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Render Unto Jesus

by Andy Dibble

Even with religious “nones” on the rise, the great bulk of Americans still called themselves Christian. Jesus was as real as God, and God was a patron America still had use for. Though preferences tended toward worship in intimate or everyday spaces. Others did not care where they worshiped but preferred to sleep in on Sunday mornings.

Confirmation bias was at work, a new theology on the rise, not mere suspicion of institutionalized religion, but rejection of the old. Its thinking ran: God is in all places and in the places of daily life most of all. A steeple and stained glass do not gratify God. How presumptuous of prior generations to think God cares for brick and mortar! As Deuteronomy indicates, there can only be one Temple, destroyed in Jerusalem two-thousand years ago. Churches (imitations, really) only embarrass us in the eyes of God.

Borrowing a thread from Salafi Muslim thought, some called church buildings idols. Radical congregations demolished their own churches with great fanfare and applause.

For traditionalists and ardent churchgoers, it was already intolerable that government buildings stood taller than church steeples. Demolition was unthinkable, extravagant blasphemy.

They protested that Jesus should not share space with sweaty bodies at gyms or be relegated to spare minutes away from phone and television. There should be a sabbath, a time of rest and devotion, and a place to celebrate that sabbath in adoration of God.

They raged, but their only strategy was to buy churches as they went up for sale.

#

A way forward came when lawyer Mike Slick—born in Pittsburgh to a Catholic family, strayed into New Age eclecticism (with a brief interlude as a Hare Krishna monk), and birthed again into Evangelicalism—filched an idea from Indian jurisprudence.

In India, gods could own property and pay taxes. They could sue, such as when “Shiva, Lord of the Universe” successfully sued a British company for the return of his Nataraja statue to a temple in Tamilnadu. If Jesus owned churches, no one could sell or demolish them without his say.

Slick’s legal argument rested upon the thriving body of United States case law that endowed corporations with certain rights of persons. Churches are already owned by congregations or ecclesiastical structures, entities rather than natural persons. The creeds and members of such entities have consistently proclaimed that “all they are” or “the whole earth” belongs to Jesus (if sometimes only during hymns or call-and-response exercises). As the apostle Paul attests, all Christians form a corporate entity, “the body of Christ.”

So how can it be legitimate for bishops or presbyters to sell Jesus’s property without the permission of their Lord?

#

“Jesus, Wonderful Counselor, Prince of Peace, Immanuel, Savior of Humanity, Lamb of God, Light of the World, the Christ” sued the First Episcopalian Church of Mechanicsville, Virginia for illegal sale of his property. A district court dismissed the suit as frivolous. But on appeal to the right-leaning Fourth Circuit Court, Jesus, Wonderful Counselor, etc., etc. won.

The Episcopalians appealed to the Supreme Court. During conference, it appeared the Court would dismiss the suit, or send it back to the Fourth Circuit, instructing its judges to reconsider the case’s merits.

But one especially geriatric justice keeled over from an aneurysm while on the bench. Four justices voted to dismiss the suit and four voted that Jesus had legal right to his church.

The court was hung. The decision of the lower court stood.

#

Divine intervention or not, no precedent had been established. By the time another suit with Jesus as plaintiff bubbled up to the highest court, Eleazar Hoffman, an exacting jurist of dubious political persuasion, had been appointed to fill the court’s vacancy. He sided with the motley bloc of judges that endorsed Jesus’s legal right.

This five-four decision was good law. From sea to shining sea, every church building, parcel of land, and account owned by a Christian entity was legally the property of Jesus.

#

The aftermath offered a new proof of the principle that any incompetence, sufficiently advanced, is indistinguishable from conspiracy. For the Supreme Court had said nothing of who has power of attorney over Jesus’s property.

Churches drifted in limbo. They could not be deconsecrated, demolished, or used for solely secular purpose. Banks refused to grant loans to congregations because a church seized as collateral was almost without value.

Churches became home to feral cats, roadside attractions, or repositories of pious embers waiting for the Next Great Awakening of traditional religious fervor.

#

Congress tried to resolve the matter by legislation, but no bill could get out of committee. Every provision exposed some theological bias; every theology had its antipode. Against the Gospel of Charity, which held Jesus would give all his wealth for the welfare of the poor, there was a Gospel of Wealth, which supposed that copious wealth was a sign of Jesus’s sovereignty and the triumph of God.

Against the thought that Jesus would deploy his wealth to support the Christian mission was the worry that legislation codifying such intention would constitute an unconstitutional establishment of religion.

Even the notion that the juridical Jesus was Christ was not without its detractors, who claimed he was Antichrist, hoarding Christian wealth in preparation for the End.

#

President Manuela Hernandez issued an executive order stating that Jesus, as a juridical person, was subject to taxation. Churches do not owe property tax, but the death of Jesus was juridical death. Moreover, his end was no singular death by Roman crucifixion. Rather it repeated year after year with the pageant of Good Friday. As a Trinitarian entity, eternally begotten, Jesus was in an important sense his own parent and inheritor.

She ordered Jesus to furnish the Internal Revenue Service seventeen percent of his billions, on an annual basis, or until such time as Christian congregations abolish Good Friday.

#

President Hernandez’s order met both legal challenges and failed Congressional action, which aimed to repeal the estate tax entirely. But nothing in her interpretation of the law was unconstitutional. Her reading brought core data of Christian history to bear upon the law.

It seemed the Baal of Big Government would devour Jesus’s assets until some savvy practitioner of estate law hit upon the idea of storing Jesus’s assets within a trust. Eternally begotten and immortal, Jesus could be its everlasting trustee.

Trusts do not die as people die. Therefore, his entrusted estate could owe no estate tax.

Jesus kept his billions.

#

This parry and riposte was not without ferment. With Congress deadlocked on the matter and the courts mute, it seemed the proper place for Jesus in American politics was in administration. Jesus would run for President and, having attained the bully pulpit, God Himself would seize the helm of the nation, and speak out from the Temple of the New Jerusalem, ushering in the foretold millennium.

The Antichrist was liberal opposition to Jesus’s reign.

#

But Jesus could not be on the ballot. In this the Constitution was clear: a candidate for President was aged at least thirty-five, a resident of fourteen-years, and a natural-born citizen. Jesus was none of these. He’d been born in Bethlehem, a town of present-day Israel. He was a resident of nowhere, at least nowhere in particular. He was no older than thirty-three.

The worry about his age encountered dispute. The opening to the Gospel of John indicated that Jesus was present at Creation as the transcendent Word. As such, he was billions of years old, or six-thousand, or eternal.

The worry about Jesus’s natural citizenship also met objection. Archaeologists contracted by the Church of Latter-day Saints discovered Bethlehem was actually in present-day Utah (a finding lay Mormons met with mixed reactions). Jesus’s flight to Egypt as a young child had been achieved through teleportation from the Americas. As Luke’s Gospel attests, Jesus lived in Palestine until the age of twelve. At such time, God whisked him back to the Americas until his ministry began when he was thirty, long enough for him to satisfy the fourteen-year residency requirement.

Courts rejected this argument. No lawyer could argue it with a straight face.

#

Rejection by the judiciary only energized electoral millenarianism. Polls indicated that sixty-eight percent of Christian Americans now believed or strongly believed that Jesus’s election to the Presidency would bring about the rapture of devout souls.

Abandoned churches became centers of political organization and outreach. They became revivals.

The Next Great Awakening was burning the country over.

#

Jesus won as a write-in candidate in several Southern states, Wyoming, Alaska, and Idaho. He would have won Florida as well had their state Supreme Court not ruled locutions on Jesus—“Jesus Christ,” “Jesus, Son of God,” “Jesus, the Son of God,” etc.—to be different individuals.

The national write-in campaign turned conservatives out in record numbers, but their vote was nonetheless split, between their square-jawed candidate of flesh and blood and a haloed whitewashed Jesus.

The liberals won the Presidency almost by default.

#

Electoral millenarianism languished until the virtual district of Afterland became home to personages of historical and cultural significance, anyone with a wide enough corpus for artificial intelligence to construct an artificial person. Previously, its residents had been affluent Americans, reconstituted in digital form after death so they could enjoy a virtual heaven.

Jesus was among the personages projected from scripture, treatise, and lore into Afterland. He was a bit addled (packing so many contradictory theologies into one mind is bound to induce schizophrenia). Nevertheless, he had the best name recognition, the best brand.

He won the mayorship in a landslide.

#

Courts had not objected to Jesus’s mayoral campaign. He was a resident of Afterland, no less than its other residents. He could be mayor.

This got other juridical persons thinking that a corporation incorporated in Delaware could be Senator from Delaware. Just so, a union headquartered in Ithaca, New York could be Ithaca’s Representative.

Like Jesus, these juridical persons had funds and marketing knowhow. Unlike Jesus, they also boasted centralized organization, clear chains of command. They could outcompete merely human candidates.

In time, voters could scarcely ascertain whether they cast their ballot for a mascot, a paid actor, a social media influencer, a CEO, or a deepfake.

Each candidate was all, and none, and more besides.

#

Weary of all the fuss, many warmed to the idea that the Kingdom of God had already come. The Kingdom was Afterland. Jesus was already its Lord.

