March 27, 2017

That's Why God Invented Pants

You remember the last time you washed your hands, maybe at a restaurant or a gas station, or perhaps even at one of those endangered species we used to call “shopping malls,” and after rinsing the whatever-it-was-that-you-needed-to-wash-off from your sopping wet digits you stood in place, confused. Holding your hands vulnerably dripping over the sink, awaiting the hygiene police to slap steel cuffs around your naked wrists, you realized that there were no paper towels, no hand towels, nor even one of those rusted, electric hand blow-dryers with the chrome flaking off and a colony of beetles living inside the motor housing.

What do you do in this moist predicament? If you come from the southern United States, like myself, or come from somewhere a stretch classier and just so happen to be a little more in tune with your earthier forefathers than your socially refined contemporaries, then you know that’s why God invented pants to wipe those soggy mitts off on.

Strolling proudly from the dingy depths of a public big-mart restroom, dampening my not-so-clean jeans with my freshly cleaned hands (thus very likely dirtying my hands again in the process), I have come think that simple phrase to myself as a lighthearted resolution to one of the countless multitudes of solutions to everyday nuisances, like not having a designated place to dry my hands (talk about a “first world problem”). You are probably wondering why this is even the topic of an article or, for that matter, why it would ever be said (or written) out loud (or on paper). The reason is because it bears a certain theological, perhaps existential, significance that could be easily taken for granted.

Of course I'm not suggesting that God created pants through some miraculous intervention. That would be ridiculous.
No, of course I'm not suggesting that God (or any other supernatural force for that matter) created pants through some miraculous special act of creation or direct intervention in the universe. That would be ridiculous. Jeans (the species of pant arguably most famous for the drying of hands) were created by Jacob W. Davis in the 1870’s.1 But, what I am saying is that, in a way, in a certain kind of sense, God did make pants, not only for covering our naughty bits and fleshy legs, but also for our hand drying, greasy wrench wiping, even stretching our knee over our parent’s coffee table to wipe the wet mark left by the condensing drink we carelessly left there without a coaster. If that sounds paradoxical, and perhaps even a little stupid, then you are on the right track and using your head. Fortunately, that is what good theology is all about—paradoxical speculation, wonder, and a little constructive stupidity (or perhaps an inquisitive sense of personal ignorance, if you prefer).

While it is true that the physical presence of jeans was manifested by old Jake Davis, we are still left, if we can attempt to recapture out of a child-like sense of wonder, to ask: Where did Jake come from? This is not a regression exercise where we ask where Jake’s mother came from, and her mother before her, and so on until we reach into the depths of the primordial goo from which would eventually spring the little critters that would evolve into Jake’s dear old mother over untold eons. But, it is an exercise in what could be called providential causality.

Look around you today and see everything that man has accomplished (although it may be difficult to top pants): we turned malleable rocks and grains of sand into microchips; ferocious wolves into still-ferocious, though very cute, Pomeranians; fossilized plants into plastic bottles; even plain old corn and water into sweet, delicious orange soda. In terms of causality, these were (and still are) the raw materials of what we often colloquially call “creation” and all came from the same basic puddles of primordial toxic slop that you and I came from.

That primordial goo in turn came from a volatile mixture of base chemicals, ignited violently by lightning strikes during the formative ages of this spinning ball of galactic shrapnel we call home. I know to some of you who are scientifically inclined, or perhaps have just listened to what Carl Sagan or Neil deGrasse Tyson taught you,2 those concepts are nothing new. But, there’s something else we can look at beyond all that amazing wonder of creative causality. Keep reaching further and further back and you start to wonder at something that you can call, in theological language, “providence.”

You can't even really imagine "nothing" with all your human cognitive faculties.
What was there before the big bang? What was before the matter density or the gravitational pull that was needed to pull that density together? What was there before subatomic stresses or electrical charges? What was there when there was truly nothing? What even is nothing, in the true sense of the word? You can't even really imagine it with all the amazing powers of your human cognitive faculties.

And, more to the point, what was it that packed so much potentiality, so much power, and so many infinitudes of seeds3 into one creative act that would someday blossom into the scenario in which I not only would enjoy a durable cloth fashioned just right by the skilled hands of a highly developed primate to cover my own fuzzy posterior, soft reproductive equipment, and pale legs, but I would also have something to dry my cold, sopping wet hands on when the janitorial staff had not yet made it to turn the restroom over and restock the hand towels? That’s why God invented pants.

