by Erik Koht
Under the high dome, once the house of a giant optical telescope, the Master Realist, Valiant Guardian of the Repository of Facts, spoke to the assembled brothers and sisters of science. For this, his final sermon, he had chosen an essay on the theme: "Don't tell us what you believe, tell us what you know". Today the statement sounded almost absurd, placing fact above faith. In another age the phrase had served to admonish those that would deviate from the path of pure knowledge. As a warning it may not have worked, not even back then.
Through the twilight of evening and the haze of his failing eye sight, the aged Master surveyed the congregation down below. They were few, but they were all there, the paltry remnant of a once mighty movement. For this special day they had all donned their finest lab coats, glowing eerily white in the growing darkness. No one would wear a lab coat in public any more. "Come to think of it, you couldn't even buy one," the Master mused. Outside this hall people would wear vestments or robes. Gaudy things in red and gold for ordinary people, stark black for the higher-ups.
Having reached the end of the text, the Master descended from the lofty lectern and called the congregation to come closer. As they gathered about him for the ceremony of the oath, he could finally see their features clearly, proving to his eyes what his mind already knew. He saw bald men, some bent with age; white haired women, clutching canes, faces wrinkled, shapeless bodies under frayed lab coats. "As the movement died, so did its followers, all of natural causes," reflected the Master silently.
Together they recited the oath: "There is only one reality. With all the power of my being I shall seek knowledge so that reality can reveal its true nature to me. I shall assimilate truth, rejecting untruth, and share the joy of discoveries with all the peoples of the Earth. Reality is." Some remained silent, fearful of speaking such blasphemy out loud.
Thus ended the meeting. Some participants stepped forward to shake his hand in farewell. Most headed unceremoniously for the exit. Either way, no one lingered. In a minute the Master found himself alone under the great dome. On the vacated floor he could make out the holes left by the steel bolts that once anchored the mighty telescope. In days of yore, this dome had housed more than that pinnacle of engineering, it had also provided an ongoing work shop for men and women of science, gathering here by the hundreds. Together they had contributed in no small measure to humanity's pool of shared knowledge. Having been among the first of the great observatories, how fitting it should also be the last.
The power and influence that emanated from places such as this had long determined the way forward for mankind. Yet science, looking inward and outward, thinking long-range, fatally ignored the present. Thus it was hardly suited to respond to the cries of a world beset by problems that needed immediate attention and instant solutions. With time science grew secluded, abstract, and was able to provide neither sustenance nor solace for those in need. That need grew daily. Scientific innovation evolved slowly, then ceased. All over the world faith-based communal efforts catered to the real needs of the masses. While scientists sent their ships to the stars, it was people of faith who kept the hungry from starving, who provided basic justice, basic education, basic health care. Outside the walled centres of academic learning there was a shift, first a trickle, then a torrent, as people turned toward faith-based thinking, faith-based logic. Though the scientists observed the trend, they did not comprehend the implications until it was too late. Maybe it was always too late.
Science lost the fight for hearts and minds, and thus also the struggle for money and human resources. For decades science had provided little of value even with huge resources at its disposal. It was logical that it would be able to provide even less when the extravagant funding ceased. Society turned its back on research. Besides, what else was there that needed our attention? The major riddles of life and the universe were all solved. Growth was no longer in demand. The World had sought equilibrium and had found it, provided by scripture. The faiths and religious orders had absorbed into their teachings all that science had to offer. God was universal, God was the universe. It behoves not mankind to pry into The Maker's physical presence but merely to worship in His eternal light. God is.
Except for the green glow of the exit sign, the hall now lay in complete darkness. The Master headed for the beckoning sign. Being long familiar with this terrain, he deftly avoided obstructions along the way. In his trouser pocket lay the archaic key, an odd object in this day and age. Yet the observatory gate was indeed fitted with a fully functional lock. There were no thieves, hence no need for locks. So they said. People just needed things. Things were displaced, borrowed, but not truly lost. People had needed the parts of the telescope and, bit by bit, carried them off, then the files, the furniture and fittings, now there was little left inside. So be it. At the gate he hesitated, should he lock it? Well, some child from the nearby housing estates might wander in to play, not knowing the danger. Tomorrow God's invincible fist was scheduled to demolish the building, turning it to dust. "So, better lock the gate this once," the Master decided.
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