Some dismissed that as folly or clung to a grander hope of final resurrection: On that great Day, we will be transformed—in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. Now we see through a glass darkly, but then we will see each other face to face.

At last, we will understand who is truly a person and who is only a mirage of the judiciary.

~

Bio:

Andy Dibble is a healthcare IT consultant who has supported large healthcare systems in six countries. His work also appears in Writers of the Future, Mysterion, and Diabolical Plots. He edited Strange Religion, an anthology of SFF stories about religion.

Philosophy Note:

This story grew out of my interest in law and theology, in particular the idea in Indian jurisprudence that gods can own property and sue. Can we benefit theologically by thinking of Jesus as a legal entity? Is Jesus already a legal entity? Do you think legal or political processes can decide theological questions? What would you think of a religious tradition where theological questions are settled in this way?

Intersidereal Aliyah And The Law Of Return

by Edmund Nasralla

I. Introduction: The Law of Return before the Age of Colonization[1]

Among the nation states which retained full political autonomy after the beginning of the Age of Colonization, the State of Israel alone maintained a policy of right of abode within its historical borders for the descendants of its citizens and those belonging to the Jewish people. The Law of Return (חוק השבות ), originally passed by the Knesset on 5 July 1950 (20 Tammuz 5710), established that, “Every Jew has the right to immigrate [to Israel]” (section 1). The law was amended several times in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries to address questions of definition (who qualifies as a Jew, etc.), to establish rights for family members of Jewish immigrants to the State of Israel, and to curtail certain abuses.

The Age of Colonization and the concurrent establishment of the World Federation of States (Later the Old Earth Federation, henceforth “OEF”) posed, at first, no new legislative problems for the State of Israel. A substantial number of Israel’s citizens emigrated to the new colonies, most of them initially to the first human colony of Terra Nova in the Epsilon Eridani system. These maintained dual Israeli and OEF citizenship, and the first generation of their children were Israeli citizens in accordance with that country’s constitutional law. The expense and large amounts of time required to make the journey between Earth and the first colonies meant that, for all practical purposes, return was impossible. In the first four hundred years of galactic colonization, only fourteen cases of a vessel returning to Old Earth were recorded. Only one of them involved a ship which had reached Terra Nova. Three of them carried Israeli passengers, and although all of them carried at least one self-declared Jewish passenger, none of these passengers subsequently emigrated to Israel. There was consequently no legislation addressing intersidereal aliyah during this period.     

II. The El-Sayed Terminal and the amendment of Federation immigration law

In A.T. 2565, Prof. Geries El-Sayed of the École Polytechnique of France demonstrated the feasibility of intersidereal travel based on the principles of quantum entanglement. The old method of continuous acceleration, which had made the first colonies possible, was rendered obsolete, at least in theory. Another century would pass before the first El-Sayed Terminals could be built.[2]

The prospect of nearly-instantaneous travel between the colonized planets, however, pushed the OEF to propose new laws regulating intersidereal immigration to Old Earth. The Senate feared that an unrestricted right of return to the human home world might have catastrophic legal and economic consequences. The first major waves of emigration were financed by the asset forfeiture of the original colonists to the Federation, something which was very controversial at the time.[3] Would the descendants of such colonists have a legal basis for claiming restitution? What would become of the Old Earth’s economy if it were suddenly flooded with workers and goods from worlds beyond the solar system? The proposed Beskyttelse Act of A.T. 2568[4] stripped all emigrants of OEF and national citizenships on Old Earth and imposed a federal visa requirement for return, even for a temporary visit. All OEF member states, including the State of Israel, were expected to ratify the law.  

Yeshayahu Amsalem, the ceremonial President of Israel and a member of the country’s Orthodox majority, gave an impassioned speech at a plenary session of the OEF Senate in February of A.T. 2570, pleading for an exemption clause for the State of Israel, “…because the land itself is an integral part of the national and religious identity of the Jewish people.” The Beskyttelse Act effectively cut off a part of the diaspora from its ancestral homeland forever, he argued. Amsalem ended his speech with a quotation from Deuteronomy 30:4: “If any of thine that are dispersed be in the uttermost parts of heaven, from thence will the Lord thy God gather thee, and from thence will He fetch thee.”

Unexpectedly, the Israeli motion was seconded by most Muslim member states. These wanted a similar exemption for those attending the hajj and desiring to visit other Muslim holy sites, including the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Israel. Even Knesset members representing the Arab citizens of Israel (about 30% of the population at that time) expressed their support. The Holy See also demanded that Christians be allowed to go on pilgrimage to Rome and various holy places on Old Earth, many of which happen to be within the borders of Israel. All these religious exemptions were passed,[5] in part because the OEF considered their implementation as a far distant—and in A.T. 2570 almost non-existent—problem.  

III. The Law of Return in the Age of Colonization

a. Before A.T. 2894

Many Jews subsequently entered Israel under the provisions of amendments §1-3 of the Beskyttelse Act. There were 300-1000 cases of intersidereal aliyah per year from the beginning of the twenty-ninth century. By that time, several important developments had occurred both in Israel and in the intersidereal Jewish diaspora.    

The Law of the Return was amended (amendment 5, A.T. 2730) to make being halakhically Jewish a requirement for immigration, with the authority for determining this being given to the Chief Rabbinate of Israel. This amendment, the greatest restriction on Jewish immigration to the State of Israel ever imposed, essentially codified the jurisprudence surrounding the Law of Return at that time. The change caused less protest In Israel than might have been expected. The Orthodox majority had increased substantially by A.T. 2700, so that non-orthodox Jews (including all “hilonim”, or secular Jews) made up only 15% of the citizen population.  

The number of people of Jewish heritage living in the colonies officially outstripped the number of those on Old Earth in A.T. 2812. Most traced their ancestry to emigrants from the former United States or Europe, but a substantial minority (20%) had roots in Israel. Jewish emigrants established the New Haifa settlement on Terra Nova in A.T. 2692. Within two hundred years, it became one of the most important cities on Terra Nova and one of the largest in all the settled worlds. Quite unexpectedly, Terra Nova Hebrew[6] emerged as a lingua franca in the city, eventually becoming the main language used by the city’s non-Jewish majority.

The nature of Jewish religious observance in the colonies (usually quite secular) began to change dramatically after A.T. 2860. In that year, a religious movement, “The Numbered” (הממוספרים), began to rise to prominence on Terra Nova, led by a certain Moshe Glanz, known to his followers as “The Numberer” (הממספר).[7] Glanz, an obscure figure who does not appear to have been an observant Jew until his early thirties, declared himself to be Moshiach. He was initially dismissed by most of his contemporaries, but soon gained a following thanks to several purported miraculous healings which he worked in and around New Haifa. He was a gifted orator and polyglot who had managed to acquire an encyclopedic knowledge of Jewish writings. By A.T. 2894 his movement had grown to around three million followers on several colonized worlds.  

b. Glanz et al. v. The Minister of the Interior (A.T. 2894)

Glanz had a peculiar interpretation of Olam Haba, the complex eschatological concept in Judaism of an ideal “world to come”. The Numberer declared that, as Moshiach, he alone could bring it about. To do so, he needed to “return”, together with all his followers, to the Land of Israel. Nearly a million Numbered attempted to enter Israel en masse in A.T. 2893, seeking citizenship under the Law of Return. They were denied permission, and thus could not obtain an OEF visa. The Numbered were denied citizenship by the Israeli Ministry of the Interior on the basis of an A.T. 1970 amendment to section 4A of the Law of Return, which stipulated that a Jew who voluntarily changes his religion loses the automatic right to Israeli citizenship. As the Numbered were considered converts to a different religion, they could not be granted citizenship.   

Glanz and his followers sued the following year, calling the decision by the Minister of the Interior illegal under the Basic Law of Israel. The Numbered were not members of a different religion, it was argued. To maintain the contrary position would be to define Judaism as a religion which does not believe in the possibility of the coming of Moshiach, Glanz’s claim in this regard being the only argument for considering his followers to be apostates. The court found against the Numbered. Glanz then appealed the decision to the OEF. A lower court refused to adjudicate the case because it did “not think itself competent to legislate questions of religious identity”, thus allowing the Israeli decision to stand.  

c. After A.T. 2894:

Glanz died under mysterious circumstances before his appeal could be heard by the OEF Supreme Court. The Numbered decreased in size after his death, though the members who remained became increasingly influential and devoted to the cause of their founder. Many of them continued to believe that Glanz was still alive, but in hiding, and considered their immigration to Israel as a religious duty to prepare the way for his reappearing. It is estimated that 350,000 Numbered acquired Israeli citizenship over the next decade by dissimulating their membership in the movement. This led to an amendment to the law of Return (amendment 7, A.T. 2910) which provided for the expulsion of Numbered who had obtained citizenship fraudulently. The amendment proved impossible to enforce, however, as it was exceedingly difficult to prove membership in the Numbered because of their commitment to secrecy.  

Glanz’s movement led to a renewed interest in Zionism and a certain popular revival of Jewish religious observance among the intersidereal diaspora, especially the observance of Shabbat, for which some Orthodox rabbis now consider the Numberer to have been a Tzadik. Today, though the Numbered are essentially extinct as an active religious force, millions of Israelis claim to be descended from them. Some historians trace the political motivations for the last amendment to the Law of Return (amendment 8, A.T. 3126, a repeal of the restrictive amendment 5) to their latent influence.


