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Mars Hill. (Short Story).

September 5, 2019

cropped-12301412301.jpgProfessor Benjamin Brentson was finding this particular student tedious; but what else was new? Nothing. But he was going to try and explain it again to the kid. So another day begins in his Religious Studies Class he thought half bored of late with the subject.

“It’s all about morality, Daniel. It just is about the idea that absolute morality does exist and should exist….” He had addressed the whole class on the subject but of course there was always one student bent on being smarter than the teacher. Mr. Daniel Johnstone was such a student in his class. A short, mousy little ego wearing dirty beat up looking jeans as far as he was concerned was a pain in the ass. But he had to be nice to the kid or he’s go run off and complain because he was told he was wrong. He continued talking to the kid who was standing up with that look of the self-important.

“Does morality really exist?” He paused only a second, “Does morality really exist as a concrete philosophy or does it really matter? Do we really need any religious texts or dogma or doctrine to be moral? Where does morality really begin or come from?” He could see some of the kids thinking about the questions he was asking; Daniel was standing his stoic ground with no reaction. And a few of them looked simply bored of the whole subject and only hoped they remembered enough to pass his class. He was sure some of them simply took the class because they thought it would be easier and would have very little extra work to do. They were wrong and they looked depressed about it. But there were scattered about the room kids actually interested in the subject.

He continued, “Aristotle defines the supreme good as an activity, an action, a motivation, of the rational soul in accordance with virtue…Aristotle defines moral virtue as a disposition to behave in the right manner and as a mean between extremes of deficiency and excess, which are vices.” He was sure half the classes didn’t have a clue what he just said and some probably tried to understand; the girl with the deep hazel eyes smiled as if it all made perfectly good sense to her. She had the look of a philosophy major or maybe she was just pretty he thought.

Dan was still standing, he interrupted, “I think morality is purely subjective, Professor Brentson. It’s a personal choice to make or not make….” The hands where shoved into his baggy pants pockets, “Morality is relative to one’s own personal beliefs. There is no higher moral authority but myself on what I think is right or wrong…” The smirk remained, “I’m the master of my own life. I don’t need some religious authority or anyone else to tell me right from wrong….”

He wondered how many other dumb ass cliches were coming from the kid; he looked about twenty maybe nineteen. He wanted to ask could he actually say something from his own thoughts but he was sure that the kid had no real answers but cliches. But then again this wasn’t the first time the kid got up and started pontificating stuff he had heard somewhere else and acted as if he had thought of it himself. He wished the girl behind the kid would talk more as she had an intelligent look to her eyes; she was thinking and had real thoughts when she did speak. At the moment she seemed to be trying very hard to say nothing? Her features seemed unhappy at some private thought she didn’t like.

The kid was still talking, “…There is no spiritual authority to dictate my choices in life. I make my own rules when it comes to morality. I don’t need some religious books or priest telling me right from wrong…” He took on an air of all-knowing, “I know right from wrong and don’t need some gods to tell me what it is…No god or even a lone single God is going to tell me what I can or cannot do with my life, Professor Brentson.” The dark eyes flashed a smile, “I am an atheist…”

He asked the obvious question, “So you don’t believe in God?”

The girl smiled shyly; the others reacted differently; and some as if afraid to admit what they believed or thought on the subject would be obvious if they didn’t anything but sit stone faced and blankly at the teacher.

The response was sharp, “I don’t need one. I’m not so weak that I need some invisible God for support to get through life. My life is just fine without any religious crap in it.” The smirk remained, “There is no God anyway, because seriously if there was one, I would be greatly troubled if I was not a god myself…”

Yes, kid, I know Nietzsche as well he wanted to say but didn’t.

“…I mean seriously, there are no real eternal truths, as certainly as their are no absolute truths or facts.”

More Nietzsche kid? No thoughts of your own but cherry picking and quoting to prove what? You can memorize quotes? But he let the kid continue as the kid was enjoying the attention and being the center of it.

“…I mean seriously are there really any eternal truths let alone facts? There are no real absolutes that have anything to do with a God of any kind…” Amused at his own humor, “Better to know very little than to know half of many truths. Truth is subjective to the person who believes what they want to believe not some Bible or religion.” He also seemed to be waiting for someone to agree with him, he seemed disappointed by the lack of those around him to praise his deep thoughts; most of the kids actually looked bored of him.  “What thinking person really requires the belief or hypothesis of a God? I don’t need any of that religious crap telling me anything let alone how to live my life and what is right or wrong…”

Someone coughed which he seemed to not like.

