The Fight to Save Hell – Chapter 1

Individual contracts oust collective bargaining

  “But Grandpa, why do you think people came to believe in such things in the first place?”

 “You mean: why would anyone want to rely on the words of those claiming to be in direct contact with an omnipotent God — Good question!”

 As Christophe leant forward in his chair to cogitate a further response, James smiled and leant back in his. He raised his outstretched arms in a pose of surrender and with fingers entwined clasped the nape of his neck. Balancing himself on the balls of his feet by arching his back, he tilted his chair backwards whilst extending his long legs under the bare wooden table of the Paris outdoor café. Screwing up his face and eyes he declared to the warming sun, “Ooh! Ooh! That feels good!”

Christophe raised his eyes and gazed at his grandson. James’s thick mat of closely cropped red hair glistened in the mid-morning sun. A coterie of gregarious freckles upon face and nose accompanied what he knew to be blue-green eyes now squeezed shut by lids accustomed to the shade of a bullnose roof of bushy eyebrows.

“Well, James, as a student-at-law used to seeking out all the facts before arriving at a reasoned conclusion, I should have thought you’d already have the simple answer.”

James felt an urgent need to abandon the support of the back of his chair and sip from the glass of citron pressé now beyond his reach. However, his thighs had ideas of their own. Having been peremptorily relieved of their responsibility for maintaining their owner’s equilibrium, they began an intimate relationship with the underside of the table, thrusting and then tilting it to that obscene angle customary for such casual encounters — even allowing for the steeply sloping pavement of the Rue de la Montagne-Sainte-Geneviève.

“Excusez moi, monsieur!” The sound of glass making a febrile acquaintance with the footpath followed by an anglicised French expletive was always going to prompt a lurking waiter to rush to James’s assistance ? panacea in hand.

“Pardonnez moi, monsieur,” James responded in his practised Parisian accent. “Je suis désolé.”

By the time the waiter’s damp cloth had performed its time honoured ablutions to the already stained surface of the table, James had ample time to respond to the waiter’s offer to replenish the contents of his glass; and more than enough time to answer his grandfather, “You mean they didn’t have all the facts?”

Christophe had grasped the slender waist of his near full glass of 1664 in the face of its imminent desecration and was still holding it high above the table in the manner of a trophy won but not yet acknowledged. He lowered the glass to reduce its contents by a third, placed it neatly on the waiter’s freshly laid beer coaster, licked his lips and declared, “Ah! That’s better … if we still don’t have them all now, how many do you think they were short seventy thousand years ago? I think you’ll agree that as soon as humanity learnt to reason, it relied upon the irrational to fill in the gaps in its knowledge of the unknown.”

“Can’t do that today! They keep telling us in class you can’t rely upon your own honest belief in the truth of your statements. You have the onus of proving them true in the law of trade and commerce; and now in the business of religion. It’s a different ball game.”

“True, James. Today’s consumer society expects accountability of its religious institutions — like every other institution operating in the public arena.”

“Continuous disclosure they call it,” James quipped.

Christophe caressed the stubble on his chin with the thumb and forefinger of his left hand contemplating the address that he had only recently delivered on the occasion of his retirement as professor of religious and ethical studies. It had provided him with the opportunity to refer to the issues anticipated to be raised in the forthcoming trial of the Pope. He had devoted his final years to the subject, receiving much trenchant criticism from expected quarters for his forthright views. He had timed his departure from the university faculty such that he could be present at the hearing of the appeal before the Confederation’s High Court. Others suggested that he had been pushed.

Age had been kind to Christophe. His medium stature was compensated by a deep chest and broad shoulders that still carried the aggressive image of his youth. His blue eyes remained alert behind rimless glasses. Hair that had remained in his sixties had long-since been shaved to a shininess that accentuated an almost ovoid shaped head. His mouth and lips set on a craggy face had not yet been fixed with those lines of resignation that beckon the onset of old age. And he never missed an opportunity to remark to those who saw him much younger than his years — to attribute his good fortune to the joie de vivre of his younger French born wife.

“Yes, I’ve seen the financial media refer to it as ‘the Church going to the confessional.’ It’s truly remarkable to see how world society has turned on its long-time moralisers. It’s hard to think of things the way they were before the events of 9/11 — before the overthrow of authoritarian regimes and now the economic realignment of nations following the last global financial crisis. We shouldn’t have been surprised by the empowerment of those individual voices of mass protest on the internet forcing reform at every level. Who would have ever thought that we could have millions of aggrieved Catholics claiming that their pope knew, or ought to have known that the promotion of a belief in the existence of hell was false?”

“Yeah … I can still see their Class claim for damages on their lawyers’ blog:

‘… suffered much mental anguish over many years of misdirected devotion to an unethical God threatening eternal damnation in a non-existent hell.’”

“Once the ambit of the duty of care was extended to those conducting a business of religion, lawyers have never had it so good.”

“Governments must love them because every successful claim is a win for the tax office. I reckon just lodging a claim would alert the revenue authorities to a potential claw-back of a tax exemption. But this claim against the Pope is different. It goes to basics big time — and, Grandpa, you really haven’t answered my question. You would’ve lectured on it. Why is it — after all we now know about things — that people have relied upon what one tiny segment of the world’s population had to say two thousand years ago about the claimed existence of an almighty deity?”

“Sorry James! I’ve been in the habit of telling my students never to answer the question; just discuss the issues.”

James smiled a knowing smile before remarking in that language that he knew his grandfather had never mastered, “Pas de problème, Grandpa!

This prompted Christophe to pause and adopt that tone of voice best suited to discourse between tutor and student, “You’d have to go back in antiquity and beyond, James. It was ingrained in society from the time when mankind through ignorance, superstition and fear of the unknown first became dependent upon intermediaries to intercede on its behalf with the gods.”

“Intermediaries?”

“Priests. Go-betweens; you might prefer to call them.”

“Today, we’d call them ‘mediators’.”

Christophe reached for his glass of beer to cradle it with both hands; but did not lift it from the table. “Right from those early days they were known as priests. As soon as we began to plough fields, grow crops and store our own food the first humans required assurances — protection. That’s when they turned to priests. For a small consideration — always paid in advance — they arranged for protection from invaders — and for rain to fall on their crops.”

“They were in business from day one, then; running a protection racket based upon fear and hope.”

“Today’s secular society might see it that way.”

“And they obviously got away with it.”

