Op. 16

 

FROM THE DEVIL TO GOD

 

Short Prose

 

Copyright © 1980-2010 John O'Loughlin

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CONTENTS

 

1. The Turning-Point

2. Caught Unawares

3. From the Devil to God

4. An Unexpected Crisis

5. To the Millennium and Beyond

6. Perfection Our Goal

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THE TURNING-POINT

 

Father Kells wrapped the dark-green dressing gown around his naked body, tied its cord tightly about his waist, and, switching off the light, emerged from the bathroom fresh and sweet-smelling into the passageway which led to Room 25 - the single room he had booked into that very evening.  With a swift turn of the key he quickly entered the room and, sighing in relief, gently closed its door behind him.  Then he went across to the only mirror the room possessed and began to comb his short brown hair into place, taking note of his face to ascertain that everything was more or less as it should be.  No, he had little cause to worry about his facial appearance, which now, as previously, was passably handsome.  Prolonged celibacy and solitude may have left some ugly marks on it, but, for all that, he was still only thirty and by no means a victim of wrinkles, puffy eyes, double chin, grey hairs, greasy skin, or anything of the like.  True, his lips might be a trifle tightly drawn and almost too severe for comfort.  But, on the whole, his face still had a certain youthfulness which inspired a degree of confidence, as well as allayed the doubts and fears that had momentarily assailed him.

     Having attended to his coiffure, he retired to the room's only armchair and prepared himself for the impending arrival of the person from whom he had earlier booked a professional call.  What she would look like for certain, he couldn't of course be sure.  But he hoped, anyway, that his approximate specifications would be honoured, and that an agreeably attractive young black woman would knock on the door in due course. 

     And so he waited, slightly apprehensive lest the experience should turn out to be a disappointment or even an ordeal, but, at the same time, curiously excited by the prospect of what lay in store for him.  He couldn't quite slot into any particular mood or feeling about it; for no sooner had a positive thought occurred to him ... than a negative one would take its place, causing him to lose heart slightly and once again question the moral justification of what he was doing.  But, really, he had to start somewhere after all, and even if this wasn't quite the best or most honourable of ways, at least it was a way of sorts and, God knows, he needed it!  For he was still, to all intents and purposes, technically a virgin, having adhered to the priestly ideal of strict celibacy ever since he came-of-age, so to speak, and entered the Church as a raw youth of eighteen.

     Yes, he was still a virgin, though not, alas, a particularly happy one, since the exigencies of clerical chastity had left their psychological marks on him and resulted, over the years, in his becoming progressively more depressive and sexually frustrated.  Apart from a few minor aberrations of a petting order with some young women of his parish, he had consistently denied the Old Adam in himself, denied it in deference to his vocation as a spiritual leader, a man of God.  Yet such a denial had not brought him the peace he expected but, on the contrary, had led to his becoming increasingly restless and dissatisfied with his lot - indeed, had led to serious doubts as to whether he should have become a priest in the first place.  To be sure, he didn't feel he had it in him to remain celibate for ever, as his vocation demanded.  No, the going in that respect was indeed tough and becoming steadily tougher!  And not simply on account of the sexual abstinence itself, but also, and no less significantly, on account of the seemingly ever-growing number of perversions and temptations by which he was assailed - most of which caused him to shudder with disgust at the mere thought of them!  But, of course, there was the depression as well, and that, as he well knew, wasn't becoming any the less painful with the passing of time.

     Whether, in fact, it could be wholly ascribed to his celibacy or whether the noisy urban environment in which he lived and worked was responsible for some of it, he didn't know for sure.  But he was anxious, all the same, to do what he could to correct it and, if possible, restore himself to a healthier state-of-mind - even if this did mean that a number of radical changes would have to be made in his life, and that he might accordingly find himself obliged to work outside London and adopt friendlier relations towards women than hitherto.  After all, he was a man, not a god, and although he might be a priest with certain very idealistic standards to live up to, and consequently be closer to the godly than the majority of men, yet his manhood was still a fact of life which couldn't be entirely denied.  He was a man, and therefore he had a body to live with and, in some sense, even to honour.

     True, he was not by nature the most sensual of men.  But neither was he the most spiritual - at least not in any absolute sense.  If he was predominantly spiritual, it was not so to such an extent that he could systematically deny himself sexual gratification without unduly jeopardizing his health and peace of mind.  He had certainly discovered that fact!  If he was a spiritual leader, he was one who still had to honour the body to some extent and, as regards sex, this he had signally failed to do.  Now perhaps, in this small hotel room, he might be able to redress the balance slightly, and thus go some little way towards appeasing the flesh. 

     No man can properly serve two masters at once, least of all two such exacting and uncompromising ones as God and the Devil.  But, then again, no man can wholly serve only one or the other, either.  Sooner or later the fact has to be accepted that one's nature demands a compromise of sorts between these two extremes, and that failure to honour such a compromise can lead to the most unpleasant consequences - consequences of which Father Kells was only too aware, as he ambivalently awaited the arrival of the visiting masseuse.  As Baudelaire - his favourite French poet - had so truthfully put it: 'There are in every man, always, two simultaneous allegiances, one to God, the other to the Devil', and even a priest was not exempt from this general rule.  No, he might strive to honour the spiritual as much as possible, but he was still tied to the sensual and the obligations it imposed.  He was still a man.

     But what of the injunction to celibacy - was that therefore wrong?  Father Kells, tonight divested of his customary frock and posing under the alias Edmund Healy, stared thoughtfully at the dark-blue carpet in front of his feet and ran the forefinger of his right hand across the sharp bridge of his aquiline nose, as he often did when plunged in reflection.  In one sense it was, and in another sense it wasn't.  To begin with, one was a man, and consequently injunctions that ran contrary to one's basic human nature and its needs were potentially harmful and could only result, in the long-run, in one's nature rebelling against them.  Yet though, on the other hand, it might prove impossible to adhere too stringently to it, the injunction to celibacy had the merit of encouraging, if not maintaining, a standard of spiritual leadership compatible with one's priestly vocation.  For what right had one to lead the flock and lay claim to spiritual authority if one was as prone to sexual indulgences as the next man?  Could one really consider oneself a spiritual exemplar if one was yet guilty of carnal commitments to an average extent?  No, of course not!  There had to be a standard of celibacy set, even if one was likely, as a human being, to relapse, from time to time, into average or, more likely, above-average sexual habits.  Otherwise one had no business considering oneself a worthy example of spiritual guidance to one's parishioners.  The standard was there and, as a priest, one had a duty to adhere to it to the extent one could.  Too bad if perversions and temptations occasionally got in the way!

     He glanced at the small wall clock above the dresser and noted that it was now five-to-eight.  It was over an hour ago that he had telephoned the massage bureau.  Soon, he hoped, the masseuse would arrive.  Quite how he would respond to her he didn't know, but he hoped, anyway, that she would be able to alleviate the burden of his celibacy a little.  For if she didn't, he would be no better off than previously - indeed, he would probably be worse off, and not only financially but also, and more seriously, as regards the progressive worsening of his depression, the feeling that, short of leaving the priesthood, all routes for easing it had been blocked to him.

     But could he leave the priesthood now?  He didn't think so.  At least he had no idea what he would alternatively do.  After all, he hadn't received any other training and felt that it was a bit late now to embark on something new - another career, that is.  Alternatively, he could opt to take a secular clerical job which wouldn't require too much training.  But whether he would be able to step down from the rung of his professional status onto the relatively humble one of a drudge-ridden white-collar worker ... was something about which he couldn't be absolutely sure.  More than likely he wouldn't be able to, since his pride would rebel against it.  More than likely he would have to continue as a priest, irrespective of the psychological and physiological difficulties with which such a vocation presented him.  He couldn't see any real alternative at present.

     Just as the clock reached eight, there was a gentle rap on the door, followed by a couple of soft coughs intended to clear the throat.  "It must be her," he thought, and quickly got up from his armchair and hurried over to the mirror to take a last critical look at his face.  His heart had started to beat more rapidly - indeed, so rapidly that he was afraid she might hear it.  His hands began to tremble and his legs to grow weak with the apprehension he was feeling.  "Oh God," he groaned, as he crossed the carpet, "I hope I don't make a damn fool of myself!"  He reached the door, hesitated a moment to swallow a ball of saliva which had welled-up in his mouth, and, with sweaty hand, unlocked and pulled it slowly open.

     "Ah hello!... Mr Healy?"

     He nodded bravely and stood back to admit her to his room.  He couldn't see properly, for the wave of embarrassment that had suddenly surged over him carried all objectivity before it.

     "My name's Veda by the way, and I've come as requested," she sweetly and almost gratuitously informed him, entering the room with an air of confidence.

     He quickly closed the door and stood for a moment undecided what to do or say.  It was as though he had lost the power of speech, so great was his mental confusion.  "Ah yes," he at length managed to respond, casting her a hollow smile while simultaneously making a swift attempt at physical appraisal.  "Well ..." and he made an involuntary gesture of helplessness "... what should I do first?"

     The young masseuse smiled and put the leather bag she was carrying onto a nearby table.  "I take it you've had your bath?" she said, extracting a plastic sheet from its interior and walking towards the bed.

     "Yes," he nervously admitted.

     "Good!  Then if you'd like to remove your dressing gown and stretch out on this sheet for me, I'll set about massaging you," she said.

     It was only now that Father Kells was able to acquire a better look at her.  Bent over the bed, she was dressed in a short fur coat with a dark-green cotton skirt, black stockings, and contrasting white high-heels.  Her calf muscles were both firm and well-defined, and, as she stretched farther across the bed to draw the expanse of plastic sheet smoothly into place, the shapely outline of her rump became agreeably apparent, suggesting a certain fleshiness which an upright posture would probably have hidden.  Her thick black hair hung down her back and spilled over the side of her face as she bent forwards.

     "There!" she exclaimed, turning a bright pair of dark-brown eyes towards him.  "If you'd just care to stretch out for me."

     He hadn't as yet taken off his dressing gown, but stood with it loosely draped around his nudity, as though afraid to proceed further.

     Sensing his embarrassment, she came across to where he was standing and offered to help him out of it.

     "You d-don't mind that I'm not w-wearing anything underneath, then?" he pitifully stammered, as she moved to one side to assist him unburden himself.

     "Of course not!" she smilingly averred.  "That's how I need you to be."

     Hardly reassured, he allowed her to take the dressing gown from him and then hurried across to the bed, where he stretched out on his stomach with his face turned away from her, so as to hide his embarrassment.  Again, he was conscious of the rapidity of his heartbeat and felt himself breaking into a cold sweat.

     "What's your first name, by the way?" Veda asked, as she slipped out of her clothing and began to prepare herself for the task ahead.

     Father Kells was just on the point of replying Patrick when he checked himself at the last moment and stuttered "E-Edmond" instead.

     "Oh, really?  You're the first Edmond I've ever visited," she informed him in an almost gleeful tone-of-voice.

     There ensued a painful silence for 'Edmond', as she proceeded to arrange the tools of her trade and make ready her professional appearance, but he didn't have the courage to turn his face towards her in order to see exactly what she was up to, not even when she inquired whether he had ever been massaged before, and he replied in the negative.

     "So what d'you do with yourself all day?" she asked, after another painful silence had supervened - one even more difficult for Father Kells to cope with than the previous time.

     He felt the blood rush to his face in response to this probing and seemingly intimate question, but managed to stammer "I'm a w-writer," in spite of his shame at being obliged to improvise another lie on the spur-of-the-moment.  He could hardly tell her the truth!

     "What kind of a writer?" she wanted to know.

     "Oh, just a f-fiction writer," he stammered.

     "Really?"

     The exclamatory nature of her response suggested that she was interested to hear this, but he was relieved when she didn't pursue the inquiry further, either because the subject of fiction-writing didn't particularly intrigue her or because she had other, and possibly more important, things to think about.  For she burst into a little bout of absentminded humming which suggested as much?  Almost simultaneously he heard the tap running in the washbasin behind him, in indication of the fact that she was washing her hands.  Dare he turn his head to see exactly what she looked like at this juncture?  But for his being able to remember the fact that the washbasin had the smallest of mirrors high above it, he would have kept his face turned in the opposite direction.  With this fact in mind, however, he decided to chance a glance at her and slowly turned his head towards the source of the running water.

     What he saw there was enough to make him gulp with surprise!  For the masseuse had, in the meantime, changed into a short white overall which barely covered her legs, and, as she bent over the basin, the greater part of her thighs was exposed to view, revealing a seductive fullness it would have been impossible to ignore.  An inch or two further in her bending, and the young priest would have been confronted by the lower and fuller half of her bulbous rump!  But the masseuse had no intention of bending any further, since she wasn't washing her face, so he had to remain content with what he could see, which, in any case, was considerably more than he had bargained for!  Never before had his eyes beheld so much bare flesh in actuality, though he had seen photographs of naked models in a variety of men's magazines on a number of occasions.  The sight of it was sufficient to make his heart beat even faster, not to mention louder, and cause his flaccid penis to stiffen slightly beneath him.  He couldn't have hoped for a sexier masseuse!

     Such tepid voyeurism wasn't to last long, however.  For he had hardly been given a chance to focus his sex-starved eyes on her seductive thighs when she straightened up, turned off the tap, and dried her hands, obliging him to turn his face back towards the opposite wall again.  He couldn't allow himself to risk being caught staring at her.  It would have unduly compromised him, in his own estimation.

     "Right, now let's get down to business!" she said, approaching the bed with a small bowl of massage lotion in her hands.  "I'll start with your back and gradually work downwards."

     He grunted approval and automatically closed his eyes.  He was afraid of what he might see out of the corner of the nearest one to her, if he kept them open.

     "Now then," she remarked, sitting down on the edge of the bed, "let's rub some grease into this parched hide, shall we?"

     He shuddered at the touch of her fingers on his back - as much from the fact of their initial coldness, which was largely due to the massage lotion itself, as from the physical contact their tender femininity had upon him.  But as his discomfort subsided and he became more familiar with them, he felt a curiously-reassuring warmth pervade his back which induced him to smile a little, in spite of the effort he was making to keep a straight face.  Yes, it was pleasant, this physical contact, and he couldn't disguise the fact.  Pleasant to feel the cool lotion enter his skin and set-up little ripples of excitement there.  Pleasant, above all, to be treated like this.

     Yet it was even more so when, responding to his growing satisfaction with her treatment, Veda climbed onto the bed and, kneeling astride him, proceeded to apply the lotion with greater firmness, stretching up to his shoulder-blades and caressing the quite wide expanse of his back with a two-handed ardour.  Not only was his back in the firing-line of her massaging assault, as it were, but certain other parts of him were, too!  For it seemed that he could feel the touch of something other than hands upon him at this moment, like the tickling sensation of pubic hair on his backside and the even more intriguing sensation of pubic flesh there, which suggested the absence of underclothes on the young masseuse.  Could it be, then, that she was completely nude under her skimpy white overall?  Judging by the tickling sensations on his backside, there seemed to be adequate grounds for such an assumption.  Yet before he could arrive at any definite knowledge on that score, the masseuse had changed her position again and begun to rub lotion into his buttocks and even, he could hardly fail to note, between them, causing him to blush anew and almost, though not quite, protest against her.  For not only had she rubbed lotion dangerously close to his anus, she was now proceeding to come dangerously close to his flaccid pudenda - in fact, so close as to tickle one or two of his scrotal hairs!  The alarm, however, was a false one, and it was with a certain moral relief that he felt her hands moving from his buttocks to the back of his thighs and then on down his legs to the calf muscles, which she proceeded to massage in long, smooth strokes.

     "You like it?" she asked.

     "Yes," came his answer in a slightly strained tone-of-voice.

     "Good!  Now let's do your front."

     She had stopped rubbing his legs and was waiting for him to turn over.  He hesitated on the brink, suddenly overcome with embarrassment at the prospect of being fully exposed to her.  Never before had the experience of turning over onto his back proved so daunting!  Yet he realized, as the seconds ticked away, that he had no option but to shift his position, and so, overcoming his misgivings, he turned over and bashfully presented a hairy chest to her.  Blushing deeply, he couldn't force himself to look her straight in the face, but turned his head to one side.  What would she think of him, he wondered?  Had she ever dealt with such a recalcitrant client before?

     "What a nice dark chest you have!" the masseuse enthused, and, pouring some fresh oil into her palm, she climbed over him again and began to apply a pair of firm though sensitive hands to it, smiling encouragement all the while.

     Slowly, he turned his face towards her.  It seemed to cost him a great effort but resulted in his feeling reassured and newly interested in her appearance.  She didn't look back at him but kept her eyes steadily focused on his chest, and while his gaze slowly encompassed the spectacle of her smiling face and the even more alluring spectacle of her copious breasts, which, like two ripe coconuts, were virtually hanging out of the low-neck overall she was nominally wearing, he was made conscious once more of a tickling sensation about the region of his groin, a sensation brought on, he felt sure, by contact with her pubic hair.  And as though to verify it, he found himself sliding his hand up one of her thighs and under her overall, ever so slowly and gently at first but, nevertheless, with calculated intent.

     Indeed, the hand seemed to have a life of its own and so, too, did his penis, which, partly in response to what his eyes were beholding higher up and partly in response to what his flesh was experiencing through naked contact with an alien body lower down, had begun to stir gently beneath him.  Now as his hand climbed her thigh and, disappearing under the white overall, came into contact with her hip, it became perfectly clear to him that she was in fact naked underneath after all, and that his penis was now responding to nothing less than her pubic self!  She was tickling him with the dark hair and warm flesh of her labia, as she knelt astride him and continued to smile whilst applying the massage lotion to his chest.

     But that wasn't all she was doing!  For now that his chest had been taken care of, she moved herself further down his body and, still kneeling astride him, applied her hands to his abdomen and lower regions, causing him to blush anew.  Now the spectacle of his penis growing progressively more inflamed was exposed to full view, and he could hardly fail to take note of it!  Neither could he fail to note the fact that she had now begun to massage it, thereby encouraging its expansion.  And as she took it in her hands and tenderly applied more lotion to its bulging contours, she shifted her position once more, so that the kneeling became a squat and, for the first time, the cavernous depths of her pubic region were exposed to his avid gaze.

     That did it!  He could contain himself no longer but immediately reached out to draw her towards himself and, taking hold of her with a firm grip, dragged her down onto the bed and climbed on top of her.  He thrust himself upon her in a frenzy of physical passion and sunk his erection deep inside her with a resolve he wouldn't ordinarily have considered himself capable of, much less succumbing to!  He sunk his blood-engorged penis inside her with a determination born from years of sexual abstinence, of fidelity to priestly chastity, and he didn't withdraw it again until every last drop of semen had been ejaculated and he had gone some way towards appeasing and even exorcising the demons of his lust.  If he was denying himself the benefits of a heavenly salvation, he at least had the consolation of an earthly one, and that, as he now knew, was considerably better than nothing!

 

 

CAUGHT UNAWARES

 

Gently, Jeffrey Collins rubbed the sleep from his bleary eyes and calmly opened them upon the intriguing spectacle of his wife getting dressed.  She had pulled back the curtains of their bedroom windows to let-in the early-morning light, and now that he was awake he noticed how bright it was in the room and how clearly everything stood out and captured his attention, especially the slender though shapely figure of Rachel, at present clad in nothing more than a pair of pink nylon panties and a matching brassiere, the slender strap of which was partly visible to either side of her long black hair.  At that moment she had her back to him and was pulling a nylon stocking into place over her right thigh with attentive care, no doubt from fear of laddering or poking a hole in it, and with an air that suggested that she was putting the finishing touches to a work of art.  Which, in a sense, she was.  For dressing was a kind of art in itself with Rachel Collins - applied rather than fine art, so to speak.  And she knew how to dress herself, indeed she did!

     As yet, however, she wasn't aware that Jeffrey was watching her, and so there was something pleasingly natural and unselfconscious about her movements, something agreeably unpretentious, one might almost say.  Had she suddenly turned around and caught her husband staring at her with that complacently-admiring expression on his face, she would almost certainly have smiled in self-satisfaction at him or, rather, to herself, as women often did when they thought they were being admired.  And her subsequent actions would probably have been correspondingly more self-conscious and artificial.  However, she did not turn around, but straightaway proceeded to the other leg, balancing precariously on one foot as she gently pulled the stocking over her calf muscle and attended to its heel.  The self-conscious sex, as Jeffrey Collins liked to think of women, was in this case objectively engaged in the art of dressing, and thus otherwise preoccupied.

     Oh, but what a rump she had!  He could hardly fail to appreciate, perhaps for the thousandth time, the shapely outlines of her buttocks and the gentle curve of her hips, as she bent forward to put the finishing touches to the garbing of her left leg.  Right from the beginning, from the very first days of their romance, he had been keenly appreciative of the quality of her rump, which, though firm and ample, was not over-large.  To him, it signified a golden mean of feminine beauty, and was always a pleasure both to look at and to touch - that is, to hold, stroke, pat, squeeze, press, prod, rub, smack, etc., as the situation seemingly warranted.  Of all the weapons at her disposal for the conquest of the male it was subordinate only to her face and legs, perhaps the third greatest physical asset she possessed.  Its enticing contours had more than once overcome his carnal reserve, so to speak, and induced him to launch a coital attack that could only result in a sexual victory for her.  For she was by no means unaware of the power it exerted over him or of the esteem in which he held it, deeming it a rump in a million.  Perhaps in reality it was a rump in two or five or even ten millions, though he had never bothered to wonder if it might be, preferring to settle into the cliché of a nice round figure and leave the matter at that.

     But he had little doubt that it was a rather special rump and possibly compensated for her breasts, which were so small that one often wondered why she bothered to wear a brassiere at all.  Perhaps because she didn't have the courage not to wear one, to come face-to-face, as it were, with their diminutive size and the consequent realization that, by adult female standards, she was something of a freak?  Perhaps the brassiere served to hide or, at any rate, minimize this physical defect by creating appearances to the contrary?

     Jeffrey didn't know for sure and, from fear of hurting her feelings, he had never dared to inquire into the matter.  But, being a rather perspicacious psychologist in his own right, he couldn't dismiss the possibility as a mere figment of the imagination.  In all probability, it was one of a number of motives she had for wearing a bra, if not the chief one then almost certainly a significant and valid one.  The fact that it also served to enhance her femininity and appeal to the fetishist in him couldn't be ignored, either.  And he would have been the last person to pretend he didn't like it, or that it wasn't a viable weapon in her assault on his sensibility.

     Nevertheless the fact that she had extremely small breasts couldn't be denied, and Jeffrey fancied it to some extent explained not only why she had such a seductive rump, but also the reason he had gradually come to attach so much sexual importance to it, ascribing to it a status which it might not otherwise have warranted, had she been more generously endowed elsewhere.  No doubt, that was why he spent more time caressing her rump than fondling her breasts.  For it had largely taken over the role of the latter, concentrating her sexuality about the middle of her body.  There was, however, a chance that if she subsequently bore offspring, the exigencies of motherhood would bring about a transformation in the size of her breasts, thereby endowing her with a new sexual dimension.  If so, then so much the better! thought Jeffrey.  He reckoned he could do with a change of sexual perspective!

     She had pulled the second stocking into place and was now bending over further than before, stretching a hand down to straighten-out and smooth-over the nylon material in the region of her toes.  Looking at her thus, it was impossible for Jeffrey Collins not to become sexually aroused, and he felt his penis acquiring a kind of autonomous life of its own under the quilt as it slowly expanded and slid across part of his lower abdomen.  Now he could see the patch of firmer material sown into her panties about the region of her crotch, as well as the outlines of her labia, with their at times fairly-pronounced clitoral cynosure snugly nestled in-between.  It was, to say the least, an alluring sight, and one that rarely failed to exert a spell on him, even at this virgin time of day.  To claim she was seductive, viewed thus, would have been an understatement.  She was positively ravishing!  The mystique of her feminine charm was undeniably potent, and had she remained in that position a moment longer he might have felt obliged to jump out of bed and have his way with her, like a behaviouristic rat responding to a programmed stimulus.  But, fortunately or unfortunately, depending on one's standpoint, she soon straightened up and walked towards the dresser.

     From fear she should notice him staring at her in the reflection of the dressing-table mirror, he closed his eyes and feigned sleep.  Of course, it wouldn't really matter if she did notice him, considering that they were married and extremely well-acquainted with each other by now.  Yet, all the same, he wanted to prolong this context, in which she was unselfconsciously preoccupied and unaware of his attention, a little while longer.  It was pleasant, after all.

