'You have no respect for me, do you?' Novak asked, after the others had gone to bed.
'I have treated you with the utmost courtesy,' Mason replied.
'Plenty of thinkers have been Christian,' Novak said. 'Are they all fools as well?'
'But they kept it separate!' Mason said. If Novak wanted to hear it, Mason wouldn't spare him the truth. 'I respect an Einstein because of his physics, not because of his theism.'
Novak just nodded and sipped from his tea. He could tell Mason had much more to say.
'And you were an atheist,' Mason began, 'and then you flipped! It is understandable when someone is brought up with an illogical belief structure, and never really questions it. But you embraced it . . . as an adult!'
'I don't suppose,' Novak said, smiling, 'that it would matter if I told you that I don't consider my beliefs to be illogical.'
'What are you talking about?!' Mason said. 'Christianity is founded on its irrationality. That is one of its core beliefs.'
'I don't recall Jesus ever commanding His disciples to abandon their reason,' Novak said. 'In order to stress the limits of the human mind, yes, I grant you that some Christian writers have . . .'
'Do you believe in the Trinity?' Mason interrupted.
'Yes,' Novak answered.
'Q.E.D.,' Mason said.
Novak took another sip of tea. Mason gulped from his wine goblet.
'Are you an economist?' Novak asked.
'Yes,' Mason replied.
'Are you a mammal?' Novak asked.
'Yes,' Mason replied, sighing. 'I see where you're going with this, but the Trinity is based on 'three is one.' It's not supposed to make sense.'
'It makes sense to me,' Novak said.
* * *
'What I am saying,' Mason declared, gulping more wine, 'is that your 'God' doesn't even meet up with human standards of decency, let alone divine ones. And you expect me to worship Him?'
'By all means,' Novak said, still smiling, 'please defend your assertion.'
Mason laughed. Didn't Novak realize he had been raised as a Jew?
'How about punishing sins to the third and fourth generation?' Mason taunted. 'If any human did that to a transgressor, it would be grossly unfair.'
'Dr. Mason,' Novak said, 'imagine a couple: The man is an alcoholic who beats his wife, while the woman is a drug addict who sells her body to support her habit.'
'Okay,' Mason said, becoming interested.
'On the other hand,' Novak continued, 'picture a couple where the man is a loving, caring companion, while the woman respects her mate as well as herself.'
'Okay,' Mason said.
'Now tell me, Dr. Mason, if we looked at the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of these respective couples, do you think we would find any differences?'
'Statistically,' Mason said with caution, 'I imagine the latter would be better off.'
'Now then,' Novak said, 'if someone were to tell the original couples this information, would that be 'grossly unfair'? Or would that person merely be informing them of reality?'
Mason thought ahead a step in the argument. He knew Novak would simply come back and say that God cannot be blamed for including free will in His original design, and Mason knew from experience that that would be a quagmire.
'Fine,' Mason said, 'sinners and their offspring can be punished. Doesn't matter. You still have to explain why your loving, benevolent God torments His most faithful servants.'
'Can you be more specific?' Novak asked, without sarcasm.
Mason considered. Abraham would be inconclusive; Novak would surely argue that nothing had really happened to him and Isaac except a good fright. Suddenly Mason smiled.
'Job,' he said. 'The story of Job has always revolted me. Here you have your all-powerful Lord God bragging to the devil, and killing innocent, righteous people just to win a bet.'
Novak felt a surge of anger but restrained it. It was one thing'indeed, it was a pity'when a person truly did not believe in our Heavenly Father. But it was quite another when a person mocked Him.
'Dr. Mason,' Novak said, choosing his words with care, 'with all due respect, I think you are being very close-minded about this.'
'You continually view the matter from your perspective,' Novak continued. 'Yes, if you assume that the idea of an omnipotent being is absurd, then no amount of evidence I offer will persuade. But surely if we are to debate, you must at least entertain the notion that there is a God, before judging whether the scriptures are compelling.'
Mason stared at Novak but said nothing.
'In this case,' Novak said gently, 'let us take seriously the possibility that there is a God, as described in the book of Job. Now certainly He is not boasting to Satan. It would be far more accurate to say that He is merely informing Satan, to demonstrate that the Lord's method of earning loyalty is far superior to the Enemy's.'
'Even so,' Mason said, 'He killed Job's innocent children. I don't care why He did it. He had no right.'
'He had no right??' Novak said. 'The Lord may certainly undo what He has created. Is that not your own view of ownership?'
Mason snorted. Now Novak was trying to dabble in his own area!
'Actually,' Mason corrected, 'I am a fairly harsh critic of Lockean ethics. But even the adamant natural law theorists don't believe that parents can murder their 'creations.''
'But parents do not create their children,' Novak objected. 'They use the resources that the Lord has placed in their custody.'
Mason grunted again. This poor Novak had certainly painted himself into a corner. A fine mind, too.
'And moreover,' Novak suddenly said, 'a parent obviously doesn't 'own' his children, because the parent himself would then be the property of the children's grandparents, and so on. Notice that this regress does not occur for the true Creator.'
* * *
'Yes, I believe in salvation through faith alone,' Novak admitted.
Gotcha, Mason thought.
'So then it is logically possible,' Mason declared, 'for a person to be an unrepentant sinner'a murderer, a thief, a rapist'and yet pass through the pearly gates. I am sorry, Dr. Novak, but I find this ethical system simply abhorrent.'
