A TROJAN AFFAIR - The S.K.A. at Carnarvon

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Chapter 18

“Pa gets so upset when you come... It’s always the same, he’s always angry… angry that Morgan took away your faith… angry that you don’t believe anymore,” Sonja emphasized.

JJ sighed and shook his head. “Sorry for the tensions,” he responded. He felt no urge to defend against the accusation; Sonja understood that the claim that his wife had taken his faith was nonsense. “I always remind myself to ignore him and pretend… but I can’t. I get frustrated with the same story—it’s not even a conversation I want to have… but when he starts, I can’t seem to stop.”

“You drive him nuts when you ask why believing something without evidence is a good thing.”

“I think it’s a fair question, believing can’t be worth more than learning or knowing.”

Sonja nodded, she’d come to the same conclusion but only talked to JJ about it. “He says you must just have Faith in order to know that answer,” she ventured.

“Faith…!” JJ looked out of the window into the far distance. “…Faith is pretending to know something you can’t know.”

“He says he can feel it in him.”

“I don’t doubt that... Faith is an emotion; of course he can feel the emotion. Faith is nothing if it isn’t a feeling… like love and fear are both emotions. But to gamble your life on emotions is dangerous, Sonja. It’s fine to live out your emotions, but you don’t navigate by them.”

They were almost at the clinic now.

“I’m looking forward to Cape Town,” she said.

“Your heart still set on Stellenbosch?”

Stellenbosch was a university town on the outskirts of Cape Town. It taught mainly in Afrikaans, making study the easier option in Sonja’s first language, but it had a reputation for being relatively conservative compared with its rival university, UCT—University of Cape Town.

“I’m on the fence… Stellies would be easier, but I’m increasingly leaning toward UCT… Dad said I’m on my own if I follow in your footsteps to UCT… he says it ruined you. I think I only wanted Stellies to please him.”

“Don’t let him bully you, Sonja. If UCT’s your choice, I’ll back you. You follow your dreams, you have too much talent and smarts to do any less.”

She leant over and kissed his cheek and he hugged her head to his, temple-to-temple. Her big brother; the “Oops… and then get married too young…” she’d heard her father call him when the brandy had loosened his tongue; JJ always made her feel safe. She was just the “Ooops… I didn’t think it was still possible,” from the twilight years her parent’s passions.

JJ had parked on the opposite side of the road from the clinic and cut the engine. He put his hand on her knee and looked her in the eye.

“I love this small town. I love our family and my people. I love community here. I love the peace, the tranquility… being in the embrace of it all—everyone’s known me since I was a child; all like family…. But going away changes one.”

She was such a beautiful girl, JJ thought. He saw her future mapped in her eyes, intelligent and kind as they were. She desperately needed to spread her wings on a bigger stage than Carnarvon.

“Whenever I come back I see the small mindedness, the bigotry, the pettiness. When you’re done studying, go travel and don’t worry about a thing, I’ll take care of it.”

“And Ma…? Pa?”

“You can’t worry about them, you need to live your life… you can’t live it for them.”

“Ma… she’s not happy, with…” she left it unsaid.

“I can see that. Do they argue?”

“No… it’s worse than that; it’s silent—Pa rants and Ma changes the subject… I’ve given up arguing with him too.”

“No point in arguing with him, not while you’re under his roof. Don’t go down the path I’ve gone down, bashing heads with Pa. He’s going to need us as he ages, as the world around him changes so much that he becomes lonely and depressed.”

“I think he is depressed… he blows up over nothing. Ma can’t take it much more,” she predicted.

“I understand…” JJ was speaking tenderly, pools of emotion showing in his eyes. “When Pa was a boy everything he knew was under the thumb of his church and he committed himself to that calling. Everything’s changed… his world went upside down. His career hit the wall of affirmative action… the blacks he’d been taught are children that God put him in charge of, are suddenly now his boss… no wonder he’s confused and angry.”

“I know,” Sonja agreed.

“I want you to be smarter and kinder than I’ve been. If you have a choice to be right or be kind, be kind to him; I’ll take the bullets of being right. If you disagree with him, don’t lock horns; you’re too much of a lady for that. And I mean that, you’re no longer a girl—you’re a lady now.”

She blushed and mewed a small and bashful “thanks” for the compliment.