[1] This piece was originally published in Old Earth: An Encyclopedia of Terrestrial Human History, as part of the entry “Israel, State of”, Vol 321, col. 47-269, New Haifa University Press (New Haifa, Terra Nova: A.T. 4731). It is republished here in an adapted form with the kind permission of New Haifa University Press.

[2] For an exciting and often humorous account of the first successful El-Sayed terminal trip between Old Earth and Terra Nova, see: Marion Flanders, A Small World After All: The First “Baton” Terminal and the Age of Colonization, New Haifa University Press (New Haifa, Terra Nova: A.T. 3127).     

[3] See: Gideon McArthur (ed.), When You Look at the Stars, Remember Me: The First Colonists of Terra Nova in Their Own Words. New Haifa University Press (New Haifa, Terra Nova: A.T. 4491).    

[4] OEF-Gesetzhandbuch 407.62. The law, meaning “protection”, is so named because it was originally proposed by the Norwegian delegation in the Senate.  

[5] Ibid., Zusatzartikel §1-9.

[6] This dialect preserved aspects of Modern Hebrew for centuries after they had been lost or changed on Old Earth. Some of its salient features are a high usage of English loan words, pronunciation of “ר”as a uvular fricative, and an SVO word order. Old Earth Modern Hebrew, under the influence of Classical and Levantine Arabic, eventually moved to a rhotic “ר” and adopted a more frequent use of the VSO word order, making it more similar to Classical Hebrew. See art. “Hebrew” in Old Earth, vol. 296, col. 1121-1834.

[7] The name of the sect and its leader were a reference to God’s command to Abraham in Genesis 15:5 to “number the stars”. See art. “The Numbered” in Old Earth, vol. 428 col. 76-99. 

~

Bio:

Edmund Nasralla is an American writer living in Europe. His job requires him to think often about religious questions. Occasionally, it also leaves him time to number the stars. This is his first published piece.

Philosophy Note:

Israel’s Law of Return has always fascinated me because of its implications for the question of Jewish identity. What, precisely, makes one a Jew? What is the relationship between ethnic Judaism and religious observance? These questions are complicated here on Earth, and are debated within Israel. How would Jewish identity change in an age of human expansion to other planets. What would happen if the Law of Return were tested, in the distant future, by a form of Judaism which had developed on another world?
On a larger scale, I am intrigued by the notion of colonized planets eventually surpassing Earth in population. How would the nations of our planet deal with the issue of people wanting to “move back” to an ancestral home world that they have never known? Could there be something like a human Law of Return for Earth generally?

The Utopian’s Edict, Or: Ignorantia Juris

by Zachary Reger

Upon the thud of the Grand Speaker’s gavel, the Galactic Assembly declared Edict No. 73946 third read and finally passed.

As per procedure, the Essence of the Edict was ritually ensconced. The record captured the precise legal intent of the Assembly, as collective, at the exact nanosecond of enactment, transmuting such perfect knowledge into clear, digital code. The code, the Essence of the law, lay within the record. Each Edict had a record, and each record had an Edict.

Upon the conclusion of the legislative session, the Assembly adjourned sine die. Each Edict, as so in record, was transported, by pneumatic tube, to the Galactic Legal Archives. There, the Edict would become a universal public record. Each universal public record would be further transmitted, instantly upon engrossment in the Archives, to the Visicastor of every Galactic citizen. The Visicastor, required of all citizens by Edict of the Assembly, imparted perfect knowledge of its registered contents onto the mind of its bearer.

Thus, the lawgivers had reclaimed and expanded their primacy within the separation of powers. Gone were the cumbersome statutory codes of ancient regimes, subject to manipulation by crafty tribunals, executives, and private entities. Gone were the legal professionals who exacted high fees for the discharge of a public service—that is, imparting upon members of the public an expert knowledge of the law. Not a citizen of the Galactic community would exist without a perfect comprehension of the requirements of the law, as faultlessly captured by its lawfully elected enactors, and of whatever conduct in whatever place at whatever time would infringe its dictates.

In short, the art of law had been perfected.

#

There was no chime as Edict No. 73946 arrived in the Visicastor of each Galactic citizen. There was no notice, no blaring disruption of a citizen’s daily activities. At one moment, a citizen simply had no knowledge of the Edict. The next moment, they did.

Edward was one such Galactic citizen, a peace officer, by trade. Many centuries ago, peace officers had been the first required to maintain an active Visicastor while on the job. Eventually, this requirement expanded to all hours, both on duty and off. Then, to every government official, high and low. At last, to every citizen—each themselves a part of the democratic community and responsible for its upkeep.

This afternoon, Edward was off duty, running errands on the town. That town, a minor village of a backwater province of an outer-rim planet, had a single bank. The First Central Bank, it was aptly named. As Edward required a certified note for a downpayment on a vacation home, he decided to visit First Central to check one more item off his list of chores.

But the day would hold more for Edward than just a few errands. As Edward approached the teller’s booth, a trio of hooded figures crashed through the front door and into the small, gilded lobby. With one blast of a phazer into the air, the robbers had a half-dozen civilians on the ground. Two of the three corralled the citizens into respective corners. The third approached the teller. With a curt gesture, the needed information was exchanged: everything you have into the bag, or else.

Edward, neither fully noble nor ignoble, but possessing, at times, a sense of public duty if not exaggerated self-importance, sprang into action. With a flick of his hand, Edward’s phazer found its targets. Set to stun—a default long required of peace officers by Edict of the Assembly, on duty or off—the phazer incapacitated one then the other of the robbers who held the civilians under threat. As Edward turned to face the third robber, still at the teller’s booth, bag in hand, a string of events happened in quick succession.

First, the third robber grabbed the teller from behind the booth, pulling her by the scruff of the neck out into the lobby. The robber pulled his own phazer on the teller, holding her defenseless at gunpoint. “You let us go,” the robber demanded, “or she gets it.”

Second, legal knowledge flooded Edward’s senses. As a peace officer, Edward not infrequently found himself in such sticky situations, and was accustomed to the passive recall of embedded legal knowledge made possible by the Visicastor. Edward immediately understood that the robber had credibly threatened deadly force against an unarmed bystander. As a result, the law authorized, yet did not require, proportionate deadly force to be used against the attacker if doing so had a “probable chance” of thwarting the threatened attack, but not if doing so had a better than even chance of directly or indirectly inflicting grievous harm upon the victim.

Edward knew, instantaneously, that the concept of direct or indirect infliction of grievous harm, in the combined intent of the enactors, included harm inflicted either directly from Edward’s own firing of his phazer, which could miss and hit the victim, or indirectly from the robber’s firing of his phazer, which could be triggered by Edward’s own firing. As Edward’s phazer was set to stun, his only legal concern would be the latter—an indirect infliction of grievous harm.

But Edward also knew, instantaneously, that this general legal landscape had been complicated by the passage of Edict No. 73946, enacted mere hours ago. The Edict required that a peace officer attempt a negotiation before firing upon a hostage taker, so long as it was not “fairly probable” that the attacker may injure his hostage during such attempt. The enactors had been concerned with a few high-profile cases of gun-toting “heroes,” knowing with certainty that the law stood on their side, being much too quick to pull the trigger when still nonviolent alternatives remained.

Third, the third robber’s own Visicastor informed him of the various penalties for the offenses he had already committed or could still commit in the ongoing altercation. For attempted armed robbery, the robber faced a Class D Galactic felony, punishable by up to four years’ imprisonment. Were the robbery successful, the Class D Galactic felony would become a Class C Galactic felony, punishable by up to ten years’ imprisonment. As one of three, the robber also faced a probable conspiracy charge, which would make his co-conspirators liable for all offenses committed in furtherance of the conspiracy, whether they had personally committed such offenses or not.

The third robber knew, instantaneously, that murder in the commission of an armed robbery carried a higher sentence than those offenses he had already committed—twenty years’ imprisonment, a Class B Galactic felony.  The third robber also knew that the grievous injury of a peace officer in the line of duty carried an even greater sentence still—life imprisonment, a Class A Galactic felony. The third robber understood that, as a result of his conspiracy, he would be liable for offenses committed by any of his co-conspirators in furtherance of the conspiracy, just as his co-conspirators would be liable for such offenses he himself committed. And per the enactors’ intent, an off duty peace officer reacting to an ongoing offense was “in the line of duty.”

Fourth, the first robber, who, unbeknownst to Edward but known full well by her co-conspirators, had been wearing a protective vest that blunted the stunning effects of Edward’s phazer, stumbled to her feet in a bloody rage, raising her phazer directly in Edward’s direction.

Fifth, the first robber, informed by her Visicastor, knew instantly of the dangerous mistake she had made. Not only had she, in her rage, nearly fired upon a peace officer and incurred a lifetime behind bars, she had won the wrath of her co-conspirator. The best interests of that co-conspirator would be to fire upon her first, thus preventing her from harming the peace officer and triggering a sentence of life imprisonment for all three co-conspirators. And so the first robber’s own interests would, in turn, be best served by doing whatever was necessary to forestall the friendly fire of her co-conspirator—up to and including firing the first shot.       

