By M. E. Riddle
"Kinda reminds ya of God, doesn't it?" Ken mumbled, his eye to the telescope, his mind in the sky.
At that moment the two of us were scanning the width and girth of the Milky Way as we sat in the freezing early morning somewhere in the high desert of the Mojave. Best friends for over forty years, the two of us grew up along with the urban sprawl and citrus trees in post-war Southern California. Over the years we managed to stay in touch throughout marriages and births, deaths, Christmases' and New Years.
We now share a common passion-Astronomy.
He started it.
After viewing Saturn through a cheap pair of binoculars one night at his house I was hooked. So was he. We've been exploring the universe since.
Now Ken was taking a huge chance.
He knew my stance in the 'belief-of-a-higher-power' argument and was also aware I was the type to engage in a battle of wits, even with an un-armed person.
There had been many 'near-misses' in our friendship over the years in regards to this subject and for the sake of friendship I've always backed-down and dummied-up. This time I wasn't going to heed. This time I drove. I held a captive audience of one.
"No," I replied to his question, as matter-of-factly as if talking of the weather.
Currently my telescope was aimed in the opposite direction as his, focused on Jupiter and her cosmic court of moons. The only sound audible was the hiss of the propane burner burning coffee nearby and the constant wind of the desert playing empty beer bottles randomly scattered about in the darkness like a forlorn trumpet player.
Jupiter had always reminded me of expensive jewelry. It forever sat in the display case of space never to be opened, never to be worn. The irony of it all is that Jupiter ALMOST became a star and ALMOST became capable of forging the materials contained within to manufacture diamonds. Like Dickens' Great Expectations she was stood-up at the interstellar altar by the likes of Saturn and to this day remains a cold, brooding pastel spinster locked-up in a surreal, spacious mansion on the on the outskirts of the solar system.
"Whattya think?" Ken again asked.
At the moment I wasn't sure if he was referring to the cosmos or the topic of you-know-who. I chose to reply in my usual engineering empirical jargon of logic.
"I was wondering….. Would if Jupiter had indeed ignited a nuclear furnace and we had in our presence another solar system contained within another. Would we exist? How would that have impacted the development of life on earth? Would there even be life on earth?"
"That's not what I was asking," he politely corrected.
I was afraid of that. I now knew I had to assert myself. I told myself not to hold back. It was time he was to be schooled. I was tired of dummying-down for the sake of his ego. I was tired. I had no doubt he was too. I didn't want to leave in anger and go to the car and escape but then again, I could warm up with the car's heater. I decided on tackling the subject and besides, I rationalized, this is payback to all the astronauts who had preceded us sitting alone in a spacecraft enduring the same brutal hardships to some degree as the two of us weretraveling through space on spaceship Earth.
"What…..My thought on God? Are you sure ya wanna go there?" I defiantly asked.
Pulling away from the eyepiece I looked over at him.
"Let me ask you this," he started. "Do you believe in the bible?" he asked without pulling away from the eyepiece.
I allowed a moment's pause before answering. We had been down this road before and it wasn't good.
"You mean that poor collection of chain letters written by self-serving authors whose' only intent was to control the masses for the benefit of some king in power at the time whose' paranoia was raging? You still wanna answer?"
I could see the hairs bristling on the back of his weathered neck. He still refused to make eye contact, preferring the comfort of his eyepiece.
"One more question," he added.
I was mildly surprised he was asking for more verbal ugliness.
"Do you believe in Jesus?"
This one caught me off guard. It was one thing to discuss God, but it was an entirely different matter in speaking of ones' child. I had to be cautious.
"Yea," I stammered. Ok, yes I do. I believe a man named Jesus did walk the face of the earth some two thousand years ago but that's it. I consider him more of a Vegas act than of a messiah."
That one hurt. A long moment of silence ensued before any of us spoke again. I decided on breaking the tension.
"What about you…..Do you actually buy into everything written in the bible?"
"Yup," was the immediate response.
"Everything?" I pressed.
"Even the god-made-the-universe-in-seven-days stuff?"
This was an incredulous discovery. I was shocked. After fifty years of friendship I never knew his beliefs were so dogmatic.
"You don't wanna get left behind?" he sheepishly added.
Again, I was speechless. At that moment I realized Ken's belief in a higher power rested on the notion of 'getting left behind'.
"I'll take my chances," I sarcastically replied. That was it for the evening. No more talk of God. I had eaten enough dogma. My mind began to angrily race. My problem had always been that people of faith are inherent sinners simply by virtue of the fact that while in possession of one of the finest brains on the planet collectively, they still attribute all the truths and wonders of science to a god. Notwithstanding the notion of 'original sin' as prescribed by Catholics I had always considered this rational as being a sin in itself.
Again, it was late. I was tired. The coffee tasted terrible. I quietly attached the lens caps to my telescope and went to the warmth of the car nearby.
Ken remained outside. Like a true martyr he continued manning the telescopes and coffee pot until first light.
We have still managed to remain friends.
We agreed this subject is to remain off-limits.
Again, he started it.