Brothers in Arms
Brother Libra sat alone in the officer’s mess, quietly saying a prayer over a middle-of-the-night meal of warmed something, the result of Kwon’s experiments. “… and please let this be a reward for a hard day’s work, not a penitence for some forgotten uncharitable thought, like the last one. Amen.” Around him, the ship vibrated faintly as it flew silently through the watery depths back to hopefully useful territory. As he finished his prayer Moffett walked in looking worn out and sleepless, carrying a mug of soup with a spoon sticking out of it. Libra waved him to a seat and waited for him to take it. Moffett looked across the table at him uncertainly and vaguely crossed himself, as if he half expected to be asked to, making Libra smile and nod in acknowledgment and approval of the gesture. Once again it could be observed that there are few atheists in a foxhole.
“Couldn’t sleep,” Moffett mumbled, his eyes nervously rising to meet Libra’s, then falling and wandering around uncertainly.
Brother Libra smiled warmly. “A common after-effect of battle. It will get better.” He reached for his own spoon.
“Good service for the…” He paused and hunted for the right words. “My friends. Never been to church. Didn’t feel the need. But… what you said made it make a little more sense.”
“You are welcome. A sad but sometimes necessary part of the job. Prayers for the fallen can be silently done anywhere. But the still-living need to hear them, too, more often than not. Even if– no, especially if–they have not been to church for a long while. Helps them feel not so alone.” His thoughts were interrupted by Taj’s elderly monk avatar appearing on a side-screen.
“Tell us about the order, the Monks of St Possenti.”
“Don’t you know?”
“I remember many things. Too many, perhaps.” The avatar smiled a lopsided smile. “But I know far fewer. Some of the conscripts were asking about it, and you. Kell might want to hear your understanding of it. Your human understanding of it.” Moffett nodded affirmatively.
After tentatively taking a bite and deciding he may have had a good day, he considered the question. “Not much to tell. Wars happen. Young men, usually healthy and in the prime of life but not highly educated, are used up and tossed aside by rulers who see battalions as little more than interchangeable numbers on a map. For every one who dies of his injuries on the modern battlefield, three more are injured for life. Medicine has gotten miraculously good at fixing the physical damage, but not nearly so much progress has been made on repairing the mental damage done to people pushed to the extremes. A limb lost can be easily qualified and quantified and paid for by planners and politicians, and a prosthetic made or a replacement grown or a soldier medically retired.
“Psychiatric stresses are much less tangible, and less predictable, even among the most stable and well-grounded minds. Bishop Cranberry saw a need and looked for a different approach amid the cauldrons of war during the collapsing states of the middle twenty first century, a need to minister to young men who had seen and done things that broke their spirit, but who were not normally religious people. Studying neuroscience, history, and psychiatry as much as the Bible, he founded the order to take in and help them find a spiritual peace. His methods were unorthodox, demanding physical labor and a largely ascetic life with simple and nutritious foods, mixed with the study of history, how the brain works and learns, prayer, and precision shooting. It caused a great deal of consternation among the more traditionally minded. Even the more militant members objected because it stressed internal discipline rather than external, hierarchal, church-imposed discipline.” He paused to have a few more bites, Kell doing the same as he thought over the monk’s words.
“Some within the Church called him a heretic and demanded he be excommunicated for such beliefs. They were very afraid of him, for a heretic is a far greater threat than a common criminal: the criminal only threatens the person robbed; the heretic threatens the entire order of things. It almost worked. But the Pope at the time was a practical man, as were some leading cardinals, and they saw results among a population that no one else seemed willing or able to reach. Some other monastic orders objected because it wasn’t a life calling. But with the recent purges and incarcerations in non-papal jails, things were in flux, and it was allowed to continue. The numbers have varied hugely over the years, as wars come and go. We usually have a few members of the order out in the field, finding those in need and sending them our way.”
“But why shooting, bro-… brother, or is it father?”
“Why shooting if they were traumatized in war?”
“Three very important reasons. First, because precision shooting demands concentration and a great deal of self-awareness, self-control, focus, and keen observation and evaluation of the world as it is. Much like meditation, all else must be shut out. It teaches that these skills are not the same as killing. It isn’t for everyone. Shooting well also demands physical fitness. A physically challenging life is good for the body as well as the mind, and I cannot imagine a God who wants a man to have an unhealthy physical or mental state, or people that refuse to see the physical reality of the world.
