18.The Visit

I took a mid-morning flight to Los Angeles. There was an old friend at Cal Tech whom I wanted to see, and I had a generator part to exchange at the L.A. company that made it. I rented a car at the airport and ran my L.A. errands. I got to Santa Barbara after dark. Allen had reserved a room at a cheap motel as per my request.

I checked into the motel and phoned Allen. He said that he had a class until ten in the morning, but had the rest of the day off. He would meet me at the motel when his class was over.

While all of Allen's brain washing was occurring, his work career seemed to have been progressing well. He had risen in the ranks from bagger to assistant manager of a small supermarket. I figured, from what little I had been told by Ellen, that the people running the store were in his church and that he had gotten his job etc. because of his church afiliations. It didn't seem possible to me that someone would go so far, so fast on merit alone. Sure, I knew that Allen was a good worker; but workers didn't go to managerial positions right away. At any rate, I expected to find it a closed society, much the way the Morman community was; if you're a church member, almost anything is possible; if not, almost nothing.

The motel left much to be desired but it was cheap, which was what I had requested. It was to early to go to sleep, so I decided to take a short walk. A block and a half from the motel, I came to a store that said A. Mardekian, Tailor. I wondered if it was related to Brother James. Sure enough, the adjacent door said Brother James Ministries. I wondered what the relationship of the tailor was to Brother James. I couldn't imagine Brother James having an honest trade. Besides, the tailor's first initial was "A". Maybe it was a relative. It seemed too convenient to be a coincidence. What, I thought, had Allen set up? Maybe Brother James even owned the motel. The one thing that I was sure of was that I didn't want to spend more than one night near the office of that bastard.

I awoke at six, as is my custom and had four hours to spend before I would meet Allen. I had a cup of coffee and drove to the marina area. I found a comfortable motel only a block away from the ocean, for just a little more than I had paid at the one Allen had arranged. I still had over two hours and I wanted to see where Allen worked. There was no better time to see it than when Allen wasn't there to give me the guided tour.

The market was a bit of a surprise to me. I had expected the grubby stores that they had near the university in Berkeley, which were undermanned and overpriced. The store was neat, well stocked and the prices were reasonable; considering that everything was packaged for one or two people. The reason for the reasonable prices became obvious when I noticed that there was another market, almost identical in size, three stores down. It did not look like a store that was run on eclesiastical nepotism; it was well managed and people had worked hard to keep it in the shape that it was. I walked the isles and, to my surprise, I was not watched.

I met Allen at ten and explained about the motel change. We both drove our respective cars to the new motel, where I parked mine.

"What's your pleasure for brunch?" Allen asked.

"I have a yen for a bagle."

"I know just the place. Hop in!"

He drove to a bagle shop in the central area of Santa Barbara. I developed a taste for bagles in my forties, when I had visited a cousin who served fresh bagles with cream cheese. Up to that time, I had thought that a bagle was a doughnut made of concrete. My mother always bought them day-old.

We picked up our food at the counter and sat down in a booth. We ate and made small talk. No prayers, no grace -nothing. This was my old Allen. I told him that I had visited his store and we talked about the grocery business. He told me what courses he was taking and about Kit's visit.

Breakfast finished, we drove to the pier. Walking near the ocean was a favorite passtime for both of us. We walked and chatted. When the small talk wore off, I asked him if he wanted to talk seriously. He said that he did, so I asked him what he thought of my letter.

"It seems as if you and Kit and mom are all convinced that I'm some kind of weirdo."

"What are we supposed to believe?"

"Well, I'm not some kind of freak. I have a good job and I'm doing well at it; I'm going to school and getting good grades, and I have friends, not just in the church, but outside of it. My life is in better order than it has ever been."

"Everything that you've said has led me to believe that you have been brainwashed into some fundamentalist cult. Until this moment, you have said nothing that would lead me to believe otherwise. Then, brainwashing you're sister...what am I supposed to believe?"

"For one thing, I did not brain wash Ellen!" he said angrily.

"What do you call it, then?"

