Warning. Introducing a 40 minute fictional dialogue having to do with religion.
Some months ago I posted an original play, in several installments. Some of you struggled through it and a few even helpfully commented! But don’t go looking for it now. I have removed it.
However, a character in that was the 19th century author and orator, Col. Robert G. Ingersoll. My interest in him continues and intersects with my concern over a “heresy trial” in, of all places, The United Church of Canada. I had a go at the UCof C in two previous articles* touching on portions of the same territory but today’s posting, although not a play, is my playwright’s perspective on a perplexing dilemma. If you have nostalgia for a little old fashioned radio here’s a script for a fictional dialogue which, I suppose, could be converted into a modern pod-cast so one could listen instead of read. But for now, here it is “on the page”. Comments, of course, always welcome.
WITH AX AND SAW
A script for a
Copyright© Munroe Scott
There are two participants, one of whom is a man with a warm firm voice and the other a woman with an equally attractive voice. (Relative age span is not necessarily identifiable from voice but can be inferred from the dialogue.) In the script the two are identified as SHE and HE although in the course of dialogue HE is given a specific and genuine historical name whereas SHE remains anonymous. HE can double as the voice of the Announcer.
MUSIC: ( The first few bars of the Welsh tune for “How Firm a Foundation”. It stops on the fifth bar with a strong discord.)
ANNOUNCER: “With Ax and Saw”. An imaginary dialogue inspired by a current real life situation in which dialogue has been denied.
SOUND: (A repeat of the last discordant chord, used as an effect. It echoes out)
SHE: Hello out there. I’m not going to give you my name because the story I have to tell is almost too personal. But I do want to tell it if only to partially relieve my own conscience. And besides, it didn’t really happen – it was a dream. But the problem was – well – I’ve been brooding over the fate of a colleague, a friend, who has actually given public voice to critical thoughts, not at all politically correct, but much like some I’ve been keeping to myself. Her honesty has put her into hot water with the institution we both serve and, although she is asking for dialogue to resolve the issue, dialogue is being refused. I’ve been keeping my mouth shut but this particular night my guilty conscience had me tossing and turning. I simply could not get to sleep. Afraid of waking my husband I eventually got up, put on a flimsy dressing gown, it was a warm night, my slippers, and shuffled my way into the kitchen.
Sound of slippered footsteps approaching on a wooden floor. They stop.
My laptop was on the kitchen table so I sat down —
Sound of a chair being pulled back and the slight creak of someone sitting down. Chair being moved forward a few inches.
– and booted it up.
Musical tone of a Windows boot up.
I remember that I clicked on a favourite bookmark. You see there’s a – a nineteenth century American writer who interest me, (Laughs nervously) dead for ages of course, but a fellow I’ve studied and – well – I guess after I started to re-read some of his stuff that night I must have actually, finally, gone to sleep. Right there at the kitchen table. (Yawns) – And then – and then – well it was as though I, in my head, almost became her – my outspoken deep-in-hot-water colleague. Nonsense, of course, but it’s amazing what an uneasy conscience does when unleashed in a dream.
HE: (Voice slightly distorted. Slightly distant. Annoyed) Why am I here?
SHE: (Startled) What? Who said that?
HE: (Voice still distorted, still distant) I did. Why am I here?
Sounds of heavier footsteps approach and stop.
SHE: (Frightened) It can’t be you! No! Not possible!
HE: (No distortion) Did you summon me? (Sternly) I’ll have you know I can’t be summoned!
SHE: Then go away. (Aside) Scared out of my wits I expect I slapped shut the laptop.
Sound of a laptop being roughly closed.
HE: What are you doing to that flat typewriter? Looks as though a steamroller ran over it.
SHE: You’re still here!
HE: (Irate) Of course I am. You summoned me. Even though it goes against my philosophy.
SHE: I should think so!
HE: I don’t believe in resurrection.
SHE: I know that!
HE: I’m dead. Period.