“For a good deal of the time, yes. But they were mainly successful because they tied the gains of this world — protection — care of the tribe — to events represented by them to have occurred by reason of their liaison with the gods.” Christophe sat back in his chair as he continued, “And there you have it! The breeding ground for superstition brought about by ignorance. And superstition breeds mysticism — reliance upon the gods to fill in the holes in mankind’s knowledge of the reality of the world ? and in turn, the universe.”

“God of the gaps,” James exclaimed in a manner that gave lie to his twenty-three years.

“You’ve heard that somewhere before?”

“I have. But I couldn’t quite put a handle on it before. Anyhow, falling foul of a failed weather prediction in those early days must have been dangerous for a priest; considering today’s meteorologists still don’t get it right.”

Christophe smiled before replying, “Undoubtedly! Perhaps we don’t pay them enough either? The life expectancy of an early priest was short. They were more often than not found to be wrong. Yet, they became more powerful. And you know why? Because they passed on their mistakes to the next generation: they learnt to write.”

“Ah! They were the millennials. They learnt to SMS on clay tablets, I guess.”

Christophe returned his grandson’s smile as he continued, “They were the ancient Sumerians. They lived around 3,500 years before the Common Era in what today we call the Middle East. They were remarkable people: they gave mankind a dream start by inventing those three W’s: writing, the wheel and wine — the benefits of which we still enjoy today.”

“But, not necessarily in that order.”

“Unlike what happens today, the ancient Sumerian priests kept their ability to read and write to themselves because it meant more power to them. But they did keep written records. And it’s from a close analysis of those records that the less reverent members of academia believe that the first ‘holy hood-wink’ was perpetrated.”

“Oh! What was that?” James asked as he leant forward in his chair to hear above the noise of a groaning people mover edging its way up the hill towards the Pantheon.

“That we humans had been expressly created by the gods so that they could be relieved of the need to work for their sustenance.”

“Elitism!” James exclaimed, “People must have been extremely gullible in those days.”

“There may be little difference between then and now.”

“They got the fear bit going, I suppose?”

“Exact! The priests simply told everyone that they would be punished with retribution in the form of droughts, floods and starvation if they didn’t offer food up to the gods.”

“And the priests looked after the food for the gods?”

“Right!”

“But really, that’s just another tax!”

“Perhaps, the first tax? And as the gods never received enough food, they were never able to be appeased — which is the way life has always been. If you have something, you always want more. Retribution was thus assured for most in their lifetime. Some say that’s why the Sumerians invented beer: to enable the wicked to recover from retribution.”

“That must have been self-defeating?”

“True, James. Better that you don’t get to like it ? like your grandfather. Do you feel like a cup of coffee now?”

“Not at the moment, thank you, Grandpa. You go ahead.”

Before continuing, Christophe twice endeavoured to attract the waiter’s attention, before giving up. “Well, you can probably imagine what happened next.”

“Better that you tell me.”

“Being the only ones who could write, the intermediaries could choose to disseminate only such information that suited them. Knowledge and information became synonymous with power. Priests became even more powerful when they learnt the habit of never being able to be proven wrong. The failure of the gods to perform was ascribed to the avaricious expectation of others. And, you can imagine the gods had a strangely annoying habit of delaying the fulfilment of their promises for such an interminable length of time that their intended recipients usually died waiting.”

“Surely they stuffed up some of the time?”

“For the most part it never mattered. For the gods — being above the fallibility of mankind — could never be held responsible for the representations of their intermediaries.”

“Commissions of Inquiry and consumer protection were still a long way off.”

“Two millennia, you’d have to say,” Christophe responded, returning his grandson’s wry smile with one of his own. “In the meantime, mankind had discovered the benefits — but not the downside — of having God on its side.”      

“Yeah … but how did the Jews get the inside running?”

Christophe raised both eyebrows before replying, “You might care to think of it in terms of the consumer law you’re studying — collective bargaining.”

“Really!”

“It’s not altogether clear when it did happen, but it’s evident from their records that they enjoyed the benefits of a remarkable leader who honestly believed that his tribe was the only part of civilization worthy of an omnipotent deity’s attention. You have to hand it to him ? this leader, Abraham … he came upon what was undoubtedly a brilliant idea still in practice today in industrial relations — I think you’ll agree.”

“Which is?”

“The way I see it, he found he could maintain his power and prestige by arrogating to himself the ability to negotiate a collective deal for his tribe with the deity. He entered into a covenant on their behalf in return for which the deity is claimed to have promised to look after his tribe and their issue to the exclusion of all others. They became ‘the chosen’. In return, Abraham, on behalf of his people, promised to obey a Decalogue of covenants designed to promote socially acceptable behavior: and, importantly — to worship no other god.”

“I like the collective bargaining bit and the log of claims. Not sure about the exclusive bit.”

“The arrangement worked wonderfully well for quite a while; although in today’s terms sociologists have misgivings as to how their deity, Jehovah, fulfilled his part of the bargain. Their own texts tell the story of how Jehovah went to extraordinary lengths to accommodate this small group. Drowning the entire Egyptian army in the Sea of Reeds and then ordering the extermination of the native population of Canaan to secure land he’d promised to this select few has definite overtones of unacceptable behavior for a god that would be held in ethical repute today: led to a lot of trouble later.”

“Bloody hell!”

Christophe winced before responding. “But James, you also have to look at it from the point of view of ‘the chosen’. Their deity performed for generations; and that gave the intermediaries credibility. They could go into print and tell everyone God was on their side.”

“The first pamphleteers! Fake news!”

Christophe gave his grandson an enlightened look as he continued, “But, there was a downside for their deity — which is surprising when you think that it’s supposed to be omniscient as well as omnipotent. Being a law student yourself, you’ll have learnt from your trade practices and consumer law that the requirement that a claimed omnipotent deity’s services not be disseminated or re-supplied to others outside one’s own group is clearly anti-competitive.”

“Yes, exclusionary conduct! Not on in the business of religion.”

Christophe acknowledged his grandson with a short pause. “It’s also now suggested that this historic agreement has overtones of racial discrimination. As a consequence, the authenticity of the agreement itself is now seriously questioned — as the corollary to the suggestion that their deity was racist — was, and still is — totally unthinkable for the Jewish people.”

“You mean it could deny their territorial claim to the Israeli state? I recall that the Israeli Knesset passed a law stating that the right of national self-determination is unique to the Jewish people. Nobody else was to get a look in.”

Christophe nodded his head in agreement, adding, “And as if this were not enough, some feminist groups today assert that the deity of the Old Testament was sexist.”

