In Russia there is a Mount Yamantau, the name of which means “evil mountain.” And perhaps it is an evil mountain — it is said to contain key elements of the Russians’ “dead hand” nuclear-retaliation apparatus. There are other cursed mountains in the world, and there are sacred mountains. I once road a rickety bus up narrow, back-bent mountain roads into the Himalayas and at the bottom of a gorge saw the irretrievable remains of an identical bus. I began to recall every time I’d written a headline reading “Bus plunges into ravine, XX dead.” That bus was the only place in India where I saw Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, and Christians all praying together, fervently. Angels and ministers of grace defend us from gravity, that the driver’s foot shall not slide. But the mountains were not evil mountains, or blessed mountains, or mountains of any moral inclination. They were mountains of unmindfulness. If the god of passing time has monuments, they are the mountains, built up and pulverized over eons. They are beautiful, and full of long-clawed, hungry things. It may be that all of us on that bus, Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Christian, terrified agnostic, were praying to the wrong deities.
With apologies to the Reverend Jonathan Edwards, we are sinners in the hands of an indifferent god. “Natural men’s prudence and care to preserve their own lives, or the care of others to preserve them, don’t secure ’em a moment. This divine providence and universal experience does also bear testimony to.”