God Without Religion, Scripture, or Faith
A Book by J. Neil Schulman
Chapter 3: Contact

BRAD LINAWEAVER: Neil, when we left off we had just gotten to the point where you moved from atheism to agnosticism and you gave a position on agnosticism having to do with considering the possibility of more than one paradigm being true, kind of a multiple reality-tunnel approach, perhaps.

I am reading from your book Self Control Not Gun Control, where you write “How about a computer metaphor? We are Software in a PC, even if we have a modem to other PC’s or that Great Main Frame in the Sky. Oh, Lord, DeBug Me, Deliver me out of RAM and Save me to Disk, Repairing all my corrupted Sectors, Amen.”

I would like to address the issue that when you moved from atheism to agnosticism I get the impression you did not stay in agnosticism very long, because in your essay, “Why I Am Not A Jew And What I Am Instead,” you did say “I believe in God, but I would believe – and have believed -in goodness per se even in the absence of my belief in God.”

I see that as a reference back to your natural law beliefs that you had I think as far back as you were able to formulate beliefs of any kind. So my question here is: was it a pretty short step from your form of agnosticism to a belief in the God of natural law?

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: Let me first try to put the limits on the timeline here, because that might be useful in helping to answer the question. As you were zeroing in yesterday, something happened to me during the writing of The Rainbow Cadenza. I had some sort of event happen to me, probably in the last month of writing, that puts it somewhere in November to December of 1981, and I would say that my atheism was pretty well done at that point because I was seriously running at least a second or third paradigm, at that point. The materialistic view that Rand had given me was in suspension along with other views at that point so I would say I was agnostic by that point. Obviously, by the time I’m writing that statement “I believe in God” – it’s dated March 24, 1992 – my agnosticism is pretty much over.

I also talk about having the experience with God, I don’t think we’ve gotten to it yet in the first part, where I had an experience in 1988 around my birthday in which, I had been praying daily The Lord’s Prayer by 1988 probably for about a year. The 1988 experience I have told you about but I’m going to be putting on the record here and this is as good a place to do it.

But first let me just say that the transition starts to happen during the writing of Rainbow Cadenza when I start playing off the arguments, in my mind, between C.S. Lewis and Ayn Rand, which is characterized in the characters of Joan Darris and the underground “Mere Christian” priest Hill Bromley in The Rainbow Cadenza.

BRAD LINAWEAVER: Right, we talked about that in a previous section.

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: Joan Darris is an Objectivist, in our argumentation. Hill Bromley is arguing from the standpoint of what I was reading from C.S. Lewis and he is a priest of the “Mere Christian” Church, taken directly from the title of one of C.S. Lewis’ most famous books Mere Christianity. There is no “Mere Christian” Church. Lewis would have scoffed at the idea that there could be a “Mere Christian” Church because as far as he was concerned denominations had meaning — you just had to choose one.

So, by the end of 1981 when I’m finishing the writing of Rainbow Cadenza I’m going through this transition period. It then starts accelerating so that by 1987, I’ve decided to make the experiment. We can call that period from 1982 to 1986 — at least five years — we can call that my for-sure agnostic period.

In 1987 I decide to make a leap of faith — an experiment — and that is to pray.

During this agnostic period I was running these multiple paradigms and I had the feeling that C.S. Lewis talked about, of being pursued. He talks about this, as I said, in the first section of his autobiography Surprised by Joy. And I had the feeling that there was an active intelligence in me answering my arguments. Whenever I was thinking over the Ayn Rand/Objectivist arguments against the existence of God, I kept on coming back with images and answers and information, which confounded those arguments, which annihilated them. So much so, at the point of 1987, I decided that I was going to start praying and see if anything happened.

Lewis talks about jumping across the chasm. Interestingly, this imagery of the chasm is also used in business. Crossing the Chasmis the title of a book, which has to do with entrepreneuring a new product and going from the early adopters to the mainstream market. So in essence what I was doing was, I saw it as a scientific experiment because the idea was either I was going to find out that there was a real intelligence on the other end by praying, and that this was not simply some psychological event. Of course I was familiar with the idea of bicameral minds and subconscious, and I’d read a lot of Jung during this period. I’d always been interested in psychology, reading Freud’s A General Introduction to Psychoanalysis by the time I was fourteen.

BRAD LINAWEAVER: Oh, I have to ask you a question there. Jung has always been preferred over Freud by those who believe in God, because the archetypes and other aspects of Jung — synchronicity, all these things — tie in with the more religious viewpoint. Whereas Freud has always been a darling — or used to be — of the atheist-materialist until the feminists got so mad at him. Back when you were an atheist, where did your emotions tend to pull you, toward Freud or toward Jung? Or did you not see a conflict?

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: Well, I wasn’t thinking of it in those terms. I was thinking of it in artistic terms. I started reading Jung because symbols and imagery were an important part of the artistic motif of The Rainbow Cadenza itself. So I was reading Jung as well as a lot of different writers. I mean I did an encyclopedia’s worth of research on the various fields of Rainbow Cadenza. That is a very heavily research-driven book. Probably in the same way that you had to read every book about the Nazis there was to do Moon of Ice.

BRAD LINAWEAVER: You really taught me things about music and about lasegraphy I never would have known without reading The Rainbow Cadenza

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: I was trying to derive fundamental principles. I don’t want to digress too much here, but there was a fundamental principle that I learned during the writing of The Rainbow Cadenza, which I think of as the theory of everything when it comes to art. And that is the theory of dialectic. The idea that all art in one way or another comes from a collision of opposites, which creates tension and then a resolution, which really leads to release of tension. In drama, it is plot — doubt of outcome leading to resolution of outcome or doubt of intent in suspense leading to resolution of intent. In music, it is dissonance leading to consonance, or a harmonic expectation being fulfilled, such as the third note of a triad being expected and then becoming a full chord. You know things, which are set up to create expectations in drama, in music and all these forms of art, which are dynamic, which move. And I even started thinking of ways, in dancing for another example, contraction and release of the muscles.

BRAD LINAWEAVER: You’ve always agreed with Aristotle’s theory of catharsis?

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: Right, but what I was looking for was a universal common denominator to all of them and then having found it in the tension-and-release dialectic, I then applied it to an art form which was just starting out and was not yet using it and that was the Laserium visual light art form. And so what I was able to do was take these principles and draw examples from these various different existing art forms and then apply them, in the novel, to an art form that, in essence, did not yet exist.

But it told me something also basic about all art and that in essence, that’s when I started to think of us as a creation, an existence we were living in, as a work of art. Because I saw the same principles existed in our lives,. The very principle of creation, of procreation, for example, involved a male – or masculine – principle and a female – or feminine – principle uniting to create a synthesis, which is a unique human being.

BRAD LINAWEAVER: Neil you’re not saying kids do better with having a mother and a father are you?

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: Yes, I think I would say that. And as a matter of fact, of course, I was way ahead of the curve in discussing that in Rainbow Cadenza, where you do have gay marriages.

But, I’m going into digression after digression after digression here and I do want to develop these points in some coherent fashion.

The very exploration of art in The Rainbow Cadenza started giving me new paradigms having to do with existence itself. I started seeing God, in the sense that Hill Bromley was talking about God, as being an artist. And this paradigm, that’s when it started running alongside in my head, these other paradigms, these purely mechanistic science paradigms. And, of course, there were the quantum paradigms, also, which I was getting from reading things like Illuminatus! and the The Schrodinger’s Cat books by Robert Anton Wilson. And of course Sam Konkin was a theoretical chemist and so I was given some, at least a Sunday supplement version of quantum mechanics and statistical mechanics. Not that I had any mathematical understanding of them, but at least that was one more of the paradigms that was starting to run in my head as I started thinking about quantum uncertainty as possibly having to do something with free will and freeing us from the mechanistic clockwork universe that seemed to be so much a part of the secularists.

BRAD LINAWEAVER: Crucial question, it’ll keep us on track. Are you saying that when you first started seriously thinking about God during this highly creative agnostic period, you first started thinking about God in esthetic terms?

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: Yes. Yes. God as an artist, as a creator, was where it’s first coming up. And again it comes because in writing a novel you have to be honest to your characters. I never liked writing straw-man arguments for my characters, I always wanted to have the people I disagreed with having as strong arguments as they could come up with.

BRAD LINAWEAVER: You know I agree with you on that Neil.

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: Why yes, Brad. So much so, that I have the villain of The Rainbow Cadenza, Burke Filcher, making arguments that I disagree with one-hundred per cent, but making them so compellingly that to this day I have readers think that those are my actual positions.

So this transition that I was going forward with, again a lot having to do with tension and release and realizing that Creation itself utilized these artistic principles, made me start at least running the paradigm of the created universe alongside the uncreated universe. Again, the contradiction in my mind was how could you have a created universe if existence exists? That existence exists was where Rand was starting out, how could you have a created universe if existence has always existed, how can something come out of nothing? That was one of the main problems that I was trying to resolve in my mind. If there has to be something which is uncreated, how could you have a created universe? Okay, so that was the unresolved problem in my mind.

BRAD LINAWEAVER: You did not like the idea of Creation ex nihilo.

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: Right, and to this day I reject the concept of creation ex nihilo.

BRAD LINAWEAVER: But you, of course, have discovered that is not a basis for atheism, though most people think it is, but you’ve discovered that?

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: But it took me a while to get to that point and I would say that the transition during the agnostic period was when these questions were open and unresolved in my mind, when there was all this tension of these various different paradigms bumping against each other and coming out of me and being objectified in the characters in The Rainbow Cadenza.

So, by the time I get to 1987 I’m willing to make the experiment and pray. Interestingly, I chose The Lord’s Prayer.

BRAD LINAWEAVER: Why?

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: Jesus seemed cool to me, that’s the only way I can put it. Hanging around all these Christians at the C.S. Lewis Society, Jesus just seemed cool to me.

BRAD LINAWEAVER: By that point had you read C.S. Lewis’ famous remark, but I don’t remember which work it’s in, that Jesus Christ in the Gospel accounts in The New Testament, is equivalent to God writing Himself into His own novel. Had you encountered that Lewis remark by this point?

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: I would say that by 1987, I had probably read the bulk of C.S. Lewis’ nonfiction theological writings.

BRAD LINAWEAVER: It is very possible that Lewis’ observation helped contribute to your choice of The Lord’s Prayer?

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: Yes, and so that was the prayer and I started doing it.

Now here’s where I need to lead up to this by giving psychological background on one aspect of myself because it plays a part in the transition that happens in 1988. There’s two things I have to mention then, one of them is I was phobic about death. So much so that it made me a physical coward.

BRAD LINAWEAVER: When did you first discover that about yourself? Let’s go further back in time if necessary.

