Oriana proceeded directly from Kelly’s house to the community library. Her father had been in a better mood this morning and when Paul came around to pick her up in the morning he seemed relieved that she was with him. Paul was well liked by parents across the neighbourhood, Oriana mused that this was because while most boys were of the rough and tumble variety, Paul was a reserved and generous boy who had a reputation unblemished by teenage scandals. Oriana had speculated that her father secretly wished that she would date him instead of merely friend him, yet for all of Paul’s positive traits, there was something plain about him. It was splendid of him to care so much about the poor, yet a man who cares too much for the poor runs the risk of being poor himself, or so Oriana had reasoned, and while she agreed with her reasoning, she felt agonisingly aggrieved with herself to judge him so harshly. Indeed, sometimes in her low times she speculated if perhaps she was not unwittingly making the same mistakes her mother made.
However, there was now a new man in her life; Kent, and this man was in some ways similar to Paul. He was reserved, gentle, and exuded no malice at all in his manners, just like Paul. However, while Paul had a naïve confidence in the good nature of his fellow man, Kent was a troubled man who seemed suspicious and wary of everyone he encountered. Justifiably so since these Tyranni have appeared on the scene, but nonetheless, whereas Paul was naturally inclined to believe whatever someone might tell him, Kent was the opposite. Kent had in some ways the character of a bad dinner guest: constantly questioning and cross-examining others. He might even come across as arrogant to the eyes of someone who doesn’t know him well enough, but Oriana had by this time concluded that he was not in fact arrogant, but precocious and confident in his intellectual abilities. Perhaps too confident in them, although she didn’t feel ready as yet to make that judgement of Kent.
Presently, she arrived at the library and upon entering found Kent at a study desk with an open book in one hand and a pen in the other scribbling notes on a notepad. Clutching her own notepad close to her stomach, she snuck up to him and popped her head up over the top of his book before he had the cognizance to notice her. He smiled pleasantly and invited Oriana to take a seat with him. Yet again, those suspicious eyes of his, she thought, although he could just be tired after last night’s ordeal.
“What are you up to, Kent?”
“My studies as prescribed to me as a monk: I am required to read at least 100 great books as part of my training. Not only this, but I am required to have written some detailed notes about them.”
“That seems like a strange occupation for a monk; shouldn’t you be studying holy scriptures?”
“What could be holier than the books I am reading?”
Oriana examined the cover of the book Kent was reading.
“You’re reading Pride and Prejudice though. That’s not what I would call a holy scripture.”
Kent chortled, “Honestly, it is holy in my eyes, however; it’s certainly a lighter read than what I have had recently. I have been feeling overwhelmed by recent events and decided that I should instead focus on something lighter until things have settled down again. So as to not overload my brain you understand. I suspect that until Peterson and Nix leave I am going to need every spare wit to avoid any violence from occurring.”
“Do you think violence is likely?”
Kent shook his head dismissively, “I am confident, and after yesterday, more than ever, that through peaceful conduct and sound arguments, all conflicts and violence can be avoided. I spoke poorly when I first encountered those two at the mill, next time I will be more careful. Mark my words, no one will be hurt and we will get through this trial soon enough. I am sure they will give up in a day or two and leave us all alone.”
Something in Oriana twitched at hearing this. It did not sound right to her, it sounded like other things she had heard Kent say before. It sounded too confident. However, she wanted to feel reassured and so she pushed that feeling aside and indulged in sharing in the confidence Kent had just expressed.
Oriana noticed the thick notebook Kent had beside him and how most of the pages had been used.
“Kent, may I flick through your notebook to see what you’ve been reading?” she asked.
He put his pen down and handed it to her, she flicked through the pages and started reading the books he had been reading for his studies:
“The Republic by Plato, Politics by Aristotle, Paradise Lost by Milton, Les Miserables by Victor Hugo, 1984 by George Orwell, Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy, Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe, Beowulf, Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes, and…,” she paused while she worked her way through a huge volume of pages before declaring in summary, “the complete works of William Shakespeare!”
Oriana handed the notebook back to Kent and looked at him with a mixture of awe and amusement.
“Reading these works is part of your religious education as a monk?”
“Yes indeed. I am required to be deeply informed about history, culture, art, and literature. These are great books that form the nucleus of our culture and way of life. As far as the Aeshir are concerned they are sacred texts. The inform us of our past, our ancestors, how they lived, their humanity, their strengths, their weaknesses, the things that were meaningful for them. While we all carry the genetic legacy of our ancestors it is the role of a druid to carry the spirit of our ancestors through our scholasticism, creativity, and empathy. We druids are the keepers of our culture and protectors of the mind and soul.”