     Yes, and as he lay there, listening to her movements in front of the dresser, an image of her slenderness came into his mind's eye and he half-smiled his satisfaction of her beauty, satisfied, as much as anything, that he was actually married to this woman whose beauty left little - if one discarded her diminutive breasts - to be desired.  Was there another woman in the world to whom he would rather be married?  No, he didn't think so, and this realization enhanced his satisfaction, emphasizing his complacency in partnership.  She was just right for him and he, for his part, was just right for her.  A pair of slender people together.  She was undoubtedly one of the highest type of women in the world, being so lean and yet shapely, such a paradoxical combination of fleshiness and slenderness, seduction and primness.  Her beautifully-round fleshy arms narrowing down to a pair of angular wrists of seemingly extreme fragility.  Her oval-shaped calf muscles, slender yet well-formed, leading up to her amply seductive womanly thighs, on which reposed that alluring rump in a million with its overarching buttocks which, in tight-fitting jeans, were the envy of many a passing female.  And of course her curvy hips and narrow waist, the delicate nape and firm shoulder blades which, in addition to her more private charms, contributed to the overall harmony of her person with a subtlety worthy of great art.

     Yes, coupled to her fine intelligence and spiritual disposition, her slenderness virtually guaranteed that she was of the highest type of women - the result of generations of careful breeding.  Beneath her were all the medium-built women, those average sensual females with fleshier thighs and rump, larger breasts, more powerful arms, thicker necks, etc., who constituted a majority and appealed, as a rule, to medium-built men.  They were closer to the ideal of Rubens or Boucher than to that of, say, Rossetti or Bourne-Jones: closer, in a manner of speaking, to the Devil.  And beneath them, as the lowest stratum of women, were the corpulent, those who were obliged to carry an excess of fat about with them wherever they went and who were more often than not fit prey for similarly-constituted men.  Their sensuality was usually of an above-average nature, and so they stood closest of all to the Devil.  There were more than a few such corpulent bodies falling heavily to Hell in Rubens' great painting The Fall of the Damned, and, no doubt, he would have had more sympathy with them than certain other artists.

     But there it was, facts were facts and they couldn't be denied.  One had a body and whether that body was fat or thin or somewhere in-between ... made a significant contribution towards determining one's evolutionary status in the world.  For as Jeffrey Collins liked to maintain, evolution was a sort of journey from Hell to Heaven, from the sensual to the spiritual, and consequently the more spiritual one was, the higher one stood in the human hierarchy and the closer, in consequence, to the future culmination of evolution in pure spirit.  By not having too much flesh to carry about, one was less prone to sensual distractions and indulgences than those who were physically dominated by the flesh.  It was fundamentally as simple, in Jeffrey's estimation, as that!

     And so, by definition, higher-class women were slender, lower-class women plump or fat, and middle-class women ... somewhere in between.  One might even argue that corpulent people were effectively pagan, or sensuous; medium-built people effectively Christian, or intellectual; and slender people effectively transcendental, or spiritual.  One's physique and psyche were intimately connected, and this fact largely determined how one saw the world and what one did in it.  A person with an excess of fat could hardly be expected to ascribe as much importance to the spirit as a slim person, and, considered objectively, it was evident that his/her physical constitution was inferior to the latter's, since signifying a greater attachment, in its sensuality, to the natural world.  For nature was, after all, of sensuous origin and couldn't possibly be equated with spirit - not, at any rate, in this day and age.  The more natural one was, the lower one stood in relation to human evolution, which was a progression, so Jeffrey liked to believe, from the natural to the supernatural, and thus towards the eventual establishment of Heaven.  Like it or not, the truth was manifest and couldn't be denied.  The spirit was slowly triumphing over the flesh.

     But there were, however, moments when it was right for the flesh to triumph over the spirit, which it could do even where such an intelligent, slender, and beautiful woman as Rachel Collins was concerned.  For even if one approximated, in evolutionary terms, to the top of the human hierarchy, one was still a man or a woman, not yet a component of the transcendental Beyond, and consequently one was under some obligation towards the flesh.  As a woman, one might go in for all the slimming and yoga one liked, but still one was a woman and one's vagina more than mere decoration.  There was a raison d'être to it all right, which resided in ensuring the propagation of the species.  At least, that was the essential function of the sexual apparatus, though these days, what with the further development of civilization away from nature, no person worthy of the name 'civilized' could possibly content himself with regarding sex merely from a utilitarian or naturalistic standpoint, as though something to be indulged in for no other purpose than the propagation of the species!  On the contrary, while the essential function of the sexual apparatus was still acknowledged and occasionally given its due, one increasingly permitted oneself a less natural and, on the whole, more artificial attitude towards sex, which reflected the degree of one's spiritual sophistication in the face of purely naturalistic criteria.  Not to be capable of sex-for-sex's sake would indeed, to Jeffrey's way of thinking, have constituted a failing in regard to the evolutionary progression from Hell to Heaven.  As a contraceptionless propagator, one was simply closer to the natural-world-order, and thus to Hell.  But as a person who could to some extent triumph over the natural-world-order and thereby spiritualize sex, one was clearly of a generation or civilization on the path to Heaven, to the eventual transformation of man into pure spirit at the culmination of human evolution.

     Yes, there were all sorts of ways of spiritualizing sex, not least of all through the media of sex magazines and sex films and sex tapes and even sex dolls.  Our age was indeed prolific in devising alternatives to natural sex, and in that, as in so many other respects, it had brought civilization to its highest ever level - a level, however, which the future would doubtless surpass as things became ever more spiritually-inclined, and so drew closer to the establishment of ultimate divinity.  Of course, the degree of one's sexual evolution wasn't only determined by the extent of civilization being manifested at any given time, but was also a personal matter, relating to one's temperament and physique, class and environment, as well as reflecting one's attitude to life and even, in some measure, one's private circumstances. 

     As far as Jeffrey was concerned, sex-in-moderation was his preferred mean, a mean also honoured by his wife, who was likewise both physically and spiritually qualified to endorse it.  A lesser woman would undoubtedly have been more demanding of him, requiring sexual satisfaction on a more regular basis than merely once a week.  But, as already noted, Rachel was effectively of the highest type of women, and thus given to the spiritual to a much greater extent than to the sensual.  They had come to terms with each other on a mutually acceptable basis, and it was only very rarely that this basis was infringed!  They both knew what they wanted from life and where it was tending - how it would end.  Teilhard de Chardin's philosophy, with its endorsement of a spiritual convergence towards an omega point, the transcendent goal of evolution, had made a profound impression on them, clarifying their obligations to each other.  It was their duty, they felt, to act the part of spiritual leaders in or near the vanguard of evolutionary progress.  Not too exclusively of course, but certainly with a reasoned consistency which never completely lost track of the correct path to follow.  When they made love, for instance, they did so on the understanding of paying their dues to the flesh, not simply enjoying themselves.  There was a higher love than sensual love, and that was the love with which they were primarily concerned - namely spiritual love.  Perhaps Rachel, being a woman, was slightly less concerned with it, overall, than Jeffrey.  Nevertheless she was certainly concerned with it to some extent - a fact which elevated her above the average sensual level of femininity, giving her a specific orientation in life.

     But poor Jeffrey Collins was almost ashamed, these days, that he had actually been in love with Rachel at one time and, to some extent, was still in love with her even now.  For this love wasn't a spiritual thing, but came from nature as a very sensual, physical, passionate thing!  In this day and age love in that sense was indeed a blow to one's spiritual self-esteem, a kind of romantic disease that was increasingly regarded, by the more spiritually-sophisticated and progressive people, with a certain ironic detachment coupled, at times, to a degree of pity or contempt for its victims.  Here we were, becoming ever more godly, ever more given to the spirit, when suddenly an eruption of romantic love threw us into confusion and reminded us that, for all our evolutionary progress, we were still human and thus subject, in some degree, to the laws of nature!

     Yes, we were still human, though not, thank God, passionately romantic!  We were steadily outgrowing our sensuous past and becoming more acutely aware of the difference between Hell and Heaven.  We didn't regard sensual love with the complacency that our grandfathers or great-grandfathers might have done.  We knew that it acted as a kind of hindrance to our spiritual progress, even though it was generally less powerful these days than in times when men lived closer to nature.  The chances of an intelligent big-city person being struck down with a romantic passion akin to Dante's for Beatrice were, to say the least, pretty remote.  And even a passion akin to that of Lord Byron's for Lady Hamilton would have had the cards stacked against it.  Only someone from a predominantly rural background would be likely to succumb to the romantic bug on a Dante-esque or even a Byronic scale, and thus bring the past to light in the present, though at the risk of public ostracism or even mockery.

     Yet even if Jeffrey's love for Rachel had never attained to anything like the passionate levels experienced by the aforementioned poets (not to mention the great poets of the past in general), still it had been sufficiently strong to cause him to gloat over her body with a frequency and ardour which imposed a degree of humiliation upon his latter-day ego whenever he reflected upon it.  To think that, a little over a year ago, the body of this woman should have had such a powerful effect on him, causing him to forsake all higher matters!  It was almost enough to make one blush with shame!  And when he wasn't actually admiring her body or making love to it, he was dreaming or thinking about her, and to such an alarming extent that his professional commitments often suffered, and he found himself reprimanded, on a number of occasions, by both the principal violinist and the conductor of the New City Orchestra, in which he was a first violinist, for slack musicianship - playing out-of-tune or time or whatever.  Indeed, he had nearly lost his post over her!  But now, thank God, all that was history and he could once more fiddle with a clear head.

     Gone, too, were the days when he would drag her along to the opera in the evening, to sit through a performance of Faust or Carmen or Manon or some such romantic masterpiece in one of the leading venues.  If he took her anywhere on his evening off, these days, it was usually to an instrumental concert, where he could have the privilege of watching and listening to an orchestra for a change, and where the programme would more than likely be dedicated to such spiritually-uplifting masterpieces as, say, Poulenc's Organ Concerto or Rubbra's Seventh Symphony or Schoenberg's Werklärte Nacht or Vaughan Williams' Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis.  Then they could acknowledge the superiority of the spirit over the senses, even though the spirit of such great music patently issued from sensuous means!  But occasionally his humanity reasserted itself at the expense of his ideals and he was accordingly obliged to take her to a concert featuring a less spiritually-elevated programme - one in which, say, Tchaikovsky's Manfred Symphony or Strauss' Don Juan or Liszt's Faust Symphony were the principal attractions.  It had even happened, doubtless following a period of rather too intense and ambitious spirituality, that they had relapsed into romantic opera together, one evening, and accordingly sat through a performance of Debussy's Pelléas et Mélisande, though not without noting in advance that it was the lesser of a number of alternative evils.  On the way back from the Opera, Jeffrey had discreetly though sincerely confessed to having quite enjoyed the performance, but added, as though to forestall criticism and boast of his spiritual endeavour, that he had spent more time studying the lighting and stage scenery than listening to either the words or the music.  Rachel had returned him a sympathetic glance and let the matter rest.  But they had purged themselves of a sensual temptation anyway, and soon became weekly visitors to the concert hall again.

     These past few weeks, however, Jeffrey Collins had been too busy rehearsing and performing with his orchestra to be in any way disposed to attending a concert, so had contented himself with taking his wife to the theatre once or twice and spending the rest of his free time with a book - a habit which Rachel didn't seem to mind, since she was pretty bookish herself and quite able to relax indoors of an evening.  As a rule, her reading mostly paralleled his and, consequently, they were in a position to exchange views about whichever author happened to be of mutual interest to them both at any given time.  Lately he had conceived a passion - if that's the right word - for Lawrence Durrell, and had accordingly read Monsieur and Livia in quick succession, passing the former on to her when he had finished it and continuing with the latter.  These two novels had made such a strong impression on him that he immediately set about reading Constance, the sequel to Livia, which was proving no less entertaining.  To be sure, he was full of admiration for Durrell and had communicated some of this admiration to Rachel, who, having completed Monsieur, duly agreed that he was a truly considerable artist of world stature whose work was virtually in a class by itself.  Not that they agreed with everything he wrote!  For the Templar heresy, to which Durrell gives much attention in Monsieur, was in their opinion a genuine heresy, contrary to the evolution of the world away from evil towards good.  Not for one moment would Jeffrey agree with Durrell that an evil god had usurped the throne of the good god in the context of historical association put forward by the latter-day descendants of the Templars.  To him, it was incontrovertible that the world was evolving towards good and slowly but surely becoming a better place in which to live.  Even the official dethronement of Christ by Marx in certain countries in the twentieth century didn't strike him as forming an analogy with the Templar heresy of the dethronement of good by evil, even if, on a superficial and rather short-term basis, it could be construed as such, particularly in its Stalinist guise.

     No, he was quite convinced that everything was gradually working out for the better and that good, in the guise of the godly or spiritual in man, was slowly gaining the ascendancy over evil.  Accordingly, the Templar heresy remained for him genuinely heretical, despite his acknowledgement of Durrell's genius, which struck him as second-to-none.  Indeed, he was immensely relieved to have found a successor, at last, to Aldous Huxley in his literary admirations.  For ever since reading through the last of Huxley's eleven or so novels, some months ago, he had been searching for another novelist in whom to take a special interest and had almost lost hope, at one point, that he would ever succeed.  Now, however, he believed he had at length found what he was looking for, and it quite delighted him, filling a literary void which no other novelist in-between times had managed to do, not even Christopher Isherwood, whom he quite admired as a prosodist.  But Lawrence Durrell - well, it seemed not improbable that he was an even greater artist than Aldous Huxley, since a more genuine novelist with a no-less intelligent mind.  Perhaps a shade less spiritual on the whole, but certainly no less interesting and distinguished!  Admittedly, his thematic approach to the novel was totally different from Huxley's.  Yet it was an approach which all genuine lovers of the serious novel could only admire.  And his technique betrayed a painstaking professionalism worthy of great literature.  Yes, Jeffrey was indeed pleased with his latest discovery.  Now he was not just a Huxley enthusiast but a Huxley-Durrell enthusiast.  Yes, why not?  He smiled to himself at the thought of it and opened his eyes again.

     Meanwhile his wife had abandoned the dresser and was now rummaging around in the wardrobe, presumably hunting for a skirt to wear.  She still had her back to him in this capacity and he could see that she had put on a pink slip, which came two-thirds of the way down her thighs.  It, too, was nylon, and he could easily distinguish the outline of her panties through it and the thicker material of a suspender belt which she had also put on while his eyes were closed, and, evidently, by threading the suspenders through the legs of her briefs!  A tiny strip of this belt was now directly visible above the waist of her slip.  She was in the habit of wearing such belts whenever she put on stockings these days, which was more often than used to be the case.  Indeed, Jeffrey could remember, from when they first met, that she used to wear long dresses most of the time without stockings underneath, occasionally wearing knee-length denim skirts and showing off bare calf-muscles.  As a teenager, she had grown up on the hippy wavelength and accordingly established her dressing roughly along hippy lines, her penchant for long dresses naively betraying a bias, in Jeffrey's estimation, for autocratic criteria which would have entitled any knowledgeable and unscrupulously predatory male who happened to relate to such immoral attire to descend upon her, like a beast of prey, and take her from behind.  She had even been to India for a number of months and, on returning to England, adopted Indian-style dress, going to her temporary office job garbed in a bright nylon sari that, taken in conjunction with her lightweight leather sandals, brought more than a dash of Oriental exoticism to an otherwise prosaic and all-too-Occidental environment!  Not the least of her eccentricities, as Jeffrey liked to think of them, had been the addition of a small caste mark to her brow.  Understandably, there must have been quite a few people, Asians as well as Europeans, who were perplexed or surprised by her appearance!

     But she had abandoned all that Oriental excess some time ago, and now her saris stayed folded over their hangers for months on-end, only occasionally being dragged out of hibernation, so to speak, as the result of a nostalgic whim on her part or a special request from her husband.  He thought them sexy, and not only on account of the degree of their transparency, which conveniently allowed one to glimpse the outlines of legs and rump, but also as regards the expanse of naked belly and back they permitted one to see in consequence of the winding technique of dressing imposed by the elongated material.  It made a pleasant change to the usual Occidental habits of dressing, anyway.  Still, he wouldn't have been led to reflect on her previous clothing at all, had it not been for what she was currently wearing, the semi-transparency of her slip having connoted with the like-quality of her saris and thereupon caused him to extend his thoughts beyond the confines of stockings and suspender belts.  Now, however, she was very definitely a different woman from what she used to be - altogether more discreet and conservative.  She would no more have considered going out in nothing more than a flimsy sari than coming home in nothing more than a flimsy slip!  She had lost much of that youthful daring, not to mention naiveté, no longer desiring to impose her beauty on the world in such brutally seductive and forthright terms, but preferring the way of restraint and subtle enticement.  She had got what she wanted from the world anyway, and consequently had no further need to advertise herself in block capitals, so to speak.  As a happily-married woman she had already been bought - almost literally so!  For Jeffrey Collins increasingly tended to look upon her as his property, to be fondled or manipulated at will.

     At the present moment in time, however, he was still looking upon her as a woman, watching her drag first a white vest from the wardrobe and then a short light-grey skirt, which she proceeded to step into on-the-spot, not bothering to turn around.  Yes, he might have known she would choose that one, since it went so well with her dark stockings and granted her an endearingly academic look.  It was warm too, and this time of year, what with snow on the ground, one needed something secure about one.  And not just to keep the cold out!  He half-smiled to himself again as he remembered that young woman he had noticed in the street, the day before, who was dressed in a flimsy cotton skirt with which the wind played havoc.  Whether or not she specifically wanted to draw attention to herself, attention was certainly what she drew whenever the wind lifted her tiny flounced skirt beyond the bounds of least modesty, as it so often did.  Standing at a nearby bus stop, he could see, as she entered a shop - perhaps as much to escape the weather as anything else - that she was wearing beige knickers and wasn't at all badly built!  Maybe, after all, there was something about the wind for which one had to be grateful?

     He almost chuckled at the thought and once more closed his eyes.  For Rachel, having secured the tight-fitting skirt about her waist, suddenly abandoned the wardrobe and came over towards him, carrying a pair of pink shoes which she intended to step into and fasten while sitting on the edge of their bed.  The image of that young woman in the street was duly eclipsed by an image of himself at rehearsal with the New City Orchestra, surrounded by his familiar colleagues in the first violin section.  Another couple of hours and he would be back among them, fiddling away for dear life.  And in company with a number of other violinists, he would doubtless be feeling some of the frustration and disapproval of the previous day's rehearsals.  For this new work by Timothy Graves was not only damnably difficult to perform, particularly as far as the first violins were concerned, it was maddeningly anarchic moreover, and not at all what Jeffrey Collins would normally have understood by the term 'fine music'.

     No, it was certainly not his musical cup of tea, this new Graves composition, and he was hardly looking forward to rehearsing it again.  But the première was on Saturday, so there was no way that either he or any of his more disapproving colleagues could wiggle out of it.  Willy-nilly, the work had to be perfected in the meantime or, at any rate, played at something approaching concert standard if its composer was to be satisfied.  All those diabolical glissandos, atonal scales, violent sforzandos, and criminal interval leaps would have to be borne with a fortitude worthy of a bona fide stoic.  Verily, one had one's cross to bear in this life and, so far as Jeffrey Collins was concerned, Grave's new symphony was certainly a significant contribution to its overall weight!

     Still, there had been one or two light-hearted moments during yesterday's trying rehearsal for which to be grateful.  Like the occasion, for instance, when Tony King, who was suffering from a violent cold, had sneezed while playing his tuba, and thereupon added a couple of unofficial notes to the score which almost gave the markedly atonal passage upon which they were all painstakingly engaged at the time a hint of melodic vitality.  And then old John Crawford had snapped a string on his viola during one of the more intensively discordant passages and exclaimed: 'Oh, damn it all!', to the visible amusement of those who thought he was referring to the passage in question.  And of course Margaret Boyle had contrived to knock over a music stand or two in quiet passages, as she usually did when obliged to shift the position of her 'cello to any appreciable extent.  Well, whether there would be more of that kind of thing today ... remained to be seen or, rather, heard.  At least it sufficed to add a little humour to an otherwise austere experience!  Though, of course, not everyone was amused by it, least of all the composer, who, even in the midst of the most cacophonous passages, retained an acute ear for any little deviation from the printed score, and would almost certainly cast a critical, not to say stony, eye on the offender(s)!

     However, one of these days Jeffrey Collins would present the world with an avant-garde composition of his own, which would be far superior to anything Graves had ever done!  A paean to the spirit and the triumph of mind over matter, a testimony to human progress towards consummate goodness, or some such petty-bourgeois delusion which turned a blind-eye or, in his case, deaf-ear to the more blatantly evil examples of proletarian barbarism.  There would be nothing Lisztian about it, nothing overtly or even covertly dualistic.  Still less anything overtly or covertly diabolical, and hence savagely discordant!  On the contrary, only the godly would be countenanced, and hence only that which appertained to the brightest, most harmonious and spiritually-edifying tone.  A truly transcendent work, if not exclusively then certainly predominantly good.  One dedicated to the furtherance of the Holy Spirit.  Superior even to the religious music of Bach and Handel in its tonal brilliance, its refined spirituality, post-egocentric simplicity, and chaste beauty.  Purged, as it were, of gross sensuality and vulgar exhibitionism.  Elevated beyond the Christian.  Yes, and in due course people would come to appreciate just how superior it was to such compositions as those in which Timothy Graves ordinarily specialized, what with their diabolical savagery in extended cacophony!  They would have no trouble distinguishing the devils from the gods, and would be able to denounce the former as pernicious degenerates, while regarding the latter with a new admiration born of spiritual enlightenment.  But in the meantime - ah, it was obligatory for Jeffrey to toe-the-decadent-line and heroically endure the manifest ignominy of once again rehearsing and subsequently performing Graves' latest 'Satanic' symphony.  Perhaps one of these days he would be in a position to be more choosy, maybe even to the extent of abandoning classical for jazz.  But at present ...

     He heard a slight rustle of nylon stockings somewhere to his left and slyly opened his eyes in the hope of catching Rachel unawares again.  To his shocked surprise, however, he discovered her standing beside the bed with hands on hips and staring down at him with an ironic grin on her face.  He almost blushed with shame.  How long had she been standing there, he wondered?

     "Ah, so the sleeper finally wakes!" she exclaimed, bending down closer in order to peer into his relatively sleepless eyes.  "I wondered when he would damn-well get around to it!"

     He blankly stared back at her, a victim of his own deception.  "What time is it?" he at length asked, endeavouring to act the part of one who has just woken up.

     "High time you were out of bed," Rachel replied without bothering to consult her watch.

     He grunted reluctant acknowledgement of this all-too-evident fact, and inquired how long she had been staring down at him like that?

     "Oh, no more than a couple of minutes," she confessed, grinning anew.  "You had such a curious expression on your smug little face that I became quite intrigued by it, wondering what-the-hell you could be dreaming about!"

     "Oh, really?" he feebly responded, suddenly becoming a twinge embarrassed.  "As a matter of fact, I've completely forgotten."  Which lie obliged him to lower his eyes from fear she might see through him.  "Nothing very erotic at any rate," he added, as an afterthought.

     Rachel bent down further and kissed him on the brow.  "Never mind, darling, you've always got your loving wife where that's concerned," she averred.

     "Yes," he admitted, nodding gratefully in spite of the pillow on which his head was still resting.  And, as though to confirm the basic truth of her statement, he gently ran his hand up the back of her dark-stockinged legs.  Touch, he reflected, was always better than sight where women like her were concerned!

 

 

FROM THE DEVIL TO GOD

 

Gavin Danby smiled complacently and then sipped a little of the red wine I had just poured him.  His face fairly shone with self-confidence, doubtless born of intellectual certitude.  Quite a contrast, I felt, to the rather baffled, not to say dour, visage of David Lee, who sat no more than a few feet away.  One might have supposed that Lee had just received a blow on the chin or been verbally insulted, the way he looked at present.  Perhaps the truth of what Danby had said was getting through to him.  Either that, or he was in mounting revulsion against it!

     "So you don't believe in God after all," he at length rejoined, "but only in the godly."

     "Quite," Danby confirmed, continuing to smile.  "The difference is important."

     "And yet, if you don't believe in God, surely you must be an atheist?" Lee countered, frowning.  He cast me a puzzled glance, as though for support, and I obligingly returned him some non-verbal sympathy.

     "Well yes, I suppose so," Danby conceded, suddenly becoming serious, "though only to the extent that I don't believe in the traditional concepts of God - that's to say in God the Father and God the Son.  As far as they're concerned, I concur with Nietzsche that 'God is dead'.  But ..." and here he paused to gather his thoughts together "... that doesn't mean to say I'm prepared to consider the religious issue closed, as though there were no possibility of a more relevant or contemporary concept of God in the making."

