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The rain started on Sunday and didn’t let up for a week. It was so windy on the Wednesday that the large oak on the corner of Smith and Giles fell over, blocking the road and taking a telephone line down with it. On Thursday morning my father phoned. He needed someone to run down to the shops and pick up a few odds and ends for Father Thomas and collect a package from the book store for him. I would have said no, surely someone else could do it, except for the book store. That sweetened the deal somewhat.
I got around to the store at about eleven, walked in and browsed around. There’s something about second hand bookstores which I love: they smell different for a start, a kind of musty, dusty, woody smell. This store I knew well and soon meandered towards the back. There were a few new books in the war section and one which I had read before but not in a while. I picked up the hardcopy with a grey slip cover, The Memoirs of Field Marshal Montgomery, and started paging through it. I needed a little courage.
“Hi Angus, what you doing here?”
“Oh, hi, Nancy. Nothing really, just running an errand for Father Thomas.”
Nancy Littleton. Brunette with lily white skin and a musical voice. She didn’t talk, she sang. I was a bit besotted.
“mmm, yes, the book he was looking for has just come in, give me a sec.” She disappeared towards the counter in the front. When she came back she was holding a small hard backed, leather bound, gold leafed, bevelled and ridged book.
“There you go Angus, did Father Tom ask you to pay or should I put it on his account.”
“I guess his account,” I said wondering if that was what I was supposed to say. What do you say anyway during those hectic moments while your head races to catch up to your heart? I looked down at the book. Mere Christianity, CS Lewis.
“Looks like an interested read,” I got out, starting to feel a bit stupid.
“Well, I best be off.”
The conversation ran like a video tape through my mind. Did it go ok? Did she think I was cool? Why didn’t I say something else? I should have invited her for a coffee? This and a hundred other things twirled away in my mind. Actually I wasn’t too unhappy with the state of affairs when I first left the shop, but by the time I got to St Stephens I was convinced I had made a total hash of things.
It was freezing when I got out of the car. I hurried to the door and knocked. It took a great deal of time until Father Thomas came to the door. He didn’t look too good.
“Hi Father. You OK?”
“Hey Angus, not really, a spot of a cold. Come in quick before you catch a chill son.”
I went in, hung my coat and followed Father Thomas to the kitchen. He had a pot boiling away on the stove and he poured a cup of coco for each of us. We took a seat in the lounge.
“Tell your dad I say thanks for organizing the delivery of the goods. I’m really not up for it at the moment.” After taking a few sips he said, “I’ve been thinking. How is it possible that you don’t believe in God. He’s so clearly visible all around us, in all we do and all we say and all we think. To deny Him seems almost silly to me.”
I looked at him. I’m not sure what I expected.
“Prove he exists,” I half whispered. For some reason I really didn’t want to chat about this.
“Prove he exists?” said Father Thomas with a curl of a smile playing on his face. “Prove he exists. This isn’t going to be a quick discussion Angus, are you sure you want to get into it?”
I wasn’t, but I was sitting in his lounge, drinking his hot coco with the wind and rain pelting outside and nowhere else to go, so I said, “Yes.”
And it began.
“Ok. Angus, you know Jeff, Charles Butler’s boy?”
I nodded. The pimple faced brat had broken a window at our house with a rock a few weeks before and then run away.
“Well, last week, he hammered a nail through Betsy’s dog scamp.”
I was stunned.
“No I’m not, and your response is proof that there is a God.”
“um, I’m not following you Father.”
“Well built inside you and I is the certain knowledge that the act of cruelty, nailing a dog’s paw for example, is wrong. Something put that there. You know it inside of you and so do I and so does little Jeff Butler – even more so after his dad got hold of him.”
I smiled, “Maybe that’s it Father, maybe Jeff’s dad has taught him that being cruel is wrong.”
Father Thomas snorted and I got the impression that Jeffrey got off lucky not having had to face him.
“Angus, just because something is taught and learnt doesn’t make it any less true. You studied mathematics after school as part of your degree didn’t you? Well just because the maths was taught by a teacher and learnt by you doesn’t make it any less true does it?” Father Thomas smiled, sat back and took another sip of his hot coco.
“You still interested in The War Angus?”
“Not as much as when I was a kid.”
“Well would you agree that in the Second World War the Allied Forces were in the right, the cause they fought for, and the Nazi’s were wrong?”
“I see were you’re going.” I sat and thought for a bit. “Hang on. Maybe it’s not right and wrong at all, maybe this feeling of right is in fact a cultural instinct? It’s good for the mass, for everyone, and so therefore I believe that it’s intrinsically right?” The mental exercise was stretching me and I felt elated.
“hmm,” mused the Father. “That’s a modern idea that all you kids are talking about but I don’t think it will hold water for long. You see if morals were just an instinct then why would you sometimes work against what should come the most naturally of all? Say you were in a building and the walls were coming down around you, say you saw a way out and were running for a door with all your strength, say as you were running past a room and you heard a call for help from a child. Surely your instinct would be to save your life as a priority? But at the same time the morally virtues deed would be to assist the child. Instinct and morals certainly are not the same.”
As interesting as this was I wasn’t convinced. This can’t prove the existence of God. It doesn’t make sense…
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