Morality vs. Legality
I made my way to the pulpit and as I strode along between the pews I fixed a steely eye upon any who dared raise their eyes to meet mine; each and every shivered and returned to their most penitent position. With powerful, determined steps I sent my robes swinging as I swung up and into the pulpit and lowering my heavy brows cast my eyes over my apprehensive flock.
Sucking in a great, audible lungful of air I intoned “Who among you is without sin?” I let the air settle for a moment, then even louder and more thunderous than before “Who among you believes they can justify to God their sins?” I allowed the words to sink in… contemplate these tidings my children… “You may well persuade the stranger, perhaps you may also persuade your brother, and if your self-delusions are complete enough you may well convince even the mirror, but do you really think God cannot cut away the veil of pretence you surround yourself, you clothe yourself; smother yourself in?”
There were tinges of panic throughout the room; nervous eyes flickered here and there as if seeking escape, shoulders hunched lower – partly to avoid attention, and partly because I had just laid such a heavy weight upon them…
“He will see past all your obstructions, he will cut a path through all your barriers, and he will read the darkest secrets of your innermost soul as if they were illuminated against the night sky!” There were moans of despair escaping the most honest of my congregation; here and there I spied a tear tearing its way clear of blinking eyes, and one poor woman was reeling as if in a swoon.
“Redemption is within your grasp; those with strength and courage shall reach out and take what is freely, lovingly offered, but the price is high… You must forsake these lies, these crimes, this harm you visit upon your neighbour in the service of self-satisfaction. Only then might you be spared the ravenous flames hungry for your pitiable flesh; flames never to be extinguished, never to relent or release, flames that survive by using your eternally sinful flesh as fuel.” There was uttering of praise for God, there were sobs and quiet wails for pity, there was a hunger in their eyes, a desperate hunger for salvation from those flames…
“Do as to others what you would have them do unto you…! Each and every man and woman is your brother and sister; there are no strangers under the gaze of the Lord! Love thy neighbour and forgive him his trespass, and above all love the Lord as your saviour, and He will reward you your charity, your compassion and your devotion!”
I felt the words flow through me… I felt an instrument rather than instigator… I saw their adoration and knew I was nothing but a vessel that they might find focus for their love. I swung down from the pulpit and returned to my spartan quarters that I might meditate on the wonders God rained down upon those with eyes to see and ears to hear…
Dave: What’ll you have?
Danny: I’ll have a bitter. You’re pretty flush tonight?
Dave: Yea; just finished that paint job in Essex Road; bloke paid me cash.
Danny: Nice – up yours Mr taxman!
Dave: Not only that, when the prat paid me he gave me an extra hundred by mistake. I saw it at once, so didn’t count it in front of him…
Danny (with a smirk): What you don’t know can’t hurt you!
Dave: Well, that God’s own truth. You been working this week?
Danny (looking a bit glum): Nope; did my back in on some brick work last Tuesday, had to take it easy all week.
Dave: You go to the doctor?
Danny: Went to A&E; three hours they kept me waiting, if you can believe it, and when I finally got to see a bloody doctor he was from somewhere I’ve never heard; I could hardly understand a word he said!
Dave: What’s it coming to, eh!
Danny: He told me I’d torn a something or other, to take it easy for a week or two, and to take some bloody pills. Like he has to worry about where the next pay check comes from…
Dave: I tell you the NHS slide further down into the toilet every year!
Danny: I went to the chemist to get the pills… £8.50 for ten in a sheet… TEN! Bloody highway robbery!
Dave: The whole country is going the same way; my little girl has to share books at school, the roads are falling to pieces, and I took the underground three stops the other day and paid £9.60 for the pleasure standing in a dirty, old carriage…
Danny: I blame the bloody immigrants, come over here and take great handouts from a hard working, taxpaying man!
Dave: God’s own truth, mate!
Bellum Omnium Contra Omnes
It was a beautiful Tuesday. It was both beautiful because the sun shone bright and strong over a land made green by the early spring rains, the sky was blue, dotted here and there by some lazy, meandering cloud, and birds trilled from tall, straight trees, eager to begin their busy cavorts, and because on a Tuesday George always came back from his weekend hunting expeditions, which meant I should eat well tonight.
