Gary woke with no memory of what had happened. Slowly, fighting the urge to retch, he opened his eyes. He immediately regretted doing so, as daggers of light from a single exposed overhead lightbulb pierced through his half-lidded vision and ignited the cobwebs in his head. Raising a hand to block the offending rays, Gary became aware that he was lying naked on a hard concrete floor in a bare room. A grim-looking man with unfamiliar features stood by a solid-looking metal door. Seeing that Gary was awake, the man grunted, heaved the door open, and walked into the hallway outside, letting the door slam behind him.
“Hello?” Gary called querulously. There was no answer. Staggering to his feet, Gary steadied himself against the cold concrete wall and shook his head, trying to dispel the last of his confusion. He lurched toward the door on unsteady feet and wrenched on the knob, to no avail. Gary slammed his open palm against the door and heard a dull boom sound that was quickly absorbed into the walls and high ceiling. “Hello!” he called again “Let me out of here!”
His hand slapped the door again, eliciting the same sound and lack of response from anyone who might be listening. Gary tugged against the knob again then, his small reserve of energy spent, slumped back to the floor. Frantically, he searched his memory hoping to reveal some clue of where he was, how he had arrived there, and who or what he might have offended to deserve such treatment. Suddenly, the door made a sharp *click* and the knob turned. Gary scrambled to his feet and backed away from the door, imagining that he might be able to make a dash through the portal once whoever was on the other side opened it.
To Gary’s bafflement, a couple in featureless grey suits appeared from the hallway, faces beaming broadly. The grim-looking man entered from behind them, carrying three folding chairs. He set them up silently, barely paying Gary any attention as he arranged them with two facing Gary and one facing the door. Glancing askance at the grey-suited pair, the man nodded gruffly to the pair’s approving look and walked out of the room, closing the door behind him.
Gary stood huddled against the wall as the two figures, a man and a woman, continued to regard him with broad, friendly smiles. For a long moment nobody moved. After what seemed like a sufficiently long awkward silence, the woman said “oh come now Gary, there’s no need for theatrics. Please, have a seat. We just want to talk to you.” Her voice was unexpectedly warm and bright, as though she was addressing a classroom full of eager children instead of standing in a tiny cell with a panicked prisoner. She glided effortlessly to the seat, and her male counterpart sat next to her. “Please Gary,” he said, in a similarly sweet voice, “sit down. Nobody is going to hurt you. We have excellent news for you.”
Warily, Gary eyed the remaining seat facing the door. The man and woman sat, smiling indulgently as Gary took the few paces from the wall to the chair and sat in it. “Where the hell am I?” were the first words out of his mouth.
“As I said, Gary” said the man “we have excellent news for you. You’ve been selected to immigrate to Mercia.”
“Mercia?” Gary’s mind raced anew – he had heard fragments of rumors about the name Mercia, but hadn’t paid much attention.
“Yes,” said the man. “You’ve been invited to join our family here in Mercia, where you can live happily for the rest of your life!”
“Some invitation,” Gary sniped back. “Kidnapped and imprisoned here against my will. Is this how you welcome all of your ‘family members’, or am I special?”
“But you are special, Gary” gushed the woman earnestly. “You’ve been given an opportunity that very few ever get – the chance to live in a perfect country with absolute freedom and happiness! Words can’t express how excited I am for you – I still remember my own invitation like it was yesterday.”
“Wait,” said Gary “they kidnapped you too?”
“We don’t think of it as ‘kidnapping’, Gary” said the man hastily. “We think of it as an opportunity that nobody would ever turn down, so we don’t really need to ask first, do we? I mean, we pretty much already have your answer.”
Gary extended his middle finger. “There’s my answer,” he sneered. “I don’t want to go to Mercia, I want to go back home. Give me my clothes back and get me the fuck out of here.”
For the first time since they had entered the room, the pair of smiles on the couple’s faces wavered. They glanced at each other uncertainly, seemingly unable to process what had just happened. “Gary,” the woman offered “you don’t seem to understand. We’re offering you a chance to live in Mercia. It’s literally the best place on Earth. There’s no suffering, no crime, no hatred… how could you possibly say no to that?”
“Easy,” said Gary. “I don’t believe you. There’s no such thing as a perfect place. As long as there are people, there will be suffering and crime and hatred. It’s just the way we are.”
The couple visibly swelled with relief, the broad grins stretching to new levels of breadth. “Gary,” the man breathed “put your fears aside. Everything we say is true – Mercia really is as we describe it. The Supreme One makes it all possible. Under his light we are sheltered.”
“Under his light we are sheltered,” echoed the man, perfunctorily.
Gary reeled. “The Supreme what?”
