Please note well: In case you were wondering, even though November is over, I will be publishing the rest of this book here, section by section. But if you can’t wait to see how it ends, you can order this book in hard copy, and the link for that is here. In addition, audio chapters are being recorded and released on the new Canon App.
Jill Answers a Question
They made it to the mall in just a few minutes. “Why doesn’t Cody go in and get some more thumb drives,” Larry said. “I am going to go over there by that nice little tree and act as a sentry. Keep your phones out. We’ll both be back in just a few minutes. Keep the doors locked.”
The two women waited quietly in the parking lot, and because it was cool out, they had kept the car running.
“I have a question for you,” Helen said suddenly from the back seat.
“Sure,” Jill replied, turning around to see Helen a bit better.
“Okay, I am in a bit of a paradigm jumble, and I know it. People I have looked up to for years are trying to have me killed, and people I have despised for years are trying to save my life, and not just out of a sense of duty. But over the last decade or so, I have not just despised this second lot of people for their supposed evil, but also for being morons. But as I have spent time with Cody, and now with you and Larry, I find that all of you are both nice and educated.”
Jill laughed. “And we take showers.”
“I know, this sounds really bad. Sorry. But that was the frame of mind I had the night before my boss sent some men over to shoot me. I am just describing it for you. And that frame of mind is now hopelessly tangled up. But occasionally an intelligible question works its way to the top of my brain tangle, and so I grab it.”
“So what is your question?” Jill asked.
“I want to know how Steven Lee, a man who dedicated his life to saving the planet, could just flip a switch and send men to kill me.”
“I think you are asking the question the wrong way,” Jill said.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean that you thought he was dedicating his life to saving the planet. You are on the run now because you received a batch of emails that revealed that he never really thought that, at least not for many years now. It is only a contradiction if he has an actual moral center.”
Helen sat, pondering for a minute. “But it is such a contradiction.”
“Is he an atheist?”
Helen sat up straight, surprised by the question. “Well, certainly. Everyone at the center was, including me. And before you say anything rude, I probably still am.”
“Then there is no such thing as contradiction. There is no God, and Steven Lee can do just as he pleases. In fact, I would want to argue that he is being far more consistent with his atheism than you were being.”
Helen was quiet for a moment. “I guess I am not surprised that you would say that. But why do you say that?”
Jill turned the heater down. “There are atheists who try very hard to conform to a particular moral code. You were one of them. But it is an arbitrary moral code, suspended in mid-air. You cannot answer any questions about why it has any moral authority whatever. That means that whatever moral code you adopt is adopted ‘ just because.’”
Helen was quiet for a bit longer this time. “But when I got up in the morning and went to work, I really was doing it to save the planet. And I was fighting people like you who didn’t care about saving the planet. I really was.”
Jill turned around in her seat even further. “Right. I don’t doubt that this is what you were doing at all. I am simply saying that you couldn’t answer any questions about why you were doing it, or why anybody else should care the same way you did. You just took it as self-evident that they should care, and that they were bad people for not caring.”
The two women sat in silence for several minutes, until Jill picked up the thread again. Jill had used that moment to recollect the way her apologetics teacher used to talk about it.
“If there is no moral standard that overarches all of us, to which all of us are equally obligated, then there is no such thing as good or bad. The absence of that transcendent moral authority means that all of our ‘moral’ choices are simply preferences. You like grape nuts, somebody else doesn’t like grape nuts.”
“You mean . . . ?” Helen said, and then stopped.
“Yes, I do, if I am guessing your next question rightly. I mean that if there is no objective moral authority overarching you and Steven Lee, then your desire to save the planet is just a personal preference, and his desire to milk those people who want to save the planet is just a personal preference. And neither one is superior to the other. They both just are.”
And then Helen blurted out, suddenly close to tears, and not knowing where that impulse came from. “But what he tried to do to me was evil.”
Jill nodded, and her voice was filled with sympathy. “Yes. Yes, it was. And that is one of the central reasons I say there is a God. If there is no God, then you and Steven Lee are just two bits of protoplasm that got in each other’s way. Which is obviously incorrect. You are much more than that.”
Helen sat back in her seat. “Thank you,” she said. “Thanks. I think I am beginning to see what you people are talking about.” And with that, they saw Larry headed toward the car, and Cody angling across the parking lot to meet him. They headed out to the library, where Cody went in and made five copies of the email thread. Cody and Helen took two, and Larry and Jill three.
“What I want to do is put two of these in places where they will be made public if anything happens to us,” Larry said. “This last one is the ball we want to put in play. We have to do that in a way that cannot be shut down or ignored.”
“All right,” Helen said. “And we will be trying to figure out something similar with ours.” They all exchanged phone numbers, and promised to be in close touch.
Larry drove them back to the restaurant, and drove through the parking lot twice so that Cody and Helen could look to see if the car of the men pursuing them was still there. It wasn’t.
Larry then dropped them off at Cody’s rental car, waited for them to drive off, and then drove Jill home. “Well,” he said. “I can’t promise that every date will be nearly as exciting, but I would like to do this again. I would like to see you more . . . a lot more.”
Jill nodded. “Okay,” she said. “I would enjoy that too.”