I lifted myself from my favourite rock, hefted my most trusted club, and set off at a hungry pace. As I strode through the long grasses I noted small animals, rabbits, voles, squirrels and their like, darting here and there on their daily escapades; they paid almost as little attention to me as I paid to them. They knew they had nothing to fear from me; I always preyed upon larger game.
It wasn’t a short walk, although it wasn’t an exhausting trek; I didn’t enjoy the company of others, though I was forced by expediency to remain in their vicinity. By the time I arrived at George’s farmstead, a rough collection of huts where his extended family lived, farmed, cured meats, stored grain and vegetables and bred grazing animals, the sun was signalling midmorning and I was famished.
Long before I arrived I noted George standing beside the rickety gate to his land; not unusual in itself, although at this time he would usually be preparing my due, but what was unusual was the suspicious presence of Thomas, Philip, Karl and Roger. These fellows also farmed and lived in the area, and I would make my way to their lands at different times throughout the month. Even more concerning were the clubs and cudgels they gripped in their hands and the nervous glances the kept throwing towards each other at the first sign of my approach.
Liking to think I wasn’t a complete idiot I halted well before I reached the gate and looked calmly at their little group. It looked to me like they had worked themselves up to a little rebellion (it had taken them long enough), but I would wait, allow their anxiety to rise a notch, and see whether they would see the course.
After some time the others began to nod and signal George, perhaps the instigator or simply the mouthpiece, forward, and with some obvious reluctance and much clearing of the throat he hurriedly said, “You’re not welcome today, Nathan; you’ll not take our meat or grain anymore.” The others nodded and grunted agreement, while Karl even went so far as to slap his palm with the weighted end of his cudgel.
“Think carefully about your decision, lads.” I began. “At the moment we have no law here, and that’s far preferable to what you’re all about to bring down upon yourselves…”
“You’ll not bully us anymore. We’ll keep what we catch, and eat what we grow, and there’ll be no more handouts to the likes of you.” stated an emboldened Philip.
“You think I make your lives harder? You think that my levy is unfair and you would suffer less hardship if I were to desist? You could not be further from the truth. Perhaps I should be merciless and allow you to discover the truth for yourselves, or should I remain the focus of your troubles and save you from yourselves…?” They stared at me as if I had grown a second head; to be honest I usually used my ‘scary’ voice, and mostly knocked things over with prodigious use of my club – it tended to get more done than a kind word or three.
“I shall tell you a story… Once upon a time there was a stunningly handsome, strong and brave man named Nathan. He lived on the outskirts of a small group of farms made up of ignorant families. These families, separated by natural geography and moral differences, were not ignorant due to a lack of intelligence, but by their lack of experience and perspective, and the fact that a great deal of their time was concentrated on survival rather than imaginative speculation.” They goggled at me with a kind of confused stupor; the wind quite taken from their antagonistic sails.
“Their land, not too very far south of here, was much like this one – a land filled with game, few in predators, with rich soil to grow crops, and Nathan used to intimidate these hardworking souls into providing him with his daily sustenance. He never took too much, made sure to leave them with plenty for themselves, and apart from his occasional foray into their midst would keep himself to himself and leave them to make what they would of their limited lives.”
“One day a group of the local men, tired of working so hard only to have a portion of their property stolen away, decided to stand up to Nathan, knowing full well he might best three or four of them in a fight, but could never stand up to their combined force, they drove him off and celebrated their newfound freedom from his yoke of tyranny.” To be honest I wasn’t entirely sure they were keeping up, but I decided to stick at it and see if they could fathom the depths of my insight…
“Nathan, who was quite capable of exacting vengeance on them individually; of isolating them from the herd and creating terror within their divided ranks, decided, being of a sensible, peaceable mind by nature, to conduct a little observational experiment on these simple fellows, to really understand what would happen to man if released from his bondage.”