The woman’s eyes narrowed briefly, then peals of laughter burst forth from both her and her partner, echoing weirdly off the concrete walls and floor. “My, but you have a strange sense of humour,” said the woman, wiping an errant tear from the corner of her eye as she struggled to regain control of her heaving sides. “The Supreme One, Gary. The one from whom all the majesty of Mercia comes. Surely you must have heard stories of him in your old land.”
“No. What is he, the king or something?”
The man frowned, realizing that Gary wasn’t feigning ignorance to be funny. “The word ‘king’ is not a very good descriptor, Gary,” the man began. “Kings are frail human beings with worldly power. Worldly power can corrupt, as history has shown us. The Supreme One is beyond all such human failings. He is the source of all goodness, all morality, all happiness. It is through him that Mercia achieves its perfection.”
“You make him sound like a god,” Gary offered.
“Would you call a sunny day a god?” asked the woman in a gentle, instructive tone. “Obviously not – it is simply a wonderful thing to be thankful for, and by which to be warmed and made better. Such is the way of the Supreme One – by his presence we are made whole.”
“By his presence we are made whole,” the man echoed again.
“This cult is fucked up,” said Gary, starting to rise to his feet “and I don’t want anything to do with it. Give me back my clothes and let me out of here. I told you before, I don’t want to go to Mercia.”
The nervous look came back to the two faces, and the smiles faded away completely. “Gary,” the woman intoned “you’re already in Mercia. We never thought for a moment that anyone would want to turn down an offer to live somewhere perfect. It doesn’t make any sense. Why would you want to go back home? There’s nothing but suffering and darkness there.”
“Yeah, but it’s my suffering and darkness,” Gary barked, bitterly. “You have no right to keep me here.”
“We are not the ones keeping you here,” the man said. “You are here because the Supreme One deems it so. Here in Mercia, his authority is absolute. He has every right to do with you what he wants – after all you are in his land.”
“What?” Gary stared at the two now-blank faces, incredulity causing his mind to spin. “I didn’t ask to come here. You kidnapped me, brought me here against my will, and now you’re telling me that I can’t go home because I’m in your country?”
“Not us,” the woman reminded Gary. “The Supreme One has done this. Such is his mercy and justice.”
“How could you possibly consider this justice? Kidnapping, imprisonment, and now extortion? That’s no justice at all!”
“Everything the Supreme One does is just, Gary” intoned the man. “Yes,” breathed the woman, excitedly “The Supreme One is the source of all justice. He is justice! Sometimes his justice seems… unusual… to those of us still caught in the cycle of human misery. When I was invited, my brother was invited with me. In his darkness, my brother spoke hideous evils against the Supreme One. The Supreme One had his tongue cut out and fed to the crows.”
“He what?” Gary scrambled back in alarm and revulsion.
“Yes,” the woman continued hurriedly. “My reaction was the same, until I realized that now my brother wouldn’t ever be able to speak evil against the Supreme One again. He would never even have the chance to sin in such an egregious way. In this way, the perfect justice of the Supreme One was revealed. By removing the source of the blasphemy, my brother was saved from ever having to say hurtful things again. Do you see?”
“Yes, I see,” said Gary slowly. “You’re insane. You’re both out of your minds, and you’ve co-opted me into your deluded fantasy.”
“The adjustment takes time, Gary” said the man patiently. “Soon you will see that everything the Supreme One does is for the greater good. And you can be a part of it, just like us.”
“And if I refuse?” countered Gary.
“That would be very sad, Gary” the man said solemnly. “Those who trespass on Mercia’s perfect soil without pledging acquiescence to the Supreme One are removed forever from his sight.”
“Gary,” said the woman. “Don’t you get it? The Supreme One is the source of all joy, all happiness, all things good. To be removed from his sight means to be without those things. Being away from his sight is a place of darkness and eternal pain.”
“So you mean I’d go back home.” Gary began, hopefully.
“No,” said the woman firmly. “The Supreme One has his eyes on the whole world. To be removed completely from his sight means that you will taken to a place where you will experience unending torment and suffering.”
Gary blanched. “You’re talking about torture.”
“You could call it that,” said the man.
“I could call it that because that’s what it is. My choices, as you lay them out, are to follow your insane cult leader or be tortured to death?”
“You’re twisting the words of our offer, Gary.” The woman seemed to be losing her patience, and her counterpart touched her arm lightly, his gaze imploring her to regain her composure. She breathed a sigh, managed to return a shadow of her original smile to her face and continued. “You have a chance, Gary, a wonderful chance to experience complete satisfaction and happiness. The Supreme One is offering this to you, even in all your darkness and anger, because he loves you. All you have to do is accept his love, and show that acceptance by following his simple and moral rules. If you are determined to throw that chance away then you will have to deal with the consequences of rejecting his perfect love. The choice is yours – either choose love or pain.”
