from The Magic Pond and other fables
A visitor from another world landed on an unfamiliar planet – and the people of the planet gathered around to greet him.
The spidery legs of his ship touched the surface. His rocket engines ceased. A staircase unfolded. A door opened. He stepped out.
“Citizens of this unknown world,” he began, “I bring greetings from the people of – ”
“Hold on a second,” said the leader of the alien reception committee. “Could you stop right there? I must advise you that on this planet it is against our religion to make grand pronouncements.”
“What?” said the visitor.
“Well, it’s alright to say ‘Hello’ or ‘Good Morning’ or ‘How do you do’ – but you can’t be too grand about it. It’s against our religion.”
The visitor blushed. “I am so very sorry,” he replied. “I really had no idea. I have great respect for your religion, and I did not intend to cause offence.”
“That’s all right,” said the leader of the reception committee – struggling to control his temper. “Just so long as we understand each other.”
The visitor paused. “In the name of peace – ” he began.
”No,” said the leader. “Not in the name of anything. It’s against our religion.”
“Not in the name?”
“Not in the name. Ok?”
Meekly and silently the visitor descended the staircase. The alien crowd waved their many limbs, and smiled with their many mouths, and cheered with their many voices; and the visitor felt quite welcome – though he was a bit embarrassed about the breach of etiquette.
As his feet touched the ground his metabolic requirements were immediately evaluated and met by the aliens’ automatic metabolic requirement evaluation technologies.
“Why thank you,” said the visitor, “and now, if I may, I would like to formally present you with a token of eternal friendship from the people of – ”
“Just a moment,” said the leader of the reception committee. “It isn’t just grand pronouncements, you know. Our religion forbids the performance of any ritual whatsoever. After what happened, we really can’t tolerate any kind of ceremony, formal handing-over or award giving. After what happened, we decided we wouldn’t have them anymore.”
“No rituals?” said the visitor. “No formalities?”
“Not even when you land on a planet?”
“Not even when you win an award?”
“Not when you get married?”
“Not when you open a supermarket with a pair of scissors?”
“We know not of what you speak, obviously,” answered the leader. “But I shouldn’t think so. No.”
“After what happened?” repeated the visitor.
The visitor was speechless.
“And no speeches,” added the leader.
All the same, the visitor was issued with a gown – hurriedly adapted to his physique. And invited to join the aliens in an everyday meal that they were about to have anyway – at a table and on a chair which had been speedily transformed with a household furniture adjustment ray.
“Why, though completely unfamiliar to me, this food is delicious,” said the visitor. “And I must say, I’m very peckish after all these months of suspended animation. Tell me, where do you get these fruits?”
“From our fruit farms,” answered the aliens.
“And this bread?”
“From our bread factory,” they told him.
“And this drink?”
“It comes out of the tap,” they explained. “You do have taps in your world?”
“Oh yes,” he assured them. “But what kind of political system do you have here? Back home, we’ve got a supposed democracy . . . ”
“Excuse me,” said the leader. “It’s all right to talk about the food. And it’s all right to talk about your health. But it is against our religion to talk about politics when we’re eating. After what happened, if you want to talk about philosophy, politics, history or anything contentious, you have to get a permit and raise the subject at a supervised philosophy forum. Presuming, of course, that you are licensed to speak.”
“Licensed to speak?” asked the visitor.
“No, no, that’s politics,” said the leader.
“Philosophy!” chuckled the others.
“After what happened?”
“History!” everybody in the room reminded him.
The visitor was mute with astonishment.
Once they’d finished eating – and enjoyed a few minutes of sleeperization – followed by a blast from the refresherizor, the washerizor and the exercise beam – the visitor asked if he might be granted a temporary license to speak – and to attend one of their philosophy forums.
This was duly granted – for the aliens were as anxious as he to glean whatever wisdom they could about other worlds, as their technology was basic and they had yet to invent any vehicles at all (including the shoe).
“Well, I really feel I should open the discussion by congratulating you upon your religion,” said the visitor. “On my world we have many religions. We have our different beliefs, we have our different holy places, we have our different festivals and holy books. But we all have one very important thing in common . . . ”
“Hate to interrupt,” said the leader of the reception committee – who was also the chairman of the philosophy forum – “but I have to tell you that it is against our religion to discuss religion.”
“Eh?” said the visitor.
“Well, given its nature, there isn’t much point in discussing it, is there?”
“Uh?” said the visitor.
“Well, after what happened, we just thought it would be better if we never actually raised the subject again. We can believe what we like, but we never discuss it.”
The visitor’s mind reeled with incomprehension. “So where is your holy book?” he asked.
“There isn’t one.”
“So what are your prayers?”
“We don’t know.”
“And what about your hymns?”
“We don’t sing about it.”
“So how do you pass your faith on?”
The visitor paused. “So how do you express your spirituality?”
“I can’t tell you,” sighed the leader. “We’re not allowed to mention it. At all.”
“It is illegal to discuss religion?” repeated the visitor.
“It is blasphemous,” cautioned the leader. “After what happened.”
The visitor was quite appalled by this. He was a deeply religious visitor. He had very strong religious views, which he now found he couldn’t mention on his visit. He was so appalled that he jumped off his specially transformed furniture, out of his hastily adapted robes, and back up the stairs to his spaceship – and slammed the door.
“Oh don’t be like that,” cried the aliens. “Come on, show us your phone.”
“Won’t! Won’t! Won’t!” said the visitor. “You have offended my religious beliefs and I’m leaving your planet immediately!”
The ship took off – and he left their planet, immediately.
“After what happened . . . ” he cursed to himself. “After what happened? I’d like to know.”
And so he returned across the infinity of space to his distant home planet. (Or he would have – if it had still been there.)
Moral: Work it out.
© Adam Acidophilus 2015