“Now they no longer had a common enemy it took hardly any time at all for them to begin to covet each others’ ‘luxuries’. One fellow, lacking in good sheep breeding stock, began to creep into his neighbours’ lands at night and steal away the healthy males. Another fellow, thinking the daughters of one of the landowners far more seductive than his own wife, committed crimes against their youthful innocence, and others, in reprisal for acts committed against their person or property, or simply because opportunity and impunity presented, did great bodily harm to others in residing in this catastrophic community.”
“Seeing their community falling beneath the twin-edged freedoms of anarchy they begged Nathan to return and once again exert his dictatorial, if benevolent, influence, but he refused, seeing clearly his lack of initial exertion had forever corrupted their meek, subservience.”
“With a heavy, if necessary heart, he left them to their Sodom, and headed north in hopes of finding a land as yet untainted by the filth of freedom, until he arrived here and once again, joyful that his neighbours should be so ignorant to such contamination, stamped a gentle brand upon each soul and counted them as his responsibility.” I waited for a moment to see if anything I had said managed to reverberate through the thickness of their skulls, but I knew from the glazed, bored, and belligerent expressions it was up to me to prevent them from falling into the same inescapable pit.
I turned on my heel and stride away, ignoring their jeers and taunts, their ‘triumph’, but did not return home. I hunted a little – don’t get me wrong, I’m quite capable of taking care of myself, and generally would prefer to stay clear of my ignorant fellows, but I also preferred to dedicate myself to more cerebral pursuits, and the training of my physical abilities, and to do so meant I must free up a great deal of the time hunting and gathering consumed.
After the sun had set I waited a brief while longer just to be sure they’d likely gone to sleep, and then one after another, leaving no farm untouched, whether or not the leaders of each household had been present today, I entered each home and broke the legs of the man of the house. I accompanied my barbaric actions with sufficient amounts of deep-throated shouting, much of which took the form of threats of various evil penalties for further rebellion, a little property destruction, and a leer or two at any pretty daughter that looked particularly vulnerable – I thought that should be sufficient to set them all back on the right track.
I was right, but there were further, unforeseen consequences… The next morning when I returned for my victuals they were either waiting for me in great abundance on the outskirts of their land, or they were presented to me with far greater respect than previously. However, there was now a new look, poorly masked by inexperience so easy enough to identify; a look I had never previously seen in any of those suffering under my brutal reign… there was hatred, smothered and unformed, but true hatred.
I decided to gather as much as I could and move on, for while I might retain my control, I would be forced to greater lengths, and some future, final retaliation upon me would not stop with some bruises and a broken bone or two.
As I hefted a great bag of supplies and bid farewell to the comfortable little hut that had seen me through several bleak winters I wondered whether such a paradox would ever be surmounted: could man live in free equality without abusing any weakness, or must some hated grip hold them to the ground to restrict their self-destructive nature?
Wandering west this time I enjoyed the warm sun on my back, the small yellow flowers dotting the gentle hills I crossed, and thanked nature for blessing me with my attributes; perhaps I would have a little fish for lunch…
Morality after Lunch
It was raining harder than a desiccated pebble, the sky looked about as grey as a post-modern choice, and I was wetter than a paper bag used solely for insulting purposes. The path I took to avoid the oceanic puddles made me look somewhere on the wrong side of a battle against alcoholism, and to be honest had I been a little more literal I’d still have no trouble escaping any preventative measure for those suffering hyperventilation.
