The Truth About Altruism: Part II

The congregants (or participants) at St. Gianna’s Wednesday evening SSS meeting seemed energized and especially happy. The previous Wednesday’s meeting ended with everyone milling around, getting to better know each other, talking, laughing … just having good, healthy fellowship. It was terrific, Joy thought, especially since Morris and Angelica Graver stayed, and Justin Case as well! Now, however, it was time to get back on track … or, maybe, a new track altogether.

“Here we are again, presumably to tackle altruism, but I’d like to make an amendment, if I may,” Joy began. “Although the definition from last week was fine and every part applies, for our purposes here I would like to narrow the definition…” She paused for any possible reaction from her comic relief crowd, or pastoral pundits as she sometimes called them, but nothing came. “I think we should narrow the definition down to ‘the belief in and practice of disinterested and selfless concern for the well-being of another,’ and of course by ‘another’ I include the non-human world, such as dogs and cats and the even the environment. Another is other than self. Now … let me get some feedback. Tell me what you think?”

Joy didn’t have to wait at all. Forgetting to raise her hand, an attractive, slightly gothic high-school senior popped up. “It sounds great but, ya know … I mean, why does it have to be so … you know, intellectual and all? I mean, to me this just means not being an arrogant ass-hole.” Several people laughed, Joy was rather shocked (but amused), and the girl just chortled before continuing. “You know, my God, I’ve known a lot of jerks in my life. Ya know, the stuck-up pricks that just walk right by you like you’re not even there. Or, like, the bubble-headed divas who won’t even say ‘hello’ when you speak to them.”

“But you’re talking about what altruism is not,” Moxie, who was sitting nearby and knew the girl, jumped in. “What about what it is?

“Sorry, Mox, I can’t give your kind of grand, philosophical definitions … hell, half the time I can’t even understand what you’re saying!” Moxie half smiled but let it go. “What is it? It sounds like it’s just, you know, being down to earth … ya know, kind, courteous … polite. And it’s, like, helping when you can, not just, like, saying ‘Oh God, man! I’m so sorry! That’s some real …” she caught herself, “that’s a real bummer, man.’ It’s really caring and helping when and how you can, ya know. To me, that’s altruism plain and simple, but Moxie could probably put all of that into some huge, monstrous definition for the intellectuals here but, anyway, that’s my simpleton definition.”

“And my dear Dracula maiden,” Moxie looked her square in the eye, “you need to, like, ya know, sit down now, cause the Mox is about to box and, like, that would really be a bummer, ya know.”

“O.k. O.k. That’s enough!” Joy jumped in immediately. “I don’t know why you two do this. You’ve practically lived side by side and known each other for years, and like each other whether you want to admit it or not.” The girl sat down and Moxie turned around without saying another word. Joy was right, of course; they did like each other but sometimes… sometimes!

“Anyway … yes, that’s an excellent way of looking at altruism. Yes, it’s a very down-to-earth way of understanding altruism with, of course, some nicely provided illustrations of what it is not.” Joy had wondered for about two years now why Aggie – Aggie Tate was her name – always downplayed herself. She made good grades; she was smart; she had a lot of abilities… “Anyone else? Yes, Aura.”

“Really, then, altruism is both a state of being as well as the actions that proceed from that state of being,” he offered. “Ah, but I see I may be corrected again.” Aura Amity smiled broadly as he noticed Moxie’s hand held high. “Shall I learn another valuable lesson now?”

“No, not really,” Moxie smiled back at Aura. “Actually, you’ve hit on an important point. I believe you are right, but I would expand and just slightly modify what you’ve said to include virtue itself, which I’d like to define now, if I may take a shot at it?” She looked and smiled at Joy, who shook her head.

“Where, oh where would I be without my Moxie?” she moaned while most everyone else freely expressed their amusement. “Woe is me! I forgot again! What will become of me? Yes, Moxie! By all means, define our principle term…! Or better yet, come take the podium!”

“Oh no! Not me, Mother Joy! You keep the clerical collar, podium, pulpit and everything else ecclesiastical, ‘cause this girl’s sure not ready for any sacred vows!” Everyone, including Joy laughed, except Able. “Oops! I mean, there may very well be one exception.” She looked at her fiancée and smiled. “At any rate, back to virtue and virtues. I think the distinction between state of being and action made by Aura is important, but I would define Virtue – in the singular, with a capital ‘V’ – as the soil, if we might use last week’s analogy, from which the virtues – plural, lower case – grow. To elaborate just a bit, Virtue is, one might say, the Soil of the Soul, the Disposition of the Spirit, the Heart … the Whole Character-Inclination of the Whole Self. This is Virtue as a state of being. Out from this good works, or deeds – the virtues – spring forth, or grow.”

“So modesty and altruism are virtues that grow up from the rich, healthy soil of Virtue, capital ‘V,’ much like the wonderful vegetables I grow in my garden?” Aura offered and Moxie nodded. “Very good, very good. I understand … so, if one does not possess the good, rich and healthy soil, one will not produce the good, hearty and healthy vegetables. This is akin to what Jesus said about the tree bearing fruit; that is, one will know the tree – the person – by the fruit – the good works, or virtues, being produced.”

“Bingo!” Joy called out. “You hit the nail on the head, Aura, and thank you Ms. Moxie for your very clear and erudite definition and explanation.” Both Aura and Moxie smiled and said “thank you,” then sat back down.

Now for the first time, Justin Case held his hand aloft … and with rather a serious, even somewhat sad, look on his face.

“Yes, Justin, please stand.” Joy Brighterday was happy he felt comfortable enough to participate.

“If Virtue is the Soil of the Soul, as Moxie has put it, and it must be good and healthy, rich and fertile, as Aura noted … What of the person whose soil is mere dirt, deficient of minerals and nutrients, or … maybe just sand? Is that man precluded from any and all virtuous actions? And if so, what is his fate, then? Is it possible for him to … well, I suppose, somehow change the Soil of his Soul, the Disposition of his Spirit?”

“Ah … Now I am going to be strictly pastor, and perhaps even theologian,” Joy replied. “First, Justin, very good question. Thank you so much for asking, too, because it’s an important question that was bound to come up or, at any rate, it needed to be asked. Secondly, as I know you know, analogies only go so far, although this analogy is an excellent one. Thank you again to Moxie, and also Aura for both his horticultural and scriptural contributions.” She nodded to both of them. “But now I’m going to turn this analogy on its head and say, thirdly, the Soil of the Soul can most certainly be changed. In fact, the Soil can be transformed by the plants, so to speak … the fruits and vegetables themselves.”

“What I am saying is simply this: You work good works – exercise the virtues day to day – no matter the Disposition of your Spirit, and your Disposition – the All-Encompassing Character of your Self – will change over time to accord with your … produce, so to speak. Of course, you also know that if you do something long enough, it becomes habit. I’m taking this one step further. You see, I honestly cannot believe that someone without good, rich, fertile Soil – say, a philanthropist – can practice philanthropy year after year after year without cultivating within her Self some degree of genuine altruism … and, perhaps of course, other virtues as well. Now I know some of you want to protest the likelihood of someone being a philanthropist if s/he has no sense of altruism whatsoever, and that’s a valid objection.

However, I’m asking you to trust me on this one; I’m submitting to you that, in fact, there have been and are individuals who can rightly claim to be philanthropic yet possess not even a kernel of altruism in their hearts. Why are they philanthropic? Probably for many reasons, often having to do with tax write-offs and/or their public image … and it is also, I believe, an unseen spark of divine goodness with an attendant heavenly whisper-call to be something, someone better. So, I am saying I believe it is extremely unlikely that they can practice philanthropy for years upon years without the Soil of their Soul being transformed, at least to some degree, for the good, if only for two reasons: 1) the foundation of all goodness is God and 2) ultimately all good actions are, knowingly or not, directed toward the God who made them possible in the first place. Of course, I may very well be wrong; but in spite of this possibility, if one intentionally begins working good works, practicing good deeds, living out the virtues, then it’s almost inevitable. The Soil of the Soul will change. The Disposition of the Spirit, the Heart will eventually be Virtue.”

