Many generations after Christian had made his way successfully to the Celestial City, one of his descendants decided to attempt the same journey. The young man came from the Modern branch of the Christians, a recent but powerful sect that had taken over all the Christian clans. Frank, for that was the young man’s name, had no wish to quarrel with his parents, whom he loved, but he was by nature argumentative, more interested in finding out the truth than in getting along with people. He had early on rejected his parents’ creed of spiritual contentment through social progress and pronounced himself an atheist at the age of 12, but as he read of his ancestor’s quest, he began to find fault with his father’s interpretation of the Pilgrim’s story as an allegory of self-actualization.
“The Celestial City,” his father explained, “is only a metaphor for being in touch with ourselves and sensitive to the dignity of every human being. The creator—call him ‘God,’ if you must—all he wants is to have a relationship with us.” But the more his father talked of social justice and the true spirit of the Gospel, the more Frank longed to follow in the Pilgrim’s footsteps. He decided to leave the four bedroom mock-Tudor villa that his family had recently moved into and to set off toward the Celestial City.
Since Frank had no idea of where he could pick up the trail to the wicket gate, he went down to the local bus station to buy a ticket back to Christian’s hometown, a decaying village that lay not far from an interstate highway. Things had surely not got any better in 250 years, he thought, and perhaps the best way to find the truth was to go back to a time before truth had acquired so many layers of trompe l’oeil wallpaper, each one darker than the last. As he entered the waiting room, he felt overwhelmed by the sight of so much human misery: winos, drug-addicted prostitutes, derelicts of every age, sex, and color. The picture of the Celestial City that had been haunting his mind for weeks began to fade, and he wondered what could be done to help these unfortunates. But, as he thought about it, what could he or any man do in the face of human suffering? This was only one bus station in a world full of bus stations, crack houses, and brothels. The planet was one vast Calcutta, an open suppurating wound that even a hundred million doctors could not heal.
Lost in his despondency, Frank did not hear what the stranger was saying to him.
“I said, ‘You shouldn’t let it get you down.’ I know what you’re thinking, that this world is a sewer of vice and corruption and that there is nothing that you or anybody can do to help. Maybe you’re right about these types here. Even so, I come down twice a day to hand out pamphlets and preach the word. Some days one of them might listen, and I’ll take him to the Salvation Army and fix him up, but usually they’re back in 48 hours. I’m Preacher Fearwell.”
Frank commented on the name, and the preacher explained that the family name was originally Farewell. “It’s the same thing I figure, because the Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”
When Frank explained to Fearwell the purpose of his journey and told him of his plan to start his journey from Christian’s hometown, the preacher took him by the arm and told him how dangerous it was. Did he know, for example, how many people died in highway accidents every day? Yes, he knew all about Christian’s journey, but that road was still blocked by the monster Apollyon, and now there were dangerous gangs of premodern bandits who hijacked buses and kidnapped the passengers.
“Do you know what Apollyon signifies, son? He is death, the destroyer. No one can fight death. But you can run away. Life is all there is, it is all anybody has. We are promised life and that abundantly as the reward for our faith, and you must learn to revere life as our greatest gift. That is why I’m here, handing out free needles to the addicts and condoms to the hookers. Maybe I can’t save their souls, but I can help them save their lives. Didn’t the old Pilgrim go off crying ‘Life’? Without life, you’ll never make it to the Celestial City.”
Only half convinced, Frank allowed Fearwell to take him to the house of a friend who could do a better job of explaining to him the importance of life. Leaving the bus station, they drove through a maze of suburban streets, past the entrances of planned developments with thematic names like: Smells and Bells Heritage Estates, Social Gospel Apartments, John Courtenay Murray Villas—retirement homes for American Catholics. “No point in taking any of those streets,” explained Fearwell, “They’re all cul-de-sacs.”
The lady’s name was Safechild, although, as she said, she was a Jellabv on her mother’s side. Besides taking care of her two small children. Mistress Safechild was constantly busy with organizing protests and raids against the agents of Apollyon. Her house—which bore the sign “Temple of Life” over the entry—was a ranch-style mansion, and Frank marveled that she could keep it so clean with two children running around and so much else going on. “Grandmother Jellaby could never keep her house in order, but she hadn’t discovered daycare. Besides, Mr. Safechild works overtime to make the mortgage payments and pay for the cleaning service. That means he’s hardly ever around, but the children are so busy, between daycare, preschool, and extracurricular activities, I don’t know when they’d find more time to spend with their father.”