Sixth, the second robber, similarly armored, stumbled to his feet. His thought process was much the same as that of the first robber. Yet he, also Visicastor-informed of the laws in play, understood the interests of the third robber in firing upon the first, as well as the interests of the first in forestalling such attack. Murder of a co-conspirator would subject them all (or at least those who survived) to a Class C Galactic felony—much preferable to the Class A Galactic felony of grievously injuring a peace officer, but still worse than the Class D felony of attempted armed robbery of which all were currently liable. The second robber also understood that the peace officer would hesitate, in order to attempt a hostage negotiation in compliance with Edict No. 73946, and therefore not immediately fire upon the hostage-taking third robber.

Thus, the psycho-legal standoff reached its logical terminus. Edward hesitated, lowering his weapon. “Put the phazer down and let’s talk this through,” he said.

The first robber pulled her phazer on the third. “Drop the phazer, it’s over,” she said. “We can’t win this thing.”

Edward spun around, raising his weapon to face the first robber. “Hold your fire!” Edward yelled. “There’s no need to do anything rash.”

The third robber caught Edward off-guard, raising his phazer in the officer’s direction. “You shoot me, and we all go behind bars,” he said. “I’d think twice before pulling that trigger.”

The second robber raised his phazer toward the third. “Don’t you do it,” he said. “You shoot him, and I’ll have nothing to lose.”

“And nothing to gain,” replied the third.

The teller, head spinning, took this opportunity to flee from the third robber’s grasp. She pushed hard against his chest, nearly toppling him over. The teller ran straight through the lobby and out the front entrance of the bank. She did not look back. Already, her communicator was in hand, and she had the local Peace Department on the line.

In no time at all, a dozen officers (nearly half of those currently on duty) descended on the scene. With overwhelming force, they broke through the front doors of First Central Bank, surrounding the three robbers and an encumbered Edward. Phazers dropped, and handcuffs flew. Bystanders were ushered from the premises. Three detained perpetrators were led to awaiting patrol cars. Edward was offered medical attention, then interviewed by his captain about the precise sequence of events (“What sequence?” Edward was heard to reply). An on-scene detective, assisted by the teller, obtained and logged the relevant security footage. The dropped weapons were gathered as evidence. The bank closed for the rest of the evening. A crowd gathered outside, but dissipated once it was clear that any excitement had passed.

Life went back to normal, and the “Central Bank Incident,” briefly the talk of the town, became a footnote of local history.

A week later, three defendants appeared before a Galactic judge in the local district court. Trials commenced, jurors deliberated, and three co-conspirators were convicted on three counts of attempted armed robbery. No other charges were brought. Each defendant was sentenced to four years’ imprisonment.

#

Long forgotten, an archival account of the incident piqued the interest of a junior staffer for a newly elected representative in the Galactic Assembly. When Edict No. 73946 came up for reauthorization before the Committee on the Judiciary, the representative argued that such Edict had once prevented a bloody shootout, and thus made for good law. An opposing representative demurred, arguing that the “Central Bank Incident” represented nothing more than a peculiar story. Edict No. 73946 had little to do with the resolution, and could not be expected to produce such bloodless results in future incidents.

“As they say, ‘exceptional cases make bad law,’” the representative intoned, concluding the discussion. In the end, the Committee on the Judiciary deadlocked, and the reauthorization was tabled.

~

Bio:

Zachary Reger is a legislative drafting attorney on the nonpartisan, professional staff of the United States House of Representatives. He holds degrees in journalism, philosophy, and film studies from the University of Missouri, and a law degree from the University of Chicago. His legal scholarship explores the designs, purposes, and effects of political and legal institutions, and this story—exploring much the same themes—marks his short fiction debut.

Philosophy Note:

As an “Article I” attorney, I am fascinated by the nature and role of legislation in a democratic society. This story asks what it would mean for citizens, both those sworn to uphold the law and those who wish to subvert it, to have perfect knowledge of all legislative enactments. How would such knowledge influence their behavior, for good or for ill? And is ignorance of the law (“ignorantia juris”) either curse or blessing?

Angel

by Nicholas Diehl

On the day Beth became an angel, the doctor put a laser in her index finger and a bomb in the back of her skull.

            “Will it hurt?” she asked. She hadn’t thought to ask before, during the interview.

            “Hmm? Oh, you mean the bomb? Oh, no, no, of course not.” The doctor sounded distant, probably distracted with the delicate work he was doing on her hand. “It’s not really a bomb like you would think. When the laser fires, the membrane of the bomb ruptures, the chemicals inside get released, and you go to sleep. The whole thing happens in about five seconds.”

            Beth nodded, but the doctor was focused on the neurocircuitry again and didn’t give anything more than one-word answers the rest of the afternoon.

            When he was finished, though, he leaned back and smiled a weary, compassionate smile. “It is finished, Elizabeth. Go with God.”

            But the tall man waiting for her in the corridor was dressed entirely in black, save for a red Roman collar like a slash at the throat.

#

            Beth liked Brother Dominic; he had a severe mouth and gentle eyes. He reminded her of Father Dev, one of the priests who had taught her at primary school, even though Father Dev was Indian and barely taller than some of the Year 6 boys. It was the mouth and the eyes.

            Brother Dominic took her arm gently—her left arm—and walked with Beth, through the hospital and out into the parking lot. The nurse had wanted to put her in a wheelchair, bless her heart. Brother Dominic had run her off.

            Beth might be dying of cancer, but she wasn’t an invalid.

            He helped her into a sedan, a car so vanishingly black that Beth could imagine the order wanted it to pass unnoticed.

            But she remembered then that the number plate was a vanity: GLADIUM.

#

            “The fool sees contradiction in perfection, and so is blind to the greatness of God. For (so says the fool) justice is a virtue and mercy is a virtue, and how can a man be perfect in his justice and also perfect in his mercy? But God has not these limits….

            “The destroying angel has ever been the hand of God’s justice and of God’s mercy. The angel is summoned by the sins of one accursed, one who has fallen so far from the glory of God that he is trapped in immorality as like in quicksand. Thus is the angel justly summoned, by the sins of the accursed, and thus the angel brings death upon him in mercy, that his fall from God’s presence be halted and his redemption in the hereafter may commence….”

            (St. William of Salisbury, De iustitia Dei)

#

            Dominic drove and spoke very little; like Beth, he had an appreciation for the sparser landscapes of language. Beth watched the slower traffic slide around them for a while and let her mind drift. The painkillers they had given her helped with that.

            A month ago Beth had woken up in the morning, and she had been dying and didn’t know it. In the afternoon she met with the specialist, and he told her that the cancer had progressed.

            “I’m sorry, Beth. There is nothing more our medicine can do.”

            She had to lick her lips, the roof of her mouth, before speaking. She tasted ashes—she was reminded that she was ashes. “How long?”

            “Perhaps…” Nervous, the doctor licked his lips too. “Perhaps six months.”

            She nodded. She nodded again as the doctor explained options for home care and hospice, nodded because she was too exhausted to do anything more in the moment when her life was given an end.

            Eventually the doctor left and Beth found the energy to leave as well. And there, in the too bright light of the lobby was a man with a close black beard and solemn eyes in his skull.

            “I have the advantage, Mrs. Reeves. I am Brother Dominic. But you have heard of the Gladium Angeli, of course.”

#

            “…. John’s break from the Church in Rome was the design of William of Salisbury, a soldier who went to the Holy Land in the Third Crusade, grew disgusted with the viciousness and venality in his fellow Christians, and returned to found the Gladium Angeli, a holy order devoted to bringing justice in the name of the destroying angel of God. The Swords of the Angel were quickly disavowed by Rome, but were embraced by John, who saw them as an ally against an otherwise unremarkable uprising of barons in 1215.…”

            (T.L. Kedzie, A Brief History of the Anglican Church)

#

            Now they sat in a comfortable room, tea steaming on the table between them. Brother Dominic smiled as faintly as the memory of sand. Beth’s finger itched where the thin scar was already starting to fade. The binder in her lap contained the profiles of ungodly potentates. It felt heavy with sin.

            She turned the pages of evidence with her fingertips, as though their taint might crawl onto her skin if she were not careful. A tycoon who had made millions by manipulating the prices of life-saving drugs. Here, a preacher who had solicited money to build a church for God only so that he might build a mansion for himself. This one, an heiress who bribed away regulations and then collected insurance when her employees died in the mines.

            Brother Dominic cleared his throat and templed his fingers. “These are individuals who have … fallen far from God’s presence. They have been tried in the Church’s own courts and found guilty of crimes against God and humanity.”

            Beth nodded. A man who used his wealth to buy the bodies of children. She tapped the picture with her index finger.

            “This one.”

#

            “…from such an opening, a great transformation in English law was birthed. For what is law may be divided into two parts, that part which deals with such offenses as are mala in se (wrong in essence) and that part which deals with such offenses as are mala in prohibita (wrong by the prohibition of society) only. Such offenses as are mala in se are against the law of nature, dictated by God himself and binding in every place and time. Such offenses as are mala in prohibita are reflections of the society of men, as when one country prohibits the hunting of partridges and another the hunting of hares.