SHE: Then please, vanish.
HE: (Protesting) But you summoned me.
SHE: Not you! Not in person. I must have mis-googled. If you’re you —
HE: Apparently I am.
SHE: I’m familiar with your writing but this – this is absurd!
HE: (Pleased) Oh? My writing survives?
SHE: That’s why I googled you. I couldn’t sleep. I’ve consulted your material before.
HE: (Chuckles) As a soporific?
SHE: Obviously I made some kind of mistake. I expected text, words, not a hologram.
HE: A telegram?
SHE: I said hologram. This is ridiculous. Look at you.
HE: I can’t. There’s no mirror.
SHE: All in black and grey and, and, a frock coat.
HE: Anyway, being dead I doubt I’d show up in it.
SHE: You look like you’re dressed for a funeral.
HE: I am. I was. I just told you. What are you dressed for?
SHE: What does it look like?
HE: Lord knows. A harem? Flimsy dressing gown and flimsy – trousers?
HE: Oh. Going to bed are we?
SHE: We are not!
HE: (Chuckling) My apologies, Madam. The “we” was a rhetorical colloquialism. So –
SHE: Like I said, couldn’t sleep. (Hastily) Don’t get any ideas.
HE: Haven’t had an idea since July 21st, let me think,1899.
SHE: How precise.
HE: Death is precise.
SHE: I’ve a husband in the next room.
HE: Fortunate man. So why summon me?
SHE: Are you sure you’re dead?
HE: What year is it?
SHE: Two thousand and seventeen.
HE: (Astounded, losing all sense of jocularity) What! I have leapfrogged an entire century and more? More than one hundred years of growth, change, education and evolution? More than one hundred years of scientific advance and enlightenment?
SHE: Don’t get too excited.
HE: (His voice slowly begins to distort and fade) Then my job is done. There’s no more need for the likes of me. Given the relentless progress of enlightenment by now there can be no more popes or prelates, no elected politicians personally motivated by irrational superstitions, no political parties drawing strength from those who believe in the absurdities of book-based “inspired” religions.
SHE: Hey, easy does it!
HE: (Distant) By now all must know there is no such place as Hell, except the one we may create here on Earth.
SHE: Come back!
HE: (Distant) If you insist, (Distortion dwindles as strength returns) but I really shouldn’t be here. It requires a great deal of your imagination. Am I back?
SHE: Yes. Thank you.
HE: Now you thank me. I thought you only wanted words.
SHE: Apparently there’s no either or.
HE: (Suddenly enlightened) I see! I do live through my words! Surely that’s the only way I could be here. Of course. As a lawyer, as an author, as an orator, I am delighted!
SHE: But I did want text.
HE: Still words.
SHE: Printed words.
HE: The author is flattered.
SHE: Lawyer, author, orator. (Suspicious) If you’re really you, you’re a politician too.
HE: No, no. Never.
SHE: Then you’re not whom I – summoned?
HE: But I was Attorney General of Illinois.
SHE: A politician.
HE: (Protesting) Appointed, appointed. Never a politician.
SHE: Why not?
HE: No Party would have me. Disqualified.
SHE: By what?
HE: My words, of course.
SHE: So, you are you!
HE: So, you did summon me.
SHE: More or less.
(Both laugh, somewhat relieved.)
HE: Preferably less, corporeal?
SHE: Most definitely.
HE: Even so, may I sit down?
SHE: If you can.
Sound of kitchen chair squeaking under weight.
HE: Why this fixation on words? What’s wrong with me in persona?
SHE: This way I can’t study you, search you, scan you, parse you, edit you, condense you, expand you, extrapolate from you, quote you.
HE: Or even plagiarize me?
SHE: Take consolation from you. You’re too real. With you in persona I don’t even know what to call you — not face to face like this.
HE: Call me “Bob”.
SHE: No way.
HE: My friends called me Colonel.
SHE: Yes, yes. Your Civil War. Colonel in command of your own company of cavalry and all that. But we’re hardly old army buddies.
