by Chauncey Tinker – 6 Feb 2020
A small zurch in Blandoland
Once upon a time there was a country called Blandoland. The people of Blandoland were very peaceful and tolerant, and they were a happy lot. At some point newcomers started to arrive in the land, who practiced a religion that the Blandians were not familiar with, a religion called Zendoism. The Zendos’ deity was called Zend, the preachers were called Zams and their places of worship were called zurches. It was enshrined in the Constitution of Blandoland that all should be free to practice whatever religion they liked, and the Blandians welcomed the Zendos with open arms. Many admired the devotion with which the Zendos practiced their religion (many Blandians had become a little lackadaisical in their own religious worship, so many felt it was refreshing to see such religious devotion).
Bob was a Blandian who followed one of the longstanding religions that were practiced in Blandoland. Like so many Blandians, he too was happy to see more of the Zendos arriving, he particularly admired their beautiful prayer mats which they always carried with them wherever they went.
Things went well for a while, the various religions continued to get along, and interfaith meetings were held to re-affirm the friendships between them. One particular practice of the Zendos however began to cause a little tension, they began to regularly pray in the streets thereby blocking the traffic. The Blandians were perplexed by this behaviour, they were puzzled as to why the Zendos didn’t stick to praying in their zurches, and eventually traffic jams became so frequent that some of the Blandians began to protest against the street prayers. An interfaith committee decided to try and resolve the crisis, and they sent a delegation to arbitrate between the two sides. Bob was elected to lead the delegation, and they went to talk to a group of Zams. Bob asked the Zams why the Zendos kept praying in the streets and causing traffic jams, and the head Zam replied:
It is a part of our religion, we have to make a nuisance of ourselves among the non-believers, it is written in the scripture that we must do it.
Bob and the other members of the delegation were a bit taken aback by this, but immediately it was obvious to them that they could hardly object, since the Constitution of Blandoland specifically allowed the freedom of religious observance. The delegation consulted among themselves about how best to proceed. Concerned that the protests may have caused offence to the Zendos, the delegation decided that they would offer to help the Zendos by providing traffic policemen to direct the traffic around the worshippers whenever they wished to pray in the streets. The Zams then consulted among themselves and responded to the offer by saying:
We accept your offer of help from the traffic police, but really it would be easier if you simply closed the streets altogether when we wish to pray.
The delegation were again a little taken aback, they had imagined that their generous offer would be warmly accepted, and they thought that the Zams were being a little unhelpful, so the delegation tried to point out that the traffic jams were already a considerable problem and that if the roads were closed altogether the traffic jams would get even worse! The Zams did not seem terribly pleased to hear these objections, and the tone of the negotiations became noticeably less cordial. One of the Zams was visibly upset, he even seemed to be shaking with rage about the obstructiveness of the delegation. The head Zam eventually replied:
It seems as if the Blandians are becoming hostile towards our religion, we are very offended by your Zendophobia!
Seeing that the Zams were upset, the delegation quickly decided that there was only one sensible way forward, and that was to agree to the Zams’ demands. The roads would be closed whenever the Zendos wished to pray, it would be inconvenient but that was a price worth paying to maintain religious harmony in the land.
Things went back to normal for a while, but as time went by Bob started to notice that news articles were appearing occasionally which followed a rather disturbing pattern, where a Zendo would be found dead from cyanide poisoning. He was puzzled and rather troubled by these stories and so he plucked up the courage to ask a Zendo he had befriended, called Bill, what was behind them. Bill happily explained that the Zendos had a religious custom that whenever anyone tried to leave the Zendo religion a group of Zendos would get together and force the apostate to take a cyanide pill. Bill further explained that this was just a way of encouraging Zendos to stay with the religion, and that as it was a good deterrent it didn’t happen very often. Bob found this custom of the Zendos quite disturbing but he really couldn’t see a reason to object to it, after all it only affected members of the Zendo community, and it was a religious custom after all.
More time went by and Bob started to notice another disturbing trend in news articles. Blandian women were disappearing at intervals, and later it turned out that they had married Zendo men. Unfortunately due to the custom that the Zendo men had of confining their wives inside their houses and not allowing them to talk to anyone outside their families, it was impossible for Blandian journalists to interview the women to find out what had led to their conversion. Once again, Bob went to ask Bill about the phenomenon, and Bill replied:
Our religion requires that we must take 2 wives, and as there aren’t enough available women in our own community, we have to kidnap women from other religions and force them to convert to our religion. It is written in the scripture that we must do it.