“…I’m just saying I don’t believe in absolute truths, I don’t think a belief in a God is for people who think for themselves. The belief in God is silly.” He seemed again disappointed when no one said anything in agreement. “I don’t understand how anyone can believe in a God they can’t prove exists. Show me God and I’ll believe in it but there isn’t one anywhere in the universe. We are on our own on this planet.”

He noted one student start to raise his hand but stopped himself. Most them all looked uncomfortable to raise their hands to voice an opinion; except the girl behind the still talking student, she had a look of one thinking actual thoughts of her own?

“…I’m an atheist for a reason, Professor Brentson; for a good logical reason. I’ve done my reading and came to my own conclusions that God does not exist, never did exist, and if it did exist is long gone and dead somewhere. I’m an atheist because it’s a logical world-view of the real world….”

“The real world?” He finally decided to say something, “There would be many who would say that the real world is also connected to a spiritual one, Mr. Johnstone. Some would say that one cannot have one without the other. The spiritual is a very important part of their lives and connection to the universe.” The girl smiled a bit; others reacted according to their own thoughts and that seemed to be not any. “The spirituality of a civilization or just the individual is very important to society, don’t you think?”

“No I don’t.” He stood his ground with that smile that said it all, “I don’t need to be told what to do or believe in. I am quite capable of making my own rules of conduct. I’m an atheist because as far as I can see there is no higher power other than my own opinion on right or wrong. I don’t understand the need for some god to make rules for my life…”

Keep the cliches coming kid he thought as he listened patiently.

“…I don’t tell others how to live or what they can or cannot do. None of my business..” He was also pleased with the attention was apparent, “There are no absolutes anymore. The religion has out lived it’s use as anything worth having or defending…”

He had hoped someone would speak up but it was obvious no one was going to do so; the though girl him seemed on the verge of saying something. He cut the kid off calmly.

“You’re big on no one telling you what to do, Mr. Johnstone.” He shoved his hands into his pants pockets, “You seem to have declared yourself your own god…”

“I don’t believe in any god, I just also don’t need a religion to tell me right from wrong. I can manage on my own thank you.” Adding, “It’s my life, my rules and I allow others to live their own lives as they choose. I’m not intolerant, I’m open-minded, let people live their own lives…”

How many cliches can one kid have he wanted to ask but of course didn’t. He was still hoping someone else would speak up but he was pretty sure no one was; maybe the young girl behind him maybe? She looked like she wanted to say something and seemed trying to formulate something to say. She certainly didn’t agree with the guy as her facial expressions certain said she didn’t.

He spoke up, “And, Mr. Johnstone, if someone disagrees with your opinion or rules? What if someone finds them to be against their beliefs on religious grounds shall we say as that term seems to be one that you have a problem with.” He held up a hand as the kid was again about to pontificate thought Professor Brentston, “I’m not offended by other people’s opinions or thoughts on an issue I may disagree with them on. So I ask again, what do you do about someone who doesn’t agree with you? What if they have a religious objection to your beliefs? What do you do then?”

He spoke up coldly, “Don’t interfere with my lifestyle. It’s as simple as that, Professor Brentson. My moral choices are my own personal business and no one else has any say in the matter. You have no right or business telling me I’m wrong about how I live my life.”

The girl behind him seemed ready to say something.

Professor Brentson had noted the girl wanted to speak up, maybe that was why he was prolonging this pointless debate into cliches and repeating of Mr. Johnstone, because he wanted her to say something; anything!

He decided to prolong it a bit as he felt she was getting ready to say something or was it wishful thinking?

“Cliched answers are not actual answers, Mr. Johnstone, and pretty much that is all you have said and quoted others out of context or they sounded good. I would prefer that I hear your actual thoughts on the subject and not you repeating what you have heard or read somewhere.” He stopped ever so briefly, “You have a problem with religion, Johnstone, that is very apparent to me. You have a great dislike of any belief that you feel would tell you that you might be wrong…”

Johnstone stared back and it was obvious he was thinking of something to say.

“….Most of what you have been saying are indeed cliches and badly quoting Nietzsche…”

The girl thinly smiled; he wished she’s say something other than smile.

“….So  most of your thoughts are not even yours. You’re simply parroting someone else’s ideas and philosophy and making them your own ideas. Philosophy let alone religion is about thinking in this class. I teach this class for three hours Monday nights and I expect actual thinking and logic being used in my class not simply parroting quotes or information read off the internet. I want to know what you actually believe in and why?”

There was a very uncomfortable silence.

He decided to try another tactic to get someone to say something, “Who in this class believes in God?”

