Wednesday, February 1, 2012
People of the Book
Picture, if you will, a future beyond the wildest imaginations of today's forensics dramas. The law-and-order branch of Government, at every level, has have grown so confident of its ability to convict criminals that it has have pushed their persons of political influence to eliminate, wherever possible, the right to enter a guilty plea, with the hope of maximizing the sentencing for dangerous criminals. The Government has found it pretty hard to draw the line as to which crimes could and couldn't be plead "guilty," so they have stopped trying. Now nobody can. Sometimes they won't even let you testify because you might confess to the crime.
In this same future, there has been an unfortunate convergence of different events and philosophies, such that religion is now under serious fire as a thing to be targeted for scrutiny, though not as yet aggressively eliminated, except in the first case. This first case had been the outlawing of "Islamic Radicalism." This was fine with most people, especially with most people who weren't Muslims.
Then the outlawing had expanded to "Islamic Semiradicalism." Of course, saying "semiradicalism" in this context was kind of like saying "Semipelagianism" to an old-school hard-core Calvinist, in that the word included so many people that it is almost a meaningless label.
So, for all intents and purposes, Islam has been declared illegal. Of course, ethnic makeup of religions being what it is, much racial profiling has followed, but in the interests of safety, the Government and its citizens have long ago stopped caring about that.
Of course, the Government had become at this point controlled by secularists so radical that Dawkins, Harris and Dennett would refuse to eat lunch with them. But it would be a few years before It would take on the Hindus, Buddhists, Jews and the Christians. After all, most of them weren't terrorists. But the outcry over the suppression of Islam from the thinking religious folk has translated into a less vocal, more riotous outcry from the less intellectual religious folk, and given the Government its needed excuses.
So let's fast-forward a few years.
The pattern of outlawing has now followed with each other major world religion. "Religious semiradicalism" is illegal, and so the thing popularly known as "religion" is now practically illegal. Ala the ancient Roman Empire, people of pretty much all faiths--except Islam, which has been declared too dangerous even in its semiradical form--are free to practice until someone complains. At that point, to the courtroom goes the Christian, or the Jew, or what-have-you.
Our story focuses on a Christian. He is no mystic, but carries a generally joyful spring in his step.
His name is Stephen, but he is not a martyr by stones. He is if anything a martyr by philosophies. He has been pelted by so many secular philosophies that it has induced, however small, a doubt in him. Existentialism, nihilism, secular humanism, and so on. So many philosophies, including the official philosophy of Government, which is at this point that man can indeed be good without God--without whom we would all be much better off. It is not the competing claims to revelation that trouble him, it is the claims to goodness without grace.
Stephen's Biblical namesake had things easy--the stones killed his body and could do no more.
For a long time one of Stephen's best friends has been an Arab-American Muslim by the name of Ali. Ali is a "semiradical" Muslim. Two years previous to our story, the police had gone on a five-week Muslim-hunt. Stephen's parish, which had begun meeting in a local high school gym under a pseudonym, had offered Ali and his family and several other Muslims asylum in their homes. Stephen had been assigned to feed and clothe Ali's family during that time.
"If there is ever a day that you need me, Stephen," Ali had said once, about three weeks in, "I'll be there."
Two months previous to the meat of our story, Stephen and Ali had lost contact.
Parishoners at Stephen's parish are murmuring. Murmuring about some of the more interesting facts about the trials. The thing is, whereas many semiradical Muslims have been convicted, many semiradical Christians have been let off the hook, despite being known as believers to the community at large.
And what was more, when they come out, many of those acquitted are no longer believers. It is enough to make the parishoners, in their superstition, suspect something Satanic is in play. It is almost as if the Government wants to make unbelievers, and thinks that Christians are a better target for this tactic than the Muslims, who are generally imprisoned and allowed a meager allotment of prayers.
Now someone has gotten mad enough at Stephen to accuse him of semiradical Christianity. Stephen is not afraid of being convicted. He is, rather, afraid of beating the charge.
The day for trial comes, the people take their seats, the room endures the formalities, and the prosecution presents its evidence. It attempts to show that Stephen associates with a known Christian community, does his charity work like one expects a Christian to do, has several religious articles in his house indicative of belief, and disciples new people into semiradical Christianity.
(1) Stephen is known to have been at several Sunday meetings of the "Community Club of Spiritual Growth." (The parish avoids talking about Mass at St. Leo's; it uses a more ambiguous terminology to avoid being shut down.) Several witnesses are produced; the accused recognizes one or two.