“When you want to make a point, don’t use a statement, rather ask him questions. Pretend there’s an issue you’re battling with; make a question out of it that forces him to think…”

“That’s clever…” she agreed.

“Questions can smuggle conclusions into minds far more efficiently than beating them in can.”

“I don’t think he’ll change… he’s getting worse, not better,” her hands in her lap fidgeted with the stress of thinking about it. It was much worse at home than she’d trouble her brother with; her father’s mind more deranged and volatile.

“He’s got too much invested in his beliefs to ever change, in some ways he represents our old culture… we represent the new…”

The truth of JJ’s words resonated within her and she couldn’t hold his eyes for fear that her tears would fall; tears of tragedy and loss for a glorious past she’d been pickled in but never actually known outside of the reminiscence and legends that still burned in proud hearts.

She’d witnessed her father’s sharp decline first-hand; his rising bitterness, his shortening temper, and it terrified her.

She dipped her face, her vision beginning to mist, but JJ raised her chin with his index finger just as a tear broke over the lid.

“Don’t be shy of your emotions—let them go… If we’re gentle and smart, we can bring our family back together, better and stronger.”

She knew it wasn’t true.

“Our generation grew into these changes,” he was saying, “our challenge is to help our parents cope with a very different world to the one they were taught to expect.”

JJ felt spent. He’d long wanted to say these things to his sister and somehow this moment had scripted itself.

He hugged her in the awkwardness of the car’s cramped cockpit.

“C’mon,” he said cheerily, “We’re too serious… I’ve got a surprise for you.”

They got out and crossed the street, approaching the clinic.

Through the double glass doors in the lobby was a stylishly dressed man with dark complexion talking on a mobile phone. He’d been watching their car since it had pulled up.

Seeing their approach he ended his conversation and dropped the mobile into his pocket. With a beaming smile and two gracefully fluid steps he snatched the door open for them.

“Good evening sir,” the man said in a shockingly cultured British accent. “You can only be JJ? I’m Alok—Dara’s dad; easy to remember… like the song… you can call me Al.”

Al was slight of build with very white teeth and a finely chiseled nose. He had an engaging, almost pretty face; the likeness to Dara was unmistakable.

“I’m so famous that you know me?” JJ’s hand swallowed Al’s. “This is my sister, Sonja.”

“You’re hard to mistake… and the car.”

“She’s a beauty,” JJ agreed.

Al could feel the power in the man’s hands, but also the gentleness.

“Indeed! I’m rightly jealous…”

Sonja greeted Al, liking him instantly.

“Well… Marsha’s running late—that was her on the phone, she’ll be here in ten. Dara’s resting—we can sit in here.”

Al led them into a small lounge with low couches, low lighting and low tables.

“They put coffee and tea out for us to help ourselves.”

They helped themselves to beverages and quickly covered the pleasantries of strangers who’d heard about one another, meeting for the first time, then settled into conversation;

“I’m really sorry about your boy,” JJ looked earnestly at Al.

“Well… bad things sometimes happen,” Al shrugged in the manner of British understatement. “Marsha’s still rather upset, but Dara’s being quite remarkable… Still in plenty of pain but he’s darned tough. I’m quite impressed really.”

“Sounds like it could have been a lot worse.”

“Quite… No offense please, but this whole palaver is, well a bit… strange… uncomfortable, you know… a bit odd to talk about it with you.” Al covered his lips in contemplation. “I know your roots here, and your father…”

He let the sentence hang, not indicating if it was a statement or a question.

There was a pause and the men studied one another, Sonja looked on, JJ kept silent, allowing Al to make up his mind without interference.

“You’re just like Marsha said… I feel strangely comfortable with you,” he sighed, judging that he could talk freely. “To be blunt... it seems your father had a hand in some events...”

Al went on to briefly recap and outline the situation as they saw it; the attack at the school, Dara’s suspicion’s he’d been stalked, the rumours there had been a contract of sorts on him, Andre’s part in sending him into an ambush.

“You must do what you must do... the law must take its course,” JJ summarized his own position on the matter just as Marsha came into the lobby and Al called to her, “We’re here...”

Since JJ had last seen her, Marsha had caught up on sleep and looked once more radiant.

Greetings and more pleasantries were exchanged all around and Marsha went to see how Dara was doing, then quickly returned, “He’s fast asleep.”

