[NOTE: On Garrison Keillor’s Substack, there’s a feature called the Back Room, on which he posts odds and ends from his decades of work. Yesterday the following popped up.]
From TIME Magazine
ESSAY — June 14, 1999
Faith at the Speed of Light
BY GARRISON KEILLOR
–William H. Gates III
[In 1999] Bill Gates was the richest man in America [he was #4 in 2022] , and after he had gained a good deal of the world, God sent him an e-mail:
I saw how you allocated your time resources last Sunday moming and was not impressed. Riding a stationary bike? Watching guys on the Men’s Channel talk about triglycerides and P.S.A. counts? Three words of advice: Love thy neighbor. Ever hear what happened to the rich man who stiff-armed the beggar Lazarus? I caused a general protection fault, and he has been off-line for centuries.
Anything you’d like to talk about? I’m here.
Bill Gates typed out a reply:
Wow. Omniscience. Cool. But how do I know you’re omnipotent too?
The moment he clicked on Send, the entire Microsoft campus in Redmond, Wash., went dark. And the darkness was very great. The a.c. shuddered to a halt. He heard his emplovees keening and wailing over lost data. His office was filled with creeping things and birds of the air. Beads of sweat dripped from his nose. Acrid smells drifted in, the website buming after a multitude of hits by Hittites, and he heard the clatter of hooves: a herd of crazed swine trotted down the hall, little pink eyes aglow, pagers clipped to their ears.
On his way out, he touched his nose and found a boil. A leper lay in the lobby begging alms, and when Bill Gates dropped in a nickel, the power went on.
Back in his office, a message was on his screen:
B. G.: That was only the screensaver. There is more where that came from. Obey my commandments or a virus could come to pass that would bring the information age to a shuddering halt. I did a flood once, and behold, I can do viruses. Once men tried to reach heaven by building a tower, and I made their formats incompatible. I could do this again. Or I can do love and redemption. I am, after all,
P.S. Your move.
The websites were restored. The leper was promoted to general manager and put in charge of the crazed swine, who, under the Americans with Disabilities Act, had to be kept in their current positions. Most of them were vice presidents, though, so it didn’t affect the value of Microsoft stock.
Bill Gates ran the word commandment through a database search and found that God had dumped a whole bunch of them on his Designated Population Group–no graven images, no stealing or coveting, keep the Seventh Day holy, and also what to eat and stuff–and then, later, to love God and love thy neighbor.
Do I need to be thinking ark at this point? Can we talk?
-and suddenly found himself in a chat room.
LUCI: I see that Bill Gates, that bug-eyed little weasel, is acting like you don’t exist. Want me to deal with him? I know people in the Justice Department.
THE LORD GOD: No. It takes longer to get smart guys up to speed. But I shall strive with him, and eventually he may get it.
LUCI: The guy is a closed circuit. Let me at him.
THE LORD GOD: Let’s see how it goeth.
BILL GATES: Hey, guys. It’s me. The aforementioned weasel.
But God had signed off.
LUCI: Hey, Pearly. How’d you like to own the phone company? I can get it for you wholesale.
BILL GATES: Who in hell is this?
The next day Microsoft developed Stained-Glass Windows, the most advanced spiritual software ever. The user could download a worship experience, including Scripture, Webpastor’s sermon and Holy Sacraments, in 10 minutes flat. You knelt at the keyboard and hit alt/f7, and out the disk drive came a tiny white wafer.
Bill Gates e-mailed God a copy of Windows and a note:
You want to reach people? Here’s how. Forget the stone tablets with the dandruffy guys in suede shoes droning on about transcendence.
BTW, I am giving a billion shekels for good works.
But he got no reply.
The next Sunday morning, Bill Gates went into Stained-Glass Windows, and the Scripture reading was a screechy passage from Jeremiah, and the sermon was very antimoney, antigrowth, antientrepreneurship, and it scrolled on for hours; and when the Confession window opened, Bill clicked twice on the Pride icon and then Continue and saw
“This program has performed an immoral function and will be shut down,”
and in that moment he went blind.
He was on his stationary bike, the keyboard on his lap. He did not cry out. He took a dozen deep, cleansing breaths and dismounted and set the keyboard on the floor. He sat down in front of his computer and switched on Audio and said, “Voice activation.”
There were two confirming beeps.
“God,” he said. “It’s Gates. Make that 5 billion.”