Things could have been worse, I suppose… If I was really unlucky I would be lacking raincoat, galoshes, and a good, solid, trustworthy umbrella… oh yea, I was! I’d been out in this delightful weather for more than an hour; long enough for the freezing shivering to have desensitised my skin to the point where the numbness just felt like a [cheap] [in]security blanket, and as far as I was concerned my time had been about as productive as a blind interior decorator and as useful as screaming in space. There was, however, one point of the morning so uplifting if I concentrated hard enough I felt chauffeured by a forklift…
I’d never actually been to a meeting wet before. It was an interesting sensation to be scrutinised while dripping on a beautifully fitted carpet of the multinational conglomerate, while droplets lingered for a moment on the tip of my nose before dropping with little plopping noises into my tea (the ripples rebounding in such confused fashion I wondered if a whole flock of butterflies had just dropped dead in South America), as I slowly soaked my way into the expensive upholstery of my chair in the reception area, while I stood in perplexed, half-deaf, query when asked if I wanted to hang on to my coat (I was so wet I was terrified if they took the coat off some tsunami-like wash would flow from me to drown all those poor office workers in some horror of shocked screams and pleas for mercy), and following the CEO to his office listening to the squishing language of my soaked shoes (the sounds were so diverse, but concise, I was convinced there was a whole vocabulary just awaiting me to learn ‘Shoe’).
Anyway, I put on as brave a face as my atrocious state would allow and presented my piece (don’t get me wrong – the presentation went pretty well, all things considered; it was a good service, the research was solid, the positives far outweighed the negatives, and the money he’d save wasn’t negligible… it’s just I’d turned up looking like a bum who’d lost not only the keys to his cardboard box, but who’d been evicted by the council of bums for giving too disreputable a reputation to nice, socially conscious bums… forgive, but I felt… bummed out, man…).
It was with a reluctant, “We’ll think about it.” Rather than the “Let’s get some people in here to review the paperwork.” I left the building.
On my way out of these sumptuously furnished surroundings, feeling gloomier than the day outside about to embrace my dismal cheer, I was suddenly struck by the worst compulsion. Some rebellious imp leapt up from my depths, giggling and snickering with such volume the monotonous parrot on my shoulder was quite overwhelmed. It was utterly spontaneous; I had no control over the impulse. I misdirected the pretty, irritatingly dry, personal assistant seeing me courteously from the building with a gesture and question and while she was glancing at the focus of my fallacious curiosity I pocketed a glittering crystal ashtray (perhaps a leftover from a time when smoking had been considered less sulphuric), and then headed back out into the downpour with an eagerness more appropriate a child heading for the lower branches of a pine tree on the 25th.
Due to my urgent preparations, the final dotting of T and crossing of I, this morning, while still in a frame of mind so positive iron filings had written me love letters, I’d quite skipped breakfast, so as I chortled my way through the unending droplets I decided to hang it all and get myself some lunch…
My full stomach sided with my parrot. The two of them created a cacophony so assiduous the frame holding my confidence crumbled to splinters while I watched woodlice scatter in a pretty good imitation of rats involved with the sinking of ships.
The hard outline of the ashtray jabbed through my punishingly wet clothes like a spear into innocent flesh. I wondered at how many people had sacrificed pay rises, or rather had a raise forfeited for them, that fools like me might marvel at its pristine, crystalline structure. I wondered which internal staff might be scrutinised for my devious act, at the number of staff, already teetering on the edge of redundancy, let go on such a feeble pretext. I wondered at the secretary, remembering each and every day the first time she saw her love, lingering over this precious crystal memory, just before he levered himself up with a cough and in some baritone rumble asked her on their first date, and a hundred other improbable tales which where lectured into my ear with such an authoritative tone I found myself tugging my fringe in cringing subservience.
I must say the whole process was nearly worth the self-castigation – just to see the look of ‘serial-killer’ terror inspired on the visage of the receptionist as I charged back into the offices and screaming, “Sorry, sorry; I deserve to be punished!” and almost broke her jaw as I threw the accursed object from my burning hands (fortunately the horrid object passed just to her left to strike the noble temple of a perfectly awful rendition painted of the very CEO who’d so sniffed at my snuffles).
It wasn’t until I’d managed to put enough distance between me and that place, as poisonous to me now as peanut butter to a paranoid mother, even the memories were becoming self-protective distorted, I’d regained my breath, and some measure of innocence had begun to creep back into my countenance, that I noticed it had quite stopped raining! The sun was out, doing its very best to dry my sodden clothes, the sky was blue with forgiving optimism, and all around the celebratory song of birds lifted me to new heights of purity.
Perhaps I should just get another little snack…