“Because he was male?”

“Not exactly! Others did that for them — claiming he was male: the intermediaries appropriated such terminology from their predecessors.”

“Sounds like they were asking for trouble, Grandpa.”

“Not just yet, James. Remember, we didn’t have the Amendment to The Universal Code of Conduct in place all those years ago.”

“Of course, no religion was thought to be carrying on a business in those days.”

“Well — they probably were, but not the way we think of it today. You may be surprised when you consider what happened later.”

“Oh?”

“I’ll come to that if we have time. Do you have time?”

“Sure! Go on! I’m fascinated.”

“Well, everything looked rosy in the garden patch for ‘the chosen’ following their deity entering into a further accord with Abraham’s successor, Moses. But their joy was short-lived. Others wanted to crash the party and join in the prosperity guaranteed to them by their deity. ‘The chosen’ resisted them. But they lost out.”

“Serves them right! Share and share alike — and all that.”

“Ah, James, you’ve forgotten! The chosen few were required by their agreement to keep God to themselves; remember? So, naturally enough, they resisted the demands of others.”

“As they still do! Protectionism! They had a vested interest to protect — all that prosperity, let alone their borders.”

“I can understand your thinking James. But these ancient people really believed. It’s just possible that ‘the chosen’ had neglected to advise their adversaries of the exclusivity of their deity’s covenant.” This time, Christophe held a wry smile until returned by his grandson.

“I reckon their conquerors were miffed that they had been deliberately excluded from the ambit of this historic contract you mentioned, Grandpa. No worker today would tolerate being locked out of a workplace environment that promised such peace, harmony and worldly wealth! If that’s what you say was promised to them by their deity … and to no-one else?”

“There’s no doubt their adversaries wanted a piece of the action immediately and weren’t prepared to sit down and talk things through as we might today.”

“You’d have to think that the chosen few were at a disadvantage in their collective bargaining power with their deity — didn’t have the forces of prayer-place relations to back them up — to withhold prayer; or take their prayers elsewhere.”

“Or the benefits of transparency and ethical conduct. And it was even worse than that James! Having lost out, they remained miserable about their now unwanted circumstances. They blamed themselves for their expulsion from their Promised Land.”

“Why?”

“Because their rabbis led them to believe that far from their deity having failed to fulfil his part of the bargain, they’d disobeyed him and were being punished for failing to keep theirs!”

“Their deity was not a team captain, shaming his own. He should have had the decency to bring the dispute before a properly constituted tribunal of elders for conciliation.” James was so positively hostile this time that he betrayed his facetiousness.

“Their deity obviously knew what was best for them, Christophe responded; and then adding with a sardonic smile, “being omniscient and omnipotent.”

“Surely, things changed?”

“Well, yes. They did — after a fashion: they got worse. A left-wing faction emerged that perceived the need for change. They set about undermining the authority of the rabbis of ‘the chosen’ by forming a breakaway movement that ultimately secured rights to intercede on behalf of everyone with … well … what early on they represented was the same deity.”

“Those rebels must have been ‘The Judean Peoples’ Party!’”

Christophe looked puzzled.

“You know? In the movie, The Life of Brian.”

“The strange thing,” Christophe responded, ignoring his grandson, “was that the person the opposition chose to be the figurehead of this breakaway movement had no pretensions to start a new religion but merely to make their deity appear ethically correct by inviting others into the fold. In fact, when he was chosen as leader, he had already died; and I’m sure you know who I’m talking about.”

“Jesus Christ!” James sighed; such that his words all but assumed the pejorative.

“No prizes for getting that right. Everyone now agrees that this obviously gifted and humble man had come to a less paranoid conclusion than that of his opponents.”

“Yeah, how do you see that?”

“He deduced — with assistance from a claimed deity that he called his father — that it would be a far more equitable arrangement if everyone could have the opportunity to participate in the benefits claimed to be offered by the deity of ‘the ‘chosen’ — but then only enjoyed by an elite few. This new deity — and there’s some doubt as to whether he really was new — promised eternal life — not just to the select group of ‘the chosen’ — but to all those that chose to believe in him.”

“Of course: equal opportunity for all!”

Christophe lowered his eyes and kept talking. “The thing that was attractive for the many disadvantaged who did not belong was that the covenant on offer would be personal to the individual and not given to Christ’s father by a third party on the part of others. Each individual would be responsible for his or her part of the bargain. No one person could be brought into disrepute by the actions of others. See the difference?”

“Sure! I can see that this deity was definitely male; and that collective bargaining was on the way out and work choices was on the way in.”

“You’re a little ahead of yourself, James. You seem to have difficulty in separating the secular from the spiritual. But then again, I must say it’s remarkable how little time it has taken you to mould your thinking to the idea of a global work ethic being applied to the business of religion.”

“Thank you, Grandpa.”

“The important thing to remember is that this undoubtedly charismatic figure placed in centre field by the left-wingers of the tribe of ‘the chosen’ is now seen by most social historians to have made an absolute mess of things.”

“Really? How do you see that?’

“Well, having been accused of sedition by the controlling Romans ? rejected by those folk from whom he had attracted much earlier support ? abandoned by his followers and maligned by those intermediaries who had refused to recognize his credentials as an emissary from their deity ? ? any thinking person would have to say that his cause lay shattered ? lost for all money.”

“A real-life Brian! No doubt about it, when you think about it.”

“When you think about it?” Christophe accompanied his query with his eyes narrowed and his face flushed.

“Yeah, being God’s son, you’d have thought he was on a slam dunk. Instead, he became a Brian.”

The colour in Christophe’s face changed to reflect an acknowledgment of his grandson’s perception.

“There’s more.”

“Yeah, I know. He took his punishment on the chin.”

“In a way, that’s right James. He forgave his accusers; was thought to have died on a wooden cross; reputedly got up to fight another day; and this is the strange thing ? he never deigned to say anything himself again but left others to claim victory for him. Those others claimed their newly found leader’s death was not an end, but the beginning of mankind’s salvation — his defeat, a victory.”

“That’s an oxymoron if ever I’ve heard one.”

“Certainly, calling a defeat a victory is a bit hard to swallow. But, that’s how it comes down to us.”

“Never say die! That’s the message I read.” James slapped both hands on the table in front of him, taunting his grandfather to acknowledge his irreverence.

Christophe bit his lower lip. “Well, I don’t think that’s the spin Christ’s followers applied to it at the time. Would you like that coffee now?”

“Have you got the time?”

