The Book of Nine – Postscript to Addendum Four


A Speculation Upon Religion, as recounted by Fylos of Zoomaria


“What is religion?” asks Hanrahan Yohan Sebastian Brùge, turning his palms to the sky in perplexity. “What are religions? How should we describe them? Where are the words?”

My master speaks, as he often does, in a manner telling me he is about to answer his own question. He strokes his chin, leans forward with a glint in his eye, is about to continue when, abruptly, the sage of Lutz interrupts. “The answer is easy,” Skotzolheimer says. “Religions are dream-worlds for those who cannot face the existence into which they are thrown, a sop for the weak minded… Surely that is description enough? They are baubles of thought for those who desire a world of fantasy instead of a world of fact. You must surely agree with that? They are jee-jaws for those too timid to behold with a steady gaze the world before their eyes.”

Skotzolheimer is wizened and ancient, a man of great distinction, whose legs and arms are as thin as the bones within them but who possesses the head and shoulders of a giant. He is renowned throughout Utsk for his wisdom and his skill with words, achievements I now immediately apprehend. Yet my master, Hanrahan Yohan Sebastian Brùge, is undaunted. He chuckles, scrutinising the sage fondly. “Well put, my friend, well put. But there can be many definitions can there not? And some more apposite than others? Let me share one which appeals to me more than most, more even than your wise words, though perhaps only because I have yet to understand them. It is this: that religion is a wedge driven between folk, designed expressly and specifically to be the indicator of difference, the creator and perpetuator of otherness, the abyss between tribes.”

“Oh, very good, very good!” Skotzolheimer, or more fully Gabriel Marqueuesay Skotzolheimer III, ancient though he is, claps his hands like a child. “Very good, dear Yohan. But let me offer another… What of this? ‘Religion is a tool used by the cynical to control the susceptible, a lever used by the greedy to control the gullible, an angle employed by manipulators to control the manipulable’?  What of that? What of that? Is not that a deeply satisfying definition?”

“Profoundly satisfying, my dear friend. Deeply so. Yet I have another: religions are, if you will permit me to offer a more simple diagnosis, ‘Words which bestow authority without right’…”

“Indeed! Indeed!” Skotzolheimer enthuses. “A well-turned phrase! Pithy and pointed! Almost cruel in its precision. ‘Bestow authority without right.’ Nice, nice, very nice. But equally to the point, perhaps: ‘Words giving superiority to the few while diminishing the many’?”

“Ah, yes,” my master agrees. “Very elegant, indeed… All is hubris, arrogance and pride amongst poor humankind… and thus it has always been. Where is religion without its pomp and ceremony, without its velveteen robes and golden finery?”

“Finery which gives the arrogance and pride of certainty – which is a crime against intellect in itself, for certainty, of all things, is the enemy of knowledge… while, at the same time, being no more than the mother’s teat to the child we each and every one of us carries in the depths of our minds.”

“A comfort and a sop in the face of the unknown… Yes, Marqueuesay! And another short definition: ‘Mountains of supposition up which the power-hungry scale’…”

“Succinct yet true! Are not hierarchies of power and the pretence of knowledge at the heart of all religion? Then I have yet another. ‘A justification for actions for which there is no justification’…”

My master slaps his knees. The admiration is mutual: two great and insightful minds striking one against the other and casting sparks of genius this way and that like firecrackers at a Nikolskian wedding. He says, “Try this: ‘A way for the ignorant to cover the abyss of their ignorance’…”

Skotzolheimer: “Wonderful! Wonderful! And, ‘Nonsense by which fools make sense of their lives’…”

“Very often, yes. And ‘Fairy tales from a race in its infancy which should long since have been abandoned’.”

“Long since! Long since! And even, ‘Fairy tales from our childhood, which we should long have outgrown’…”

My master, diplomatic as ever, at last puts up his hands. “I surrender! I surrender absolutely! Your words exceed anything I can offer in the  way of wisdom and insight.”

“I wish that were true,” Skotzolheimer says. “And, of course, most poignantly of all, all these things will be said of all religions, past, present and future, except our own…”

My master smiles a little smugly. “Other than of mine, of course, for I have none.” – as if his earlier words were not enough to convince any listener of this. “I have no creed whatsoever and have never so indulged. I travel widely as you know, often on foot, and I would not wish to be saddled with such a burden, constricting and constraining the world before I have even witnessed it with my own eyes, telling me what I must think and how I must behave in regard to all forthcoming places and events, a set of chains and shackles sent into the pregnant future by the thwarted and belligerent past. What a weight! What a curse! What an onslaught of nonsense inherited from a burdensome history we would do better to forget! No. No such mental and moral servitude for me…”

“If not in gods, or some other form of religion, then in what do you believe?” asks the sage of Lutz, shaping his fingers as a steeple, for he was certain he knew the answer.

My master – you know him well: the green-clad wanderer, explorer of continents, lover of all living things – laughs his handsome, generous laugh which informs me that all is well. “I believe very little,” he says. “If a thing cannot be shown to be true without preposterous assumptions or threats of doom I am reluctant to make space for it within my already over-cluttered mind…”

“Then I shall believe as you believe,” says the sage of Lutz, and he too slaps his knees and laughs. “Just as you, I shall believe in nothing and in everything, in the world of wonder before our eyes and not the fanciful constructs of our infantile minds.”

“I am glad,” says Hanrahan Yohan Sebastian Brùge. “If I have done only this small good thing, I am glad.”


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