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Spoofs & Satire

God or No God

Is that a benevolent deity inside your briefcase or is Loki just happy to see you? Introducing the game show that’s got Americans clutching their prayer books: It’s God or No God with Howie Mandel! Atheists, watch out!

HOWIE: Hello again and welcome to America’s favorite prime-time game show. Our contestant is a Baptist claims adjuster and Nascar fan from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, Byron Elkan!

[applause]

HOWIE: Now, Byron, you had a pretty good run in the last round—you took mostly lesser deities off the board, such as Janus the two-headed god of doorways and the Navajo Coyote spirit, but you also removed the god of Sikhism, and our regular viewers know that Paul Andrews, a lucky contestant from Denver, walked out of here with Him last week. The Sikh god would have been a good god to have.

BYRON: That’s what you keep telling me but I’m not really sure what that is.

HOWIE: Well then, Byron, tell me, what sort of god would you like to have in your suitcase right here?

BYRON: Well, Howie, I’m a clean-living guy and I know for a fact that my suitcase, number 17—which I chose because it’s the number of Matt Kenseth’s DeWalt Ford Fusion—contains an all-loving, all-knowing, and all-powerful God who punishes evildoers, grants everlasting life to the good, and responds to the well-intentioned petitions of the Christian faithful! [applause] YEAH! COME ON! YEAH!

HOWIE: We’re all pulling for you, Byron. You know the rules. Each of our 26 beautiful virgins is holding an aluminum suitcase. One of these suitcases contains an infinite and meaningless void. The rest contain deities of increasing benevolence, leading up to the grand prize—the aforementioned all-good, all-powerful God Christians are raised to love and fear. We’re all hoping that’s the god in your suitcase.

BYRON: That’s who I’ve got right here! Praise the Lord, Howie!

HOWIE: Now, you’ve brought some helpers with you. Why don’t you introduce them?

BYRON: This is my brother Dave, who left his wife for his own stepdaughter.

DAVE: I’m looking for a little forgiveness, Howie. But I’ve mended my ways and now I’m in a committed relationship with this beautiful little lady right next to me! Woo-hoo!!

HOWIE: This is your stepdaughter?

DAVE: We call her my little Soon Yi, Howie!

HOWIE: I bet you do. As in Soon Yi be legal to marry in Mississippi. [audience groans] And who else have you brought with you today?

BYRON: This is my sister Helen. She is in the advanced stages of stomach cancer, and we want to go home with a god who will answer our prayers for her total recovery.

HELEN: And we’re going to get an awesome god, Howie! Yeah!!

HOWIE: OK! When we ended the last show, Byron was waiting for a call from The Theologian.

BYRON [and audience]: Boooooo!

HOWIE: Now you don’t want to make The Theologian angry, Byron. [laughter] Despite the sound of his name The Theo-logian isn’t anything like Theo Huxtable. [confused laughter as phone rings] He’s a very cruel man. If he can’t send you home with no god, he wants to make sure you leave with the most indifferent god possible. Are you ready? OK. [into the phone] Hello? [nods his head gravely] All right. [hangs up phone] Wow. [dramatic pause] Now Byron, The Theologian says you should seriously consider this offer. [extremely dramatic pause] You eliminated some very good gods in that last round, but you’ve managed to keep three of the big cheeses of monotheism in play. So to make you go away he’s willing to give you a god who not only is all good but whose very definition as a benevolent creator makes the existence of evil impossible.

BYRON: Yeah!! Take that Satan!! WOO-HOO!! Wait. I have no idea what you just said.

HOWIE: It means that a physical world such as ours, one that is patently riddled with war, murder, disease, and needless suffering, must necessarily be an illusion. [gasps] Settle down. Settle down. Now this might sound like an appealing concept, but remember that in such a universe, modern medicine would not only be a fraud, but an affront to the Lord. Turning to medicine in place of prayer would be proof of your lack of faith and perhaps a ticket to your own damnation.

BYRON: But Helen has an appointment at the Mayo Clinic—

HOWIE: Of course, you’d have to cancel that appointment so as not to incur His almighty wrath. On the other hand, we’re talking about a god who is all-benevolent, except, of course, for the unpredictable aforementioned outbursts of almighty wrath.

BYRON: I don’t know. Those appointments at Mayo are hard to get…

HOWIE: This is a good offer, Byron. What’s it going to be? God or no god? [Half the audience screams God! Half the audience screams No god!] I need your answer.

BYRON: Well, Howie, a god like that would probably have a sweet afterlife in store, with tasty imaginary steak dinners and whatnot, but this isn’t about me, it’s about Helen. I’m going to have to say… No god!

[The studio audience goes crazy. Howie and Byron bump fists.]

HOWIE: OK, now you have three more cases to open.

BYRON: How about number 18? That’s six plus six plus six. The sign of the devil. That can’t be a good one.

Is a cunning and unpredictable Norse trickster god better than no god at all, or maybe even better than a god to whom you have to pray six times a day?HOWIE: OK, Tanya. Open number 18! [audience gasps] Oh my! That suitcase contains an all-powerful god who does not necessarily condone evil, but who allows it to exist out of a total indifference to mankind’s fate.

BYRON: [clapping] All right! That’s OK.

HOWIE: Sure it is. You didn’t want that one.

BYRON: No, I did not.

HOWIE: You want a god who cares enough to send some fixed percentage of his children to burn in eternal hellfire.

BYRON: Yes, I do.

HOWIE: OK, Byron, let’s open another suitcase.

BYRON: How about number 5, Howie?

HOWIE: Felicia, please show us an uncaring god… [audience groans] Oh no! Felicia is holding the ultimate reality that knows no beginning nor end, is invested in all things living and unliving, is the cause of all things that have happened or will happen, and rewards good and punishes evil through the redistribution of karma. [more hopeless groans] Oh my, that would have been a good one to have in your suitcase, Byron.