HE: Well my public called me “Bob”. How did you summon me?
SHE: I suppose if I had entered “19th century Atheist and Orator” you’d have topped the list but no, I simply tapped what I had already bookmarked “Colonel Robert Green Ingersoll” and, well –
SHE: “Bob” wouldn’t have done it.
HE: But here I am.
SHE: Rather more of you than I wanted. Holus bolus as it were.
HE: That’s very bad Latin.
SHE: Okay. I know you’re educated.
HE: Self – Madam. Self. And you?
SHE: University – Sir. Two of them.
HE: (Surprised) Really.
SHE: (Offended) Yes, really.
HE: Well, well. And your – you have a profession?
SHE: A minister. A very worried, depressed, sleep deprived minister.
HE: As in government? (Impressed) How very advanced.
SHE: As in Gospel. Church. Clergy.
HE: (Disappointed) Oh my. (Recovering) Ah well. But come come, Madam. Let’s not be downhearted. A female cleric. Even that is progress.
SHE: Thank you. Bob.
HE: (He becomes close to orating as he speaks.) On the platforms of the nation I always maintained that woman is naturally the equal of man. So I advocated equal rights, equal education, equal advantages. Am I still here?
HE: But Madam! A minister! I had hoped that woman would not continue to be the serf of superstition; that she would not be the support of the church and priest; that she would not stand for the conservation of superstition, but that in the east of her mind the sun of progress would rise.
SHE: (Bursts into tears)
HE: Come, come, Madam. Why the tears?
SHE: That – that sun of progress. It’s not permitted to rise.
HE: Not even now? In this your year, what, two thousand and seventeen you said?
SHE: They – they’re going to fire me.
HE: Whatever for?
SHE: Because I decided not to stand for – for – your conservation of superstition. One Sunday, in the pulpit, I simply lost it. Threw away my sermon and said what I really thought. And later I declared myself an atheist.
HE: Unwise, but courageous.
SHE: But there’s a closet atheist in many a pulpit! I simply came out and declared.
HE: So you’re congregation is going to fire you?
SHE: No, no! My congregation is all for me. Well, some left, of course, clinging to the – I think it was P.D.James who once said it – “the magnificent irrationality of faith.”
HE: Well put. But others came?
SHE: Yes indeed. And my congregation is my – “my defence and refuge in the days of my trouble”.
HE: Defence and refuge in the days of your trouble? In the psalm you quote that’s God’s function.
SHE: That’s the whole point! It’s not. It’s our’s – us, we, people, it’s our responsibility to each other.
HE: So who is about to fire you?
SHE: My denomination’s hierarchy, it’s the judicial committee, that’s – that’s –
HE: Going to defrock you? I must say, very apt. Except for the pajamas.
SHE: You laugh, sir!
HE: Indeed, I do not. An atheist, you say. And yet a minister? You don’t believe in the God of Creation?
SHE: “Believe” is a treacherous word.
HE: You must have an opinion. Everyone has a right to their opinion.
SHE: I know yours.
HE: Good. My opinion was that nobody knows. You frown.
SHE: There must be a First Cause but how can one conceive of a First Cause? All this – out of nothing?
HE: Indeed. Does not a Creator need a Creator as much as the thing we think has been created? In other words, is not this simply a circle of human ignorance?
SHE: But Creation exists. We exist. Although some of today’s quantum physicists debate the reality of that existence.
HE: An old concept cloaked in new science?
SHE: Probably not that simple.
HE: But as a minister you must take God on faith?
SHE: As a First Cause, yes, while wilfully ignoring your circle of human ignorance.
HE: And thus ignoring reason.
SHE: Cannot Faith take precedence over reason?
SHE: At least until reason provides a creditable alternative?
HE: Then you’re not really an atheist. Why do you claim to be?
SHE: If a genius launches a magnificent ship, elegant in concept, beautiful beyond belief, housing crew of all races, with sustenance for all, would we not applaud, extol, even praise both her and her creation?
