You’re not listening – Philip Pullman

The coming lines are from “The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ” by Philip Pullman please forgive me for such long post but this is written beautifully I dare not to utter a word.

‘You’re not listening,’ he whispered. ‘I’ve been speaking to you all my life and all I’ve heard back is silence. Where are you? Are you out there among the stars? Is that it? Busy making another world, perhaps, because you’re sick of this one? You’ve gone away, haven’t you, you’ve abandoned us. ‘You’re making a liar out of me, you realise that. I don’t want to tell lies. I try to tell the truth. But I tell them you’re a loving father watching over them all, and you’re not; you’re blind as well as deaf, as far as I can tell. You can’t see, or you just don’t want to look? Which is it? ‘No answer. Not interested.

‘If you were listening, you’d know what I meant by truth. I’m not one of these logic-choppers, these fastidious philosophers, with their scented Greek rubbish about a pure world of spiritual forms where everything is perfect, and which is the only place where the real truth is, unlike this filthy material world which is corrupt and gross and full of untruth and imperfection . . . Have you heard them? Stupid question. You’re not interested in slander either. And slander’s what it is; you made this world, and it’s lovely, every inch of it. When I think of the things I’ve loved I find myself choking with happiness, or maybe sorrow, I don’t know; and every one of them has been something in this world that you made. If anyone can smell frying fish on an evening by the lake, or feel a cool breeze on a hot day, or see a little animal trying to run around and tumbling over and getting up again, or kiss a pair of soft and willing lips, if anyone can feel those things and still maintain they’re nothing but crude imperfect copies of something much better in another world, they are slandering you, Lord, as surely as words mean anything at all. But then they don’t think words do mean anything; they’re just tokens to play sophisticated games with. Truth is this, and truth is that, and what is truth anyway, and on and on they go, these bloodless phantoms.

‘The psalm says, “The fool has said in his heart, There is no God.” Well, I understand that fool. You treated him as you’re treating me, didn’t you? If that makes me a fool, I’m one with all the fools you made. I love that fool, even if you don’t. The poor sod whispered to you night after night, and heard nothing in response. Even Job, for all the trouble he had, got an answer from you. But the fool and I might as well be talking into an empty pot, except that even an empty pot makes a sound like the wind, if you hold it over your ear. That’s an answer of sorts.

‘Is that what you’re saying to me? That when I hear the wind, I hear your voice? When I look at the stars I see your writing, or in the bark of a tree, or the ripples on the sand at the edge of the water? Lovely things, yes, all of them, no doubt about that, but why did you make them so hard to read? Who can translate them for us? You conceal yourself in enigmas and riddles. Can I believe that the Lord God would behave like one of those philosophers and say things in order to baffle and confuse? No, I can’t believe it. Why do you treat your people like this? The God who made water to be clear and sweet and fresh wouldn’t fill it with mud before giving it to his children to drink. So, what’s the answer?  These things are full of your words, and we just have to persevere till we can read them? Or they’re blank and meaningless? Which is it?
‘No answer, naturally. Listen to that silence. Not a breath of wind; the little insects scratching away in the grasses; Peter snoring over there under the olives; a dog barking on some farm out behind me in the hills; an owl down in the valley; and the infinite silence under it all. You’re not in the sounds, are you. There might be some help in that. I love those little insects. That’s a good dog out there; he’s trustworthy; he’d die to look after the farm. The owl is beautiful and cares for her young. Even Peter’s full of kindness, for all the noise and the bluster. If I thought you were in those sounds, I could love you with all my heart, even if those were the only sounds you made. But you’re in the silence. You say nothing.

