Neifile goes next in The Decameron, Book/Novel 2. She tells the story of Abraham the Jew, a devout adherent of the faith, who, being a friend of Johannot de Chevigny, a fellow merchant, is constantly subject to proselytization–convert now or forever find no peace! Abraham finally says OK, OK, but I’m going to the headquarters, all the way to Rome, to see what your religion is made of. There he finds strange grounds for new belief–he converts to Christianity because its practitioners are whoremongers, pedophiles, mendicants, and morons, yet their empire keeps expanding. Here’s my retelling of that story for our times, as a screenplay, of course.
INT. Abraham bent over a church pew, the reverse shot shows his old friend John, another stalwart of the garment trade, pacing in the aisle. The camera rises, we survey the incredible wealth and majesty of this cathedral, and the 2000-year old Church it represents.
ABRAHAM: Jesus fucking Christ, wouldja? [the cameras descend into standard shot-reverse shot format at eye level] I’m a Jew, what do you want, a conversion experience? How can I be a Christian, what are you people FOR–except, what, the end of everything? You hope for death, the end of the fucking world, so you can see the large one, the big guy who tortures us because he thinks it’s good for us? This is not a benevolent deity, he’s an angry God, and he wants to make you suffer. Look at what he did to Job. How did you Christians never get this?
JOHN: I beg you, Abe, please try, I want you to survive this.
ABE: Survive what? Life itself? Fuck you, I don’t need a God to get through this. Not yours, anyway, not Jesus of Nazareth, a sniveling little shit from the building trades, a guy with a level and a hammer, a guy who says go ahead, please kill me? No fucking thanks, Johnny.
JOHN: C’mon, man, these are the end times, this is for real. This virus is for real. Right outside, just go outside, and you’re a dead man walking. I want you with me.
ABE: All right then. We’re not stayin’ here. Take me to your leaders. Where are these preachers, these fucking evangelicals?
EXT. Zipcar lot. Abe and John finding their vehicle, setting off from NYC before the lockdowns. It’s an existential road trip.
INT. AIPAC, CPAC, Trump rallies in Georgia, Texas, Virginia. Footage with evangelicals explaining why Trump the morally damaged messenger is the right vehicle of redemption.
INT. Trump rally
Large man with a MAGA hat: “Every man has a past, he’s no different. He’s been a sinner. But he’s our savior. He’s taking this country back from the elites in Washington, Hollywood, wherever, he’s leading us back to where we belong.”
ABE: “Where is that?”
LM: “Whaddaya mean, it’s where we belong, family, faith, America the beautiful.”
ABE: “You’ve been there, I take it.”
LM: “It’s not a place, it’s an attitude.”
ABE: “I get that.”
INT. Liberty University
JERRY FALWELL, JR.: “It’s just strange to me how so many are overreacting. The H1N1 virus in 2009 killed 17,000 people, it was the flu also I think, and there was not the same level of hype. You just didn’t see it on the news 24/7 and it makes you wonder if there’s a political reason for that.”
ABE: Sir, we now have about 3,000 cases in New York State, most of them in the city. Are we overreacting by closing the schools and shutting down the restaurants?
JERRY FALWELL, JR. “We have moved to online learning at Liberty University.”
ABE: But Trump is still your guy, you believe what he says about the virus?
JF JR: “Oh, Dear Lord, yes, without him we’re nothing.”
INT. Franklin Graham office, Washington, DC
ABE: Your father Billy founded the magazine Christianity Today, and it’s now said Trump is a venal, corrupt bearer of untruth, a liar and a thief. What do you make of that?
FRANKLIN GRAHAM: “Christianity Today released an editorial stating that President Trump should be removed from office—and they invoked my father’s name (I suppose to try to bring legitimacy to their statements), so I feel it is important for me to respond. Yes, my father Billy Graham founded Christianity Today; but no, he would not agree with their opinion piece. In fact, he would be very disappointed. I have not previously shared who my father voted for in the past election, but because of this article, I feel it is necessary to share it now. My father knew Donald Trump, he believed in Donald Trump, and he voted for Donald Trump. He believed that Donald J. Trump was the man for this hour in history for our nation.