HE: You left out worship.
SHE: Let’s say adulation?
HE: Agreed. But design does not prove creation. A man makes a machine. That does not prove that he made the material out of which the machine is constructed.
SHE: Let’s not debate First Cause. Move on. If that same genius then went to sea as the Captain and persisted in granting special privileges to those who fawned over him –
HE: (Teasing) It was a her.
SHE: – tinkered with machinery, tested the ship and crew with plagues and random fires and sought out giant storms while all the time promising an idyllic destination over an always retreating far horizon – surely we should be puzzled?
HE: Your explanation?
SHE: The Captain part of my analogy must be a figment of the imagination. A primitive concept passed on from time immemorial. If that Captain were real there would be a mutiny.
HE: So now you’re a mutineer?
HE: I don’t follow.
SHE: It’s an absurd idea, a false premise. The ship’s creator at sea as a schizophrenic Captain?
HE: I’m sure there’s an “or” coming?
SHE: Of course. There’s another premise. The splendid ship was sent to sea without a captain.
HE: Whyever so?
SHE: It had evolved so exquisitely and the crew was so diverse and intelligent that their future was up to them.
HE: (Approving) A great voyage into the unknown.
SHE: With exhilarating companions – homo sapiens.
HE: If co-operative, a grand odyssey indeed!
SHE: More probable than the alternative.
HE: Hence, “atheist”?
SHE: What better word is there, Colonel? It’s an area where the language is so – so – lacking.
HE: Ah indeed. Words. So necessary. So powerful. So dangerous.
SHE: Anyway, whatever Force may have launched this – this evolving world we inhabit, It is not, so I believe, manipulating both the world and us. And certainly not responding to our pleas. In spite of what the Bible says.
HE: Again, I agree. In my time I used to say – I trust you do know that I spoke to hundreds, even many many hundreds at a time? Oh my, yes. If only you could have been there. For some reason I, Col. Robert Green Ingersoll, known as “Bob”, was very popular. (He begins to drop into the rhetoric of his platform days) I used to say that to make something out of nothing cannot be more absurd than that an infinite intelligence made this world, and proceeded to fill it with crime and want and agony, and then made a Hell in which to consummate the great mistake. I not only said it, I proclaimed it!
SHE: I know. To general audiences.
HE: Well, to audiences where each person was willing to put one dollar into the till.
SHE: So you made a living. Lecturing. As an atheist. But that was then.
HE: I made a living as a lawyer. My lecturing was more for pleasure. I enjoyed lecturing. It was a great pleasure to drive out the fiend of fear. It was a positive joy to put out the fires of Hell.
SHE: (Beginning to protest) Oh hey, I and many of my associates stopped fanning the fires of Hell long ago.
HE: (Lost in memory and sliding again into oratorical mode) I always maintained that the Christian religion was founded upon Hell. That a man of heart could not believe in the doctrine of eternal pain.
SHE: (Irritated) For many of us that’s no longer –
HE: That doctrine subverted all ideas of justice. That doctrine filled Hell with honest men, and heaven with intellectual and moral paupers.
SHE: (Very annoyed) Denying a mythical Hell is not part of my problem!
HE: All the poets would be in perdition, and the greatest thinkers, the great actors, the best musicians. I certainly would have wanted it so I could at least spend my winter months there.
SHE: (Laughing but exasperated) You’re not listening to me! That’s why I wanted text. To cut through all the – the –
SHE: Yes! You’re still attacking ramparts that began to crumble several generations ago.
HE: Apparently your judicial committee doesn’t agree?
SHE: They’ve dug in over the nebulous word atheist.
HE: Why nebulous?
SHE: Because it implies non-belief in a concept that itself defies reason. I sometimes feel they have mired me in a medieval debate, without the debate.
HE: (Sighs) Oh very well then – (His voice begins to distort and fade) – I suppose it would be just as well if I –
SHE: But don’t go, Colonel! Come back. I’m sorry.