“Sure. I have a reserved seat and the trial doesn’t start for another hour. What would you like?”

“I’ll have a long black, thank you, Grandpa.”

Christophe caught the eye of the waiter as he sped past and gave their order in broken French. It was a minute before he returned to take the order and another five before the waiter brought two long blacks with a small jug of skim milk on the side for Christophe.

“How do you see it from there, Grandpa? The usual biff and shove I suppose.” James was sitting back on his chair again.

“As you might imagine, when two parties have a faction fight, the waters become muddied; largely due to misinformation from each side: fake news as you say. But the left-wing faction finally got itself into print with three narratives on the life of their fallen leader emphasising his humanity, his suffering and the so-called satanic dangers that humanity had to endure in the meantime.”

“How long was that supposed to go on for?”

“Until Christ’s so-called Second Coming prior to what was already referred to in the written works as ‘an apocalyptic end of time.’”

“The politics of hope and fear: wins plenty of elections!”

Christophe chose not to respond, but found himself adjusting his sitting position as he continued, “Redemption for humanity from the wickedness of the world could occur for all those who believed in this new leader — according to the first three texts that circulated amongst the left-wingers.”

“Those were three of the four gospels of the New Testament?”

“Your father did teach you something after all, James. Yes, Mark, Matthew and Luke ? some seventy years after the event, as we now know.”

“Seventy years! Leaves lots of room for poetic licence!”

“They were very instructive in the light of what was to follow later when the author or authors of John’s gospel got into print.”

“Oh?”

“I’ll come back to that if we’ve got time. In the meantime — and, I’d have to say, regrettably — in order to present to the public their leader’s death in apparent disgrace as a plausible victory — the left-wingers of ‘the chosen’ set about demonising their right-wing opponents.”

“How’s that?”

“In those three narratives detailing the life of their fallen leader the forces of evil were identified with all those who opposed Christ and tried to destroy him ? including those of the mainstream hierarchy who are still called rabbis.”

“I can well imagine what happened next: all hell broke loose,” James exclaimed, at the same time as leaning back and tilting his chair onto its back legs; this time with that care acknowledged to his grandfather by a grin on his face.

Christophe reciprocated with a grimace before saying, “That too, I guess. The rabbis of the established order didn’t take kindly to this discrediting of their reputation. They had much to lose. The proposed new personal arrangements between the individual and God did not suit them one little bit. They couldn’t see how they could play an effective role in interceding on behalf of their tribe with their deity on a one-to-one basis, let alone on behalf of those who were outside their tribe.

“In other words,” James interrupted, “the right-wing intermediaries recognized that their power base depended upon their ability to convince their lot that it was they who had the exclusive right to negotiate with God on their tribe’s behalf.”

“Just as then, we see Jews today both as a race of people and a religious group.”

 “But their religion is exclusive to their tribe,” James exclaimed.

“Christophe eyed his grandson in the manner of one discovering his latent erudition under a misplaced bushel. “That’s still the case, if you’re an Orthodox Jew. If you are an Orthodox Jew you must live at all times and in every country in accordance with Commandments in their Torah claimed to have been given directly from their deity to Moses at Mount Sinai. They claim that God’s benefaction upon them as a tribe was negotiated all those millennia ago; and to include others in that benefaction would be a betrayal of that promise given to their deity. Sealed their future disengagement with secular society in a way.”

Mais oui!” James declared as he sat back on his chair with arms folded, stretching and arching his back. “They were simply sticking to their understanding of God’s bargain. Wouldn’t you, if you were in their sandals?”

Christophe looked at his half empty cup before responding. “Well … yes! You could put it that way: so succinctly, like your father, if I may say. Some would say that they were not ready for the globalization of God; if for no other reason than that they were unaware that the world in which they lived was inhabited by many, many more people than they could ever have possibly imagined.”

“So they resisted the threatened change in their work conditions,” James declared in the vein of an oracle. “Any dedicated union leader would have done the same — would have done everything in his power to hold onto his members’ existing work rights and privileges — and his own position.”

“You really do think in terms of work-place relations, James,” Christophe replied, at the same time returning James’s all-knowing smile with one of his own that recorded that his grandson was not yet entitled to his. “Remember! Up until then the established order of ‘the chosen’ intermediaries had enjoyed the inside running with the world’s then enforcer, the occupying Romans. They tried to hang on as long as they could. They gave their opposition a bad press at every opportunity in an attempt to maintain the status quo. But, the intermediaries on the left had greater vision! They saw that if they could spell out to the individual the terms of this new contract under an umbrella of Roman protection, it would provide them with lifetime job security, and most importantly, a much wider power base.”

“Now you’re talking my language!” an ebullient James exclaimed. “Union leaders are always looking for more members. Just think how many tribes the Romans had already conquered in the Middle East by this time.”

Christophe was surprised how easily James had managed to galvanize his thinking. He felt as though he had received his second wind as he declaimed, “When the Second Coming promised in the texts of the early synoptic gospels had not occurred after the passing of two generations following the death of Christ, the leaders of the new order — who now called themselves Christians — certainly came under the hammer from the rabbis of the Orthodox order.”

“To put up or shut up,” James interjected once again, a smug look now firmly emblazoned amongst the freckles on his face.

“That’s one way of looking at it, James. Certainly, Christians who believed that they had been discriminated against suffered much ridicule and loss of life in maintaining their position in the face of trenchant discrimination and abuse. Yet, they themselves were quite capable of accusing and maligning their detractors!”

“Ah! The origins of victimology we have today,” James, once again, interjected.

“That may only be partly true, James, when you consider the role played today by state-sanctioned political correctness competing with state-sanctioned religious freedom. There are some interesting parallels in what early Christians did two thousand years ago with what the pope at this very moment might be contemplating. Changing the script to render it more credible would be one way to describe what happened two thousand years ago — so as the early Christian Church could meet the meagre demands for credibility of belief in a society controlled by Romans who had been brought up on the gods of Greek mythology.”

“Oh!”

“It was done ninety years after by what John had to say in his gospel.”

“Ninety years after! My God! Imagine the changes to one’s recollection of the facts after all that time. I’d love to cross-examine the witnesses to those recorded events.”

“Indeed, James. In a stroke of genius that has marked its creative thinking over the last two millennia, the early Christian Church made certain adjustments to the purport of the historical records that have come down to us in the first three synoptic gospels. Changes made suggest that the deity of their belief had now become incarnate in one whom he had created by willingly experiencing the humiliation and weakness of the human condition. In the terminology of the day, Logos, World Reason, or the Light of God in the form of God’s Son had descended into the world that God had created. Man had become a participant in God’s act of Creation so that the likes of you and me would have a better chance of believing that we might one day ascend to God in heaven.”