     "Ah, but aren't you contradicting yourself again by talking in those terms?" objected Lee, who looked momentarily pleased with himself, like a man who had just scored a point against his opponent in some tournament or other.  And, of course, to some extent he had.

     "Well, let's put it this way," said Danby, who turned uneasily in his armchair.  "I'm an atheist inasmuch as I cannot approve of a concept of God which posits an external, all-powerful force currently acting in and on the Universe.  But I do believe, however, that there's a manifestation of the godly to be found in man which corresponds to the Holy Spirit, a part of the psyche which is essentially spiritual and may be cultivated to a greater or lesser extent, depending on both the individual and the stage of evolution into which he is born.  This realm of spirit I like to call the superconscious, and it's my firm belief that the ego, or conscious mind, is fundamentally nothing more than the result of a fusion, or mingling, of the subconscious with the superconscious."

     "In other words a kind of dualistic compromise," I ventured, offering Danby a share of my sympathy.  I could tell by the appreciative look he cast me that he was pleased with my modest contribution to the debate.

     "To be sure, Jason," he responded, briefly nodding his head.  "And it's precisely that compromise which we moderns are in the process of outgrowing.  Or, to put it another way, we're evolving away from the balanced egocentric dualism of our Christian forebears towards a context in which the superconscious predominates over the subconscious, with a consequence that all dualistic criteria, including those appertaining to Heaven and Hell, are rendered irrelevant."

     "Presumably Hell is to be equated with subconscious domination and Heaven with superconscious affiliation," Lee commented, still looking slightly puzzled.

     "Absolutely," Danby confirmed with a confident smile.  "And the further we evolve away from the subconscious, the less relevance Hell has for us and the more relevance, by a corresponding degree, do we ascribe to Heaven.  Not that we think of Heaven as a place to which 'the good' are sent after death.  On the contrary, that would be a very Christian interpretation and one, moreover, that would presuppose 'the bad' being sent to Hell.  No, we moderns prefer a term like the post-humanist or, better, post-human millennium, which avoids dualistic association and presupposes a future salvation in which all men can expect to share.  And not after death either but ... after human life has run its evolutionary course, and the transformation of man into the godlike superman becomes a fact."

     David Lee's face once again assumed an expression of puzzlement.  Evidently his Marxism hadn't quite led him to envisage such a transcendental culmination to human evolution.

     "But how would this transformation be effected, and what, exactly, would it presuppose?" he wanted to know.

     This was, to be sure, a tricky question, and I waited anxiously for Danby to reply.  When he did, it was with a modesty I hadn't come to expect from him.

     "Well, such a transformation is probably so far into the future that we can't be exactly certain of the final form it will take, nor exactly how it will come about," he at length responded.  "But at least we can hazard an intelligent guess.  We can suppose, for instance, that the most likely way of attaining to the post-human millennium will be through a systematic, thoroughgoing cultivation of the superconscious with the aid of a meditation technique in which the bliss of spiritual transcendence is encouraged to develop and expand.  This technique, applied over a long period of time and gradually refined upon, should lead to each aspiring individual spending more time in the superconscious than in the subconscious, and thus becoming progressively less egocentric, progressively more biased, as it were, towards the spirit.  Well, whether or not such a condition, practised globally, would be taken for the post-human millennium, I don't know; though it's probable that a lot of people would be superficially prepared to regard it as such.  However, my own opinion is that such a condition would be more symptomatic of humanity en route to the post-human millennium than of that millennium itself, no matter how advanced along the route to it the universal practitioners of transcendental meditation may happen to be.  As long as there is some contact with and dependence upon the subconscious, even the most spiritual of men will still remain human and not become truly divine.  The ultimate consummation, it seems to me, would reside in one's transcending the body altogether and living entirely in the bliss of the superconscious, becoming one with that bliss, free from subconscious influence.

     "Viewed in this way then," Danby continued, following a short pause, "the post-human millennium would correspond to the simultaneous transformation of brains into pure spirit and thus to a merging of individual spirits round a common axis of spiritual bliss.  Freed from the isolation of one's individual self, one's spiritual integrity would automatically be led to merge with other spirits in due process of transcending the flesh, and so become part of and fully integrated into a globe of spiritual bliss.  And this globe would signify the culmination of evolution, justifying and fulfilling the Universe.  One might therefore argue that, in cosmic terms, evolution signifies a journey, as it were, from the impure, chemical, passing light of suns to the pure, unchemical, eternal light of unified spirit via the worldly medium of planets and the development thereupon of organic life where such life is possible, as on the Earth."

     "All this sounds rather like Teilhard de Chardin's concept of a universe converging to some omega point," I remarked, for once taking over the reins of response from my friend David Lee, who seemed more puzzled than ever and consequently unable or unwilling to formulate a response of his own.

     Danby smiled appreciatively.  "It does," he admitted, nodding, "and only goes to show how great minds think alike - at least to some extent."  At which point he laughed impulsively, and I knew at once that he had returned to his old immodest self again.  "For although I have much in common with Teilhard de Chardin as an evolutionary thinker," he went on, "I'm by no means in accord with him all the way, especially where his apologetics and theory of Christogenesis are concerned.  His phenomenology, as expressed in Activation of Energy, is something with which I'm generally in accord.  But I draw a line where the Christian in him is concerned, and am extremely sceptical concerning the subject of an already-existing Omega Point which exerts an attractive influence on man, drawing him up towards it.  On the contrary, it's my firm contention that the progression towards this hypothetical culmination of evolution is inherent in human life itself and significant of the evolutionary nature of such life.  Rather than being pulled by an already-existent Omega Point towards our ultimate transformation, we are goaded-on by our essential nature towards the attainment of such a condition.  We have to bring it about.  As yet, the basis for a transcendent climax to evolution only exists potentially in us, being dependent on the extent of our evolution.  Insofar as we have a superconscious, we all carry a germ of the godly about in us which can be cultivated and encouraged to blossom by degrees, as I said earlier.  Now the more that germ is cultivated, the more is the godly made manifest in life.  Yet it isn't something that can be equated with God in an external, all-powerful, authoritarian sense - with reference, for example, to what Christians call 'the Creator', otherwise known as 'the Almighty'.  Which is why I said I didn't believe in God but only in the godly - a paradoxical statement which was intended to apply not only to former and, in my opinion, inferior concepts of God, but also to such a concept as an already-existent and influential Omega Point.

     "No, so far as I'm concerned God is in the making and therefore dependent on human evolution for His or, rather, its ultimate manifestation as spiritual bliss ... posited in a future Beyond," Danby continued.  "At present, it's only potentially existent in the myriad spiritual fragments of individual human selves and has yet to emerge as a kind of conglomerate spiritual entity.  The Universe is simply the arena in which God strives, through man, for total Self-realization.  When the Many have become One, an ultimate globe of pure spirit, then God will be fully manifest and completely whole.  Evolution can accordingly be viewed as a journey from the Devil to God, a journey beginning in the hideous chemical heat of countless flaming stars and culminating in the cool bliss of the Holy Spirit.  In light of this fact, we should speak of a diabolic origin to the Universe and of a divine consummation to it, a journey from absolute evil to absolute good."

     It was a stunning thesis, almost Nietzschean in its transvaluating implications and willingness to uphold a sort of alpha-to-omega generalization in preference to a more academic objectivity, such as would have distinguished between the Divine and the Diabolic rather more in traditional cosmic terms, as between Jehovah (the Creator) and Satan (the Devil), relative, so I would have argued, to theological extrapolations from the central star of the Galaxy and the sun respectively.  Why, if what Gavin had said was really the case, then we had no reason to doubt that the world in which we men lived was gradually becoming a better place, that human progress was steadily bringing us closer to the godly in superconscious bliss and not, as some people thought, leading us farther down the road to Hell!  Despite all the manifestations of evil that indubitably still existed, modern life was closer to the post-human millennium than life had ever been in the past.  If we were for the most part biased, even if only incipiently, towards the superconscious, then we were certainly in a better psychic position than our Christian forebears, egocentrically balanced between Heaven and Hell, had generally shown themselves to be.  If they had been as much under diabolic as divine influence, then we had at least attained to a stage of evolution in which the Diabolic generally played a less powerful role, and society could be regarded as being more under the Holy Spirit's influence, perhaps by as much as three-quarters to one-quarter or, alternatively, two-thirds to one-third.  Life had accordingly never been so good, despite all the temporal ups-and-downs to which we were still subjected.

     "I suppose it's easier to accept an evil origin to the world when you dwell on the active volcanoes and fearsome dinosaurs of primeval times," Lee commented, returning to the fray.  "But when you come more up-to-date, as it were, and consider, say, the plants, trees, and flowers of, in particular, temperate climes, it doesn't seem nearly so easy.  You feel that nature, as we commonly understand it, isn't really a bad thing, irrespective of the sarcastic viewpoint expressed by Aldous Huxley in one of his early essays - Wordsworth in the Tropics, I believe it was - in which he draws our attention to the diversity of nature in relation to widely different climates.  Somehow, you find it difficult to associate the Hogs Back or the Sussex Downs with evil."

     Danby nodded sympathetically.  "And not least of all because we're men of only a rather moderately-advanced spiritual nature, and can thus take a fair amount of the external manifestations of subconscious life for granted," he opined, smiling weakly.  "Yet whether we like it or not, the fact nevertheless remains that nature, in all its global diversity, is fundamentally of diabolic origin, insofar as it conforms to subconscious or, if you prefer, unconscious domination and should accordingly be regarded, by all earnest strivers after spiritual perfection, with something of a Manichaean eye.  In temperate zones it may be less radically evil than either its tropical or primeval manifestations, but that isn't to say it's comparatively good!  It's still nature and, as such, subject to sensual dominion.  It isn't a manifestation of the godly.  And anyone who makes a point of worshipping it is effectively a Satanist, no matter how much he may talk about God.  Pantheism is simply a mode of devil-worship, and pantheists are really demonomaniacs in worldly disguise.  Such, in my opinion, was what D.H. Lawrence and John Cowper Powys would appear to have been, to name but two modern nature-mongers.  Their attitude to nature was frankly pre-Christian - as, to some extent, was their attitude to sex, especially Lawrence's."

     Both Lee and I raised our brows in startled surprise, and Danby, perceiving our incredulity, proceeded to modify his tack slightly.

     "Now, of course, I don't wish to imply that we should completely turn against nature and sex as though we were  already on the verge of spiritual transformation," he continued, smiling defensively.  "For such a radically Manichaean procedure could lead, even in this relatively late day-and-age, to all kinds of psychological and physiological disturbances.  I simply wish to stress the fact that to make a cult of either nature or sex is to affect such a radically reactionary stance ... as to align oneself with the forces of evil, and thereby render oneself contemptible to all truly progressive spirits.  Pay your respects to nature and sex in moderation by all means, but don't get involved with them to the deplorable extent that you're prepared to throw away 2000 years of Christianity and become a damn pagan, fucking himself to death!  For paganism, in all its forms, is certainly not above Christianity but, on the contrary, very much beneath it - in fact, so far beneath it that I've often been struck with a mixture of horror at and pity for those who, in this age of transition, have made a virtue of extensively studying the customs and beliefs of pagan peoples like the ancient Greeks and Romans, as though that held the clue to some higher life which the past two millennia have somehow denied us!  No, let's not make the tragic mistake of endeavouring to look-up to the pagans!"

     He had become quite flushed with conviction and, for an instant, I saw him in the role of some great messianic prophet haranguing the masses with all the righteous indignation his genius could muster, as though the better to instil some moral sense into them.  And it occurred to me, too, that his denunciation probably had a bearing on twentieth-century authors like Gide and Camus who, in addition to the aforementioned British authors, had turned their attention back to the ancient world in order, it seemed, to discover there certain alternative modes of life to what existed in the present.  But I didn't probe him on this matter, for my conscience pricked slightly in consequence of various pagan predilections which I, myself, had once entertained, not least of all with regard to sexual promiscuity and gluttony - those two supreme vices which the medieval aristocracy had inherited, in some degree, from their pagan forebears and continued to espouse in the face of official Christian disapproval.  No doubt, Danby would have placed my self-indulgences on a similar level to pantheism and dismissed me as an incorrigible heathen!  But I was interested, all the same, to learn what he regarded as sexual moderation, and put the question to him.

     "It depends on the individual and where he lives," came his considered response, after critical reflection.  "A city person is less likely, on the whole, to be given to sexual promiscuity than a provincial or country person, if for no other reason than that he lives in an extensively artificial environment.  But a sophisticated city person will be less sexually active, as a rule, than a relatively unsophisticated one, for the simple reason that he'll be more spiritual.  Moderation for him might mean twice a month, whereas for the average sensualist it would probably mean twice a week.  All I can say for sure is that the former would be a superior kettle-of-fish to the latter, since his greater spirituality should indicate that he was closer to the godly.  On the other hand, the more sexually promiscuous one is, the closer one approximates to the beastly, and consequently the lower one stands in the human hierarchy.  Christianity has always understood this.  For the division between the Damned and the Saved in eschatological paintings is ever one between the low and the high, the evil and the good, those who are predominantly sensual and those, by contrast, with a predominantly spiritual disposition.  I say 'predominantly' though, in point of fact, Hell and Heaven signify absolutes in which the word 'exclusively' would be more apposite.  But, for temporal purposes, a less extreme interpretation has greater relevance to evolving humanity and is closer, moreover, to matters as they have stood for the better part of these past 2000 years."

     "You mean that none of us can be either exclusively evil or good?" Lee queried, anxious to seek clarification.

     "No, as human beings we can't become exclusively evil," Danby replied.  "But I do believe that we can evolve to a stage of life which transcends the human and thus become exclusively good - in other words, pure spirit.  It may take centuries, but I do believe it's possible.  On the other hand, to become exclusively evil, totally under subconscious domination in sensual stupor, we would have to regress to the level of plants or stars, and, short of a nuclear conflagration, I don't think we're ever likely to do that - at least not willingly!  Thus Hell and Heaven, regarded as the inception and culmination of evolution, the inception of it in subconscious agony and the culmination of it in superconscious bliss, could be more literally interpreted as spheres of being in which, on the one hand, stars and, on the other hand, a globe of pure spirit may be said to exist.  Yet Christian man, arising at a stage of evolution in which man had attained to an approximately-balanced dualism in egocentric compromise between the two main parts of his psyche, would not have been capable of envisaging such non-human extremes as constituting Hell and Heaven respectively, but was obliged to project himself into the opposing realms, and to have their human occupants brought into direct contact with either demons or angels, depending on the context.  Now while demons and angels may be inventions of an extreme significance, they are considerably less extreme, in my opinion, than what I contend the literal constituents of both the inception and culmination of evolution to be, and thus stand closer to the human.  It's as though demons should be equated with the very lowest stage of human life, and angels, by contrast, with the highest - a stage before the ultimate transformation, as it were."

     "Because they're represented in bodily, and hence anthropomorphic, terms?" Lee suggested, with a sly smile on his lips.

     "Precisely," Danby confirmed.  "They're to some extent humanized and thereby rendered accessible to the understanding of Christian man, whose balanced dualism precluded him from literally projecting his conception of the hellish and the heavenly towards their ultimate extremes, and thus necessitated the formulation of egocentric myths relative to anthropomorphism.  However, now that an ever-growing number of us are partial to a superconscious bias, such mythical projections are no longer relevant - indeed, appear a trifle absurd.  Yet at the time of their inception they were the only possible formulation of the less-than-human or the more-than-human of which dualistic man could reasonably conceive, and admirably served to symbolize the opposing natures of the respective extremes.  Had it been possible, the introduction of stars into the realm of evil would hardly have served to inspire a fear of the Devil into most men's minds but, on the contrary, would have looked perfectly tame and cosmic, suggestive of some clear night sky.  Conversely, the introduction of a self-contained globe of light into the realm of goodness would have been too abstract and impersonal to appeal to the understanding of a majority of men in that age.  They could only conform to egocentric projections, remember."

     Yes, it all sounded feasible enough, and seemingly justified the anthropomorphic symbolism which Christian man had been obliged to adopt.  I had, I dare say, seen hundreds of paintings which depicted the Last Judgement, not least among them the memorable Giotto in the Arena Chapel at Padua, and been somewhat puzzled by their symbolism.  Somehow it always seemed like a foreign language to me, a language I hadn't learnt, in spite of the fact that I was ostensibly a Christian, having been born into a predominantly Christian country.  Like most people, now as previously, I would have been more inclined, if pressed on the issue, to contend that the juxtaposition of Hell and Heaven, presided over by Christ in Judgement - that Abraxas-like figure of evil and good, damning with one hand and saving with the other - signified a kind of simultaneous event, rather than the beginning and ending of evolution.  And although the subject-matter obviously pertained to the Last Judgement, I would have seen it as a kind of traditional manifestation of something reputed to be going on all the time, following mortal death; that is to say the lesser individual judgements leading up to the greater collective one ... in which 'the good' are saved and 'the bad' damned.  Personally, I didn't believe there would be an afterlife in that sense, since I wasn't a practising Christian and had long ago come to the conclusion that if, by any chance, we did survive death, it would probably be on other, non-Christian terms - terms which excluded the possibility of Judgement and were more-or-less the same for everyone.  Having known Gavin Danby for some time, I'm quite aware that he would have dismissed the concept of individual judgement in a posthumous Beyond.  He had no use, he once told me, for spiritualists and séance-mongers.  The idea of one's spirit surviving bodily death seemed to him utterly senseless and would have amounted, in his opinion, to a futile and altogether illogical hope.  What purpose, he wondered, could such a survival serve in this personal afterlife of ghostly existence?  To be sure, I couldn't, at the time, find a credible answer, and so confessed to being in the dark about it - a confession which, with his subtle irony, Danby considered perfectly understandable!  Only later did I discover what his alternative to posthumous survival really amounted to, for I had been under the impression that he simply regarded death as a blank, a return to the darkness of non-being, and had accordingly let the matter drop.  But I was soon to learn that, while such an attitude to death was in fact the one to which he barbarously subscribed, he had another concept of the Afterlife, a concept which posited a millennial Beyond after human life had run its course.  This is the one with which I've since become familiar, this idea that we're no more than tiny links in a chain of evolution stretching from the beginnings of organic life to its ultimate climax in spiritual bliss, and that when we die we die, and that's all there is to it.  We die, but not for nothing and not for ever!  Eventually, beings will emerge from man who won't die, as we do, but become transmuted into pure spirit and thus live for ever in the bliss of the Infinite, at one with the ultimate manifestation of divinity in the Universe, as already defined.  From Nothingness to Eternity was the title of an album by the Mahavishnu Orchestra, that brilliant jazz-rock group led by John McLaughlin, which I had seen in Danby's extensive record collection, and that just about explains the direction of evolution.  Out of gaseous nothingness came the stars, and out of the stars came the planets, and out of the planets came organic life, and out of organic life came man, and out of man should come the godly life that will lead to the transcendent culmination of the Universe.

     How long will the Universe take to reach this culmination?  Hundreds, thousands, millions of years?  Astronomers say the sun is unlikely to change much for another eight-thousand million years.  Eight-thousand million!  Now if other stars have even longer life-spans than the sun, how long will it take before the converging universe, about which de Chardin speaks, actually attains to the Omega Point, and the ultimate level of life, totally superconscious, becomes a cosmic fact?  Ten-thousand million years?  Twenty thousand?  No-one is, as yet, in a position to say, nor can we be sure whether this hypothetical culmination of evolution could only come about following the disintegration of stars.  For although it seems likely that the ultimate globe of superconscious spirituality would be sufficient unto itself, and therefore not in any need of solar assistance, we cannot be certain that it would exist on its own at first, as the logical successor to the stars.  Indeed, reason compels us to assume that its inceptive formation would materialize some time before the final collapse of solar energy, else how could we expect to survive on this or other planets in order to effect the envisaged transformation to true divinity?  Somehow it seems unlikely that we shall have to await the dissolution of stars, before such a transformation becomes either possible or necessary.  In all probability, its inceptive establishment will come about long before the cessation of solar energy, and continue to co-exist with the Cosmos until such time as the stars finally collapse and only pure spirit remains.

     It might even transpire that the Omega Point will start out as a relatively small globe of transcendent spirit created from the superconscious mind of the most advanced civilization in the Universe, and gradually expand, over the millennia, as more civilizations attain to spiritual transformation and thus become one with it.  After all, we have no reason to assume that the Earth is the only planet in the Universe with advanced or advancing life.  There are probably thousands if not millions of others, so why shouldn't their higher inhabitants also be partial to the influence of a converging universe and be simultaneous participants in the evolutionary drive towards its culmination?  And why, for that matter, shouldn't a number of these other civilizations be ahead of us in evolutionary terms, and thus stand closer to an ultimate transformation?  If the evolving universe can't converge en masse to the Omega Point, it could at least do so by degrees, so that the latter would be in a process of continual expansion until such time as the last civilization had undergone spiritual transformation and so become a part of it.  Then, in definitive oneness, it would exist through all eternity as the culmination of heavenly evolution, while the few remaining stars continued to disintegrate, leaving the Universe to its ultimate perfection - the complete and utter triumph of true divinity.

     Until the last star had ceased to burn, however, there would still be a degree of evil in the Universe, a manifestation of the original creative force behind all life.  So long as a single sun remained, the Universe would still be imperfect, subject to the solar influence behind the laws of nature, the unclear light of chemical conversion, the infernal heat of solar energy.  But with the disappearance of the last sun, all that remained of the sensual, the material, the impure, would also disappear, and the Devil's grip on the Universe be completely broken.  Only the Omega Point would prevail, and it would shine in self-contained blessedness for ever.  Beginning in strong divinity, the Universe would culminate in true divinity, and thus attain to moral perfection.  'Out of evil cometh good', and not merely in a temporal sense.  Out of the Almighty would come, via evolving life, the Holy Spirit.

     Yes, and if Gavin Danby was to be believed, our Christian civilization had evolved to a stage where the old dualistic compromise between Heaven and Hell no longer obtained, having been superseded by a transcendental bias.  The Abraxas-Christ, with His dual-natured damning/saving disposition, was slowly being superseded by the Holy Spirit ... of which He was a part, but only a part!  Another part of Him, being man and flesh, was of the world and distinctly mundane.  There was even a part of Him which was of the Father and therefore reactive.  It approximated to strong divinity, no less than His higher, attractive self approximated to true divinity.  Between the flesh and the spirit Christ came as a 'fisher of men', more correctly of men in their prime as men, balanced between flesh and spirit.  As, however, for men who have transcended the dualistic balance through evolution's slow progress, Christ is no 'fisher' but must give way to the Holy Spirit, to that which stands above Him in superconscious bliss.  Today, of course, a great many of us realize this, if not consciously then unconsciously.  For we are unable to become or remain Christians, but are striving for some higher ideal, some new religion.  In reading what the finest intellects of the past few centuries had written, we have become resigned to the fact that Christianity no longer speaks to the more evolved, but only to those at a lower and more primitive stage of evolution.  It speaks to the ignorant, the down-trodden, the backward, and, to be sure, it still has quite a fair-sized audience!  But where is the voice that can speak to the more intelligent and sophisticated people?  Officially it doesn't exist, but, unofficially, it is becoming increasingly manifest in people like Gavin Danby, who would direct us towards the Holy Spirit and the practice of transcendental meditation.

     He, I know, often refers to himself as a transcendentalist, implying that he takes his cue not from Christ but from that part of the psyche which he terms the superconscious and knows to be of the essence of true divinity.  His argument with Teilhard de Chardin has already been noted and remains, I believe, a valid one.  He has no use for an apologetics of Christianity leading to acceptance of a Christogenesis, or evolution of Christ in the Universe.  He wants to see Christ replaced by the Holy Spirit, so that we cease to think in egocentric, anthropomorphic, and personal terms, including recourse to prayer.  He believes that our growing bias for the superconscious justifies this, and, personally, I have to agree with him, much as I may balk at his diabolic/divine generalizations with effect to evolutionary progress from alpha to omega, which obviously puts the Father in a rather unflattering light.  Yet, I must say, it took me a long while to come round to his viewpoint, not because I was a Christian - other, that is, than in a rather nominal sense - so much as because I held certain atheistic beliefs which left little or no room for the Holy Ghost.  I simply regarded transcendental meditation as a fad which would quickly die out.  Now, however, I'm not so sure.  Indeed, I incline to a more sympathetic view, though I have certain grave reservations concerning its immediate future.