“How’re you holding up?” JJ asked with a warmth she appreciated.

“Better as Dara improves,” she said. “Thanks for stopping by.”

“Sorry it’s been a few days but it’s always a whirlwind when I get back here—catching up… I must confess, when I heard Al was in town, I made a gap; I’m quite the fan and very honored.” JJ gestured a bow.

“Oh, don’t be silly,” Al responded—“I’m the one honored. I understand you pretty much financed this facility, and in a very timely manner too, if I might say... You’re a genuine philanthropist and I’m always grateful to meet one.”

“Well, yes… Of course, I didn’t have Dara in mind at the time, but I’m certainly glad the timing worked out.”

They briefly discussed Dara’s improvements; he was bouncing back rapidly. Both sides avoided the details of probable legal fallout, skimming only close to the subject.

“Well, I do hope he’s better before I head back to Cape Town in a few days,” JJ was saying. “The hour I had with him in Loxton was intriguing, he’s got an incisive mind; I was hoping Sonja might get to know him… she’s also heading to Cape Town next year.”

“Wonderful…” Al smiled, “…To study?”

“Yes, Applied Mathematics.” Sonja volunteered.

“UCT…?”

“Uhmm, yes, UCT… accepted and I… I’m enrolling,” she blushed, “…Stellenbosch accepted too.”

JJ’s face cracked into a smile—she’d been hedging but was smoked out.

“Tough course,” Al observed. “UCT’s got the name for it, Stellenbosh is right up there too, though.”

“UCT’s easier,” JJ’s suggested, speaking as an alumni, “…it’s just up the road from my main home and office, a stone’s throw from Dara’s new school.”

Marsha and Al looked at one another.

“Dara’s school… It’s sort of a bit on ice now,” Marsha volunteered. “The… the incident. It’s soured us, I must confess. We’re going to leave it up to Dara whether he heads back to the UK with Al to do his last year there or not.”

“Completely understandable,” JJ agreed, “I’m sorry to say, but it really pisses me off that you had this experience. I’m sorry… I don’t know what else to say. I apologize again on behalf of my community.”

“It sounds like you think it’s more than just a random incident?” Marsha prompted.

“Well… it’s awkward.” JJ shrugged, and his shrug was confirmation enough.

“Indeed,” Marsha allowed, “but we can’t condemn everything for the decisions of a few.”

There was the long silence of strangers trying to navigate through thorny issues; where potential unknown agendas might lurk. Each weighing whether or not to invest of themselves in the pursuit of commonality.

“So… What are your plans with a degree in Applied Mathematics?” Al asked Sonja, aiming to break the awkward impasse.

“Google’s recruitment are looking at her,” JJ volunteered and she frowned to hush him. “But it’s true, sis,” he explained. “Google identify the brightest...”

“You’re good enough to flip a flag in Mountain View?” Marsha asked, astounded.

“She came first in the Olympiad,” JJ confirmed it.

Sonja hung her head in embarrassment.

“Be proud of it,” Marsha gently admonished her. “Celebrate talent. The SKA is also funding scholarships...”

“I’d love to but my dad would never allow it,” Sonja responded.

“I see...” Marsha was calculating the drift.

“It looks like a real hot potato…” Al grimaced. “Why’s the project so unpopular round here when I’ve seen nothing like that in the news?”

“I can’t figure it out either… I think it’s just a small group… renegade. I don’t think they even know why, they’re just feeling challenged… my people are like that sometimes.” JJ shrugged again.

“I’m glad you’re saying that, because it’s all made no sense to me…” Marsha was frowning, “I mean, the SKA is a telescope, for God’s sake…. the Meerkat precursor ran for years without a bleat of opposition. Now there’s suddenly friction? It makes no sense.”

“My friends in the town say their parents are complaining… house prices are rocketing because of the foreigners,” Sonja added.

“Really? That’s not very well thought through…” Al frowned. “Rising house prices shouldn’t breed discontent? I mean, the opposite can’t be true… people wouldn’t be happy if their house values fell, would they?”

“A few of the farmers are upset by the limits on radio transmissions,” Marsha offered, “… and the forced sale of their land to host it.”