“Ah! An early spiritual stimulus package.”

“Certainly a metaphysical stimulus.”

“What a great marketing ploy! Making God a man so that one in particular could speak on his behalf.”

“When you think about it, transparency and best practice governance would oblige the Church today to disclose such changes having been made in order to have the Confederation maintain the sanctions offered to institutions wishing to freely promote their religious beliefs: really an extension beyond the freedom of expression that the rule of law guarantees under our Confederation’s Universal Code of Conduct.”

 “Yeah! A religious community today must have confidence in the truth of its product, just like any other consumer: otherwise, it’s dead in the water.”

 “Well — that’s probably why the author, or authors of John’s gospel made a momentous further change with far reaching consequences extending right into this millennium! It was made clear that salvation for all of humanity under a Christian deity would, for all practical purposes, occur after death — and not in the present world — as had been suggested by its earlier three synoptic gospels: what, in turn, had already been suggested in the Jewish Torah .”

“Doesn’t surprise!” James declaimed, now leaning forward, careful to ease himself slowly from his former failed fulcrum position. “Deferring one’s liabilities for the next generation to pay is a definite ‘no, no’ as the populists soon found out when they realised that there was no lender of last resort like an IMF to bail them out of their profligacy. But if you can keep rolling them over forever and believe that there’s a lender of last resort standing ready to bail you out — offering you salvation on conditions that enable you to redeem your debts to society — it would be difficult to resist such a bailout offer from Christ’s claimed father to believe in him.”

“But,” Christophe was quick to interpolate, “you wouldn’t want to overlook the pain and suffering of the austerity measures imposed by the intermediaries who negotiated the finer details of such a bailout on behalf of their deity.”

“You mean the fear bit?”

“Well, it did its job for more than two millennia, give or take a Reformation, a Counter-Reformation and an Enlightenment. But as we’ve all become less God-fearing, the system looks increasingly broken. Just as sovereign governments can no longer be relied upon to meet their debt obligations, so also is society less prepared to accept a promise of redemption from their lender of last resort in a claimed afterlife.”

“Geez, Grandpa! With all that has been going on, society can’t be blamed.”

Christophe watched the freckles on James’s face change to pink as he replied, “Just as there were naysayers who were ignored in the last global financial crisis and lost their jobs whilst trying to convince others of the error of their ways, so also were there deniers in the ranks of the right-wing intermediaries of ‘the chosen’ two thousand years ago. Their opponents scoffed at the suggestion that the promises of the opposition’s deity would only be made good after their believers had died. They made unkind remarks about the credulity of those who might choose to believe in what they claimed was a far-fetched furphy. They insisted that their deity — the God of what we know as the Old Testament — would make his coming on this planet when salvation would be available to those who had paid their debts to God and society. And they, too, suffered ‘big-time’ — as you might say.”

“You’d have to think it’s a bit of a dud promise, Grandpa. Plenty of life in other galaxies in other solar systems waiting to be discovered. And just think of the number of those who have already died waiting?”

But Christophe was intent on pursing his own agenda. “There’s more! Riding on a high following the slaughter of the right–wing at Masada and the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem by the Romans in 73 CE, the left-wing group of intermediaries set out to demonize not only the right-wing faction of their tribe, but their issue as well!”

 “That’s about when you said those first three gospels appeared, isn’t it?’

“That’s right.”

“I guess the Romans were more interested in trashing the Jewish bankers’ records when they destroyed the Temple: monies owed would have funded their campaigns. But why would the others — the left wingers want to put the boot in?”

“I believe it had everything to do with the fact that the Orthodox Jews were still refusing to recognize Christ as their predicted messiah — after all that time. It also appears to be a payback for earlier having taken the radical step of expelling Christ’s disciple, John, from their synagogue.

“Carrying a grudge for nearly a hundred years is very much a case of sour grapes. But to promote a story attributing a wrong to a class of people — as opposed to a group of individuals acting in concert ? offends everything I’ve ever learnt here at university on the demands of non-discrimination.”

“Reminding religions of past discrimination doesn’t get legs today, James: might offend.”

Christophe sat back in his chair waiting for James’s response; which came with the freckles on James’s face disappearing into a crimson flush, “But it reaped the harvest of a holocaust two thousand years later! C’est terrible! They should expunge those racial slurs from the record book.”

“Well, — much has been done to make amends, James. But what’s probably worse for all of us — you included — is that this last gospel of John had a downside for mankind; some even suggest a slur upon humanity itself. Rather than speaking of a unity between Man and God — an investing of God’s Spirit in Man as had been suggested by the first three synoptic gospels — the author of John effected a downgrading of Man’s role in the scheme of things.”

“A credit-rating downgrade! Who did John think he was: Moody’s? I would have thought an almighty deity would only ever have invested in triple A rated securities. Why would such a deity ever want to junk his own after investing seed capital in mankind and then going in big with his only son when he thought he needed bailing out? It doesn’t make sense.”

“Christians can thank Paul for what you might call our junk-bond status, James.”

“Paul?”

“Paul of Tarsus — one of the Apostles. Paul suggested that to dwell upon Christ’s humanity might give us a tendency to rely upon knowledge rather than faith. Instead of believing such that we might understand, we might seek to understand in order that we might believe!”

“A deliberate dumbing-down, eh? The first sign of a lack of transparency in the marketplace! In class, we have to back up our statements with authorities. If we don’t, we are accused of post-modernism — purveyors of fake news, even. You know? Everything is relative: there’s no such thing as truth.”

“Agreed! But, you see — relying on rational thought would inevitably lead to a disregard of the role that the Church would play as a mediator between God and mankind infected with original sin.” Christophe bowed his head in recognition that he had come to the nub of his polemic.

“What’s this original sin? Am I supposed to have it?”

“We are all born evil. Some call it ‘the human condition’: you might think of it in terms of a virus that destroys your hard disc.”

“I’ve got that!? I’ve enough troubles already without having a parasite attached to me that I have to carry around all my life — and be made to pass onto any kids I might have in the future. Without even knowing I’ve got it! How unethical is that!?

Just as Christophe was about to speak, James shouted, “AGH! Don’t tell me anymore! If I don’t open the attachment, I can’t get it!”