“There is only one thing lacking in this process,” Joy continued, scanning her listeners, then returning her attention to Justin. “No one is able to do this … on his or her own. Period. Before anyone gets discouraged, though, there is the Helping One, who is able and willing to help – or, really, to ultimately initiate, guide and make transformation possible – with our necessary cooperation. And what is our cooperation? It is prayer and work… Work and prayer; prayer and work; together, hand in hand. You see, in order to change the Disposition of our Spirit, we need the Spirit … that is, the Spirit of God; therefore, we pray and we ask the Spirit of the Everlasting One to initiate this vital transformation, then to guide us in our transformational work, and finally to bring it to completion… Does this all make any sense?”

“Yes … yes, it does.” Justin answered soberly. “Thank you,” he said as he sat down with the same serious, concerned look on his face. Evidently, he hadn’t counted on struggling through this short series on four random virtues, but only half way into it Justin was having to look at himself and really take stock.

“You’re welcome,” Joy replied. “Anyone else?”


The Truth About Altruism: Part I

“Well, until after our last meeting, I hadn’t really thought about this week’s subject,” Joy Brighterday began. “But Wednesday night I thought, ‘Whoa! Altruism?’ That’s a mighty big subject to tackle in one, one-hour session! I mean, let’s look at the definitions. It is defined as ‘unselfish regard for or devotion to others; the belief in and practice of disinterested and selfless concern for the well-being of others;’ and very interestingly, ‘behavior by an animal that is not beneficial to or may be harmful to itself but that benefits others of its species,’ which I thought was a really cool definition, and we’re going to talk about that some more, for sure!”

Justin Case was present again at the Wednesday evening SSS meeting at St. Gianna Church, just like he said he’d be, and he was actually smiling now. He understood perfectly Reverend Brighterday’s conundrum. It wasn’t the lack of understanding, or comprehending the word; it was the fact that the definition of the word was so broad … that it covered a lot of territory, and quite possibly more territory than Joy could cover tonight, just as she said. But she wasn’t one to come unprepared or to be easily shamed, so he eagerly waited to see how she would handle this.

“I suppose one additional note might be interesting … who knows? May turn out to be important. But anyway, ‘altruism’ ultimately comes from the Latin alteri huic, which simply means ‘to this other.’ And so it appears that altruism’s very roots are ‘other-oriented.’ Yet here we are still left with an enormous word with an irritatingly general definition… So, I think I’m going to need some help tonight.”

“Someone call the paper,” a voice rang out from the congregation. “Joy Brighterday unprepared for lecture!” This elicited some rip-roaring laughter.

“Mark it on your calendars!”

Suddenly dozens of phones were snapping shots of Joy standing to the left side of the podium, with her head part way down, laughing, with her left arm on her hip. She was blushing just a bit, too, but laughing nevertheless. Yes, she prided herself on always being at least adequately prepared, even if some sermons and lectures were worse than others… That’s just reality at play. But here she was tonight, asking for help before her lecture even began!

“This’ll go viral,” another voice rang out; probably a college student because the Reverend Brighterday was periodically ask to guest lecture on a variety of topics. Besides, she’d made it a point to especially get to know junior and senior high-schoolers and college students. It paid off in rather high dividends, actually. She was very popular in that age group, but far more importantly was the trust factor. Over the course of her six years (and counting) in Splinterbit, she’d had dozens upon dozens of students confide in her and counsel with her. No, most of them never attended St. Gianna on a regular basis … or even sporadically, but they loved Joy and Joy loved them, so … yeah, the snapshots would end up on Facebook®, all in good nature, of course.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” Joy spurted out. “You guys go ahead and have your fun, but I know where to find you,” she mockingly threatened. “I can be pretty rascally when I wanna be, you know…! So … o.k., you got me, but will you help me?”

There were plenty of heads nodding and voices replying with “yes,” “sure will,” “gladly,” or something along those lines. Actually, everyone seemed kind of energized, because they knew if Joy Brighterday was asking for help and inviting their participation, it wouldn’t be anything puerile or superficial. This would be good, substantive, and intellectually beneficial (if not spiritually, too, which was always Joy’s prayer.)

“Alright, then, let’s break it down first … I mean the definition, of course. Now, a lot of you here tonight – and it looks like our fairly regular group, although I see some new faces … again, welcome to each of you – but many of you are students. Oops! Excuse me, I mean scholars.” The crowd chuckled “… so you know what I mean in breaking down the definition. So let’s have at it, and to keep decorum we’ll use the hand-raising rule like we’re elementary school kids. O.k.? O.k.” She paused and looked around. “Important to keep good notes, right? Even with modern technology… Some of you are wrestling to remember the definition. Fear not, I have it written out on my flip chart.” With that, Joy stepped over to an old fashioned flip chart and flipped the cover to reveal the definition, written somewhat largely. In all honesty, Joy rarely brought in the flip chart, and the only notes she brought in were an outline of her presentation (or sermon), endnotes and bibliography, and maybe some suggested reading. She wanted her “class” – be it the SSS, the congregation, or college room – to listen hard, struggle to remember rightly, and learn deeply without having to depend on technological “crutches.” Tonight, she bent a little … and smiled.

“O.k. Who’s on first?” She looked around as hands went up and, thank God, she noticed Morris Graver (with his mother, too). “Mr. Graver.”

Morris stood up and answered, “The first significant phrase is ‘unselfish regard.’” He then sat down again.

“Very good, but stand up again,” Joy smiled broadly. “I’m not through with you quite yet.” Morris complied, smiling a bit nervously, but the look in his eyes said he was really glad to be here … and participating.

“Tell me about ‘unselfish regard,’ and in so doing, pay particular attention to ‘regard’ and what that means.”

“Well, first, ‘unselfish’ means to be ‘kind, charitable … unstinting, and … to be so as a matter of … inner character.” Morris was sweating just a little bit, but felt like he’d at least taken a good stab at it and hadn’t embarrassed himself.

“Very good, very good.” Joy approved. “Now onto regard. What does it mean to have regard?”

“Whoa…” Morris breathed in deeply. “You know, at first glance the word seems easy enough to define, but I think it’s a bit of a challenge, really… But I’ll define ‘regard’ in this context as ‘respectful … estimation of someone or something…” Morris leaned over while his mother, Angelica, whispered in his ear. “It is also considerate awareness of someone or something.” Now Morris really was sweating.

“Excellent!” Joy responded enthusiastically. “Very, very good Mr. Graver. You may be seated. And sit down he certainly did, with a huge sigh of relief echoed by Angelica. “Now, who is going to combine these definitions for us into one, clear and cohesive definition of the phrase ‘unselfish regard?’?”

Joy chose an attractive, finely contoured, bronze-skinned young man with silky, wavy, chestnut-blonde hair and emerald eyes, who was dressed comfortably in an alluring, brightly colored kurta. He stood out from the crowd, but in an extraordinarily charming way, with mystique. He smiled and rose to his feet, standing very straight. “I believe the simple answer would be, ‘authentically considerate, compassionate awareness of someone, or something, followed by or associated with genuine respect for that person, creature, object, etc.,” he answered in an amiable, melodic voice.

“Excellent!” Joy offered. “And I forgot, here in our SSS gatherings, we like to know each other’s name … unless, of course, the person would prefer not to give their name, and we honor that, too. But may I ask yours?”

“Surely, and I’ll be glad to answer.” His voice was almost like song, and the more Joy looked at him, the more she realized this young man was truly beautiful. ‘My name is Aura Amity Splendor, and I’ve only recently moved into Splinterbit.”

“Well, then, by all means welcome, Aura Amity, and thank you so much for joining us tonight. I’m sure that afterwards plenty of folks here will want to introduce themselves and personally welcome you into the community.”