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: There is an old Yiddish expression which I heard growing up — “Ken dort gehargit verren” — which means you could get killed doing that. And that was pretty much my watchword for a long period of my youth. The idea of deliberately going into a situation where you could get killed was not something I wanted to do. Particularly, you know, because I had no emotional certainty of an afterlife. I was phobic about death. I was phobic about pain, but particularly death. So much so that I had to have nighttime rituals to get to sleep, to blank out almost the obsessive thinking that would happen to me in the stillness and quietness. I would start thinking about my own mortality and freak.

BRAD LINAWEAVER: About what age did this first begin?

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: It was always there. As far back as I could remember there’s always been this phobia about death.

Now something else weird. Remember that I mentioned that I had always had psychic beliefs. I’d had psychic experiences including some precognitive events of my own.

I remember a day in 1970 that I was expecting, all day, a telephone call to come in saying that my grandfather, my father’s father, was dead. That call came around two in the afternoon. I’d been expecting it. This was when we were in the process of moving from Massachusetts to New York.

Our house was for sale. The real estate agents were calling. I was going in with my father to Boston that day for testing at a school which was a tutorial academy with branches in both Boston and New York. I was going to test in Boston and complete high school at this tutorial academy in New York City.

When the phone rang that morning, it was clear in my mind they were calling to say Grandpa Schulman is dead. It wasn’t. It was a real estate agent calling to make an appointment.

I went into Boston with my father, I did the testing. After I was finished the testing they were doing grading on it — the marking on the achievement test to find out what my levels were.

The phone rang. The person who ran the branch of that school in Boston, Alexander Smith Academy, got on the phone and I again thought they’re calling to tell me that my grandfather’s dead. Why should I think that this random phone call, ringing at this academy, had anything even to do with me?

He handed me the phone. It was for me and it was my mother, calling to say that my grandfather had died about an hour before. So my first thing about it happened before he even died because that had happened around 8:30 or 9:00 o’clock that morning. And this was around 2:00 in the afternoon, and my grandfather had died around noon or something like that.

BRAD LINAWEAVER: Important question. Why wouldn’t the view that you’d had when you were fairly young, that the universe might have more going on in it than we immediately perceive with the five senses, which is what precog experiences suggest — extrasensory perception experiences suggest — which is real-time brain-to-brain communication, precog, you get the feeling you have an edge on the future, all these type of experiences. Why wouldn’t any of these experiences, and the fact that you had a number of them over the years, make you less phobic about death for the very simple reason that these experiences, if you don’t just rule them out the way Isaac Asimov would as just statistical and accidental and they don’t mean anything (the old Carl Sagan approach), if you’re drawing the other conclusion, that the universe in weirder than we think, why wouldn’t that make you less phobic about death?

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: Because it was at a too deep an irrational level, it was not subject to reason. I could distract myself from it I could not defeat what was going on inside of me. It was a neurosis of some sort.

BRAD LINAWEAVER: And you have no idea where it came from you have just had it for so long?

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: Well at that point I had no idea where it came from.

So, here is where I was leading up to my psychic thing. It would have to be sometime in the area of around 1987, when I learned that Robert Heinlein — whom, of course, I’d first met in September, 1973 after doing the interview with him in July, 1973 and had become friends with – when I learned in 1987 that Heinlein was dying of emphysema, which by the way was what killed my maternal grandfather, at the point where I knew that Heinlein was dying of emphysema I did something very, very strange in my own mind. I tried to psychically link my energy to his to keep him alive.

Now that sounds crazy. Why would I have even thought that I could do something like that? And here we come to a year of praying, sometimes more than once a day. Almost clinging to God in a sense “Don’t let me die,” “Don’t let me die,” “Don’t let Heinlein die,” “Don’t let Heinlein die.” I mean this really crazy neurotic mental cycles.

BRAD LINAWEAVER: And this is still when, if somebody asked you pointblank, at that moment, you’d still say you’re an agnostic but you’re running a prayer experiment, perhaps. Because in one of your interviews with Jack, you say years after you have convinced yourself or had the experience of God, years after that experience you told Jack, in one or you interviews, that you think the best way to think of God is God is an experimental scientist.

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: Yes.

BRAD LINAWEAVER: So, God is running the experiments?

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: Yes.

BRAD LINAWEAVER: And here you were at your end, you were running an experiment on God, the way that you could argue God runs experiments on us?

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: Yes.

BRAD LINAWEAVER: Both ends of the microscope.

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: Yes.

So, we get to April, 1988 and somewhere in that period, I’m not sure exactly when, I had my last telephone conversation with Heinlein. It was one in which he was talking about Jean Kirkpatrick for president. He must have known he didn’t have much time left but somewhere in the month preceding that I’d had my last telephone conversation with Heinlein, he spoke about that. He also probably shook my anarchism pretty heavily at that point by simply at a certain point he made some sort of offhand comment, “Well, Neil you know that’s crazy.” I think it was when I was telling him the reason why I didn’t vote or something like that because Heinlein, of course, believed in voting. I was coming up with the standard argument that we in The AnarchoVillage — our little libertarian group in Long Beach, California — were always talking about why we were nonvoters, quoting Jack Parr, “Don’t vote. It just encourages them.

Heinlein did something he’d never done before; he basically dissed me on this point. That had an impact on me emotionally, but nonetheless I loved the man.

BRAD LINAWEAVER: Do you remember what your response to him was?

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: I don’t think I even gave him a response.

BRAD LINAWEAVER: You just thought about it.

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: I started thinking about it.

BRAD LINWEAVER: He did that to make you think about it?

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: Yes. But also, interestingly, he immediately pulled back as if he had said it unintentionally.

BRAD LINAWEAVER: Ah, because he was so polite?

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: I’m not sure it was politeness, I almost had a sense it was something else.

BRAD LINAWEAVER: But he was a very polite man.

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: I think it was more than being polite. I think it was almost like that he saw what was going on with me and knew that I was going to end up there where he was anyway.

BRAD LINAWEAVER: But it may have been your first helping hand to the recognition that the brilliant observation you have made, you made this in your own words I’ll just through this in here but you say it awfully well: if we say we have the right to defend ourselves with weapons like guns, we recognize — as Emma Goldman always said — that the vote is a weapon also, and why only allow your enemies to wield that weapon?

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: And of course I was taking that directly from the anarchist writers who compared ballots with bullets. So in other words, at the point, a few years later than that, that I started literally endorsing carrying guns around with bullets in them, the arguments that the anarchists made to me came back in the exact opposite direction that they wanted to. If bullets and ballots are the same thing — as you’re always saying — then why can’t I use a ballot defensively like I use a bullet defensively?

BRAD LINAWEAVER: You turn this argument on its head and I have never seen it done better. For all I know it’s an original argument with you. But whether it is or not, your expression of it is very effective and I have not seen the argument from anybody but you.

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: Okay. We come to April 1988.

BRAD LINAWEAVER: The year of Heinlein’s death.

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: Right. That’s May.

This is a month before that and I was living bicoastal at that point.

My Twilight Zone episode had been aired March 7, 1986, and I started getting pulled back out to the West Coast for work reasons because movie and television production was West Coast. But nonetheless, before that, I had gotten married in July, 1985, and was living in Jersey City, New Jersey, and I needed to return to the West Coast. And that happened at various different stages.

But by that point, in April, 1988, I had already established a second apartment back in Long Beach — not back in the AnarchoVillage but just a few blocks away from it — with a roommate, John Strang.

It was a two-bedroom apartment, and we each had our own bedroom with our own privacy, shared a common living room and kitchen, and when my wife at that time came out to the West Coast, we would stay in my room and had the use of the apartment. That’s where I was starting to run SoftServ, the publishing company out of, the electronic publishing company. So in essence I had two homes again at that point, I was bicoastal.

I need to bring up the physiological component because the physiological component is going to play an important part later on.

I was a very heavy coffee drinker. I seem to have some sort of allergy to coffee which I’ve never fully figured out. I thought for a long time that it had to do with the acid of the coffee, or the caffeine, and it doesn’t seem to be either of those, because acid by itself or caffeine by itself does not do what coffee does to me. It sends me into irregular heartbeat and hyperventilation. It seems to be almost an allergic reaction. I think that it might have something directly to do, that there is some substance in coffee — and Sam Konkin, the theoretical chemist pointed out to me that there are so many substances in coffee that if you put them in a gas chromatograph you can’t even figure out everything that’s in there. They’ve never even been able to do a full analysis of what’s in coffee. So there’s something in there which I think may directly affect the brain in the regulation of breathing and heartbeat. It goes directly to the autonomic functions in some sense.

BRAD LINAWEAVER: And it’s not just the caffeine?

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: It’s not just the caffeine. It’s not the acid. It is something else in coffee.

BRAD LINAWEAVER: And that’s why they used to call it the devil’s brew when it was first introduced into Europe.

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: Well, they may be right.

But nonetheless, for the week before my birthday in 1988 — and it even took me a few days to realize that it was coffee that started it — but I had a week where I was uncontrollably and unexpectedly going into hyperventilation.

There was not such a great tension going on that these were panic attacks, although I had just taken out a lease on this apartment so I could work on the West Coast again and my guild was on strike again, was throwing us out on strike sometime in that period. I don’t remember the exact time of the strike. I do remember that it was a very long strike.

BRAD LINAWEAVER: That would be The Writer’s Guild?

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: The Writer’s Guild, yes. But nonetheless I don’t recall that this was a particularly stressful time but this week preceding my birthday in 1988 – my birthday is April 16 – I kept on going into fits of unexpected hyperventilation and they were causing panic attacks, so much so that I was having to carry around a paper bag with me to breathe into it, to try to get myself out of it. I didn’t know what was going on. I stopped drinking coffee after the first day, or something like that, when I realized it was linked. But nonetheless, even after stopping the coffee, it was not stopping and it was going on day after day after day. So by around the fifth or the sixth day I was a wreck.

And I’d started having a very strange thing happening. I’ll use a technical psychological term here. I became extremely emotionally labile. Emotional lability means that you do not have any self-control over your emotional response.

What was happening to me is that I became so emotionally sensitive to everything around me that if I watched a TV commercial with a little mini-drama, in that commercial to sell some product, it became like watching Hamlet or MacBeth. In other words, I was just responding to everything way out of proportion. I was feeling everything. In terms of sound you would think of it as 120 decibels or something like that.

BRAD LINAWEAVER: Total empathy?

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: Total empathy.

Now, I had thought of myself as somebody who, if he identified with any character out of Star Trek, it was Spock. I was out of control. Suddenly my emotions were out of control. It was “Amok Time” — or something like that — without the mating ritual.