Of course Bob might have had some objections to this, he was himself hoping to get married one day and as the number of young women available to marry was in decline he was becoming increasingly frustrated by the lack of opportunities. However once again he remembered that the Constitution of Blandoland allowed freedom of religious observance, and as it was a Zendo religious custom to kidnap women of other religions, he could hardly object.
Bob in truth was becoming quite depressed though, it really seemed as if life in Blandoland was just not as nice as it used to be. He hardly dared to blame the arrival of the Zendos for this change in things, for one thing there was a danger that he would be accused of being a racist Zendophobe, something that nobody wanted to be accused of. He began to go out less often, and moped around the house all day, and this morose behaviour disturbed his mother. She tried to encourage him to go out more to the clubs, but Bob complained that there were never any nice young women at the clubs any more, as they were afraid to go out at night for fear of being kidnapped.
Bob also began to notice yet another disturbing trend in news articles, there seemed to have been a significant increase in the murder rate. In the past the murder rate had been very low in Blandoland, and so Bob could not help but begin to wonder if yet again there might just possibly be some connection with the ever increasing numbers of Zendos in Blandoland. Once again he asked his helpful Zendo friend Bill if he had any clue about the cause of this phenomenon, and Bill replied:
Oh yes I thought everybody knew, it is written in our religious scripture that we must randomly murder an infidel every now and again. It helps to instill fear in the non-believers, and encourages other non-believers to convert to Zendoism as they know they will be safer with us. It also helps to reduce the numbers of non-believers a little, it’s a win-win. Those Zendos who carry out such acts of valour are known as Zendis.
As you can probably imagine, this revelation hardly improved Bob’s state of mind, and he began to spend even more time indoors, only now it was partly motivated out of fear for his own personal safety. Bob’s mother became increasingly exasperated by Bob’s depression and morose behaviour, but a thought had occurred to her that she put to her son:
You know it might make sense Bob if you thought about converting to Zendoism yourself, then you could probably get married and I could have those grandchildren that I always wanted. You wouldn’t have to worry about getting murdered when you went out any more either.
Bob could see the logic in what his mother was saying, but nonetheless he struggled with the idea. There were increasing numbers of things he was learning about the Zendo religion that made him feel uncomfortable, for example they had an idea that even very young girls of only 7 years old were old enough to get married, an idea that frankly appalled him. However as time went by he eventually overcame his reservations, after all there was simply no questioning the fact that the Zendo religion was becoming very popular, and nobody really wants to be on the losing side, do they?
Bob then finally took the plunge and became a Zendo, and he was welcomed with open arms by his fellow Zendos, and he began to wonder why he had ever questioned his mother’s suggestion. He was given the daughter of a Zam’s hand in marriage, a great honour which pleased him very much, and before long she was joined in his household by a freshly captured non-Zendo woman he had been able to purchase in the local market, which pleased him even more. Bob became quite fanatically observant and he even considered becoming a Zendi himself, as he had noticed that the Zendis were held in very high esteem by their fellow Zendos. He was a little troubled by the sight of blood however, but still he was thinking about it.
A little while later, Bob’s mother disappeared in mysterious circumstances. Bob mourned her loss for a while, but before long he overcame his grief, after all he had a new family now, many Zendo brothers, and two wives, and no doubt he would soon have Zendo children to take care of as well.
More time went by and eventually the Zendos became the majority in Blandoland. Once they had secured a majority in the parliament, they went ahead and amended the Constitution of Blandoland ever so slightly. The Constitution would still in time honoured fashion protect the freedom of religions, only from now on people would only be free to follow one religion, which of course would be the religion of Zendoism. All was now for Zend in Blandoland, and that was that.
[Postscript: The moral of this story I think is rather obvious, but still I suppose I had better spell it out for anyone who is in doubt. Freedom of religion only really works as long as the different religions that you welcome into your society do not encroach on the freedoms of the followers of other religions. Oh, and don’t be like Bob and the Blandians.]
What do you think? Did Bob make the right decision? Please leave a comment below.