Last week a dear friend blessed me with a 1968 first edition paperback copy of a sleeping classic: Excerpts from the Diaries of the Late God by Anthony Towne. I love this. The dedication page sends a tingle down my spine.
The poet Anthony Towne was, if you didn’t know, the extraordinary partner of the extraordinary theologian William Stringfellow (see my essay about Stringfellow at Religion Dispatches). Stringfellow memorialized Towne in A Simplicity of Faith, a work of theology-in-mourning. Together, they followed the circus, worked for the poor in Harlem, abhorred the idolatries of civilization, and settled in Block Island, Rhode Island, a place which, in this book, God reveals to have been the true location of Eden.
Excerpts came during a period when sociologists were feeling sure that secularization was inevitable. The cover of Time magazine on April 8, 1966 read, “Is God Dead?” Thinkers—such as Harvey Cox, Thomas Altizer, and Gabriel Vahanian—had begun developing theologies that would be ready for the death of God. Towne casts Altizer as the dying deity’s chief surgeon.
We follow God, along with His hypostatic pals J.C. and H.G., from the creation of the universe out of boredom, through some six thousand years of dinner parties, to His eventual (and, of course, eternal) death into the boredom from which He came.
I am bored with it all.
Here I sit. I am omniscient. I am omnipotent. I am omnipresent.
If only I had something to do. Something creative!
I am omnibored.
God has a beard and a bald head. He doesn’t have a very high opinion of women, whose very creation He assented to only reluctantly. Though He prefers “Jehovah” to “Yahweh,” “God” is by far to be preferred. As one might expect, God’s diaries also provide the answers some of the vexing theological problems that people wrestle over.
The answer emphatically: No!
The same goes for birth control.
The same goes for abortions.
I want more life.
Give me more life.
Death is the denial of life.
There is an account of an all-night debate over just-war theory (to which God, a thoroughgoing pacifist, is opposed) with King David, Sigmund Freud, Paul, St. Augustine, Montezuma, A.J. Muste, and others.
He keeps getting annoyed—always with a piercing bon mot—at His children.
Billy Graham has halitosis of the soul.
In something close to a nutshell, Towne captures the distinctive theology that he and Stringfellow lived out. All the seriousness with which the world takes itself is, taken seriously, a sham. Life should be enjoyed. Poetry should rhyme. And churches, for all their delights, make a pretty shoddy tribute to the Creator.
To Towne’s vision from on high, earthly eyes look mighty foolish. The principalities and powers that we live and die by don’t make the least bit of sense. If God hadn’t been God, says God, he would have become a poet. Only poetry (and perhaps humor) can capture the ultimate failures of language and labels. Towne and Stringfellow had no patience for labels—most glaringly that of homosexual, which they lived out publicly yet never discussed in words except obliquely. Their literature, above all, was devoted to the task of living amidst human insanity, “living humanly in the Fall.” Take this passage from Excerpts on Harlem’s great preacher-politician—an attempt to be human in a racist society:
Poor Adam Clayton Powell, a fine and funny fellow! He has made himself a dark example of not having your pie and not eating it either.
Reverend Powell fancied he could be a Negro and an American. He ends up neither. I will welcome him here because at least he had the sense to know that he had to be either both to neither, not one or the other. He ends up neither. Heaven is filled with neithers and Hell is glutted with one or the others.
Thus says the LORD.