It got to the point where on the night before my birthday I lay down in bed and this feeling of uncertainty — and remember this combined with this death phobia — I was afraid I was going to die from this, that something was happening in me that was killing me. I didn’t know what it was.

I lay down in bed – and bed for me was a futon on the floor in this bedroom – and I felt a hand on my heart inside my chest. I can’t describe it any other way. I felt a physical presence of a hand, as if it was holding my heart. Not squeezing it but holding it so I could feel it. In my head I heard this voice and it said to me, “I can take you now.”

Suddenly my worst fear, death was coming, you know, God is going to take me. I’m in the middle of a Twilight Zone episode. Hand on my heart. I’m scared to death – literally. And a voice — The Voice, which I knew was God’s voice — was saying, “I can take you now.” And I was scared.

Something unusual happened at that point. The Voice, which had just said “I can take you now,” started laughing at me.

And I said, “Why are you laughing at me?”

And The Voice — God, I might as well just say God, because that’s how I identified it — God said to me then “Because I can’t believe that you’re scared.”

I said, “Why would you be surprised that I’m scared? I’ve always been scared of death. You’re surprised that I’m scared?”

It was totally inexplicable to me that while this is going on, God’s first reaction is to be astonished, and laugh, that I am scared of death. Who am I that God would be surprised that I’m scared of death? I’m not a war hero, who’s been an Audie Murphy who’s charged machine-gun nests, or anything like that. Why on Earth would God be surprised by that? This was one of the things going on while I am, in essence, scared out of my mind.

After He stopped laughing at me, God said “You have to make a choice. I can take you now. You will die now or I can let you live but here’s the thing. No more promises. No more deals. You have in your mind somewhere that you can make a deal with me and I’m going to make everything come out all right and you’re going to be safe from everything and you’re not going to die and the people around you, who you keep on praying for constantly, are not going to die. And if you stay – if I don’t take you now – all bets are off. You stay, unconditionally, with no promises, and whatever happens, you have to let happen.”

And I was more scared of death than of fate. And so I said “I’ll stay.”

And I felt The Hand leave my heart. I had accepted the contract.

I thought, at that point, I wonder if this is simply some sort of psychological event, some fantasy my body is having to tell me that I’m having a heart attack?

BRAD LINAWEAVER: While this was going on, weren’t you thinking about Heinlein’s situation as well as your own?

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: Well, I was thinking in terms of everybody. Not just Heinlein, but I was praying for my parents, and my wife, and all my friends, you know, “Don’t let any of them die, don’t let me die, don’t let anybody die.”

BRAD LINAWEAVER: I just remember conversations I had with you at the time. Heinlein seemed to be very prominent in your mind.

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: Very prominent, but at that particular moment I don’t know, okay? But again, it was this clinging to God, praying so tight that nobody dies, that no harm comes to everybody. You know this panicked clinging, which was what He was breaking. In essence He was telling me, “Don’t pray so much! because I’d been praying every day, constantly. Not just the Lord’s Prayer, but also the prayers for everybody to be okay – and not in the Christian sense of praying for their soul – but praying for them physically not to die, not to get hit by a truck.

So, God ended that at that moment.

Nonetheless, again, being the rationalist, I’m thinking maybe this is my science-fiction writer’s brain telling me that I’m having a heart attack. So at this point I woke up my roommate and I said, “Call the paramedics, I think I’m having a heart attack.”

The paramedics arrived and they put those sensors on me to do the electrocardiogram, which they do instantly, and they looked at me like I was crazy. They said, “Your heart is perfectly fine. What are you talking about? There’s nothing going on.” One of them asked me an interesting question. He said, “Are you going through a divorce right now?”

“No,” I said, “everything’s fine. My wife is coming out tomorrow to celebrate my birthday. Everything’s great. But I thought I was having a heart attack.”

“No, you’re not having a heart attack. Forget it, you’re fine!”

They didn’t even want to take me down to the hospital for observation. My heart must have been rock steady at that point.

They left. My roommate went back to sleep. And my panic was over.

Whatever had happened – now that I knew that I was not dying — what had been going on for a week, with this recurring hyperventilation, this emotional lability, it stopped at that instant.

It was over. The event was over.

BRAD LINAWEAVER: Now, important question. So what would have been your first contact with God — when it was over you thought it might very well be God but you weren’t one-hundred-percent certain that it was God?

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: I was pretty certain that it was God.

BRAD LINAWEAVER: Ninety percent or one-hundred percent?

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: Ninety-eight percent.

BRAD LINAWEAVER: But there was still two percent of doubt?

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: Right.

BRAD LINAWEAVER: So you thought very likely it was God but you weren’t totally convinced, just almost.

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: Right. There was always that two percent of doubt because I might be crazy. I knew that the human body was capable of doing odd things, and the human brain was capable of doing odd things. I thought that maybe I was suffering from some toxic poisoning from coffee or something like that. Maybe this was some sort of hallucinated experience.

BRAD LINAWEAVER: Now another question. What would be your first encounter with God? Because a lot of people who have known you over the years, when they see your license plate “I met God,” or when they see the title of this book, are going to be thinking about your econd encounter — which we we’re not getting to for a while yet — which you call the Mind Meld with God, which is the most intense meeting with God. But, in fact, this is the first meeting with God?

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: This is the first direct encounter, or actually the first one which I identify as a direct encounter, because I have had experiences —

BRAD LINAWEAVER: But this is not the Mind Meld. That was a later experience?

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: That is correct. This is a frightening and entirely confronting and unpleasant experience.

BRAD LINAWEAVER: And, it’s the most unusual thing about what would be your first encounter of God. The first time you move from agnosticism to pretty damn close to the theistic position, that you now believe there is a God. You’re awful close to it now, that the first thing, in effect, you get out of your first encounter with God is?

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: God telling me to stop praying.

BRAD LINAWEAVER: Right! You don’t normally hear that from somebody who prays, prays, prays — God finally communicates and says, “Stop all that praying!”

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: Yes. Bizarre. And also, just as bizarre, God laughing at me because he can’t believe that I’m afraid.

BRAD LINAWEAVER: Right, so there’s two things. The sense of humor, which a large part of your argument about God, you’ve argued. A large part of your novel, Escape from Heaven, and many times on Jack’s show when you’re explaining your real beliefs, your view that God has a sense of humor, is a very, very important part of everything you’ve been building out of these experiences. This was the first time you had the idea that God had a sense of humor, his laughing at your fear?

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: Yes. You know a really rough sense of humor.

But two events happen. One of them is Heinlein dies. I let go and a few weeks after that he’s dead. Okay? I’m told that I can’t keep him alive any more and a few weeks later he’s dead. And it’s almost like what was going on with me was not, in fact, a caffeine reaction, or a coffee reaction or something like that. But in essence this link, which I have set up psychically with Heinlein, is killing me, and unless I let go I’m going to die.

BRAD LINAWEAVER: Die along with Heinlein or in place of Heinlein?

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: Along with, I’ll go with him.

BRAD LINAWEAVER: Were there were links to others, too? It sounds like there were a couple of links.

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: Yes, but the others weren’t dying. I’ve linked up with a number of people and one of them is dying and it’s going to drag me along with it. On the metaphysical level if we want to look at it in these terms, that’s what was happening.

BRAD LINAWEAVER: This psychic link with a dying person, dangerous move.

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: Right. And then he dies, May 8th, was that the date?

Now. Something else happens, very significant. I have a dream.

In my dream I am in a courtroom and to my side is my counsel and my counsel is a woman and my counsel is God.

Not, in some same sense, the God who had his masculine hand on my heart a few weeks before that. But God as a female and God is my lawyer.

And there is a panel, a panel of judges up on the judge’s bench, and I’m at the defendant’s table. Although it’s more of a hearing, an inquiry, than a trial, I’m not on trial for having done something wrong. But it is a court of inquiry. And the question before the court, I am told by God, my lawyer who is female, is, “Why was I afraid?”

BRAD LINAWEAVER: The same question repeated?

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: Right. What was it, why was I afraid? God is obviously surprised that I could be afraid and apparently it’s something that needs to be resolved.

Here is something very interesting, I am told by God, my lawyer who is female, “The judges need your permission to unlock the records. They are sealed. None of us are allowed to look at them without your permission. Will you give us permission to look so that we can find out why you are afraid of death?”

I said “Yes, permission granted.”

BRAD LINAWEAVER: But God is asking for permission to look at sealed records in effect.

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: Not only God but all these judges in this courtroom.

BRAD LINAWEAVER: But what’s impressive is, God won’t look at these records without permission. Do I have this right?

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: That is correct. And I said, “Yes you can look.” And only a few seconds go by — it’s not like court is adjourned, we’ll be back later — a few seconds go by and they have the answer immediately after I give permission.

I am told, “We have just searched the records and what we found out was that in your immediate incarnation before this you were murdered as an infant and died not understanding what was going on, that the imprint of this carried over into your current life as fear, as an irrational fear of death.”

Now, I woke up from this dream and the phobia that had dogged me my entire life up to that moment was gone.

BRAD LINAWEAVER: The phobia was gone?

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: The phobia — something, which had dogged me my entire life – was gone. Okay?

Now what sort of dream is it that you have, that changes your life, that changes something fundamental about you? This was remarkable to me, I have a dream and then suddenly, this thing which I have never been able to go to bed without distracting myself so I wouldn’t think about death, suddenly this is gone?

BRAD LINAWEAVER: The dream reinforced the first meeting with God. You could actually argue that this dream is either an epilog to or a second encounter with God, but it’s logically tied to that first encounter. It is all of a piece with the hand on the heart and that you’ve got to let go what you are afraid of, all of that is a piece of the same experience, the same event. Therefore, at the end of what might be called this first encounter with God, you’ve had a major psychological change and you as somebody who used to be an atheist, and then have gone through this agnostic period, are wondering why the thing that would get you over the hump of such a dire problem, why you of all people ould be imagining that it’s God? Since you’ve never felt for most of your life a need for God.

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: Right

BRAD LINAWEAVER: And yet God shows up in this situation and suddenly a huge life problem of yours is resolved. It’s like, what is it eight years later when you have the Mind Meld? There’s a good chunk of a decade that separates this event from the next encounter with God. Which means you’re not just having — like these people who claim they have born again experiences and God’s in their heart and they’re in communication with God all the time — you go through a long period of time from this moment to the next time you have an encounter with God.

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: Yes. But something significant happened in between.

#

Next in I Met God — God Without Religion, Scripture, or Faith is Chapter IV: No Religion, Too

I Met God — God Without Religion, Scripture, or Faith is
Copyright © 2010 The J. Neil Schulman Living Trust. All rights reserved.