Aura Amity held his arms out somewhat, palms upward and kindly replied, “Thank you, and I look forward to meeting so many people, but may I ask a question now that we have settled on a definition of the phrase ‘unselfish regard?’”

“Of course,” Joy answered, slightly surprised. “You still have the floor, so to speak.” They both chuckled.

“Now with this definition in place, it would seem as if we are moving into levels of altruism,” he practically sang. “There is the first part, which, despite all of the wonderful and decorative words we have used, is really at heart simple, authentic awareness. One is actually aware of the other… Now what? The second part of the definition you have offered us this evening is ‘devotion.’ Of course, this does not necessarily arise from authentic awareness – no, not even awareness dressed in compassion and respect – as devotion involves the whole self in actual subservience. So the first level is cognizance of another, perhaps in kindness and compassion and, for the moment at least, without regarding oneself … but it is still only perception, cerebral awareness. This being true – if, indeed it is, yet someone may prove me wrongheaded – but if this is true, then I would like to submit to you and this company that the first part of the definition really does not count as virtue.”

The Reverend Brighterday was quite impressed, to say the least, and thought she must have a philosophy student on her hands. Justin Case was grinning from ear to ear, somehow imagining that Joy had just been humiliated – which was not at all true, but he was thoroughly enjoying the show anyway – and he almost raised his hand in hopes of jumping in himself. Someone else beat him to the punch, though.

“The one most important word we forgot to define at the beginning of this series was, sadly, ‘virtue.’” Moxie Keener had not actually waited to be called, but rather stood up as soon as Joy looked her way. She had, at least, raised her hand. “This is something we need to amend, but for now, I’ll simply disagree with you and counter that virtue is the healthy soil out from which good, or virtuous, deeds – and, indeed, lifestyles – grow. Therefore, being compassionately aware of someone else and genuinely respecting that person is as much a part of virtue as the following good act, whatever that may be. Point in fact, cognitive awareness along with the qualities of genuine respect and compassion are fundamentally antecedent to any and all good, or virtuous action, unless that good act is performed fully by accident, without realization.” Moxie stood and waited, politely looking at Aura Amity.

“Ah! Ha, ha!” Aura laughed with raised brows and light dancing in his nearly hypnotic eyes. “So I have been proven wrongheaded after all, and my worthy tutor even used picturesque language dear to my heart, because I am, first and last it seems, a horticulturalist. Well, then, having been so amicably corrected, I will now retake my seat.”

“And now having been so profoundly humiliated by my own, dear Moxie Keener…:

“Hey!” She shouted, with practically everyone laughing, including Joy and Moxie, “I did not. Besides, you’re the one who always emphasizes the importance of defining important terms, Madame Pro–fes–sor.”

“Yes, Moxie my philosopher, yes, and so I should have known better, but I committed an unpardonable sin,” Joy said as she crossed her arms over her chest. “I … assumed.”

Voices and merriment took over the 220 or so folks in the sanctuary.

“Oh no! Say it’s not so…”

“Not you! Surely not you!”

As soon as she could be heard again, Joy managed to say, “But in this particular case, I think I only made an ass out of myself, so none of you have to start braying!” Of course, just about half the young people there, and some old ones too, started doing just that. Joy wondered if the evening had been lost for any more serious discussion. But what the hell? Might be better to just have some fun this particular evening. Very, very good to do every so often!


Bold Presentation of Modesty

“So, what about modesty, compassion, altruism and genuine appreciation?” Joy Brighterday stood behind the podium centrally situated on the sanctuary floor, just in front of the front pews. “Four important qualities, or virtues, to be sure … four among many, but this evening we modestly begin with modesty.’ Several folks among the group of about 120 smiled; some chuckled. Justin Case was present, as promised, sitting about midway up, at the end of a pew he shared with four college students, (or young folks who looked very much the college-type).

“First, modesty is best and most simply defined as ‘the quality or state of being unassuming or moderate in the estimation of one’s abilities.’ It is ‘behavior, mannerisms, and appearance intended to avoid impropriety, indecency, or insult.’ Some opposites of modesty, besides immodesty, are ‘impropriety, conceit, arrogance, vulgarity, impudence, barbarism…’ You get the idea.”

Joy Brighterday’s Wednesday SSS classes had become quite popular in the community, with quite a number of non-members (of her church, or no church at all) attending. She usually presented four to six week series on varying topics not quite so common to typical Wednesday night “prayer meetings” or “Bible studies.” For example, she had just wrapped up a series on the Epistle to Diognetus, an early second century work of Christian apologetics. And usually her SSS series focused on either background and/or contextual material rather than exposition of Scripture, through Sacred Scripture was certainly, importantly tied in with her lectures.

“So we have our working definition, and we have some good antonyms to flesh out the definition,” Brighterday continued like an university professor. “Now let’s introduce a passage of Sacred Scripture that we will use as our ‘tone-setter’ this evening. For this series, as is usually the case, I will not expound so much, or make commentary, on our Scripture readings. Since our series has to do with four interesting virtues, I will focus our attention upon these.”

“Let me say a word again about this series, too, as I did Sunday, because the series may seem a bit odd. We could easily have a series on, say, the classical Roman virtues, or the classical Christian virtues, which would be even better,” she chuckled. “But these four in particular arose out of an interesting conversation I was having with an intelligent, sharp-witted man who challenged me to better explain these four qualities I had mentioned more than once in our conversation. He specifically challenged me to both explicate and provide substantive examples as in, one might say, case studies to, hopefully, show how these qualities, or virtues, work out in real life. So … I took him up on his challenge and here we are, moving on to our ‘tone-setting’ passage of Scripture.” Justin wriggled in his seat a little, wondering if anyone knew he was the one who laid down the challenge.

“Reading from the Epistle of St. Paul to the Philippians, the Apostle admonishes the believers there to ‘make my joy complete by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in harmony and of one mind; doing nothing through envy or through pride, but with humble thoughts of self, let everyone take others to be better … not looking everyone to her own private good, but keeping in mind the needs and goods of others.’”

“We will, of course, come back to this Scripture at appropriate times, but let’s begin with the most common, contemporary idea of modesty, and that’s easy,” Joy grinned a contagious grin. “It’s the old-fashioned dad looking at his teenage daughter’s first choice for prom dress and saying, ‘hell no! Over my dead body!’ Right?” Quite a bit of understanding laughter followed, as well as moms and dads and daughters looking back and forth at each other. “Maybe it’s mamma telling her good-looking, athletic, teenage son, ‘You know, you can dress nice and casual without always showing off your muscles.’ More laughter followed with a few strong, athletic types hunkering down in embarrassment. ‘The girls know you’re good looking and strong; you don’t have to go to school half-naked to prove you work out every day!’ Or better yet, ‘Yes, you will wear pants that fit, and you will pull them up all the way, and if you give me any grief about it, I’ll make you tuck your shirt in and wear a belt, too!’ That brought some rip-roaring amusement with a few strong ‘amens’ from the crowd. “We could go on and on with examples. The 13-year-old has suddenly become hair stylist and cosmetician, while you’re looking at a Medusa-type hairdo with an otherwise pretty face that can no longer be seen behind the globes of make-up.”

“Yes, modesty has to do with our clothing and apparel, and this is important because it does say something, at least, about who and what we are, or who and what we may want to be; something of who and with what we want to identify. So this leads naturally to the question, ‘who and what are you?’ And ‘with whom do you want to identify?’ As Christians, this will certainly have some effect on how we clothe and ‘make-up’ ourselves … if we really need to ‘make-up’ ourselves to begin with; after all, as Christians, we are ‘made up’ in Christ, but anyway… I want to move on beyond this because the virtue of modesty runs deeper really.”

“Yes, it is trying to avoid impropriety, indecency, or insult. To put it another way, it is striving genuinely to be kind, courteous and polite. Loving and revering God first, others secondly, and yourself lastly really is the Christian standard of self-assessment, and it flies in the face of modern, pop-psychology and the teachings of self-help gurus.” Joy was steady, straightforward and plain spoken. “Guess what, though? This standard of self-assessment is not unique to the Christian faith, and is in fact as old as the recorded history of world cultures. All of the great teachers, across the continents, in every generation taught lowliness of spirit, genuine humility as one of the cardinal virtues of the truly good life.”