HE: (Aggrieved, but his voice returns to normal as he speaks) Oh very well, but being here is still against my philosophy. But you do know I was famous as an atheist orator.
SHE: In the eighteen hundreds! And I tell you, my job is not on the line for ignoring Hell.
HE: Ignore Hell ignore the essential corollary, Heaven. Is that not a problem?
SHE: Yes, of course. (Calming down) Unfortunately the Heaven of the Bible requires a judgmental God electing the Elect and choosing the Chosen with a once alive, once dead, once resurrected, once ascended Jesus sitting at His side in preparation to return. Many of my associates don’t believe that literally but still mouth it with their fingers crossed. I refuse to.
HE: And consequently deny the idea of an interventionist God? The Captain of the ship?
SHE: As a false premise.
HE: Being a lawyer and particularly as an Attorney General I, too, disliked false premises. They led to sophistry, misdirection, misunderstanding and, too often, injustice.
SHE: But deny the premise of that interventionist God and all the mythology vanishes, leaving us confronted by each other, by ourselves, on this magnificent ship we call Earth. We won’t face that even as a possibility.
HE: Denying the dogma of any Church has always taken courage. You could, of course, simply resign – leave the church..
SHE: Abandon ship! My denomination is part of the crew! It has been an influential navigator but it’s forgetting how to read the stars. I’m not defying it, I’m urging it to update the charts.
HE: Some would say a minister being self-proclaimed as an atheist but clinging to the pulpit is rather defiant. But take heart. Galileo defied his church, Copernicus defied it, their Church came round. Martin Luther, Knox, Newton, Thomas Paine – all rebellious. They are heroes of history. There was Descartes and Hume and Darwin and other iconoclasts – in my time much respected.
SHE: In 2017 that’s not very comforting. And I have no desire to be a hero. Respected, yes.
HE: What is your desire? And let’s sink the ship analogy. Sorry, but that’s sailed far enough.
SHE: Yes. So inadequate.
HE: Your desire?
SHE: Well, simply put, I suppose my congregation and I are attempting to create a refuge for those who love the church and it’s intrinsic message of love expressed in social action, but who reject the arcane vocabulary that sustains superstition.
HE: And “arcane vocabulary” describes the dogma?
HE: Questioning institutional dogma is a dangerous thing.
SHE: It has been said that thinking dangerously is essential to all progress. I had hoped you’d be reassuring.
HE: But you only really question the concept of a meddling, manipulative, judgmental God?
SHE: Yes, that horrible image conjured up in the Old Testament – and the magical one reflected in the New.
HE: I certainly agree that Christianity consists of the miraculous, the marvellous, and the impossible. In its doctrine of eternal damnation it is a disgrace to human nature.
SHE: (Protesting) I don’t preach the doctrine of eternal damnation! Nor do most of my associates.
HE: That doesn’t make you atheists. That makes you intelligent.
SHE: It still makes me openly deny integral parts of the Bible.
HE: Why openly?
SHE: (After a pause) Integrity?
HE: Ah, yes. I see. And of course it follows that you deny the doctrine of Biblical Inspiration – the “Word of God”.
SHE: I’m afraid so.
HE: Well that doctrine must be abandoned. I frequently asked why an infinitely wise and good God should take the pains to inspire men to write the Bible, but not have inspired others to translate it correctly. The Bible must take a more humble place among the books of the world. It contains some good passages, a little poetry, some good sense, and some kindness, but its philosophy is frightful. In fact, if the book had never existed I think it would have been far better for mankind. For insight into the true nature of mankind Shakespeare’s works are much superior.
SHE: I know. You said that, too. Back in the 1800s.
HE: Standing ovations.
SHE: But what I really advocate is that we must find more appropriate words. Much of the Bible is quite interesting as metaphor, but only as metaphor. But attempting to describe the inexplicable in terms of something comprehensible does require words. The old words carry thousands of years of baggage.