Look at all the President has accomplished in a very short time. The economy of our nation is the strongest it has been in 50 years, ISIS & the caliphate have been defeated, and the President has renegotiated trade deals to benefit all Americans. The list of accomplishments is long, but for me as a Christian, the fact that he is the most pro-life president in modern history is extremely important—and Christianity Today wants us to ignore that, to say it doesn’t count? . . .
Christianity Today said it’s time to call a spade a spade. The spade is this—Christianity Today has been used by the left for their political agenda. It’s obvious that Christianity Today has moved to the left and is representing the elitist liberal wing of evangelicalism.
Is President Trump guilty of sin? Of course he is, as were all past presidents and as each one of us are, including myself. Therefore, let’s pray for the President as he continues to lead the affairs of our nation.”
ABE: OK, so the pro-life thing trumps, sorry, everything? Because you gotta know the economy is tanking, the lockdown that’s coming will destroy the stock market. And maybe the whole thing, all of it, not just here, the entire planet goes south, capitalism dies and there’s nothing to take its place. You think your people are ready for Armageddon?
FG: Oh my goodness, yes. We’ve been waiting on this, hopin’ for it, 2000 years, my friend. The Lord works in mysterious ways.
ABE: Yeah, he does. I’m thinking the Book of Job, 2.0. You?
FG: Revelations, always.
EXT. On the way home from D.C. The drone camera starts from above and behind their Zipcard, catches up, hovers above and in front, then swoops into the vehicle’s interior.
INT. Abe and John from the dashboard, the third reverse shot is generic Interstate highway up ahead, seen from between them, from the backseat. Abe and John doing the road trip thing: they don’t look at each other, they speak as if the other isn’t there. Almost Elizabethan, one monologue after another, after all. The soundtrack is “Gimme Shelter” but when they get to the New Jersey Turnpike, it softens, now we hear Tom Petty, “Runnin’ Down a Dream,” and Bruce Springsteen “Further on Up the Road.” These sounds are found and lost, in and out, they break in loudly but fade, waiting to return.
ABE the passenger changes the dial. FROM THE RADIO: “Jerry Falwell, Jr., has announced that Liberty University will ask its students to return to campus, to complete the semester the old- fashioned way, in person. Like other pastors, in Florida and Louisiana, he has suggested in interviews that state-mandated social distancing is a violation of religious freedom.”
INTRO to “Gimme Shelter” fade to Petty and Springsteen.
ABE: You convinced me. You Christians are the future. You’re the going concern. Where we been, Johnny? We been to Atlanta, been to Lubbock, went to Virginia, too, Liberty University, Jerry fucking Falwell, Jesus Christ, and these people are totally depraved–they would sacrifice their own brothers and sisters on the altar of blame, saying you did this to yourself. And yet they thrive. They fornicate, they blaspheme, they actually want to starve their own kind. And yet they carry the day. They got a president, they got a government. They rule the fucking world. I’m a get with them, because if I don’t I disappear.
JOHN: C’mon, Abe, I want you to be a Christian, not an asshole. I just don’t wanna see you go to Hell, see what I mean?
ABE: You understand the logic here? Your religion, your beliefs, make no sense, and yet they dominate our thinking about the past and the future. Why? Remember Pascal’s Wager? Better get with the program, believe in this crazy shit, because if you don’t lay down that bet, heavy leverage, you’re fucked?
JOHN: What are you talking about? These people don’t represent me.
ABE: Sure they do. I’ll give you this, God is a man, that’s a revolutionary idea. Otherwise, what have you got? Me, I got the messiah, but who knows when he turns up? Meanwhile I got the rule of mercy, forgiveness, forbearance, I’m not gonna judge you because I’m not qualified, I don’t have the credentials. I’m not good enough to tell you what you’re worth. You got hope, that’s about it, although, come to think of it, we’re waiting on the same event, some return of what we’ve repressed.
JOHN: Jesus, Abe, you make me want to be a Jew.
ABE: We got room in the congregation. But you’d be joining the wrong club. I’m signing up with yours.