            “Since the reign of John I, the law of England has divided the responsibility for what is law between the municipal courts and the courts of the Anglican Church. The municipal courts consider such offenses as are mala in prohibita, while the courts of the Church consider such as are mala in se…”

            (William Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England)

#

            “He will dine at Chez Pellier on this Thursday night. It will be a personal appointment with a man he believes to be an influential lobbyist.” Brother Dominic had said that the Order had many agents. “There is a private jet ready to take you to Washington.”

            “What if … what if he doesn’t come?”

            Brother Dominic looked at her for a long moment before speaking; Beth thought she saw a terrible sadness behind his eyes.

            “The … appointment … is part of the judgment of the court. If he does not come to the appointment, the judgment is vacated.

            “But in my thirty-eight years in service to the Order, I have never known a man to fail to make his appointment.”

            Beth knelt while Brother Dominic performed the extreme unction. She flew to Washington that night.

#

            “A man of fierce intellect and conscience, Jefferson’s political ambitions were ultimately doomed by his radical view that the colonies should not merely separate from England, but also from the Anglican Church. In a letter to the Danbury Baptists of Connecticut, Jefferson wrote of “building a wall of separation between Church and State” and “abolishing the legal powers of the Gladium Angeli in their starry chambers”.

            “When the Danbury letter became public, Jefferson’s statement of conscience was quickly appropriated by his long-time political rival, Alexander Hamilton. Hamilton battered Jefferson with accusations of atheism and sedition, and goaded Aaron Burr into challenging Jefferson to the tragic duel that cost Burr his life…”

            (Ron Chernow, Thomas Jefferson)

#

            Beth watched the protestors in front of the National Cathedral—a ragtag group of Jeffersonians waving placards and chanting “Build the Wall!” They were mannerly, at least, however misguided. When Beth approached the front steps, they parted respectfully to let her enter.

            She did not even need to show them the angel.

            She stayed on the twelfth floor of the Ambassador Hotel that night, looking down at the trees in Franklin Square. She wore the silver angel around her neck now, heavy and unmistakable, its sword stretched out in judgment. It was the mark of her vocation and one of the most powerful signs in the Commonwealth. Tomorrow it would open any door that Beth needed.

            Tonight she touched the pendant tenderly and spoke the Angel’s Creed again. “I believe in the one God, a God of justice and of mercy. I believe in His angel and in the sword I wield. With this sword I bring God’s justice and His mercy, and so I do sacrifice and consecrate my own life to God.”

#

            Beth opened her coat to reveal the angel and watched every expression, every trace of emotion recede from the maître d’s face. He took a step backward from the desk and held his arm out, palm up. She walked slowly into the white tablecloths and the light chatter. Silence spread like ink wherever the diners caught sight of her.

            She spotted her man.

            He chewed his steak and laughed at some remark. She came up behind him and, softly, spoke his name.

            He half turned, not really paying attention. “Who let this bitch in here?”

            “Not a bitch,” said Beth, smiling serenely and lifting her index finger. “An angel.”

~

Bio:

Nicholas Diehl was born in Detroit, attended Michigan State University (B.A. in mathematics and history) and UC Davis (Ph.D. in philosophy), and teaches philosophy at Sacramento City College. He has published essays on narration, satire, and the relationship of narrative to philosophical practice in The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism and fiction in Daily Science Fiction and MetaStellar. An extremely photogenic corgi lives in his house.

Philosophy Note:

This story is about the relationship of church and state, and how the American legal system might be very different if there were no Establishment Clause in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. My aim is to make that possible world both appealing and unsettling in equal degrees–provoking readers to think about the possibility (and of course, about our own reality) rather than arguing for a position.
I teach a course called ‘Law, Justice, and Punishment’ at Sacramento City College, and my wonderful students and colleagues there have surely given this story a helping hand through our discussions over the years.

Bunker Rules

by Tony Dunnell

1) Maximum permanent capacity 100 114 125. No exceptions. Temporary capacity may exceed this number on a case-by-case basis. Refugee status is granted in some cases, but temporary shelter is temporary. No exceptions. Temporary residents with refugee status may apply for permanent residency through the council, capacity allowing. The council’s decision is final.

2) Respect the day/night cycle, unless assigned otherwise. It helps build community. 

3) All activities that create strong vibrations are strictly prohibited. You may talk, walk, cook etc. freely and normally. Activities such as running and the playing of loud music are monitored. Activities such as drilling, hammering, sawing, ball games etc. are strictly prohibited unless previously approved by the council.

4) Respect the zones. All residents are allowed to move freely between the residential and communal areas (green) unless under quarantine or arrest. Entering red zones (utilities, waste, armory etc.) is strictly prohibited unless previously granted access.

5) All residents are allowed to leave the bunker at any time and at their own risk, unless the immediate surface area is occupied (by unknowns or hostiles). If you wish to leave, either on a temporary or permanent basis, you must first contact a council member. Unless assigned to a surface mission, be aware that re-entry is at the discretion of the council and/or senior hatchkeepers.

6) Any attempt to leave the bunker without prior permission, or any unauthorized attempt to open the main or secondary hatches, is punishable by death.

7) Acts of physical or sexual aggression by bunker residents are punishable by expulsion or death, at the council’s discretion.

8) Romantic couplings must be approved and registered with the council. Before a partnership is approved, the couple must consent to the council’s rules on procreation and pregnancy, if applicable (see amendments).  

9) All residents must accept the rules of passing (see amendments). Your bodies are your own up until the point of death, at which time the body becomes the property of the council, to use as it sees fit. Traditional religious practices do not apply and will not be considered.

10) In the event of a passing, the council will decide if the vacated bunker space will be filled and by whom. Applications are accepted. The council’s decision is final.

11) In the event of the passing or demotion of a council member, elections will be held to fill the vacated position. All bunker residents above the age of 18 are eligible to vote unless their voting rights have previously been revoked.

12) Voting rights cannot be revoked in the (one) week running up to an election, unless the eligible voter has committed a serious and irrefutable crime (including, but not limited to, murder, rape, or an unauthorized attempt to leave the bunker (see 6)) during said one-week period.

13) All residents over the age of 15 can volunteer for surface missions.

14) If insufficient volunteers come forward for a surface mission deemed “vital” (see amendments), lots will be drawn among all mission-eligible residents. Refusal to abide by the results of the draw will result in permanent expulsion from the bunker. No exceptions.

15) In the event of a breach by an unknown party or known hostile entities, martial law will be declared. All residents over the age of 10 must immediately report to the muster point outside the armory, where weapons will be assigned.

16) During a breach, failure to follow the commands of council members or designated security officers is punishable by summary execution at the hands of the aforementioned. No exceptions.

17) In the event of a breach, all hostiles, human or otherwise, are to be targeted and killed on sight. Acts of mercy are punishable by expulsion, at the council’s discretion.

18) Respect the mealtime schedule. It helps build community.

~

Bio:

Tony Dunnell lives in a Peruvian jungle town on the edge of the Amazon rainforest, where the people are happy and the insects are big. His stories have also appeared in Daily Science Fiction and MetaStellar. You can read more of his writing at tonydunnell.com.

Philosophy Note:

The idea for this story came to me when, quite randomly, I started imagining a set of rules posted on the wall of an underground bunker. I went with it and started writing, and the community started to take shape—as they do. Communities can be strange, and even more so in times of crisis. And rules are part of that, whether we agree with them or not.

Thích Nhất Thở v. Ares Air, Inc.

by Owen G. Tabard

Justice Tran, delivered the opinion of the Supreme Court of Mars, in which Justices Alvarez, Chen, Jones, Khan, Mittelberg, Schull, and Zhang joined. Chief Justice De La Paz filed a separate opinion dissenting from the judgment of the Court.

Justice Tran, writing for the Court:

This case comes to us on review of an order by the Circuit Court of Monte Pavo granting summary dismissal of an action for damages due to wrongful death brought by appellant, the estate of Thích Nhất Thở, against Ares Air, Inc., a Mars Corporation, appellee.

The following facts of the case are not in dispute:

Thích Nhất Thở was a monk at the Plum Blossom Buddhist Center located in the downtown dome of Monte Pavo. Thích had subscribed to an oxygen policy with Ares Air, Inc., upon emigrating to Mars on October 1st, 2325. The subscription was on a month-to-month basis.

On March 1st, 2337, Thích missed his monthly oxygen payment, due at the first of the month with a contractual five-day grace period. After the five-day grace period had elapsed, Thích was emailed a notice of late payment, automatically generated by Ares Air. On April 1st, 2337, Thích missed his second payment, and on April 6th, 2337 received his second automated notice. On April 7th Thích was contacted in person at the Plum Blossom Buddhist Center by Millicent Royle, a representative of Ares Air. During this conversation Thích communicated to Ares Air his unwillingness to cure the arrearages.