     Of course, I realize that David Lee wouldn't sympathize with me here, since he has long been a Marxist and therefore decidedly materialistic in his ideological leanings.  I knew when first introducing him to Danby that they would differ violently on the subject of what Gavin calls God or, rather, the godly, meaning true divinity.  But I was interested, all the same, to see if he would crack and slightly relent under pressure of Danby's logical acumen, sacrificing some of his bias for strength in the process.  I believe to some extent he has, though I know for a fact that Danby sympathizes with Marxists and has been going through an identity crisis of sorts recently which could well result in his becoming a kind of Marxist or, at any rate, socialist himself in due course.  I say 'kind of' because I know for a fact that he could never totally reject transcendentalism, even if, in the short term, he decided that materialistic considerations and obligations were more relevant to the world.  There would still, I feel, be a recognition at the back of his mind that, ultimately, transcendentalism had to be the leading string, with politics and economics considerably in its service.  But he hasn't spoken to me about this, nor, to the best of my knowledge, has he written about it.  No, if one thing more than another gave me a clue to his approaching change-of-heart, it was what he said, the other week, about Propter, the guru-like character in Huxley's After Many a Summer, criticizing him for an individualist and elitist approach to salvation which, with its emphasis on contemplation for the privileged few, struck him as socially inadequate and altogether too bourgeois.  I think he would rather the great majority of people were in a position to do a Propter, but a Propter, without de-centralist inclinations, who related to Teilhard de Chardin's evolutionary cosmogony of centro-complexification.  This, I think, would be compatible with the concept of a converging universe to the Omega Point, that is, with the world gradually evolving from the Many towards the One.  Obviously, this can only be brought about via an ideology which gives its attention to the masses and their social advancement, so that, ultimately, the great majority of people will be in a position to take transcendentalism seriously, and thus converge en masse towards the Omega Point.  No use expecting the cream of the bourgeois world to get us there then, since they are all-too-few in number and more obsessed, in any case, with their own personal salvation.

     But this discussion has blossomed quite nicely, and I really think they are having a mutually beneficial effect on each other, an effect of give-and-take, so to speak.  For their initial suspicions have abated, during the past fifteen minutes, with David Lee now more willing to lend an ear than before.  Naturally, Danby knew he was dealing with a Marxist, because I told him before they met.  But Lee's atheism seems not to have unduly worried him.  After all, he's an atheist himself insofar as his rejection of traditional religious criteria is concerned.  He doesn't believe in God the Father ... for the simple reason that he is too evolved for that; in fact, so evolved that, considered as Creator, the Almighty, etc., the Father seems to him indistinguishable from and equivalent to the Devil, in contrast to which he perceives God the Holy Ghost as in a process of formation throughout the Universe, in the context of our mounting allegiance to the superconscious, and therefore only existing in embryo, as it were, in that part of the psyche given over to the spirit.  The Holy Spirit has still to be fully created, but, in the meantime, it will continue to expand with the addition of successive layers or contributions of superconscious mind, until such time as full spiritual maturity is reached, and true divinity ultimately reigns supreme in the Universe.

     True divinity, then, is ultimately dependent on man for its birth, and, verily, the ancients were right to claim that man is a god-creating phenomenon.  He has been creating gods ever since he entered the spectrum of manhood - at first rather crudely and materialistically, to be sure, but with greater refinement as time wore on.  When he was in the pre-dualistic, or pagan, stage of evolution his gods were correspondingly material, to be worshipped in the flesh, so to speak.  He erected statues and saw the gods in them.  Later, when he had evolved to the dualistic, or Christian, stage of evolution he still erected statues - witness the Blessed Virgin and Christ - but now that he was less dominated by the subconscious mind, the sensual, the material, he felt able to detach his worship from them to some extent and regard them as merely images of the real gods that apparently dwelt elsewhere, compliments of their respective resurrections, in pure spirit.  He was no longer the simple pagan idolater, bowing before stone or wood as before the actual god, but had acquired a new dimension which, as the spiritual, existed in its own right and on a superior plane to the material.  Latterly, however, he has for the most part outgrown this dualistic stage of evolution and attained to a post-dualistic, or transcendental, stage in which the superconscious predominates over the subconscious, and he is accordingly no longer able to take material images of divinity seriously.  Now he has arrived at an understanding of God based entirely on the spirit, and thus brought himself closer to the ultimate truth of God, that truth perceived by Christ when He said: 'God is a spirit, and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth'.  However, the Christians weren't, as a rule, able to do so.  For dualistic man hadn't evolved to such a transcendental level but was still tied to the material, and thus to some extent dependent on images like the Crucifix, the Virgin Mary, St Joseph, the Saints, and the Apostles to orientate his worship.  Only comparatively recently, with the further progress of human evolution away from nature and materially-orientated criteria, has it become possible for more people to turn to the truth of Christ's statement and thereby re-orientate their worship on the spirit, which is found within.  If they can bring themselves into closer contact with their spiritual essence they achieve, through self-realization, a direct knowledge of the godly.  But the godly, according to Danby, should not be confused with ultimate divinity.  It is only potentially that, a tiny fragment of spirit which, earnestly cultivated over many years, should grow and become ever more intensive, eventually becoming so intensive ... that the essence of man is obliged to transcend the body and establish the Omega Point, which will be the beginnings of the actual manifestation of ultimate divinity in the Universe.  Man will thus have created the Holy Spirit, though not in his own image, as Christian man created his god, but in the literal context of ultimate divinity - transpersonal and transcendent.

     Yes, at last it all begins to make sense and I can now see more clearly the reason why Danby rejects de Chardin's Christogenesis on a literal basis.  Yet even if he can't literally accept the divinity of Christ, like a genuine Christian, I think he would have no option but to concede that, on a symbolic plane, the Resurrection does in fact illustrate the future course of evolution in spiritual transcendence, the abandonment of the body for ultimate self.  Therefore it could be said that it is the fate of man to follow Christ's example and attain to spiritual bliss in the post-human Beyond, so that Christ's evolution through the Universe, or Christogenesis, can be regarded as a preordained plan and implicit fact.  We are in the process, willy-nilly, of following in Christ's transcendent footsteps.  However, where Danby differs from de Chardin is in asserting that, in reality, there was no literal Resurrection and, consequently, that there can be no already-existent Omega Point compounded of Christ's transcendent presence.  On the contrary, it's our duty to establish such a condition in due course.  As already noted, Danby isn't a Christian.  We evolve towards the Omega Point, we are not teleologically pulled towards it by a Christ in situ, so to speak.

     However, let us leave the final word with him.  For I have been digressing too much and have quite abandoned my two friends to their discussion.  They were talking, if you recall, about the literal natures of Heaven and Hell, Danby explaining the imaginative limitation of the Christian dualists on the basis of their egocentric projections, whilst at the same time justifying it in regard to its utilitarian viability.  Since then, David Lee has gone on to question him more generally about paintings of the Last Judgement, especially about which ones he considers to be the most logical and which the most illogical from a contemporary viewpoint, and, latterly, whether he didn't think the whole concept of eschatological judgement illusory.  After all, didn't it rather reflect the dualism of Christian man, and thus speak in terms to which we post-dualistic moderns couldn't be expected to relate?

     "Yes, to some extent it does," Danby replied, visibly impressed by the apparent interest in religious issues this professed Marxist was now displaying.  "One might be led to believe that a simultaneous judgement was taking place, in which the sensualists were damned and the spiritualists saved.  Yet that would be out-of-step with the trend of evolution towards the godly and eventual establishment of ultimate divinity.  Since life is a journey from Hell to Heaven, we cannot suppose that at the end of it anyone will be damned and obliged to roast in Hell.  On the contrary, we are increasingly led to assume that humanity in toto will have become ripe, at that more advanced juncture in evolution, for spiritual transformation, and thus salvation from the flesh.  There will be no Christ in Judgement for the simple reason that such a dual-natured deity only pertains to the mentality of dualistic man, not to those who have evolved beyond that mentality to a transcendent frame-of-mind.  But at the time of its formulation, many centuries ago, you can be sure that the Last Judgement was a viable concept and strongly appealed to the Christian mentality.  Even the notion of a posthumous, individual afterlife of either Hell or Heaven was absolutely justified, insofar as men couldn't be expected, at that more egocentric juncture in time, to conceive of a post-human millennium, or complacently accept the fact that, considered individually, they were no more than relatively insignificant mortal links in a chain of life ultimately leading to Paradise.  Their egos would have rebelled against any such concept which, had they been capable of formulating it, would have proved much too demoralizing to uphold.  It's only because we're closer to this evolutionary consummation, if you will, that we can at last be expected to bear the truth, painful though it may still be on occasions!  As to the Last Judgement, however, I think we can safely say that we've generally outgrown the necessity of believing in it.  Even de Chardin would, I think, agree with me here, since his concept of a spiritual convergence to the Omega Point leaves no room for Hell and, hence, damnation.  But that is no reason, in my view, why we should reject the necessity of temporal judgements en route to the post-human millennium, as I'm sure you'd agree."

     David Lee allowed an ironic smile to take possession of his thin lips, before replying: "Yes, the wheat has to be divided from the chaff and/or the chaff from the wheat somehow, and it's the duty of all right-thinking people to ensure this actually comes about.  Just as, in the Christian schema, the sensualists are doomed to perdition and only the spiritualists saved.  For the world is still largely divisible into these two antithetical camps, so the need for temporal judgements en route to the post-human millennium undoubtedly exists.  But 'the good' shall triumph in the end, of that there can be no doubt!"

     "Indeed," Danby concurred, warming appreciably to his interlocutor's confidence.  "And out of their efforts will come a new spiritual impetus, through which higher man will eventually attain to the goal of evolution in spiritual triumph."

     "And woman?" Lee wanted to know.  "Where does she fit into all this?"

     "Obviously as the means, now as before, of getting us there," Danby replied confidently.  "The act of propagation may, by dint of its sensual nature, be steeped in original sin, but at least we can be assured that without the help of women we would never attain to our evolutionary goal.  Like food and sleep, woman is a sort of necessary evil - at any rate, with regard to sex.  But out of evil cometh good, remember, and although woman is by no means entirely sensual, nevertheless she stands closer to nature than man, since aligned, in her fundamental bias for appearances, with the phenomenal world."

     "From which fact we can assume, I take it, that the post-human millennium isn't for her," I suggested, making an effort to become a part of the conversation again, "since its spiritual nature would seem to portend a radically essential, if not supermasculine, state-of-affairs."

     "Absolutely, Jason," agreed Danby, turning towards me.  "The Holy Spirit would be consummate good and therefore the ultimate positivity, quite the converse of the stars, which, in their primal negativity, are consummate evil.  Regarded as the sum-total of flaming stars, Hell should be seen as a fundamentally reactive phenomenon, and its offspring, like the earth and nature, as feminine.  All that pertains to the sensual is feminine, whereas whatever pertains to the spiritual is masculine.  So the evolution of the Universe is from ultimate negativity to ultimate positivity - a fact which is adequately demonstrated by the current state of Western civilization, in which masculine artificiality, in the forms of large cities, industry, science, technology, etc., has increasingly come to predominate over the feminine realm of nature, with its subconscious illusion.  We are indeed biased towards the spirit at last, so let us be sincerely grateful for the fact, since there is only one way forward, and that's up through expanded consciousness!  No alternative exists.  Yet the considerable efforts women are nowadays making to 'masculinize' themselves, as it were, and thus wear jeans, vote, take jobs, write books, play sport, etc., is a further indication of our evolutionary progress, which harbours good tidings for the future.  In that, as in so many other respects, things can only get better, you mark my words!"

     "Yes, I incline to think you're right," Lee admitted, smiling glowingly before raising his fist in a dramatic gesture.  "The future belongs to us!" he added.

     "To be sure," I seconded rather doubtfully; for I wasn't altogether convinced that the maculinization of women, to use Danby's unhappy expression, was necessarily for the best or in any way fully commensurate with spiritual, as opposed to material, progress.  Nevertheless I joined with David Lee in drinking some more wine, this time white, to the health and genius of our mutual friend.  The discussion, we concluded, had dragged on quite long enough and, now that the evening had at last arrived, it seemed as though we had indeed passed from the Devil to God and were about to enter the realm of heavenly peace, wherein even positive argument could have no place.

 

 

AN UNEXPECTED CRISIS

 

"To be truly modern," Michael Reid was saying, "one must live in the city, preferably the metropolis, and thus cease to have regular contact with nature.  For the city does, after all, bear witness to the extent of contemporary civilization, being the focal-point, as it were, of human evolution to-date.  Beyond the city there is nothing higher, at any rate not on earth, whereas beneath it ... well, one finds a descending scale of town, village, farm, and country, with the most uncultivated country at the bottom."

     Tina Hewitt briefly turned her pretty brown face towards him in polite acknowledgement of these remarks and said: "Yes, I suppose so.  But, fortunately, there isn't that much uncultivated country around these days.  Most of it seems to have been quite pleasantly cultivated.  Like the fields round here, for instance."

     They each looked out through the car windows in opposite directions, in confirmation of the fact that the country through which they were currently driving was pleasantly cultivated.  On the left-hand side of the road an expanse of freshly-ploughed earth, whilst on the opposite side, nearest to Reid, a gleaming wheat field stood almost motionless in the noon-day heat.  Farther on, other fields and expanses of ploughed land could be discerned to either side, all of which attested to the agricultural mastery of man.

     Keith Shearer, who was driving, was less interested in looking at land, however, than in continuing the conversation with his back-seat passenger.  "Presumably those who don't live in the biggest cities are behind the times to varying extents, then," he remarked.

     "That's more or less my opinion anyway," Reid responded.  "Naturally, we all live in the current century so far as dates and the use of modern inventions are concerned.  But we don't all live in it on the same spiritual or evolutionary level.  A farmer lives in it on a different and, in my opinion, lower level than an avant-garde artist, whilst a small-town shopkeeper lives in it on a different level than, well, a metropolitan chain-store worker.  I mean, it isn't just a question of class or occupation.  We're also dealing with the varying influences of widely different environments on the lifestyles and mentalities of their respective inhabitants.  There have been farmers and farm labourers from virtually the very dawn of human civilization, but there haven't always been avant-garde artists.  The former still tend to live on a level not all that far removed, in certain respects, from primitives, whereas the latter are the fruit of thousands of years' civilized evolution and progressive sophistication.  One could have milked cows or tilled the earth three or four thousand years ago, but one couldn't have painted like Piet Mondrian or Wasily Kandinsky then, nor have composed music like Michael Tippett or Pierre Boulez, nor have written novels like Alain Robbe-Grillet or Lawrence Durrell."

     "Quite so," Shearer conceded, as he artfully steered his bright-red 2cv6 Citroën round a sharp bend in the road, to the slight displacement of his passengers.  "What you're in fact saying is that the modern artist only became possible because of the city, that the city gave birth to the contemporary artist."

     Michael Reid nodded his head at the reflection of Shearer's face in the driving mirror.  "Yes, I doubt if the bulk of contemporary art would have come about at all, had it not been for the continuous development of our towns and cities into ever-larger conurbations of the artificial, the man-made.  For abstract art reflects this development and therefore speaks directly to the intelligent man of the big city.  If it had to wait until the twentieth century to come about, that was only because until then none of the towns or cities was large enough to warrant it, not having expanded away from the sensuous influence of nature to an extent which made such a spiritual, transcendental art possible.  Man was still tied to dualism in a kind of balanced compromise between nature and civilization, and thus given to both sensual and spiritual kinds of representational art - the former issuing from the natural world, the latter from the civilized one, and embracing not only urban and domestic scenes but religious projections as well."

     Tina had listened more attentively to these remarks than her boyfriend, and now ventured to inquire of the controversial young artist whether such a dualism wasn't to be found in abstract art, too?  In other words, whether there wasn't both a sensual and a spiritual mode of it?

     "Indeed, there certainly is," Reid replied, shifting his attention from the driving mirror to the dark-haired young woman who sat in front beside the driver.  "Impressionism was a mode of sensual abstraction to the extent that it primarily dealt with the natural world, including animals and men.  However, it rendered that world not in concrete representational terms but in abstract and, hence, impressionistic terms.  And after Impressionism of one sort or another had run its dreary course, well, there was Expressionism to take over and focus not so much on the external or natural world ... as on the transformations such a world underwent through the influence of emotions, especially the strongest and most negative.  This, too, was a kind of abstraction, for it dispensed with literal concrete representations, preferring to distort external reality under pressure of internal reality.  However, since they were still partly representational, one might describe these art-styles as transitional between sensual representation and the sensual abstraction that was to follow in the guise of Abstract Expressionism, where a depiction of the feelings, or the effects of external reality upon the self rather than vice versa, was attempted.  Such an art-style, largely focusing upon strong emotions, may indeed be described as sensual abstraction, in contrast to the spiritual abstraction which was to materialize in the guise of Neo-Plasticism and the genius, most especially, of Piet Mondrian.  Now since the path of evolution tends away from the sensual towards the spiritual, it follows that intellectually-biased subjective art signifies a superior development to emotionally-biased subjective art, and accordingly has more relevance for our time, as indeed for the future.  It's the higher abstraction, being religious as opposed to secular, insofar as whatever pertains to the spirit stands in opposition to whatever pertains to the senses, the sensual, the worldly.  So, in following the overall tendency of evolution towards the spirit, one might claim that it was and remains the fate of sensual abstraction to give way to spiritual abstraction, which is the ultimate art."

     They were still passing fields as Michael Reid spoke and, from time to time, would glance to either side of the road in order to feast their nature-starved eyes upon the scene before them.  It was over a year since any of them had actually been out of London and, despite their sophisticated urban sentiments, they were privately grateful for a change of scenery, especially Tina, who lived in a more built-up part of the metropolis than her two companions, and had a greater need of vegetation in consequence.  She was particularly looking forward to the afternoon walk they were intending to take across the Sussex Downs.  It would be agreeably refreshing, she thought, being in such close contact with relatively-uncultivated nature again, acquiring a strong dose of more concentrated plant life to replenish her languishing soul in some measure.  For although she had regular sex with Keith and ate and slept relatively well, there was still room for something better than mere walks in the local park from time to time - room for an altogether different mode of sensuality such as could only be gleaned, as it were, from a rural environment.  She felt that a good long walk in open spaces would help her fulfil a basic human need, and freshly equip her to deal with prolonged confinement in the city.  Admittedly, she was familiar enough with Michael Reid's thinking by now to know that he was pretty Mondrianesque in his almost Manichaean contempt of nature and determination to remain as dedicated to the progress of the spiritual in life as was humanly possible, without, of course, unduly jeopardizing his integrity as a human being.  But she wasn't quite as ardent a believer in spiritual progress herself, nor nearly so dedicated to its furtherance.  She didn't subscribe to that reasoned consistency of Reid's which, amongst other things, led him to indulge in sensual matters as though unwillingly and with an attitude which suggested that, whilst a certain amount of sensual indulgence was obligatory, one was simply paying one's dues to the Devil in consequence of one's basic humanity.  No, she wasn't that spiritually advanced, being fairly complacent, as a rule, where the satisfaction of bodily needs was concerned.  And, as she had noted on a number of occasions, even Michael Reid wasn't as spiritually consistent as he would probably like to have been or in fact made himself out to be.  He certainly ate with a healthy appetite anyway, and had never said anything to her which suggested that he ate with reluctance, a reluctance born of his spiritual aspirations.  He may not have been the most highly-sexed of people, but he was still human enough to find eating a generally agreeable occupation, not to mention the weekly strolls he took through the small local park.  He wasn't quite the most spiritually-advanced of men on those counts, even if certain of his actions and attitudes marked him out as a being-apart from the common herd of worldly hedonists - actions, for instance, of a scholarly and intellectually creative order, but attitudes such as his loathing of dogs and hope that, one day, when people had advanced to a more spiritual level than a majority of them were at currently, such creatures would be done away with, banned from the metropolis and other large cities on the grounds that urban man had become sufficiently spiritual to wish to minimize contact with beasts as much as possible, and thus rid himself of their physical presence.

     According to him, dogs were altogether too subconsciously-dominated to be acceptable companions of people who had evolved to a radical level of superconscious affiliation, and were therefore unworthy of incorporation into any truly-advanced civilization.  Already, he was looking on them from a kind of advanced viewpoint himself, suffering from the gross noise they made every time they barked, suffering from the excretory filth they left behind in the street which not only looked bad but smelt bad, suffering, above all, from the fact of their subconscious orientation, which led to their spending so much time every day either dozing or sleeping, cocooned, as it were, in sensual torpor.  A dualistic people inevitably tolerated dogs because, being balanced between the subconscious and the superconscious in the ego at its prime, they took a large amount of the evil in life for granted, deeming it indicative of the nature of reality.  But a transcendental people would increasingly come to look upon all forms of evil, including the beastly, as subject to human control and, ultimately, elimination.  They would not claim that good was dependent on evil for its existence but, on the contrary, that the less evil there was in life, the more room would there be for good, to the benefit of the living.  These big-city people would inevitably set about increasing the sum-total of good in life at the expense of evil, and gradually reduce the latter to negligible proportions, eventually doing away with it altogether ... as they transcended the body for the realm of pure spirit.

     And so a day would eventually come when they decided to rid themselves of dogs and thereby minimize or eliminate contact with the beastly.  When that day would come for certain, and in what form, Michael Reid didn't of course know.  But he hoped, anyway, that it wouldn't be too far into the future, since he was hopeful that such a 'Judgement Day', as he liked to think of it, should come about in his own lifetime and thus grant him the satisfaction of dying with the knowledge that the world had extended its progress over evil and consequently become, for succeeding generations, a better place in which to live.  However, he didn't expect small-town, village, or country people to sacrifice their dogs together with city people or, indeed, be required to do so at exactly the same time.  To his way of thinking, they generally lived on a lower evolutionary plane in closer contact with nature, and therefore weren't subject to the same pressures as city people.

     To be sure, it was a point he had touched upon earlier that morning, as they drove out of Surrey, and now Tina took-up the thread again and, partly for her boyfriend's benefit, asked him to clarify the matter a little.  After all, if we were to a large extent conditioned by the nature of our environments, then what applied to people in one type of environment could scarcely be considered applicable to those in a radically different type.  For instance, abstract art would be to some extent out-of-place in a rural setting.

     "Yes, I absolutely agree," said Reid, grateful for an opportunity to expand on his contentions.  "For it's the product of large-scale urban civilization and consequently isn't likely to win much support in the country, where people are, for the most part, less spiritually evolved, since more under nature's sensual sway.  An abstract or biomorphic sculpture stuck-out in the middle of a field or on the brow of a hill somewhere - what can it possibly mean?  What relationship can it have with its surroundings?  One might as well transplant a modern skyscraper to the country ... for all the applicability such a work would have there!  For abstract art is essentially an anti-natural or transcendental phenomenon and, as such, one can hardly expect it to harmonize with nature!  Its proper place is in the city, not in the wilderness.  Likewise, the proper place of the abstract artist is in the city, not in the country, village, or small town.  For it's the artist's duty to relate to his environment and further the cause of progress by being in the creative vanguard of his time.  Such, at any rate, is the case for any genuine, truly great artist, who functions as a kind of psychic antenna, or reflector of the extent of evolutionary progress in the world at any given time, and who may even anticipate progress by being a step or two ahead of his contemporaries.  Like Mondrian, he lives in the city and relates to the artificial nature of his environment by producing a correspondingly artificial, non-figurative art.  But if he learns the tricks of his trade in the city and then goes to live in the country, where he continues to produce abstractions - well, to some extent he is a sham, a hypocrite, and not a genuine or great artist, because creating out-of-context with his rural environment.  He may even find himself relapsing, after awhile, into some form of representational art in consequence of its sensuous influence, which would simply result in works of, by city standards, a largely anachronistic order.  This would automatically lead to his becoming a minor artist, because all the major ones would be producing work which stemmed from or owed something to contemporary urban civilization."

     "Is all this intended as an oblique criticism of the estimable likes of Barbara Hepworth, Henry Moore, and Ben Nicholson?" asked Shearer on a faintly reproachful note.  They were passing through Crawley now and to either side of them the familiar sight of shops and houses had usurped the place of fields.

     "Not really," Reid replied, blushing slightly in spite of his back-seat immunity from the driver's quizzical gaze.  For he knew that Keith Shearer was a great admirer of these three artists.  "Though I'm convinced it must have some relation to them, insofar as they lived and worked outside London and were much given to nature and the countryside in general.  Nicholson even dedicated some of his creative energy to landscape drawing, albeit in a suitably modern technique, which simply sketched-in the outlines of the countryside in linear fashion."

     "And would the fact of his dedication to landscape detract from claims to true artistic greatness in your eyes?" Shearer asked him.

