She was sitting at the end of this great bar, dark red wood, bar stools that positioned you just high enough to rest your elbows on the padded railing. Everything about her fit the room, gray, musty, somber, Her body might have been a killer once but it had been years since she cared enough to do the work to keep it that way. Now, she just looked comfortable.
In front of her sat a half-filled martini glass with one olive still in place half-way up the plastic sword. She held a dice cup in her right hand, shaking it when Zane came into the bar. As he stopped in the doorway to select a chair, she turned the cup, slamming it down on the bar. He heard her mumble “five sixes” and that attracted him enough to move to the stool two up from hers. As he sat, she lifted the cup so that he could see the five sixes showing.
“Nice call,” Zane said, “liar’s dice?”
The woman regarded him for a moment with almond eyes, then smiled and said, “I can’t lie. I can omit the truth or skirt the truth or give you the truth in a way you won’t recognize, but I can’t lie.”
“Here, watch!” she commanded. Scooping the dice into the cup, she shook it vigorously, slammed it to the bar. “Five sixes,” she said and lifted the cup to show the five sixes lying there.
“Loaded?” he asked.
She picked the cup and the dice up, shook them, slammed the cup down. “Five deuces,” she said. When she lifted the cup, there were five deuces lying there. She shoved the cup and the dice over to Zane. “You try,” she said but before he could, the bartender was there. Zane ordered a martini, up, olives. The woman complimented him with “good choice; now, you try dice.”
Zane picked the dice up one at a time, examining them without knowing what it was he was looking for. When they were all safely nestled in the bottom of the cup, he covered the cup with his left hand and shook it with his right. Satisfied they were as jumbled as they were going to be, he slammed the cup down, trapping the dice within its confines. He lifted the side of the cup facing him to see what was showing. “Three fours,” he called. The woman laughed. “You a lousy liar,” she said. “You got three threes, an ace and a six.” Zane already knew that was precisely what was showing under the cup.
“How do you do that,” he asked.
“I’m god,” she said, then cocked an eye at him as if to say “what you going to do with that, sonny?”
Zane considered the statement. He thought about asking why she hadn’t claimed to be a goddess; he thought about asking why god was Korean; but he settled on asking what bothered him most: “What brings you here?” The question had two points of emphasis: ‘you’ and ‘here.’
God cackled: ‘olives, I came for olives. Did you know there is no finer taste in the universe than a martini-soaked olive. I always amazed that such a thing could have happened: that olives would arrive and someone would think: ‘let’s soak them suckers in martinis. Pretty miraculous, you ask me.”
The only thing that Zane could think to say was another question, one he felt stupid asking: “so you come here often?”
“No, not here. Only this time. I move around the world. There’s lots of places serve martinis, you know.”
“Can’t you make them yourself?” he asked, again flushing with embarrassment at the stupidity of the question..
“You mean ‘cause I’m omni potent and omni scient and all those other omnis?” God separated omni from its partner as if it deserved a more prominent place in the universe. “Well, I spose I could but why fix somethin’ that isn’t broke? Besides, not image you want god to have, sittin’ around all day doin’ parlor tricks.’
Zane decided not to answer that statement; it was probably rhetorical anyway. He sipped his martini, playing with the plastic sword on which his olive hung, dunking the olive over and over.
“I suppose you are pretty busy, then?” he asked knowing this to be a fishing expedition.
God’s response was as perplexed as the look that accompanied it. “Me? Busy? Doin’ what?”
“Creating life, that kind of thing,”
“You think I still creating life? Why you think that?”
Zane liked that question. He’d thought this one through and considered it one of the strongest arguments for the existence of the lady sitting next to him, assuming she was who she claimed to be. He delivered his response with the authority of one certain they know whereof they speak: “Because we don’t know how it’s done so it must be something you have to do.”
“There’s many things you don’t know to do. You no can build a Klein bottle but you know they are theoretically possible. You no can develop a fusion system and you know the stars do that all the time. So, you think I doin’ all the fusionin’ in all those stars?”
“Of course not,” Zane said. “We’re close to fusion; we’re going to get it.”
“Oh, so! I no have to be personally involved. That’s good to know. I only personally involved when you no can do it yourself. Is that the way this works?”
“Sounds pretty stupid when you put it that way,” Zane admitted.
