Deliver my soul from the sword, my darling from the power of the dog.
He opened his eyes to pitch black.
His body was slick with sweat, the sweet meat of his brain bathed in fever. His windpipe felt split down the center. He groped blindly for a light switch but he felt nothing at all: no nightstands, no table, not even a wall. He swatted the empty air.
“Hello!” he said. “Hello! Is there anyone there?”
His voice sounded hollow in the darkness. No answer came.
“Hello” he said. “Hello!”
There was nothing.
He waited a long time for his vision to acclimate to the darkness. It never did. At length, Joel closed his gritty eyes and sank back in the stormy sleep last for days.
He was not, however, that whole time completely unconscious. It even seemed to him that at a number of different points someone was in the room with him, a presence he could not identify. This presence seemed at times to hover right beside or above him, perhaps more than one person. Yet each time he tried to open his eyes, he was unable to: he felt totally paralyzed, from head to toe, and no matter how much he strained, he could not move a single muscle.
In his confusion, he began to suspect that he’d been drugged. But he wasn’t sure, and that awakened and additional fear: the fear that he had become not only chronically paranoid but incurable so – inasmuch as he felt there would never be a way for him to determine for certain what was paranoia and what was fact. First he heard tiny voices, then angry voices, voices perhaps shouting at him, voices that grew in a wild crescendo violence. Still he was powerless to move or speak.
Suddenly everything went quiet. He could move again.
He partially woke from a vivid vision front with venomous fish and snakes and spiders. He woke partially to a human weight tilting the mattress he laid upon, someone sitting beside him. But when he opened his eyes, it was so dark that he could not see anything. After a while, he was not sure if you dreamed or awoke.
Two or three times, a cool hand cupped his steaming forehead. Joel simply lay there. He was awash in his own sweat.
A voice came to him out of the blackness. It was the voice of one he recognized, a voice that spoke calmly and at length about many things:
“What did you discover, Joseph?” the voice said.”What did you find in your quest for God? Did you unearth the evidence you were looking for? If so, where did you find it? Old Hag, Ouija boards, 11:11, UFO sightings, ESP? And is that all? Do the claims that up? Do they constitute proof? Do they meet your criteria for certainty? Does the Old Hag live in the light of reason? And do the claims need no faith? Is the phenomenon apprehended by observation? Tell me what’s more convincing, Joseph: Mohammed moving a mountain, Christ resurrected, or humanmankind as an experiment in an alien’s laboratory? Answer: it is a trick question. They’re all equally unbelievable. No evidence exists for any of them. They all require an act of faith. You must reject them for that reason, and so must I. How otherwise would we know which one to choose? And why? Why this over that?”
Then the voice went away. Joel listen. He heard no more. He fell asleep.
When the voice returned, the room was still pitch black, and he first thought it was the voice of his mother. The voice said:
“Morality is inescapable for humans, even the amoral human, because convictions and thoughts and judgments are inescapable to thinking brain. In this sense, the amoral life lived whimsically or violently or passively is still a life lived according to a certain moral code, be that code a code of violence or whimsy or passivity. Only an adversary ethic would tell you that others are the final standard of good and bad behavior: otherism means death to each individual person. There is something that comes before others, Joseph. Do you know what that something is?”
“Yes, “Joel muttered.
“What is it?”
“It is the word made flesh.”
“Yes,” said the voice that was no longer female. “It is the word made flesh. It is the spirit made physical. Only the individual can perform that fundamental act willing – of willing a word in the flesh – translating the mental into the physical, the psychological into bodily action, of defining oneself through one’s thoughts, which in turn determines one’s deeds. Morality – true morality – is the standard that guides human choices and decisions. It doesn’t matter if you live alone upon an island, or if you live among millions of others. Morality in any case is a necessity of human life. Life requires thought. Thought requires effort. Life therefore is effort. Life is work.”
The voice fell silent. Joel could hear soft breathing in the dark. The presence beside him was motionless. At length, the voice resumed:
“I ask you: what within the human clay gives rise to good and bad behavior? And why do we act at all? Is there someone phenomenal we can pinpoint that unites these things? The answer is yes, there is something we can pinpoint, and that something is called life. Life is the thing that unites existence and consciousness and human behavior.”
The voice stopped and was silent for so long that Joel thought is finished. Then it spoke again:
“The opposite of life is inertia: it is stillness. To live, we must act. To continue living, all organism must continually act. And more: all living organism must act a certain way.”
“In which way?” Joel said. He felt himself barely able to speak.
“In a way that fosters life. The things that nourish and give warmth and enhanced life are deemed good, and those that frustrated threatened life are deemed bad. The moral is the thing that promotes one welfare. The immoral is the self-destructive. Don’t think in terms of, is this act moral or moral, but instead asks: Will this action harm me over time? Will it enhance my life? Or will it not? Is it nourishing, life-giving? Will it promote human flourishing? That is true morality, not blind decree or commandments written on a slab of stone.
“A true ethnic rejects the deadly assumption that morality is rooted first in others. It rejects the deadly assumption that morality involves living for others, which is an assumption that effectively puts the happiness and well-being of each human out of reach and opens the doors wide for every manner of faith in faith-based ethics and arbitrary decree and more, each one of those things ultimately and equally unverifiable. There is a great enemy upon the earth, Joseph, and that enemy is called blind belief.”
“What of those who want to believe?” Joel said or thought he said.
“Anyone can believe whatever he wants about anything. That doesn’t make it true. Santa clause of the tooth fairy? I do not demur. But remember this: ignorance is not bliss, and force is the ultimate refuge of blind belief. You cannot claim allegiance to rationality and blind belief at the same time, just as a house divided against itself cannot stand.”
The voice ceased, and Joel slept. He was awakened by a cool cloth upon his forehead. He opened his eyes and saw nothing except black. The voice spoke:
“Religion has tricked the world into believing that morality can’t exist if God doesn’t exist. What is sorry joke for us to discover, then, after all, that morality – life-fostering morality – not only can exist if you kill god, but that it can only exist if you kill god.
Moral law (the voice quoted) is this real is human nature, within which it has its existence. Strange, indeed, if humans alone of all living beings could realize their highest welfare in disregard of the principles of our own nature. And this nature, we must remember, is what it is: i.e. it’s always concrete and definite. Indeed, the skeptic nowhere else assumes the absence of principles through obedience to which the highest form of life can be attained. He does not assume that a lily, which requires abundant moisture and rich soil, could grow on an arid rock, nor that the polar bear could flourish in a tropical jungle. No less certain than would be the failure of such attempts, must be the failure of humans to realize, in disregard of the laws of being, the values of which all humans are capable. The structure of our nature, conscious and spiritual, grounds laws just as real as those of all physical life — laws just as truly objective.
[From Chapter 27: Can Morality Exist if You Kill Dog?]