“Ja… well, you can understand them being upset about the sale of land—but that’s how it is with big civil projects… sometimes they build a road and if your property’s in the way, they can’t go around it. It only impacts relatively few,” JJ argued. “The intensity of it… something else is stirring it up.”

“Probably just media hype then,” Marsha suggested. “If the media hadn’t sung about us seeking the origins of the universe or extra-terrestrial signals, nobody here would have given a hoot.”

“Could be… but that’s still not enough for such passion,” JJ observed. “My dad’s not a news guy, the Dominee isn’t one either… none of them would even bother to read a report about this.”

“And the main church? The NG parent?” Al asked. “Are they behind it?”

“I’m not really plugged into that world anymore, but I don’t get a sense that they are. It seems very localized, which is odd because the church organization is very top-down. They follow prescription from the leaders,” JJ explained. “Then again, Oom Gert—the local pastor—he’s a bit of a loner.”

“And this is what I’d hoped we could chat about,” Al kept talking as he got up and brought the coffee pot over to do refills. “I’m really interested in the psychology of it, the local peculiarities. I’ve just come back from the US… a book promotional tour… and it’s quite insane how issues that I don’t even think are issues, are blown out of proportion there. It seems you have the same here?”

“My wife, Morgan… she’s from the Deep South… from Tennessee. After going to California and marrying me to make it worse… she’s about as popular with her folks there as I am here. Our Calvinists are pretty much the same blood-stock and certainly similarly strung up,” JJ pointed out. “I mean… the Pilgrims that founded the US and my ancestors here… they were all of the same Old Testament, fire-n-brimstone flavor. You know… back then, our ancestors got on a boat and either went West to the Americas or South to here; so there’s not much at a deep fundamental level to choose between the resulting cultures in America’s bible belt today, or this place.”

“Sure,” Marsha chipped in, “Strange how they were fleeing religious persecution and immediately set up persecution under their own umbrellas when they arrived.”

“I think that’s a misnomer,” Al suggested, “I get your ‘abused becomes the abuser’ psychological play, but I don’t think they were so much fleeing persecution as unhappy that the shift of the religion in Europe away from conservative values… they left because European religious drift was too liberal for their tastes—they wanted to maintain staunch ideals.”

“That makes a hell of a lot more sense,” JJ agreed. “Our guys here, and the lot over there, clearly haven’t mellowed at the same rate as Europe. Europe been secular for ages, the colonies, by contrast, are still so uptight.”

“Indeed… And the irony is,” Marsha chimed in, “that the Americans enshrined freedom ‘of’ and by implication freedom ‘from’ religion into their constitution. Al’s been coaching me…”

They all laughed at the light moment and JJ pressed on;

“I was surprised… I lived in the States for a while, and I saw that they drew a theoretical line between government and religion, yet today Americans are more plagued by religious attempts to force their will into legislation than anywhere else on the planet.”

“I call it free enterprise religion,” Al proposed. “In Europe the Old-World religions are state sponsored. They don’t need to campaign to survive. In the States, religion is sold like any commodity, the way toothpaste or breakfast cereal are hard-sold. billboards, TV ads, print… it’s a profitable business; round the clock televangelists.”

They all agreed, Sonja listened intently.

Soft moans came from up the corridor and Marsha was up and out of the room in a flash.

“Just a sec, I’d better go see,” Al followed her.

“UCT hey?” JJ beamed.

“Too presumptuous?” Sonja gnashed her teeth and the tendons in her neck stood out for a second.

“No… Perfect. I wanted it to be your decision.”

“Dad’s going to freak…”

“He’ll get over it,’ JJ assured.

“Wow… These people are so different from Ma and Pa… so relaxed… And with Dara… almost like they don’t care.”

“People handle situations differently… cultures too. You know the Brits, stiff-upper lip. Dara’s on the mend so they’re dealing with us and the situation pragmatically... He’s Indian, but a classic Brit.”

Al came back in.

“Everything all right?”

“He’s a bit sore when he wakes, the medication’s worn off… takes him a moment to orientate, I guess,” Al confirmed. “You want to see him?”

“We’d love to but don’t want to impose.”

“Perhaps just give them a few minutes. The nurse is attending.” Al sat down again.

“Sonja suggested that this maybe isn’t the time to engage you in philosophical conversations?”

Al shrugged, “What else are we going to talk about? It’s a waiting game with Dara; we can only speculate about his recovery so many times before my head explodes. Chatting with you is a welcome distraction.”

