Just like Pap said, he was a bad apple. Those words still rung in the back of Lum’s mind louder than the front door slammed in punctuation. He was trash, and now his father had thrown him in the dumpster with the rest of ‘em. He was going to have to learn how to get along out here now. He’d never gotten along anywhere; the academy, the shrink’s, juvee. Anywhere there was people, anyway.
He was ready to cry uncle. He was finally going to look into the source of the advice that all the people who told him how bad he was said he should take. If the people that make all the rules he seemed to always break say they are guided by the Bible, Lum figured he couldn’t stay out of trouble better than to find out how to act like the “good book” told him. So he stole a Bible from a motel room while the maid was preoccupied. Turns out the Bible they had in the little night stand had been edited so harshly that they’d taken out all the old stuff as if none of it mattered until God got directly involved in fathering the first person since his fuckup with Adam and that trick with his rib. The part he wanted to read, about how this whole shit storm began a few thousand years and seven days earlier, wasn’t in it. He was always annoyed at finding books with pages torn out … that is, whenever he was interested enough to even notice. He thought to write a letter of admonition to the publishers, but remembered how he’d been scolded the last time he objected to the way things were being done and figured he just didn’t know enough to tell when anything was right or wrong. So he’d tried to be like what he saw most people being. Living in a democracy and all, that had to be the way to find out. That turned out to be harder than figuring out what was right on his own because people acted every which away and he knew his experience hadn’t sampled very many people, much less most people. He always wondered what an impossible task it must be to find out how most people acted. He knew there were polls that took opinions on every kind of subject but even the most rigorous statisticians with different axes to grind came up with different answers when two polls studied the same problem. Lum wasn’t dumb, he was just always wrong. He could always come up with the answer the teacher wanted if he had enough time to figure out the teacher. He excelled in math because the right answers were independent of any kinks a teacher might introduce. But when it came to science or social studies, all the books seemed like outlines making points from which he drew fantastic tangents, always on too far a reach about the iceberg to narrow his answer to the specific rote questions about the text’s version of its tip.
He visited the towering old cathedral people wandered in and out of all times of day or night downtown, but when he checked the pews there wasn’t any Bibles, just torn tear filled hymnals and guiding missals. Sleeping on the piss scented mulch behind the shrubbery against the church building that night, he settled an old conflict he was wrestling when he’d drifted off. In his varied attempts to stay out of the way of people in the past, most of whom felt compelled to voice their disapproval of him in one way or another depending on how they felt about themselves at that moment, he’d discovered the only place less crowded than the church, the library … and other worlds. Just as all too many people allow laws to imprison people they don’t know for the victimless crimes of dissenting opinions or experimenting with experiences they have no understanding of, Lum had declared libraries off limits to himself. The few readers he knew flaunted their addiction by lying around on the grass in public parks. All the normal people used their Vids from school room to the livingroom’s livingwall. Never had he felt so wrong than the wrong he’d experienced that day. Other places, other times, worlds that exist only in the imaginations of other minds ignited his mind full of dried tinder and cast light upon once dreary horizons on all sides. Crazed and feverish with this newfound passion he began forgetting where he was while he was where he was, or when it was at all. He was so transported one day that he imagined that the football game on the Vid was a mind eating beast and Pap was just an innocent friend in dire jeopardy. When he turned off the wall so he could share his revelation with his friend, he was promptly slapped back into reality.
He had been going along smiling at babies, pretty girls, ugly girls … no, wait, there weren’t any ugly girls that day. Anyway, feeling as well as he ever had in his entire browbeaten life. One might even say that this normally slump-shouldered, nerdy, scaredy-cat was full of himself to bursting. The shrink Pap took him to to get him fixed did good. Now all he wanted to do was get along, but he still had to get away from people to breath sometimes.
The solution in the dream was to go back into the library to get a Bible. What he’d resolved in his troubled slumber was a urinalysis of the conflict between libraries containing inflammatory material and the fact that the Bible, the paragon of proper behavior the President swore by …about… er, on, was also in the library. He had been inspired by the wrong books! The words of a fellow alumni back at juvee loomed over his turmoil, “Whatcha wanna read them books fer? Nunna that shit never happened anyway. Whasit gonna getcha?” What it had gotten him was shock therapy that made him so docile and socialized that he was arrested for stalking based on complaints from whoever was his role model d’ jour, until he finally was put away with rest of the young people who just don’t act properly grateful for their inheritance and would rather challenge, steal from or destroy it. He was just a little more obvious a mirror of the society that locked him away than most by emulating only its paragons, wanting to get along and all that.
