Naomi studied Fred for a moment, staring directly into his eyes, then replying with, “Of course Jesus didn’t condone gossipers when one of the Ten Commandments forbid bearing false witness against a neighbor. But tell me”, she continued, “what is it that you believe in Fred? I’m interested. I’d like to know.”
Fred didn’t respond right away, he instead looked up at the ceiling, then rested his eyes on a photo on the wall. Then he began to respond, “Well. I believe that most of the world’s religions have things backwards. I don’t think that the Creator is a genocidal, jealous, vengeful, sinner-burner like he’s made out in the Christian Bible for instance. Or, if He is, then He isn’t worthy of anything but contempt. I think that the Creator would be more of a gardener/artist type, you know creative and nurturing of life. I think that He tries to influence our behavior in a few limited ways. First, I think that harmful lies are not allowed to escape the Truth. Second, I think He creates beautiful things and releases them into the world.”
Naomi interjected, “But, what about Satan?”
Fred chuckled and his eyes sparkled with mirth, he smiled and said, “Why on earth would he be necessary? Look at the damage that Men are doing to each other and to the planet which sustains their very lives. Look at the way they lie to each other and cheat each other and enslave each other. I don’t see how the cruelty of Man can be improved upon or blamed on a third party. So, I think the Creator is trying to reach us with Beauty and Hope and Truth, but as for the devil I think he is nothing more than a scapegoat.”
Naomi reflected for a time and sat still while she did so. She said, “So, you believe in a creator that is like Bob Dylan in a garden?”
“Well”, said Fred, “if the music Bob Dylan played could create matter and life directly then that’d be about right. He’d be out there in his garden watching over us and when we got too mean and ugly with each other he’d send us “Masters of War” or “Hard Rain” so that we could turn out better. In fact, people like Bob Dylan have always made me wonder. Didn’t he come out of nowhere at a young age and write songs far beyond his years which spoke directly to the current mood? Isn’t he like Martin Luther King in that respect, telling us the Truth in a way which resonates?
“What about after we die?”, questioned Naomi.
“I am in no hurry for a definitive answer to that question, but I expect it is exactly like the time before our birth.”
“The God you believe in doesn’t seem very powerful”, said Naomi.
“That’s right. The God I believe in has no power at all, except the power to create Good things. He only tries to influence us by the power of His example and through His creations. I believe that He isn’t interested in revenge and that He only wants us to take delight in his works. I believe that the garden of Eden which you believe in was such a work. I believe that when you look around you are looking at what Man, in his ignorance, has done to the masterwork of Heaven itself.”
“That seems too cynical for me to ever believe in”, responded Naomi.
“It’s not for everyone”, agreed Fred, “but that’s what I believe in. I guess it appeals to me to consider the comedy of Monty Python a gift from God to be enjoyed, or the music of Mozart, or John Steinbeck’s novels, and so on. Martin Luther King, for sure, had this power of influence over people that doesn’t make sense to me any other way. I think of the Jesus you believe in the same way. He was just another attempt by God to awaken the Love in our hearts for each other. Usually we respond by killing his creations and perverting their message.”
“That’s your view of religion isn’t it, a corruption of something beautiful?”, asked Naomi.
“Pretty much”, responded Fred, “but I try to judge people by their actions and not by their beliefs. I know that there are Paul Farmers in the world that make enormous sacrifices to help other people, and if I look critically at myself I do not measure up to a lot of religious believers.”
At that point Faith came bustling into the room with a plate full of cookies and three cups and saucers. She set the plate of cookies in the center of the coffee table, placed three cups in their saucers, and traveled back to the kitchen, returning with tea-bags and a kettle of hot water, sugar, and milk. She put the tea bags in the mugs, filled them with hot water, returned the kettle to the kitchen, then took up a seat by Naomi.
Looking at Naomi, Faith said, “I always like something sweet and a cup of tea in the afternoon. We have peanut-butter cookies and molasses there and Lipton tea so help yourself.”
With that, Fred and Faith began to eat a cookie, Fred grabbing molasses and Faith peanut butter. Naomi mumbled something beneath her breath, then reached for a peanut butter cookie. She bit into it and enjoyed the semi-soft, crumbly texture and sweetness. She reached for the teacup, extracted the bag, mixed in sugar and milk, and washed down the first bite of cookie. She smiled.
Fred complimented Faith on the cookies and ate his slowly, breaking off pieces with his hands, then chewing them thoughtfully. If for no other reason than these cookies, he thought his plan was working out well. He wondered if a pleasure so simple was the result of Mr. Dylan in his garden, or if People themselves sometimes brought good things into the world with their own hands.