“Sure.”

“So… what were we on about…?”

Free enterprise religion,” Sonja recalled.

“Ah… yes… Good point. It’s interesting, you know… I mean, in the UK and Europe, we really don’t see much of this sort of thing, this fundamentalism.”

“I watch the statistics,” JJ agreed. “There’s a marked difference between the US, the underdeveloped or developing economies, and the European sphere of influence. Religiosity is pretty much imploding in Europe.”

“Except of course for a big migration in from the Middle East and the hair-trigger sentiments they bring with them…” Al added. “Now, that’s going to make things… veeeeeery interesting.”

“No doubt… In Scandinavia they’re so tolerant they’re tolerating intolerance,” JJ quipped.

“Truly. Often it’s foreigners who go there for asylum… Actually, it’s rather a pun; asylum seekers turning it into an asylum,” Al joked. “But the encouraging thing is that where there’s good education and Internet access… like they’re getting in this region… we’re seeing a vast swing away from religion.”

“Why do you think a swing away from religion is a good thing?” Sonja challenged.

“It’s a fair question,” Al responded. “It does sound rather mean-spirited with us sitting around here griping about people’s private beliefs, doesn’t it.”

“No, that’s not what I meant. I’m not disagreeing with you I just want to get your perspective,” she spoke with ease, like an adult.

“Practicing the question-technique?” JJ smiled at her knowingly and she smiled back in accord.

“Well,” Al ventured, “One could go off on tangents and draw lists of atrocities that religion has visited on individuals and populations, motivated entirely by hoping to appease the notion of what a particular deity wants done.”

“Like slavery, apartheid, witch trials and wars?” Sonja proposed, exercising her new questioning technique.

“Yes,” Al agreed. “Of course, all of that. It’s all quite true, but if you argue that tack with adherents, the whole debate will quickly collapse into mud slinging. The religious will snap back and claim that all of the fascist and communist despots outlawed religion… and, somehow, in their minds these political murders equal blood on the hands of anyone educated enough to have got past superstition. You follow me?”

Sonja nodded that she did.

“But that’s a daft point of view, isn’t it? Firstly, anyone who knows history knows that Fascism was a conservative Christian movement. And communism merely removed the notion of a God and church in order to set itself up as the supreme deity, it’s leaders instituting a cult of personality focused solely on them, with no Jesus or other distraction. It’s a tactical move. That’s why all the communist despots always got a grip on peasant societies who were already primed for totalitarianism by their historic servitude to orthodox religions…

“Sure… very smart,” JJ’d never considered this angle, “…easy pickings for a regime to build their own cult—replace one God or demi-Gods with the Dear-Leader leering off of every wall.”

“Voltaire said,” Sonja added, “…Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.”

“Precisely… yes. And, yes… as you said, Sonja, slavery and Apartheid were undeniably both inspired by the Bible… or interpretations of the Bible.”

“You know our history well.”

“I’m an anthropologist… it’s my job. But if a God authored or oversaw the Bible, I’d expect him…” Al’s eyes twinkled with mischief, “…or her... I don’t want to be accused of gender prejudice… to have had foresight enough to see the room he’d left for these gross misinterpretations… He should either have edited those things out, or intervened when they went off-message in competing bibles and sects. But, honestly… those are not the worst atrocities of religion—and here I mean any religion. Because…”

“And prayer…?” Sonja asked over him, carried away with enthusiasm for her new technique of asking questions to move the conversation. “…I wondered—when you heard Dara was so critical, did you pray? Surely you did? It’s natural to pray.”

“I don’t know that it’s natural to pray,” JJ suggested, sorry Al hadn’t finished what he was about to say, but also glad to see his sister flexing her mind.

“Oh… I think it is,” Al countered. “Superstition is the result of a very important evolutionary mechanism…”

“An evolutionary mechanism?” JJ frowned, “Really…? You’re the psychologist, I’m not going to argue it, just intrigued.”

“Sure… I’ll explain that in a moment, because you need to grasp what I mean when I say that prayer is a superstitious appeal… a begging for a particular outcome—and prayer and superstition come from a common root.”

Sonja was surprised by the answer; “I don’t see how superstition and evolution can be related?” she posed.

