I realise that all religions consider themselves to be the one true faith. The druids' claim was no different to that of any other religious nut wanting to feel special. Why get into a religion if it wasn’t the best one, better than all the rest. You never know, maybe you’ll turn out to be right.
But it would be foolish to overlook an obvious connection just because it seemed too obvious.
“So, you don’t follow the One True God?” I asked the two druids.
“Never,” said Brother Dereel. “Following one god is only one god away from believing in no gods.”
“We’d practically be atheists,” spat Brother Deneel.
“But you have heard of him? You know who he is.”
“Of course,” said Brother Deneel. “He is part of our lore, even if he betrayed those who we follow.”
“Betrayed how?” I asked, glancing over at Claire to make sure she was on the job. Her ability to read people’s minds, while not infallible, would help separate what they wanted us to think, and what they truly believed. Of course, if they believed their own bullshit, she’d get the same white noise as us.
“It is a long story, brother,” said Brother Dereel. “Come with us back to our temple and we will happily tell you all you wish to know about the old pantheon. They walked this land long before the likes of us.”
“They created all that you see in nature,” said Brother Deneel. “The clouds in the sky, the leaves on the trees, the ripples on the water…”
This was the problem with trying to get information from people who wanted to teach you their way of looking at the world. You never got a succinct answer.
“Never mind the birds and the bees,” I said impatiently. “The One True God, what was his name? Was it Joshaya?”
They both seemed a bit startled, which was a good sign, possibly. I looked over at Claire, but she was busy concentrating, brow furrowed.
“How do you know of Joshaya?” asked Brother Dereel, a little concern creeping into his voice. “You follow him?”
“This is not the place to speak of such things,” said Brother Deneel in a more hushed voice. “Come with us to our temple, and we can read to you from the Great Log. All the stories of creation are contained within. If you truly wish to know of the True Gods, the One True Faith will give you the answers you seek.”
“Yes,” said Brother Dereel. “Come with us. We have food. Tasty, tasty.”
“Stay as long as you like,” added Brother Deneel. “We have soft beds. Comfy, comfy.”
It probably comes as no surprise if I tell you I was somewhat suspicious of their intentions. Offering us free food and lodgings was bound to come with some catch. I looked at the others, who were all for a nice soft bed at this point. Bunch of sluts.
It wasn’t like we had a place to stay in the city. And having a couple of guides to show us where everything was didn’t seem like a terrible idea, even if they were planning to indoctrinate us into their cult. All we had to do was put up with their constant stream of nonsense. Compared to the gibberish I usually had to deal with from my band of merry morons, it might even be an improvement.
“And what do you expect from us in return?” I asked.
“No, nothing,” said Brother Dereel, his eyes wide and his hands waving away imaginary offerings.
“We only wish to help,” said Brother Deneel. “We already have everything we need.”
Looking at them, they didn’t immediately strike me as two men who had it all.
“That is the beauty of the One True Faith,” said Brother Dereel. “You merely have to ask the gods for your heart’s desire, and it will be granted.”
“Usually within five to seven days,” added Brother Deneel.
It was an oddly specific timeframe. Most religions avoided being quite so exact. Made it hard to maintain the illusion of being real when you had to deliver on your promises within a week.
“Do you speak to the gods directly?” asked Maurice. “In person?”
“No, sadly not,” said Brother Dereel. “We contact them through prayer.”
“And they always give you what you ask for?” I asked. This world was very different from ours, so it was always possible the deities here offered a more comprehensive service than the ones back home.
“If your faith is strong enough,” said Brother Deneel.
Then again, it might be just the same. Ask and you will receive, as long as you believe. If you didn’t receive, you didn’t believe enough. Oldest trick in the book.
“I prayed for a new robe just last week,” said Brother Dereel. “My old one had holes in embarrassing places.” He blushed. “And only five days later, Regadin the haberdasher was having a sale.”
“Hmm, sounds like a real miracle,” I said.
