A Dialogue

     Eventually, as always happens in a war zone, they discussed their own mortality. Here, they did not see eye to eye. Val was a devout Catholic and regularly went to the chapel for Mass; Heather, on the other hand, had newly become a devoted atheist. Like many before them, they had some very spirited and spiritual discussions.
     Val never presumed to be superior, nor did he ever proselytize; instead, he just meekly held to his belief that God was indeed alive. His personal belief was that God is Life, and anywhere that there is life, there is God.
     “He is in everyone, Heather. He’s in you, and he’s in me.”
     “He?” Heather asked.
     “It’s just a figure of speech. He’s not an old man with a beard. Nor is he an old woman, with or without a beard. I think that most Catholics don’t have an old-fashioned view of God as someone sitting up in Heaven judging everyone. God is love, life, the guiding principle of the universe.”
     “It’s a leap of faith Val. I can’t make that. Don’t get me wrong, and don’t hold it against me. I actually admire, even envy you for it.” Heather never tried to ridicule Val, as she had too much respect for him. “But, I’m a pragmatist, and I can’t believe in anything that I can’t prove. Religion is just an opiate for the masses, as someone once said.”
     “Marx. A socialist, German Frankenstein who spawned a Russian monster: communism.”
     “What about Hitler? He was religious.”
     “Stalin?”
     “Okay then, that just proves my point. Religion doesn’t enter into it. God or no god, there will be evil. Consider atheists like Darwin, Shelley, Twain, Orwell, Freud, Einstein.”
     “Einstein?”
     “Surely you realize that he was an atheist.”
     “I don’t think so, but let’s call that one a tie. What about Newton, Blake, Ghandi, the Kennedys, Martin Luther King?” 
     “Nevertheless,” she replied, pushing her glasses up. “There’s still some truth to it, isn’t there?”
     “To what?”
     “That religion is a drug.”
     “It doesn’t intoxicate me, but I will admit that it is a relief to know that one day I will rest peacefully, possibly forever.”
     “We will all rest peacefully one day.”
     “I believe in some kind of heaven.” 
     “Peace, life, and suffering, and then peace again. As dust.”
     “The idea of heaven doesn’t appeal to you, even just a little, Heather?”
     “No. It’s just a prize that Christians dangle in front of you, like a carrot.”
     “Carrots are good.”
     “But what if you don’t like carrots? What if the prize is worthless to you? Religion is like a box of Cracker Jacks. The prizes used to be good, remember?”
     Val smiled, and laughed, “Yeah, like whistles and cool key chains and stuff.”
     “But now it’s just crappy stuff, like stickers and fake tattoos. Who wants that?”
     “Oh please, not me!”
     “Don’t mock me, Val.”
     “Sorry.”
     “Yeah well, anyway, no one wants to buy a box of Cracker Jacks anymore because the prizes are worthless. It’s the same with religion: heaven is the prize inside the box of religion. You can’t sell me on religion if I think that heaven is a useless mirage. I would have to be crazy, or you would have to be a hell of a salesman with a kick-ass ad campaign.”
     “What if I just like the Cracker Jacks? What if they make me feel good, and the prize is just a bonus?”
     “What, it makes you feel good? And you get a trinket from St. Peter?”
     “No, but why not believe? Maybe you’re wrong.”
     “Oh, so it’s an odds thing? Why not believe in it, just in case? A crap shoot?”
     “Maybe.”
     “That’s ridiculous. Believe just in case? Okay, say there is a god, don’t you think that he …”
     “She?”
     “Come to think of it, only a man could be so naïve.”
     “Ouch.”
     “But surely he would know the difference between someone who truly believes, and someone who’s just faking it.”
     “Maybe.”
     “A lot of maybes.”
     “Yes, of course, because it’s mysterious.”
     “Mysterious? That’s your proof?”
     “Mysterious and wondrous.”
     Looking around at the desolation, Heather could not resist.
     “Wondrous!”
     “Yes. The world is such a complicated, intricate, and wondrous place.”
     “No. I see a world full of blemishes.”
     “The blemishes make the rest more beautiful.”
     “Even in nature, the blemishes outweigh the beauty.”
     Heather suddenly felt self-conscious.
     “What does that prove?”
     “It proves, my dear Val, that evolution rather than a superior entity is in charge here.”
     “How so?”
     “Trial and error. Survival of the fittest. Everything is evolving through imperfection to try and become perfect.”
     “What about something as complicated as the human body: its brain, its nervous system, its heart?”
     “The heart? You think that’s proof of an intelligent designer?”
     “Sure! The human heart runs better than any machine. Do you know that it pumps a hundred thousand times a day?”
     “It’s flawed.”
     “Flawed?”
     “You heard me. Fundamentally flawed.”
     “A hundred thousand times a day! Could a man-made valve and pump keep that up?”
     “It has a design flaw. Or, if you will, an intelligent designer flaw.”
     “What do you mean?”
     “The carotid arteries are too small. The most important arteries in the human body, and he makes them too small?”
     “Too small?”
     “Yes. To avoid clots and strokes, they need to be bigger. Why would a god do that to us?”
     “Well, maybe it’s a test.
     “A test? Death?”
     “Maybe. Maybe it’s His way of rewarding someone with heaven.”
     “A reward again? What about those who are left behind?”
     “They have to grow into their faith, and sometimes adversity makes one stronger.”
     “You’re missing my point Val.”
     “Which is?”
     “Only evolution, with its millions of changes and adaptations could have possibly created such a flaw. It’s inconceivable to me that a supreme-being would be that cruel and false-hearted.”
     “What if you’re wrong?”
     “Well Val, if there is a god, wouldn’t he better appreciate a logical-thinking sceptic rather than a stupid sheep, blindly following and pretending to believe?”
     “Now I’m a stupid sheep?’
     “You know what I mean.”
     “Maybe I am just hedging my bets. That’s possible. But there’s got to be more.”
     “More than this?”
     “There are more things in heaven and earth, Heather, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
     “The disease, the war, the suffering? Dear Hamlet, do you mean that there’s more?”
     “Exactly. Maybe all of this is really just a test. It’s a sense of accomplishment. Maybe all of our suffering teaches us something. We learn and grow because of it. Maybe heaven is more of a goal than a prize.”
     “Well, I don’t want it. And I don’t want to be tested like a lab rat.”