“Fairly easily… we evolved from prey animals, agreed? Our ancestors a few thousand generations back were pitifully weak out on the African plains.”

“Yes…” both listeners agreed.

“Those of our ancestors who were not suspicious of every little rustle in the bush or crack of a twig in the dark, well… they aren’t our ancestors, because, Chomp-chomp, they entered the food chain and became nutrition for predators.”

“All right…”

“So we inherited suspicious genes—nature selected for animals, for our ancestors, who had a natural suspicion of anything out of place, any small sound… those genes slipped through the filter and found their way to us, made us naturally suspicious. Agreed?”

“Okay…”

“But then, as a species, our brains sophisticated; just imagine it—huddled in a cave with thunder booming outside… or having to ford a river in flood—our ancestors naturally assumed a benevolent or malevolent intelligence that had intent in the thunder or raging waters; that’s what a more sophisticated mind does, it projects intent into inanimate objects—I still do it; I get cross with a nail that won’t bang in straight… that nail is deliberately trying to be difficult…”

“Makes sense…”

“Humans love to personify inanimate objects. Through this mechanism, that very-necessary suspicion we’d inherited morphed into the superstition of projecting intent into everything—and this brings us to prayer, because projecting intent onto causation is what it is to beseech the invisible to not harm us, or to smooth our path. That’s the connection between our evolutionary-driven suspicion, superstition and prayer—we project intent and we beg for clemency.”

“Ahhh…”

“But now you have me very excited, you see; it’s my field; just shut me up or nod off for a moment if you’re hating this,” Al went on.

“No… it’s fascinating,” Sonja urged.

“Okay… So each river or volcano or forest gets its own deity that in the minds of people who must deal with it has this intent. Eventually, in our collective mind and culture, those individual gods took on the characteristics of our own projected characteristics; As a species we had adopted farming and settled into communities—so that little clans all fell under a hierarchy of tribal leaders and eventually under kings. In our projected world, paganism had arrived. Not just a new god for each river, but a single god for all rivers, another ran all oceans, yet another was god of all mountains.”

“Why did one God triumph if he isn’t real?” Sonja posed.

“That’s where it gets very interesting because the monotheistic religious concept, the idea of just one single God, is the next step… it just flows from logic:”

“From logic…?”

“Let’s say… there’s a volcano in Hawaii… Pele is the god… even if Pele is the god of aaaall volcanoes… doesn’t matter to you if you don’t live near a volcano, right? You don’t fear Pele? Do you sacrifice to him…? Pay him any attention? No… he’s insignificant to you. But one day someone tells you… ‘Listen, mate… there’s a single God—he’s like the emperor over-ruling all the individual gods, and it doesn’t matter if there’s no volcano here—he’s not just a volcano god… He runs it all… oceans, rivers, lightening, fire, famine, plague…. He’s the one you have to watch out for! And… he’s made me responsible that you grovel to him…”

“I do the enforcing for him…” JJ had got it, “and, if I don’t enforce it, I get punished.”

“Precisely! Wherever you go from now on; now that you’ve been warned; whether you like it or not, you’re under His spell and my authority as his spokesman.”

“Very cushy.”

“Sure is… It’s masterful; It’s not just when you cross ‘this’ river or any river—whether you’re sleeping at night in your own bed or walking with your family… He’s watching and I’m there to ensure he doesn’t get pissed off at me—so… fall in line… oh… and beseech him often—pray a lot—we’ll come together and pray in a church so we all see we’re all toeing the line’!!”

“Fascinating! So it’s not long before people hedge their bets and fall in line with that God—the Almighty one…” a light bulb of realization had gone on in JJ’s head; “Voila! Monotheism… Voila! Representatives of that monotheistic deity: Moses, Jesus or Mohamed… Voila! Enmity and wars between those that cling to one or another of the all-powerful versions of the story… I mean—thirty thousand versions of Christianity alone.”

“Precisely and so, Sonja… did I pray when I heard Dara’s situation was dire? No. I felt no urge, none. I’ve overcome that urge by understanding what prayer is and where it comes from. Instead, I sincerely hoped that the medical facilities and professionals were up to the task, and… thanks JJ for your contribution… they seem to be. But, let me explain something additional that is interesting about prayer… a logical fallacy. Is God—I mean Yahweh—is he omniscient? Does he know everything—even the future?”