Fearwell explained Frank’s predicament, and Mrs. Safechild offered to enlist him immediately in Pilgrims for Life. Their goal was to fight against Apollyon and all his works.
“Did you know that all over this city, Apollyon has his temples of death, where they are killing babies and convincing senior citizens to commit suicide? We block the doors, and some of our more zealous members occasionally go in and break up the equipment and kill the death-doctors—not that we condone it, of course, although it does serve them right.”
“But,” Frank argued, “in the Book of Life it says we are not to do evil that good may come of it. Isn’t it wrong to trespass and destroy property?”
“Well, yes,” she conceded, “but less wrong than to let this killing go on. After all, if your neighbor were drowning in a bathtub, you would still break in his door to save him, wouldn’t you?”
“Yes, but in that case I’d know that he’d want to be saved and that, if he could, he would give us permission to break into his house.”
“Well, these babies don’t want to die, either. Imagine you knew that your neighbor were torturing his child. You’d naturally go over and rescue the kid.”
“But in that case I’d have law on my side, in the first place, and, in the second, we’re talking about my neighbor. I can’t very well travel all over the world looking for parents who are abusing their children. Wouldn’t it be better to preach the Word of Life? No one who hears the Word or reads the Book would ever harm his child.”
“In this sinful world? The Word is all very well, but it’s our job to enforce it. Our goal is someday to pass a law against killing children.”
“I hate this killing as much as you do, but if you are right about how evil this world is, what makes you think the rulers who legalized infanticide can be trusted to make good laws. If people are really bent on doing evil, I don’t see how we can stop them. You can’t follow around every pregnant woman for 24 hours a day just to prevent her from having an abortion, and if we hire police to do the job, they’ll be the same people who are now protecting the murderers and beating up your followers. Doesn’t He want us to make our own way to the Celestial City? It’s not as if there’s a monorail. You can’t just buy a ticket for someone and send him in handcuffs to salvation.”
“But think of all those poor sweet babies, millions of them killed every year. The best thing we can do in this world is to save life, no matter what it costs.”
“I would have thought,” suggested Frank, “that the best thing you could do is to take care of your own kids instead of putting them in daycare.” Momentarily flustered, Mrs. Safechild justified her neglect of her own children on the grounds of “the greater good,” adding: “Sometimes we take them to the protests. We put them up in front, because that way the cops won’t attack them.”
“But what if they do get hurt?”
“Well, my goodness, we all have to take some risks. I once had to spend two weeks in jail, after I got carried away and hit a cop with one of my signs.”
Frank was unconvinced. He could see that Safechild was a woman who wanted to do good, but her house was so far away from the road that led to the wicket gate. He began to wonder if she meant the same thing as he did by life. Frogs and mosquitoes were alive, but he could not believe that the promise of abundant life referred to nothing more than mere existence. There were, after all, circumstances when death was preferable. Jesus himself had shown the way by laying down his life. “I wonder,” he said to Safechild, “if you aren’t more afraid of death than you are in love with life.”
Fearwell, concluding that nothing was to be gained by further discussion, offered to take him to a more able pleader, the famous Crosstitch who had woven the seamless garment of life.
As they were getting into the car, a young man hopped into the backseat and stuck a gun into Fearwell’s face and told him to drive. “And you, kid,” he said to Frank, “turn around and shut up and maybe you won’t get hurt.” The preacher told him to do as he was told: “I have heard of him. His name is Evil, and aren’t we told in the Book not to resist evil?”
“You tell him, mister, because if you do resist you’re going to end up dead. Of course,” he added giggling, “You’re going to end up dead anyway and maybe a lot sooner than you think. Enough talk, give me your money.”
Fearwell, in his haste to pull his wallet out of his back pocket, almost hit a parked car. Frank sat still and did nothing.
“Come on, kid, yours too.”
Frank still didn’t move and asked him why he needed both their wallets. “I can understand why you’d ask us for a handout, if you’re hungry or need bus fare, but I see that you’ve already got several hundred dollars from Preacher Fearwell, and from the way you’re dressed, you can’t be too badly off.”
“Oh, is that right? Well, maybe I didn’t have all the advantages you’ve had, and I’m only adjusting the balance. Ever heard of the Maximin principle? Even that Book of yours tells you to sell all you have and give to the poor. I may be Evil, but I am also Poor and have been all my life. So give.”
