5. Where the touch fails, the public will fail as well

Eight souls visited the evening sermon of the old medieval church of the county capital. Here was another sport, a team-play of the spirit, that fought against dwindling gates. No wonder, given the language spoken from the pulpit; if Harry had addressed his electors that way, they would have scattered like quail in all directions. Failing touch quite obviously was the central problem. Jenny glanced furtively at him, noted his crown of thorns, whispered: 'Come on. Let's go.'
Harry shook his head and pressed the crown harder. 'Let me suffer for another five minutes. I don't want to be faint-hearted: in here you qualify by suffering. If you had your sausage in one place, I should have my wafer in the other.'
Once upon a time the nation had compared its faith to 'a mighty castle' and named its god 'a safe weapon'; cannon rumble and mighty bronze peal had been natural ingredients of religious language. All this dated back to a time when the Word had been preached, and the Word had preached itself. Now such things belonged to the past, and there was no reason to regret that; as far as Harry was concerned the Småland cavalry could rest in peace in its battle-fields. They had been paid off at Munich, there was no outstanding debt. On the other hand the same language had been re-usable later on in history, when the underclass (the old cavalry in a new shape) had pleaded for decent overtime compensation; then again cannon rumble and bronze peal had been tuned to the particular message. It was even tempting to presuppose that this was the joint essence of religious and political language: cannon rumble and mighty bronze peal. Thus, as a politician Harry was connected with the origin of rumbling and pealing language in more or less direct line; he expected some particular tone of voice where the gospel was preached from a pulpit.
From this observation it is possible to proceed to a general conclusion: The intelligence of a people - not its degree, for all experience shows that races and cultures share the same original intelligence mutation - the nature of the particular intelligence of a people can be measured from the particular words, the particular phrases it uses to paint experience and idea. A belligerent people had rumbled in battlefield language and rung the storm-bell when invoking its god; in the same context a footballish people could be expected to show off by quick chip passes and the markedly philosophical perspective on existence, that distinguishes the true lover of soccer. Therefore, if you weren't offered the safe weapon in the mighty castle when you went to church, it was reasonable to expect at least to meet the superior midfield strategist of the premier league, while imaginary scents from sweaty feet and liniment soared like angels to the cross vaults.
But here, for an eon of ten minutes: the syntax and the logics of a prostitute, masking the true nature of her game. The religious thing was about penetration, transcendence, could never be reduced to petting the god and his son. Harry felt a slight indisposition: the honey of faith snapped away before his nose, replaced by the sugar water offered to hibernating bees! Was this valid religious language of the moment, and by that maybe the future language of politics as well? (Hadn't he already heard similar strains from the liberal camp?)

If the municipal councillor ever started out by saying: I am not, one possible follow-up might be: a religious man. The statement need not be true, still it had some probability of being uttered, if only prematurely. This did not mean that religion was discarded in every place and for good: if you looked around yourself in the world it was evident, that the foreign policy of America departed from solid religious principles, and this state of things was likely to prevail. The closer you came to the fundamental building-stones of the global society, however, the more the aura of religion faded; it had little to contribute when it came to water supply, sewage cleaning or waste disposal, even the cleaning of flue gas from crematoria and the task of protecting groundwater under cemeteries had been transferred to municipalities. The general historical shift of emphasis from symbolical to practical waste management hadn't agreed well with religion. Faith was a museum piece, ballast from old times, still weighing down the pack with suspicious material. Human freedom was postponed into some distant future, there were some unhealthy formulae for fraternity. In politics it was a skeleton in the cupboard. But this insight was not enough to make him oppose or even combat religion in an active way. Part and parcel of the secularised way was an indolent tolerance, holding out the prospect of live and let live, but when it came to it boiling down to a silent wish, that something would finally retire and dissolve into nothingness. He was firmly convinced - and he was probably right there - that indolent tolerance was a more effective crusade against religion than all anti-clerical and anti-confessional efforts. The way things were ignored or just wing-clipped was an important part of their neutralization: overzealous measures created vacuum and counterreaction. In Harry's society there was a kind of religion, surviving as non-religion. This state of things was highly satisfactory, the correct way of removing opponents or competitors from the agenda.
One day he realised that it was not only her sporadic and poorly salaried occupation as repairer of architecture and paintings that brought his sister to temples. Their arches and pillars spanned over something that she listened out and recorded, something that had resonance inside of her; she soaked up echoes of past time in these very special spaces. In her case it couldn't be about distant cannon-rumble and bronze-peal, he knew her that well. After the first surprise he said to himself: She is of age, she has a right to think and do whatever is rewarding for her. (The indolent tolerance strategy). In his own mind there was no experience nestling under vaults and Roman arches. If there was for Jenny, had he become alienated from his twin sister? This thought made him gradually abandon indolent tolerance: he could reconcile himself to being separated from her by mountains and oceans, but when it came to the constitution of mind there should at least be dialogue between them. A secret, internal division, presenting itself without his knowledge, was more than he could accept. He settled for the talking strategy (after all it was a family matter) and began disputing matters of faith with her whenever there was an opportunity. She took the gift the way it was given, saw the motive and was able to appreciate the silent sacrifice: that he volunteered to play all matches away. Harry Jönsson didn't care one bit about religion, it was completely alien to him. He was a candidate for saying: 'I am not a religious man.'
'Think of Münzer', he said when they emerged from the church, 'he had an audience of two thousand in Allstedt, and the town only had a thousand inhabitants. The time is ripe for a new reformation. There is something amiss with the language spoken in there, it no longer has any bearing on anything, and least of all on religion. We lost the Word when we were pacified, became a peaceful nation.'
She didn't ask: Who is Münzer? or: How do you know about Münzer? (Münzer was the municipal councillor among religious reformers). Instead she said: 'You mean: unlike the language of politics.'
He stopped and glowered at her. 'I mean nothing.'
'But Harry.'
'Of course I mean something. When I give some sort of promise, it is covered inside me. If there is cover on the inside, it is a simple thing to transform a promise into action - at least there is hope for action. In the church you must be a carrier of the Word, audible and visible to everyone. If you succeed in that, it's a piece of cake to transsubstantiate into cash. That man had no Word at all, so he couldn't do this trick.'
'Let's pray that you won't have to share his fate in politics: losing the Word.'
Suddenly Harry felt as if he was under attack, and he thought: She has done this: come from the other side of the earth just in order to settle accounts, it is the final settlement. He still couldn't see where the attack aimed, but from general fortificatory principles he decided not to show his positions too much in detail. He looked firmly at her and lectured: 'You do not learn these things. The vocation is important. Everyone knows when his or her words are covered.'
Adding after a pause, as a challenge: 'On my part I do not doubt my municipal vocation.'