The defense counters by noting that everyone needs a social club, and there is no real reason to suspect this social club's means anything aside from what it says. The fact that the "SG" in "CCSG" is sometimes said to stand for Saint George, says the defense, cannot not be backed up by anything other than hearsay or circumstantial evidence. Even if the community is religious, this could simply be a way of maintaining social acceptability to fellow parishoners, particularly if Stephen hasn't expected to be labeled a semiradical. Religion is, after all, as much cultural as personal.
(2) Stephen has been seen with several known convicted Christians serving food to the homeless downtown. There is also testimony that he has been seen bringing food to widows of the Government's recent war. Some passersby to one such visit say they heard him singing a hymn with one of the widows, who was convicted a few months ago of semiradical Protestantism and allowed house arrest due to her husband's sacrifice. "Dulce et decorum est," after all.
The defense counters by noting that a few billion people are now known to be good without God and don't have to be religious to help the homeless. Even if Stephen has been serving with religious people, that doesn't matter. It just means that they both happened to be serving the homeless. With no mission statement in the soup kitchen marking it as religious, how could anyone say that Stephen is trying to serve the homeless for some Supernatural reason when much of humanity does it for perfectly natural ones? As for the war-time widow, the defense postulates that Stephen was merely engaging in a cultural commonality to comfort a sad old woman.
(3) The accused had his house searched after the accusation, and the Government has found a Revised Standard Version Bible (with the Deuterocanonicals), a King James Bible, and a Rosary within.
The defense counters by noting that, even if this indicates some connection to religion, the connection could just as easily be cultural as anything else. The Rosary might be a gift from his Spanish grandmother, as in fact it happens to be (they did their research on their defendant), and the Bibles could just as easily be for a knowledge of literature. After all, nobody has outlawed the Bible--it is still needed for understanding most of our great writers, if only to understand how they turned it on its head and created society anew.
(4) The accused, in the preliminary investigation, was overheard catechizing a new Christian at a coffee-shop downtown, reciting the eloquent-for-its-time, but still barbaric Nicene Creed, and using the words "as we believe" with respect to the same document.
This is damning on the surface, says the defense attorney, but let us look further. The same attorney then calls the investigator who had heard this supposed discipleship to the stand and questions him.
"Did you actually hear him indicating that he believed in the document?"
"I believe so, yes."
"You believe so. Did you hear it or not?"
"Did you hear him say 'as we Christians believe, Christ has two natures' or anything specific enough that he could not possibly have simply been quoting the document, or giving an example of something related historical figures or documents might have said?"
"No, but I don't know how 'as we believe' could have meant anything else."
"Are you certain? The first two words of the Creed, as translated in English, are 'we believe.' In other words, at no point in this conversation did Stephen actually indicate No further questions."
The prosecution of course does insist that they be allowed a cross-examination, but it is to no avail. Apparently Stephen and his disciple spoke in terms too general to identify either as a Christian. Stephen remembers that conversation. He remembers how they couched everything in ambiguity and allusion to avoid giving themselves away. Had he known this was coming...
The prosecution declines to call Stephen to the stand, stating that his brand of Christianity is simply too dangerous to allow the possibility of a confession, which might cut down on their ability to sentence him should they convict him. And they will convict. The defense declines to call Stephen to the stand for the same reason.
The prosecutor rests his case by noting that Stephen associates with a Christian community, serves with Christians and to known Chrsitians, has Christian materials in his household, and has been seen attempting to create new Christians. If it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck and walks like a duck, barring evidence to the contrary, says the prosecutor, we are justified in concluding that it is, indeed, a duck.
The defense notes that this is, indeed, generally true. But what we are interested in here is evidence beyond the shadow of a doubt. And in our modern society, with so many philosophies informing what people say and do, if we are to accuse someone of a crime as serious as religious semiradicalism, we ought to have evidence that cannot be explained by any other belief system. A mere cultural Christian will have goodness passed down to him, and literature, and even meetings--and possibly even a tendency to teach others about his faith--but the first three can't necessarily be taken as any kind of hard evidence of his supposed religiosity, and the last is circumstantial at best--it can just as easily have been a conversation of two modern enlightened philosophers regarding outdated beliefs. In short, argues the attorney, the prosecution wants Stephen convicted of semiradicalism on shabby evidence. He is casually religious at best.
At the moment of the verdict, Stephen is nervous. What if his defense attorney is right? What if there is no real evidence of his being a Christian? Of course Stephen knows there is evidence of God in the universe, and evidence of the Resurrection, but...what if that evidence isn't good enough, and he really doesn't believe? Is there evidence inside?