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I Met God — God Without Religion, Scripture, or Faith: First Doubts


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Read the previous chapter Kid Atheist


I Met God — God Without Religion, Scripture, or Faith
A Book by J. Neil Schulman
Chapter 2: First Doubts

BRAD LINAWEAVER: A crucial question now arises. Is it possible you went into the writing of The Rainbow Cadenza — your second novel — an atheist but came out an agnostic?

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: I don’t know if I’d crossed over to being an agnostic, but I do recall somewhere near the end of writing that book, sometime in late 1981, having some sort of bad night, where I was up and really going through something emotionally on this issue. I was really, really scared in some sense. I’m not sure exactly of what, but I was being confronted somehow.

I would say that perhaps that was where I first had the experience that C.S. Lewis had talked about in Surprised by Joy of feeling that maybe there was something on the other end of this conversation communicating with me, that it wasn’t just a debate going on in my own mind. Not that in, any philosophical sense, I considered myself an agnostic. That didn’t happen until later. But I would say that emotionally, I started having the sense that there was somebody else in the conversation with me, that it wasn’t simply books I had read.

BRAD LINAWEAVER: Were you living the experience that C.S. Lewis wrote about that the young atheist must be very careful about the books he reads?

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: Well, I was long gone once I’d read The Chronicles of Narnia. I was not going to get through that without considering those arguments. Coming from a background of so little faith, I didn’t have a resentment of Christianity or anything like that. I wasn’t raised in a Catholic school with nuns teaching me, or anything like that. I didn’t have any religious indoctrination. So I was willing to give these ideas a fair shot. But nonetheless, I was simply trying to figure out if there was a supernatural what was it? Again, I was expecting that anything supernatural —anything above Nature — was going to have laws that it followed, the same as the nature which we understood.

BRAD LINAWEAVER: Now why did you make that assumption?

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: Because I was a rationalist.

BRAD LINAWEAVER: Natural law?

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: Yes, as far as I was concerned natural law would apply even to the supernatural. That whatever there was that was above the plane of existence which we experienced would have its own natural laws as well.

BRAD LINAWEAVER: Let me make sure I understand this; what you are saying is that in your system, or what you were beginning to divine to perhaps be the nature of the universe, it is a mistake to assume — and let’s use the term supernatural for now because it’s the concept I can get my brain around — that it is an error to think that the supernatural is simply a suspension or violation of natural law.

Your position is if the supernatural or other realm exists that natural law applies to it as well, but it is a mistake to view the existence of that other realm as a violation of natural law, if natural law applies to that realm as well.

Is that a proper paraphrase?

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: Almost, but I do have to make some distinctions.

I saw it as quite possible that there could be laws which would be true to our plane of existence as local phenomena such as the laws of chemistry, the laws of physics, the laws of how space/time worked, gravitation, speed of light. All these sorts of things were local phenomena. But there had to be some overriding natural laws which would apply in all modes of existence, all the universe, all possible universes. So in other words, I saw that there had to be some sort of universal natural laws, laws of logic or something intrinsic to the nature of reality, which would guide the formation of the physical laws with the universes.

Okay, so I saw that even the meta-law, which created the natural law of our universe, would have its own rules, its own principles, its own necessary logic. So I saw that the supernature would have supernatural laws. In the sense of laws which would necessitate certain things, exclude other things. That there were things that would be impossible in any existence
of any sort.

BRAD LINAWEAVER: So, is it fair to say that the philosophical position you were developing at that time in many ways transcends the normal debates between say, the Aristotelians and the Korzybskians? That a large part of the General Semantics’ case against Aristotle is a too-narrow application of what Aristotle might be? Or to phrase it differently, if you’re very much part of classical philosophy with your commitment to natural law but somehow you’re able to be modern as well, in terms of how you deal with the details of the machinery, there’s where you’re more like Korzybski. But your overarching theory is more like Aristotle in terms of natural law. How about that?

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: Yes. I think that says it.

BRAD LINAWEAVER: This is very interesting. You’re the first person I’ve ever encountered who accepted some kind of supernatural universe when the issue of God was still very distant from you and you were still on your way from an atheist perspective to an agnostic perspective on the issue of God, while already having accepted a more multi-layered universe than most people would ever
consider when they call themselves an atheist or an agnostic.

So having said all that, do you remember what it was that finally brought you to the intellectual position of agnosticism about God?

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: Well, before I answer that question I have to say where I got this idea of an overriding supernature. I got it from Lewis and Heinlein. And it wasn’t mostly from Lewis’s nonfiction arguments, but simply from how he portrayed things in Narnia. In Narnia you have different worlds with their own laws. For example, magic works in Narnia. But when the Queen of Charn – who has magic in her own world – comes to ours, she doesn’t have the power. It seemed obvious to me that you could have different worlds with different natural laws – different physical laws – because Lewis portrayed that in Narnia.

I’ve joked before that the difference between The Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings is that The Lord of the Rings is fantasy and The Chronicles of Narnia is science fiction. Because Lewis treats it like science fiction. When you have in Narnia the Woods Between The Worlds - where, in essence, there is really nothing going on, but that every time you go into one of these pools and enter into another universe, you get a different set of natural laws – well how, in that sense, is Narnia not science fiction, because you are going into a different universe in which magic is possible?

So in that sense, being a child who grew up on Superman comics – and Superman was always sort of like pseudo-science fiction – then getting into science fiction explicitly, Lewis fit in there perfectly.

Lewis didn’t sell Narnia to children in the way that L. Frank Baum sold The Wizard of Oz, in the sense that anything could happen. There were definite things that could and couldn’t happen in that universe. There were laws that worked there and things worked a certain way. The magic in Narnia operated according to obvious natural laws there as much as the way that physics and chemistry worked in our world.

Now in Heinlein we go into things like “The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag” and “They.” Heinlein in his Unknown type stories-

BRAD LINAWEAVER: – for John W. Campbell’s fantasy magazine, Unknown –

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: – he was dealing with the same sort of things. Things like Magic, Inc., in which again, if magic existed, there were going to be rules and there were going to be ways it worked and there were going to be ways it didn’t work. And so from both of them, I was getting a sense that even though there could be things which were apparently supernatural, particularly in Heinlein’s story “Lost Legacy,” where you had all these ancient psychic powers which were innate in us but simply had been forgotten, it was obvious to me that if psychic phenomena and the supernatural – and even ghosts and afterlife existed – there were rules. There were ways that things worked and it may be that we didn’t know how they worked but that didn’t mean that it was chaotic. It didn’t mean that anything could happen. It simply meant that we didn’t understand the rules yet.

BRAD LINAWEAVER: Now, at that time when you were reading all this material you wouldn’t know what you would learn later, as you learn more about the actual writers that you admire so much, because Heinlein and Lewis are two of your favorite writers?

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: Yes.

BRAD LINAWEAVER: But it’s interesting to realize later on that these two authors were doing a form of logical fantasy that was quite unusual. John W. Campbell was getting logical fantasy from Heinlein for Unknown the same way he was getting some of the most logical science fiction ever written by anybody for Astounding. But, isn’t it interesting that C.S. Lewis who you first read as a kid – not knowing the Narnia books were Christian parables and so forth – isn’t it interesting that C.S. Lewis’s Narnia books are logical fantasy by the same set of standards Campbell required for Unknown and that Heinlein met perfectly? And yet Heinlein had very strong anti-Christian biases and here you are coming from your secular Jewish background, isn’t it reasonable to assume that the last writer in the world you would find whose is a master of the kind of logical fantasy that pragmatist John Campbell, materialist pragmatist John Campbell, published in Unknown, that such a person should be the best-known Christian apologist of the twentieth century, C.S. Lewis? Aren’t the odds against that? Isn’t Lewis a rather bizarre character?

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: Yes, except for one thing, that Lewis was a fan. Lewis read American science fiction. He read Astounding, he read Unknown. I’m sure he snuck off the campuses of Cambridge and Oxford to the magazine stands and hid them under his coat and snuck them back to his rooms to read them. But he kept up with all that stuff. We know that because he makes references to it in his literary commentary.

BRAD LINAWEAVER: And also he actually appeared in an interview in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. He even did some short stories for the American Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: And he even comments, I think, on some Heinlein stories in some of those discussions.

BRAD LINAWEAVER: That is correct and you can read some of that in Lewis’s Of Other Worlds. But I’m talking about the young J. Neil Schulman who doesn’t know a lot of this –

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: Right.

BRAD LINAWEAVER: – coming from your secular Jewish background. Of all the people for you to find as a master of logical fantasy – if you had been asked to make a bet at the time – the last person you’d bet on is one of the best-known Christian apologists of all time. It’s not the guy you’d expect to be the logical fantasy writer – you see what I’m saying?

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: Yes. However, at that age, thinking of Lewis as primarily a Christian writer never would have occurred to me.

BRAD LINAWEAVER: No, but you find that out later and this is very important. We’re back to Rainbow Cadenza. I believe a huge watershed in the development of your thought – and preparing you for the experiences that you later had, which is the primary thrust of this book – I believe is in that exchange between the Lewis fan and the Rand fan in Rainbow Cadenza that I studied very closely to do my afterword. I realized that I had been given the best assignment of all the “rainbow” of afterwords because something in me told me way back then, that there was something, in that exchange between those two minds from such opposite worlds, that was crucial to thinking going on in you, and that something was changing in your philosophy toward the universe. That was the impression that I had at the time that I wrote that afterword.

So you were an atheist coming to agnosticism?

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: Right. And, by the way, let’s look at my cultural milieu then. I was surrounded by other atheists. There were no believers around me you know. I was hanging around with a libertarian crowd of whom atheism was simply taken for granted.

BRAD LINAWEAVER: You didn’t know anyone like me at that time who was an intellectual agnostic?

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: Heinlein called himself an agnostic.

BRAD LINAWEAVER: But I mean in your immediate group?

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: The distinction between agnosticism and atheism at that point wouldn’t have been a very sharp distinction for me.

BRAD LINAWEAVER: And you had never met somebody with my form of agnosticism?

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: No

BRAD LINAWEAVER: My deeply intellectual committed agnosticism?

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: No. Agnosticism to me merely was a different word to describe, as far as I was concerned, that “I need more proof that there is a god.”

BRAD LINAWEAVER: By the way, I sounded very pompous when I just said “deeply intellectual agnosticism” what I was trying to say was “a well-thought-out agnostic system.” Most people say they’re agnostics because they don’t want to be bothered. I actually do have a developed agnostic system, as you know.

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: Right. And of course that was how Heinlein described himself, also, because when I interviewed Heinlein in July, 1973, I described myself to him as an atheist and he described himself to me as an agnostic, but both of us used the same paradigm to describe ourselves and that is that there is insufficient proof that there is a God. He used the word “agnosticism” to describe that and I used the word “atheism” to describe that. So as far as I was concerned it was a distinction with no difference.