Johnstone spoke up, “You can’t talk about a god in school, Professor Brentson, separation of Church And State you know…”

He knew the kid was serious, “It’s a History and Philosophy of Religion class, Mr. Johnstone, sorry, but God will be mentioned.” Adding, “And it’s my class, I will talk about whatever I want to talk about.”

Quickly, “There is no God or gods anyway.”

“Then the subject shouldn’t bother you so much as we will be discussing something you don’t believe is there in the first place.” Repeating himself, “So, who here believes in God?”

The silence that followed was disappointing.

“So, I have an entire class of atheists?”

Of course Mallory was no atheist, she finally raised her hand feeling rather guilty for at least not admitting her belief in God at the most.

“Yes, Miss. Rosen, you believe in God?”

Mallory found herself nodding and then realizing she was doing just that, “Yes, I believe in God.” She felt every eye on her as she said it, “I’ve never been an atheist…”

Under his breath, Johnstone spoke up, “You should try.”

“Why should she try it, Mr. Johnstone?”

He didn’t like being called out for his comment, “I’m just saying that it’s better than some belief in a god you can’t see or even prove ever existed….”

“You can’t prove there isn’t one, Mr. Johnstone.” To the girl who looked uncomfortable, “Why do believe in God, Miss. Rosen?” He noted a few other students seemed to have become more interested in the subject, “We’re you raised in a home where your family believed in God?”

Mallory felt she should be standing, so she stood up feeling even more the eyes of the others on her, “I have always believed in God. I simply never thought that there can’t be some reason why life exists.”

“Lame.” Johnstone couldn’t help himself.

“Not a valid argument, Mr. Johnstone. And if you can’t have a civil debate on the subject I suggest you enroll in a different class.” Adding with a smile, “Am I clear?”

Johnstone nodding, “Fine.”

“Why do believe in God, Mrs. Rosen? And what faith do you believe in?”

She was never good a these things, “I was brought up in a fairly agnostic Jewish home actually….” The look the kid in front of her gave her was all she needed to know about his opinion of her announcement of her Jewishness. Well, that was his problem. “My heritage is Judaism.”

It was apparent that Mr. Johnstone was trying to be silent.

“Okay, the Jewish faith then. Anyone else in this class of that faith?”

No one said anything.

“Why do believe in the Jewish faith?”

Mallory had to think about it a few seconds, “I don’t know if I believe in all of it, I do like the sense of moral boundaries it gives me. A sense of right and wrong is very much evident in the Bible…”

“You can find moral principles anywhere, not just in that particular book.” Johnstone was quick to reply, “That book has no moral superiority than any other religious book.”

Someone in the class laughed lightly and went silent real quick; Professor Brentson had noted the student in the back row. “Do you have something to add, Mr. Knutsen?”

Mr. Bobby Knutsen shook his head quickly, “No, I have nothing to say…”

“I thought you had.” To the class, “Let me be clear about this class and I know this is the first class of this semester. But I believe in civil dialogue between different views and philosophies. I see my class as a mini-Athens where ideas, philosophies, and opinions are discussed and debated.” Ad if it needed to be repeated, “I believe in the philosophy of debate and exchange of ideas. I believe this room as bland as the white paint job is is the arena of debate…”

A tentative hand went up.

“Yes, Mr. Peterson?”

“What if their wrong?”

He smiled, “By who’s opinion are we to tell anyone there wrong? What is your guideline for making that statement?”

Jeff Peterson only stared a bit, he was trying to think of something was obvious, he went to church because he had to go as his family went, “I just was asking what if what they believe is in wrong?”

The kid was not comfortable talking with so many people looking in his direction so Professor Brentson interrupted, “There is being wrong out of ignorance and then there is being wrong because you refuse to see the truth of things, would that be a fair way of putting it, Mr. Peterson?”

“Yes, yes Sir.”

Professor Brentson wasn’t going to make the uncomfortable student talk but he did speak up, he thought quickly of something to get the kid to talk a bit more, “Is truth important, Mr. Peterson? What or how do you define truth?” He could see the girl slightly smile at his statement, “What do you believe in, Mr. Peterson?” Looking at the girl knowing she was going to be the only one to speak so he turned to the young girl looking at him with a look, “What do you believe in Miss. Rosen?” She had sat down as Mr. Peterson had been talking.

“I believe in God though my parents are mostly agnostic.” Standing up again as she spoke, “My parent’s are not practicing Jews but they have not forced me into their thinking on the subject…”

“A general statement is not an defense is it?”

“I agree but it’s a foundational point of my beliefs.”

“Continue then.” He noted that Mr. Johnbstone was not happy so he spoke up, “You have a problem with Mr. Rosen’s beliefs, Mr. Johnstone?”