‘God, is there any difference between saying that and saying you’re not there at all? I can imagine some philosophical smartarse of a priest in years to come pulling the wool over his poor followers’ eyes: “God’s great absence is, of course, the very sign of his presence”, or some such drivel. The people will hear his words, and think how clever he is to say such things, and they’ll try and believe it; and they’ll go home puzzled and hungry, because it makes no sense at all. That priest is worse than the fool in the psalm, who at least is an honest man. When the fool prays to you and gets no answer, he decides that God’s great absence means he’s not bloody well there.
‘What am I going to tell the people tomorrow, and the day after, and the day after that? Am I going to go on telling them things I can’t believe? My heart will grow weary of it; my belly will churn with sickness; my mouth will be full of ash and my throat will burn with gall. There’ll come a day when I’ll say to some poor leper that his sins are forgiven and his sores will heal and he’ll say, “But they’re as bad as they ever were. Where is this healing you promised?”
‘And the Kingdom . . .
‘Have I been deluding myself as well as everyone else? What have I been doing, telling them that it’s going to come, that there are people alive now who will see the coming of God’s Kingdom? I can see us waiting, and waiting, and waiting . . . Was my brother right when he talked of this great organisation, this church of his that was going to serve as the vehicle for the Kingdom on earth? No, he was wrong, he was wrong. My whole heart and mind and body revolted against that. They still do.
‘Because I can see just what would happen if that kind of thing came about. The devil would rub his hands with glee. As soon as men who believe they’re doing God’s will get hold of power, whether it’s in a household or a village or in Jerusalem or in Rome itself, the devil enters into them. It isn’t long before they start drawing up lists of punishments for all kinds of innocent activities, sentencing people to be flogged or stoned in the name of God for wearing this or eating that or believing the other. And the privileged ones will build great palaces and temples to strut around in, and levy taxes on the poor to pay for
their luxuries; and they’ll start keeping the very scriptures secret, saying there are some truths too holy to be revealed to the ordinary people, so that only the priests’ interpretation will be allowed, and they’ll torture and kill anyone who wants to make the word of God clear and plain to all; and with every day that passes they’ll become more and more fearful, because the more power they have the less they’ll trust anyone, so they’ll have spies and betrayals and denunciations and secret tribunals, and put the poor harmless heretics they flush out to horrible public deaths, to terrify the rest into obedience. And from time to time, to distract the people from their miseries and fire them with anger against someone else, the governors of this church will declare that such-and-such a nation or such-and-such a people is evil and ought to be destroyed, and they’ll gather great armies and set off to kill and burn and loot and rape and plunder, and they’ll raise their standard over the smoking ruins of what was once a fair and prosperous land and declare that God’s Kingdom is so much the larger and more magnificent as a result.

‘But any priest who wants to indulge his secret appetites, his greed, his lust, his cruelty, will find himself like a wolf in a field of lambs where the shepherd is bound and gagged and blinded. No one will even think of questioning the rightness of what this holy man does in private; and his little victims will cry to heaven for pity, and their tears will wet his hands, and he’ll wipe them on his robe and press them together piously and cast his eyes upwards and the people will say what a fine thing it is to have such a holy man as priest, how well he takes care of the children . . .

‘And where will you be? Will you look down and strike these blaspheming serpents with a thunderbolt? Will you strike the governors off their thrones and smash their palaces to rubble? ‘To ask the question and wait for the answer is to know that there will be no answer. ‘Lord, if I thought you were listening, I’d pray for this above all: that any church set up in your name should remain poor, and powerless, and modest. That it should wield no authority except that of love. That it should never cast anyone out. That it should own no property and make no laws. That it should not condemn, but only forgive. That it should be not like a palace with marble walls and polished floors, and guards standing at the door, but like a tree with its roots deep in the soil, that shelters every kind of bird and beast and gives blossom in the spring and shade in the hot sun and fruit in the season, and in time gives up its good sound wood for the carpenter; but that sheds many thousands of seeds so that new trees can grow in its place. Does the tree say to the sparrow, “Get out, you don’t belong here?” Does the tree say to the hungry man, “This fruit is not for you?” Does the tree test the loyalty of the beasts before it allows them into the shade? ‘This is all I can do now, whisper into the silence. How much longer will I even feel like doing that? You’re not there. You’ve never heard me. I’d do better to talk to a tree, to talk to a dog, an owl, a little grasshopper. They’ll always be there. I’m with the fool in the psalm. You thought we could get on without you; no – you didn’t care whether we got on without you or not. You just got up and left. So that’s what we’re doing, we’re getting on.
I’m part of the world, and I love every grain of sand and blade of grass and drop of blood in it. There might as well not be anything else, because these things are enough to gladden the heart and calm the spirit; and we know they delight the body. Body and spirit . . . is there a difference? Where does one end and the other begin? Aren’t they the same thing?
‘From time to time we’ll remember you, like a grandfather who was loved once, but who has died, and we’ll tell stories about you; and we’ll feed the lambs and reap the corn and press the wine, and sit under the tree in the cool of the evening, and welcome the stranger and look after the children, and nurse the sick and comfort the dying, and then lie down when our time comes, without a pang, without a fear, and go back to the earth. And let the silence talk to itself . . .

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