HE: Ah yes. Your arcane vocabulary. Words again. Words, words.
SHE: The very word “God” is so, so lumbered with mythology and magic and superstition and cultural distortions that it’s impossible to use coherently. To apply it as a metaphor for the cause of everything that occurs in the world around us is, is – it deflects us from understanding real life. That’s the point I’ve been trying to make.
HE: It appears that you use the word atheist in an attempt to discard the baggage. A bit extreme, don’t you think?
SHE: Look who’s calling me extreme.
HE: I’m sure there are many who agree with your expulsion? Your potential de-frocking?
SHE: Of course. The literalists. Who believe in God the Manipulative, in Jesus the Divine, in Jesus the Sacrificial Lamb – literally dead then literally alive and now awaiting His followers in a literal Hereafter.
HE: Ah yes. What was it? “The magnificent irrationality of Faith”?
SHE: I question magnificent. And my denomination used to be a counterbalance to that irrationality.
HE: The writers who gave those ideas longevity, none of them even knew him. Lived years, decades after him. But they were not historians, nor pretending to be.
SHE: I assure you when I studied for the pulpit we were made well aware of all that. We recognized that those writers were using stories as metaphors to convey deeper meanings but for centuries we pastors priests and prelates have told those old tales with such conviction as to make them real in the imagination.
HE: Aided of course by print. Like carving them in stone.
SHE: Many in today’s pulpits are struggling with that. As am I.
HE: Story tellers are by nature mythologists. Composers, poets, artists too – throughout the ages the best of them have made the ridiculous sublime. Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel, Handel’s Messiah – metaphors cloaked in such astonishing beauty as to embed them into the human psyche as literal reality.
SHE: You state it bluntly but negatively. I emphasize the teachings, not the so-called claims. I never deny spirituality but indeed draw our attention to this wondrous world, the beauty of the lily the laughter of a child the glory of a sunset, of the mysteries of real life and the joys of experiencing it fully – as Jesus apparently advocated – together, with kindness, love, justice, compassion, integrity, courage and forgiveness.
HE: Those virtues are not distinctively Christian. They are claimed by Mohammedans and Buddhists, by Infidels and Atheists – and practised by some of all classes.
SHE: Forgiveness. That’s a key.
HE: What! But that’s the ultimate myth! That a merciful God will forgive all. You’re no atheist.
SHE: Not God. It is we who must forgive, and not just ourselves but others. Forgiveness is a Christian virtue and not, alas, universal in religions. I believe that Jesus, a man, fully understood the psychological power of human forgiveness. It opens the door to human progress. The myth makers turned it into a heavenly safety net in the hands of a judgemental God.
HE: Yes indeed. That doctrine allows people to sin on credit.
SHE: It was and is an enormous mistake. The repercussions of that mistake are all around us in the world today.
HE: A world that you say is in the year 2017 A.D.?
SHE: It’s no longer The Year of Our Lord.
SHE: No, no. Most historians don’t use that Anno Domino stuff any more. It’s 2017 C.E. – the Current Era.
HE: As in The Stone Age, The Bronze Age?
SHE: (Laughs) As in the Victorian Era. Simply a way to catalogue history.
HE: So the “Our Lord” concept has gone by the board. Yet the dogma of your Church has remained firm.
SHE: Back when I was studying, in training, I thought there was hope. My denomination was considered one of the most progressive in the world. When I was just about ten years old we had a Moderator, a surgeon, who had no time for either the Virgin Birth or the Resurrection. In fact, he’s on record as saying that “The bodily resurrection means much to many people. I respect their belief. It is something that, personally, I can‛t understand.”
HE: The Resurrection? For some the very fulcrum of Christianity. That man had guts.
SHE: The people loved him. He was soon followed by another Moderator, an ordained minister no less, who told a journalist he didn’t believe Jesus was divine and also said, “I have no idea if there is a Hell. Is Heaven a place? I have no idea.”