BYRON: Yes, yes it would.

HOWIE: But the all-powerful and loving God who created man in his image and who sacrificed his only begotten son for the sins of man is still in play and he might be in your suitcase.

BYRON: [fingers crossed] Let’s hope.

HOWIE: A world of random circumstance and totally devoid of meaning is still up there, too, however. Let’s open another case.

BYRON: How about number 14? Show me the Son of Man!

HOWIE: Actually, Byron, you don’t want to see Jesus in this suitcase. If I’m not mistaken, you’re hoping that the Christian God is in your own suitcase, number 17 right there. What we’re doing is eliminating gods from contention.

BYRON: That’s right. I forgot. Sorry.

HOWIE: You don’t have to apologize to me. [looks heavenward; audience laughs] OK, Alyssa, open your case. [audience gasps] Oh no! Jehovah! I’m so sorry, Byron. You now have only two of the world’s four major monotheistic deities remaining, and you could knock them both out in the next round.

BYRON: I just have to have a little faith.

[cell phone rings]

HOWIE: [into phone] Hello…OK. [hangs up, sighs] Now, Byron, you knocked two of the bigger gods off the board. There are about 950 million Hindus in the world, and although there are only about 15 million Jews, they’ve got apartments in all the good buildings, if you know what I mean. [laughter]

BYRON: Not in Tuscaloosa, they don’t… [laughter]

HOWIE: No, not in Tuscaloosa. But as I suspected, the offer has come down quite a bit. The Theologian is offering you a trickster god of ancient myth, for whom human beings are merely playthings whose fates can be casually manipulated for his amusement. The Christian God is still up there and so is Allah, but you have to consider the odds and ask yourself—is a cunning and unpredictable Norse trickster god better than no god at all, or maybe even better than a god to whom you have to pray six times a day?

BYRON: Plus the fasting—

HOWIE: That’s right. A man of your girth always has to consider the fasting on this show, and a Norse god will never tell you not to eat. [laughter] I’m going to need your answer, Byron.

BYRON: I don’t know what to do.

HOWIE: Well, tell me Byron, if you could ask anybody else for help at this moment, who would you ask?

BYRON: That’s easy. I would ask Jesus. I’m always asking myself What would Jesus do? In fact I have that printed on the bumper of my Civic to remind me of His greatness whenever I’m removing groceries from the trunk.

HOWIE: Yes of course. But asking Jesus if He exists would present us with the kind of complex ontological paradox that you rarely see on quiz shows outside of the “Barker’s Markers” game on the Price Is Right. So if you couldn’t ask Jesus, who would you ask next?

BYRON: Well, if I couldn’t ask Jesus I guess I would ask Matt Kenseth.

HOWIE: The race car driver?

BYRON: Yessir. When you have $19 million in winnings in the last four years, you must know something the rest of us don’t.

HOWIE: Well then, Byron, why don’t you go ahead and ask him? Ladies and gentlemen, live via satellite from the Lowe’s Motor Speedway in Concord, North Carolina, 2003 Nascar champion Matt Kenseth!

BYRON: Oh my gosh!

MATT: Hi, Byron.

BYRON: Hi, Matt! Oh my gosh! Hi!

HOWIE: Now, Matt, Byron needs your help. He wants to know if he should take the Norse trickster god the Theologian is offering, or hold out hope that the King of Kings is still in his suitcase.

MATT: Boy, Howie, that’s scarier than Turn One at Michigan Speedway.

HOWIE: Thanks, Matt! Good luck next week at Chicagoland! So what’s it going to be Byron?

BYRON: Well, I was hoping to do better, Howie, but I’m also not a gambler—

HOWIE: Ironically, Byron, if you do the safe thing and take the deal for the trickster god, gambling will no longer be a sin. [laughter]

BYRON: That really is amusing, Howie, so I’m going to have to say…god!

HOWIE: All right! [Howie and Byron bump fists again]

[Dave wheels Helen on stage and all embrace to the cheers of the crowd while on a giant video screen Matt Kenseth gives Byron the thumbs up.]

HOWIE: OK, let’s see how good a deal you made. Open your own case and see what sort of god you would have had. [gasps and cheers] Look at that! Mars, the god of war! Byron, you made a very good deal for your god.

BYRON: Yes I did, Howie. [looks around] Say, what happened to Soon Yi?

HOWIE: Well, it happened very fast, but a mammoth demon thurs was looking to make Soon Yi his troll-bride, and so your new god, Loki, has hidden her among the eggs of a flounder.

BYRON: What?

HOWIE: That’s about as much sense as life’s going to make from here on out, Byron. My name is Howie Mandel and we’ll see you next time on God or No God! [applause as Howie winds his hand over his head]

BYRON: Um, so did Loki make Soon Yi very small or did he make the fish eggs very big?

HOWIE: That’s now one of the divine mysteries, I guess.

BYRON: Do we look for her in the ocean? Or…

HOWIE: Just wave to the audience, Byron. The flounder will bring her back once the Frost Giant moves on.

BYRON: You mean home to Tuscaloosa? Will the flounder come to my hotel? Does she need my room number? Do I have to pick her up? I haven’t even rented a car…

HOWIE: Wave, Byron. Just wave.

BYRON: And maybe you’re the wrong guy to ask but what’s my tax liability for something like this? I heard a lot of people got burned on Oprah and those were just cars. Also, can I take a cash equivalent instead of a deity? I’m just thinking now maybe that would be easier.

HOWIE: This is really supposed to be pretend stage banter while the credits roll, Byron.

BYRON: I should update my TurboTax is what you’re saying.

HOWIE: Oh God.