“Well, your original question just as stupid.”
Shocked, Zane looked over his martini glass at the little old lady who made the statement. “Why is believing that you create life stupid? Didn’t you?”
“I make-a one little mistake, set this whole in motion, and you need me to stay involved for the rest of eternity. That sucks; you know that?”
“One little mistake?”
“I create this mess,” god said. “I admit it. I’m to blame but, expletive, expletive, can we not accept that and move on? Need apology or what?”
Thoughts raced through Zane’s conscious like leaves in a hurricane, so quick, so many, so fast, he had difficulty isolating one long enough to make it work for him. The one he trapped came out: “You mean the big bang?”
“Is another one trick question, like how do I pronounce potato? Some of you say creation in seven days; some of you say big bang; some of you say it’s all just a way lookin’ at me. You all describe same thing. At least, the latter two views let me do my thing and then let it run. First view says I got to be involved all the time with everythin’ for the rest of eternity.
“ I already admitted I started this universe thing. In fact, if you want me to, I’ll admit I started a bunch of universes but that’s only goin’ to confuse seven-day wonders. No matter what you call it, there was a beginnin’ and that’s me. After that, things banged around. Split, took form and function, followed some laws. My laws I spose you got to say. But, nuts, Zane, - I like that one expletive - once I let it begin, I done. Finis me. Everything thereafter happened because the rules either required or permitted them to happen. Isn’t that enough miracle for me?”
He almost didn’t hear the last few words; he’d become sidetracked by: “Zane? You know my name?” The little old lady cackled again: “Another fine parlor trick. Sometimes, even I no can resist. Omni scient, remember?” The cackling stopped when god took a sip of her martini.
Zane laughed at that, realizing god would have to know his name. He let that go to return to the discussion they’d been having. “Then, how does life happen? Sometimes, you know eggs and seeds get together and nothing happens. Sometimes, when all the conditions are wrong, fertilization happens anyway. What decides what makes life happen if you don’t do it?”
God favored Zane with an amused tolerance. “The stars, maybe?” god asked but then answered her own question: “The rules state conditions must arrive that foster life. Once conditions amenable; then rules state that life is a probability wave that must collapse sometime. It doesn’t have to collapse all the time or most of the time but it must collapse sometime.”
“What triggers the collapse?”
“Life. But that sounds circular to you; you’ll come back to believin’ there must be a cause; the cause must be me.”
Genuinely confused, Zane asked god: “Isn’t that logical? Isn’t life an effect arising from a cause?”
“Life is no effect; it’s a necessity. Rules require it.”
“I don’t understand,” Zane said.
“Consider the constant of natures. Think of them as rules, rules that have been around since big bang, rules that not only permit life to happen but require it to happen? That how game is played.”
“But, then, what do you do?” Zane asked.
“Pretty damned arrogant question, isn’t it? What makes you think I owe an explanation of what I did or what I do or what I planning to do? I start this universe; I quite content to watch it play itself out. I no need to muck about with rules or the sequence of events or individual outcomes. I knew what I was doin’ and what I want and what I expect when I form the singularity. After that, well, I pride myself in no bein’ a piddler, the kind of engineer who just has to tinker with his product.”
Another sip of his martini and the first bite of his olive provided enough time for Zane to orient his thinking. Everything god said made sense but everything god said begged more questions.
“If you’re not personally involved, why do people pray to you?”
“Simple answer: they’re scared; I a convenient blanket. The unknown scares people so they try to make it all better by concocting explanations to remove fear factor. Like what makes life happen: you not know; that’s scary; blame me.
Death is scary. Blame me; it less scary. Say that I goin’ to make it all better afterwards so death even less scary. It’s no longer death but a rest area on way to next place.”
“And that’s wrong?”
“Who decides what’s right and wrong, Zane?”
“Really? How I do that?”
“You gave us the Ten Commandments.”
“Also give Hammurabi laws on a stone tablet? How about Confucius” The Buddha or Zoroaster or Gilgamesh? Who gave Ur laws? Who give Aztecs laws? Who give Maoris laws? Who gave the Huns their laws? If I no give them laws; why I give laws to Moses? How many examples of societies with laws do I need to offer before idea gets clear that people give people laws?”