HE: Good for him.
SHE: And he added a clincher. “But your soul is lost unless you care about people starving in the streets.” There was a petition to remove him but the church refused.
HE: I might have joined your Church.
SHE: In those days it showed promise of being a new frontier.
HE: What has happened?
SHE: I’m afraid it has retrenched for fear of losing members to fundamentalist evangelism flowing up from the south.
HE: Oh my. A pity.
SHE: Those Moderators served almost 50 years ago! Their thoughts echoed the teachings of the Theological College I later attended at a prestigious university. In my day, as theologs we were encouraged to study the dissenters. We discussed Bishops Robinson and Spong, argued over Nietzsche and Kierkegaard, read Borg and others and were challenged to think. That college was, at that time, a major gateway to the pulpits of my denomination.
HE: At that time?
SHE: It has since moved on. It has absorbed its own message. It is now simply a School of Religion.
HE: But still part of the same prestigious and progressive university?
SHE: Yes. But it no longer schools our ministers. It studies religions, not theology, not “God”. It is no longer accepted as a gateway to the pulpits of my supposedly progressive denomination.
HE: And what denomination may that be? Presbyterian? Even in my time I used to claim that probably there was not a genuine Presbyterian outside of an insane asylum.
SHE: (Amused) Certainly we have Presbyterian roots but also ––
HE: My father was a Presbyterian minister. It was said of him that he believed that that which was pleasant was not wholly good. Others, you say?
SHE: Yes, others. There were the –
HE: He was so adamant in that and other convictions that our family was frequently forced to move.
SHE: It was formed here in Canada by the –
HE: Canada! Are we in Canada?
SHE: (Sighs) If we’re anywhere we’re here.
HE: (Delighted) Ah, ha. I have fond memories of Canada. Especially Victoria. We had a license for the theatre but on the night of the lecture, when the building was about two-thirds full, the police appeared and said that my lecture would not be allowed because the house was unsafe, that there should be another door, whereupon my friends, in a few minutes, made another door with an ax and a saw. The crowd was admitted and the lecture was delivered.
SHE: (Laughs spontaneously, then, ruefully –) Ah, yes, but that was in the 1800s. This is now! That’s what I’m trying to tell you. My church is regressing, not advancing. It’s beginning to close minds, not open them. An ax and a saw no longer work. I guess I’ve used the word atheist instead.
HE: (Chuckling) I like that. The atheist label as a verbal ax and saw to open minds! Well done.
SHE: Thank you, but I expect your people made amends with a small sum and some labour.
HE: Whereas yours’ want your job? Your career?
SHE: My calling.
HE: Indeed. (Puzzled) So strange. In my time the general tendency was already toward science, toward naturalism.
SHE: That was yesterday. Your yesterday.
HE: Men were in a transition state, and the people, on the average, had more real good, sound sense than ever before.
SHE: More than a hundred years before my today.
HE: The church was losing its power for evil. The old chains were wearing out, and new ones were not being made. The tendency was toward intellectual freedom.
SHE: That was then then then. Shades of the Enlightenment. This is now, now, now.
HE: That freedom promised the final destruction of the religious bastilles. I gather that today’s religious bastilles are still, as always, psychological fortresses?
SHE: Yes. They give people imaginary security. Psychologically. But oh my – (Her voice breaks) – I do worry about that.
HE: Whyever so?
SHE: (Faltering) I guess – well – disabusing someone of even a portion of their faith. What a heavy responsibility!
HE: Yes. The wages of honesty. Sorry to say.
SHE: I am simply pleading, within my own denomination and along with my congregation, for the intellectual freedom we once had.
HE: But every church, every religion is a system of slavery. No matter how powerful, they ask precisely the same thing from every member — that is to say, a surrender of that intellectual freedom. I assume then that science, alas, has not progressed?
SHE: Oh science has progressed. We can transplant human organs, lungs, even hearts.