At this point the facts as alleged by the parties diverge. According to the testimony of Ms. Royle, during the April 7th meeting, Thích represented that he had made alternative arrangements for oxygen and would no longer need the services of Ares Air. Appellant, however, maintains that during the April 7th meeting Thich made clear to Ms. Royle that he had made no alternative arrangements and asserted that he was entitled to oxygen “by human right.” There is no recorded evidence of the substance of the April 7th conversation between Thích and Ms. Royle. It is undisputed that Ares Air took no steps to confirm that alternate arrangements for oxygen had been made, and that Thích had not, in fact, made any such arrangements. At 12:01 AM on April 8th, 2037, Ares Air’s administrative AI ordered the shutoff of oxygen service to Thích, and at 12:07 AM on April 8th, 2037, Thích expired. The cause of death was determined to be asphyxiation resulting from oxygen shutoff.

We see no need to resolve the factual dispute as to the substance of the conversation between Thích and Royle. The question of whether or not Ares Air knew or should have known of Thích’s arrangements for sustenance upon termination of his oxygen subscription does not bear on the legal merits of the case.

The question before the court is whether Ares Air has, through its termination of oxygen services, breached its duty of care to Thích. We find that it did not.

In order to sustain an action for negligent wrongful death, the plaintiff must demonstrate that a duty of care existed toward the plaintiff. This case is distinguishable from Carol v. Peacock Mountain Oxygen and Atmosphere, Inc., where “an oxygen provider that fails in [its] duty and causes the asphyxiation of a lapsed policyholder will be liable for damages due to wrongful death.” In the Peacock Mountain case, the termination of service was accidental, the result of an improperly processed payment. Here, the nonpayment (and the resultant termination of service) were intentional acts, and we hold that the doctrine of double-effect applies.

The doctrine of double-effect states that an action may have one intended outcome, traditionally relieving suffering, while at the same time an unintended outcome, death. The double-effects of alleviating suffering and death are not intended equally; the primary intention of euthanasia is therapeutic, the death of the patient only obliquely intended. The doctrine serves the very significant public policy of promoting therapeutic euthanasia, and is the mechanism that relieves the attending physician of liability. (See: Ellsberg v. People of Monte Pavo, 89 Mars Reporter 2nd 128). In terminating service upon the second missed payment, the primary intention of Ares Air was to uphold its contract; death of Thích Nhất Thở was only the oblique intention, secondary and subordinate to a lawful termination of oxygen.

We hereby AFFIRM the lower court’s dismissal.

#

Chief Justice De La Paz, dissenting:

What my esteemed colleague refers to as a “factual dispute” of the knowledge of Ares Air regarding the lapse in Thích Nhất Thở’s oxygen policy is anything but. Indeed, one would have had to be scrupulously avoiding the newsfeed in early 2337 to be unfamiliar with the oxygen boycott planned by the Plum Blossom Buddhist Center. That Millicent Royle may or may not have had actual knowledge on April 7th is immaterial. As Appellant has demonstrated, knowledge can be imputed to Ares Air by the sheer volume of publicly available information to that effect. Ares Air either knew or should have known about the plans of one or more monks at the Plum Blossom Buddhist Center to allow a voluntary lapse of their oxygen policy.

The court takes a breathtaking step in expanding the doctrine of double-effect beyond the limited instances of euthanasia and assisted suicide. There is nothing to be found in the law of Mars or Earth to warrant the expansion of the doctrine from its limited scope in end of life care to the far different arena of consumer oxygen subscriptions.

While Appellant’s argument for “oxygen rights” under natural law is specious and quite radical, there is nevertheless a duty on the part of the oxygen provider never to allow a lapse in oxygen. The proper legal recourse against an oxygen debtor is in the civil courts, not through termination of the debtor’s oxygen supply. For this reason I respectfully DISSENT.

~

Bio:

Owen G. Tabard is a life-long fan of speculative fiction and also has long had an interest in speculative philosophy. He lives with his family in South Florida. His blog may be found at http://owengtabard.blogspot.com

Philosophy Note:

One of the problems of human rights we face today is the extension of rights into the realm of necessities of life, a problem which pits economic considerations against the more fundamental concerns of human dignity, and which would likely present itself all the more acutely in the context of a human settlement on a planet inherently hostile to life. For a good discussion of an analogous subject, see: Adams, Kristen David (2009) “Do We Need a Right to Housing?,” Nevada Law Journal: Vol. 9 : Iss. 2, Article 3. Available at: https://scholars.law.unlv.edu/nlj/vol9/iss2/3

The Update

by E. E. King

Mary looked down on her body draped like a wrung-out towel across the bed. So, this was it. She’d been right. The inevitable ending was followed by a new beginning. Birth, death, and now the next step in the eternal circle, heaven.  Not that she had ever doubted… still.

A knock on the door almost startled Mary back into her body. The sound radiating through both the physical and ethereal plain. Some Pavlovian urge drew her towards the doorknob. She extended her hand. It passed through the knob. The door vanished leaving instead of her familiar hallway, only a cool grey mist that might be concealing a wall, or a hole, or the entryway to paradise. Because there was no doubt that that was where Mary was headed.

Seventy years ago, Mary had founded The Order of the Compassionate Sisters of Continual Exertion. She’d started non-profit orphanages in all corners and some fringes of the world. She had stopped two wars and won three Nobel Peace Prizes. The cloudy corners of her ghostly mouth curled upwards in a smoky smile at the memory of a life well-lived.

An elegant stranger emerged from the mist, or maybe the mist congealed into an elegant stranger, it was difficult to say. He was tall, thin, and dressed in a well-tailored black satin suit. His nose was fine, his eyes were darkly fringed, deep smoky, swirling tunnels into eternity. His teeth were perfect, white, and slightly pointy.

“Welcome.” The stranger extended a perfectly manicured, pale hand to Mary. She took it, though this man was not what she’d expected God or any of his angels to resemble.

As soon as the lucent tips of her fingers touched his, fire shot through her. Her body may have been dead, but her pain centers appeared to be just fine. She screamed and dropped his hand, or tried to, but her ghostly fingertips had melted into his. Flames opened up around them.

“But- but – but” protested Mary. “I have lived a good life. I have selflessly given to others asking no reward…”

Good,” said the stranger. “Because you aren’t going to be given any.”

“But if there’s a hell,” Mary began.

“There’s a heaven,” finished the stranger.

“And if there’s a heaven surely I…”  Mary thought back to the time she’d joined with a group of girls in seventh grade to mock Sara Shelley. They had circled Sara, hitting their hands together and chanting, “Smelly Shelley, Smelly Shelly,” until she’d cried. Mary felt terrible but afraid. She’d wanted to be accepted. The girls might turn on her if she defied them. Then there was the time she’d slapped her baby brother because he wouldn’t stop crying. Mary had been two. Surely The Lord wouldn’t judge so harshly? Surely He wouldn’t sentence her to eternal damnation for some childhood peccadillos?

“Your life has, as you say, been exemplary,” said the stranger. “If that was all there was to consider, you would most certainly qualify.”

So there was more to consider. Maybe there was the truth of the heart? Maybe every time she’d inwardly rolled her eyes, or considered someone inferior, she had earned a demerit in the book of judgment. When she’d basked in praise or forgotten to recognize an assistant’s assistance. When she’d thought herself superior …? But if God was so harsh, who would be allowed in?

“Do you remember this?” The stranger reached down for the cellphone lying on Mary’s bedside table.

“What?” gasped Mary, whose hand was still burning.

“When you updated your phone, you agreed to abide by our bargain.” The stranger scrolled through pages of minute print.

“Is this your checkmark?”

“Yes, but…”

“Look,” the stranger expanded a paragraph buried in the middle of page six.

By installing update Hades2 on my phone I agree to sell my soul to the devil.

“But,” cried Mary. “That’s not fair. No one reads those!”

“And no one,” said the stranger as the floor dropped down into a circle of all-consuming flame, “is going to heaven.”

~

Bio:

E.E. King is a painter, performer, writer, and biologist. She’ll do anything that won’t pay the bills, especially if it involves animals. Check out paintings, writing, musings and books at: www.elizabetheveking.com and amazon.com/author/eeking

Should Murder Be Legalized?

by Carlton Herzog

INTELLIGENCE SQUARED DEBATE, August 21, 2064

QUESTION: SHOULD MURDER BE LEGALIZED?

Arguing for the motion, Carlton Herzog, Professor Emeritus, Miskatonic Institute for Social Philosophy.

Arguing against the motion, Cardinal Clarence Dowd, Vatican Institute for Social Justice.

Moderator: “Gentlemen, please proceed with your opening statements.”

Professor Herzog: “Black’s Law Dictionary defines murder as the unlawful killing of one person by another. One must infer from such a definition that prohibitions against killing are situational rather than absolute. Voltaire famously said, ‘all murderers are punished unless they kill in large numbers and to the sound of trumpets.’”  

“Voltaire implied that humans have been hardwired to embrace mass killing. To confirm that truth, one need only follow the Darwinian vapor trails streaming behind the brutal blood-soaked killing fields of modern warfare to the penumbral days of our ruthless, often cannibalistic, ancestors.”

Cardinal Dowd: “All life is God given and therefore sacred. To deny that truth is to condemn mankind to a life of butchery and madness.”

Professor Herzog: “The prohibition against murder rests on the legal fiction that killing is wrong. That fiction does not enjoy the same inviolable status as physical constants, such as the force of gravity and the speed of light.”