“Wait a minute,” Zane said. “Gilgamesh is just a story.”
“And Moses isn’t? Why you so certain that one is ‘just a story” and the other is my word?”
Zane thought he had her this time: “Because you said so.”
“Were you there to hear what I said?”
“But the prophets wrote what you told them to write.”
“And Bill Shakesspeare wrote “wherefore art thou Romeo?” but people keep puttin’ a comma in the sentence where he never saw one. Significant difference between what Bill wrote and what people think he wrote: “wherefore art thou, Romeo? That in just a few hundred years evolution while the bible is a four-thousand-year-long game of telephone and you are certain that you have my words exactly as I might said them. Despite the fact your version of what I sposed to say been filtered through languages with no correlation to each other. English evolved from Proto-IndoEuropean; Hebrew from Proto-Semitic. English is a Subject-Object-Verb but biblical Hebrew Verb-Subject-Object language exactly as Welsh is. English has articles ‘a’ and ‘the’; Hebrew and Greek oopso have-a no. But you certain you and your people have the word of god..”
“So, you really didn’t tell us what’s right and wrong?” Zane’s disappointment palpable.
“Didn’t I say I start this whole mess; after that I let it run it’s course. You humans are part of the course.”
“So it is pointless to pray?”
“What you want to pray for?”
“Oh, I don’t know; maybe don’t let the hurricanes come; something like that?”
“Do universe’ rules require hurricanes?”
Zane replied somewhat sheepishly: “they must.”
“Then, you pray me to break my own rules?”
“Not really; we’d be praying to let the hurricanes go someplace else.”
“You know places where no people in the path rules require hurricanes follow?”
After a few minutes thought, Zane conceded the improbability of any such places.
“You spose people livin’ in those other places pray for same thing you are pray for? Is there good reason I should listen to your prayers and not to theirs; why I should break rules for either side?”
“Because we believe in you and try to live by your commandments.”
“As do they.”
The little old lady dropped the remains of her olive into her mouth, then followed that with a healthy sip of her martini. “Almost done here, Zane. Let me answer your next questions before you ask. Be patient, hear me out.
“Faith remains a good thing. It can unite people; give hope; help through hard times. `Faithful ought to remember that they leapin’ to conclusions; that’s what faith means. That conclusions work for them no can make them right; just make them useful to them.
You no need me to tell you right and wrong. You do that yourselves. Sometimes, you even agree what that means. I not in right and wrong business. I in big picture rules kind of thing, constants of nature; laws the universe lives by, those things. I leave the details to you.
"Death goin’ to happen. Part of life. Make of it what you want but no make it evil. You decide taking life is evil but end of life isn’t. Like beginning of life, neither good nor bad; just is. In either case, in final analysis, choice no is yours.
"Accept life on own terms. Remember livin’ dangerous to your health; you goin’ to die at the end of it. Fight disease in both its guises, social and biological, but distinguish between what is harmful and what is just different. Limit your paranoia if you can.
Finally, intelligence no earnin’ you more points on survival score board. As a species, same as Cro-Magnons and Neanderthals, your time will pass. Of course, you have ability to shorten your span if that’s what you want to do, but, existence happens for such a short time; why not make best of it while you can?
Okay, enough me. Your turn.”
Zane thought about that a moment, then lifted his hand to signal the bartender to head their way. “Two more please, heavy on the olives.” Turning to god, he said: “since you don’t have anywhere you have to be, give me a few more minutes, enjoy a few more olives, and help me out.”
God cackled. “Think you can schmooze me up with martinis, boy? Think you can trot me off to your room to do with me as you will and live to brag about it?” Watching the horror build in Zane, she relented a bit. “Well, I do like the olives so let’s just see where you think you’re going.”
“But, you know where I’m going, don’t you? Didn’t you agree you’re omniscient?”
“Omni scient ain’t all its cracked up to be, honey. Sometimes, best to play it as it falls. Don’t worry; I won’t bite you. What is it you want to ask?”
Still confused over the omniscient thing, Zane managed to pull his thoughts together enough to get out “tell me about the problem of evil.”
“What makes you think there’s a problem?”
“All the books say so. They say religion came about to deal with the problem of evil. So, why is there evil?”
“There isn’t; nor is there good. Does that help?”