Fearwell begged him, almost crying, “Please, Frank, give him the money or he’ll kill both of us. Nothing is worth dying for.”
“If I do what he says, then I am his slave, and I will not be a slave to Evil, no matter what the threat. Go ahead and shoot.” Evil reached forward with his gunhand to smash Frank in the head, and as he did, Frank twisted around in the seat, and pulling out the .38 he always carried he shot Evil in the right shoulder. The hoodlum screamed and dropped his gun, and without waiting for Fearwell to slow down the car, he opened the door and rolled out.
“I suppose you think you did something good? He’s not dead, but we probably would have been killed, if you hadn’t got off a lucky shot. Anyway, all you’ve done is make him meaner. You can never kill Evil.”
“No,” conceded Frank, “but we can fight him. When we are told not to resist evil, it means that we are not to fight with our neighbors or to harbor grudges. Our Lord kicked the moneychangers out of the temple, and He told his disciples that once He was gone and they were on their own, they should buy swords. By the way, it wasn’t luck; I spend an hour or two every week at the pistol range. As the prophet says, ‘Everyone with one of his hands wrought in the work, and with the other hand held a weapon.’ This hoodlum may not be dead, but neither are we. At the very least we prevented him from committing two murders, and it will be a long time before he tries another carjacking.”
“But Frank, what if the boy was not really Evil, but just a poor soul gone astray. He said his other name was Poor. You might have killed him.”
“Are there no rich criminals? Everyone has an excuse for taking his own road to Hell. If he had been killed, it would have been his fault, not ours. All I was trying to do was to prevent him from killing and robbing us. If I had shot him as he ran away, that would have been murder—although the way the judges in this town are, it might be the only justice that works anymore. But since he never actually said he was going to kill us—though I think he meant to—I’m content with just winging him.”
By now they were driving up into the fashionable apartment complex where Crosstitch lived. Fearwell justified the opulence of the philosopher’s residence by pointing out all the influential people who also had apartments in the building: newspaper editors, college presidents, TV news producers, and several ex-presidents and secretaries of state who represent international lobbying firms. “Crosstitch knows them all, intimately, and his influence is beginning to make a difference.”
Entering the philosopher’s vast suite of apartments, Frank noticed there was some kind of meeting or party going on. In room after room, fashionably dressed people were cutting clippings from newspapers, books, and legal documents, and patching together the parts of some kind of garment big enough to be the peplos that pagans made every year for their goddess. In one room, filled with Louis Quatorze and Louis Quinze furniture, the group was pulling apart the books of Voltaire and Diderot and Kant as well as several complete sets of the Encyclopedia. Every once in a while, one of the workers would paste in a paragraph—never an entire page—from the Book. Once in place, these fragments became indistinguishable from the rest.
They went from the Enlightenment Room to the Science Room, where the same work was going on, and they walked through a bleak and windowless hall without a sign of life: not even a cactus grew. It was filled with nothing but compasses and protractors, and various kinds of primitive computing equipment. The only book he recognized was in German. “What a dreadful place,” exclaimed Frank. “Yes,” replied Fearwell. It is the Natural Law library. Nothing will grow here, because of the poor light, but it’s not a problem, since hardly anybody ever comes.”
Turning the corner, they found themselves in the Democratic Capitalism alcove—it was small, but all the furniture, although very modern, was gilt—where a small group was busily clipping coupons and cutting up an English translation of the Declaration of the Rights of Man. Their colleagues then pasted the pages, layer upon layer, over the yellowing pages of letters written in Latin. Frank just caught the words Rerum novarum before they were pasted over with a page of the Wall Street Journal. There were two pictures hanging on the wall, but one of them was turned backwards. Frank lifted it up and saw the name Leo XIII. The other picture was upside down, and he did not have to look twice to recognize the sorrowful but forgiving face of Leo’s current successor.
As they made their way into the main salon, Crosstitch walked across the crowded room to greet them. “Just a small gathering a few of my friends arranged for me,” he explained, waving his arm vaguely as if to display the grand prize on a game show. “I hope, young man, that I will soon be able to call you a friend.” Fearwell asked him who all the people were, and Crosstitch replied: “Trial lawyers, mostly. You see, they think that my small work has been making headway against the barbarity of the death penalty, and naturally they—or rather their clients—are grateful. This evening, as it happens, we’ll be having a prayer vigil for one of them, a young man who is going to be executed in Texas. What savages we are to each other—man is still wolf to man.”