“Well! That is a novel approach, James. Would-be Christians should have been counselled along those lines before being baptised. I won’t tell you anymore then.”

“I now realise why dad gave me the opportunity to make up my own mind, instead of jumping in before I had a mind of my own. You would have taught him that, Grandpa.”

“I may well have, James; because after John and Paul got together a dualism existed between the present world and a claimed afterlife then called the Kingdom of Heaven: between God’s omnipotence and Man’s frailty. Divisions were created — a duality of opposites between God and Man, good and evil, the faithful and the damned — and their future respective places of abode — heaven and hell.”

James was now looking intently at his grandfather, hanging upon his every word. “From then on,” Christophe continued without drawing breath, “the overriding emphasis of the Christian message was to negate the value of the present life and what was then a fast fading promise of a claimed Second Coming of Christ. Rather, one had to look for salvation in a redeemed afterlife. And guess what? That’s where the Church in Rome would be required to function.”

“Ah! Ah! A bailout on conditions of forced austerity and penance! God was prepared to devalue his own currency at the same time as creating a bureaucracy of religious police: a fiscal stimulus and jobs for the boys combined! He knew all about business and politics.”

Christophe was startled at what he was hearing from a member of the younger generation: it caused him to lift his shoulders from their slumped position, looking to gain added emphasis to what he was about to say, “As might be expected of an omniscient deity, James. But God was not quite ready to choose which side to support. There was still a lot of fight in the old guard. The thing that was really causing the most angst was money and power — as you infer. The existing order of intermediaries was insisting that the taille, or tithe, upon the income of ‘the chosen’ should be continued to be paid to them; and not to those seeking to establish a breakaway movement.”

“I knew it!” James was now leaning over the table gesticulating as he spoke. “Grandpa, if I were heading up the existing order of intermediaries, I wouldn’t want a failed upstart hijacking my team’s time-honoured work practices: let alone the prestige, power and cash flow that go with it.” James sat back in his chair again before adding a post-script, “And if I were outside ‘the chosen’ group and could still get the same benefits without incurring a levy of ten percent, I wouldn’t want to join the union in the first place. I’d go online and download an app.”

“I can see you having a career in politics, James. But I’m sure you’ll appreciate how difficult it was for the existing order of intermediaries to prove that this new deity’s after-death promise would not be fulfilled. You see, the new class of intermediaries, called priests of the Church in Rome, could never be called upon to account for this new deity’s promises. They were still able to require the due performance of those same Ten Commandments and more from those willing to accept its promised benefits; but their deity could never be accused of a delay entitling the recipient of his agent’s promises to treat the negotiated contract as repudiated. Neat! Eh? No room for disillusionment.”

“What a great marketing ploy! Making promises that don’t have to be made good until after you’ve died — and with an upfront payment of — what do they call it — penitence! A lifetime of employment without accountability — job conditions that disappeared for most in the Western world before the end of the century! And they’ve had it for over two thousand years! No wonder there was such a big punch-up at the time!” James slapped his hands on his thighs as much for emphasis as to remind himself that his own job prospects were not assured.

Christophe spooned the dregs from his cup of coffee before replying, “Yes, James, big business has always found that it needs to align itself with the power brokers of those in government in order to maintain its own position of dominance in the marketplace. So, all that remained was for the intermediaries of the new order on the left to convince their Roman protectors that they had no aspirations for political power when they sought to provide ‘a single church’ entity to interpret the new leader’s message.”

“Makes sense! Jesus Christ should have sat down and talked, rather than going feral with the occupying Romans. Don’t you think he really was challenging them by riding into town on the back of a donkey claiming to be the new messiah?”

“Possibly; but he must have been frustrated by the corruption in the Roman ranks. Herod was a very venal person, you know. He would have been creaming his share off the top from those in the Temple for pushing business their way and then enforcing their usurious loans. Anyhow, to get back to where I was … after a few hiccups the Roman Emperor of the day was convinced by his advisers that Rome could prosper in the acquisition and exploitation of its neighbouring provinces if it could have the God of Christianity on its side. The two entered into a power sharing arrangement.”

“Of course! A duopoly! Rome would have capitalised the bankers of the left-wing co-operative to enable them to offer financial services to the vanquished. They would have been able to offer a one stop business and religious package: a write-off of their existing debts; new loan facilities at lower rates of interest; extended terms over one’s lifetime and an afterlife care and mediation facility for their souls with the new God if they committed an event of default.”

“I never would have thought of it that way, James — an event of default. I must say it’s consistent with the Church declaring that when you die it stands ready to mediate between you and your maker — to help save you from everlasting damnation — enforced by its mandatory moral austerity programs based on your fear of having committed a mortal sin.”

“It would have set a precedent for future generations of bankers and their governments to follow,” James declared. “I reckon it could even be viewed today as the first credit default swap: a promise of going to heaven to avoid the punishment of hell — with Satan setting the spreads — God keeping the books — and the Church taking an annual premium as insurance against default. That’s it in a nutshell!”

Christophe felt obliged to pause and observe his grandson’s self-congratulatory exuberance before adding his own addendum, “Winners and losers to be announced on the Day of Judgment: not far off the mark, James. I’m sure the Class Plaintiffs in the forthcoming trial will be anxious to tell the Court how the odds were stacked against humanity by God’s delegate here on planet Earth.”

“I bet the early popes wanted more risk premium for default; may have even enlisted help from Satan to even things up,” James said, clasping his hands.

“Certainly, the moral austerity programs got worse — got more arduous as popes found they had to keep moving the goal posts.”

“No wonder the Church faithful eventually lost interest in paying their premiums for something they once thought was an investment as good as a sovereign bond.”

“You mean they would have realised that no useful purpose would be served by relying upon an unproven lender of last resort. But whichever way you want to look at it back then, James, the early Church was headed for top spot on the leader board after the big money got behind it all those centuries ago. The tie up was to have lasting consequences for Western civilisation.”

“Once you have political certainty on critical social policy, you have investment,” James declared.

“It’s why you were able to attend the university just up the road from here, James; perhaps the first in the Western world. Kings, princes, sultans, emirs, autocrats, despots — rulers everywhere — have always been willing to fund those teaching their offspring to think rationally.”

“I reckon that’s why governments have always had a love affair with their bankers: ready to bail them out — to save them from the hell of penury — with taxpayers’ monies.”

“Especially when they’ve encouraged them to make soft loans to those unable to pay them back — and then asking them to take a haircut.”