Oriana took a moment to sigh in pleasant awe at the depth of Kent’s education. She opened up her notebook and scribbled down a quote before resuming.
“I think it’s interesting how you Aeshir have these different types of religious orders that are so specialised.”
“The first order, the Salvati, protect our health, diet, fitness, and genetics from disease. Without a healthy body it is impossible to invest time and energy into culture, civilisation, and spirituality. The second order, the Druids protect our minds, culture, faith, and morality. Without learned and reasonable people it is impossible to defend against corruption, subversion, and demoralisation.”
“Ok, so those are the first two orders, what about this group called the Rangers? Kelly mentioned them to me this morning.”
Kent once again had the look of a suspicious and guarded fellow. He hesitated before answering in a low tone, “the Rangers are the fourth order and they protect us against spies, sociopaths, criminals, serial killers, infiltrators, saboteurs, and the Tyranni. They are a combination of crime investigators, action heroes, and ninjas.”
“Why don’t they come and protect us from the Tyranni now?”
“They have been informed about our situation, but so far the Tyranni haven’t done anything to attract their attention. All Nix and Peterson have done is intimidate you and me, and unwittingly interfered with Suvarin’s work at the hospital. Paul and Kelly haven’t even been approached by the Tyranni yet. No, there’s no need to involve the rangers here and especially as there’s every chance this whole situation will just blow over soon. No, there’s no need to involve the rangers, because as I said, reason and good conduct are all we need to avoid conflict and violence.”
“So what about the knights?”
If Kent had looked uncomfortable at the mention of the rangers, he now looked like he might start choking at any moment. Oriana considered that if he had just remained calm, she would not found any cause for concern, but the intensity of Kent’s visceral response was starting to alarm her. Were the Aeshir involved something that frightened and disgusted this well read and mannered young man? He seemed to read Oriana’s interpretation of his response for at that moment he started to tremble slightly. Oriana noticed this and moved to ask him if anything was wrong.
He took a sip of water from a drink bottle on his desk before answering, “I shouldn’t talk about these things to a growkon out of order. You see we have a way of going about these topics. I don’t feel sufficiently experienced to answer this question so out of order of the others.”
Oriana thought about this and then remembered her original reason for coming to see Kent here.
“Suvarin told me that I should find you here, she told me yesterday morning and she said that I was ready to hear the first revelation. Perhaps you should start telling me about that because as far as the right order of things goes I think I should probably know about the first things first.”
Kent looked at her intensely for a few moments. Then suggested they move into a private study room where they can talk about it in more detail. Once they were securely sealed inside the sound proof room, Oriana leaned across the desk with her notepad open to a fresh page already marked with the headline, ‘The First Revelation’.
“So tell me Kent, what is the first revelation?”
Kent quietly searched Oriana’s eyes again, as though checking she was listening carefully.
“The first revelation is that while there are many gods, there is only one demiurge.”
“The creator god, or the super God, the one from whom all other things came from.”
“So you believe in God, how is that different from any other religion?”
“Well, here’s the problem. There are many gods, with many different personalities, and abilities. Imagine you were sitting down to dinner with the Christian god, how would you describe your dinner partner?”
“If I was having dinner with the Christian god? Oh wow, I suppose I would describe his personality as patient, generous, and compassionate.”
“Now imagine you were having dinner with Allah.”
“I imagine he would be impatient, a braggart, and very, very angry.”
“Now what if Thor has come to have dinner with you.”
“Well I think he would be stoic, laconic, and intense.”
“Finally, although a different idea of god altogether, Buddha comes around for dessert. How would you describe him?”
“I think he would be mysterious, deep, and empathetic.”
“Those were just four different religions with four very different ideas for what the divine might look like. There are hundreds more gods with a wide variety of values and personalities existing in hundreds of different religions. Why do such diverse perspectives of God exist?”
Oriana paused to think about it, “because people have a tendency to project their own personalities onto God?”
Kent smiled, “Suvarin was right about you, you are very bright. Maybe you will become a monk yourself one day?”
“A monk? More like a monkess!” Joked Oriana.