“Let me get this straight,” said Gary. “You, oh wait right not you, but your Supreme One, kidnaps me and transports me against my will to a foreign country. I’m then told that I have to live in this country, whether I want to or not, because that’s the rules here. The rules, by the way, that I had no part in deciding and did not agree to follow before I was brought here without the opportunity to say ‘no’. Let me finish,” Gary saw the man’s mouth open to object and cut him off breezily. “I want to make sure I’ve got all the details, so let me finish. Because I have been taken here, I am not allowed to leave, right? And as a way of repaying this great ‘gift’ of being forcibly abducted, I have to spend my time thanking the psychopath responsible for it? And if I don’t thank him for extorting me into his little scheme, he’s going to have me tortured to death?”
There was a long moment of silence. The smiles had completely melted into cold expressions of contempt and bottled fury. “The ways of the Supreme One are not to be questioned,” the woman said flatly. “Every filthy word from your lips brings you closer to the torture chambers.”
“So it is torture!” Gary crowed triumphantly. “How moral could this Supreme One possibly be if he condones torture?”
“If the Supreme One does it, then it is moral,” said the man. “Our place is not to understand the ways of the Supreme One, ours is only to accept it. The Supreme One is perfect – so he says, so we do.”
“So he says, so we do” muttered the woman distractedly.
“So no matter how evil the shit he does is, you drones will just call it moral because he’s the one that did it? How more circular could that possibly be? Think for yourselves, dammit!” It was finally beginning to dawn on Gary that he was fighting a losing battle – whatever part of these people had been capable of rational, independent thought had been so insulated by indoctrination that Gary might as well have been trying to lay siege to a castle with a bag of marshmallows.
“Fine,” Gary breathed. “I will accept the offer. If it makes you happy, I’ll praise the Supreme One until my tongue falls out. Sorry, poor choice of words.” Gary saw the woman wince.
Shaking his head with disappointment, the man spoke. “I’m afraid that’s not possible, Gary. You have to mean it, and it’s clear that you see this incredible gift as a punishment. The Supreme One does not want any false praise – those who praise him falsely are also removed from his sight.”
Gary paled, his mind going to every medieval torture scene he’d ever watched on TV or in movies. “There must be some way to prove that I mean it, right? I don’t want to be tortured – tell me what I have to do. I’ll do it, I swear!”
The smile slowly returned to the faces. The woman spoke. “The Supreme One is merciful, as we told you Gary. He only asks of you one simple thing to prove your devotion to him.”
“Anything!” said Gary, relief pushing through the fear.
“To prove that you accept this offer as the incredible gift that it is, the Supreme One asks only one thing: that you extend his invitation to someone you love deeply. Your sister, for example. The Supreme One thinks that your lovely sister would be a wonderful addition to our family. All you have to do is invite your sister here as we have invited you, get her to accept, and you will both be granted a place at the Supreme One’s feet.”
“Wait,” Gary’s hope ran cold in his veins. “You want me to kidnap my sister and threaten her with torture unless she joins too?”
“If you want to use such ugly language, then yes” said the man. “We want you to bring her here and extend the same offer, and same consequences of refusal. Fail to do this, and you will be removed from the Supreme One’s sight. ‘Tortured’ I believe was your word for it. If you are so foolish as to think that you can just walk away, remember that the Supreme One can find you wherever you are, and will look just as unkindly on desertion as he does on false praise.”
“We will leave you alone to make a decision,” said the woman as the two rose from their chairs and turned toward the door. “Remember,” she said as she turned the knob to open the door, “you must bring her here, or be removed from his great sight forever.”
The door closed.
Gary slumped to the floor again. His mind, clouded in confusion and despair, collapsed in on him and he saw the cell walls no more.
It has been many years since I’ve written fiction, so I apologize if it comes across a bit ham-handed. My intention with this allegory has been to demonstrate that the claims of the great love and ultimate justice of a deity are fundamentally immoral. According to the mythology, we are born into the world (with no choice in the matter), and then are given two options: we either spent eternity praising a clearly immoral dictator, calling his evil “good”, calling his sadism “mercy”, calling his extortion “love”; or we are banished to eternal torment for the great crime of refusing to bow and scrape at the dictator’s feet for giving us a “gift” we had no choice in accepting. Not satisfied with just us, this dictator demands that we similarly enslave our fellow man by the same lie.
A particularly dishonest way to read this would be to suggest that I truly do believe in a god, but I just hate Him. I have written many of the myriad reasons why I don’t believe in any deity. The purpose of this allegory was merely to expose the story for what it is – a profoundly immoral extortion based on twisted logic that is taught to children in order to frighten them into behaving. It is a lie, all of it. Even if it were true, though, it would still be evil.
(I like yours better)
That’s hilarious, and is a better allegory for religion as a whole than my little story here is.
The thing I was trying to point out is that even if the claims of omnipotence were true (if Hank actually did give you a million if you left town), it would still be immoral. The only way to make that kind of thing not completely immoral is to redefine morality to be “whatever Hank says”.