BRAD LINAWEAVER: It’s the old Scot’s jury verdict that instead of saying “not guilty” said “not proven.”

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: But the one source for me, at that time, of people who believed in God, were the people at the C.S. Lewis Society and some of the Mythopoeic Society. Those were the only people I knew who believed in God.

BRAD LINAWEAVER: Now that was the New York group?

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: No, in California. Now, I knew observant Jews in New York. They were part of our circle at the NYU Science Fiction Society meetings, which I attended. But it never crossed my mind whether their being observant really had to do with whether they believed in God or not.

BRAD LINAWEAVER: Oh please amplify that remarkable sentence. Elaborate.

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: Because, in my experience, being a Jew had very little to do with whether or not you believed in God. It had to do with following traditions. It’s almost like Judaism, you know, it’s the debate whether it’s a religion or a race. It’s neither. It’s a tradition. It’s a series of ritualized performances, in the same way that my Bar Mitzvah, to me, was like rehearsing for a stage show or something like that. It was, in essence, learning a performance.

BRAD LINAWEAVER: Like rehearsing for the ultimate play or something like that.

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: Like rehearsing for a play.

BRAD LINAWEAVER: And the grandparents are the audience.

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: Right. So to me Judaism wasn’t a religion. Judaism wasn’t a race. Judaism was in essence a tradition which was passed down from generation to generation to generation of observing and enacting certain behaviors.

BRAD LINAWEAVER: Oh, what a beautiful way to put it! You’re going to allow me to do this now, Neil. I’m going to give you a Gene Scott quote you will like.

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: All right, you’re entitled.

BRAD LINAWEAVER: Gene Scott when he said, on the first book of his I ever read and the blurb right on the back cover was a quote from Scott, and Scott said “Traditions make void the Word of God,” and my Roman Catholic aunt was horrified by that and wouldn’t even read a book that had that on it. I thought the Roman Catholics would be the ones most offended by such a sentiment. But now I’m beginning to realize that actually the observant Jews might be more offended by Gene Scott’s statement than even the Roman Catholics – is that a fair assessment?

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: I think the Jews I know who would discuss this, particularly Dennis Prager, wouldn’t be offended by Gene Scott’s comment so much as they would want to argue and explain.

Dennis Prager has described himself as a behaviorist – not in the B.F. Skinner sense of operant conditioning or something like that – but in the sense that — in his view — God does not judge our thoughts. Which is a great distinction from Christianity where Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, in essence invents thought-crime. “You’ve been told if you commit adultery it’s a sin. I tell you if you lust in your heart that’s an equivalent sin” is, in essence, Jesus inventing thought-crime.

From the Jewish conception there is no thought-crime. There is only behavior. There’s only what you do, not what you think. If you observe what is expected to happen, I imagine – from the Jewish perspective – is that the actions that you take will form your character.

Now Heinlein himself reiterates this in Stranger in a Strange Land when he has Valentine Michael Smith explain that the action you take at cusp is your identity. Okay. That’s a very Jewish thought. The action you take at crisis is your identity. What you choose to do at the important moments – where you can go off into the different alternate universes which are the future –

BRAD LINAWEAVER: Yes.

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: – the choices you make are who you are forever, that that is what defines you. And that’s a very Jewish thought in the sense that behavior – how you act – is more important than what you think.

BRAD LINAWEAVER: A more traditional Christian point of view might be summed up as “character is destiny,” as a different concept than being concerned with behavior, because the thing is there’s different Christian traditions. Some Christian traditions are very concerned with the law, and then are very concerned with behavior. But Grace Christianity is of course much less concerned with behavior and much more concerned with intent.

But I understand one thing about the thought-crime point that you’ve made – from what I understand about Jesus Christ saying that in The Sermon on the Mount. What I understand Jesus Christ to be saying is no one can stop these sinful thoughts therefore you will be sinners no matter how many rules you keep. Therefore you need another way to salvation. That keeping 600 rules — not ten but 600 rules — the way to salvation is the thing I’m going to give you. You can’t get to Heaven on your own by keeping rules because you’re going to sin no matter what. It’s “thought-crime” as a way to escape from the yoke and burden of trying to be perfect, as opposed to, say, thought-crime in 1984, where if you think the wrong thoughts you’re in for it.

So it’s almost a libertarian version of thought-crime if you say you can’t help but sin. You see what I’m saying? The whole Christian tradition took those thought-crimes and created control, control, control, and others took to free up those things.

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: But you see I see where that’s coming from. That’s coming from the idea that we’re fallen, which is a big deal in Christianity. That we’re fallen, we’re suckers who don’t have an even break.

BRAD LINAWEAVER: That’s totally correct. That’s what it says.

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: Okay, you may have free will, but forget it – you’ve already lost.

BRAD LINAWEAVER: Until you accept this deal, you got it.

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: But the Jew doesn’t believe in Original Sin.

BRAD LINAWEAVER: Right that’s a Christian invention or contribution.

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: It’s not part of Jewish thinking. If I was taught anything about Christianity, in my childhood, it’s that Jews don’t believe in Original Sin and Christians do.

BRAD LINAWEAVER: Right. That’s right

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: Now you could argue about whether or not Jews believe in free will or predestination.

BRAD LINAWEAVER: I think there’s two sides to that argument too.

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: But nonetheless, destiny is not something like predestiny. In essence, if anything, every action you take is a creation of destiny. Every choice you make is a creation of destiny. You are creating destiny with every free-will choice you make. That would be the way that I would conceive it and I think that’s a Jewish viewpoint. So when Dennis Prager talks about behavior as being what’s important, he is looking at it from outside of the consequence of choice.

BRAD LINAWEAVER: You’ve given me an epiphany. Let me ask you this question. Could it be that something that the ancient pagans and the ancient Hebrews had in common was no part of this original-sin belief and Christianity brought the original-sin concept in? Is it not a reasonable assumption, though obviously it requires more research, the ancient pagans and the Jews who fought like crazy over many things, neither would have a clue what Original Sin was? The pagan didn’t have Original Sin either. That’s what I’m asking.

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: Let me make a further distinction between the Jew and the pagan here. The pagan – you’re correct – didn’t have any concept of Original Sin in that sense. The Jew would believe in the Fall of Nature and the Fall of Man but not think of it as a generational curse.

BRAD LINAWEAVER: Ah, here’s the distinction I wasn’t getting. They go along with the Christian view up to the point where the Christians took the Jewish concept and added this to it.

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: You might think of it as, remember and this is again where I read Genesis and I seem to get things out of it that other people reading it don’t focus on. It’s not just the Fall of Man it’s also the Fall of Nature.

BRAD LINAWEAVER: Yes that’s right.

J. NEIL SCHULMAN:

Now that tells me something okay, that tells me the physical universe around you is different.

BRAD LINAWEAVER: Oh you’re not alone in this view, by the way. Lewis is totally with you on this.

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: Okay. The physical universe around you is different and that means that you have greater obstacles than you would’ve had. As far as I was concerned – in reading Genesis and looking at it and trying to analyze it and make sense out of it - it was telling me that, not living in Eden, we had a steeper hill to climb but it was still a hill which we could climb. It was just going to be harder. Maybe, if you want to talk about it almost like in a physical sense, instead of living on a planet with one-sixth earth’s gravity, we are now living with six times the gravity than living on Earth. In other words, we’re living on a planet where things are harder because of what had happened.

Well, harder does not mean that you’ve necessarily lost. It merely means that you need to put in more effort and rise to a higher standard to overcome. Okay? You could still do it; it was just going to be harder.

BRAD LINAWEAVER: Sisyphus rolling the rock in hell right up to lip of the cliff and than it always rolls back down on him? Is that an original-sin type of notion? Basically you’re saying you could get that rock over the hill.

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: Yes.

BRAD LINAWEAVER: I want to get back to one thing. You were having your experience with the C.S. Lewis Society Christians and you were having your experience with the Rand/Objectivist-tinged libertarians. And you were dealing with these two groups of people, both of whom had a set of convictions. With the passage of time, it turns out you’ve got something very different going on in your head. Something very different is going on in your head than a traditional Christian view, a traditional Jewish view or a traditional atheist view – where the Objectivists are classical atheists.

What I want to ask is, with this back-and-forth, did you sense both that – A – both sides had some legitimate arguments but – B – both sides had an inadequate or incomplete case? There was something missing. That’s what I got from your stuff in Rainbow Cadenza, in that section I studied for my afterword. I got the feeling that you had the feeling that something was missing. I’m still trying to get that crossover point where you go from atheist on God to agnostic on God. I’m still trying find where that happened.

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: I’m not sure I can characterize it in a continuum that way, but let me tell you how I experienced it. There was a long period, while this was going on, I felt that I was carrying multiple philosophies in my head.

It’s like in my story “The Musician,” where my character, Jacob Schneider, has two possible realities and he doesn’t know which one is true. And so he is going along, taking only those necessary actions to fulfill that which is immediately before him. Not knowing whether what is going on is, in fact, a conspiracy against him, or, in fact, whether he is going through some sort of psychological episode which is presenting to him something which isn’t real.

And this is very much a sort of story which is very, very important to me, the story of psychological tension where you don’t know what reality is. It’s a very Philip K. Dick-ian type of thing. Which is one of the reasons why I’ve read and admired and enjoyed Philip K. Dick so much.

BRAD LINAWEAVER: Same here.

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: I think that he must have had something akin to my experience, at some point, to put him in this state of mind.

BRAD LINAWEAVER: I agree.

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: And Robert Anton Wilson, when he talks about his Large Rabbit experience – which I’m sure, he’s talking about fancifully but nonetheless – he’s trying to encapsulate that he had some sort of experience. Again, he refers to it as Chapel Perilous or something like that which shakes your world, and you don’t know. You’re being presented with multiple possible realities and you’re trying to figure out which one is the real reality.

Heinlein, in his story “They,” has a character who is being treated as if he’s a psychotic but nonetheless he believes that there is an actual conspiracy and world-changing going on around him, and of course at the end of the story the twist is that turns out to be true.

BRAD LINAWEAVER: I find that the most solipsistic vision in the history of literature.

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: But it’s not solipsistic because in solipsism you’re creating your own nightmare. This is a nightmare which is being created by others.

BRAD LINAWEAVER: I’ll rephrase, emotional solipsism projected into a universe where all of the worst suspicions of the main character turn out to be true.

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: That’s right.

BRAD LINAWEAVER: That’s more accurate.

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: Right.

BRAD LINAWEAVER: Paranoid. It’s the greatest paranoid short story of all time?

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: Yes. But what all these visions have is the tension of living inside a work of suspense fiction. Where you are living in a situation like a character in a plot where you are living in suspense — the definition of suspense being doubt of outcome of intent, where you do not know from where you are what the truth is. It’s living in a mystery story.