“And here is where we really come down to it, to the first part of our definition, captured so well in our Scripture reading. We are to cultivate humble thoughts of our self … taking others to be better or, at least, having that attitude and acting accordingly. Of course, this involves having an honest appraisal of ourselves, being moderate in our estimation of our own talents, gifts, abilities and whatnot. You see modesty, when you really think about it seriously and deeply, drives down to your very heart, mind and soul. It’s the big question:  Just what do you really think about yourself, anyway? And that can be a difficult, painstaking question to answer, and you know what? If you spend time in prayer and meditation, really asking the Spirit of Truth to help you answer the question, you might be in for some real shockers!”

“Let me back off from this, however, and offer an equalitarian answer for all of us that should not be shocking, but might be offensive to some, I don’t know. However…” Joy paused for a few heavily pregnant moments, “there is one fundamental truth we all – each of us face – that is expressed very simply but poignantly in the Book of Beginnings, and that is: ‘you are dust, and to dust you shall return.’ Let me submit to you that it is within this context of awful, terrifying finitude that we must understand another great truth, that is: ‘God shows no regard (or favoritism) of one over another. Anyone, anywhere who reveres the Lord and strives to do what is right is acceptable to him’ … in any and every nation, no matter the ethnicity or other concomitant conditions, as the Apostle St. Peter taught. The Apostle St. Paul reechoed this truth in his Epistle to the Romans, when he declared simply, ‘With God there is no partiality.’ Period.”

“Every single one of us has an unexceptional beginning and commonplace ending, and between these two fundamental points, each and every one of us stands before almighty God, the Everlasting One on equal footing as children of the Most High, the Divine Progenitor of the Cosmos, our loving and nurturing Lord and Redeemer, who fills those who believe with the Spirit of Life, Light, Love and Truth. Capturing and truly understanding this reality is, or leads to, genuine modesty … modesty as an heavenly virtue.”

“Now, my conversational challenger also urged me to provide examples, or ‘case studies,’ as he called them.” Justin tried not to look at Joy, or anyone else, really. “Well, I’ll admit I could spend the rest of this evening and well  on into the night regaling you with the stories of a multitude of saints, but allow me to mention just a few ‘case studies,’ and then end with some wrap-up comments on modesty and its opposites. But first, the case studies! In our own very well stocked church library, which is constantly being expanded, as should be the case with every church library, we have material on each person, or ‘case,’ I will now mention, to wit: Bl. Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Amy Carmichael, Mohandas Gandhi, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., St. Francis of Assisi, Bl. John Paul II, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and of course St. Gianna. It would take hours for me to present even a brief summary of their lives, and I could add so many, many more names to the list!”

“Anyway, each of these individuals were modest people. They were not weak. They were not cowardly. They were not clueless or without purpose. In fact, these people were really very strong, wise, purposeful, resourceful, determined and courageous. This is why we remember and honor them, but they were modest. Going back to our antonyms of modesty, they also were not licentious, conceited, arrogant, vulgar, or sordid. They were modest and exemplified genuine modesty in their lives in an especially saintly way. It would be well-worth one’s time and effort to visit our church library and check out two or three brief biographies on some of these persons, and actually read them!

“But now, with that, my part has ended and yours has begun! It is time for questions…” Joy looked straight at Justin Case, who only smiled slightly and nodded his head. Evidently, he had no questions … this go-round.

Put on therefore, as the expressly chosen of God, holy and beloved, the clothing of mercy, kindliness, humility, modesty, and patience; bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another. Even as the Lord has forgiven you, so do you also, but above all of this, have charity – divine love – which is the bond of perfection. (The Epistle of St. Paul to the Colossians 3:12-14)


What Play for the Lonely Soul

He was an attractive young man, quite suave and debonair, with an handsome smile, melodic baritone laugh, and he was always sharply dressed, professionally or casually. He was intelligent – he had always graduated at the top of his class, all the way through law school – and had an excellent sense of humor. Why did he feel so damn bothered, then? And suddenly so lonely? So damn lonely! It was one thing to be harangued in court or in a pub somewhere … or, hell, even out on the street. But to be kicked in the gut by your own pastor! That was devastating … especially since she was so damn sharp and beautiful herself; it was like an insult.

Justin Case massaged his head for the umpteenth time, not that it did any good, and the three aspirin he’d taken with a full glass of filtered H2O still hadn’t kicked in either. It was a terrible day, and all his days had been terrible, ever since that woman, Effete “Mann” Sloughheart, gave him what-for, dropped him like a brick after her matters were settled, and then had all her legal files transferred to Phoenix Rising! Why? Justin just didn’t understand. She’d been so cold, so impersonal and rude. What had he done? It was Joy Brighterday; he was sure of it! She was really and truly a man-hater. Not just a feminist, but also a femi-nazi!

Of course, he had no evidence to back up that accusation, and he knew it … which irritated Justin even more! Why had Reverend Brighterday suddenly decided to dislike him? And, of all people, Effete? Here this woman was in dire straits, like so many other woman, and Brighterday made the call on her behalf. He didn’t have to do her any favors. Financially, materially, Joy Brighterday had nothing to offer (although he could think of some other tantalizing forms of payment that would have been more than enough!) And Effete? The first time she came in, she looked bedraggled, almost like … well, like some homeless person who’d just spent the night with someone charitable enough to take her in and give some food and blankets. She was nothing … or, at least, next to nothing. Then she turned into some monstrous, demanding, femi-nazi bitch!

Justin quickly shook his head back and forth, trying to get these overly angry thoughts out of his mind. There was only one thing to do, really, and he had avoided it for months now. He had to pick up the phone and simply call. Justin Case had not been in church since his last meeting with Effete Mann… Actually, he hadn’t been in church since his last meeting with Effete and Joy, which made the necessary phone call even more dreadful, but he picked up the phone nevertheless. The Reverend Joy Brighterday would be in her office at St. Gianna. More than likely, she would have some time to talk, too, which wasn’t very appealing at the moment, but…

“Hello, St. Gianna’s Church; this is Joy Brighterday. How may I help you?”

“Ah … Reverend Brighterday, well… umm … this is, uh … Justin Case.”

“Mr. Justin Case… Well, hello again. I certainly didn’t expect to hear from you, but I’m glad you called.” Joy paused. “How may I be of assistance?” Another pause. “Or are you calling on professional matters … or for legal reasons? I don’t suppose I’m going to jail, am I?” Joy laughed, trying to lighten the atmosphere.

“No, no, not at all,” Justin responded, even though one part of him loved the idea of her behind bars. “Actually, I was calling about our meetings during the Effete Sloughheart … now, Mann … umm during that period of time.” Justin hesitated, which was terribly unusual for him, as he scrambled for the right words, which utterly embarrassed him, too. “It seems that at one meeting in particular something went wrong … out of kilter, so to speak. Of course, I’ve dealt with plenty of tense situations, as I know you have, but … well, I just can’t get it out of my mind that, perhaps, I said or did something to offend you.”

“Justin, if I may call you by your first name…”

“Certainly, that’s fine.”

“Thank you and you may simply call me Joy,” she replied politely. “I remember the meeting well, and I’ll just be straightforward and honest about it, because really I think that’s what you want; that’s why you’re calling.” Joy took a deep breath. “Yes, I think something got ‘out of kilter,’ or ‘went off track,’ as you say… The whole case, in fact. Before going any further, though, I do want to say that I was very proud of Effete throughout the whole grueling, legal process, and when she met with you that final day – at least from what she told me – I was especially proud of just how strongly and confidently she handled herself, so … as far as Effete goes, she’s out of the picture in this conversation.”