“It was!” said Brother Dereel. “Fifty percent off!” He grabbed the sides of his robe and stretched out the material for easier inspection.
Claire sidled up next to me, which can be a frightening experience if you don’t see her coming, and said, “I don’t think they have ulterior motives. They really believe in this stuff.”
“I don’t doubt it,” I said. “But that doesn’t mean they won’t drug our food or cut our throats when we’re sleeping, if their gods ask them to.”
Claire turned to confront the two druids, who noticeably flinched, even before she’d said anything. “Would your gods ask for human sacrifices?”
“No!” they both said together.
Claire turned to me. “What they say and what they think is completely in sync. Probably more than anyone I’ve ever met.”
Claire’s ability was good for spotting fakers. If you thought one way, and spoke another, she was able to pick up on it. But it was less useful for confirming sincerity. Because sincerity itself is unreliable.
“I don’t know how many times I have to explain this to you,” I said, trying not to sound condescending, and failing as usual, “but it doesn’t matter what they say or what they think, it only matters what they do. And you’ll only find out what that is after they do it.”
“Yes,” said Claire through gritted teeth. She was holding herself back because we had company, and it isn’t the English way to call someone a fuckface piece of shit in front of guests. “I know that. But I’m telling you they don’t have any malicious intentions right now, which is the best you can hope for in any given situation, isn’t it?”
She did have a point. All things taken into consideration, anyone could turn on you under the right conditions. People who mean well can end up doing you harm if that’s the only choice they’re left with. It’s still preferable to stick with those who at least start out with good intentions.
“Come with us and we will show you how to pray with your hearts. You will soon see the truth of our words,” said Brother Dereel.
“In five to seven days,” added Brother Deneel.
The whole pray for what you want concept was hard for me to accept. This was a fantasy world where strange things happened all the time, so it was possible there were gods here who actually did perform miracles, but my natural inclination was to call bullshit.
I don’t really have anything against religion, per se. Most of them encourage the same things. Be nice, be tolerant, help others and you’ll be rewarded with good karma, a place in heaven, a better next life, what have you. It doesn’t matter if it’s true or not, their teachings won’t do you any harm. If you follow them. Which most people don’t. And that’s the problem.
The people who are the strongest advocates of any given belief system are the worst at actually following it. They’re far too busy telling everyone else how important it is to do what their book says. They don’t have time to actually do it themselves.
You’d think with how brazenly people of faith ignore the tenets of their own religion, that they’d just make one up that justified their shitty behaviour. I mean, Christ was a straight-up hippie. A pacifist, anti-big business, soft on law and order. Why would you choose him as your Lord and saviour if you planned on living in a competitive society where it’s each man for himself?
I’m not saying that kind of society is wrong, but why have a Marxist poster boy? Better to come up with a god who glorifies the achievements of the individual. Then, when you’re asked to help out your less fortunate neighbour, you can say, “Sorry, I’d love to contribute towards your healthcare and pay for your children’s educations, but it’s against my religion.”
Zero hypocrisy. But no, people want to appear benevolent and act like shits.
You can see it in all religions. Praying five times a day is meant to keep you grounded and humble in the face of a being far greater than you. Bow down because you ain’t all that. But it ends up doing the opposite for most people. They’ve done their penance early, so now they can do what they like with impunity. The ones who pray most fervently have the most dubious things planned for the rest of the day, paid for in advance. And an act intended to foster humility instead promotes arrogance.
It isn’t connected to which faith you follow or what part of the world you come from, it’s just human nature. You will take whatever system you were born into, and try to twist it into something that gives you things you want, while making you feel like you’ve done nothing wrong.
And prayer is the clearest example of this. The idea you can pray to whatever deity you currently enjoy serving, and get free shit in return, is objectively incorrect. Not wrong in terms of belief or faith, wrong in terms of logic.
Gods don’t grant wishes. They can’t, any more than a referee can kick the ball in your direction. It invalidates the whole reason for them being there.