“I know all about the hell of imposed austerity programs. I’ve got enough problems coping with my student loan repayments without having to worry about metaphysical torments — and that’s not to forget your financial support and concern for my wellbeing, Grandpa.”

“James! It’s the least I could do. If on your way through your course at the Sorbonne you learn to engage with those who still find themselves unable to avoid the austerity conditions imposed by the early intermediaries who negotiated the terms of humanity’s bailout by the deity of Christianity two thousand years ago, I shall feel rewarded. It’s really what this coming trial is all about. Just imagine if you had the misfortune to have been led to believe — made to believe — that when you die you’re going to a fiery furnace with a devil standing over you prodding you towards hell’s all-consuming flames — because you’ve committed a mortal sin. And it’s not just for one night, but for an eternity! How many generations do you think it might take to alleviate their anguish? It’s no use the Church saying the authors of their sacred texts did not know what they were saying: only speaking in metaphor.”

“Grandpa, they’re not still into that, are they? Why would anyone want to believe in such crap? More importantly, what sadomasochist bastard would want to impregnate my mind with such vile thoughts?”

“The early Church would have blamed Satan, James. And if you have read John’s gospel, there’s plenty of evidence that Satan existed. And if you come to the view that the deity of Christianity colluded with Satan to enforce his edicts — his punishment of the wicked — you’d have to put to one side all the killing in the name of God that goes on today. It certainly went on just down the hill from where we just left to walk here. Some five hundred years ago you may well have been part of a jeering mob in the Place Maubert watching Étienne Dolet first strangled and his body then burnt with his books on a pyre close by to where we were standing a short while ago.”

 “Geez, Grandpa! I’d hope not. I avoid getting sunburnt at all times; let alone getting my stubble singed.”

Christophe watched James’s freckles disappear into a florid face as he added, “His misfortune was to have been branded a recidivist atheist by the then religious faculty of the same university you’re attending.”

“Bloody hell!”

 “Dolet’s folly was to reject the concept of the Trinity and to publish his reasons in a treatise in the then thriving printing and publishing industry in Lyon.”

“Not sure I know about the Trinity,” James interjected, “but I’m beginning to see similarities in what is happening today with what was happening then — but inversely. Now we have a predominantly secular and multicultural society in our Confederation demanding that the business of religion conform with the consumer product disclosure codes; and instead of a local paper printing press, we have the likes of Facebook and Twitter circulating in every corner of the universe.”

Christophe paused to acknowledge his grandson before continuing, “Dolet thought that other publications under his hand that had met with critical academic acclaim could save him from his enemies. He went out of his way to petition both the King and parliament in what became widely circulated letters pleading his case for justice. Dolet thought hehad Francis as an ally in his cause, as he had been in continuing conflict with the pope and his holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, from the very outset of his reign; and he had quickly gained the reputation as a supporter of humanist causes. It was rumoured that Dolet may even have been an illegitimate son of a very youthful Francis.”

“Yeah?”

“The Me2 Movement never existed in those days, James.” Christophe acknowledged a smile from James, before continuing, “Before he had ended serving a prison term for an earlier offence, the King had granted Dolet a ten year licence to publish works under his own hand or supervision: Imagine that happening today! Whatever the truth, Dolet would have viewed Francis as someone most likely to support what was to become one of the central pillars of democracy that you and I enjoy today — the freedom to express one’s opinion in the public interest.”

“Good on him!”

“However, Dolet did not count on the acrimony that had already been generated between believers and non-believers in predominantly Catholic France occasioned by the ease with which the widespread dissemination of opinion could be generated by the newly invented printing press — and which by then had degenerated into anonymous scurrilous comment — uncensored.”

“Social media today!” James interjected.

“He was not lucky.”  

“What happened to him?”

 “Just as it has happens today. He found himself the test case for a similar conflict of laws that beckons today with our member state sanctioned morality laws that offend religious teaching based upon sacred religious texts. It was the new media of the day that stirred the pot as it was brought to the boil — the very same printing press that Dolet had made the facilitator of his philosophical thought on religious belief. It soon became the catalyst for divisions in society that led to the religious wars that were to plague Europe for centuries to come. Contrary opinions once only voiced beyond the pulpit, could now be widely circulated uncensored, en masse, in print. By the time Dolet’s petition reached the king to restrain the Church, Francis had changed his mind on the wisdom of assailing Catholicism with what today we call Protestant rationalism.” 

“Oh my God! I can see it all happening again today,” James interjected.

“They’ve been fortunate here in our Confederation in embracing the freedom of religious expression — as far as I can see; but only by the balancing restraint of extending the law in relation to false, deceptive and misleading conduct to those Scheduled Religions where they are carrying on a business.  One can only hope it ends well. But I should finish the story, as it has much relevance to you, personally — and what will surely be argued in the trial of the Pope.”

“Oh!”

Christophe paused to acknowledge his grandson before continuing. “Some eight years after he came on the throne, Francis, at the instigation of the Church in Paris, changed the Place Maubert from a meeting place for students of your university to that of the venue for torture on the wheel for heretics and their burning at the stake. Parodies of the Catholic Mass had already been circulating in the South-West of France and elsewhere for some years when, on a night some ten years later, notices denouncing the Mass appeared simultaneously in the streets of Paris, Lyon and other major cities. Francis, a believer in the divine right of kings to rule, had no difficulty in being persuaded that such action was an attack both upon him and royalty itself.”

“An early coordinated ‘twittering’!”

Christophe lifted his eyebrows, but not his gaze as he continued as though never having been interrupted, “Even though this ‘Affair of the Placards’, as it came to be known, was found to have been instigated by a Protestant priest, Dolet was on borrowed time. Having escaped from imprisonment a second time, and then having sought refuge under the protection of the Prince of Piedmont — who likewise had thumbed his nose at papal claims for temporal power — he made the mistake of venturing back to Lyon to seek out his then highly reputed humanist printer and publisher, Sebastian Gryphius, to assist in publishing his ill-fated petition.

“James, if you ever have the opportunity to visit Lyon — as your grandmother and I have —  you can still see the houses in the main street where the early printers carried on book selling. As with other businesses and professions, printers and booksellers had a guild where everyone working in the industry knew each other. Dolet was now well recognized for his scientific scholarship and views at odds with religion. I believe he was almost certainly turned into the authorities by associates of one in direct business competition with Gryphius. This was another Lyon based printer publisher, bookseller and leading figure in civic affairs; very much on the side of the Church and the King ? Guillaume de Rouville.”

“My God! Another Judas!”