“Yeah, o.k. Joy, then she won’t be a topic of conversation, but…” Justin felt his temperature rising again, “even now you sound perturbed, so … I’ll ask again, did I do something? Or fail to do something? I don’t understand your … apparent hostility toward me.”

“My apparent hostility?” Joy asked quizzically. “Justin, if I have come off as being hostile, then I apologize; that is not my intention. In fact, that was not my intention during our meeting. I simply felt … believed very strongly that you should have worked through her whole case more thoroughly. I think you should have gone further, and pushed much harder. Justin …” He couldn’t see, of course, but Joy was shaking her head, “I just don’t think … no, I know you didn’t realize then what you were sitting on, and you may still not realize that the most you did, ultimately, was take the tip-top of the iceberg and deal with that without even glancing at anything else… Justin, you had an evil, revolting, criminal fiend on your hands… That was Fen Sloughheart, Justin… That was the twisted, vile creature represented by Ripper, the most obnoxious, notorious – albeit extremely effective – attorney in these parts. Didn’t it shock your senses even a little when it became so, so very obvious that even Jack Ripper wanted to get rid of Sloughheart; that he didn’t want anything at all to do with him anymore … in any way, shape, or form?”

“Well, I have to admit … I, uh …” Justin was wrestling with the truth of the matter. “No, umm, the fact that we wrapped up the case so quickly and nicely, which was an obvious victory, I guess…”

“You see,” Joy interrupted, “that is just my point! You, Justin Case, have just hit the proverbial nail on the head! Another victory … wrapped up so nicely … and quickly. Yes, of course, and another notch in your belt, but you missed everything, Justin … everything.” Joy paused and Justin said nothing. “No, of course, I didn’t expect you to know everything about Fen Sloughheart; I didn’t know, and still don’t know everything about the man. I really don’t think I want to, but in your legal pursuit of another win, you missed the very real human elements involved. You totally overlooked the flesh-and-blood human beings involved. You failed to consider how much that monster had already hurt Effete, and probably others, and just how much you might be able to do… Oh my, Justin, I don’t mean to sound so critical; please believe me, but…”

“But I don’t care about people,” Justin broke in. “That’s what you’re saying. All I really care about is myself and my career, right?” There followed a moment of silence, heavy silence.

“Justin … right now, at this point in your life … yes, unfortunately,” Joy replied. “Right now, if you’ll listen to the one you at least used to consider your pastor, you need to learn the great lessons of modesty, compassion, altruism and genuine appreciation of others. Justin, you’re bright and intelligent, very talented and handsome, and certainly have so much to offer.”

“Well, now you’re sounding mighty pastoral, but that’s not the tone and tune I heard in my office that day several months ago,” Justin retorted. “And I’ve never thought of myself as being immodest, hardhearted, egocentric, or churlish … but now, at least, I know what my former pastor thinks about me. On the subject, though, you’ll please remember that you brought Effete’s case to me and, booked as I was, I took it; furthermore, I took it at 50% my normal retainer, which I think most people would consider charitable.”

“And there you go,” Joy came right back. “Yes, I most certainly did choose you, and I deeply appreciated your working Effete’s case into your busy schedule and doing so at half-price. However… my mistake was looking at you first as a member of my church, secondly as an especially successful young lawyer, and thirdly as just an all-round intelligent, gifted and fully capable individual who would – yes, I confess – look and sound damn sharp in the court of law. Again, my mistakes, one and all, and I completely own each one of them.” Justin was partly impressed by Joy’s admissions, yet pricked as well. He was all of the above, but… What? Was he also ostentatious, callous and self-centered? Did she really have anything purely good to say about him? “Justin, please … I want to re-emphasize that I fully believe – no, I know – that you are very capable, quite gifted, intelligent, handsome and likeable. I do not for a minute believe that you’re some kind of ogre, and if I’ve come across that way, please accept my apologies and forgive me.”

Justin felt trapped. He was glad this was just a phone conversation and not a court trial. Somehow, this beautiful, intelligent, very capable pastor had him in a befuddling corner. Joy Brighterday had practically scathed him and, yet, complimented and (possibly) even built him up. Was this some kind of psychological trick she’d learned in seminary? Break ‘em down, then build them up again. He’d learned some similar tactics in law school, so maybe that’s what she was doing now? But how to respond? Justin Case was not accustomed to finding himself befuddled, and he didn’t like it one bit … but he was befuddled, nonetheless. He couldn’t just end the conversation and hang up; no, he had to see this through to the bitter end … but he was having problems seeing now!

“I guess I really don’t understand, Reverend Brighterday,” he opted for formality now. “I honestly don’t because … huh,” now Justin was shaking his head, “umm … on the one hand, you’re laying out your critiques very clearly and sharply, but then on the other hand it almost sounds like … huh … like you’re complimenting me. Just how bad, or obnoxious, a person do you think I am? Could you rate it on a scale of one to ten?”

“No, Justin,” Joy Brighterday laughed. “No I cannot rate it on a scale of one to ten. By the way, there is no need at all to revert to formalities now. Let me try to be as clear as I possibly can, even though it may sound insulting; nevertheless, it’s probably necessary it you’re misunderstanding and looking at rating scales!” She laughed a sincerely jovial laugh again. “Justin, I honestly think it comes down to growing up … to maturation. Period. Overall, you’re not an obnoxious, horrendous person at all; in fact, I just said otherwise. I just said you are very capable, skilled, knowledgeable, good-looking and likeable.” She chuckled again. “I have no idea where that would put you on the scale of one to ten, but I doubt it would be low… No, my dear Justin, I really and truly believe it all comes down to maturation, and maturation specifically along the lines I mentioned before: modesty, compassion, altruism and genuine appreciation of others”

“Well…” Justin started.

“And before you say anything else,” Joy cut him off, “by saying what I’ve just said, I am not accusing you of being totally devoid of these characteristics. You just … well,” Joy took a deep breathe. “You just have some … umm, more growing up to do. That’s all, plain and simple. Moreover, if I’ve hurt you in any way by saying this, then I really am sorry. I’m really not the wicked witch of Verdure County.” She laughed, hoping again to lighten the mood. She failed again; Justin didn’t laugh, but he did surprise her with his response.

“O.k. fair enough,” he replied, slapping his free hand down on his desk. “I called, I asked, and I’ve listened to your very, very forthright and honest answer, but…” He hesitated. “O.k. just for the sake of argument, let’s say I’ve taken everything you’ve said to heart. Let’s say I believe you and I want to change, but that I’m also not so willy-nilly as to believe I can change overnight. Add to this the fact that there are bound to be others in some similar, deplorable situation as mine, then I have a proposal to make, if you will seriously listen and consider.”

“That’s easy enough to answer, Justin, because I have been seriously listening to you and considering every word you’ve spoken, so … by all means, let me hear your proposal.”

“Good, but first let me say that I in no way believe simple, classroom-type learning can affect the good changes you’ve mentioned; that is, that simply attending courses alone can mature someone. Having said that, though, since you’ve mentioned modesty, compassion, altruism and genuine appreciation of others more than once, you must place a high premium on these values, or qualities, so … I propose an hour and half, mid-week study on these qualities for … oh, say, four to six weeks. And I will go ahead and commit myself to faithful attendance, because I am now very, very genuinely and, may I say, deeply interested in hearing your explication and commentary on these virtues. You know, the words are easy enough to toss out, but I would very much like to hear them actually explained and the application of each reviewed … you know, in something like case studies.”

Joy was taken aback by this proposal and didn’t quite know what to make of it, coming, as it was, from Justin Case. However, she was open to ideas for St. Gianna’s Wednesday evening SSS (Song, Supplication, and Study) gathering. She’d just finished an enriching, and rather popular, series on the Epistle to Diognetus, an excellent example of second century Christian apologetics. So, what about modesty, compassion, altruism and genuine appreciation? Of course, more could be added, but what the hell, she would meet Justin part way.