Kent chuckled, “Yes, well you are correct. If God were an ordinary object like a chair it wouldn’t make sense for so many people and religions to have such divergent descriptions of God. The problem is that God is not like any other object in the world. Looking at the world and trying to understand what God must look like is like looking at an aquarium and trying to figure out what the person who made the aquarium looks like. Based on what you see inside the fish tank you might conclude that the God of the aquarium looks like a fish, breathes glass, and has flat rectangular hands for moulding the sides of fish tanks. Having such conclusions you might never imagine him to look like a human being and therefore you fail utterly to perceive God’s true nature.”
“So in the absence of direct observations of God people tend to imagine God in the way that’s most pleasing for them: caring if they want to be cared for, angry if they want to feel righteous, strong if they value their power, and wise if they value their intellect?”
“Oriana,” Kent’s suspicious glance again, “you speak like one who has thought about this a lot.”
“I have. When I was young, my parents got divorced. Every day I prayed to God to stop the divorce. I prayed and prayed for my family to stay together. When it didn’t happen I spent a long time trying to understand why God would allow my family to be torn apart the way it was. I have thought about a lot of different possibilities to explain why God didn’t answer my prayers.”
“I am sorry Oriana, that’s a difficult ordeal to suffer,” said Kent compassionately.
“It was, but let us change the subject, please, I don’t want to start crying on you.”
“Of course, well as you said most people merely perceive God through wishful thinking. God for most people is simply whatever form most flatters their particular prejudices or interests. Meek people like to imagine a Christian or Buddhist god, while the strong a pagan god, and the ruthless a Jewish or Islamic god. However, how can a faith be respected if the form of God is conveniently tailored every time to suit particular human needs of particular peoples? Should not God’s nature be simply convenient to God himself and no one else? Like any self-respecting man?”
“Well that’s the problem with Christianity. Ask five different Christians what god is like and you get five different answers. Christianity is shattered into hundreds of denominations because they can’t agree on God’s objective characteristics.”
“Exactly, in fact Christianity has always suffered from these fractures. Is god one or three? Is god all good or complicated? Is god the only god, or are their others? Are the Christian god and the Jewish god the same despite how differently they behave in the new and old testaments? This is the great weakness of most religions. Religion is supposed to be something that unites people and prevents war, yet Catholics fight Protestants, Shiites fight Sunnis, Jews have conflicts with everyone, and everyone else fights each other. How common is it for people to say that it doesn’t matter what silly things people choose to believe? Yet how many have died in wars because they couldn’t agree on the nature of God?”
“I totally get that. That’s why I lost my faith. I saw just how much division and conflict it was causing. It contradicts the point of religion for me. But are you about to tell me that the Aeshir have an objective definition of God? A definition that can withstand the passing of centuries, changes in technology, culture, and politics? One that many people can agree upon with the certainty as though God were a regular object like a chair or a table that people could touch, see, and smell to assure themselves they indeed all knew the same God and not just a projection of their confirmation bias?”
“Yes, that is the essence of the first revelation: that while there are many gods, there is but one demiurge.”
“Well, I fear that I am about to be disappointed because I suspect it is impossible to have any certainty as to God’s existence much less the matter of God’s nature.”
“Ironically you are closer to finding the demiurge now than you were when you believed in that god of your childhood. Because back then you believed only in a god who served your emotional needs. Having rejected such an ephemeral god you have opened up a space in your mind to see and accept what a real god may be like. Skepticism is a virtue that is essential for the one who wishes to know God.”
“Good, so tell me Kent, tell me about this God of the Aeshir who is unlike the gods of other religions.”
“Why is there something instead of nothing at all? It is a profound mystery the more you think about it. Nothing need exist, and yet here we are, existing. What caused us to exist? We know from observation that nothing merely happens on its own accord, but that through careful observation we can see that every event occurs because of the action that precedes it. We can even see into the past by logically reversing each step in the causal pathway and know about events that happened billions of years ago. We see a skeleton of a dinosaur in the rocks and we can understand that it was once and living breathing animal that through a series of geological events preserved it to the present day. However, if we keep going backwards we will eventually reach a point where logic fails us: the first event. What set in motion the first event that started everything? The answer is that which we call God, or more specifically the Demiurge.”
“That is mind blowing. It shocks and confuses me because that’s clearly a limit of human knowledge. But is it really God?”
“Noticed that I said ‘that which we call God’ not simply ‘God’ this is important. We don’t know the full nature of God and we may never know it fully. So it is heretical to claim knowledge of God without strong evidence of God motives.”
“So if someone says, ‘God hates fags’ that’s heresy?”
“Yes, because we can rarely know what another person believes much less a being that created the universe. We need to accept that a being capable of creating the universe can’t possibly be similar to a human being in thought or body. We are too simple and weak to create a universe. This means having to accept some facts about the nature of God that might shock or horrify our sensibilities.”