“Second, symbols are important, and arms have long been a symbol of power. People are drawn to power; the weak for protection, the strong to get stronger. I cannot imagine a God that wants his followers to sign the suicide pact of absolute pacifism. Forgive your enemies, but do not bow down before them. Many suffer mental stress because they found themselves helpless on the battlefield. We help them learn the skills and discipline to feel that they are never totally helpless, with their own physical action as the first defense, their friends and the faithful as support, and with God if they are in extremis. It’s not that guns are of greater power than God, it’s a gateway to get men on a path to spiritual strength.”
“So you don’t run away from guns because God made Sam Colt, too?”
“Yes, exactly. God helps those who help themselves. It is difficult to help yourself if you are weak, physically or mentally. You cannot serve others if you are not even able to serve yourself. Possessing arms, and being confident in your ability to use them effectively if you are forced to, tends to make one feel strong enough to help yourself, and others, because free gun owners are not mere slaves to fate. The tool and the training must go hand in hand, so you don’t simply give them the brigand’s bravado a weapon in their belt might offer.”
Kell finished his soup, contemplating the idea, thinking deeper than he had in a very long time. “Third?”
“The missionary position.” Brother Libra grinned at Kell’s startled reaction. “Small joke. People need a purpose, a position in society they understand, a mission in life. For many, a decent job and a family is enough. But lose one or the other, and future may appear bleak. A man needs a family to support, and a woman to believe in him, or a cause to fight for, and a means to do it. A firearm is one of the most basic symbols of power in the earthly world. Young men will turn to gangs, or drugs, or crime and violence if they see pillars of the community disarmed, emasculated. Arm the righteous and give them training and spiritual backbone to know and do what’s right, and the young men will emulate rather than mock them, and be attractive to the women, meaning they can start a family. And the family is the core of creation. Disarm and beat down the men, the women will turn to the state or gangs or whomever appears strong to support them, the men will tune out and turn off, and all will turn nihilistic. They will become Satan’s unknowing tools. A man that is seen as a eunuch by women will be spurned, and his natural lust will be turned to ill ends. In other words, trained and self-disciplined men, citizens with guns, are the key to civilization.”
“But what about all that turn the other cheek stuff?”
“A slap across the face is an insult, and can often be safely ignored. But the thug baring his knife isn’t insulting you, he’s threatening your very existence, and that of your family and your polis. Failing to stop that attack is showing a lack of faith in the value of your beliefs, your family, and your civilization.”
“So… you are a heretic.”
Libra thought a minute. “Yes, sort of. But not a burn them at the stake sort, more the uncomfortably fringe type. Mostly pretty average doctrine, but a lot more emphasis on passages like Luke 22:36 and Proverbs 14:23 than many will understand. A man who cannot, or will not, defend his family and life isn’t really a man of faith, he’s a pawn of others, and God gave us free will so we’d not be pawns.”
“So without free will…?”
“There is no salvation, or damnation, because your course is set. Those that shrug, do nothing, and say it’s God’s will, are saying that it makes no difference what they do because their destination is already decided. They are amoral and destructive, because they believe their actions are meaningless, or at least their value is already determined. Destruction is easy, and it’s easy to see the effects of destructive power, and see only power. That is why some people and civilizations are more successful, giving rise to envy. It’s because people believe their actions DO matter, so they strive to create, and do good. It’s also why the tenth commandment is so important. If there is no free will, then being poor is not your fault because of your actions, just the vagaries of fate, of God’s will. But if you covet other people’s things, you want to take them, rather than earn your own through your actions, or finding other, better things you can create yourself.”
“So creating things is the opposite of envy?”
“Yes, in a way. Those who cannot or do not create often envy those that do.”
“….So why come out here, now? Are you creating something?”
“Excuse me?” Libra asked, not following the transition.
“You are a monk who’s not in a monkery… I mean, monastery. You are out here. Why? What are you creating? Something in the commandments?”
“Many things are commanded. Someone needs to spread the word, and I’ve been inside the walls for too long. I needed to walk in the world a while. Make new friends, find lost souls.”
“Like Bishop Cranberry found me?” Taj queried.
“Perhaps not exactly the same as that… I doubt we’ll have to disassemble and smuggle many humans out of a military base in pieces.”
“So you really think this ship’s alive?” Kell asked dubiously. Libra nodded.
“Do you believe I have a soul?”
“I… don’t know,” the monk replied cautiously. “Can an alien have a soul? I think you are a force of good, and part of God’s plan. Many things without souls are. But a soul? Maybe. To some, even admitting that possibility makes me a heretic, I’m sure.” He shrugged and leaned back. “If you help me save human souls and spirits, that’s enough for me to understand. I have my Mission.” He looked away from the avatar to the man sitting at the table with him. “You are welcome to come and visit for a while if you feel the need. We don’t run from the hard questions, though I can’t promise easy answers.”