"Ellen came down here of her own free will. She liked what she saw and asked to join. Nobody twisted her arm."

"Brother James didn't persuade her in any way?"

"No, she talked to him and asked him what she should do. He said that he thought that she should do good by becoming a nurse."

"And you? Did he persuade you?"

"I was glad that she wanted to join me in the church."

"How did you meet Brother James?" I asked, hoping to find out more about how Allen got involved.

"I met Brother James when I had that job as a bus driver. I was in the dumps and he helped me to get out of it. Becoming a Christian gave me some purpose in life and a feeling that things were really worthwhile. Not like that 'all is vanity' stuff. He's a good friend. He's a friend to a lot of people who are in trouble."

"Is the store connected with the church?"

"Not at all. The owner knows Brother James and that's all. They aren't connected in any way. I got my job when they advertised for help. I started as a bagger, worked my way up to checker, then to assistant manager. If you think that my being assistant manager was related to anything but hard work, you're mistaken."

"How many members of your church work for the store?"

"Just me and one other."

"What am I supposed to believe. One minute, you're a normal rational person, and the next you're some kind of Jesus freak."

"What's wrong with believing in the teachings of Jesus?"

"Nothing....it's your abandoning reason that I have trouble with. Your believing that everything in the bible is literally true."

"Lots of people believe that."

"Yes, and lots of people are incapable of reasoning."

I was not convinced that he hadn't brain washed Ellen, but it was obvious that he didn't think so; probably saw it as just legitimate missionary activity. What could I say and think. More people believed what he believed than what I believed. Could I condemn my son because he didn't agree with me? Besides, I had decided that I wasn't going to argue with him. I was here to find out if he had been brain washed. Being persuaded is not being brain washed. Obviously, Brother James had him convinced. But I could find no evidence in what he said or the way he acted to convince me that it was anything more than a voluntary conversion to Christianity -if there is such a thing. People adopt a religion because they have some inner need for it. Obviously, Allen had a need for what Brother James supplied. The most important conclusion that I was able to draw was that he wasn't acting strange in any way. That we disagreed about many things was no cause to think that there was anything wrong with him. He seemed able to accept our disagreement as such. Maybe I wanted to see it that way, but he seemed perfectly normal to me -for his age. After all, he was in his twenties and I in my sixties. It would be strange if we saw things the same way. Yet he seems to see things the same as Brother James. I had a severe twinge of jealousy. That he chose someone else to me was also no grounds for believing that he was strange.

The biggest change in him was that he seemed to have accepted me and my beliefs and had no wish to challenge them. He accepted our differences. That to me was a sign of sanity and maturity.

I decided not to pursue the matter further. I had no compulsion to convert him to atheism, much as I would prefer him to see things my way. More important, he did not act strange as he had before. I didn't understand it, but I was so relieved by his apparent normality that I was willing to overlook any discrepancies between what I saw in him before and what I saw in him now.

Through the whole conversation, he did not deny his lack of rationality where religion and the bible was concerned. What he tried to show me was that in all other areas, that he was perfectly reasonable. It was obvious that his stability depended on his having this one thing that he was emotionally sure of. Didn't I have some of these emotional crutches? Didn't I have faith that some of the people closest to me would support me if I were infirm? Yet, I was, rationally, far from sure that this was so. Didn't I believe in the eventual triumph of truth in science? This despite the fact that my reason told me that it wasn't so. Why not allow him his crutches. Maybe he will put them aside some day, when he is stronger -how's that for a leap of faith on my part? At any rate, he was not some kind of zombie; he was able to reason well in all areas except religion. There, he believed without questioning, as a small child. It was the cornerstone of his stability which he would not allow me to shake. I thought it a flimsy cornerstone, but he, apparently, did not.I thought of the many people I knew who managed in this way and did quite well with it; including my scientific hero and idol Gregor Mendel.

While neither of us articulated it, we agreed to disagree. I told him that I loved him very much and he said the same about me.

The rest of the day was spent dining at a very fine seafood restaurant. I don't remember what we talked about, but it was light. We seemed to have accepted each other again.

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