Okay. And I found myself living in a metaphysical mystery story in which there was more than one explanation of what was going on and I was carrying them all in my head simultaneously, taking those action only which were immediately before me, while trying to get more data and trying to figure out which of the things being presented to me was true.

Now I would say that that, carrying more than one paradigm in my mind and running them as simultaneous programs as if I were a computer with compartmentalization of programs running in different sections, that I would call my agnostic period.

BRAD LINAWEAVER: But that is the answer to my question. That is where you were. To that extent you were agnostic.

That’s a more unusual form of agnosticism than mine and I know that mine is not run-of-the-mill common.

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: Right. When I was an atheist I was running one paradigm. When I became an agnostic I was running multiple paradigms. And when I got to the point where I was a convinced theist, I was back to one paradigm again.

BRAD LINAWEAVER:

And that is where I think we should take this up in the next section, because we talked about how you got from atheist to agnostic. In the next section I want to talk about your journey from agnostic to your experience.

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: Excellent!

BRAD LINAWEAVER: Thank you, Neil.

#

Next in I Met God — God Without Religion, Scripture, or Faith is Chapter III: Contact

I Met God — God Without Religion, Scripture, or Faith is
Copyright © 2010 The J. Neil Schulman Living Trust. All rights reserved.


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I Met God — God Without Religion, Scripture, or Faith: Kid Atheist


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I Met God
— God Without Religion, Scripture, or Faith
A Book by J. Neil Schulman
Chapter 1: Kid Atheist

BRAD LINAWEAVER:
Neil, you’ve gone through many different philosophical stages in your life, and your career reflects many different areas of thinking and experiences that you have had. What I would like to begin with in this discussion about your experience with God, the first question I want to ask you is: Do you remember your age, when you first decided as a kid that you were an atheist?

J. NEIL SCHULMAN:
Yes. I remember it very explicitly. It was a very dramatic moment in my young life.

I was five years old. I was living in Forest Hills, New York — with my parents, obviously — and I was out walking on our street in front of our house with my mother. And for some reason — I don’t remember what caused this but I do remember the incident — I looked up into the sky and I saw the sun coming from behind a cloud.

Now let me just stop for just a moment. The sun coming from behind a cloud seems to be some sort of universal image — almost in a Jungian sense — for God. How I, at five years old, identified or associated that image with God, I don’t know. Maybe I’d seen it on television; but in any case, at five years old, I had that association in mind.

I saw the sun burst out from behind the cloud and I turned to my mother and I said, “Where is God?” and my mother said something the equivalent of “I don’t know” or “Nobody knows.” I don’t exactly recall her response; except what it came down to was she was not going to give me any sort of definite answer that this was something that people knew. When she said “I don’t know,” or “Nobody knows,” or some such answer, my answer to her was, “Well, then I don’t believe that God exists.”

That show-me attitude was characteristic of the way I’d view the problem pretty much for the next 20 to 25 years of my life.

BRAD LINAWEAVER: Were you ever taken to temple or given religious instruction when you were growing up?

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: Again yes. I specifically recall my maternal grandfather, Samuel Lindenbaum, taking me to shul with him. I do not recall it being a particularly interesting or warm experience. I mean I enjoyed being with my grandfather; I liked being out with him. Again I was very young, maybe six years old, and my mother’s father and mother lived not far from us, also in Forest Hills.

Actually one of my earliest memories of synagogue is a scary one. There was this elevator in the shul and I remember we got on the elevator and the elevator went down to the basement for some reason — maybe it was going the wrong way — the doors opened up and it was a cellar — you know like a storage area — and I was very, very frightened — then the doors closed and we went up again. So I guess we’d just ended up on the wrong floor, but interestingly, one of the first associational memories I have with shul is a negative one, of being scared of the basement.

Now I had no formal education in Judaism when we lived in New York but again, we left it when I was around age seven. We moved to Massachusetts at that point. However, my impression at that age was that the neighborhood where we lived in Forest Hills was almost completely Jewish. I knew of only one Catholic family who lived across the street and I thought that that was the ratio of the world, that everybody was Jewish except there was this one Catholic family. Everyone else was Jewish. I was living entirely in a Jewish world at the beginning of my life. Then at age seven we left this neighborhood in New York City and we moved to Massachusetts where it was exactly the opposite. Suddenly everybody we knew was Christian and we were the only Jewish family.

My formal education in Judaism started with Bar Mitzvah training. That probably started somewhere around age 11 and that happened because my grandparents wanted me to be Bar Mitzvahed and it was explained to me that if I agreed to be Bar Mitzvahed I would have to have Hebrew lessons and then at age 13 I would be Bar Mitzvahed.

I did it largely because my grandparents — on both sides— wanted me to do it. My maternal grandfather, the one I just talked about, died in 1961 — when I was eight years old — so he wasn’t there anymore. But my maternal grandmother wanted me to be Bar Mitzvahed. My paternal grandmother died in 1963, when I was ten years old, so she wasn’t part of it. So it was my maternal grandmother and my paternal grandfather who wanted me to be Bar Mitzvahed. Judaism was very important to them.

Around eleven I started Hebrew lessons with Louisa Munzer, who was a survivor of Auschwitz and she told me stories of the concentration camp. I found out how she had been selected for medical experiments, which left her sterile and unable to have children — this was an amazing thing for an adult to be telling a child about, by the way, stories like this.

She taught me Hebrew, a language which I did not warm to. I disliked it. It was not that easy a language to learn, it had a different alphabet — its own character set — and everything was different about it. You wrote from right to left instead of left to right. It was alien to me. I don’t know what my language skills were but I did not find it easy and I did not find it pleasant. However, I did have a good accent — I was able to speak it with perfect accent — but my comprehension was very bad, my ability to read for comprehension was very bad. I could just read whatever was on the page without understanding what it was. I could sound out the words and speak it well. But it was rote, it was phonic, it was not reading for the most part with meaning.

So, I did go through a Bar Mitzvah. The last year I went to Hebrew school at the temple where I was Bar Mitzvahed, in Framingham, Massachusetts. But then as soon as I was Bar Mitzvahed, I wanted no further part of it. I had the big party, had the Bar Mitzvah, made my grandparents very, very happy and then that was pretty much it, as far as my religious education. I had almost no interest in religion for a long time after that. I’d had my fill of it.

BRAD LINAWEAVER: From the age of five to when you were Bar Mitzvahed as a young teenager and you were going through all of this training and education, did you ever express to anybody at the Hebrew school the doubts you had expressed to your mother at five about your not believing in God? Did the subject of your belief in God ever come up in your entire training on your way to the Bar Mitzvah?

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: It never came up. It was totally irrelevant.

BRAD LINAWEAVER: Can you please expand on that?

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: It was a ceremony. I could have been training for an opera in a foreign language. It was something that I was doing to please my grandparents. But what I believed was of no consequence to anybody and the subject never even came up for discussion.

Now interestingly, I do remember the sermon that the Rabbi gave the day of my Bar Mitzvah. It was a point that I found interesting. The Rabbi’s sermon, that day, was interesting because he was speaking about an Eye for an Eye and a Tooth for a Tooth and I do remember that he said that the commandment was not a demand for justice or vengeance but a limitation. It was interesting to me because I’d never heard it in that context. The idea that you only get one eye and you only get one tooth. You don’t get the entire mouthful of teeth and everybody else’s eyes. So there were at least some moral principles there, which I guess I absorbed at some level.

BRAD LINAWEAVER: Would you say the beginning of your libertarian moral positions may have begun on that day?

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: No. First of all I lived in a household where morality was pretty much taken for granted. I was not a child who was ever interested in stealing. I mean you have kids who will steal candy or steal some trinket or something like that. It never crossed my mind. It was never even something I ever even thought of doing. Actually taking something that we didn’t pay for? I would have considered it a horrible mistake. It just wasn’t part of me.

Even going to school, until I was greeted with hostility and irrationality — unexpected hostility and irrationality — coming from New York, I expected adults to be, for the most part, rational in their treatment of children. That was what I had experienced in this community in New York — in Forest Hills — where I started kindergarten and first grade. When I started school in Massachusetts I started getting reactions from teachers, which seemed to me wildly out of proportion —some that I worked into The Rainbow Cadenza.

BRAD LINAWEAVER: How about one example?

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: The clearest example is that on my first day of second grade with my teacher, Miss Lafford — I still remember her — she gave me a piece of paper on which I was to write the numbers one to 100 in boxes all the way up — “1” on the upper-left-hand corner and “100” on the lower-right-hand corner — and I needed to fill in all those numbers. She gave it to me and said, “All right, you need to do this.” I said, “Okay that’s easy,” and she glared at me and said, “Just do it!” Exactly like that. I was shocked. Why was she irrationally angry with me? I found that this sort of behavior was repeated to me in school, but nonetheless my expectation coming into it was rationality and evenhandedness and benevolence.

I never understood adults who treated me this way and it basically took me from really having an innocent expectation that you went to school to learn to what eventually made me very, very hostile to school and eventually to learning itself — something I had to overcome in myself by the time I was 15, 16 years old. I was a kid who loved reading and it got to the point where I couldn’t pick up a book anymore.

The point that I was leading into is that morality for me at that age was simply not even a question. In other words, I wanted to please adults. My first impulse was to be good and to please adults. It wasn’t until adults refused to be pleased and were hostile, and kept on throwing me all these curves, that any other impulse even arose in me. My natural state was happy and innocent and wanting to please the adults around me.

BRAD LINAWEAVER: You shifted out of that desire to please and became more cautious and suspicious and even finally had to teach yourself to want to learn again. About what age would you have been when you realized the education you were going to have in your future life would primarily be through self-education?

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: Well, it happened naturally. It happened when I discovered libraries. First in Natick, and then for eight weeks during the summer we went up to the Berkshires. My father was a violinist with the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Every summer he played at Tanglewood with the BSO and we rented a summer home near Tanglewood, right outside Lenox, Massachusetts. So the two libraries most influential on me were the Morse Institute library in Natick, the town in Massachusetts where we lived during the school year, from age seven thru around 17, and in the summers the Lenox Library, in Lenox, Massachusetts.

The significance of each of them is that the Morse Institute Library was where I discovered Heinlein, where they had most of the Heinlein juveniles. The Lenox Library was where a librarian named Judith Conklin introduced me to The Chronicles of Narnia. I asked her for something to read and she pointed me over to the shelves with The Chronicles of Narnia.