“There is no proof of the existence of a god let alone her God.”

“So, then, you know everything there is to know about the universe? What would that make you, Mr. Johnstone?”

“What?”

“You made the claim that you know for an absolute fact or truth that God doesn’t exist. So you are claiming to be all-knowing what other civilizations out there may or may not believe in. That is what your statement is claiming is it not?”

“I’m just saying there is no proof of her God.” Adding with a smirk, “And she can’t prove there is one so her beliefs are not on any logical foundation.”

Mallory spoke up, “I believe in God because I take in account that nature is far too complex and even far too wonderful to have happened by some unknown process without a prime mover. The idea that the nature world in all it’s levels of life could have simply happened because a mass of energy from somewhere exploded and set into motion billions and millions of years into what we have now just seems rather questionable…”

“Evolution is a fact of nature.”

Looking at him briefly, “I don’t think God needs such a slow and cruel method to create an entire universe if He was and is who He claims to be.”

Professor Brentson noted the time was coming to a close; just when it was getting interesting he noted with a disgusted thought.

Mallory was still talking and could feel the cold look she was getting from the guy behind her, “I believe God is very capable of creating the universe as He wishes and I have not the ego to debate Him on His reasons why He created as He did.”

“I’m an atheist and proud of it.”

“You have that right just as I have the right to believe in a God who created or put into motion His creation.”

“Ya, I do and no God or anyone else id going to tell me how to live my life…”

“I don’t find what God requires of me being very demanding anything of my life but how to be a good person and how to treat others…”

“You don’t need a God for that, just think for yourself.”

“I don’t mind God’s guidelines for a good life or even a healthy life. I have been lately discovering my own Jewish roots and I like the Jewish faith as written in the Torah…”

“Not going to have some old book tell me what to do or how to live.”

Professor Brentson spoke up, “I think everyone listening has figured that out, Mr. Johnstone.”

Looking at the teacher coldly, “I have never seen any good come from religion. Nothing worth noting to make me want to believe in anything but myself. Truth is not absolute and I will stand by that statement. Truth is not absolute. No one has any right to tell me what is or isn’t the truth of my beliefs.”

Mallory spoke up, “It’s a question then who owns your life then I guess. If you don’t believe in God then you own yourself and have no obligation to anyone. But if you believe you were created by God then God is indeed owns you as a living soul of His creative hand….”

“No one owns my life. Truth is for me to decide not some religious book written hundreds or thousands of years ago by some guy staring into the sun too long.”

“Going bad to cliches again, Mr. Johnstone. Religion, faiths of all kinds have a rich history for many peoples and cultures. You are judging and condemning thousands upon thousands of cultures with a rich and diverse history of beliefs….”

Folding his arms, “It’s not for me all that religious crap, I don’t need religion to be a good person or live my life as I wish to live it.”

Mallory again spoke up, measuring her comments, “I find my faith helps me be a better person that I thought I was capable of being. I have even been reading a few books on Christianity lately because a friend of mine wanted me to…”

“Jesus was a myth created by the early church you know.” He blurted out, “Jesus, if Jesus really did ever exist because there are no other sources about Jesus outside of those written in the Bible, was not some god.”

Mallory looked at him with an odd look, “Seriously? What books have you read on the subject?” She was certain he had read the latest book called, ‘Zealot.’ which she herself found interesting but not written well and proved nothing but the author didn’t like Jews really or Christianity.

“He probably really didn’t even exist, yes.” Adding under his breath, “Don’t need Jesus anyway. I’ve read enough books on the subject, Jesus was a Palestinian anyway…”

Mallory frowned, “He was a Palestinian?”

“Yes, just a ignorant Palestinian peasant who got in trouble with the Roman or Jewish authorities….”

“Jesus was as Jewish as I am, that much I am certain of by what I have read up to this point.” Her friend had given her some small books on the subject, ‘Jesus;The Jews Jew’ by. Zola Levitt. So far it was okay a book.

“Believe what you want, but Jesus probably didn’t exist anyway.” He picked up his books as it was apparent class was coming to an end as others were collecting their stuff and started to get up to leave, “I don’t need absolute truth anyway, I like living my life my way and my way is just fine…” Adding with bitterness, “Certainly don’t need some damn Jewish religion in my life…”

Mallory spoke up as she picked up her own books, “Not if your wrong.”

Walking away quickly and with an angry last remark, “I’m not wrong, it’s my life.”

Mallory watched him walk away and then walked out of the room with her own thoughts on the subject.

Professor Brentson wished all his classes began that way instead at the ending of them; he collected his own materials and headed toward his office before heading home.

 

 

 

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