“O.k. I’ll agree – initially, at least – to four, one-hour sessions on modesty, compassion, altruism and appreciation,” Joy answered. “If there is enough interest and if there seems to be adequate reason, then I might be open to expand this … series to one and a half hours for up to six weeks, but that remains to be seen.”

“And I take it this will be on Wednesdays, as usual, for the SSS class?” Justin asked.

“Yep! Give me this upcoming Sunday to announce it, and we’ll jump in right away!” Joy sounded confident, not seriously considering what she might be getting herself into, but anyway… “And I do look forward to seeing you, Justin, and thank you for calling today.”

“No, thank you … Joy,” Justin responded, not quite sure whether he felt good or bad feelings toward this woman now. “I dearly look forward to the series … and, oh, I promise I will do my best to be an attentive, kind and cordial student.” Now he finally chuckled.

“Sounds terrific, Justin, so there’ll be no putting you in the corner wearing the dunce cap!” They both laughed. “Thank you again, Justin, and you have a nice day.”

“Thank you and you, too… Good bye.”

Well, now that that was over and done with Justin felt absolutely no relief whatsoever! Still, he had to admit she’d given him a lot to ponder, and even though he didn’t exactly know where the idea came from, he was looking forward to the series.


Ruff Relishes Rough Police Work

Bernie Ruff was Splinterbit born and bred, and proud of it, too, which is the main reason he had lived here most of his life and worked for the Splinterbit Police Department. Oh, Bernie had served his time in the Army, four years in all, though without actually seeing any action. Nevertheless, he had gotten a lot of good training and did see a lot of the world in the process, places like Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Germany, France, England and even Greenland, which he didn’t particularly care for because of the climatic extremities there.

Anyway, after four years of services, and at the ripe-young age of 22, Bernie returned to Splinterbit, earned an Associate’s Degree in Criminal Justice and immediately went to work for the Splinterbit Police Department. He was like a caged tiger just waiting to be released, but he was also a bit like Barney Fife and Splinterbit was just a bit like Mayberry … not that anyone treated Bernie like Barney; they knew better. Bernard Ruff spent his last two years in service with the U.S. Army’s 10th Special Forces Group, so … he was not someone to be trifled with, with the exception of his wife, Spikey, whom he married a little less than one year on the force.

Hell, Spivey was on the force, too; that’s where he met and fell in love with her. She was the dispatcher, but of course being married meant they couldn’t both stay on with the same law enforcement agency. Thankfully, the Verdure County Sheriff’s Department was somewhat unique in that it had its main office in Grand Oak, but also maintained two mini-offices in other parts of the county: one just outside the Splinterbit town limits, fairly close to the college, and the other in Green Twig. Grand Oak covered about half the county, Splinterbit about 30% and Green Twig the remaining 20%. Splinterbit just happened to have an opening for dispatcher, so Spivey took it … with a decent raise, too!

Well, being married calmed Bernie down somewhat, but only a little; after all, Spivey was a bit of a wildcat, too, which is why he loved her so much (and why she loved him!). Anyway, she came to the ole boy with credentials of her own. Spivey had been the maverick of her Girl Scout troop, always rough and ready for adventure, but she saw it through to the end, and even graduated high school with honors. She went on to earn her own Associate’s Degree in Criminal Justice and certification as a paralegal … “just for the hell of it,” she said. Anyway, while doing all that – girl scouting, middle and high school, college – she also earned her black belt in t’ai chi ch’uan, and certification as a Range Safety Officer through the National Association of Firearms and Firearms Safety (NAFFS).

You might say life for the newly married couple started out with a real bang, and in a sense it really did. They enjoyed spending time at the firing range, camping, hunting, trapping and fishing. Bernie and Spivey were made for each other, and nobody doubted that for a minute. Moreover, they could read each other like an open book; it spooked most folks at first, but eventually family and friends got used to it. And what was there to read, anyway? Not that they were at all shallow; they were just who and what they were, no hiding anything really. They didn’t have anything to hide, because they were just those kind of folks, much like most residents of Splinterbit, really. However, there was a downside to that, too, because Splinterbit really was a bit like Mayberry, while Bernie and Spivey craved some action.

It wasn’t too terribly long, though, before drugs started rolling in more and more. Oh, the stuff had been around for decades, but Verdure County became a throughway for trade and, as officials soon discovered, Splinterbit became a convenient drop-off/pick-up point. This is when things really got interesting. All in all, Ruff, by this time a lieutenant, took three bullets in bust-ups, one landing him in the hospital for nearly a week. It earned him some medals, too … “trinkets” as he called them. Also, ultimately, his consistency, level-headedness, courage and brains got him promoted to captain. None too few thought he should have been made chief, but politics got in the way, and so Ruff had to be satisfied with second-in-command. Besides, there was an awful lot he could, and did, do from that position that might have been problematic had he been chief.

Funny changes started taking place during this period, too, almost like a throwback to the sixties and early-seventies, and in some ways to an even earlier time. Men and women, boys and girls, of every age, ethnicity and income-level it seemed became embroiled in overly intense arguments about politics, social issues, and religion. Sometimes these disagreements devolved into fisticuffs right out in broad daylight. One particular incident stood out in Ruff’s memory and specifically one encounter during that incident. The time was approximately 2 p.m. on an otherwise peaceful Wednesday when reports of multiple brawls in the city park came in; Ruff and plenty of officers were immediately dispatched with back-up help being called in from the Sheriff’s Department. When Captain Ruff arrived, he witnessed more that “multiple brawls;” it would have been more aptly described as gang warfare, except those involved were regular residents of Splinterbit!

Ruff thought momentarily that they either must all be legitimately sick or, perhaps worse, possessed. He cleared his mind quickly, though, rounded his officers to strategic positions at the parameter of the park, and then began moving in to divide and conquer, so to speak … or, maybe, to divide and subside, which was naturally their main objective. About half way in, Ruff took a really good one right across the jaw from a rather tall and stout young man, with closely cropped hair, who was wearing glasses, sullied white shirt, half-ripped tie and black slacks. Lo and behold, it was none other than Fen Sloughheart, son of the Reverend Bog Sloughheart, pastor of the Ebenezer Independent Fundamentalist Bible Church! A preacher’s son had just slugged him, and that made him mad as hell, so he did something he shouldn’t have done. Ruff swung back good and hard, knocking Fen to the ground and, in fact, knocking him out cold. It took a few phone calls, administrative acrobatics, apologies, and favors to get his ass out of that boiling pot … but Ruff never regretted it one minute. Better still, Spivey was proud of him and gave Ruff her own special reward that very night … better than any of the damn trinkets handed out by City Hall!

Nothing happened to Fen Sloughheart for his involvement in the melee, which seemed to center around several issues including homosexuality, abortion and the right to life, the place of Christianity in the community and nation at large, as well as sharply divergent views on fundamentalism. In total, approximately 45 people were involved; shocking for the small town of Splinterbit, but unfortunately it would not be the last.

That number was never quite reached again, but fights broke out, nevertheless, until an agreement of sorts was reached by City Hall, the Verdure County Ministerial Association, the Verdure County Consortium of Fundamentalist Churches (which died off a few years later), and various respected community leaders. Meeting together in City Hall, all parties managed to agree to the complete neutrality of the city park and other areas of public gatherings. They tentatively agreed to keep all conversations about serious subjects to a minimum and at a low-key volume when in public gathering places. In addition, churches and groups that vehemently disagreed with each other agreed to stay off the other’s property or properties, and otherwise not to in any manner infringe upon those properties. Finally, where issues were concerned, local media outlets agreed to strive to give equal time and coverage to all viewpoints involved whatever the issue. Interestingly enough, this is how Fen Sloughheart managed to remain in the newspapers, local radio and television.

More surprisingly, perhaps, was that this agreement – simple, straightforward and some said naively idealistic – was the concoction of Captain Ruff … and it worked! Therefore, after several years of dedicated service, and having brought peace to the community, Bernard Ruff was highly respected and considered something of a hero. Not that status concerned him so much, but the incident in the park and what followed put him on an investigative track that only ended with the demise and death of Fen Sloughheart, his assailant … maybe. Ruff was older now and physically slower, but he was still sharp as a tack and loved the rough work of law enforcement. It still excited him just like it still excited Spivey. Best of all, though, they still excited each other and still had it in them to be ferocious felines when they wanted to be!