“But how can we know God’s nature? If the universe is God’s aquarium how can we deduce anything meaningful about the nature of such a creator, this Demiurge?”
“By examining God’s laws we gain clues as to the values and nature of God.”
“God’s laws? You mean things like ‘thou shalt not kill’?”
“That isn’t one of God’s laws.”
“How did you know it isn’t?”
“Because killing is possible. If God opposed killing then nothing could die.”
“If that isn’t one of God’s laws, what are God’s laws?”
“The laws of gravity, the law of conservation of energy, the laws of thermodynamics, the law of natural selection.”
“How do you know those are God’s laws?”
“Because unlike the laws of man, we cannot break those laws no matter what we do.”
“But we can fly, we can defy gravity.”
“Does gravity cease to exist during flight?”
“No. It’s always present, sorry, that was a silly thing to say.”
“Hardly, it was a sceptical thing to say, and without scepticism you couldn’t possibly know if a law was man made or God made. Only through scepticism can you figure that out. Therefore only through scepticism can you approach that which we call God.”
“So being sceptical, logical, and scientific is bringing me closer to God?”
“That’s what the first revelation teaches us. That reason and evidence are techniques that bring us closer to God. Remember that we can choose to accept or reject human made laws. However, if we fail to accept God’s laws we will die. Wisdom is learning to make peace with God, not childishly withdrawing into wishful thinking to make tin gods that flatter our egos when we worship them. Accepting reality is accepting God, and being sceptical and open minded are part of being pious.”
“Wow. So when I reject facts and reality, I am being impious?”
“Yes, whenever you hold beliefs you know are false or refuse to accept other people or the world as it is, you are turning away from God, and following this path will lead to your premature demise or into the ranks of the Tyranni who do nothing but worship false gods.”
Oriana started scribbling down notes furiously. Kent waited for her at first, but when he realised she was deep in thought he returned to his book for several minutes while Oriana was summarising what she thought she had just learned.
“So the first revelation means to accept reality, be truthful, be humble, and not to worship false gods, nor pretend to speak on behalf of that which we call God or the Demiurge? In addition to this, by accepting scepticism and the scientific method as valid approaches to discovering God it does not matter where or when you are when you meet an Aeshirean, they will share the same core beliefs about God’s nature because knowledge of the Aeshirean God is based on direct observations of his laws?”
“Yes, you have understood correctly. You have grasped the first revelation.”
“You know, this definition of God you have here sounds a lot more believable than I was expecting. I mean, I am an atheist and I find myself thinking that I would have no problem with someone believing in a god such as what you have just described to me. Yet, when I think about Paul, about how much faith he has in his Christian god, I don’t think he would like your first revelation at all.”
“It’s easier for an atheist to discover the Demiurge than it is for a theist to stop worshipping their false god.”
“Why would that be? I would have thought atheists were the least spiritual of all.”
“Believers in false gods want a god who will love them, whereas Aeshireans want to learn to love god.”
“You’re going to have to break that one down for me.”
“Well think about the mainstream Christian God, he has a lot to offer: eternal life in heaven, reunification with the dead, and the forgiveness of sins. Leaving such a god means losing immortality, communion with one’s dead family and friends, and release from the harder burdens of conscience. That’s a lot to surrender in order to take up a relationship with a God who doesn’t offer any freebies. A god that requires us to make the effort to learn to accept and love, instead of a god who is trying to buy our love with enticing offers that play on our deepest fears and desires. The atheist has already let go of these spiritual bribes and is therefore closer to having a healthy relationship with God.”
“The Christian god of my youth is starting to look quite childish to me about now.”
“To be fair to Christians, at least the more sophisticated Christians, many of them do actually share many or most of our conclusions about God’s nature. We consider these Christians friends of our faith. However, Christianity is a universalist religion and therefore commits the sin of allowing anyone to join its ranks and thus those who cannot comprehend the Demiurge due to limitations in their intellectual or education, worship a false idol instead while the Christians who know better silently consent to this denigration of their spirituality.”
Oriana let out a deep breath. Made a few more notes in her notebook then closed it definitively.
“That’s enough revelation for one day. I am going to go home before my father gets suspicious, and think all this through.”
Kent smiled and wished Oriana well as she parted his company. She walked out of that library with a different gait to that which she had when she walked in. In fact, everything felt different for Oriana at that moment. Her whole perspective on everything had started to change.