     "To a certain extent it would," Reid admitted, "since the highest art of the age is decidedly anti-natural and/or pro-spiritual, like Mondrian's and Kandinsky's, particularly the latter's late work.  It's obviously less good to preoccupy oneself with trees, fields, hills, etc., than with abstractions, no matter how linear one's technique may happen to be.  It's less good, but, there again, if one's insufficiently spiritually-advanced to be capable of concentrating solely on non-figurative work, then it's virtually inevitable, and must be accepted.  Nicholson's best work is, I believe, his abstract reliefs, of which there are many choice examples, all of them a silent testimony to his transcendental capability.  But bearing in mind his penchant for the figurative and natural, it's only fair to conclude him a lesser artist than, say, Mondrian or Kandinsky, who were more consistently and systematically transcendental.  I mean, the fact that he lived in such relatively small places as St Ives and the Ticino for so long would seem to suggest a desire to be closer to nature, which can only be out-of-keeping with the greatest artists' urban opposition to it.  Okay, he may not have liked city life, but that's only another reason for considering him a comparatively minor or, at any rate, lesser artist.  All truly great artists should like the city, should see in it the sum of our evolutionary progress to-date.  It's our passport, if you like, to ultimate salvation in the millennial Beyond, the future culmination of human evolution.  Without it we would be lost, remaining in some kind of dualistic twilight between nature and civilization in small towns and villages.  Needless to say, a lot of people do remain in that state and will doubtless continue to remain in it until their environments are changed and, thanks to the expansion of their towns or villages, they become more cut-off from nature and thus correspondingly more civilized - biased towards the spirit.  Ultimately, you can only be what your environment permits or encourages you to be.  But if, because of its proximity to nature, it doesn't permit or encourage you to be particularly transcendental, well then, you can only be dualistic or perhaps even pagan, as I'm sure a fair number of real country people effectively are, despite appearances to the contrary.  Which brings us back to what I was saying earlier, about the evolutionary differences between people, differences moulded, over and above class, by environment."

     "And presumably the fact that we don't all live in the same time," Shearer remarked, recalling the gist of the previous topic of conversation.

     "Quite so," Reid responded, casting the driving mirror an emphatic nod.  "The provinces are always more traditional or, depending on your viewpoint, less advanced than the cities.  Indeed, in some respects, they hardly seem a part of the current century at all, even given all the modern trappings to be encountered there.  For whatever is truly modern stems from the big city, and although small-town people may to some extent be influenced by it, they remain moored, as it were, to the relatively conservative influence of their dualistic environments and therefore aren't in a position to appreciate it properly.  This applies, I believe, as much to religion and politics as to, say, science and art.  For there are undoubtedly a great many people in the provinces for whom Christianity and parliamentary democracy have more relevance than some of our metropolitan progressives would like to believe!"

     "Yes, I'm quite sure that's true," Tina conceded, smiling a shade maliciously.  "And it must go some way towards explaining why such countries as Eire and Spain, for instance, are given to Catholicism, since largely rural and thus more natural."

     Michael Reid nodded his head again, albeit this time less emphatically.  He had already come to a similar conclusion some months ago, having equated Catholicism with a lower, quasi-pagan form of Christianity and Protestantism, by contrast, with a higher, quasi-transcendental form of it which signified, in his estimation, a kind of transition to transcendentalism-proper.  Catholic countries, he had noted, were generally or traditionally less urbanized and industrialized than their Protestant counterparts, altogether closer to nature.  Like everything else, religion and environment hung together, the one couldn't be completely dissociated from the other.  Overlappings and exceptions there undoubtedly were, but, basically, the big city wasn't a Catholic phenomenon.  On the contrary, it was decidedly transcendental, and could only become more so the further it expanded.

     Yes, he was quite proud of the fact that he was a city man and, as he stared through the car's side windows at the Sussex countryside, he felt a contempt for the world rising in his soul, a good healthy Christian contempt for the natural status quo which, at this juncture, appeared in such rural profusion.  Oh yes, the contempt he felt was justified all right, even in this day and age!  Nietzsche had never been able to understand the Christian contempt for the world and had consequently castigated it, deeming it symptomatic of decadence.  But Michael Reid understood it all right, and was able to reinterpret it in contemporary post-Christian terms.... Not that one had to feel it all the time, or indeed could do so.  Still, it was reassuring to note that evolution was a fact, and that its goal in spiritual bliss was what ultimately mattered.  We knew the future would be far superior to the present, and so we avoided the error of systematic complacency in the present, as though this was the best of all possible worlds which could never be improved upon.  Sure, the world had made considerable progress over the past two-thousand years, and many of the things currently to be found in it were quite admirable and pleasant.  Yet there was still room for contempt.  There was still reason to think: 'The world is undoubtedly better now than it has ever been, but, by God, that's no excuse for believing it can't become even better in the future, or that what we see before us is the best that can be done!'

     Yes, a little contempt every now and again for the status quo, especially in its natural manifestation, was by no means a bad thing!  For the world man had made was, by and large, a more admirable or, depending on your standpoint, less contemptible thing than the subconsciously-dominated world of nature and, as such, it was fitting that one's greatest contempt should be reserved for the latter and, needless to say, its principal upholders, whether literary or otherwise.  Admittedly, the man-made world was still a material, and hence imperfect, phenomenon.  But at least it was a means of getting us, or our future descendants, to the climax of evolution in transcendent spirituality.  Without the big city, we would always be nature's playthings.

     But the big city, being of the world, wasn't an end-in-itself, and accordingly it was worthy of at least some contempt every once in awhile.  For beyond and above the highest civilization on the planet would come the formation, in Michael Reid's considered opinion, of the highest possible development in the Universe - namely the development of pure spirit, which, in its transcendence, would not be of the world or anything in it.  This ultimate manifestation of divinity would certainly constitute a beyond, nay, the Beyond that Christian man had long believed in, albeit in his own necessarily narrow, personal, and egocentric way, with particular reference to posthumous salvation.  This would be above any 'happiness on earth' or 'happiness of the greatest number' that modern socialists believed in and strove after, since the logical development beyond it.  Not so much a millennial climax to evolution, then, as a transcendental climax, issuing in the Omega Point, de Chardin's term for Heaven.

     Yes, not so much a 'happiness on earth', stuck in front of the most sophisticated ultra-modern television with the ultra-modern furniture of a state-subsidised apartment all around one, and regular food, drink, sex, sleep, perhaps even work (assuming such an activity hadn't been exclusively entrusted to the machine by then), to prevent one from feeling underprivileged.  No, not so much all these constituents of a 'happiness on earth' but, as the eventual outcome of socialist progress, a happiness far superior to the earthly, in which the spirit reigned supreme and only the Holy Ghost or the Omega Point, as you prefer, prevailed ... as ultimate divinity.  A perfect happiness in spiritual bliss rather than an imperfect happiness in material comfort.  All Becoming having been resolved in perfect Being, all Becoming having achieved the calm beingfulness of Eternity.

     Such, he believed, would be the final outcome of evolution, for which, in the meantime, a material comfort was necessary, if only to prepare the ground, as it were, for the spiritual impetus that would take us on the last lap to Heaven.  A comfort strictly regulated, however, always kept within certain carefully-prescribed bounds for fear that a reaction to excessive materialism should set-in and thereby impede evolutionary progress.  Not materialism in any feudal or capitalist sense, then.  Only the materialism necessary to a society bent on launching itself into the millennial Beyond through the systematic practice of transcendental meditation.  A lesser materialism, by all accounts, than anything that had preceded it in the overall development of civilization.  The socialist materialism appertaining to the ultimate civilization!

     Yes, and as Michael Reid continued to stare through the windows of Shearer's small red Citroën at the predominantly rural environments through which they were driving, he felt his contempt of nature giving way to an admiration for human progress and the admirable creature that man in fact was, especially higher or progressive man.  To be sure, man had done brilliant things in the world and even beyond it, in space.  He had written truthful books, composed lovely music, painted beautiful paintings, fashioned graceful sculptures, erected enduring monuments, invented sophisticated machines, built impressive buildings, launched fantastic ships, acted breathtaking parts, climbed prodigious mountains, designed superb costumes, won important victories, sustained ingenious systems, etc. etc., to the greater glory of man!  But all that, no matter how brilliant, was as nothing compared with what he had still to do and, if fortune favoured him, undoubtedly would do in establishing the Omega Point in the Universe and thus becoming ultimate divinity.  All that he had done would pale to insignificance by comparison with what he would become at the climax of evolution.  Only the Holy Spirit that evolved out of man's spirit would live for ever.  Everything else, including the stars and planets, would eventually fade away, leaving the Universe to its ultimate perfection in true divinity.  Even the greatest works man had ever fashioned would fade away, be destroyed as the stars burnt themselves out and collapsed into nothingness.  And all of it - works, nature, planets, and stars - was contemptible in relation to the Omega Point.  Not just the world of which we were a part, but the material universe as a whole, especially that part of it which may be deemed the original creative force behind all the habitable planets, and which Reid regarded as synonymous with the Devil.

     Yes, the stars!  Especially were they contemptible in all their infernal heat and manifold separateness!  Not quite consummate evil though, at least not these days.  For time had eaten into them and rendered them less hot and powerful than they used to be in their cosmic youth, so to speak.  If the Devil was still alive he or, rather, it wasn't as evil as formerly, but had devolved a fair way along its diabolic life-span of so many million years.  Yet it was still evil enough, and no matter for human complacency!  Stellar devolution had quite some way to go before the Devil reached old age and eventually died.  In the meantime, we could only do our best to further the cause of God, continue human evolution along the most transcendental lines, extend the realm of civilization over nature, and so become ever more civilized.

     The European nations, reflected Reid, were on the whole pretty good at this and had a worthy tradition of civilized evolution behind them.  Britain, in particular, had played a leading role in extending civilization, especially in the nineteenth century, when its colonial power extended across four continents.  A year ago, Reid would have been anti-colonial.  Now, however, he understood that the soldier who was facing-up, in some hostile African or Asian terrain, to native opposition ... symbolized the cause of good and not, as might at first appear, the reality of evil.  In the context of colonial war, it was the British who symbolized good because closer, in evolutionary terms, to our projected omega culmination of evolution than were the natives.  The fact that evolution is effectively a journey from the Devil to God, as from alpha to omega, inevitably implied, in Reid's view, that those further up its ladder were morally superior to those beneath them and therefore closer, in a manner of speaking, to the ultimate creation of God.  They might not be entirely good, but, in comparison to their pagan opponents, they were certainly symbolic of progress, light, change, etc., and consequently worthy of greater respect.  Their overriding task is to bring the primitive to a higher level of evolution by imposing superior criteria upon him, and if they achieve this, the struggle, no matter how costly, will have been worthwhile.  They are friends of the primitive in disguise - hard, cold, merciless friends, it may be, but friends nonetheless!  For in the long run they deliver him from his backwardness and coerce him into something better, drag him up by the scruff of the neck, as it were, to a higher stage of evolution.  This, to Reid, was good and necessary, and Britain had done more than its share of dragging up primitives, over the centuries, to deserve a rest and perhaps even the gratitude of those now profiting from its example.  The responsibility of leading the way in this respect had now passed, it seemed, elsewhere, to hands no less capable, one imagined, of achieving their objectives.  But the new world leaders, while they may be to some extent justified in dealing with Europe, weren't perhaps the most relevant influence in places like Africa, whose historical and environmental precedent would suggest that Christianity and democracy have a future there which it would be foolish to deny.  After all, Africa isn't on the same evolutionary level as Western Europe, having only comparatively recently been dragged out of its primitive past.

     To be sure, as the car sped towards the Sussex Downs, it occurred to Reid that what applied to Africa and to a variety of other Third World regions also had some applicability to the country folk of European countries, where the contrast between rural and urban life presupposed different levels of evolution within society as a whole.  No use expecting someone in regular contact with nature to espouse anti-natural sentiments in the manner of a sophisticated Manichaean city-dweller.  No use expecting him to turn against nature with a transcendental contempt.  No use preaching higher spiritual standards to him, as though words alone were sufficient to bring them about.  Words were fairly powerless before the forces of nature.  The only words to which he could be expected to relate would be written by someone like John Cowper Powys, himself a long-term country-dweller, whose work blended-in, so to speak, with his rural surroundings and accordingly reflected nature's sensuous influence.  Viewed from a higher transcendental vantage-point, Powys might not be the finest of writers, but at least he was generally at one with his environment, not a countryman play-acting at transcendentalism or a transcendentalist striving to become a countryman!  If he denounced such essentially post-dualistic writers as Huysmans, the de Goncourts, Baudelaire, and Oscar Wilde, one needn't be surprised or offended.  He could hardly be expected to eulogize works like À Rebour or Les Fleurs du Mal, under the circumstances.

     Yet, then again, one could hardly expect a sophisticated big-city person to eulogize such obviously rural-inspired works as In Defence of Sensuality or A Philosophy of Solitude, which have the ring of another age about them, an age when nature played a far greater role in most people's lives than it did today.  Naturally, there are people for whom Powys would be more relevant, but they're a dwindling minority confined, for the most part, to small towns and villages scattered around the country.  By far the largest number of people are city dwellers and, if sophisticated, more likely to find the sort of authors Powys denounced to their taste.  That, at any rate, was what Michael Reid found to be the case for himself, since he hadn't touched a Powys tome or any kindred rural-inspired work in years, fearing that it could have a negative influence on his transcendentalism and accordingly weaken his resolve to look upon nature with a kind of Mondrianesque disdain.

     No, he wasn't going to run the risk of becoming a nature-monger himself, no matter how depressed the city made him feel at times.  If Tina and Keith wanted to indulge in a bout of Elementalism, or nature-worship, from time to time, good fucking luck to them!  But he wouldn't allow himself to be dragged into such a venture on a regular basis if the idea caught on.  Oh, no!  Once in a while was okay, provided one kept a relatively straight face about it and didn't convey the impression, like Tina, that one was only too keen for an opportunity to flounder about amid so much plant life, as though it were a matter of life-and-death to one!  Tina being a woman, Reid supposed that she probably had greater need of the elemental than him.  And it wasn't as though she was one of the most spiritual of women, either!  On the contrary, there was a fair amount of flesh on her - enough, at any rate, to make her more sensual than himself.  A year or two ago he might have fancied her.  Now, by contrast, he was quite resigned to her being Shearer's girlfriend.  She was insufficiently slender for him.  He had acquired other standards.

     "Not much farther now, is it?" he thoughtfully inquired of the driver, feeling it was time he said something again.

     "Almost there actually," Shearer replied, half-looking over his shoulder.  "Just another mile or two."

     Tina's face appeared to acquire a new lease-of-life with these words.  "We could certainly do with some exercise, being cooped-up in here for so long," she affirmed.  "My legs have gone all stiff."

     "Yeah, well I'm sure we'll have plenty of opportunity to stretch our legs," her boyfriend rejoined with a reassuring smile.  "Let's hope the weather stays fine."

     There were a few, thin, innocent-looking clouds in the sky, but nothing to excite undue alarm or pessimism.  The sun shone down brightly in front of them, and it was an altogether very warm day, even with the breeze that had sprung-up, causing sporadic fluctuations in temperature.  The car's interior was rather stuffy though, despite the half-open status of the driver's window.

     "I do hope there won't be too many other people there," said Tina, following a conversational pause.  "It would be so nice to have most of the place to ourselves."

     Shearer smiled sympathetically.  "I rather fear, from the amount of traffic on the road, that there'll be no shortage of like-minded people about," he declared.  "Unless, of course, most of them are going to the coast.  However, let's not jump to conclusions.  Even if there are a lot of others there, it'll still be relatively deserted by comparison with London, won't it?"

     "Yes, I guess so," Tina conceded with a forced sigh.  "As long as we can find somewhere nice to picnic in peace.  I'm quite famished now."

     "So am I," Shearer said.

     "Me too," Reid admitted, though he was also beginning to feel a shade apprehensive, as they approached their destination, and more concerned about his spiritual integrity than the well-being of his stomach.  He hadn't set foot on the land of a large open space in over a year and wasn't particularly confident that he would like the experience.  On the contrary, he was becoming more pessimistic the nearer they got to the Sussex Downs.  So much so that, by the time they actually arrived at their journey's end, his heart was beating twice as fast as normally and he had virtually broken into a cold sweat, much as if he were afraid of turning into a cat or something.

     "Here at last!" Tina exclaimed with obvious relish, as the car drew to a stop on the near side of a large parking area, with the spectacle of open grassland looming before them.  "And not too crowded either, by the look of it."

     "No, I think we'll find plenty of space to wander about in and act the part of 'noble savages' all afternoon," Shearer confirmed humorously.

     They got out of the car and stood for a moment gazing intently about them, breathing-in the fresh Downs air which the breeze wafted hither and thither with wilful ease.  Then Tina attended to the picnic hamper, lifting it from the boot, while Shearer, having secured his window, locked the doors.  Only Michael Reid continued to stand where he was and survey his new surroundings - not, however, with pleasure but with mounting horror!  For the prospect of having to walk across the space before them and thereby abandon himself to the vegetation there quite chilled him, making him feel strangely faint.  How could he, the disciple of Mondrian and staunch advocate of transcendentalism, possibly allow himself to be surrounded and well-nigh swamped by so much raw nature, so much subconsciously-dominated sensuality?  How could he possibly set foot across the Sussex Downs in order to sit and have lunch amid the Devil's own creations, when he was a man of God, a pioneer of the spirit in Manichaean disdain for the sensual?  The question arose in his mind and fairly tormented him.  He hadn't bargained for anything like this when he set out with Tina and Keith earlier that day, not having been confronted by such a dilemma before.  He hadn't realized just how spiritually earnest he had become over the past year, how much a man of the city.  Now that he found himself confronted by so much untamed nature, it seemed as though his very existence as a spiritual leader was being not merely threatened, but called into question.  He scarcely heard what his companions were saying to each other, as they came up alongside him with the hamper.  He was far too engrossed in his thoughts.

     "Now then, let's get going, shall we?" Shearer suggested, smiling confidently at the vast expanse of green scenery that stretched away before them.

     "I say, are you alright, Michael?" asked Tina, noticing the worried expression on the artist's thin face.  He was also quite pale and appeared to be on the verge of some kind of nervous crisis.

     "Well, as a matter of fact, I'm feeling a bit queasy," he confessed, becoming shamefaced and slightly embarrassed.

     "Good heavens! I hadn't noticed you were ill," Shearer declared with an expression of spontaneous concern on his handsome face.  "Was it the journey or something?"

     "Possibly a combination of that and something I ate for breakfast," Reid impulsively lied.  He couldn't very well tell them the truth!

     Tina looked genuinely concerned and suggested to her boyfriend that perhaps Michael ought to return to the car and rest there awhile.  She had half-divined his problem.

     Shearer looked puzzled.  "I'd have thought a little fresh air and exercise the best remedy," he opined, casting the artist a slightly quizzical glance.  "Come on, he'll soon be feeling better once we get under way."  And without further ado, he started off across the grass, almost dragging Tina along with him.

     Automatically, if somewhat reluctantly, Reid followed suit and accompanied them in the general direction they were heading.  But it was as though he had entered a realm that was hostile to him, a realm where civilization counted for nothing and spiritual aspirations were negated.  The further away from the car he walked, the more hostile the environment seemed to become, and he began to feel that he was suffocating in some foreign element, growing estranged from his normal rhythms.  All around him the thick stubbly grass assumed a deeply menacing aspect, as though contact with it was slowly sucking the spirit out of him, draining him of life energy, mocking and undermining him.  He shuddered with disgust and came to a sudden halt.  He felt on the point of throwing-up, so vertiginous had he become.  Already the car was some 80-90 yards behind them.  It looked somehow remote and abandoned, almost betrayed.  How could he go on?

     Responding to his hesitation, Tina halted beside him, obliging her hamper-carrying companion to reluctantly do likewise.  She could plainly see how distressed he was by the situation.  "Would you rather return to the car?" she asked on a note of unfeigned concern.

     He stared apologetically back at her for an instant, then quickly nodded his head.

     Realizing the situation was beyond his control, Shearer dipped into his pocket and handed Michael Reid the keys to the car.  "I'm sorry you're not well enough to come with us," he murmured, frowning gently.  "But I hope you'll soon get over whatever has upset you."

     "Thanks," the artist responded, making a brave attempt at smiling.

     "You'd better take a couple of sandwiches and a carton of milk with you," Tina advised him, opening the hamper and dipping her hand into it for the items in question.  "Here.  We can't let you starve to death while we're away."

      As he took the proffered provisions, Reid thought he could detect in her expression an intuitive comprehension of his predicament.

     "If you become well enough to join us later-on this afternoon, don't hesitate to do so," Shearer suggested innocently.

     "Assuming you can find us, that is!" Tina joked.  "Though I don't suppose we'll stray too far away.  We'll probably be back by half-five or six at the latest."  It was now nearly half-past one.

     "I'm sincerely grateful to you both," Reid managed to say, "and apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused you."

     "No problem," Tina affirmed, smiling reassuringly.

     So it was that, with provisions and keys in hand, Michael Reid quickly returned to the Citroën and gratefully let himself in.  He was still feeling somewhat dizzy and embarrassed, but gradually, adjusting himself to its 'civilized' interior, this gave way to a feeling of relief, as though he had actually been sick and thus unburdened himself of an upset stomach.  Never had the interior of a car seemed so pleasant to him as now, and it wasn't long before he was able to avail himself of the food and drink which Tina had so thoughtfully and generously given him.  Here at least he would be relatively safe from the Downs, surrounded by a protective shell of civilization.  Later, for want of something to do, he would read the novel he had brought with him and possibly listen to the car radio for a while.  Maybe he would take a walk round the parking area after he had visited the nearby public conveniences.  And later still, when they all got back to London, he promised himself that, to compensate his sensual side for the indulgences he had just denied it, he would eat a large dinner, take a stroll round the local streets, and go to bed an hour early.  But never again would he allow himself to be cajoled into setting foot on the Sussex Downs!

 

 

TO THE MILLENNIUM AND BEYOND

 

Mrs Reynolds returned from the kitchen bearing a small circular tray upon which stood three mugs of steaming coffee, and gently placed it on the coffee table between the two men, who were still deeply engrossed in conversation.  She glanced from the one to the other and, catching their attention, suggested that they help themselves to the coffee whilst it was still hot.  "I do hope you won't find it too strong," she added for the benefit of their guest - a thin, dark-haired forty-year-old, who was privileged to be visiting the Reynolds' house for the first time.

     Robert Moore reached out a slender hand with more hairs on the back of it than Jacqui Reynolds had ever seen on any man before and, lifting the bright-blue mug to his lips, duly confessed to finding the coffee just to his taste.  (In point of fact it was slightly sweeter than he would have liked, though he didn't say so for fear of giving offence.  No doubt, the two spoons of sugar she had put into it at his request were bigger than he had anticipated!)

     Mrs Reynolds smiled her relief and, helping herself to the remaining mug, betook her slender form to the space beside her husband on their dark-green settee.  From his matching armchair opposite them, the young freelance writer on art sipped steadily at his drink and momentarily allowed his attention to be caught by Mrs Reynolds' shapely legs, which for a brief second or two, before she tactfully readjusted her skirt, were at least three-quarters exposed.  He could very rarely resist the temptation to stare at or, at the very least, notice an attractive pair of legs when the opportunity arose, and this time was to prove no exception!  A faint blush suffused his cheeks as Mrs Reynolds eased her skirt into a more modest position, and he was glad in a way to have the mug of coffee to hide behind.  It was just like a woman, he mused, to distract one from more spiritual matters!

     But Mr Reynolds hadn't been distracted to anything like the same extent, and was now informing his wife that Robert thought the interior arrangement of their house could be bettered by having the sitting-room, in which they were all currently seated, on the first floor rather than downstairs, as at present.

     "Oh, really?" Mrs Reynolds exclaimed, her velvety lips briefly parting in a show of surprise.  "And why's that?" she asked, turning her attention upon their guest.

     "Well, as I was just saying to Philip while you were in the kitchen," Moore replied, "it's a firm belief of mine that the best possible arrangement for a two-storey house of this nature would be to have all the rooms dedicated to sensual or bodily needs on the ground floor and, by contrast, all those associated with spiritual or intellectual pursuits upstairs, on the piano nobile.  Such an arrangement would sharply distinguish between sensual and spiritual, the lower needs of the body and the higher needs of the spirit, leaving one in no doubt as to the greater importance of the latter."

     "The idea apparently being," Mr Reynolds said, clearing his throat and focusing a pair of intense brown eyes on his wife's intrigued face, "that the ground floor should be seen in a morally inferior relation to the one above, which would symbolize our nobler aspirations."