Novak tried to restrain his surge of pride and contempt. Mason was incredibly intelligent'an absolute genius'but now the economist was dabbling in Novak's area of expertise.
'Once again, Dr. Mason,' Novak lectured, 'you aren't taking your assumptions seriously. If someone truly accepts Jesus Christ as his personal savior, then the peace of our Lord descends upon him. In that condition, a man feels nothing but benevolence and compassion for his brothers and sisters. He desires only to help them, and in particular, to help them share in his incomparable joy.'
* * *
'Okay,' Mason said, now quite drunk. He had been very close on several occasions, but Novak had always eluded him at the last moment. Now it was time for the kill.
'Do you believe,' Mason said, 'that a system of political government is compatible with Christianity?'
Mason waited for Novak to say 'yes,' thereby linking his religion to a collection of doctrines that Mason knew he could prove to be internally contradictory. Q.E.D.
'In a world where all are true Christians,' Novak said, 'there would be no formal government.'
'Okay,' Mason said, still hoping to catch the wily theologian, 'but in the present world, where there are sinners galore, is there a place for government?'
'I'm not sure I follow you,' Novak said. 'Even true Christians are sinners. What I meant was that I can consistently be a Christian, even if other men around me set up violent institutions such as formal governments.'
'Wait a minute,' Mason said, forgetting his trap and becoming intrigued, 'are you an anarchist?'
'In the political sense, yes. A formal government is a violent institution, and as a Christian I cannot condone the use of violence.'
'Awww,' Mason groaned, 'you're a pacifist?'
'Yes,' Novak said. 'As a Christian I have no right to use violence against my brother.'
'What about Sodom and Gomorrah ?' Mason asked. 'What about the flood? Your God is certainly violent.'
'In the same way that earthquakes are violent, certainly,' Novak agreed. 'But when it comes to His instructions for us, I believe His message is clear. When He Himself lived as a man, providing the perfect model for each of us, the Lord was anything but violent.'
'Well,' Mason chuckled, 'it's a good thing you believe in the afterlife, because a group of pacifists doesn't stand a chance in this world.'
'Oh no?' Novak asked, amused.
'No,' Mason said. 'There are certain people for whom violence'or at least its threat'is the only thing they understand. I myself, as well as a darling little boy, would've been dead had I played the lamb.'
'Ah, your famous mugging,' Novak said. Naturally, Mason had shared the story with Dupont, and it had quickly made the rounds of the small community.
'Yes, my famous mugging,' Mason said. He sensed that he had finally caught Novak. It was true, he hadn't gotten the pure contradiction he had sought, but the implication of earthly misery was good enough.
'And why did you not simply follow our Lord's command?' Novak asked. 'Had you given your possessions to the young men, are you so sure they would have killed you?'
'It doesn't matter,' Mason said, annoyed. 'People are shot all the time. So don't tell me there really aren't criminals out there who will kill you, even if you give up your money.'
'I never denied that a Christian could be killed,' Novak said, trying to restrain laughter. It was amazing how sloppy otherwise brilliant people could be when arguing about the most important matters of all. 'After all, the first Christian was murdered. My claim is that violence is not a legitimate tool, and that, contrary to popular belief, it is unnecessary. You simply need to take your own arguments against government to their logical conclusion.'
'Don't lecture me about politics,' Mason said. 'You tell me what you would do in a comparable situation. If some young punk is about to shoot you and a young boy, how would you get out of it without threatening him?'
Novak paused. He considered reiterating his earlier solution; he would have given the muggers his money. But he decided to try a more illustrative answer.
'I would have told him,' Novak said, 'and with the same absolute conviction that you used, 'Son, I can take away your pain.''
'That wouldn't work,' Mason instantly scoffed. 'He was a criminal.'
* * *
'Well,' Mason said, almost slurring his words, 'I need to pass out. An interesting conversation.'
'Quite,' Novak said.
'Tell me something,' Mason said.
'Certainly,' Novak answered.
'You don't respect me very much, do you?'
'Dr. Mason, I respect you tremendously. You have written wonderful things in your life.'
'But?' Mason asked.
'But,' Novak said, and lowered his eyes. 'Dr. Mason, at any given time, by the process of elimination, there has to be the smartest man alive.'
Mason braced himself for a lecture on his vanity.
'Now, if that's the case,' Novak said, 'by implication, that means he is smarter than everyone he encounters.'
'How utterly sad, then, if this man, rather than using his tremendous gifts to their full potential, instead spent the great bulk of his time . . . deploring the fact that everyone else is so stupid.'
Mason felt as if he had been punched in the stomach.
'You have an incredible mind, David,' Novak said. 'Far beyond my own. It just . . . breaks my heart . . . the Enemy has convinced you to construct a prison with it.'
'You don't know me,' Mason said.
'David,' Novak said, 'look at what you did. You had a chance to ask one question from a being who far surpasses anything we can imagine. And what did you waste it on?'
'And what did you ask?' Mason said.
'I asked,' Novak said, 'what it would take to get David Mason to join our community.'
* * *
'Dear Father,' Novak prayed, 'please forgive me for my pride and anger. Please give me another chance. Let Your Spirit fill me and guide me so that I may lead them back to You.'
Novak sighed as he knelt by his bed. Even though he understood the phenomenon quite clearly by now, it was still almost unbearably ironic that the very smartest and most skeptical of men were the ones most easily seduced by the Enemy.