Frank asked what the unfortunate fellow had done to end up on death row, and Crosstitch mused for a moment: “I don’t just remember, although I’m sure it was dreadful. I think it involved a series of rather ghastly rapes, coupled with murder and dismemberment. But, then, he was abused by his father.”
“Will you be praying for his victims, too?” Frank inquired.
“Well, yes, I suppose so. But right now, it is this poor man who is being murdered by the state.”
“Isn’t that a rather loose way of talking? After all, murder is a certain type of unlawful homicide, whereas execution—even if we think it is wrong—has almost been always regarded as a legitimate exercise of the state’s God-given power to repress wickedness and protect the innocent.”
“What difference does it make, ultimately, whether a murder is committed by a hoodlum in the park or by a judge passing sentence in his court? In one respect, the judge is the worse offender, because he is not operating under the kinds of psychological compulsion that drives so many murderers to do what they do.”
“So, you would defend the Marquis de Sade, who, when the Jacobins made him a judge, refused to condemn any aristocrats to death, insisting that he would kill for pleasure, yes, but never for justice.”
“I can see,” observed Crosstitch in a voice that was rapidly cooling off, “that your education should have been more carefully supervised. What is a Christian doing, reading Sade? But let it pass. Let us even, for the sake of argument, concede that the judge is no worse. But how is he any better than, say, the abortionist who is also acting within the law?”
“There is a difference, isn’t there, between carrying out the law and doing something which is not forbidden? For example, it is not against the law for a host to insult a guest or, in most states, for a man to have unnatural relations with another man, but you would not say that the rude host or the homosexual were acting in the same way as the man who pays his taxes or the policeman who arrests the child-molester. In the former cases, the actions are permitted by the law, but in the latter case they are commanded.”
“Let us leave off these fruitless quibbles. Any intentional homicide detracts from the dignity of life, and it makes no difference if the killing is done as a legal abortion or an execution. Once a society accepts execution as something normal, it will quickly proceed to abortion, infanticide, and euthanasia.”
“Isn’t it strange then,” asked Frank, “that Christians have been executing criminals for nearly 2,000 years, while at the same time viewing abortion and infanticide with horror? I think the reverse of what you say is true, that as we refused to distinguish between right and wrong by declaring some crimes worthy of death, we lost our reverence for innocent life. Even our manners became corrupted. It is something like De Quincey’s famous argument about murder. ‘If once a man indulges himself in murder, very soon he comes to think little of robbing; and from robbing he comes next to drinking and Sabbath-breaking, and from that to incivility and procrastination.'”
“I’m afraid I’m not following you at all.”
“Look, a man might murder or steal with good reason, or at least with what he thinks is a good reason, and the act does not stain his soul very deeply, but if these crimes deaden him to the humanity of other people, he will lapse into a habitual incivility that will send him to Hell sooner than a dozen killings. In the same way, our refusal to punish serious crimes like murder and rape by executing the criminal seems to blunt our character. If a serial killer may not be executed, then how valuable were the innocent lives he took? How valuable is any life, any piece of property, and sense of personal worth? From the failure to kill the killer we pass soon into refusing to punish the abortionist and an insistence upon tolerating every vice and indecency.”
“I’d like to go on chatting with you—I realize that you are a serious-minded young man, but I can see that my friends are anxious to get on with the ‘roast’ they have planned.”
The roast turned out to be a mock-trial in which Crosstitch was to be the defendant, and his friends in the legal profession would play judge, jury, attorneys. The only hitch in the proceedings was that no one was willing to undertake the prosecution. “We owe him a lot,” explained one lawyer who had risen to stardom by defending a celebrity who had murdered his wife in cold blood. “Crosstitch hasn’t just raised the American consciousness on the death penalty; he’s also made it clear that the system is racist—why else are over half the convicted murderers black? Let me tell you it’s going to be a cold day in Hell before any L.A. jury is allowed to vote for the death penalty, if the defendant even has a healthy tan.”
Since no one else was willing to take on the task, Frank—who had a bit of the lawyer in his makeup—agreed to play prosecutor. After the usual shenanigans, the trial got under way with Frank reading out the charges. He accused Crosstitch of misrepresenting the Book, of perverting the doctrines of his own ancient church, and of a moral cowardice and hypocrisy that destroyed all reverence for life.
But the outcome of the trial and Frank’s subsequent adventures when he falls into the hands of the premodern bandit leaders, Peter, Martin, and Thomas—all that must be reserved for the sequel.