     "Yes, the former might be defined as a feminine floor and the latter as a masculine one," Moore opined for the nominal benefit of his hostess.  "And since evolution is essentially a journey from the senses to the spirit, it would seem sensible to reflect this fact in an arrangement which gave greater importance to the latter."

     Mrs Reynolds smiled sceptically and a shade wearily over her coffee, her gaze turning from their guest to her husband and back to their guest again, as she pondered the arcane logic of his contention.  "Presumably such a topsy-turvy arrangement would necessitate one's having the kitchen, dining-room, bedroom, toilet, and bathroom on the lower floor, with the sitting-room, library, and study upstairs?"

     "Absolutely," Moore confirmed, briskly nodding his large round head, which seemed curiously out-of-place on such a thin body.  "For cooking, eating, sleeping, copulating, urinating, defecating, washing, and bathing are all sensual or bodily matters which should be equated with the mundane side of life, whereas reading, watching television, listening to the radio, listening to discs and/or tapes, talking, thinking, and playing a musical instrument are all spiritual and intellectual matters which should be equated with the transcendental side of life.  You might add to the rooms already listed on the first floor a music and/or meditation room, thereby ensuring alternative higher rooms."  Here he broke off speaking to sip some more coffee and savour the agreeable taste and smell of that mildly sensuous drink, a drink which resulted in one of the mildest forms of downward self-transcendence, to coin a Huxleyite phrase, in contrast to, say, gin or whisky, which were far more potent and thus, to his way of thinking, correspondingly more detrimental to the spirit.  Coffee and tea were comparatively harmless.

     "Supposing one has more than one bedroom?" Mrs Reynolds queried, slightly amused by her previous oversight.  "After all, if one's house contained two or more bedrooms, as most detached and semidetached two-storey houses in fact do, how could one be expected to find enough room for them all on the ground floor, what with everything else there?"

     "An interesting point!" Mr Reynolds averred, putting his half-consumed coffee to one side and helping himself to a mild cigarette.  "It's generally the case, you know, that people have a greater number of rooms dedicated to sensual needs than to those of the spirit."

     "That may well be," Moore conceded, his facial expression betraying a mixture of embarrassment and dejection.  "And it might therefore be necessary to have a basement floor, as it were, in which to house the additional bedrooms or, alternatively, to build an extension onto the ground floor which would stretch into the back garden.  But I wasn't envisaging one's having more than one or, at most, two bedrooms when I suggested this hierarchical arrangement to you.  I wasn't thinking in terms of big houses with large families."

     "Yet in a three-storey house with two or more bedrooms, you'd presumably still like to see the spiritual floor, as it were, upstairs, at the very top," Mrs Reynolds suggested with a smile.

     "Yes, that has to be admitted," said Moore, nodding.  "One might have the bedrooms on the ground floor, the kitchen, dining-room, bathroom and toilet on the first floor, and, finally, the sitting-room, library, meditation room, or whatever, on the top floor.  That would also be a sensible and logical evolutionary arrangement."

     Mrs Reynolds had to admit it was a novel idea, though she didn't much care for the prospect of sleeping on the ground floor in a two- or three-storey house.  She had always slept upstairs, right from childhood to her current age of thirty-eight, and couldn't imagine herself doing anything else, least of all sleeping down in a basement.  For some obscure reason basements always connoted, in her vivid imagination, with rats, and she was rather relieved that the Finchley house in which she and Philip had lived ever since their wedding, some three years previously, didn't possess one.  If it had, she would have slept well away from it.  But what about Robert Moore?  Did he live in a house in which this kind of hierarchical arrangement obtained?

     "Unfortunately not," he confessed, blushing faintly without this time being able to mask his embarrassment.  For the coffee had by now ceased steaming and, besides, he had drunk most of it.  "I happen to live in a flat where the rooms are all on the third floor, so I'm unable to put my ideas into operation.  However, as your husband is an architect, I was hoping that a few words from me on the subject would induce him to plan some of his future projects along similar lines - lines, that is, in which rooms are arranged in an ascending order of importance, according to their contextual use."

     Mr Reynolds allowed a terse chuckle to follow in quick pursuit of some freshly-exhaled cigarette smoke.  "I don't normally permit other people to influence my architectural ideas," he smilingly revealed.  "But where you are concerned, Robert, I just might make an exception!  However, during the next few weeks I shall be busy designing plans for a new church in Hampstead, so your suggestions may have to wait awhile."

     "I see," responded Moore, and his heart metaphorically sank a bit, not because he had any serious hopes that the architect would eventually adopt his suggestions, but because he didn't like to hear it was a church the man would be working on over the coming weeks.  He would much rather it was a meditation centre, or a place in which people could directly cultivate the spirit.  But meditation centres were probably projects for the future.  The architect had simply not been authorized to design one.  Things would just have to take their logical course.  And so, returning his by-now empty mug to the small coffee tray, he at length asked: "What kind of a church is it going to be?"

     "Frankly, I'm not yet absolutely certain," Mr Reynolds replied, screwing-up his features in deference to the fact, "though I've one or two useful ideas in mind.  I haven't yet decided on whether to adopt a modern or a traditional plan, if that's what you mean."

     "No, I was thinking more specifically in terms of denomination," Moore confessed.

     This time it was the architect's turn to feel embarrassed.  "Oh, I beg your pardon!" he said.  "I thought you were alluding to style."  His wife laughed shrilly at his expense, while their guest chipped-in with an understanding chuckle.  "Well, as a matter of fact, it's going to be a United Reformed Church actually.  Why, do you have any specific interests at stake?"

     "Not particularly," Moore replied.  "Just curious, that's all."

     "I'd have thought that, what with a name like yours, you'd have preferred to hear it was a Catholic church," Mrs Reynolds remarked.  "You are Irish, aren't you?"

     "Yes, to the extent that I was born in Ireland of predominantly Irish parents," the latter conceded, blushing slightly.  "But, seeing as I was brought-up in England and speak with an English accent, I tend to regard myself as a sort of Hiberno-Englishman."

     Mr Reynolds raised a pair of dense brows in mute puzzlement.  "What's that supposed to mean?" he half-humorously asked.

     "Essentially the reverse of an Anglo-Irishman," Moore declared in a self-evident tone-of-voice.  "Whereas an Anglo-Irishman is a man of English descent born and raised in Ireland, an Hiberno-Englishman is someone of Irish descent born and raised in England."

     "But I thought you said you were born in Ireland?" Mrs Reynolds objected.

     "I did," Moore admitted, blushing anew.  "But since I was still a mere toddler when I was brought to this country in the wake of my mother's marital break-up, I incline to give myself the benefit of the doubt and accordingly claim greater English allegiance on the strength of my provincial upbringing."

     "And presumably that was Catholic?" Mrs Reynolds conjectured.

     "Both Catholic and Protestant actually," Moore confessed, becoming still more embarrassed.  "Roman Catholic until my tenth year, Protestant thereafter."

     "How unusual!" Mr Reynolds exclaimed, suddenly looking at his guest as though he didn't quite believe him.  "And how, exactly, did that come about?"

     Robert Moore shrugged doubtful shoulders.  Although he knew how and why it had happened, he didn't want to go into any of the sordid details now.  Undoubtedly the death of his Catholic grandmother, to whom he had been strongly attached, had more than a little to do with it; though he didn't know exactly how much.  Nevertheless it was evident to him that his mother, whose father had originally been Protestant, didn't feel under the same obligation to maintain his Catholic upbringing as formerly, nor even to hold on to him once her mother had died and - not having had the benefit of marital security or indeed any love from her estranged husband - she was accordingly free to dispatch him to a Children's Home, the denominational bias of which was Baptist, and effectively wash her hands of the past, the better to continue afresh in the present with someone else.

     "And do you still consider yourself a Protestant?" Mrs Reynolds wanted to know.

     "As it happens, I haven't been to church since I left school at seventeen, which should be ample indication that I've little enthusiasm for Protestantism," Moore answered her.  "In fact, I tended to regard it as something that had been thrust upon me when I was sent away rather than voluntarily accepted.  Yet too much water had flowed under the bridge of my life for me to be able to return to the Catholic fold from which I had been plucked several years before.  And so I was obliged to turn my back on Christianity and seek my own spiritual path.  These days I incline to regard myself as a transcendentalist, since I have certain transcendental sympathies which lead me to consider meditation of more spiritual significance than prayer.  I believe, if you must know, that Christianity will eventually be superseded by transcendentalism."

     "The widespread institutionalized practice of transcendental meditation signifying direct contact with the Godhead in a more evolved civilization, is that it?" Mr Reynolds ventured to speculate on a mildly ironic note.

     "Not entirely," Moore corrected.  "It would simply signify a more direct contact with one's own spiritual self than could be achieved through traditional Christian practices, including prayer.  For, so far as I'm concerned, the Holy Spirit doesn't really exist.  It's simply our destiny to create it in due course, to attain to it through the future transformation of our spiritual selves from impure flesh-clogged phenomena into transcendent spirit - detached and pure."

     "How, exactly, do you suppose we'll do that?" Mrs Reynolds asked, her face expressing bewilderment.

     "Presumably through meditation," her husband interposed, smiling wryly.

     "Undoubtedly meditation would play a significant part in the process of our future transformation from human beings into the Holy Spirit," Moore asseverated, principally for the benefit of his hostess.  "But I rather doubt that we would get very far simply by relying on meditation.  After all, the flesh would continue to detract from one's transcendental aspirations and accordingly place a strict limit on one's spiritual potential."

     Mr Reynolds repeated his earlier look of puzzlement whilst exhaling a final lungful of tobacco smoke.  Then, when he had stubbed-out the pitiful remains of his tipped cigarette, he asked: "In what way?"

     "Well, simply by being there," Moore replied, simultaneously waving his right hand horizontally backwards and forwards through the air in an attempt to disperse the haze of cigarette smoke which had gradually built-up between the Reynolds and himself.  "For the flesh is ever in mortal opposition to the spirit and must inevitably limit the extent to which the latter can be cultivated with impunity.   You always have to attend to its needs, which are necessarily sensual and worldly.  You have to eat, drink, sleep, take exercise, urinate, defecate, copulate, etc., and consequently turn away from cultivating the spirit - certainly in any true sense - while doing so.  And so your spiritual aspirations are held back, as it were, by fleshy requirements.  You can never become ultra-spiritual and have a body at the same time."

     Mrs Reynolds felt obliged to emit a faint giggle, in spite of the seriousness of Robert Moore's tone-of-voice.  There was something quaintly self-evident about his last remark and she followed it up by suggesting that, in that case, one could never become ultra-spiritual at all, since one couldn't live without a body.  "After all," she continued, "without a body we wouldn't be able to cultivate the spirit to even a tiny extent, because it depends on the body for its survival.  You can't have the one without the other."

     "Not under our current historical circumstances," Moore conceded.  "But evolutionary progress should lead us to a stage where the natural body will be replaced by an artificial one which will both support and sustain the brain, thus making a much more exclusive cultivation of the spirit possible to us."

     His host and hostess stared at each other in bewilderment, before turning their attention upon their guest again.  "D'you mean to imply that we'll probably end-up looking like robots or something equally mechanical?" Mr Reynolds asked, his bewilderment changing to hostile scepticism.

     "We could well do," Moore replied, endeavouring not to be intimidated by a response which, in any case, he had anticipated all along.

     "But that's preposterous!" Mrs Reynolds averred.

     "Not as preposterous as it might at first seem," Moore rejoined.  "For if we don't eventually overcome nature in all of its manifestations, internal as well as external, we'll never get to the supernatural, to that which stands at the farthest possible remove from nature and its sensuous offspring.  The attainment to transcendent spirit could only be effected through our overcoming everything which pertains to nature, including ourselves.  'Man is something that should be overcome,' said Nietzsche, and, by God, how true that statement is!  So long as we remain victims of the mundane, we shall never attain to the transcendent, never create or establish the only possible and sensible climax to evolution in an eternity of bliss.  For bliss is the highest condition of which we can conceive, and it's perfectly understandable that we should want such a supreme condition to last for ever.  Admittedly, as human beings, we can only experience bliss in relatively small doses over short periods of time.  But as post-human transcendent minds, we would undoubtedly be better equipped to experience it on a much more intensive, not to say extensive, basis.  And it's only in terms of the post-human that one should conceive of the Beyond."

     Yes, how true that statement was for Robert Moore!  He wasn't one of those who conceived of the Beyond in terms of a posthumous survival of death, an afterlife in which the individual's spirit merged with the Clear Light or whatever in heavenly absorption.  Indeed, whenever he thought of what people had traditionally believed about salvation and God, he was almost amused.  For there was something pathetically naive about the optimistic presumption people had once had - and, in many cases, continued to have - with regard to their prospects of salvation in the next life, and, no less significantly, their methods of getting there!  To be sure, most people had been incredibly optimistic as to the criteria of admittance to the transcendental Beyond, never for a moment imagining that it would require the highest possible technology in the most advanced civilization to effect a complete and literal victory over nature.  Indeed, they hadn't even considered it necessary to get beyond nature.  Yet that was the way it had to be, considering they knew no better and were themselves victims of a stage of evolution in which a more comprehensive and rational knowledge of the Beyond would have been impossible.  Their delusions were necessary and, in a sense, quite admirable.  At least they had some bearing on human destiny, no matter how tenuously!

     Even today, in this so-called enlightened age, there was no shortage of like-delusions concerning salvation and the means of attaining to it.  But that, too, was understandable and, to a certain extent, inevitable.  However, such delusions had to be combated by those who knew, or imagined they knew, better and, if possible, replaced by truths or, at the very least, delusions which were less delusive and possibly closer to the Truth.  That was the way evolution progressed, no matter how slowly in a world still largely under nature's influence.  For human progress was ever a struggle waged by those who were less sensuous over their more sensuous opponents.  It was a struggle of sorts that was taking place in the Reynolds' sitting-room at this very moment, as a more enlightened guest sought to convince his less-enlightened hosts as to the validity of what he believed.  Not being particularly profound thinkers, they had never conceived of the Beyond like him, in a sort of transcendent way, and were accordingly somewhat sceptical about what he was saying. [When people who do not think profoundly, either through force of professional circumstances or basic intellectual inability, are confronted by the thoughts of someone who does, the chances are strongly in favour of their not seeing eye-to-eye with him, considering that 'the superficial' and 'the profound' are ever on very different wavelengths.  This is a perfectly logical, not to say fairly inevitable, state of affairs, by which a deep thinker needn’t be unduly perturbed.  For once he realizes that 'the superficial' aren't on his wavelength, he won't be surprised, still less offended, by their opposition to his views but, on the contrary, will take it more or less for granted - a position our leading character, Robert Moore, was indeed inclined to adopt.]

     "Yet if, as you maintain, the Beyond is a phenomenon that's destined to materialize, as it were, at the climax of evolution, where does the Millennium come in?" Mr Reynolds now asked, displaying fresh signs of puzzlement.  "I mean, isn't the Millennium supposed to be the logical outcome of history, a period of happiness on earth rather than in Heaven?"

     Moore nodded his large head in tacit agreement.  "Viewed from a strictly Marxist angle, the Millennium is the outcome of historical development or, at any rate, a period of maximum social progress towards which the world would seem to be advancing," he declared.  "I want the Millennium to come about, that's to say I want to see life on earth better than ever before, so good as to be almost heavenly.  But I don't conceive of the Millennium simply in terms of material well-being for the masses, equal opportunity, regular food and drink for all, sexual freedom, or what have you.  No doubt, we'll have to pass through a phase of social evolution, as at present, when such material considerations are paramount.  But, you know, 'Man does not live by bread alone', and this is no less true or relevant now than when Christ first said it.  In fact, it's even more relevant, since evolutionary progress should entail greater degrees of spiritual commitment.  After all, we aren't beasts but men and, as such, we're given to the spiritual to a degree which no beast ever can be.  It's, above all, our spiritual capacities and aspirations which distinguish us from the beasts and elevate us above them.  God forbid that the end of human evolution should be conceived merely in terms of material well-being, as though we were simply intelligent animals with a belly to feed and the need of a roof over our heads!  No, for me, the Millennium would be a stage beyond that of material well-being, in which the utmost efforts were being made by society to attain to the climax of evolution in spiritual transcendence.  It would be a time when everything possible was being done to facilitate our transformation into pure spirit.  A means to a higher end, not an end-in-itself."

     Mrs Reynolds swallowed a last mouthful of coffee and returned her by-now empty mug to the tray.  She found this kind of talk a little above her head but didn't like to say so, especially since her husband always prided himself, somewhat perversely she thought, on having an intellectual wife.  "So presumably it would entail the widespread practice of transcendental meditation?" she suggested, by way of a constructive response.

     "That's right," Moore confirmed.  "And quite possibly the widespread use of 'Moksha’ or some such synthetic upward self-transcending drug intended to expand the mind and facilitate otherworldly sentiments."  He was of course alluding to a term coined by Aldous Huxley to define psychedelic drugs like LSD and mescaline, a term with which both Philip and Jacqui Reynolds were vaguely familiar.  "But meditation and synthetic drugs wouldn't be enough," he went on.  "For, as I said earlier, it would also be necessary to minimize fleshy influences, and for this purpose the introduction of artificial limbs and mechanical parts would, I contend, prove especially efficacious.  We couldn't end-up approximating to cyborgs, however, without having gone through progressively more artificial stages of evolution in the meantime, so it's reasonable to believe that the introduction of mechanical parts would take place slowly and by degrees, in accordance with the social and technological position of civilization at the time.  One has to earn the right to look like cyborgs and, by God, we still have a long way to go before we can manage to dispense with natural limbs!"

     Mrs Reynolds just had to laugh at this juncture in their conversation.  For the earnestness with which Robert Moore spoke seemed utterly absurd to her.  She couldn't possibly imagine herself looking forward to a cyborg-like existence, as he appeared to be doing.  "One would think you were an admirer of The Bionic Man," she remarked, referring to an American television serial in which a man partly constructed from mechanical parts assumes a superhuman role of dynamic strength and power against evil.

     "In point of fact, I don't watch all that much television," Moore confessed.  "But from what I can remember of the serial in question, it confirms my opinion of the tendency of evolution away from nature.  They spoke, during the introduction, of the insertion of mechanical parts into the shattered astronaut's body resulting in his becoming quicker, stronger, better than ever before, or something to that effect, and, believe me, that's a truly remarkable sentiment, a sentiment whereby man assumes mastery over nature by producing, through his growing technological expertise, a cyborg-like being superior in essence to a natural man.  When people get to this stage, a stage of believing they can produce superior works to nature, then there's certainly hope for the future development of humanity in self-transcendence.  To worship the natural is to be a sensuous pagan.  To turn away from it is to approach spiritual transcendence.  Yes, The Bionic Man is indeed a foretaste of things to come!  Though perhaps, being female, you'd prefer Wonder Woman, Jacqui?"

     "Frankly I'm not particularly keen on either concept," she confessed, frowning.  "If you must know, I prefer the human body as it is."

     "What, even with all the colds and bouts of 'flu, fevers and aches, pains and stings, cuts and bruises, malfunctionings and diseases, breakdowns and lesions, etc., not to mention all its tediously diurnal wants and needs?" Moore objected, raising incredulous brows.  "Really, I am surprised at you!  One would think that you wanted us to suffer the harsh consequences of being enslaved to nature for ever, as though it were an ideal condition!"

     "On the contrary, I just don't want us to end-up looking like machines," Mrs Reynolds retorted.

     "Ah, but unless we do replace the natural body with artificial parts in due course, we'll always be subject to the numerous ills which befall it," Moore averred.  "And not only that, we'll always be prevented from cultivating our spiritual self to the degree we need to, if transcendence is ultimately to be achieved.  So it seems to me that the adoption of artificial parts is a must in ensuring that we get to the transcendental Beyond, which would, after all, be the most supernatural of all conditions."

     "But how would the brain survive without a body, assuming, as you're doing, that we become increasingly artificial and wish to remove every last obstacle to our spiritual development?" Mrs Reynolds protested.  "I am of course supposing that the spirit is a function of the brain."

     "More correctly, a function, in Koestlerian parlance, of the new brain which, in psychological terms, can be equated with the superconscious," Moore declared deferentially, alluding to the writer, Arthur Koestler, whom he much admired.  "The old brain would, I believe, prove an obstacle to spiritual development, since aligned with the sensuous subconscious, and might therefore be subject to curtailment and even to surgical removal in due course, depending on the circumstances.  But you're rather jumping the evolutionary gun, as it were, by asking me that question, because there would doubtless be many intermediate stages of body-mechanization ... before we arrived at our goal of being able to dispense with everything but the brain.  However, the most feasible conjecture leads one to the conclusion that the brain would be kept alive via a sort of mechanical heart, which would pump blood through it in much the same way as the natural heart, but without the disadvantages of being mortal.  It could well transpire that such a mechanical heart would permit a longevity of the brain which would prove crucial in the spirit's quest to attain to the transcendental Beyond, by granting it the requisite time, so to speak, in which to cultivate a truly transcendent potential."

     "What a terrible prospect!" Mrs Reynolds protested, making an ugly show of her face.  "A mechanical heart?  Whatever next!"

     "A stage beyond the transplantation of natural hearts, I should imagine," Moore rejoined.  "And, hopefully, a more reliable means of sustaining the brain!  But, seriously, we're already committed to artificial limbs and mechanical parts, as a visit to virtually any large hospital would confirm.  There are glass eyes, metal legs, plastic bones, etc., not to mention wheelchairs of various kinds for the severely disabled.  Indeed, it might well be that our concern for the disabled, in this respect, is partly founded on an unconscious, barely-articulated drive towards the widespread adoption of mechanical limbs, and that they to some extent serve as guinea pigs for continuous experimentation.  Paradoxically, the disabled themselves could be regarded as, in some sense, our evolutionary superiors, insofar as they're dependent on artificial limbs or parts and are thus ahead of us in their use.  A man with an artificial leg has less of the natural about himself than someone like you or I."

     Mr Reynolds, who had been respectfully quiet for some time, suddenly gave vent to a short, sharp burst of incredulous laughter.  "You're not seriously implying that we able-bodied people should get ourselves incapacitated or crippled in order to join the morally superior ranks of the disabled, are you?" he cried.

     "Of course not!" Moore retorted, becoming embarrassed.  "I was merely suggesting that there is something about the use of artificial limbs which has a bearing on the future and could perhaps be viewed in a more optimistic light.  After all, it does seem that a person dependent on a wheelchair is a bit closer to the supernatural culmination of life on earth than someone who walks about on natural limbs.  He's entirely reliant on a mechanical mode of conveyance, which should correspond, I believe, to what will generally become the case for people in the future.  Yet, even today, an ever-growing number of perfectly able-bodied people are more dependent on mechanical modes of conveyance than ever before, as can be verified by the increasing amount of traffic on our roads.  Is there not a correspondence here between the brain-directed automatons of H.G. Wells' The War of the Worlds and the modern motorist?  Is not the Martian-like creature of the future already incipient in the motorcar?"

     Both the Reynolds smiled what appeared to be simultaneous concessions to that assumption, with Mr Reynolds also vaguely nodding his sparsely-haired head.  He was the proud owner of a Porsche and couldn't very well deny the element of truth in Moore's statement.  "Yes, I suppose I shall have to concede you the benefit of the doubt there," he admitted, in due course.  "We have largely abandoned the use of our legs for the comfort of the automobile, though I scarcely need remind you that the principal motive for doing so is to enable us to get about more quickly and travel farther afield, not simply to rest our legs."

     "But what about you, Robert, you're not a motorist by any chance, are you?" Mrs Reynolds asked.

     "Unfortunately not," he replied, frowning slightly.  "I happen to be one of those inferior creatures who depend on the pavement more than the road, although I do avail myself of public transport from time to time.  Like this evening, for instance."  Yes, he did that all right!  But he very often found it to be an unnerving and depressing experience, seated in the company of people who were suffering from foul germs of one kind or another and tended, in consequence, to snivel or cough or blow their snot-clogged noses all around one.  Normally he tried to get a front seat in order to minimize contact with them.  But that wasn't always possible, especially when the bus was crowded.  Then one just had to sit where one could and take whatever germs came one's way for granted.  Rather hazardous, but there it was!  We weren't exactly living in the most advanced of times.  Colds and 'flu were rife among the masses and would doubtless continue to be rife among them for some time to come.  In fact, until such time as a preventative was found or, more likely, men grew beyond the reach of germs by adopting mechanical limbs and/or synthetic parts.  Meantime, people would always be subject to victimization from this rather sordid aspect of the natural world - a world abounding in germs.

