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Belief's Blinkers


Paul Grimsley

Two men on! a bench sit quietly. They have each broken the bread which they brought to this place and they have thrown it to the ducks that they find so relaxing to watch. Sometimes they do not talk, for they have no need of sound to transmit what their eyes and their souls convey through the scalpel-precise tools which their bodies have become. This, and the fact that they have known each other since before speech was of importance to their exchanges. They have been great friends, they have drifted apart, and, through habits that are mirrored in each other, they have been drawn back to each other by a consensual gravity. They are both different and they are the same; they are like us all.

One of them has never been prone to addiction of any kind and doesn't understand his friend's reliance upon nicotine, alcohol and certain other untaxed pleasures. Yet he is a creature of habit and loyalty forms the bedrock of his life -- he sees no parallel in their behaviours.

The addictive personality always wears a wry smile -- the world amuses him, and the fact that it can't laugh at itself more often produces even greater laughs from him. He has learnt of the absurdity of life and senses that everything has a twist of that lemon irony about it. People don't get him, they don't know how to take him: with extra sugar, he thinks.

The non-smoker has Anglicised his name, excised his patrilineal history; his religion, bequeathed through the maternal line, the important thing. He is Joe Franks; Josef Francowitz was washed away with the dirt of the old country. He is devout, he is careful -- yet he is tolerant, he thinks, of those who do not share his beliefs. He still makes an effort to speak to this other man sat not two feet away from him -- this sinner, this one-time bugbear of the authorities, now turned tea-room philosopher; and, on bad days, the idiot savant prophet of any seedy dive with a late licence.

The philosophical individual: pioneer of the abstruse, fool-knight seeker of the holy grail, explorer of the undiscovered country of the eclectic heads of a new mental geography. Called Solomon, because even at an early age his mother, a sage being herself, divined something of wisdom in brand new baby eyes. Surnamed Boer, for the farmers of Holland who his Brazilian mother met on her tour with the dance troupe she led. He is amazed that he and his compadre, Joe, still get along like a synagogue on fire. He pops the nicotine gum into his mouth, chews it ten times and spits it into the specially remembered paper tissue. He has a question to ask, a question that of late has bothered him like never before. Of course as a thinker he had tackled the big questions, but his heart had never really been in the fight for points of view on what constituted a sensible picture of God. How many regular every bodies spent their day contemplating the divine? Am amputee would have enough fingers to count how many. He asked.

'Have you ever seen God?' said Joe.

'No, I've never seen my God.'

'Sorry, I didn't realise that he was yours.'

Joe sighed, he had a feeling that he knew where this one was going. They often indulged in this to-and-fro of ideas, this playful jousting. Today though he was asking himself whether he could be bothered, and especially with this subject. God; anyone would think they were in seminary school or Rabbinical College. He had no calling to become a priest -- he would serve his God in the day to day tasks that a man must do to live. He was in no doubt that you could give glory to God without becoming a Rabbi, not it seemed an idea that impressed his parents too much; they were convinced that their son's gift as an orator would be wasted in a secular setting. But he was stubborn and they loved him, and, over time, they became proud of him.

'When we each speak of God, do we not speak of our own personal God?' offered Joe.

'Not me. I tend to think that God is likely to be his own person,' countered Solomon.

'Why all the debate about it then? Why are you questioning me on my view of the deity when you have just outlined a supreme being that is an extension of your self.'

'Sorry, saying God will have a mind of his own is not saying he will be like me -- in fact it is the exact opposite.'

'No, it's really not.'

'Yes it is. And the point which I was hoping to be able to make eventually, was that if you aren't open minded about what God might be, don't you stand a fair chance of missing him when he walks by disguised in the garb of a concept alien to humanity?'

'I believe that God will be identified by certain traits that my religion has told me will be manifest in him -- if he does not display these characteristics then as far as I and my people are concerned he will not be God.'

'So you think God will have remained static and not changed as the world he created has changed? He will still be the same being that met some starved, hallucinating Hebrew on a hill in the Biblical lands of old?'

'He! is immutable, he is eternal -- he is not mortal and is not subject to the vagaries which affect man.'

'New Testament followers would beg to differ. Their God changes when he has a son.'

'Allow them their beliefs. I do not really care what version of the divine they spin for themselves -- I shall be, and always have been, concerned with Jewish faith. Our God is the God of the Old Testament, the Torah, the Talmud. It was good enough for my countless forefathers and it is good enough for me.'

'Do you not believe he is the prime mover? That change springs forth from him?'

'He is the prime mover, but he is eternal. He exists before time and he shall exist after time has stopped moving the clock's hands; he is beyond time. To him everything happens all at once, so the change which you talk of is in essence illusory.'

'What if he's not though? What if he proves himself to be Jehovah, yet he lacks some of the characteristics your priests insist he must possess, what then? Would you just disregard him out of hand because dogma dictates that is the correct course of action you should take?'

'The chosen people will know when he reveals himself to us. And if he fails to meet all the criteria then how is he Jehovah?'

'Haven't some people already claimed to be God incarnate, or in the very least his avatar here on this earthly plane.'

'Yes, they have but, Joe, they are sadly mistaken -- they are the fool's gold prospector's settle for because their panhandling at the gates of faith has proved fruitless so far for them.'

'Poor old Jesus.'

'Yes, poor old Jesus. A rather confused young philosopher, I'll warrant.'

'Rather dismissive, aren't you?'

'He is not part of my faith, I mean, what can I say?

'I am not denying that there is compelling evidence for the truth of his existence, but where is the proof of his divine parentage?'

'Faith provides all the answers.'

'Faith that requires you to ask no questions needs no answers.'

'Faith that asks too many questions is like cutting open the goose that laid the golden eggs to find out where they're coming from.'

They both sat there staring into each others eyes -- one bothered that he had no answers to the questions he'd wanted at least answered in part; one bothered that they had to be asked in the first place. Joe didn't like being a spokesperson for his race. Solomon wouldn't have asked, but who else could come even close to being able to holding this kind of conversation apart from Joe? The ducks had run out of bread and interest and had returned to swimming about the pond.

Someone else was very interested. He travelled a lot but he very rarely came upon a conversation like this that often. People just weren't interested in hammering out the complexities of existence any more -- the everyday tended to swamp attention spans that lasted as little time as it took to be sold the next product! . He stroked his beard and smiled, he was fascinated by the lost sheep of any flock. He had been a shepherd, he had been a gardener -- how similar the two seemed to him now, sat here observing the workings of two men's minds.

He sat in the shade, two benches away from the friends. Should he go over and speak to them? It might be considered rude, not to mention weird, to just plonk yourself down in the middle of a conversation -- oh well, maybe best to go his own way and leave these two undisturbed. Let them work it out for themselves; there's time enough to get your story straight before the end.

The stranger rose, a brief smile shaping his lips, and a thought which hadn't occurred to him when he'd first started listening to  those words came to him: that you can't lead everyone, some will have to come of their own accord. He walked past the bench, not glancing back, and they didn't even notice him.

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