Incidentally, simply as an anecdote, this last time I was in Massachusetts I found out she’s still working for the Lenox Library and she’s married — she’s now Judith Conklin-Peters — and I autographed a copy of Escape from Heaven and left it for her. I didn’t see her there but she did still work there and I autographed a copy of the book and thanked her for introducing me to The Chronicles of Narnia in that inscription. So that story has a circle to it.

But again, as I say, it happened very naturally. I was a comic-book reader even back in Forest Hills, New York. I was reading Superman comic books. When I say I read Superman comics, I read Superman, Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen, Justice League, Batman, Flash and Green Lantern, all of them. I read all of them, all of the DCs. But particularly, Superman and Superboy were my favorites, and when they had Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen comics I read those. Action comics, Adventure comics, all of them, if it had DC on it I read it. So, a lot of my reading initially was comic books and that lead naturally into science fiction and fantasy.

So by the time I got to these libraries, which had Heinlein and C.S. Lewis, that was just natural to me. My main school experience was that I was a reader and was never really challenged by anything that they threw at me in those areas. Math I wasn’t as good at. History I was pretty good at. Music, of course, coming from a musical family, anything they threw at me there was easy. So really the only challenge I had was math and that came to a crisis in eighth grade.

BRAD LINAWEAVER: Now, during all of this period did you find yourself thinking about God at all, and I include when you were reading The Narnia Books, did the thought of God ever cross your mind?

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: No, never crossed my mind. I have attended, as an adult, meetings of the C.S. Lewis Society in both New York and Southern California —and as a matter of fact, served on the Council of the Southern California C.S. Lewis Society for several terms at different times.

I have heard it said during those meetings that it is obvious that the Narnia Chronicles were Christian parables. Well let me say that for me wasn’t obvious. I came from a family that knew almost nothing about Christianity … and what it did know was wrong. So it never crossed my mind that Aslan was supposed to be Jesus Christ, it never crossed my mind that this had anything to do with Christianity. What’s more, if I had known that — if Judith Conklin had told me that these were Christian stories — they never would have gotten into my hand off the bookshelf. Because Christianity was something totally alien to me and not something attractive.

BRAD LINAWEAVER: Did you think that Christianity might be some of the same boring experience you’d had in Hebrew school, only maybe worse?

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: No. It never even rose to that level. It was not even something I considered at that age. It just was not part of my life — even living in Massachusetts, where almost everybody I went to school with wasn’t Jewish.

The only real close friend I had — who is still a friend today — was my Jewish friend, Bob Schneider. So even then, that’s the friend whose family my parents socialized with. My parents didn’t socialize with any of the non-Jewish parents of the school children with whom I went to school in Natick, so there was a divide even there.

BRAD LINAWEAVER: You parents did not go to temple?

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: No. My parents were entirely secular in the way they raised me. My going to Hebrew lessons and then Hebrew school and being Bar Mitzvahhed was simply for that one purpose. They never asked nor expected anything further of me once I was Bar Mitzvahhed.

BRAD LINAWEAVER: Do you remember what age it was when you next thought about God at all, since your decision at age five, when the sun appeared from behind the cloud and you asked your mom “where’s God?” Do you remember the next time you thought about God?

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: In between that — and starting to consider God — I would say that I was into odd phenomena, the supernatural, psychic phenomena — E.S.P. as we called it back then — or telepathy.

My father had told me a number of psychic-related experiences, he’d had, precognitive dreams — we were very telepathic with each other. So in other words, these sorts of things were fairly common in our family, what we would call psychic phenomena or the supernatural.

My father in his younger days had been very interested in these sorts of things, even attending séances. He told the story of going into a house he’d never been to before and standing in the entrance way and telling everybody where everything was, because he’d had a precognitive dream about being there. He told about having a dream which saved his life, where he had this dream in which his car went out of control on a certain highway in New York because the headlights went out and the car crashed, in this dream. Then the next time he was there at night he remembered the dream just before he got to that curve and slowed down, his lights did go out but because he had slowed down he was able to control the car on the exit and didn’t die.

My father told a very dramatic story about when he was playing a gig at a hotel in the Catskills. He was with a woman singer — I can’t remember her first name but I remember her last name, it was La Brea, like the tar pits. A stage name, I think. She was a medium as well as being a singer and my father was rehearsing with her in the rooms where the help were — the musicians being part of the staff, away from the main house.

Very dramatic things happened there. My father was telling the story: the lights went out where they were and he got scared and tried to leave and the door wouldn’t open. And he tried to light matches and they wouldn’t light. Then she said “You’re making my spirit Indian guide angry!” and then an entire chest of drawers went across the room by itself – was thrown across the room. At that point she said “Sit down!” and my father sat down. Then things calmed down and the lights went on. My father then got out of there as fast as he could and the door opened and he got out.

So stories like that were part of my background, but I never associated any of it with God or religion or anything like that. But the possibility of the supernatural was real to me.

BRAD LINAWEAVER: Did your father talk to you about these experiences?

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: Yes, they were anecdotes. My father was always a raconteur and this was part of the repertoire of the stories he told, just like he told jokes. But he also was very interested in hypnosis and Houdini and stage magic and all these sorts of things.

My father’s personality was that he was a science-fiction fan who read Amazing back when Hugo Gernsback was editing it.

BRAD LINAWEAVER: Right, the original days.

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: So in other words there were science-fiction books around the house — not Heinlein or anything like that — but I remember that 1984 and Brave New World were around. There was a book of Native American Nature Myths, which I read and found very interesting, as well as other things like that.

My father was a voracious reader. He loved reading eclectically and so there were a lot of books around our house when I was growing up and I sampled them and probably got a very rich and varied education from these books — far more then I was getting from school.

So to leap forward to where your question gets to: “When did I start thinking about God again?”

It probably wasn’t until I got to New York again, in 1970 at around aged 17 and then met up with people in New York who had read Ayn Rand. That’s when these questions started up again. This was really the first group of intellectuals I’d ever really met –— the crowd in New York of libertarians.

BRAD LINAWEAVER: There was a heavy Ayn Rand/Objectivist element?

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: Right. And that really confirmed me in my atheism because I was given very strong arguments from the Objectivist viewpoint, from the Ayn Rand viewpoint. Which basically confirmed those tendencies in me. However, I was a fan of C.S. Lewis and so I was brought to the C.S. Lewis Society meetings — by Samuel Edward Konkin III, whom I met in New York — and I found out that Lewis wrote books for grownups also, not just the Narnia Chronicles. I started sampling those books, I don’t know if I read heavily into his nonfiction before I got to California after 1975.

BRAD LINAWEAVER: At this time did you read the Perelandra books?

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: That probably also didn’t happen until I got to California, but at least I became aware that there was more than Narnia.

BRAD LINAWEAVER: And TheScrewtape Letters?

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: It’s possible that I read Screwtape in New York. I don’t remember exactly in what order I came across them. I do remember that Mere Christianity, Miracles and The Problem of Pain — those books weren’t until I got to California after 1975.

So, I would say that I didn’t start thinking about God again until, really, I started attending the C. S. Lewis Society meetings in New York then later in California. More in California, because the New York C.S. Lewis Society was much more of a literary group than a Christian group, whereas in California the emphasis was more on the theology. I would say that I didn’t start thinking about God again until I got to the Lewis Society meetings in Southern California where most of the attendees were more interested in Lewis as a theologian than as a fiction author.

BRAD LINAWEAVER: Do you remember if during this period you read The Great Divorce?

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: Sometime in that period in California I would have read The Great Divorce, yes.

BRAD LINAWEAVER: Let me ask this then, regarding Lewis. At some point, then, you realized that the Narnia books you had enjoyed so much as a child did have this extra Christian dimension.

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: Yes.

BRAD LINAWEAVER: You must have noticed it at this period?

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: Well, it would have been talked about endlessly at the Lewis Society meetings.

BRAD LINAWEAVER: Did that, in any way, put you off your pleasant childhood memories of the books?

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: No.

BRAD LINAWEAVER: Or did it merely enrich them … or was it just something interesting to know?

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: It was informative. I didn’t resent it at all. I mean, by that time I had pretty much been living in a secular Christian world for most of my childhood and adulthood.

For the ten years in Massachusetts, I wasn’t really living in a Jewish community, so there was very minimal contact with that. I mean my relatives were Jewish, Bob Schneider and his family were very, very Jewish, so much so that Bob went off to live in Israel to live in a kibbutz for a while, and came back and told me the shaggy-dog stories they told around the campfire, and about shoveling manure.

I will say that there was a point at which I considered going to Israel myself — at around age 14 or so. But that wasn’t because I had any desire to go to Israel, but simply because I hated the school I was in so much I would have considered any alternative. I mean if you had told me that going to school in Nazi Germany was possibility, it would have been somewhere on the list. It might not have been at the top of it, but I really got to the point at which I just hated the school I was at in Massachusetts.

BRAD LINAWEAVER: You were ready to try something else.

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: I was ready to try anything else. So by the time I got to California and the C.S. Lewis Society meetings I’d been living in a Christian, secular society for so long that Christianity was no longer a shock. To tell you the truth, it probably had a little flavor of forbidden fruit to me — a little sexiness because of that.

BRAD LINAWEAVER: What about the Rand arguments that reinforced your original atheism? Because it sounds to me like reaction you had at age five, to your mother, is a reaction that was worthy of Ayn Rand herself. Rand, of course was somebody who had come from a Jewish background but walked away from the Russian background, the Jewish background, the family background. She talked about the accident of birth and tried to create this highly individualist American cult, fundamentally. So she was an odd transmission belt for a Jewish libertarian, because who could be more American than Ayn Rand? Yet, what is America? It’s a Christian country, and here was Ayn Rand, the ultimate atheist.

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: Look, let me try to describe myself at that age. If I thought of myself as a follower of anybody, I mean there was a period when I considered myself sort of philosophically Objectivist. But at the point when I talked to Ayn Rand, when I was doing what was supposed to be an interview with her for The New York Daily News, which never happened, but nonetheless we talked for hours, at that point in August of 1973 I considered myself philosophically an Objectivist.

But, there was this other strain of philosophy in me, which I considered just as important and that was Robert Heinlein. I considered myself a rationalist. I was interested in science. I was interested in space — all these sorts of pro-high-tech, Jetson-type worlds. This was what I wanted. The past had no interest for me whatsoever. Tradition was abhorrent to me. Do something just because it was tradition? That’s ridiculous — where’s the sense in that? None of that had any appeal to me. Nothing drew me to the past, everything drew me to the future. I was a total and utter futurist.

BRAD LINAWEAVER: Didn’t you once say, on Jack’s radio show; “The trouble with Religion is it’s just about the past”?

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: That’s exactly right, and that was how I felt about religion. I mean, I didn’t know enough about Christianity to feel that way about it then, but I certainly felt that way about Judaism. It all seemed to be about ritual and tradition and things that were not part of my thinking, not part of my world.