     And not only in germs but also in various kinds and degrees of downward self-transcendence, as Mr Reynolds seemed only too keen to demonstrate by helping himself to another cigarette, which, having lit with the aid of a silver lighter, he vigorously proceeded to smoke, exhaling obnoxious fumes in Robert Moore's direction.  Admittedly, a mild kind of downward self-transcendence by comparison with some kinds, but a downward self-transcendence nonetheless!  Another obstacle in the way of spiritual progress.  One could never hope to attain to the transcendental Beyond and smoke at the same time.  For tobacco grew from the earth and was therefore naturalistic.  It carried one away from the spirit, like beer or food or sleep or sex.  So long as one indulged or needed to indulge in sensual pursuits, there wasn't a chance of one's attaining to any sort of heavenly bliss, not even the slightest!  One would inevitably remain rooted in the mundane, the world.  Now as a human being one had no option but to remain rooted in it to some extent, one had no option but to eat, drink (not necessarily alcohol), sleep, walk, etc.  Indeed, if in one or other of these obligatory natural contexts one was failing to pay one's dues to the Devil, as it were, to the extent that one should, either through unfortunate circumstances or wilful choice, there was always the likelihood that, if one didn't wish to suffer the consequences of starving one's sensual self, one would have to compensate it by indulging in one or other of the less respectable, because least obligatory, kinds of sensual pursuit.  Consequently a person who didn't get enough sleep or sex might well find himself obliged to indulge in the consumption of tobacco and/or alcohol of one kind or another as a form of sensual compensation.  It wasn't necessarily the case that because one smoked or drank, one was more sensual than those who didn't.

     Whether Mr Reynolds smoked because he needed to compensate himself for some more obligatory sensual lack or, alternatively, because he was a relatively shameless sensualist, it wasn't of course possible for Robert Moore to tell.  So he hesitated to pass moral judgement on the man.  Yet he knew for a fact that unless men eventually overcame both necessary and unnecessary sensual indulgences, they would never attain to salvation in the pure spirit of ultimate transcendence.  Unless the natural body was eventually superseded by a mechanical one, men would always be subject to the demands - and limitations - of the flesh.  There could be little doubt, therefore, that evolution was slowly working towards overcoming the natural in all its aspects, and would culminate in the complete and utter triumph of the spirit.  Any other interpretation of human destiny was futile or inadequate, partial or incomplete.  Willy-nilly, God had to be the outcome of our endeavour, not simply material comfort.

     Yet it was precisely this belief that puzzled the Marxist-oriented Philip Reynolds, who had never looked beyond the concept of a socialist millennium and, in dismissing the hypothetical Christian Beyond ... of posthumous salvation, had satisfied himself that a heaven on earth, founded on socialist principles, was all that really mattered.  In the silence following Moore's last comment, this discrepancy of belief between their two viewpoints prompted him to question his guest as to the justification for his assumption that God would be the outcome of evolution.  After all, wasn't a 'heaven on earth' sufficient?

     "No," Moore replied at once, firmly shaking his large round head in the process.  "The earth would always prevent a true heaven from coming about, would always be subject to winds and rains, storms and quakes, floods and droughts, not to mention the 1001 other distasteful phenomena which occur on it.  No matter how far man evolved, there would always be opposition to his civilization from the elements, including the sun, which would undergo continuous changes of temperature and eventually oblige him to seek alternative accommodation, if possible, elsewhere in the Universe.  Yet since stars are all destined to collapse and disintegrate one day, so it's inevitable that a 'heaven on earth' wouldn't last for ever, being at the mercy of stellar devolution."

     "Not a particularly satisfactory arrangement," Mrs Reynolds opined, wincing at the prospect of an advanced civilization suddenly crumbling to ruin with the onslaught of solar disintegration - a vision of some apocalyptic scene by John Martin briefly appearing before her mind's eye, like a thunderbolt from the blue.

     "Indeed not!" Moore confirmed, grimacing.  "Especially after all the effort we'd put into evolving to an advanced level of life over the millennia.  We wouldn't want the most sublime civilization to be at the mercy of the stars, and therefore it should be fairly obvious that we'd want to get beyond their influence, to evolve to a level where we weren't affected by their inevitable cessation.  And what could that level be if not some heavenly transcendence which would constitute, in its timeless eternity, the Omega Point, to use a term favoured by that great Frenchman, Teilhard de Chardin, for that which corresponds to the hypothetical culmination of evolution."

     "But where exactly would this heavenly transcendence be?" Mr Reynolds asked in a slightly exasperated manner.

     "God knows!" his guest somewhat ironically exclaimed.  "I can only suppose that it would be somewhere in space, possibly at or close to the centre of the Universe - assuming the Universe has a centre, that is.  But it would be immense, an immense globe, as it were, of transcendent spirit ultimately composed of all the superconscious mind of which the evolving universe was capable, which would have converged towards it over a long period of heavenly time, adding to its sum-total of bliss.  Indeed, I reckon it would be so blissful that no human being or man-equivalent life form would be able to go within millions of miles of it with impunity."

     Mr Reynolds raised strongly incredulous brows.  "You mean, any prospective long-term contributors who wished to get a glimpse of Heaven from their spaceships, or whatever, would be obliged to keep their distance?" he at length conjectured.

     "They certainly would, and possibly to the extent of not being able to see more than a tiny globe of pure light shining inwardly in the distance," Moore averred, sticking to his mystical guns, which even he sometimes considered to be over-ranged.  "For I'm confident that this ultimate bliss would prove too much for non-transcendent minds who went too close to it, and would probably result in their derangement.  So, in all likelihood, no-one would dare go too close to it, no more than anyone dares - or could dare - go too close to the sun, albeit for the opposite reason - namely that they'd get roasted alive.  But as extremes are equally fatal to anyone or anything in-between, so it should be pretty obvious that premature bliss of the magnitude of Heaven wouldn't be greatly conducive to one's personal well-being.  On the contrary, it might even prove as detrimental to it as Hell."

     "Hell presumably being the sun," Mrs Reynolds responded, a serious if slightly sceptical expression on her attractive face.

     "I prefer to think of it in terms of the totality of stars," Moore declared flatly, "the star directly responsible to our planet therefore being but a component of Hell.  For as Christian theology has long maintained, Hell is a context of flame, of excruciating heat, and very definitely exists.  To study it, albeit from a relatively safe distance, one need only acquire access to a powerful telescope and direct one's attention on various of the nearest stars, like an astronomer.  But you aren't ever likely to end-up in it or in one of its innumerable components.  The nearest you could go to it, short of taking a spaceship in the general direction of Venus, would be to stand out in the middle of some desert, like the Sahara, and feel the sun burning into your skin.  Of course, you could alternatively elect to get burnt alive.  But that would be a slightly different matter - more a case of 'hell on earth' than Hell itself, if you see what I mean."

     "Oh, Robert, do you have to be so damn negative!" Mrs Reynolds objected, frowning.

     "Sorry, Jacqui, but where the subject of Hell is concerned, you can't expect to hear anything positive," Moore remarked.  "For Hell is the ultimate negativity, creating, in its raging fury, not bliss but agony, the most excruciating agony conceivable."

     "And it was apparently from this negative power that the planets were derived, was it?" Mr Reynolds commented, warming to his guest's thesis.

     "So it would appear," Moore opined.  "And not simply the planets, but also whatever life forms they subsequently possessed.  As far as we know, there are no intelligent life forms on the other planets in the Solar System.  But it's quite possible that the Universe as a whole contains earth-equivalent planets on which such intelligent life forms exist, and they would likewise have sprung from the solar roots of cosmic Hell.  Now because Hell is compounded of innumerable stars and is thus manifold and separate, it need not surprise us if its offspring take on the attributes of the diabolic inceptive force and are likewise manifold and separate.  Even in this world the diversity of animals and peoples testifies to the diabolic influence of Hell, being a source of continuous friction and strife.  One might say that the lower the stage of evolution, the more influence does Hell have on life and the greater is the degree of strife resulting from it, as the blood-drenched pages of human history sufficiently attest.  The further evolution progresses, on the other hand, the more emphasis do we place on unity and the correlative reduction of strife, and the closer we therefore draw to the One which, as God the Holy Ghost, would be the outcome of organic evolution, the end-product, as it were, of the drive away from diversity."

     "Then, judging by the amount of friction and strife still prevailing in the world, we must be a long way from the One at present," Mr Reynolds surmised, as he exhaled a final burst of tobacco smoke.

     "Unfortunately, that would indeed seem to be the case," Moore conceded, nodding with sagacious regret.  "For we haven't yet evolved to a particularly high level of civilization and are accordingly still subject to a great deal of diabolic influence, some of us, admittedly, more than others.  But I believe that we're heading in the right direction and, providing we don't completely destroy ourselves in any future war, should continue to head in it, becoming all the while less diversified and more unified."

     "And would the gradual introduction of mechanical parts into the human body and, eventually, its supersession by artificial supports, or whatever, for the brain ... be further conducive towards the development of this higher unity?" Mrs Reynolds asked, once again revealing a measure of her former scepticism and irony in the face of Robert Moore's radical argument.

     "Most certainly!" he replied.  "For it would remove the physical inequalities which currently exist and have existed, often in more marked forms, for centuries, thereby enabling people to treat one another as equals with more ease and conviction than would otherwise be possible.  After all, if 'A' is better-looking than 'B' and 'A' knows it, the chances of 'A' taking 'B' for an equal will be pretty slim.  Now 'B' won't exactly consider himself the equal of 'A' either, but will almost certainly be envious of 'A' for being better-looking, and privately annoyed, moreover, that such physical inequalities should exist.  Yet if, thanks to social and technological progress, both 'A' and 'B' look exactly alike, then the chances of their treating each other as equals will be correspondingly greater, and so a truly classless society could develop.  Needless to say, such a society isn't likely to materialize for some time to-come!  But we can at least console ourselves in the hope that one day it will, thereafter ridding humanity of the frightful differences of appearance which have contributed so much to the sum-total of friction in the world.  And when, thanks to further industrial and technological progress, mankind have been rid of the frightful differences of occupation which currently exist, compliments of bourgeois civilization, the prospects for a truly unified society will be infinitely greater than at present.  For so long as we continue to do different things, we'll always be divided against one another.  Thus not only uniform appearance on a variety of levels and, I should add, intelligence but, no less importantly, uniform occupation, preferably through meditation, would be indispensable prerequisites of the highest civilization - a civilization whose members were dedicated to attaining to transcendence, and so to the abandonment of this world once and for all."

     "I'm not sure that I'd want to be part of such a civilization," Mrs Reynolds declared, frowning down at her beautifully slender hands, which at that moment were resting limply on her lap.

     "I rather doubt that women would be a part of it anyway," Moore rejoined bluntly.  "For the way I see it, women would have been transcended at some previous stage of evolution.  The quest for the transcendental Beyond is, in my opinion, a radically male one, and thus it's more likely that the highest civilization would be entirely beyond women, making use of artificial reproductive methods to safeguard its survival.  Women, who are fundamentally appearance, would have little place in a society so exclusively dedicated to essence, and so it's unlikely they would exist there.  Short of transforming themselves into men or, rather, supermen, women will always remain more closely aligned with the natural or sensual world, even in the heart of a big city."

     "Thank goodness for that!" Mrs Reynolds exclaimed.  "You men wouldn't get very far along the road to your ultimate salvation, or whatever, if it were otherwise!"

     "Indeed not," Moore conceded, offering his outraged hostess a mildly ingratiating smile.  "For it's only through woman, through propagation, that we can keep humanity going, and thus progress a little closer to the Beyond in question with each succeeding generation.  Woman serves our cause, and so too, believe it or not, does the Devil, which, as Hell, keeps everything and everyone going, though in a rather more fundamental sense.  For without the Devil's help, so to speak, we would never get to God, seeing as there would be no cosmos at the back of us and therefore no stellar and/or solar support for the world.  The Devil supports the world and we struggle against it, principally through civilized progress.  But we shouldn't make the mistake of becoming Devil-worshippers, as though the natural world were the best of all possible worlds and our evolutionary strivings merely an idealistic aberration!  We needn't be grateful to the Devil for plaguing us with materialistic life, as though such life were its own reward ... without reference to anything better!  No, if there's something we should be grateful for, it's that we're not beasts but men, and that it's our destiny, in consequence, to create God ... the Holy Ghost ... in due course.  And not just figuratively or materially this time, but literally, out of our own spiritual selves.  For we have always been creators of God or, more accurately, gods, as the statues of our distant ancestors well-attest.  We ourselves were created via the diabolic inceptive force but, being men, we aspire towards the divine culmination of evolution, no matter how humbly or crudely at first.  We approach divinity through materialism.  We imagine the statue is God.  Terrible delusion!  Yet inevitable at a primitive juncture in time."

     "This is apparently the pagan stage of evolution," Mr Reynolds commented, showing signs of interest despite his congenital distaste, born of empirical objectivity, for metaphysical speculation.

     "Precisely," Moore confirmed.  "But it doesn't last.  For along comes a dualistic, or Christian, stage to supplant it.  Now although men still fashion statues, they distinguish between the statue and the god, never imagining that the spirit of the latter resides in the body of the former.  The statue becomes for them merely an image, a reminder, as it were, of the spiritual essence of the deity which resides elsewhere - namely, in Heaven ... compliments of transcendent concepts like the Resurrection.  But this dualistic stage is no more an eternal phenomenon than the pre-dualistic, or pagan, stage before it was.  As men cease to live in a balanced relationship with nature, that's to say balanced between nature and civilization, along comes a post-dualistic, or transcendental, stage of evolution in which men cease to depend even partly on materialistic images, but dedicate themselves to actually creating God through direct cultivation of the spirit, thus paving the way for their future transformation from the world to the Beyond, from spirit to the Holy Spirit, which should signify the climax of evolution."

     "Some task!" Mr Reynolds exclaimed, automatically drawing the back of his hand across his brow as though to underline the fact.  To be sure, it was enough to make one sweat, listening to Robert Moore speak.  Few men were as spiritually farsighted!

     "Though, apparently, not a task that we women need bother our pretty heads about," Mrs Reynolds deduced, somewhat cynically.  "No doubt, you'd disapprove of the Assumption of the Virgin, Robert."

     "As a matter of fact I do," he admitted, blushing faintly.  "Though theology would doubtless insist that Mary was no ordinary woman but the Mother of God, and thus a case apart.  However, not being a practising Christian but a self-professed transcendentalist, I wouldn't allow myself to be impressed by it.  Or, rather, I'd maintain that whilst theological symbolism has its justification, it's necessarily restricted to a given time-span, i.e. the period of Christianity, and should make way, thereafter, for the Truth.  And, so far as I'm concerned, the fact of the matter is that God doesn't exist - at least not yet!  The Christian god is one thing, the actual establishment of Ultimate Godhead quite another!"

     "In other words, the difference between Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost," Mr Reynolds observed.

     "Quite," Moore confirmed.  "Between knowledge and truth.  And this is something the finer Christian minds have long recognized, though without perhaps realizing that the Holy Ghost is more a projection towards the future culmination of evolution than an already-established fact.  I mean if, as Teilhard de Chardin maintains, the Universe is converging towards the Omega Point, progressing from the Many towards the One, then what can the domes of the finest churches signify if not just such a convergence - that inward-turning curvature from diversity to unity which is symbolized by the apex of the dome, with its lantern of light.  Take the case of San Ivo della Sapienza in Rome - undoubtedly one of the world's finest churches.  Not only is the Holy Spirit symbolized by the lantern, but also by the convergence of the dome towards its apex, thus signifying the diabolic nature of the Cosmos in contrast to the divine essence of God.  One couldn't ask for a more objective depiction of evolution than that, and Borromini can only be praised for having had the genius to execute it.  I'm confident that de Chardin would have found ample confirmation of his convergence theories there!"

     Mr Reynolds raised his brows in response to the mixture of scepticism and surprise he was feeling with these comments.  "I must confess to never having viewed domes of that nature in such a pleasingly optimistic and radical light before," he confessed, smiling faintly in response to the clash between his own rather more alpha-stemming view of domes and Moore's seemingly omega-oriented one.  "But, now you mention it, I can only marvel at my narrow-mindedness!  Yes, what an apt device the dome can be for illustrating evolutionary progress, for anticipating, as it were, the outcome of evolution.  Really, I'm quite ashamed of myself for not having realized as much, considering that I'm a professional architect who has spent years studying churches - romanesque, gothic, renaissance, baroque, neo-classical, neo-gothic, modern ... you name it."

     "Well, perhaps you'll make use of your new-found knowledge by incorporating a dome into the church you're about to start work on," Mrs Reynolds ventured to suggest, but in a tone-of-voice intended to reveal that she didn't for one moment believe that domes, not even in the case of San Ivo della Sapienza (which, after all, was a Catholic church, and thus one germane, in her estimation, to the theocracy of the Father), were as omega-orientated as their guest, with his transcendental radicalism born of a post-Christian Prometheanism, liked to imagine!

     "Yes, why not?" Moore seconded, unable or unwilling to grasp the implications of what Mrs Reynolds had just said.  "Though you might go one better than Borromini by placing some kind of artificial light at its apex, thereby granting the symbol for the Holy Ghost a less-natural and correspondingly more-spiritual essence.  For ordinary daylight is too naturalistic, being a product of the sun, whereas artificial light stems from man's evolving civilization and is therefore more suited to the transcendent.  Any dome with an electric light at its culmination-point would certainly be spiritually superior to one dependent on natural light."

     "Yes, you're probably right there!" Mr Reynolds conceded.  "Seeing as I have ambitions to do better than previous architects, I'll take your word for it and incorporate a dome into the design.  Better, I'll make the entire church a kind of dome, so that the converging universe to the Omega Point can be seen as the principal aspect of the building."

     "Then I wish you every success," Moore rejoined, rising from his chair and extending a friendly hand to the architect.  It was getting late and he had to take his leave of them now, if he was to catch the last bus home.  "I'd rather it was a meditation centre you're about to design, but since the theological establishment requires a church - well then, good luck to you!  I hope the vicar approves of the result."

     "Yeah, so do I," Mr Reynolds responded, graciously accompanying his guest to the door, doubtless for the first and last time.  For her part, however, Mrs Reynolds just smiled in sceptical derision and began to clear away the empty coffee mugs.

 

 

PERFECTION OUR GOAL

 

The café table they were sitting at provided them with a clear view of the street, which, in this London rush-hour, was absolutely teeming with traffic and pedestrians.  Overhead, a remorseless summer sun shone down fiercely onto everything, making them grateful for the refreshing coolness of the soft drinks they had just ordered.  The two women at table - Paula Hynde, a blue-eyed blonde of slender build, and Wendy Callot, her dark-haired colleague at the art college where they both taught - were in conversation with a young philosopher whom they had recently met at a party - a thin, nervous, scholarly-looking individual by name of Daniel Forde.  He wore shades and sat with his back to the sun.  He was a very interesting man to talk with, but, for the women, rather perplexing and, at times, even downright worrying!  For instance, he had said that he usually avoided hot countries during the summer, and, when Paula asked why, had replied that they were generally more evil than places like England, and their people correspondingly less pleasant.

     "But what makes you say that?" Wendy asked, hot on the heels of her friend's curiosity.

     The philosopher smiled sheepishly and lowered his eyes a moment, as though ashamed of the radical nature of his beliefs.  "Well, the fact that I tend to equate the sun with the Devil and am consequently all-too-inclined to see more evil in those countries where it has most influence, which is to say where the temperature is hottest," he at length replied.  "Countries, for instance, in the Middle East, North Africa, or the Mediterranean, which have very hot weather throughout the year, not just in the summer, as here in England.  And even now, in the middle of July, the temperature here is relatively mild by comparison.  In the desert, on the other hand, it would be literally scorching."

     "But what kind of evil do you particularly associate with the hottest countries?" Paula asked, screwing up her fine brows in manifest puzzlement.

     "Oh, mostly of the sensuous kind," Forde replied, becoming slightly embarrassed.  "A certain slothfulness among the people would be an example of the kind of evil I have in mind.  Though there are doubtless other kinds of a more active nature as well."  By now his blush had deepened a little, becoming quite rosy.  "But the urge to downward self-transcendence is, of necessity, stronger in a hot country than in a comparatively cool one, so one needn't be surprised if the moral standards of the former are less high than those of the latter, or if, as a compensatory and protective factor, the laws relating to morality are correspondingly stricter.  Whatever the case, the Devil's influence is greater there than elsewhere."

     "So, presumably, the sun is Hell," Wendy deduced, allowing herself the benefit of a sceptical and slightly teasing smile.

     To her surprise, Daniel Forde resolutely shook his head.  "No, one might argue that the sun is merely a tiny component of Hell, which extends to the totality of flaming stars in the Universe," he averred.  "Hell would accordingly be a term - admittedly rather mythical but nonetheless satisfactory in this context - which applies to the multitude of stars, not simply to the sun.  For it seems to me that the main characteristic of evil is diversity and separateness, a characteristic which, alas, extends to the world around one, to that which has issued from the Diabolic Alpha and consequently bears all the hallmarks of the Devil's influence."

     "You mean the city?" Paula suggested, looking a trifle worried.

     "To some extent that, but to a much greater extent the natural world and whatever stems from nature," the philosopher solemnly averred.  "Although there is much diversity and separateness in the city, it does at least indicate a tendency towards God and hence unity, whereas nature, being the work purely and simply of the Devil or, at any rate, a component of Hell, namely the sun, can only reflect the Diabolic Alpha in diversity and separateness, not to say sensuality.  The city is, if you like, a very crude approximation to the millennial Beyond, and therefore a phenomenon in opposition to nature, a phenomenon tending away from it.  Civilization aspires towards the Divine Omega, no matter how crudely or obliquely to begin with, whereas nature stems from the Diabolic Alpha.  It's as simple as that!"

     The two females frowned sullenly and sought temporary refuge from this polemical broadside in their soft drinks.  Paula Hynde, in particular, was a trifle worried by Forde's remarks and sought to unburden herself of this worry by asking him whether he really thought nature stemmed from what he called the Diabolic Alpha.  After all, hadn't it been traditionally assumed that nature was of divine origin and that God created the world?

     "Yes, it had," Forde replied immediately, turning his shaded eyes on the prettier of the two women.  "But that was only because men used to be more under nature's sway than at present, and were more disposed, in consequence, to view it as the work of God, conceiving of God in merely creative terms, whether or not you make a distinction between the central star of the Galaxy and the sun, or simply derive God from the latter, as, to a large extent, the West has done, given its preference for the Father over Jehovah or Allah - a preference partly conditioned by pagan precedent and partly owing something to the need to accommodate God, as progenitor, to both a Mother and a Son, viz. the Virgin and Christ.  Now if by 'God' you mean the Holy Spirit, the highest possible mode of life, then it's difficult if not impossible to ascribe the creation of nature, and hence the world, to God.  For the Highest of the High, or that which appertains to eternal bliss in transcendent spirit, would be most unlikely to create, or to have created, the Lowest of the Low, or that which appertains to cosmic agony in solar energy.  This being the case, one can only conclude that the Lowest of the Low, being most primal, created itself and, having done so, proceeded to create or give rise to the world and nature - in short, to create the natural world.  So the lowest absolute - and stars are, after all, a kind of absolute or cosmically independent existence - gave rise to that which, in its most evolved manifestation, namely man, aspires towards the highest absolute, which, as the Holy Spirit, is eternal and perfect.  Therefore evolution is a journey, so to speak, from the one to the other, from the Diabolic Alpha to the Divine Omega, which realizes itself through man and, in all probability, man-equivalent life forms elsewhere in the Universe.  Now, obviously, when you are less than half-way along that journey, you're disposed to grant more importance to the lowest absolute, which created the world.  That is perfectly logical because you aren't really in an evolutionary position to aspire towards the highest absolute, which is dependent on the precondition of a great deal more civilization.  So one worships the Creator which, being cosmic, is actually diabolical, contrary to one's beliefs.  One uses the word 'god', but what one is really referring to is the Devil.  And so one is an unconscious diabolist."

     "Charming!" cried Wendy, making a most uncharming spectacle of her plump red face.

     "Absolutely!" concurred Paula, who briefly turned towards her colleague.  "But quite fascinating all the same.  After all, if the Creator is a euphemism for the Devil, then the Devil must surely exist."