SHE: We have walked the moon and seen the back of it.
HE: Well done!
SHE: A tiny spacecraft has plunged between the rings of Saturn and sent back stunning photographs. We have landed an instrument on a comet in space.
SHE: Our telescopes are probing the outer edges of an expanding universe and are peering back to the beginnings of time. We are photographing galaxies six billion light years away.
SHE: We have split the atom and harnessed its power.
SHE: I can take a tiny phone from my purse, tap in a few numbers and within seconds be talking to a friend in Africa.
HE: (Delighted) Then the scientists understand and are abiding by the immutable laws of the universe!
SHE: But there’s the rub. In my opinion, all that is possible because the laws are not subject to alteration by an imaginary deity influenced by prayer, praise, invocation or worship. Granted, the quantum physicists are exploring the weirdly nebulous sub-sub-atomic micro world. Indeed, quite correctly they are making science question its own certainties. Even so, I’m not aware of any suggestion that even their eerie realm is subject to the Tinker Bell effect.
SHE: After your time. A mischievous storybook faerie that exists only if children believe in her.
HE: So nothing has changed. (Sighs.) Even your advanced church is, at it’s heart’s core, still refusing to learn from science and to continue questioning?
SHE: Alas, there is good reason to fear science. It has given your country, and others, the weaponry with which to annihilate us all, and the communications technology by which men of immense wealth but small intellect have the power to brainwash thousands and to brandish such weaponry. Misinterpreted religion is in their armoury.
HE: Always has been. Right back to Constantine and back and back to the rulers of Rome, Greece, Egypt and beyond.
SHE: Even now, as in your day, your Constitution still claims your country to be – well – you know.
HE: “One nation under God”! I remember only too well. My cavalry charged the enemy barricades and were slaughtered crying to God for help. Our foes, our brothers, fought and died praying to the same God. The delusional imbecility of that has not yet sunk in?
SHE: Far from it. A mere two years before I was born and years after harnessing the atom your same scientifically advanced country adopted the motto “In God We Trust”.
HE: Surely not !
SHE: Surely yes, and thereby psychologically absolves the believers and their leaders of ultimate responsibility for almost anything. Wait, wait. Don’t leave. Even here, in Canada, we still stand at attention and sing lustily for God to keep our land glorious and free. We know full well that we ourselves must attend to that duty.
HE: (His voice begins to distort and fade) And I thought that I, we, had been making progress.
SHE: You did. My denomination did. For awhile. Please, don’t go. Don’t abandon me.
HE: (Still fading) Alas, I have overstayed my time by far far more than a century.
SHE: (Calling after him) All I want is for my own church to permit discussion of a reasonable proposition.
HE: (More faint) And what, pray, is that?
SHE: (Calling) My outspoken colleague, Gretta Vosper, has said it so clearly.
HE: (Distant) I’m listening.
SHE: (Calling) “Our Gods may yet soothe us but they cannot save us. We are the only answer we have.”
(There is a long pause, and then SHE gives a deep sigh and, no longer speaking to Ingersoll, speaks to us.)
SHE: And that was it. A dream of course, but so real. It was just as though I, too, a fellow minister, really had had the guts to speak up. But – alas – I have not — I have not.
SOUND: (Same discordant chord as near the beginning, with echo)
End of dialogue.
Note: Much of the previous dialogue is writer’s fiction but usually, when Ingersoll offers a direct opinion or reminisces about what he used to say, I took his words almost verbatim from statements made by himself to journalists in numerous interviews and published in journals of the time.
* The previous articles, mentioned at the beginning, hark back to Sept.11, 2016 to The United Church of Canute? and even farther back to August 19, 2012 to “The Great Betrayal” under the caption “United Church Challenge”. I make no apology for redundancy. It is said that to embed something in memory it should be repeated three times. 🙂
WITH AX AND SAW is copyright©Munroe Scott 2017
(But that doesn’t mean that this blog, as with any blog, can’t be forwarded onward.)