Let Us Not Speak of God but of Evil

Able Dilettante and Moxie Keener walked into the brand new Grand Oak University Bookstore already quite impressed by the size and selection. It was, indeed, an academic marvel for this moderately sized institution, something for which the entire region could, and should, justly be proud. Immediately, Able headed down the wide center aisle, dividing the left and right quadrants, toward two young men quite evidently engaged in lively but gracious dialogue. Moxie followed, already knowing Able would probably not see most of the bookstore this go-round. Thanks to their friend, Blue Poorman, he now had a penchant for dynamic conversation on significant subjects. If he knew very little, then Able would typically be quiet, and just listen and learn … and Moxie couldn’t fault him for that; it was all good. Besides, she was ultimately responsible for bringing this bright and handsome young man out of his shell in the first place!

When they reached the spot, Moxie already knew… The two students were engaged in an age-old, conversational debate about the existence of God, and Able was hooked. Moxie turned his head slightly, kissed him on the lips and smiled. Able smiled back kind of sheepishly. “Have fun, Mr. Dilettante.” She hugged him tight. “Just remember, lunch at 12:30 at the University Grill. O.k.?” Able ran his hands down her smooth, strong arms and, still sheepishly smiling, said, “O.k. Promise I’ll keep up with the time.” Moxie laughed as the two students were now paying attention to them instead of continuing their tête-à-tête. “I’ll have to come and get you, I know, but right now I think the employee standing just behind you three would really like to get through and down this aisle.”

“Oops, sorry,” the two young men offered and moved to the side while Able took a couple of steps back, right in to Moxie’s arms. She laughed again, but the employee only offered an almost inaudible “thank you,” followed by, “There are plush chairs around a nice table in the center of the back right quadrant.” Hint, hint. Moxie’s eyebrow’s shot up as she looked at Able. “Well, I believe you gentlemen have just been invited to take your most erudite dialogue elsewhere.” They chuckled and nodded in agreement. One of them, with curly reddish-brown hair replied with a slightly terse tone, “Yeah, I guess that’s clear enough, but I bet we won’t be nominating her for employee of the month! Sheesh … talk about lack of courtesy.” All agreed, but they moved toward the plush chairs anyway, except for Moxie, who was genuinely more interested in the bookstore. “See ya’ round, baby… Don’t get yourself into trouble, o.k.? I don’t feel like playing Wonder Girl today.” She winked and Able sniggered, waving her on.

After the three sat down in the cushy chairs surrounding the nicely varnished circular table, they made their proper introductions. The two students had each just finished his junior year, with Randall Darwin Huxley majoring in the Philosophy of Science with a minor in Anatomy, and Isa al-Hassan Kalaam majoring in Physics with a double-minor in the History of Science and Anthropology. Obviously intelligent young men and ones to be taken seriously. When it came Able’s turn he rather shyly said, “Well, my beautiful companion and I attend Splinterbit College, where we’ve both just finished our sophomore years. I’ve focused on art from the get-go, but I’ve broadened my major to Aesthetics with a double-minor in Philosophy and Sociology.”

“Oh, well, welcome then,” Randall smiled genuinely. “We need a breath of fresh air in our ongoing discussion that never seems to end … especially since my dear friend, Isa, simply will not let go of his God-crutch.” Isa just smiled and laughed. “So by all means, Able, jump in … anywhere. I’m sure it’ll be o.k. because in all likelihood we’ve swum in that part of the pool many, many times!” They all laughed now.

“Well, thank you for the invitation, and since I don’t have long before my Moxie comes to take me away for lunch, then I’ll waste no time,” Able began. “First, I would like to be rude and sidetrack your discussion a bit.” Randall and Isa both chuckled and said, “O.k.,” so Able continued, “Thank you both; you’re very accommodating. In what we might call this new thread of discussion, not wholly unrelated to what you were discussing, I would like to forbid the mention of God or, really, of anything having to do with the supernatural, as that would seem to muddle our discussion now more than help.”

“Well … that surprises me a bit, but … o.k. by me,” Randall responded.

“And so, too, for me,” Isa answered with a twinkle in his eye. Able thought Isa was on to him already. The young Middle-Eastern man seemed to know Able was at least a theist, if not particularly religious. For some reason, Able also thought Isa highly suspected that his friend, Randall, had no idea.

“Good, then, fair enough and again, thank you,” Able slightly bowed his head to his two compatriots. “Now, if you will allow, I would like to introduce my thread of discussion with a short statement followed by two or three related questions for consideration.” Both Isa and Randall acquiesced, so Able pushed on. “Not so long ago, in historical terms at least, the homo sapien was considered superior to all other creatures, or living organisms; either the pinnacle of creation or evolution. More recently, the homo sapien has been placed within the Animal Kingdom as one member among many with, perhaps obviously, some very unique and distinguishing characteristics that, in the minds of many, still make the homo sapien superior to all other members. One might justifiable argue, though, that to place the homo sapien within the Animal Kingdom is an insult to all other animals.”

“Look at the havoc wreaked by humanity: the bloody battles and wars, theft and murder; rape, incest and child slavery; verbal, psychological, physical and sexual abuse … and one could go on and on, of course. We know the record of humanity all too well, and the good we probably ought to mention scarcely outweighs the horrors or, more to the point, the evils. And here I must pause to offer an important definition, since it is, after all, necessary to define fundamental terms in discussions such as this, so I will propose an everyday, broad-spectrum definition for your acceptance or denial. Let us define “evil” as “that which is justly reprehensible; generally undesirable in behavior, in action; commonly considered and felt undesirable, and even intolerable … both by individuals but even more so in groupings (or society, if you will).”

“I believe this is about the best one could offer in terms of only or merely defining evil generally,” Isa answered first. “In fact, I might add ‘vague’ to your definition.”

“Not surprising at all!” Randall laughed. “Well, I’m not a lexicographer, so I’ll refrain from being persnickety and simply accept your definition. Bravo! On with your questions, my good man!”

“Very well, then; first off, when and how did evil arise, or originate, in the history of the world? Secondly, when and how did homo sapiens come to realize, or become cognizant, of evil? Thirdly, when was our commonly-accepted, general definition of evil largely, if not universally, accepted by humanity and, if this is not straying too far afield, how and why did this acceptance occur?”

“Ah!” Isa was the first to respond. “My answer, of course, is very simple and one well-known to my friend, so I will defer to Randall for the time being to hear what he has to say.”

“It’s not as if people have not had this discussion before, even Isa and I, of course, and the answer is really simple enough,” Randall smirked rather arrogantly. “In the course of the evolution of humanity, there occurred what some refer to as ‘the Dawning of Realization,’ when homo sapiens first became self-aware. This event was a tremendous leap in psycho-physiological evolution, of course, and with self-awareness eventually came the idea, embryonic at first, of evil. You see, the self-aware man was able to say ‘my house,’ and ‘my field’ and ‘my children.’ Consequently, when someone else burned his field, it was obviously detrimental … it hurt the man and his family as well, and so he naturally perceived this as an intolerable act, however he may have expressed it in his language. So too, if someone tore down his house, or murdered his children. These were intolerable, totally unacceptable acts that all self-aware humans could see and understand. This was the nascent beginning of the idea of evil.”

“Of course, there was no beginning, or birth, of evil, per se,” Randall continued. “These sorts of abominable actions had been happening for tens of thousands of years, at least. It was only when homo sapiens became self-aware that the idea of evil was birthed. Look! All throughout the Animal Kingdom we could point to ‘evils,’ but the animals, so far as we know, are not cognizant of having committed any wrong. The tiger that rushes into a village and snatches a baby child, tears it apart and eats it is said to have done something very wicked, something evil … but only by humans. For the tiger’s part, she has done nothing except that which is natural. For an extraordinarily long time, we lived the same way.”