     "To be sure," Forde confirmed, nodding gravely.  "The Devil most certainly does exist, and the Universe is largely a diabolic phenomenon.  Thus Christians are to a certain extent right when they say that God exists.  For what they often mean, despite a professed adherence to Christ, is the Creator, the Father, the Almighty, and other such variations on an alpha theme.  But if the Creator is to be equated with the Diabolic Alpha, then it should be apparent that what they really mean by God is, unbeknown to them, the Devil, which is hardly compatible with the Holy Spirit.  For you can't have two gods, let alone three.  There can only be one Supreme Being, one God that's divinely supreme, because what it signifies is the highest, most blissful mode of life.  Whatever is not as high isn't supreme but inferior.  Thus if what they generally mean by 'God' is really the Devil, then it should be obvious that God doesn't exist in the sense of the Creator, or Almighty or whatever, but only as the culmination of evolution, which, as adequately demonstrated by the world around us, has yet to come about.  Consequently it should be apparent that God doesn't exist, since dependent on our evolutionary progress for its ultimate manifestation as transcendent spirit.  Willy-nilly, it is our destiny to create God and, as such, it's in our interests to avoid worshipping the Devil - which, alas, is precisely what, to greater or lesser extents, the greater part of humanity has been doing since it first acquired a religious sense, way back in the dark days of our pagan ancestors!"

     At that moment Daniel Forde recalled to mind the gist of a conversation he had once had with a certain Pat Hanley, a former acquaintance of his, who had voiced the ludicrous notion that God was the sun!  Unbeknown to himself, Hanley had been a devil-worshipper and, like many such people, confounded the Lowest of the Low, the most agonized of the agonized, with the Highest of the High, the most blissful of the blissful.  His God was simply the Father, not the Holy Spirit.  And it was manifold, as befitting the Diabolic Alpha, not unified, like the Divine Omega would be.  It embraced a polytheism or, more correctly, polydiabolism of the stars in toto.  Clearly, Hanley's concept of God was far from being the most truthful of concepts!  It was one which Daniel Forde could only be offended by these days, not vaguely amused by, as he had been at the time of conversation, a couple of years ago.

     But to some extent Paula Hynde had been offended by what Forde said, and now she inquired of him, in a slightly sceptical tone-of-voice, how he expected us to create God in due course.

     "Yes," Wendy seconded, offering her fellow-female some moral support.  "Just what d'you mean?"

     The philosopher smiled understandingly, then replied: "Well, we're creating God at this very moment.  Ever since civilization got properly under way an effort has been made to create God, to aspire towards the Divine Omega, no matter how feebly or paradoxically.  Insofar as civilization is a man-made phenomenon which aims to overcome and exploit nature, we civilized peoples have endeavoured to create God.  The higher the civilization, or the further removed it is from nature's sensuous influence, the closer do we grow to God.  At present, we're still a long way off, as a glance at the street before you will indicate.  But, fortunately, we're heading in the right direction, and so long as the city continues to develop, to gain further victories over nature, we'll eventually attain to our goal.  And we'll attain to it via transcendental meditation and technology, not just the former.  For the direct cultivation of spirit without technological assistance is defeating its own ends, as has been demonstrated by the greater part of Asia during the past several centuries, if not millennia."

     "In what way?" Paula wanted to know, becoming slightly angry.  For she had long been a keen student of Oriental religion, particularly Buddhism, and felt personally slighted by Forde's remarks.

     "Principally by endeavouring to ignore nature rather than overcome it through science and industrial progress," he replied.  "The Asians had many right ideas about cultivating the spirit but, unfortunately, their efforts to cultivate it only led to their ignoring the body to a point where starvation, disease, deformity, and poverty were rife among them, causing millions of people unspeakable suffering and even death.  They wished to attain to a heavenly Beyond alright, but their concentration upon spiritual transcendence led to them putting ends before means, which, in a world where the Devil has so much influence, can only prove fatal.  Rather than attaining to Nirvana, they remained, with comparatively few exceptions, the unfortunate victims of poverty and physical suffering.  The Devil overcame them.  Consequently it's imperative that we learn from Asia's mistakes and adopt a more down-to-earth approach in attaining to the millennial Beyond, which is mostly what we have done anyway, though often at the expense of our spiritual well-being.  For the greater part of achieving that heavenly objective lies in overcoming the Devil and the Devil's creations, which are natural.  One must have large cities in order to push nature back and keep its influence at a safe remove.  Otherwise one becomes complacent in nature and, before long, an unconscious diabolist, a worshipper of the natural world.  But to have large cities it follows that one must have large populations, for the size of the one is directly proportional to the density of the other, and no significant progress can be made in the face of nature unless there's cause to build additional houses or buildings to cater for the growing numbers.  Each additional house or building is a further weapon for civilization in its battle against nature, and reflects civilized progress."

     "Oh, but aren't there enough buildings in London already?" Wendy objected, making an objectionable spectacle of her face.  "And isn't the population too high anyway?"

     The philosopher deliberated awhile before attempting to answer her questions.  They were frightfully difficult ones and he wasn't sure they afforded an objective response.  So at length he replied: "Whether or not there are too many buildings in London is a matter you must decide for yourself, as, to some extent, is your question relating to population.  Such questions are relative.  I mean, if it can be proved that there are too many buildings and that the population is too large, then we would have a right to feel sorry for ourselves and to hope some kind of remedial action could be taken before matters got completely out-of-hand.  But populations are only too large, it seems to me, when there are insufficient resources to sustain them and an unacceptable percentage of people either starve to death or succumb to other, less lethal afflictions.  They're relative to the technological capacities existing at the time, which is to say, to the degree of civilization manifesting in the world.  There's no reason for one to suppose that large populations are a bad thing per se, as though birth control should be carried out for its own sake rather than to combat or respond to a technological shortcoming in the system.  On the contrary, it's to be hoped that civilized progress will subsequently make the support of still greater numbers of people possible, especially in the towns and villages, where nature is at an insufficiently far remove to allow for the development of a truly advanced spirituality.  For with the greater numbers should come the growth of villages into towns and of towns into cities, and the consequent adoption of less-natural lifestyles by their inhabitants."

     "But one can't just make war on nature as though we could manage without it!" protested Paula, screwing up her brows in evident perplexity.  "After all, we depend on it for so many things, including food."

     "Naturally, and I wasn't for one moment suggesting that we could or should make war on it under false pretences," Forde countered ironically, by way of exonerating himself.  "Nature has to be treated with a certain amount of objective respect whilst one is still dependent upon it to any appreciable extent.  But, you know, evolution is concerned with the gradual overcoming of nature, with its supersession by a spiritual world, and so, while we are under obligation as living organisms to treat it sensibly, we're also obligated, as men, to rebel against it and aspire towards our ultimate salvation in transcendent spirit, we're 'born under one law but to another bound', as Huxley, quoting the poet Greville, was forever reminding us.  Now, in this latter regard, it's to be hoped that we'll gradually reduce our dependence on nature through the further development of technology, which, as already remarked, is an indispensable tool in our struggle to attain to the Beyond ... of millennial futurity."

     "Yes, but the growth of villages into towns or of towns into cities, not to mention the continuous growth of already-existent cities, won't exactly make it unnecessary for us to eat or drink, will it?" Paula retorted.

     "Indeed not!" Forde admitted.  "But the gradual replacement of the natural body by mechanical or synthetically autonomous parts could well do so, and to the extent of making it unnecessary for us to waste valuable time in sensual matters, as we're currently obliged to do."

     "You mean to suggest that the overcoming of nature should also lead to our overcoming the body?" Wendy Callot exclaimed, with an astonished look in her dark eyes.

     "I most certainly do," the philosopher calmly assured her.  "For the body is an aspect of the natural world and, as such, it should also be revolted against, as is to some extent already happening now, what with our growing dependence on motorized transportation and mounting penchant for contraception and abortion, not to mention pornography and sterilization.  By replacing the natural body with an artificial one, we'll be in a position to dedicate more time to spiritual concerns, including meditation, and also have far less opposition from nature with which to contend.  Of course, such a replacement can only happen by degrees, a little at a time, in accordance with the extent of our technological expertise.  But it's precisely this technological progress which will make spiritual progress possible, as each succeeding generation becomes a little less dependent on and victimized by nature than its immediate predecessor.  By itself, meditation wouldn't be enough.  There is scant reason to suppose that one generation would have much advantage over another.  For it's unlikely that a later generation would inherit much in the way of 'acquired characteristics' from an earlier one.  Machines might do most of the work, and therefore make it possible for a later generation to meditate longer and more consistently than an earlier one did, but people would still be subject to the flesh, still be obliged to eat, drink, sleep, urinate, defecate, copulate, etc., to a degree which would prohibit any significant spiritual advancement.  One can't serve two masters at once, least of all two such diametrically-antithetical masters as the Devil and God.  Either one strives to completely overcome the Devil, or one remains forever its victim.  Thus, in the interests of evolution, it's inevitable that the body should fall victim to technology, which is on the side, if indirectly, of God.  For the more artificial we become, the less hold nature will have on us.  Eventually we'll be entirely independent of it - in a word, supernatural."

     "Whew!  All this is more than my poor head can take!" Paula confessed, casting her female companion a baffled look.  "I cannot even begin to conceive of what life will be like in the distant future, when this transformation to which Daniel alludes finally comes to pass.  As yet, we're still too close to nature to be able to understand the consequences of what such an existence would entail.  Personally, I'm quite resigned to things remaining as they are at present!"

     "Me too," Wendy declared, lifting the glass of orange squash to her pale lips.  For she hadn't quite finished her soft drink and now that she proceeded to do so its taste seemed more deliciously refreshing than formerly - that is, before Daniel Forde had got his lecture on spiritual progress under way.

     "Yes, well, I suppose we all have to be resigned to the way things are at present, insofar as we have to live with them and aren't really in a position to do very much about anything," the said-philosopher commented, offering both women an ironic smile.  "Yet that doesn't mean to say that we should take things for granted, as though this were the best of all possible worlds, with no prospect of being improved upon.  No-one who has his mind fixed on the millennial Beyond will ever run the risk of falling into the barbarous mistake of imagining that life should be lived for its own sake, without any reference to spiritual progress.  The fact of the matter is that life is a perpetual battleground where the sensual and the spiritual meet in open warfare, a tug-of-war, if you like, between that which stems, as nature, from the Diabolic Alpha, and that which aspires, as civilization, towards the Divine Omega.  The latter is ultimately destined to triumph, but not without the long, hard struggle which is the world around us, a world which, even at this relatively advanced juncture in time, is a long way from God - from the creation of the Holy Spirit.  Just take a look at the scene in front of you."

     Obediently the two women turned their attention on the busy street beyond their table.  They were glad, in a way, for the opportunity of looking rather than listening for a change, and soon became passively absorbed in the passing spectacle.  The pavements on both sides of the road were crowded with pedestrians, and between the two crowds of walking humanity two streams of traffic sped past or, as was often the case, ground to a halt in traffic jams.  It was now the heart of the rush-hour, a time when the vast majority of London's work-force was engaged in the arduous and even oppressive task of returning home.  Here and there a sight-seeing tourist appeared in the rush, the representative of a different and more leisurely order of things, and occasionally someone who might have been unemployed if not unemployable could be seen strolling along, seemingly oblivious of everyone else.  For the most part, however, the street seethed with bustling workers and employers escaping from the narrow confines of their offices and office routines.  This, at any rate, was what Paula and Wendy beheld as they sat facing the confused scene, a few yards in front of their noses.  Nothing out-of-the-ordinary so far as they were concerned, but plenty to become engrossed by, not least the handsome appearances of the numerous expensively-attired young men who passed with an occasional friendly glance in their direction.  To be sure, it was good to see and to be seen at such times!

     But what of Daniel Forde, what did he see there?  Superficially he saw what the others did - a crowded street, fruit of the London rush-hour.  But he also saw something that they weren't, perhaps, as well-qualified to see.  Removing his shades, he saw distinctions and separateness, saw the multitude of individual factors which reflected the Devil's influence, and was decidedly depressed by it.  Of course, the women also saw distinctions, but not with moral eyes.  They became absorbed in the differences for their own sake, and were apt to take them for granted.  He, by contrast, was conscious of the extent to which such distinctions came between the world and the millennial Beyond.  Merely to have a different colour skin, to be taller or shorter, fatter or thinner, older or younger, male or female, handsome or ugly, pretty or plain, rich or poor, wearing bright colours or dark colours, jeans or trousers, a skirt or a dress, a T-shirt or a collar-and-tie, to be carrying a briefcase or an attaché case, a handbag or a shoulder bag, to be wearing shoes or sandals, high heels or sneakers, etc. etc., ad infinitum.

     Oh, this multitude of individual factors - what an obstacle it was to the attainment of the millennial Beyond!  How it reflected the influence of the Diabolic Alpha!  And what frictions it gave rise to - 'Ugh, how I detest his ugly face!' (Thoughts of a handsome young man.) 'Damn it, how I envy him his good-looks!' (Thoughts of an ugly man.) 'Ugh, how I despise people with long hair!' (Thoughts of a short-haired man.) "Damn it, if only I hadn't gone bald so early!'  (Thoughts of a bald man.) 'Ugh, how I loathe red stockings!'  (Thoughts of a woman wearing dark-blue stockings.) 'Damn it, how I envy her those attractive legs!' (Thoughts of a fat-legged woman.) 'Ugh, how I despise fat people!' (Thoughts of a thin man.) 'Damn it, to think that she should prefer him because he's thin!' (Thoughts of a fat man.) 'Ugh, how I loathe big noses!' (Thoughts of a small-nosed man.) 'Damn it, why couldn't I have been given a smaller nose, like him!' (Thoughts of a big-nosed man.)  And so on, ad nauseam.

     Yes, how far such thoughts and appearances were from the envisaged spiritual unity of the millennial Beyond!  And what an obstacle they were to greater unity on earth, to the formation of a brotherhood of man!  So long as distinctions and inequalities existed, there would be no end to the divisive frictions between human beings.  People would continue to envy or despise one another, to hate or belittle.  It was all too obvious to Daniel Forde, as he noted numerous distinctions characterizing the separate, that humanity had to aspire towards greater unity, to inventions and strategies for reducing the number of divisive realities between man and man.  It would be a long hard struggle, but, eventually, society would surely attain to a stage where the great majority of such distinctions ceased to exist, and the amount of friction in the world was correspondingly reduced.  This would be a stage just prior to the transcendental Beyond, to the ending of all distinctions, when the individual's spirit merged into a common axis of transcendent unity and thus became one with all spirit, became universal.  It would probably result from man's having, in the meantime, abandoned the flesh for an artificial support-and-sustain system for the brain, a system or mechanical apparatus which, being the same for everyone, would prevent any particular mind from regarding its 'body' as either superior or inferior to another's, and thus remove the source of so much friction.  With uniform appearance and uniform occupation, centred in transcendental meditation, a truly classless society would emerge which would reflect the highest possible stage of civilization, a stage immediately preceding the end of all civilization.  But, at present, such a stage was rather a long way off, as this busy West End street more than adequately indicated.

     Looking at the scene before him from a more positive angle, however, there were certain encouraging factors for Daniel Forde to note, which augured well for the future.  There was the factor, for example, that so many people were gathered together in one place and behaving, on the whole, relatively well to one another, not fighting or cursing or raping or murdering or pushing, but behaving as well as circumstances permitted.  A little jostling and bad temper there of course was from time to time, what with so many people striving to get home or whatever at once.  But proceedings were, for the most part, commendably civilized, with indications aplenty of respect, courtesy, patience, even generosity, as when a car or other vehicle gave way to pedestrians crossing the road without being under any specific obligation to do so, pulling-up in order to let them across or slowing down to allow them sufficient time to continue on their way.  The crowd, too, was in itself a promising sign, an indication of the age's tendency away from personal selectivity towards impersonal collectivity.  One could get lost in it, swallowed up, just as one's spirit would ultimately be swallowed up in the divine unity of the Holy Spirit.

     Another factor one could note with a certain satisfaction was the wide variety of races and peoples gathered together in the street, the different-coloured skins and numerous accents or languages which, while testifying to diversity, and hence to the influence of the Devil on life, provided further evidence of the world's growing unity, a unity which could be equated with a converging universe to the Omega Point, or transcendental culmination of all evolution.  Not only Englishmen, but Europeans of virtually every nationality, Americans, Canadians, Africans, Asians, West Indians, and Australians could be seen sharing the same pavement in mutually-respectful fashion.  This was a comparatively new phenomenon in the world, one which, as yet, only pertained to the greatest cities, those places where evolutionary progress was most advanced for the time and which were consequently closer to the millennial Beyond than their less-urbanized neighbours - the rural and suburban towns.  It was both an honour and a privilege to be living in a multiracial society which functioned smoothly, with a minimum of tension or discrimination.  At least there wasn't much evidence of racial tension or discrimination in the crowded street before him today, and Forde noted this fact with evident pleasure.  It was good, too, to see so many of the coloured people wearing Western-style clothes, not emphasizing cultural differences between peoples but blending-in with the costumes of the more indigenous people on whose street they walked.  There was certainly more indications of the trend towards divine unity than evidence of diabolic separateness about that factor!

     As also about another factor which now appealed to Forde's attention, as he allowed his gaze to extend beyond the nearby pedestrians to the passing traffic, noting, with further satisfaction, the numerous cars, buses, taxis, vans, etc., which attested to man's growing dependence on the machine.  Here, it seemed to him, the future mechanization of the human body was incipient, was in embryo, as it were, in the guise of the numerous vehicles which filled the road, taking-up more space than both throngs of pedestrians put together.  Man was outdoing nature in these vehicles and displaying an urge towards bodily transcendence, proving his dissatisfaction with walking.  And whether or not he realized it, the driver of or passenger in any given vehicle was a little closer to the millennial Beyond than the streams of pedestrians he passed on either pavement.  He was effectively their superior, a being with a preference for artificial over natural methods of conveyance, and accordingly reflected a higher level of civilization.  One could take comfort in this thought, for it seemed to confirm the tendency of evolution away from nature.  Although traffic congestion was something of a drawback, it was encouraging to note that so many people did use motor vehicles of one kind or another, and thereby identified themselves with mechanical progress.  The way things stood, there would soon be more vehicles on the road than pedestrians on the pavement, or so it seemed!  The future was on the side of the former or, at any rate, of increased mechanization of the human body.  Eventually pedestrians would cease to exist.  And so too, in all probability, would motorized transport as we currently understood it.

     But what else was there to be grateful for, to take a certain satisfaction in, as one noted the contents of this particular street?  Undoubtedly its buildings, which were relatively modern and bore witness to a utilitarian simplicity of design aptly appropriate to their commercial functions.  It was encouraging to note the fact that they were adjoined, not separate or distinct, but crudely representative of a higher unity.  They formed a community of the man-made, having come to supplant nature, to keep the natural world at a distance, and thus permit the pursuit of artificial matters - matters with a bearing, even if obliquely, on the spirit.  They were symptomatic, despite their philistine functionalism, of civilized man's urge towards divinity, and at least in this street their general appearance was such as to suggest the greater importance which modern man attached to the spirit at the expense of the body.  There was more glass and window space in them than concrete or walls, and if one wished to associate glass with the spirit, as symbolized by its translucence, then they were arguably of a higher order of civilization, not to mention architecture, than those buildings which betrayed a greater material opacity, as did so many of the older ones, being rather more aligned, it seemed, with the flesh.

     Be that as it may, it was pleasant, too, for Daniel Forde to take additional satisfaction from this particular street with regard to the fact that nature had been entirely eclipsed by the artificial.  There wasn't a single tree or flower or bush to be seen in it, not even a weed!  Whatever may once have pertained to the plant world had been removed in the interests of the man-made.  Here was another reason for one to say to oneself: 'This is a superior street.  It has completely transcended the plant world, the lowest offspring of the Devil.  It is highly civilized.'  Yes, one could, if one was of a sufficiently progressive turn-of-mind, think like that, and Daniel Forde certainly did.  The great transcendental painter, Piet Mondrian, would probably have thought something similar in the context of such a street, though not everyone would have done so!  There were undoubtedly many people who would have been horrified to note the absence of trees from it, people who had more sympathy for nature and were not quite so spiritually advanced or progressive.

     Daniel Forde thought of one such person at that very moment, an attractive young woman he had once known quite intimately by name of Heather Thomas, who had been married, at the time, to a reactionary professor of literature at the University.  No doubt, the professor's opinions and beliefs had to some extent influenced her, making her less enlightened than she might otherwise have been.  For there was a dream, he recalled, in which her husband had apparently come face-to-face with the Devil and been instructed, via the medium of a film projection, on the apparent extent of the Evil One's power over the contemporary world.  She had told him about this shortly after her husband had related the entire contents of his dream to her, and it had amused him no end, largely because what the Devil had said was completely the reverse, in the main, of what was really the case, i.e. the growth of the divine element in life at the expense of the diabolic one.  Perhaps, however, that was generally the way with dreams; one entered a world that was upside down, so to speak, rather than the right way up; a world where everything was the reverse of what it would be in waking life.  Certainly the case, at any rate, as far as this strange dream of the professor's was concerned!  Still, Heather needn't have taken it all so much to heart, especially where her alleged adultery was concerned.  Her husband didn't profit very much from his dreams anyway, not even when he attempted to analyse them.  For that only succeeded in confusing him the more!

     Yet there were a lot of people in a similar position to Professor Thomas, people who confounded the Devil with God and mistook progress for regress.  Daniel Forde had met a fair number of them over the years, not the least memorable of whom was a certain Clinton McDuff, a critic by profession and member of the once-famed 'Aesthetica Club', who professed extremely Lawrentian sentiments concerning the nature of contemporary life.  A real enemy of the spirit, if ever there was one!  A man for whom nature, and nature alone, manifested God's influence and will!  A devil-worshipper with nothing encouraging to say to people, but a fatal tendency, as with all evil men, to depress and oppress his audience!  A man who, if he ever got real power into his hands, could set the clock back hundreds if not thousands of years!  However, the chances of a man like him getting such power were, fortunately to say, extremely remote.  But he would doubtless continue to depress and oppress people with his pessimistic lectures for some time to come!  One day, perhaps, such fools would be silenced.  In the meantime, it was to be hoped that they wouldn't be able to do too much reactionary mischief in the world.

     But what of Paula Hynde and Wendy Callot?  What were they doing there?  Forde ceased to think about the hidebound reactionaries he had been confronted by, in the past, and cast a brief glance back over his shoulder at the two young women seated behind him.  They still appeared to be absorbed in the passing show, though, in all probability, they were daydreaming or sunbathing, or both.  He couldn't quite tell, now that he had put on his shades again and reduced the world to a uniform tint.  But his slight movement was enough to attract the attention of Paula, who smiled and edged forward in her seat, the better to talk to him.

     "So you've come back to us again, have you?" she teasingly observed.  "We thought you'd gone to sleep."

     "I never do that in public," the philosopher averred, turning around in order to face her.  "I was thinking, actually."

     "Which is something you do too much of!" Paula averred, light-heartedly reproving him with a slap on the wrist.

     Forde blushed slightly.  "You might think so," he retorted, "but I am a thinker, after all.  Indeed, one of the few progressive, independent thinkers in the modern world, and, as such, it's my business to think as often and as well as possible.  By now it's second nature to me, a part of my very being.  I couldn't live without it."

     "I see," Paula sighed.  "So, presumably, you were thinking about how far contemporary life, as manifested in this street, is from the divine culmination of evolution, were you?"

     "Initially I was," Forde replied, gently nodding his head, "though not only that.  I also began to consider the indications of progress to be found here, and there are a number of them, believe me!  Yet the signs are that civilization, as we currently understand it, will become a good deal more civilized in the future, once we make a consciously-determined and concerted effort to attain to the millennial Beyond.  We needn't be unduly pessimistic about the general drift of things."

     "So, presumably, we should be conscious atheists rather than unconscious devil-worshippers," Wendy remarked, taking over the reins of inquiry from her colleague.

     "That's what I am," Forde admitted, smiling.  "And that's what I'd like to see others become as well!  Atheists who, whilst acknowledging the existence of the Diabolic Alpha, are primarily dedicated to creating the Divine Omega.  Men of good conscience who wish to rid the world of illusions and superstitions.  Builders of a society which is beyond the half-way stage of evolution, and which no longer looks back to the diabolic creative force with quite the same deferential respect.  Men who can tell the difference between the Devil and God, and strive to bring the world closer to the latter.  But, above all, men who don't confound profane spirit with holy spirit, or put ends before means.  Men, in sum, out of whose descendants the Holy Spirit will eventually emerge, bringing the Universe to divine perfection.  Yes, we must struggle towards perfection.  That is our goal."

 

    

LONDON 1980-1 (Revised 1982-2010)

 

 

FROM THE DEVIL TO GOD

 

 

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