HENRY: So, Max, how you comin’ with that breathing idea of yours? It’d be phenomenal if you could ever iron out the mechanics. Here on Madison Avenue, we’re big on mechanics. Big ideas are only as big as the mechanics that make ‘em work.
MAX: Mornin’ Henry. I’m on it. I went to see Urinetown Friday night. They did it with pee! Every time someone took a leak, he, she, or they, depending on pronouns, had to pay, and the cast was going constantly. To get people to pay to pee, they used fines, threats of imprisonment, and humor.
MAX: It’s a musical, Henry. People sing. People dance. People joke around. Yet despite their frivolity, they paid to pee. Just like my idea where people would pay to breath. We’re gonna find a way to tax breathing!
HENRY: Fantastic. I love it. But how?
MAX: I’m workin’ on it. Maybe some combination of ventilators and intimidation.
HENRY: But Urinetown’s a play. It’s make-believe. People scheme all the time, trying to create mechanisms to make money pour in, but no one’s ever come close to anything as monumental as taxing breathing.
MAX: You’re right, Henry. No one except…the Catholic Church.
HENRY: What are you talking about?
MAX: Think about it. Who has the most money in the world?
MAX: Well, probably. Let’s try again. Name the wealthiest corporation for the past two thousand years that’s still the biggest real estate holder in the world.
HENRY: Catholics? Really?
MAX: Really. And guess how they did it.
MAX: No, Henry. Sex!
HENRY: Catholics? Sex?
MAX: Absolutely. Long before there was a Madison Avenue—long before there were Broadway shows—a couple of guys just like you and me sat in a room much like this and came up with an idea not dissimilar to taxing breathing.
HENRY (tugs his chin, eyes grow wide): “Every thought, word, and deed…”
HENRY: Max, you’re a genius.
MAX: Thanks, Henry. They figured out that if they could convince people that their every sexual thought, word, and deed was a sin, and that the only way they could be absolved of their sins and avoid eternal hellfire was to bring wheelbarrows full of cash to church every Sunday, money would flow in forever!
HENRY: And it did. You’re absolutely right, Max. But how did they do it?
MAX: That’s what I’m figuring out.
HENRY: They used fear, or course. Scary, nerve-wracking, unrelenting fear.
MAX: And lies. If you keep telling the same lie over and over, people eventually come to believe it.
HENRY: Like in the 1930s: “JEWS ARE THE ROOT OF ALL OUR PROBLEMS!”
MAX: And 2016: “MEXICANS ARE THE ROOT OF ALL OUR PROBLEMS!”
HENRY and MAX (in unison): And 2020: “PROTESTERS WHO THINK BLACK LIVES MATTER ARE THE ROOT OF ALL OUR PROBLEMS!”
HENRY: I get it!
MAX: “Every sexual thought, word, and deed…” It was the ultimate big lie repeated endlessly.
HENRY: “Thoughts?” How were you supposed to control thoughts? I don’t go two minutes without having a sexual thought or desire.
MAX: Neither does anyone else. Neither did the early Christian leaders. That’s the point. They knew exactly what they were doing. Having sexy thoughts is as automatic as…well…peeing. Cha ching!
HENRY: And breathing. Cha ching! Cha ching! Brilliant!
MAX: At the same time Christians were shaking bibles in each other’s faces over sex, Native Americans chiefs, medicine persons, and elders were teaching tribal members that sex was the greatest gift given them by the Great Spirit. Non-compliant Christians were being burned at the stake, while Native Americans were getting laid!
HENRY: Go Chiefs!
MAX: Yeah, but look at the money they were hauling in.
HENRY: Go Saints!
MAX: There was plenty of evidence to support the Native American perspective, but Christians instead chose fake news over evidence, bought into the big lie, and wiped from the Americas a nation of sex-positive human beings.
HENRY: All in the service of big business. There were profits to be made.
MAX: And lies to be maintained. You know all that priest business—the stuff with little boys?
MAX: I did the research. The Vatican has records in its vaults going back sixteen centuries, showing that even then, priests were simply moved around rather than disciplined when caught engaging with kids in impure thoughts, words, and deeds. Vaults, Henry. Like Coke’s and Pepsi’s. The formula had to be protected along with the protectors of the formula. It was all about money and still is—the greatest money-making scheme ever conceived—better than anything Madison Avenue’s ever devised!
HENRY: But the mechanics, Max. How’re ya gonna do it?
MAX: We have to come up with an all-new lie backed by gut-wrenching fear and blast it endlessly on Twitter, Facebook, and Fox News.
HENRY: How ‘bout this… “Every time you inhale, the devil enters your body, and twists your internal organs into upside down crucifixes. Exhaling alone won’t expel him, but for a fee, he can be dislodged by a special class of exorcist.” Let me think. (taps his chin) Yeah, something like…Ghostbusters.
MAX: That’s it, Henry. Every breath you take, who ya gonna call?