“Until the great ‘dawning of realization,’ when humans became aware?” Able prodded

“Yes, precisely.” Randall answered. “And so far as our ‘commonly accepted, general definition’ of evil is concerned, I will first note that throughout history, across religious and cultural lines, there have been differences of opinion regarding what is to be considered evil and what is good, or at least tolerable. Having said this, I also admit that there are many universals that very well fit the definition of evil we’re using in our discussion right now. For example, it is generally unacceptable and thus considered evil, to rape a man’s wife and kill his children and burn down his home. All of those acts are horrible and considered wicked in every part of the world of which I’m aware. So, to answer when this commonly accepted, general definition of evil was more or less universally accepted, I will have to say I’m not certain. However, I would suppose that this is something that grew sociologically in a very natural way, and then was eventually juridically codified … along with other laws peculiar to whatever time, prevailing religion and culture. And why? Well … with regard to what we might call very basic moral standards, such as in the examples I’ve just given, it was eventually self-evident to thinking, rational humans that these sorts of things were evil. After all, who wants their house burned to the ground, or all of their food stolen?”

“Very true,” Able agreed, “so why did they do it?”

“Why did they do what?” Randall looked inquisitively.

“Why did one man choose to burn another man’s field and rape his wife and kill his children?”

“Well …” Randall paused and chuckled. “Why does anyone commit that sort of atrocity? Certainly you don’t expect me to explain every evil act ever perpetrated?” Randall sniggered this time. “Why does some man rape another man’s wife? Perhaps because she’s beautiful and enticing and he simply wants her. Killing the children? Maybe the man doesn’t particularly care for children…”

“Yet at some point, at least by what we refer to as the ‘dawning of civilization,’ humanity generally accepted the common, essential definition of ‘evil,’ and so accepting and inculcating this idea, came to believe, in the main at least, that it was something to be avoided,” Able pursued the subject further. “Besides, as you yourself asked, ‘Who would want their house burned to the ground, or all of their food stolen?’ So aside from evil being reprehensible and, thus, unacceptable on its own terms, it is also very counterintuitive. Far more rational and beneficial would be living in peace and harmony, in an environment of non-evil, which I suppose we could generally call ‘good.”

“Now, I would like to refer back to my opening statement, without giving the examples I then provided as I trust that’s unnecessary,” Able crossed his legs and leaned back a bit in his cushy chair. “Out of the entire Animal Kingdom, homo sapiens seem to commit the cruelest, most horrific acts imaginable, both upon one another as well as upon other animals and indeed the whole of the earth. Homo sapiens also seem to commit evil not only at far deeper and higher levels, but also with far, far more frequency. Finally, homo sapiens seem to display some kind of propensity toward evil over good, often times when the good would be just as beneficial, or at least make more sense. And all of this is, as I’ve said, very counterintuitive, which is quite shocking because it exists within the only species, as far as we know, that is self-aware. This is shocking … quite daunting, actually. Is there any reasonable explanation for this?”

“First of all, you may be making quite a few assumptions here,” Randall countered. “Do you know for certain that homo sapiens commit evil at far higher and deeper levels than any other member of the Animal Kingdom? Do you know for certain that homo sapiens possess a propensity toward evil rather than good?”

“Ah, my friend, if Able is wrong about the frequency of evil committed by homo sapiens as compared to other species, then we only have to go back to your own example of the tiger who tears apart and eats the child,” Isa jumped in. “For the tiger, as you pointed out, this is not evil; this is instinct. Thus, even if actions we consider horrendous are committed more often among some other species, it is only we who judge those acts as being wicked, evil. This makes the case worse still for the homo sapien, for the homo sapien is the only creature that is self-aware and, thus, apprehends and understands evil … yet commits evil knowingly and willingly. And these homo sapiens certainly do at an alarming frequency, whether or not there are other creatures that do so more often, and by this evidence alone, it would seem that homo sapiens do, indeed, have some internal propensity toward evil.”

“Yes, and the question still remains, to wit: Why?” Able asked again.

“Of course, I am neither a zoologist nor a psychologist,” Randall retorted. “It is beyond me, then, to provide intricate elucidation of the psychological inner-workings of human beings; however, one obvious answer is that homo sapiens, as all other creatures, evolved by the important principle of survival of the fittest, among other fundamentally important principles of growth and development.” Randall paused, looking somewhat ruffled. “Survival of the fittest meant, of course, an awful lot of what we now would consider cruelty. Certainly it was necessarily self-interested, first and foremost, and as humans gathered together in groups, whether nomadic or in villages, there necessarily existed the communal-interest as primary to communal survival, so… there you go. Homo sapiens have not completely evolved past this inherited, instinctive drive for sheer survival … Now, though, it displays itself very grossly as what we call ‘evil.’”

“Ah, but my friend,” Isa smiled at Randall, “what about the great ‘Dawning of Realization,’ and homo sapiens becoming aware of evil … accepting our common, general definition of evil, and generally agreeing that evil was something to be avoided and even condemned? How is it humanity could evolve so far, to such an intellectual extent and, dare I say, spiritual heights, yet continue living and acting in evil to such a far, far greater degree than in goodness?”

“Good observations,” Able remarked. “Reasonably speculating, I suppose, shouldn’t the ‘Dawn of Realization,’ the self-awareness of humanity, its apprehension and understanding of evil, with the attendant feelings of repulsion and consciousness of the negative outcomes of evil – shouldn’t all of this, I ask, have naturally led humanity to physio-psychically evolve further and further away from any propensity toward evil and, thus, further and further away from the commitment of evil? Shouldn’t we be able see in history humanity’s movement away from the vestiges of primordial evolution you just mentioned in defense of the continuance, prevalence and propensity toward evil?”

Moxie rounded the corner just then, smiled and winked at Able. “Have you guys got it all figured out yet?” Isa, Randall, and Able all laughed, with Isa adding, “You know, I don’t believe we will ever have it all figured out, but this has certainly been an interesting and enjoyable conversation we’ve had with your very learned companion. Moxie beamed and squeezed Able’s shoulder. “I have no problem believing that at all,” she said, “no problem whatsoever.”

“Well, it really has been enjoyable, and I wish we could continue … or, at least, I wish I could stay a bit longer. It seems this probing, iron-sharpening-iron dialogue is ending rather abruptly … for me, at least. However, I am now choosing the greatest good available to me, my new friends,” he said as he looked at Moxie, “and for that I am exceedingly thankful, and would certainly not even consider another choice.” Moxie side-hugged him, still smiling. “But may I now break my own rule, just before I leave your company … just to possibly give you something to ponder, or perhaps even to discuss as you continue enjoying your time together?”

“I think we can make that concession for a new and such intriguing friend,” Isa answered. Randall just sat quietly now, half-smiling, looking a wee-bit haggard. “By all means, Able.”

“One thought for your consideration: The existence of evil is actually an argument for the existence of God; without God, and the supreme goodness of God, evil would not be possible. Consequently, recognizing and appreciating the reality of evil, one must also reasonably and serious consider the very real probability of the existence of God.” Both young men nodded.

“Thank you, Able Dilettante,” Isa rose and shook his hand. “We certainly hope you and Moxie have an enjoyable lunch … and remainder of this beautiful day.”

“Yes, it was good meeting you and prattling over an age-old philosophical conundrum,” Randall said as he also shook Able’s hand … not quite as friendly as when they first met, but polite nevertheless. “Hope you both enjoy the grill and the rest of your day… Maybe we’ll met again someday in another bookstore.” They all laughed.

“Maybe so, maybe so,” Able answered. “It was good meeting and talking with both of you, too. Thank you for allowing me in on your conversation; it truly was enjoyable and inspiring.”

Moxie and Able then turned toward the front of the store and made their way out and down the sidewalk to the University Grill … where Moxie was bound and determined to prevent Able from meeting anyone new!