The solution to his dilemma lay in the fine line of distinction between fact and fiction; fact being that version which most people agree is true, fiction being that version most people agree is not true and how the gospels tromp all over that fine line like the biggest gorilla in town, no agreement required. The Bible was true because most people were afraid to say it wasn’t true, just in case it was the word of God. Just that fear alone seemed like enough to make the Bible everyone’s behavioral guide whether it showed through their ego’s pride in public or not. So now Lum was steeled for the task ahead: march into the library, over to the religion stacks, get a Bible checked out and read it.
How naive he felt; get “a” Bible! There was an entire shelf of them, and not just a lot of printings, but different versions more subtly changed than the one he’d found at the motel with the beginning missing, except for the one that had 12 extra added chapters, called the Apocrypha. So, obviously different Christians believed in different Christs and that they could change the infallible, immutable word of this sacred Deity to suit themselves. No wonder they believed in miracles. The efficacy of his plan was already wearing thin. But Lum figured it was easier to take a poll of the different Christs than it was to poll the different Christians and launched into his own curriculum of comparative religion. Even though it was only one religion, it had as many contradictions within in it as all the other religions had between them.
The beginning of the first volume was so fantastic that he pulled down eighteen more versions to see if it was an exceptional version, and he read:
And God blessed them (gave them his blessing) and said to (told) them, Be fruitful (prosper, give birth to many), multiply (reproduce, have a lot of children, increase in number), and fill (replenish) the earth (with people), and subdue (rule over) it [using all its vast resources in the service of God and man]; and have dominion (rule, be responsible, be masters) over the fish of (in) the sea (ocean), the birds (fowl) of the air (heavens, sky), and over every (all) living creature (animal, thing) that moves (is creeping, crawls) upon the earth (ground).
Each and every version changed words here and there, like fifteen models of the same car so everyone can feel they have a choice in their god, as if they needed either a car or god, but they all seemed to paint a pretty accurate picture of an excuse for making the world into the mess it was all around him. A swelling overpopulation that enables a mountainous injury to the earth in its care of what would only be a molehill of neglect nature could shrug off if it weren’t nearly so God damned … er, blessed to being so heavy. Of all the billions of people filling the earth to overflowing, the few he knew all acted like they owned the world judging by the way they complained about it not pleasing them as they assumed it should no matter how poor or rich they were. If ruling the earth is having the right to abuse it everyone gets an A in obedience because harmless or benevolent rulers or citizens are rare to be found. The stewardship God was said to have given men over the birds, fish and creepy creatures seems to have been been interpreted as eat 'em or exterminate 'em. The same for plant life, though God didn't happen to mention that in his stewardship bequeathment, that was back on the third day.
If Lum hadn’t gotten so hung up on Genesis 1:28, he would have gone into catatonic trance over the apple that the Bible claimed cursed man by making him know the difference between right and wrong. It justified his Pap throwing him out of the house and calling him a bad apple all right. He had never learned to make the right choice. The more he thought about the choices made by civilization it seemed man still hadn’t learned right from wrong, but they sure did praise the freedom to make that choice even though it was more often than not restricted to an either/or with neither in consideration of the welfare of the habitat within which the results would be felt.
As the enormity of what all this implied about his desire to seek approval for that rosy glow of righteousness dawned on him, he saw a vision of a pyramid, the base of which was the exponentially expanding plethora of man made laws designed in the image of the head puppet master god’s laws and proliferated in multitudinous admissions that the Bible was either not understood or not the word of a very omniscient god. Somewhere near the top third of this pyramid is the Bible, the synthesis of all the religions, myths, fables, folklore, ballads that had guided and inspired men forever, plagiarizing some and demonizing others to weave a best seller brochure for the first 500 years after a man named Jesus died after a life identical to the Egyptian god Horus. At this level the number of laws are only ten, plus a few strong admonitions thrown in by minor characters all with no malice intended to the earth or mankind … one would hope. How could any group of holy men in 500 AD foresee overpopulation or the technological age? But whoever they were, they were doing it in emulation of its completeness and, thereby a self admitted total lack of understanding of the golden rule, the tip of the pyramid. The prime and only. Pure and unenforcible. True and unexploitable. Clear and undistortable. Only natural karma is its judge.
Lum hasn’t stopped smiling since. With such a small sample to poll as himself on the question of the golden rule, the answer always sponaneously fits the occasion no matter what, where or when it is, and never concerns itself with righteousness, offense or behaving. He is as good as he wants people to be with no assumptions that they will be. Next time you see someone smiling right on into you no matter how you're feeling, its Lum.