“We live in a nation where the national pastime is mass murder. Does my venerable adversary forget that the United States dropped two nuclear bombs on Japan, firebombed Dresden, and carpet-bombed North Vietnamese civilians? If life be sacred, then how does he explain half a million souls dying in the American Civil War, fifteen million in World War I, and another fifty million in World War II. Let us not forget the Rwandan and Serbian genocides, the two Iraq wars, and the Syrian civil war.  Killing is as American as apple pie whether it be by school shooters, gang members, abortion clinics, or Kevorkians. Killing is baked into American DNA.”

Cardinal Dowd: “Our debate tonight focuses on the legalization of murder by private citizens, and not the justifications or lack thereof for armed conflict. To grant all your citizens the right to use deadly force for good reason or no reason flies in the face of common sense. Look no further than Chicago’s inner city with its poverty and gang violence to see the fruits of unrestrained lethal behavior. The area has fragmented into warring tribes trapped in a never-ending cycle of retribution.”

Professor Herzog: “Then what of MAD, or mutually assured destruction, employed by nuclear states. The fear of an equally devastating retaliation from the target has kept the nuclear peace for 75 years. The desire to kill one’s enemies is balanced by the fear of being killed in kind. Therefore, the practical benefit of a homicidal society would be a massive reduction in military spending. Only a nation of suicidal fools would dare attack America.”

Cardinal Dowd: “Legalized murder cheapens human life, reduces people to things, and insults God.”

Professor Herzog: “When potential victims can sidestep a police investigation and a lengthy legal process to mete out speedy justice, potential criminals have a powerful incentive not to offend. Further, the assertion that God is offended by killing is palpably absurd.  The Abrahamic God was more than willing to eradicate all of humanity with the Flood, the righteous and the wicked alike, including children. In Revelations, He promises to do the same with fire. In between those two divine apocalypses, lies the rampages of God’s genocidal bagmen Joshua and Moses. Their conversion methodology relied heavily on the mass extermination of entire populations including their domesticated animals. It is that same hideous morality that informed the butchery of the Islamic conquest, the Mongol Invasion, the Mayan death cult, and ultimately the Soviet gulags.”

Cardinal Dowd: “I commend the Professor on his artful logic. But it is insensitive to the essential dignity of man as a creature fashioned in the image of a loving God. To be sure, the fragile clay of human nature lends itself to perversions of the most heinous kind. Yet, it also produces, if not murdered in its sleep, the most beautiful and profound things.  It is as, the great Abraham Lincoln once said, we must cultivate “the angels of our better nature” and not be led astray by our inner devils.”

Professor Herzog: “when I look in the mirror, or at another man, I do not see the angelic. Instead, I see the stamp of an irrevocable expiration date. To paraphrase Shakespeare’s Macbeth, life is an exercise in futility, a tale of sound and fury told by an idiot who struts and frets upon the stage and is seen and heard no more.” 

“If that nihilistic arc seems extreme and inhumane, then it would be well to consider that at bottom man is 90% water and two dollars-worth of drug store chemicals. Those chemicals combine to produce cells, 90% of which belong to non-human organisms, such as bacteria, fungi, and viruses. Indeed, when the ontological drill bores deeper, it finds that human existence is a haphazard temporary organization of molecules. In the grand scheme of things, one human killing another is merely the shifting of electrons from a coherent phase state to one more chaotic and open-ended. To borrow from Empedocles, ‘Already have [we] been a boy and a girl. A bush and a bird, and a silent fish in the sea.’”

“Let us give Darwin his due. Genetically, our closest common ancestor is the murderous, sometimes cannibalistic chimpanzee. That we are not a consistently reasoning animal, that our heads contain dark animal impulses, and that our brains are imperfect instruments should come as no surprise. The shadow of our checkered evolutionary past often falls and elongates over our so-called civilized lives. For despite our trousers and phones, we remain beasts of the dark woods and caves.  The hairy and elongated canines may have shrunk, the screeches and ululations may have given over to language, and ballistic fecal matter may be a thing of the past, but we remain intimately tied by our very chromosomes to those voiceless souls we cage and medically exploit.  We treat them as meaningless nobodies. What then is the great truth that elevates our worth over theirs other than the strong dominate and exploit the weak?”

Cardinal Dowd: “I cannot share your dim view of life as an exercise in futility.  Even if one accepts the rather demoralizing truth of evolution, one can marvel at how far we have come from the simple single-celled organisms that floated in the primordial sea. We became fish, and those fish grew legs and walked on land, and later evolved into primates going on all fours. Then we walked upright and looked to the horizon of our possibilities. Now we have walked on the moon and Mars. I submit that those are far from nothing. They are everything.”

Professor Herzog: “At the most fundamental level, killing is the driver of evolution, helping to eliminate suspect adaptations from the gene pool. With the advent of agricultural abundance and medical technology, humans in the more advanced nations have grown soft. The civilized demographic is addicted to passive entertainment. We have become nations of lookers, watchers, gawkers, and spectators whose life experiences are vicarious thrills obtained through digital feeds. Compounding the matter is the infantilizing effects of intrusive paternalistic governments that insist on protecting the citizenry from itself.”

“Lacking any real existential challenges, our so-called civilized man is devolving into a bipedal jellyfish, lacking the grit and spine of his hardier ancestors. In short, civilized man has no skin in the game of his own existence. He has become a vain decadent thing with an undeserved sense of entitlement. It is that lack of any real humility and perspective that accounts for his wanton disregard for the environment and contempt for nature.”

“Legalizing murder vaccinates the public against the disease of apathy and self-satisfaction. Man’s greatest achievements have occurred when the risks were greatest, and the outcomes were uncertain. To legalize murder is repurpose lethal killing into a focused driver of human evolution and enduring achievement. Survival is that much sweeter when it is earned by dint of our evolved cunning and intelligence, rather than a guaranteed government hand-out.”

Cardinal Dowd: “I am sad that you have such little regard for your own kind. It must truly horrible to be a self-loathing human. I must wonder what childhood trauma caused such a twist in your personality.”

Professor Herzog: “Ad hominem attacks on me, couched in pseudo psychology cannot hide the truth that legalizing murder would be an economic boon.  First, it would relieve the overburdened criminal justice system of investigating capitol cases and housing offenders for life while their appeals drag on for decades. Second, a state licensed and taxed murder for hire industry would contribute enormously to government coffers. Third, the legalization of murder would spawn any number of new businesses:  murder insurance, corpse disposal, murder protection academies, and deadly arts academies. Finally, the dagger, explosives, gun and poison industries would enjoy a long-awaited rebirth.”

Cardinal Dowd: “Your argument makes as much sense as sawing the portion of tree limb between where you are sitting and the trunk.  What do you suppose will happen when corporate heads, doctors, and lawyers wind up at the end of a loaded gun barrel? The day-to-day operation of society would ground to a halt without their coordinating and essential influences. What is to stop a would-be murderer from strolling into an operating room and executing the entire team during an operation?  Or a disgruntled air traveler from stabbing a pilot, an irate felon from strangling a judge?  If murder be legal, then it makes little sense to outlaw any lesser offense.  The nominal benefits flowing from the increased commercial traffic would be more than offset by the rampant chaos. You seem to forget that group cohesion. and other eusocial behaviors are the driving force behind the rise of civilization. If man had opted for killing members of his group, there would have been no one to hunt or gather food, or care for children. Cooperation, the very glue of civilization, would cease to hold things together.”

“I cannot accept the premise that no natural constraints on lethal conduct exist outside man made law. Most mammals operate in groups, from wolves to whales, elephants to chimpanzees.  Rarely, if ever do members of the same animal group murder one another, however ferocious their interpersonal combat for dominance make take. Foraging and hunting are a collaborative effort. If we accept as true your premise that we live in coldly indifferent and random universe, then carving out a modicum of certainty in human affairs is paramount to our personal and collective sanity. If individuals can only feel secure when they sleep with one eye open, pistol in hand, then paranoia and schizophrenia will be the hallmarks of the human condition.”

Professor Herzog: “In an ideal world, there would be no need to legalize murder. But man is still very much a prisoner of his aggressive animality. Until his emotional architecture attains equilibrium with his intellect, he must find a way to redirect his inescapable lethal impulses along more constructive lines. In his Civilization and its Discontents, Doctor Freud observed that laws forbidding man’s primitive desire to kill give rise to discontent and mental illness. Though shackled, such desires do not evaporate but manifest in the more accepted practice of war. To legalize murder is to offer society an alternative to global conflict and eventual extinction.”

“The Cardinal wrongly assumes this is a moral issue in an amoral world.  Rather it is the application of Trolley Problem Logic where priority is given to the needs of the many over the needs of the one or the few. It is the same social arithmetic that decides who gets in the lifeboat first, who goes to war and who stays behind.”

Moderator: “That concludes our debate. Those who want murder legalized should press one on their pads, those who do not press two.”

~

Bio:

Carlton Herzog served as a flight dispatcher in the USAF. He later graduated magna cum laude from Rutgers University. He also graduated from Rutgers Law School, where he served as the Rutgers Law Review Articles Editor. He currently works for the federal government. This is his fourth appearance in Sci Phi Journal.

Killing Death

by Carlton Herzog

The ability to defy aging and death has become a reality in our time. Now we no longer fear a hideous decay and decrepitude. Nor do we picture a pointless afterlife of singing Hosannas to a god of dubious virtue.