“That’s what they advertise,” JJ agreed.

“How is omniscient different to omnipotent? I don’t know the English words. Sonja checked.

Omnipotent means He’s all-powerful, can do anything; omniscient means he knows everything,” Al clarified. “So… God knows everything, even the future… before you pray for something, He knows you’re going to pray for it. This means that by the time you pray He’s already considered your prayer and factored it into the plan ages ago…”

She was laughing at the ridiculousness of it revealed.

“….Think about it; you’re never praying for something He’s overlooked—He’s omniscient, right? You’re praying for something He’s already decided against—not just originally decided, but He’s seen you through time, and seen you praying, beseeching Him to change His mind! Once you’ve realized this, you appreciate that prayer is really a nutty concept, just a control mechanism for that ‘Let’s gather and watch one another all do it together’ I just described. So, no… I never thought of praying… I try very hard to not knowingly do crazy things.”

“Yeah… there’s that comedian who did the skit on it—Carlin… George Carlin. He said ‘If you don’t get what you want, you say it’s God’s-Will… So why don’t you just forget praying and go straight to God’s-Will if he’s always going to do what he wants anyway.”

“Carlin had great insights, JJ. Funny guys can have more impact than clever ones.”

“Loved his skit on the Ten-Commandments.”

“Don’t think I’ve seen it….”

“Oh—look it up ‘Carlin, Ten Commandments’,” JJ suggested.

“But you mentioned Omnipotent, Sonja?” Al went on.

“Yes.”

“Now, you’re both smart people—and I’d like you to explain to me how God can be both omniscient and omnipotent…? The two concepts contradict one another…

“How?” Sonja looked perplexed.

“Well… If you can see the future you won’t make decisions that you will want to change your mind about in the future, understand?—or you’d see that you were going to change your mind… right? So it suggests that if you want to change your mind in the future, you didn’t see that coming… hmmmm?...! And the only way to get around that is not to change your mind, which means you’re not all powerful—not omnipotent. They contradict one another.”

Sonja started to laugh.

Just then, Marsha came through to say that Dara was ready for them.

Al assured her they’d be through in a minute and finished his thought as they slowly began to move into the corridor.

“You were going to say what the worst thing is that religion has done?” JJ prompted.

“Ah, yes… The worst atrocity of religion in today’s world is that it makes people satisfied with not having answers; it allows one to throw resigned hands in the air as soon as the investigations become a little tricky… to declare that some things are just ‘unknowable’… a mystery. To teach that attitude to children is a travesty, a crime.”

“Our constitution actually outlaws it,” JJ pointed out. “A major court battle is testing this very thing in our schools.”

“Your country’s an enigma,” Al shook his head. “I saw something about the case in the media… some kind of ‘God’ acronym taking the schools on?”

Ja,” JJ nodded, “They’re called ‘OGOD’… it’s a High Court case. Pretty much misunderstood, they’re not asking for new laws, they’re just insisting that the constitution be applied as it is written.”

They moved slowly down the corridor, chatting quietly about the impact of teaching religious dogmas within school syllabi.

“It relieves one of the burden to study, to invest, to explore, to seek, to think or to educate,” Al suggested. “Religion makes a virtue out of willful ignorance; I say willful, because we live in an age when good and accurate information so painstakingly won is readily available. You can only be fearful and willfully stubborn if you manage to keep avoiding it.”

They reached Dara’s ward and filed in.

Dara’s bruising was wicked and in full flush across his ribs.

JJ noticed how he displayed the injuries in Sonja’s direction with almost a hint of pride.

She clucked her sympathies, but JJ could see that she was uncharacteristically bashful, not her usual talkative self… there was something there in the way she looked at him that went beyond pity and JJ felt his culture rising within him; old bigotries die hard and it annoyed him that he felt this irrational protectiveness over her.

In a very short time, Dara was too exhausted to hold more than superficial conversation, so they bid their farewells.

As they went through the foyer to the outer door Marsha put her arm around Sonja and hugged her fast, “I’ve really enjoyed you coming over. I can see that Dara is quite taken with you, will you please come back?”

“I’d love to,” Sonja beamed.

They exchanged phone numbers and departed.

JJ took her out to the best restaurant in town for dinner; it was the only restaurant, the choices of venues were limited.

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