“It was he who had much to lose by the disparaging of Roman Catholicism. By all reports, the Church in France was his all but exclusive — and dare I say — biggest client: his sponsor. And if your grandmother has never told you, James, you should know that she is directly descended from Guillaume de Rouville — later ennobled for his services to the Church and monarchy by Francis’s successor!”

“Really? Zuit alors! Where does that place me?”

“I hope — on the right side of the fence, James — as someone having an interest in the court proceedings I’m about to attend.”

Pausing only to acknowledge James’s grimace, Christophe continued in the fashion of tutor and pupil, “In recognition of the principles for which he stood, a bronze effigy of Dolet was erected in the Place Maubert in 1889 — presumably in conjunction with the Paris Universal Exhibition of that year and the enlightenment values that it promoted, symbolized by Gustave Eiffel’s tower.”

“But we didn’t see it there, Grandpa.”

“No we didn’t: only that patrimonial plaque. In 1942, in an act symbolic of the freedoms denied to Dolet and those states already vanquished in Europe, the occupying Germans removed the bronze and melted it down for their guns — not unsurprisingly, without complaint from the Church.”

“Gee, I can see why we came walking around here today, Grandpa. No wonder you’ve got an interest in what’s happening in the courtroom tomorrow. How can we still have people killing others who disagree with their views believing their victims deserve to go straight to hell? How can they think they are right — always right? Promotion of the belief in the existence of hell has to be discriminatory and an incitement to hatred of others — if nothing else.”

“It can go further than that, James. Remember the famous Australian rugby player, Israel Folau: he believed that gays would go to hell unless they repent; and that was just as the Australian government had legalised sexual relations between consenting adults of any gender. He was accused of discriminatory conduct that brought the Australian rugby franchise into disrepute. But Folau believed he had a right to express his religious views without someone being offended by his remarks because he had the right to practise the tenets of his religion; and the law protected that right.  If it were otherwise, he saw his personal integrity being trashed, along with his high media profile gained over many years for upholding his religious beliefs.” 

“Yes, I remember that Grandpa. It was a big issue at the time as to whether the major sponsor for Australian Rugby might withdraw its sponsorship because its CEO was gay and a vehement supporter of same sex marriage. The problem has not gone away.”

“I’m fairly confident that the pending Court’s proceedings will point to a way forward on that problem, James. As with all conflicts of rights, there was no answer readily at hand in Folau’s time.  But the Confederation has now separated the business of religion from the practise of one’s religion at the same time as extending the law relating to transparency and good governance to all the Scheduled Religions; and that looks as though it might make a difference.”

“But the Church still teaches the concept of hell as you say, and went out of its way to do so — the way I hear it — with its ‘heavenly experience’ app. Doesn’t sound ethical to me, Grandpa.”

 “Ah! But the Church is now promoting hell as ‘a nothingness’, James?”

“Still has that unethical look of solitary confinement, Grandpa.”

“O.K. Perhaps you’d like to go to heaven when you die?”

“First tell me what to expect when I get there?”

“Anything an ethical person could possibly want, we’re told. First on the list would be a healthy life-style.”

 “As we imagine it down here on Earth? Perhaps, I should download the Pope’s endorsed ‘heavenly experience’ app — I could visit heaven now — see what’s around the corner — put my toe in and test the waters.”

“Might as well. They say the program has recently changed. But I don’t know whether heaven will still be around after the trial.”

“You really think so?”

“It’s on the cards if the concept of hell is found to be unethical. Allowing Christian theology to be caught up in the promotion of the concept of hell in the commercial arena was not very smart. The Pope only has himself to blame. His computer clerics really did overstep the mark when they designed that ‘hellish add-on’ to his ‘heavenly experience’ app — just to make a more odious comparison to heaven, mind you.”

“I know. As I hear it, too many people wanted to pay a visit to the virtual reality of hell. A lot didn’t want to get out until it really mattered. Others complained because it caused too much mental anguish; and besides, they couldn’t stop their kids from accessing it.”

“That’s why the Minister slapped a warning notice on it,” Christophe remarked as he looked around for the waiter to ask for the bill. “The way I see it, the concept of hell in the theology of Christianity is heading for oblivion.”

“Good riddance! We’ve got enough troubles in the world without having to worry about going to hell. And why would anyone want to know about a heaven conjured up by the same person who sponsored those images of hell on the web. Hell! Why would you?”

James was still grinning at his own solecism when Christophe remarked, “Well, rumour now has it that the Class Plaintiffs have new evidence that the Pope knew or ought to have known that heaven does not exist.”

“I heard something of that. What do you think, Grandpa?”

“I’ve heard how segments of secular society think about it. They believe they’re being made collaborators in crimes against humanity if they continue to permit the Church’s belief in the concept of heaven in a claimed afterlife to remain unchallenged. They’re fed up with innocent people getting killed by brain-washed suicide bombers believing that they’re going to spend a permanent holiday in a paradise that doesn’t exist! No matter that it’s not the same as the heaven of Christianity or Judaism.”

“Perhaps the outcome of the trial will see a change for the better?”

“You’d hope so. But I can’t see the Pope giving up the concept of hell! The Church has too much at stake in promoting its deity as the one true God in competition with the Jews and Islam. And they all have a vested interest in keeping the concept of an almighty, omnipotent deity exclusive to their own believers.”

“Do you think I could still get a seat in the courtroom?”

“I don’t know. You can try. I’ve got a reserved seat. I tried to get you one some months ago, but it was fully booked: probably because of the new evidence going before the Court that the aggrieved plaintiffs have got their hands on. Its early publication has been suppressed.”

“Thanks for thinking of me, Grandpa. Anyhow, I’ve just remembered Hélo?se wants to take a trip down to the South to Avallon and I promised her that we could go. You’ll have to give me a ball by ball.”

Christophe blushed. The name of Hélo?se had never been mentioned in their earlier conversation when James had met him at Paris’s Charles De Gaulle airport on his flight from Sydney. “That’s okay, James. I understand. Things temporal always seem to get in the way of the metaphysical when you’re young.”

“Don’t worry Grandpa! Being with Hélo?se when she’s on song is like being in heaven.”

“I thought you didn’t know about heaven. Have you been in touch with Rebecca recently?”

“Yes, we’ve spoken on the phone a number of times and exchanged SMS’s. And I let her know you’d touched down safely.”

“She asked me to give you her love when she dropped me at the airport.”

“That’s nice. She’s a great girl. I miss her a lot.”