BRAD LINAWEAVER: So, Rand had given you this reinforcement for the atheist perspective.

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: Well, she had taken my instant childhood concept —“If nobody knows where God is, I don’t think there is one”— and, in essence, given me layers of philosophical reasoning, which supported it and gave me a grown-up version of that, which was: God is incompatible with natural law. Since I was a believer in natural law, and I couldn’t see how a supernatural God made any sense, her arguments were pretty well convincing to me.

BRAD LINAWEAVER: At this same period you were also getting involved with the C.S. Lewis group.

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: Particularly in books like Miracles, where Lewis got into questions of metaphysics like this, where he was discussing the supernatural in things like his book The Abolition of Man and in Mere Christianity and in his book Miracles. All these sorts of things, where he was addressing these fundamentals — the same issues that Rand was discussing — of not only epistemological issues, but also the issues of how would you conceive what the supernatural is?

If there was anything that fundamentally described my philosophy, in some fundamental sense, in those days, is the line from Hamlet, “There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” I knew that there was more than just materialism because I had experienced it.

BRAD LINAWEAVER: Which is your psychic experience?

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: Yes.

BRAD LINAWEAVER: But now talk about Neil Schulman, the author again for a moment. In your novel TheRainbow Cadenza, the encounters between a character who follows Rand — I guess you could say — and a character who is inspired by Lewis, those exchanges that must have been very personally important to your intellectual development. Was that what was going on in you at that time — both sides of the debate? The argument from the C.S. Lewis side that there might be something beyond the immediate material realm of the senses versus the Randian argument that this is all we’ve got, this thing we have here in front of us basically? Was that your own mind working in the debate — in that exchange — between those characters in The Rainbow Cadenza?

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: That is exactly what was going on. Now Rainbow Cadenza was published in 1983 but I finished it Christmas Day, 1981. And the conception of it had started five years before. Almost as soon as I finished Alongside Night, I started working on what originally had been outlined as The Carnal Commandment and later became The Rainbow Cadenza.

By the time I actually got to the writing of the book, the bulk of which was written in 1981 — the latter third of the year was probably when all but the first few chapters were written. By that time, I’d read a lot of Lewis, a lot of his nonfiction. So the arguments were swirling back and forth, almost like one of those movies where you have a devil on one shoulder and an angel on the other shoulder. Well in this case it wasn’t a devil and an angel — it was two opposing philosophies.

BRAD LINAWEAVER: I was going to ask you who’s who, who’s the devil and who’s the angel?

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: Well, obviously we have to allow Lewis to be the angel, simply for traditional purposes. So I have a Randian devil and a Lewisian angel debating with each other over my soul. But nonetheless, I was thinking of it not in terms of anything other than: who’s right? In other words it was an epistemological question, which Lewis raised in me. That is: are there ways of knowing other than the five senses which Rand talked about as the primary source — the only source — of human knowledge?

BRAD LINAWEAVER: “Can emotions be tools of cognition?”

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: Well “feelings,” because I do see an important semantic distinction between “feelings” and “emotions.” The word “emotion” implies that it is a reaction to something that’s going on around you. The word “feeling” is not so defined that it doesn’t allow for feelings being a source of other information in the psychic sense — almost more like intuition, or something like that.

I was, of course, conflicted because I’d had these experiences and believed that they were real. I was convinced that they were real, as a matter of fact. But, nonetheless, I was an atheist and if there was going to be a supernatural then it had to be one that was as scientifically possible as the natural world that I knew about.

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Next in I Met God — God Without Religion, Scripture, or Faith is Chapter II: First Doubts

I Met God — God Without Religion, Scripture, or Faith is
Copyright © 2010 The J. Neil Schulman Living Trust. All rights reserved.


My comic thriller Lady Magdalene’s — a movie I wrote, produced, directed, and acted in it — is now available for sale or rental on Amazon.com Video On Demand. If you like the way I think, I think you’ll like this movie. Check it out!

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I Met God — God Without Religion, Scripture, or Faith

I Met God
— God Without Religion, Scripture, or Faith
A Book by J. Neil Schulman

Author’s Note: More recent introductions to the experiences covered in this book are in Gary York’s interview with me God’s Libertarian Prophet? and my article elsewhere on these pages, I Argue God With the Atheists.
— J. Neil Schulman

I Met God Audiobook Cover


To Charles Darwin, Madalyn Murray O’Hair, and Ayn Rand
If They Still Know Anything, They Know Whether I’m Right

Preface by Brad Linaweaver

Over the years many fans of J. Neil Schulman have said they want another book by him. Sometimes you get what you ask for … but it’s not always what you think you want.

Neil Schulman is one of those writers who doesn’t just write the same book over and over and over. He writes a book when he has something to say.

He has been a significant force in libertarian science fiction. But he’s also been an artist who has been recognized by mainstream critics for doing works of mainstream value.

The experiences that led to the book you are about to experience — whether it is the audio version or the print version — were life-changing experiences for J. Neil Schulman that resulted in two books: the novel, Escape from Heaven and the more personal, autobiographical, I Met God.

For Neil Schulman, who can pretty much express everything he has to say about an experience or a philosophy in one book, you can bet your bottom dollar Neil went through a lot when he produces two books — two works — out of a fundamental experience … and in this case a major motion picture may also be one of the fruits from this particular tree.

J. Neil Schulman says: “I met God.”

In addition to being the title of this book, it is also on the license plate of the vehicle he drives frequently back and forth between Nevada — which is God’s country — and California — which some people believe is territory under other control.

I would say the following regarding people who hesitate to read, or listen to, an exegesis by somebody who believes he had a personal experience with God:

I am an agnostic. I have been an agnostic for many years. I used to be a Christian. I lost my faith but I have never been an atheist. I like to say that I have too much imagination to be an atheist. So I’ve been a believer and I am an agnostic.

Neil has been an atheist, Neil has been an agnostic, and now Neil believes in God, because he has had what he claims to be first-hand experience of God.

So, this is the challenge I put forward to Neil’s fans of the past and potential new readers of Neil’s works in the future.

Take what Neil has to say in this work and compare it to what you get from adherents of orthodox, traditional religions. Take what Neil has to say and compare it to what you’ll find in the New Age section of your local bookstore.

What fascinates me about so many people who claim to be religious, or so many people who claim to have had mystical experiences, is how few ideas they get from that experience. One would think — if you have an experience of the Ultimate — a few ideas might stick to you. But you’d never know it from traditional religious people; you’d never know it from the traditional — if I may say so — mystic types, and the modern manifestation of the New Age types.

Neil is overflowing with ideas, and insights, that I find of great value, and I am an agnostic.

If you believe in God, it seems to me what Neil has to say may be of even greater value to you than it is to yours truly, doing this introduction.

I’m telling you, I’ll be thinking for a long, long time about what J. Neil Schulman said in this interview I did with him for I Met God.

Introduction
By J. Neil Schulman

Although this is my tenth published book, I haven’t been on any bestsellers lists, so I’m going to assume this is the first book of mine you’ve read.

Even though I’ve been busy writing over the last thirty years; even though I’ve appeared on radio and TV more than a few times; and even though a Google search will turn up my same several thousand times, I don’t qualify as a celebrity.

“So why should I believe this fat, bearded, long-haired slob?” you might be asking yourself right about now. “Why should I take this guy seriously when he tells me that, while he was still an atheist, God started whispering to him, and one February day in 1997, God merged with him for the better part of a day and let him see the world through God’s own eyes?”

I’ll understand if you decide to put this book back on the bookstore shelf right now. If it hadn’t happened to me, I wouldn’t believe somebody who said that, either.

So, in the absence of any reasonable expectation that I’m anything other than a fraud or a psychotic, why should you waste time reading any further?

Well …

For one thing, I know how to tell a good story.

I know how to make it suspenseful and dramatic.

That’s my craft, which I’ve been learning for the last thirty years.

I’ve received enough celebrity endorsements, good reviews, and checks for writing sales, to convince me that I’m a professional writer. Being a professional writer, I can promise with some confidence that whether you end up believing my story or not, whether or not you’re an atheist who has me pegged as a nutcase or a believer who has me pegged as a heretic to your faith, I promise you a story you’ve never heard before.

Here’s the part where I tease you into reading the first chapter.

I’m about to make statements that are, on the face of them, improbable and unbelievable, foreshadowing what you’re going to read later in this book.

My obvious intent is to hook you so you’ll keep reading.

Let’s see if it works.

When I was five years old, in 1958, I decided that God wasn’t real.

In 1970, at 17 years old, I had my first experience of the supernatural, when I had precognitive knowledge of my grandfather’s impending death. He lived in a different city and had been robustly healthy the last time I’d seen him, about a month before.

At age 21, I was a back-seat passenger in an automobile accident while on a trip with three friends in 1974 when my friend’s car spun out on any icy road, totaling it, but without any of us getting hurt. At about the exact time we were calling for a tow truck, my father turned to my mother in bed and told her about the accident in detail, even though neither I nor any of my friends told anyone other than the towing service about the accident until the next morning.

While I was attending a friend’s Halloween party in 1982, at age 29, I saw a woman dancing. A voice inside my head said, “If you ask her to dance, you will marry her.”

I asked her to dance and I married her in 1985.

On April 15, 1988, the night before my 35th birthday, God put his hand on my heart and said to me, “I can take you now.”

Sorry. You’ll have to read this book to find out why I lived through the night.

Finally, the last of these teasers.

On February 18, 1997, starting at about noon, God merged into my mind for the rest of the day. During that experience I left a phone message for my sister that she should call me because I had a revelation that would change the world.

Part of that revelation came out in fictional form, when my third novel, Escape from Heaven, was published in 2002.

I’m finally going public with the rest of the revelation – or at least as much of it as I can understand – in this book – the book you’re now deciding whether or not to read all the way through.

An important part of the information God gave to me is that each of us has such strong and independent free will that God feels powerless about what we will choose to make of ourselves … and our world.

So you have the absolute, unencumbered, free will to decide to turn to the next page, or to close this book, now, quit reading it, and ignore everything I think God wants me to tell you.

What’s it going to be?

–J. Neil Schulman,
July 21, 2004

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Next in I Met God — God Without Religion, Scripture, or Faith is Chapter I: Kid Atheist

I Met God — God Without Religion, Scripture, or Faith is
Copyright © 2010 The J. Neil Schulman Living Trust. All rights reserved.


Winner of the Special Jury Prize for Libertarian Ideals from the 2011 Anthem Film Festival! My comic thriller Lady Magdalene’s — a movie I wrote, produced, directed, and acted in it — is now available free on the web linked from the official movie website. If you like the way I think, I think you’ll like this movie. Check it out!

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