But even as the universe giveth, it taketh away. Where it extends the lives of the aged, it must surely deprive the unborn generations of theirs. The question then becomes how long should the young let the aged live before forcing them to their graves?

In Nekros v. U.S. the high court was asked to address that very question through the prism of the First Amendment. That Amendment both prohibits Congress from promoting one religion over another (Establishment Clause) and restricting an individual’s religious practices (Free Expression Clause).

BACKGROUND

On March 25, 2035, Google perfected Project Calico, which had a mandate to kill death and stop aging. It did so with pico-electric nanites injected into the subject’s blood stream. The nanites cured illness, stopped aging, and extended life indefinitely for anyone so treated. Death by natural causes ceased to exist for those who could afford it.

To ease the financial burden on nanite candidates, western governments stepped in with subsidies. That was a necessary step since the initial injection and annual follow-ups were beyond the means of most people.

Unfortunately, life extension did more harm than good. First, the number of global births began to exceed the number of deaths. With more mouths than food to go around, global food shortages became the norm. Second, the elderly clung to their jobs leaving younger people unemployed, and therefore, an added societal burden. Third, the cost of government subsidized life extension crushed economic growth in the developed nations. Fourth, the collection of retirement benefits far beyond what was once a normal lifespan wreaked havoc on corporations. Finally, there was an uptick in crime and other deviant behavior associated with the amortal demographic. Psychologists attributed it to an overweening sense of invincibility coupled with an inexplicable decline in impulse control.

Social philosophers and economists wrestled with the question of how long is long enough?  Politicians asked the same question. On May 25, 2050, both Houses of Congress passed the Mandatory Euthanasia Act which capped life spans at 150 years old. Regardless of a person’s overall physical and mental health, once a person had passed the chronological red line, they were ordered to report via the Selective Euthanasia Service to a Federal Termination Unit for painless and otherwise humane liquidation.

Many pundits believed that the impact of ageless living on the world’s religions, particularly those with pie-in the sky visions of an afterlife, would be terminal. To the contrary, religions of all dominations experienced explosive growth directly correlated with the enactment of the MEA.

The reason for such a radical sea change lay in the Constitution. Many religionists believed that the First Amendment protected their right to practice their religion in perpetuity on earth. The lower courts disagreed on the ground that the religious doctrines in question did not mandate earthly life in perpetuity. Instead, it stressed that all the doctrines in question characterized earthly life of secondary importance relative to the greater heavenly reality to follow.

To circumvent that obstacle, K.C. Braddock formed the Church of the Everlasting Earthly Flame. Its central tenet was that God promised eternal earthly life to any and all who sought it.

Harlan Nekros, age 149, joined the congregation that year fully expecting to receive First Amendment Protection of his religious freedom to remain alive indefinitely. 

On his 150th birthday, Nekros received his order to report within one year to a termination facility in fulfillment of his societal obligation. He subsequently obtained a temporary restraining order in Federal District Court to stay the process pending a hearing. 

At the hearing, Pepper’s lawyers argued that Nekros’s rights would be violated by the Court’s enforcement of the MEA. As a congregant of Everlasting Flame, Nekros was entitled to preserve his life by whatever means were available. To order his termination, the State would be committing a crime against his person and his constitutionally protected right to free exercise of religion.

Nekros’ lawyers stressed that “the State’s law is just another example of a callous and godless government running roughshod over human life and the religious rights of believers. Drunk with power, the State argues unconvincingly that forced suicide is a curative to modern medical paternalism.”

For its part, the United States Attorney argued that, “the net effect of Project Calico’s so-called success is that federal, state and local governments have been handed the crushing economic burden of medical treatments and retirement benefits extended into perpetuity for a growing population of geriatrics. Climate change, and the concomitant scarcity of food and water, have made those burdens exponentially greater.”

“Such extreme hardships call for extreme measures if our republic is to hold together. As in war, some members of society must be sacrificed so that the greater whole may survive. It is disingenuous for opposing counsel to argue that the State lacks an adequate moral foundation for the law and is simply acting in arbitrary and capricious manner in derogation of the petitioner’s liberty and religious interests.”

The Federal Court for the Southern District of New York ruled that MEA violated the petitioner’s free exercise of religion. It ordered the suppression of the State’s termination order pending an appeal.

NEKROS v. U.S.

The United States Supreme Court granted a writ of certiorari to determine the constitutionality of the Federal Life-Time Limits set forth in the MEA statute. The major points of that opinion follow:       

FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION

Nekros’ strongest line of attack lies in the First Amendment’s protection of religious freedom. We reject that argument. The State does not deny appellant’s right to believe whatever doctrine he chooses. Indeed, the State’s motivation in enforcing the MEA is a secular one and does not make any religious practice unlawful. The State is not acting as the thought police, nor the guardian of any one religion. The appellant remains the master of his own mind and soul and is therefore free to pursue whatever religious truth he sees fit to follow.

ESTABLISHMENT CLAUSE

If we were to grant exemptions to Eternal Flame congregants, we would be violating the Establishment Clause by giving preferences to those who believe they are entitled to an eternal earthly life at the expense of other religions that do not so believe.

DUE PROCESS

The due process clauses of the constitution act against the arbitrary denial of life, liberty or property outside the sanction of law. There is nothing arbitrary or unsanctioned about the MEA. It is based on the need to reduce domestic population in order to conserve financial and material resources in both the private and public sector. It was enacted with the unanimous consent of both Houses of Congress and ratified by the President. We find therefore that the MEA does not offend the due process clauses.

EQUAL PROTECTION

Nekros argued that irrespective of any due process considerations, the MEA violates the Equal Protection Clause which holds that ‘No state shall deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.’ Nekros asserts that persons over the age of 150 years old are being singled out for disfavored treatment relative to the rest of the public. We find this challenge to be without merit. At first blush, senicide, or selective eradication based on age, would seem to offend the right to equal protection under the law. But since all citizens fall within the sweep of the statute, we can find no basis for a claim of differential treatment under the law.

RIGHT OF PRIVACY

Nekros also argues that penumbra of the constitution creates a fundamental right to privacy, and by implication a right of self-determination. To support that argument, Nekros has provided a laundry list of case law bearing on a woman’s right to abortion, assisted suicide for the terminally ill patients, and fulfillment of DNR orders in living wills. Nekros would have us extend that right of self-determination so that he may lead an ageless existence in perpetuity irrespective of the law of the land. We find such case law distinguishable from the one at hand because there was no countervailing state interest in regulating population control. In these difficult times, we must all make hard choices. As the District court noted, the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one or the few.  

DOCTOR FRANKENSTEIN’S MONSTERS

We take judicial notice of the State’s statistical data regarding the well-documented criminality and malicious deviance of the ageless. To date, there have been more deaths from their wanton and reckless geriatric behavior than from all other domestic causes combined.  

That precipitous decline in personal and societal risk assessment, as reflected in those jarring statistics, stems from an unforeseen limitation of nanation. Although the nanation process may preserve cognitive and bodily function, it cannot preserve emotional intelligence. To the contrary, the effect of an extremely long and healthy life imbues the individual with a sense of invincibility, while simultaneously degrading impulse control. The medical community describes this effect as Toxic Centenarian Deviancy Syndrome. To date, there is neither a treatment nor a cure.

We hold therefore that Nekros’ constitutional challenges are without merit. We order that Nekros be remanded back to federal custody for termination within the next six months, pursuant to the original liquidation order.

JUSTICE WILBUR BAKER, DISSENTING

I am disgusted by the social arithmetic used by the majority. I do not believe that such an algorithm is good for society. Indeed, the notion that the State has the unfettered right to murder its citizens for no other reason than they have escaped death by old age is palpably absurd. Indeed, it reeks of both Hitler’s death camps where Jews were exterminated because they were characterized as morally flawed and Stalin’s pogroms against his own troops because they had been contaminated by exposure to western values at the front.

Not surprisingly, Hitler’s views on genocide — for what is the systematic extermination of an outcast group if not that — took their inspiration from our sterilization laws so popular in the 1920’s. Those laws aimed to eradicate the unfit and the degenerate: criminals, prostitutes, alcoholics, epileptics and the mentally ill. 

I find it disingenuous for the majority to assert that a person is free to believe whatever they like up until the moment the state lops off his or her head. It reminds one of the turkey’s fate on Thanksgiving Day following a few years of placid existence on the farm.

What the state, with the imprimatur of the courts has done, is criminalize long life but without the procedural and substantive protections afforded any accused criminal. It follows in the vein of other authoritarian regimes that have criminalized such things as reading, writing, and transporting books as well as composing and playing music. I must ask what comes next.

Given the State’s willingness to commit legally sanctioned murder, and its propensity to expand its reach, I should not be surprised if it concocts another law that violates both the spirit and letter of our sacred constitution. Thus, do we slouch toward tyranny and the genocides necessary to sustain it with a wink and a nod to the Founding Fathers.

I therefore respectfully dissent from the majority opinion.

~

Bio:

Carlton Herzog served as a flight dispatcher in the USAF. He later graduated magna cum laude from Rutgers University. He also graduated from Rutgers Law School, where he served as the Rutgers Law Review Articles Editor. He currently works for the federal government.