The bartender returned with two new martinis, each furnished with two swords of olives, two olives each. God regarded her new drink before selecting the left hand sword. She slipped one olive from the sword with her lips to chew it slowly, savoring the crunch, the juice, and the meat of the olive. While she enjoyed herself, Zane thought about her answer. No matter how he looked at it, he knew he had to be missing something. There are bad people in the world; that is a fact. Given that fact, then evil must exist. If evil exists, then good must exist also. The very definition of one requires the existence of the other.
God finished the olive freeing her to continue the conversation. Addressing his current dilemma, she asked him: “You remember hurricane we talking about? Is hurricane evil?”
Zane was forced to admit the hurricane was not evil. “It has bad consequences for people but, in and of itself, it isn’t evil; it’s just a force of nature.”
“Was Black Plague evil?” god asked.
“It killed a lot of people,” Zane answered. “It killed them in an ugly way, horrifying, painful.”
“Without plague, they no die?”
“Of course, they still would have died but not in such a fashion.”
“Manner of death determines evilness of death?” God’s disbelief at this proposition brought an unladylike snort. Immediately behind the snort came a sarcastic “wait; wait; I know! I know answer to this one. It was devil; he did Black Plague. He evil incarnate so whatever he does must be evil. That will work, won‘t it. The devil did it.” The smug satisfaction at this conclusion was as ugly as any expression Zane had seen on her face.
“That problem, you see,” god continued but now she was back to her reasonable self. “As soon as you start pinnin’ responsibility for natural events on supernatural beings, you get this good versus evil thing. But good and evil are value judgments; your value judgments. Always revolve around reality of death. Bring us right back to tryin’ mitigate the reality, lookin’ for escape route. Problem of evil is problem of no wanting to die.“
“But there are bad people,” Zane protested.
“There are people with value systems different than yours. In your eyes they bad people but not in theirs. Your values goin’ to make you want to defeat their values. Socio-biological imperatives at work. Thing to remember is, when your side win struggle; it no mean you were right. It mean you won.”
“Isn’t life sacred?” Zane asked.
“When all life dies? Why death not sacred as life? They both events in normal life.”
“But we are taught to revere life,” Zane protested. “We’re taught to honor and protect life.”
“And look where that has taken you.” god said, the sarcasm back in full force. “Tell me about ‘living wills,’ why there suddenly such a thing as right-to-die? There not only a right to die; there is imperative to die. Everything livin’ must die; it’s rule.”
“Doctors shouldn’t try to save lives?” Now, Zane was upset. “We develop all this technology and we shouldn’t use it?”
“Your choice, Zane. What Iaskin’ why it is issue? If you value life so much, then do what you have to do. But ask your selves some questions. Ask what makes a person human and what indicates human life is over. How many lines must be flat before you concede that person no longer present? And if lines are arbiter, how many lines must unborn child exhibit before it’s human? If you think know when life begins, then must know when it ends. Vice versa, too.”
Zane took the time to enjoy an olive and sip of his new martini. When he was ready to talk again, his mind had found a new line of inquiry. “You seem to be pre-occupied with death,” he said but his tone made it clear that it was a question.
“Let’s call it Rome and observe that all roads lead there.”
“I don’t follow you,” Zane said.
“Religion starts with life and death. What is life and what is death and how do you enhance one while avoiding the other. The explanation for life must always be caveat-ed by explanation for death. Why is there either? That’s why you need god, to explain both. Religion assigns responsibility in order to establish a way to subvert explanations. Religion says do this and this and that; you escape cycle; you live forever. This and this and that are designed to appease me so that I will let you escape you cycle. I am ultimate bad guy and ultimate good guy rolled into one. If death not reality; you no need me.”
“What the point of life, then?”
Zane looked at the little Korean lady to see if she was being sarcastic but she wasn’t. Her face radiated satisfaction. Seeing his reservations, god attempted a clarifying remark. Holding the second sword before her face, she gazed beatifically upon the olives. “What,” she asked, “is point of soakin’ olives in good martini?” She devoured the two olives. When she finished swallowing, she answered her own question: “Enjoyment.”
Zane turned to consider his martini. He had an olive and a sip of the cocktail. Despite himself, he grinned at the pleasure of the experience. When he turned back to the little Korean lady, her glass was empty and she was gone.