But, wait, pants are still just an artifact, something man-made, right? Of course they are. The point here, and the point of theology in general, is that we are engaging in a speculative science, the highest of all sciences.4 The very idea of the pants is what makes us ask the questions that keeps our brain moving. Some of us may have different questions, some of a scientific nature (e.g., What is the molecular structure of a cotton fiber and why does it make such damn good pants?), others of a philosophical nature (e.g., Why do we want pants anyway?), and still others of perhaps an ethical nature (e.g., Why should we wear pants, or why don’t more folks wear pants?). These are all noble and profound in their own right, particularly because they keep the brain churning like a perpetual ice-cream machine making delicious intellectual soft-serve. But, theology can be the highest5 science because it cranks the brain on the highest thing that is physically unattainable, yet intellectually paramount: God.

Without delving too deeply in the abyss of speculations and restating the philosophical ideals that much more intelligent minds than myself have stated many times over, I will sum this idea up with a simple formula. It goes like this:

God / (creation)

Seem too simple? Well, in a way it is. But, it sets the mind on the right objective. Basically, if you are not God, then you are a creation, and if you are not a creation then you are not God. Rather than limiting your scope though, the intention of this concept is to broaden it. For example, an argument for intelligent design would claim that individual impressive things in the universe were created by deity, as if God himself sticks his actual finger down to earth every so often to make eyeballs, mouse pads, cashews, soap bubbles, and all kinds of other things, depending on who is making the argument. But, that God would be a little weak, not to mention very busy with all that constant creation and maintenance. The God of this diagram though, he packs it all in one massive and omnipotent punch and constantly sustains it, hence the parentheses around us in creation.

Why then do we even have the privilege of asking about pants?
Since God does not need us, he gets his own wide open space and a capital “G” and since we in the material universe need what sustains our existence (not food, water, and such, which sustain our life, but the source of our very existence, namely the Creator), we get bracketed off on the other side of the existential line. And, that existential line does not get crossed.6 If that makes you feel small, it should. You are small, a mere speck of dust in the wide, painfully and frighteningly enormously wide, universe. “When one looks up at the sky, and all the stars which are His work, it seems strange that He should be concerned at all with such things as man.”7 (C.S Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms) Why then, with all of the other stuff going on out there on our planet alone, let alone the billions of other planets, do we even have the privilege of asking about pants? I would suggest that the question is the privilege.

The late great philosopher, Socrates, said that an unexamined life is not worth living.8 So, we would deny ourselves of our God-given privileges if we say, “That’s why God invented pants,” simply brushing the issue aside as an accepted fact, that perhaps the idea of pants was implanted into our mushy brains through special and loving divine intervention. It would also be an equally grievous offense to creation to look at any component of it and fail to consider beyond it, to love only that physical thing that is so easily gained and lost, built and destroyed, or that which comes into being and then rots away in the blink of an eye (the ancients knew this problem under an older name of idolatry).9

But, to say the same, “That’s why God invented pants,” and to ponder how we went from primordial goo to fairly smart primates who finally decided to cover our dangly bits with multifunctional butt cheek warmers/hand towels/napkins/key storage/change purses/etc. is to really reach for God. To look down at something as simple and mundane as the cotton threads we wrap around our legs and let that inspire us to question greater things, standing as awe-stricken and wonder-driven children on a tiny, fragile, seemingly insignificant ball of spinning mud and reach to the sky for that which ontologically spun it all into intelligible form and function…. That’s why God invented pants.

1. Salazar, James B. “Fashioning the Historical Body: The Political Economy of Denim.” Social Semiotics 20, no.3 (2010): 293-308. No, I did not actually read this whole article. I just read the bullet points on Wikipedia and wanted to carry the proper citation over in case anyone was interested in further reading about the glorious history of pants. I may not be a very important person, but it is someone else’s job to read exhaustively about the history of active wear cotton textiles.
2. For the record, I fully recommend Cosmos from both a scientific and theological perspective. Enjoy the splendor of the natural world. God gave it all to you, so be sure to show him that you still play with it so it doesn’t get sold at the next ontological garage sale.
3. Cf. Augustine, De Genesi ad Litteram (The Literal Meaning of Genesis), III.14.
4. Boethius, De Trinitate (On the Trinity), II.
5. Cf. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, I.1; I-II.57.
6. There is one exception that I would throw into the mix to confuse the whole, already confusing situation: if you're a Christian, you must notice that Christ crossed that line, not only in the rightward direction, but in the leftward direction. As much as I love footnotes though, I won't devote a whole page of them to getting into that concept. I'll just leave it at that and hope that my reader notices that theology is like a vicious and wonderful hydra—for every question head you cut off with a sharp answer sword, no less than two more will immediately spring up in its place, and that is the ultimate beauty of it.
7. Cf. Psalm 8:3-4.
8. Plato, Apology, 38a5-6.
9. Cf. Colossians 3:5; Hebrews 3:3-4; 1 John 2:16.