All religions (well, all apart from the weird ones made on a bet) ask you to behave in a certain way so you can be judged on your actions. The rewards you’re promised are dependent on those actions. So getting a helping hand makes it pointless.
They do all encourage prayer, but that isn’t because there’s a direct line to the gift shop. Praying to become a better person isn’t how religion works, that’s how The Wizard of Oz works. The purpose of prayer isn’t to talk to your god. It’s for you to talk to yourself.
When you pray for some particular outcome, it clears your mind and identifies what’s important to you. And once you have that clearer focus, it becomes easier for you to obtain that thing.
Doesn’t matter if it’s shagging the girl you like, or world peace. Once you realise it’s important to you, other things are less distracting and you can start thinking of how you can make it happen.
How you can.
Not that you will succeed, necessarily, but your chances go up when you zero in on your goal.
It’s not a particularly mind-blowing revelation. Obviously, if you take time to stop rushing around and just think quietly about how your life could be better, what would help you become a happier person, and meditate on how it might come about, that will help you get closer to it.
Of course, you could focus on some pretty fucked up shit. What you want might not be very pleasant, because you might be sick in the head, and most religions are aware of that and try to steer you away from doing horrible things. The power of prayer, of striving to obtain things you desire, is not limited to the nice stuff.
But it isn’t about being good and following the rules, and then getting to ask Santa for presents. That would make no sense. Not even if you were asking for someone else’s benefit. Even if you were a young boy whose mother had cancer.
Praying for her to get better would be pointless.
Please Lord, I’m a child and alone. If you take her away, I will have no one. Don’t take her away from me. I promise I’ll be good from now on.
You could pray for that, and she might go into remission, but the two wouldn’t be connected. There are no instant rewards. No scratch and win.
Which doesn’t mean you shouldn’t pray in those circumstances. You should. But not for her. About her.
Too often we only realise what we had once it’s gone. We appreciate it too late. When you pray for someone, you’re reminded what they mean to you. Instead of thanking them in a eulogy, you can be grateful while they’re still here.
And the reverse is also true. You can realise the harm they did just by being alive. How much they hurt others and created disharmony. People don’t become saints once they get a terminal illness. Their sins don’t get wiped clean. Once you stop dwelling on the fear and uncertainty, you can see things more clearly—that’s the power of prayer.
You can even pray for them to be taken quicker, and He will ignore that plea, also. Because your god is an ambivalent god. Don’t get me wrong, if He says He’ll punish evil and reward the good, I’m sure He will. But not today. You have to run the race before they give out the medals.
I don’t know if there really is a supreme being in the universe who created everything, but I do know that gods don’t intervene. They will not interfere in the trials of men. Not if the point of life is to prove yourself worthy.
Except… this was not the same world where those beliefs were created. In this world, maybe gods were just very powerful people. In some cases, very powerful children. How do you transfer your belief system to a world where magic exists and you can cheat mode your way up the leaderboard?
“Come,” said Brother Dereel. “At least let us share our food with you.”
“I’m an excellent cook,” added Brother Deneel.
Claire was giving me a glare that demanded I follow her advice on this one, while at the same time suggesting I eat shit and die. It was an impressively expressive glare. The others were waiting for me to decide.
The fact I was able to become the person who made the decisions was itself proof that miracles were real here. But it’s hard to change the way you see the world. Even harder to know how you should treat it, once you accept the change.
“It doesn’t matter,” said Jenny. “You only have to decide if something’s worth doing now. Whatever might go wrong, we’ll deal with it.” I strongly hoped her ability to sense my emotional state wasn’t extending into being able to read my mind. Because if she knew all the terrible things constantly running through my thoughts, God help me.
“Okay,” I said. “We’d be happy to accept your invitation.”
The smug look on Claire’s face was almost enough to make me reverse my decision on the spot.
“Wonderful,” said Brother Dereel.
“Marvellous,” said Brother Deneel.
They turned to escort us into the city.
“Oh, bother,” said Brother Dereel.
“Oh, bugger,” said Brother Deneel.
Coming towards us was a small group of soldiers.