The Man of The Cloth raised himself up and turned towards me as though he would interrupt me again.
I lifted my hand up and held him off. "The real choice at this hearing," I said quickly, "is whether people should fear the reality of their being, or whether they should embrace it; whether they should isolate themselves into self-confinement as politicized religious distortions demand, or find value in a deeper appreciation of their own humanity."
The man became restless.
I paused, searching for a final statement. I kept my hand raised. "This is your life!" I said to the people assembled there. "Your life is at stake here, yours individually. Keep in mind that what you choose for yourself becomes the foundation for our nation. This foundation could become one of poverty and shame that we are fast moving towards, which drags us down to the level of fearing God. However, also keep in mind that the foundation that you are building for yourself could be the beginning for spiritual riches that open the portal to infinity and to the boundless development of our civilization and ourselves. Our economic development as a nation reflects what we are moved towards, and embrace as ourselves. It is imperative here, as a matter of principle, to recognize that our security in civilization depends on our humanity being reflected, and on our growing love for it as we enrich one-another's existence. On this platform there is no room for the small-minded emptiness that results in shame, terror, war, violence, which banishes the flow of love and drowns it in growing floods of greed."
I quickly sat down after that.
By then the Man of The Cloth was visibly restraining himself from exploding. Then he let go. He retaliated with a brutal, a cold, unfeeling denial of everything that I had said, shattering the very meaning of dignity, while hiding behind the deemed infallible authority of the church on anything connected with mankind and religion. Overshadowed by his bombastuous arrogance, I had no status at all. "Reason stands in the way of authority," he said. He made sure that I understood, and that everyone else understood, that in the shadow of his 'divine' authority we were all mere children and needed to be disciplined in order to be set right.
I had a good idea of what would follow. It would be a repeat performance of his previously acted out story, following a well-rehearsed script that he couldn't deviate from or wasn't allowed to. It became more and more obvious that what he said wasn't him speaking, personally. He was a soldier under orders; a well-trained actor reciting the lines of a play that he was merely a voice for. No actor in the world has the freedom to change the script; and as an actor his performance was superb. I felt applauding his oratic power and his deeply felt interpretation of the lines of the play. He had developed a skill that many a Shakespearean actor might have envied him for.
My hunch proved to be correct. He performed his role with precision. He repeated the script line by line, including the character that the script required him to represent. He acted out phariseeism, the zeal of blind philosophers, the 'sensuality' of manipulative psychology, the marriage isolation that was reflected in his own marriage to the church from which he drew his self-assumed right to dictate what a person is allowed to accept and what to shun, what to believe and what to reject. Ah, but the isolation that he demanded became a force by which he literally built a wall around himself that separated him from any self-respecting individual of the audience that he came to speak to, the people that had come for the hearing. In the end his voice thundered when he resorted to the old fundamentalist ideology that relegated woman to the home and into the role of a mother and housewife, subject to her husband, an image of purity segregated from the larger world, where she might otherwise become the target of lust. But even while his voice thundered, he actually pleaded that his message would be heard so loud that it allowed no deviation in people's minds, or their deviation from his script.
Maybe it was this glaring excess that gave the next speaker the courage to stand up for herself. She was speaking as if it were in her own defense against his accusations. The beach, it seemed, was no longer the issue.
But what a contrast there was in the tone of speech between this frail, pretty girl, and the imposing churchman. She said that she was visiting friends in the neighborhood who had brought her to the meeting. She told us that up in the North in Maine, something frightening had begun to happen before she left. All the trees had become terribly sick. Their leaves were loosing their green color and were dropping off. She said that this was happening all over. "I should have formed a citizens' committee to protect the parks," she said. "The parks are evidently being abused. People love the parks. People are walking all over them. They must be closed to preserve them for future generations. If we allow this trend to go on, there won't be a single leaf left on any tree. We are heading for disaster!" She sat down and grinned, and winked at me.
Our Man of The Cloth didn't quite know how to react to this metaphor, so he didn't. This sudden impotence was evidently painful to him. There was no script in his repertoire that covered the situation. It was painful for me to see his struggles, to sense his self-imposed agony. There was probably not a single line that he knew, that he could apply. So he just stood there and said nothing.
I suddenly recognized as never before, the awful impersonal nature of evil. He had chosen a terrible role to play and was doing an excellent job at it, but it wasn't his game, really.
I remembered the Soviet's Ogarkov Plan for waging and winning a nuclear war against the West. This plan too, followed somebody else's script as this had been confirmed in Venice. Marshal Ogarkov's plan wasn't real for what it was advertised to be. It was a front for something else that demanded the Marshal's unquestioning obedience.
Remembering the Ogarkov Plan I felt a deep compassion for the Man of The Cloth. He seemed to be caught up in such a game, like a helpless pawn, pushed by the waves. He was drawn into a process of imposed self-denial. It was so well instilled into him over the years that he was not even aware of it. He supported the process that was destroying him and he gave it his best efforts.
An elderly farmer stood up and motioned the Man of The Cloth to sit down. The farmer hesitated when the hall became quiet. "Forgive me," said the farmer in an English sounding dialect, "I'm not a religious man. I've been a bomber pilot during the war." He looked at his hands. "These hands have killed more people than all the murderers that ever lived in the state of North Carolina. These hands have killed innocent people, children, babies, women, and old men, people that I had never talked to, strangers that I had never met. I burnt them with firebombs. I destroyed their houses. We all did. We suffocated them in the holocaust of their own cities. But this was respectable. They were Nazis, were they not? I have a medal to prove it. The chaplain always said, 'God is on our side! God is your copilot!"
He paused and resumed moments later. "I have visited our ruins after the war. Of course I couldn't tell which exactly were mine. Everything burnable had been consumed. I saw a desert of rubble and broken stone, facades burnt white by a fire that no one can imagine, pointing eerily against the sky. I remembered those ruins again years later on the day when our neighbor's barn had burned down. We couldn't get near enough to put water on it. The heat was so intense. We simply let it burn to the ground. When I remembered our ruins that day I realized that we hadn't just set one building ablaze, but the entire city all at once. I couldn't begin to imagine what we had done to the people that had lived there; how terribly they must have died while the chaplain kept on saying that God is..., well that God is on our side."
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