The verdict of innocence is read, and Stephen feels darkness. What if it is not true? What if he really doesn't believe? Does he really believe? Stephen feels all the spring leaving his step. And he prays a desperate prayer in a moment of desperation and darkness.
"Saint George, you are the patron saint of my parish and all in it. If you are there, please help me now."
Let's rewind for a moment. Approximately half an hour's worth. And change scenery.
As it turns out, the reason for the separation of the the Muslim and the Christian was a more minor but more sustained Muslim-hunt in Ali's district of the city. As such he and his wife and children have gone into hiding with a group of radical anarcho-libertarians who will take any opportunity to combat the shrinking of freedoms by the Government.
At this moment, approximately half an hour before the verdict is read, Ali feels a distinct and unmistakable feeling, commonly known as the “gut.” He must go to the courtroom. He knows through the grapevine that Stephen is on trial, but now he feels called. He must go now. He must say something. What? It will come to him.
He tells the libertarian husband and wife of his strange feeling. He asks to borrow their car. They say yes, advise him to be careful, and then advise them that if he's not careful, he ought to at least raise a ruckus for the Government. Ali agrees.
Five minutes until verdict time. Traffic is rough. Ali pulls up to the courthouse, then realizes it happens to be time for his prayers. A few minutes' delay will be okay, his gut tells him.
At the time of the verdict, Ali navigates the bureaucracy of entering a Government courthouse and received three rapid patdowns. When an official stops him to ask if he is a Muslim, he grunts once. The official does not ask again. He gets a gut feeling. Floor three, courtroom two.
One minute past the verdict, Ali steps out of the elevator across from courtroom two.
Three minutes past the verdict and his prayer to St. George, Stephen is in the courtroom being congratulated by his attorney. He is not happy to have beaten the charge. He is feeling all kinds of something wrong. Will help come?
Five minutes past the verdict. People are getting up to leave.
A middle-aged Arab-American man busts down the double doors to the courtroom. He rushes in, shouting at the top of his lungs: "There is no God but God, and Muhammad is his prophet!"
The man then proceeds to begin saying his ritual prayers. Relevant uniformed persons promptly arrest the semiradical Muslim and take him off to prison, mid-prayer and--Stephen thinks--smiling.
Stephen gets a curious look on his face, and asks his defense attorney for a piece of paper and a pen. The attorney asks why; Stephen says he is writing a message for a lawyer.
The attorney assents. Stephen writes furiously and secretively, noting that the prosecutor has not yet left the room. He does not show anyone what he is writing. He politely hands back the pen. Then, before anyone can stop him, he makes a mad dash across the aisle to the prosecutor's desk and hands him the note. Stephen's eyes are look angry, but this is just the mask for something behind them. Stephen is feeling some intense feeling which strives to break at once inward and outward. He forces the prosecutor to read his note immediately. It's not certain, but one person will later say he heard Stephen threaten to "kick the prosecutor in the shins" if he would not read the note.
The note reads:
"You and my attorney argued several times during this trial about circumstantial evidence; evidence that has no hard form. This was true, sort of. But faith is the certainty of what is hoped for and the evidence of things unseen. I, the undersigned, fully believe all that the Roman Catholic Church proclaims to be revealed by God. It is on that basis, directly or indirectly, that I frequent St. George's, serve the homeless, sing hymns with Protestant widows, keep Bibles and Rosaries, and indoctrinate the youth with semiradical and barbaric Christian documents. And if all else should be lacking, you may take this signed statement as your hard evidence."
It is signed at the bottom in words only recognizable as "Stephen Squiggly-Line." The prosecutor stares blankly at Stephen for a few seconds, then back at the paper, then back at Stephen. Then he bursts out laughing.
"You know, I can't appeal this case, but I'll keep this all the same. It's just too funny. The things you people do to try and prove your faith."
"Even funnier are the things you people do to try and disprove it. But if you're still offering it, I'll take my freedom. Goodbye, Satan,” he says cheerfully to the lawyer. “We'll be praying for you." Stephen turns and leaves the courthouse, skipping inside despite his relative calmness outside.
As he leaves, he has a lot of thoughts about a lot of things. What all this can mean, the goodness of God, how he now has a friend to visit in prison and a family he will be helping to get by in the meantime, and whether the lawyer he has insulted had any idea what was said. To name just a few. But mostly he thanks God silently for people like Ali.