Opinion » Bill Cope


Enjoy today; pay into the next millennium


When May gets here, it will have been five years since I proffered myself up to be born again and join the true believers waiting out in the pasture for the Rapture to come and whisk them off to eternal grooviness. I made the offer in a column titled "Apocalypse Now ... or When, For Christ's Sake?" in an effort to get fundamentalist preachers to either put up or shut up. My thinking was that we need to start holding these End Times hawkers a bit more accountable for the product they've been peddling for several centuries—and with little in the way of tangible results. We don't even let used-car salesmen get away with making the sort of outlandish claims that we have come to expect from the more fervent Bible Belters, so I was hoping to establish, if nothing else, at least some sort of expiration date on the horrors predicted in the Book of Revelations.

So I gave them eight years to either get it done or drop it, and my end of the deal was a promise to hop on the church bus should they turn out to be right. (The decision to go with eight years was not entirely random. When I wrote that column, the Chunnel between Britain and the continent had just been opened after eight years of construction. I figured if mere mortals could accomplish such a feat, then surely the Lord could get moving on the prophesies in a comparable time frame—assuming He was at all serious about it.)

I was satisfied to wait out the entire eight years before I mentioned it again, but something's come up. Specifically, the national debt. Up to (over, actually) $9 trillion. Spelled out in the original Numberese, the national debt looks like this: $9,000,000,000,000, plus change. If each dollar were a glass bead one centimeter in diameter, we would need a string approximately 56,818,182 miles long to get them all on. A string of beads that long would wrap around the Earth 2,282 times at the equator. It rounds out to 300,000,000,000 feet, which—if divided equally between the 304 million Americans in whose name this string of beads has been incurred—each and every one of us would receive almost 990 feet of stringed beads to pass on down through our family, from mother to daughter, from father to son. If one clumsy relative in each generation were to lose or destroy (or swallow) a yard of your family's string, there would still be a legacy of beads stretching out for just under 330 generations. Given one generation every 20 years, this means your descendants would still have beads, bequeathed by you, well into the 86th century. And this assumes that we quit stringing up beads today. This very minute. That we don't incur one more bead. Which is highly unlikely, because 1) it's not really beads we're talking about here, but deficit dollars, remember? ... and 2) we still have a lot more that needs buying than we have money to buy it with.

If you're a person who believes we don't have to worry ourselves over a little red ink because, any day now, the Lord is going to separate the wheat from the chaff, then this may seem of little importance to you. What matter is it that we owe the Chinese the shirt off our children's children's backs, if the Chinese will soon be swept away in a mighty conflagration of divine I-Told-You-So? What matter that your personal share of the common tab is over $30,000, when God has promised to slip you out the back door? What matter that your descendants are saddled with crushing debt, if you stop having descendants the moment you check in at the Pearly Gates?

But for those of us—descendants and all—who will be left behind to pick up the check, it is a subject of growing alarm. Has anyone in the history of the world ever owed this kind of money before? Even adjusted for inflation? I doubt it. I think we are in uncharted waters here, debt-wise. I think we are, or will be soon if we don't change our ways, in the same fix as those unfortunate homeowners who are learning they owe more on their houses than the place is worth.

Frankly, I don't think we can get out of this without help from that community which did so much to get us here. After all, the single biggest expenditure over the last several years—the most obvious reason we have gone from a balanced budget under Clinton to a 400-billion-buck yearly deficit under Bush—is that pricey little money pit called Iraq, right? And we all remember how enthusiastically the Hallelujah Chorus supported that venture, don't we? They saw it as the first leg on that happy highway to Armageddon.

Anymore, though, it's looking less like Armageddon than that 40 years the Chosen People spent wandering aimlessly through the desert—or as John McCain would have it ... 100 years. So I am here today to appeal to our evangelical citizens to give a Good Samaritan hoot over what kind of bills they leave unpaid when they ... you know ... leave. Of late, they have shown a degree of concern for the future of the environment. Now, maybe we could convince them that a little regard the long-range economic outlook isn't such a bad thing, either.

I ask of them, if only for the sake of their neighbors who probably won't make the Heavenly cut, would they rather have their tax dollars go to such Jesusy considerations as relief for the poor, comfort for the sick, security for the old and education for the young? Or are they content that God's country is bankrupting itself by trying to turn Ammonites and Philistines into Republicans at the end of an attack helicopter? I freely admit I'm not as acquainted with the Word of God as maybe I should be—especially if I lose that bet in three more years and have to join the true believers out in the pasture. But after a quick look-see through the Sermon on the Mount, I could find nothing whatsoever about how blessed is the military/industrial complex.

So think about it, my Rapture-ready friends. And if you decide you don't want leave this vale of sin and sorrow in hock up to its neck, you might consider willing your earthly possessions to ... say ... the Social Security Administration. Or Medicare. Or even a nice new sewage treatment plant for some community where the infrastructure is tumbling down like the walls of Jericho.

Or better yet, you could all come together and consent to letting your religious institutions be taxed. After all, if you have the money to build a mega-church next to the freeway, the least you could do is help pay for the freeway, huh? That's what Jesus would do, I'll bet. You know ... "Give unto Caesar ... etc. etc."