The church was the apple of her eye, it could have been beautiful. Its nave was wedged in between bank palaces and office blocks, and the whole, the temple, would have been annihilated by its setting had not the tower stuck out like a periscope over surrounding roofs. On the inside it called to mind a whitened urinal; the interior of an old Hanseatic brick dome shouldn't look exactly that way. The net result was an accomplished rape of the kind that marked the entry of Dorian conquerors into the land of the Mother Goddess; for a final violation the church had been stowed away in the backyard of the Riksbank. Jenny passed her hand over the brick-wall to give and take comfort, and Harry nodded with empathy. Arriving at the narthex was like meeting a chained gorilla bathing in its excrement in a circus wagon. But who was likely to produce one krona in order to create space and light around this building, or rather perhaps: in order to wrap it up in a decent way, when needs were so pressing in the fields of childcare and healthcare and eldercare? (Hadn't all these cares been neglected once in the building of it, and wasn't there some divine punishment for such neglect?) Capital was there to be used, transformed into function. In one way it was almost scandalous that the surrounding construction had been forced to a halt, as if confronted with a taboo, a stop-sign. The radical move would have been to merge the building with its environment, furnish it with a protective cover of glass arcades and sheet metal. A protection against the tooth of time, as it were. Next the logical thing would be to assign it some new function.
He thought this defiantly, furiously. Part of his role was to think that way, he was expected to do that. But actually, there was no need for worry in this case, the old Hanseatic dome wasn't his baby.
'It was selfish of me to drag you here', Jenny said. 'I just wanted to say hello to her.'
This excuse shouldn't be taken at face value. 'Ah', Harry answered. 'No harm if we try to make the heathens tremble a little. I will accompany you, whenever you want to. If it's still there. You never know what they are likely to hit upon when it gets too expensive to manage. Maybe it'll become privatised. Next they'll open up a candy store in the crypt. Or a bank office. Then we'll evict the mongers from the temple, you and I, Jenny.'
For a finish, to counter her poor excuse and negate his offer: 'Or a brothel. Or bowling alleys. That's where the crowds are, that's where the money is. Bowling alleys: each skittle one amendment to be struck down, according to secular logics.'
'You are in a creative mood today.'
'Inspiration from above.'

It should be evident by now: the municipal councillor didn't belong in the camp that discards the pushy and noisy present, everything that is world and mass and consumption, as triviality and nothingness. He might tend in that direction in his dark hours, but in the bright ones he always gave the benefit of a doubt. Could the matter be decided once and for all, so that no new doubts set in? Maybe you had to make a choice: you either turned a deaf ear to the world and cultivated your spleen, or you were morally bound to listen for message in the noise, look for sign, for pattern in the boiling surface. He had chosen to live with eyes and ears open, but he was never certain of what he saw and heard, above all he never knew if he was too generous in his interpretations. Cause and effect could easily be understood where neither existed, in particular where pointers were offered, small hints in the chain of events. A football player touched the ball with his hand, scoring by this violation of rules, and the referee allowed the goal, afterwards the culprit washed his hands and asserted that some Higher hand had sent the ball into the mesh.
'Well, well', the municipal councillor said, 'in old times the referee might act as twelfth player, now Our Lord himself has a finger in the pie. If so, it's only fair that he gets credit in the scoring protocol. But who should be credited own goals when he is involved? Should he have them, too, or should they be placed to the Devil's account?'
In ancient time the divine hand had been important, compelling, when appearing from the depths of the sea, pointing from the sky. It made things right, complied with deep, long-cherished wishes. But here, in the both unexpected and typical hybrid between sports and religion: was it any more than trivial? The municipal councillor twisted and turned the event, still uncertain as to the weight of the message. The roads of God and football remained unfathomable, even more so when they intersected. If he himself was to have one wish, the hand from the sky would have sought out some other pitch and sent another kind of ball into its goal. What an ally he would have if the divine finger could be mobilised for a couple of necessary reforms, that stuck in the political mill! Unfortunately his influence with the instance that bred the trivial and wondrous myths of contemporary time was nonexistent, he didn't even know the address. At least it couldn't be found in the yellow pages.
'Do you have anything going on yourself?'.
'It wouldn't be a lie to say that I have', the councillor answered. 'But it's not ripe for public eyes and ears, yet.'
'You are surrounded by a particular silence when you've got something going on. Do you know that?'
'For strictly practical reasons.'
'Thicker and blacker than usual this time. It's something unusual, something that charges you, in a way.'
He shook his head. 'Don't harass me. I will open the door when the time is ripe.'
To be on the safe side he changed the topic: 'What if they transform it into a mosque? Should we turn our backs then? As far as I can see Islam is the only creed with some active and functioning spirituality.'

16 kB, published 5.5.04, last corrected 2.4.05, 27.11.08.

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