Saturday, February 11, 2006

19. The Church of Science

Like most natives of the planet Terminus, Golan Trevize had never been inside a Scientistic temple. Although Salvor Hardin and his immediate successors had used the religion as a method of controlling the barbarians of the surrounding Four Kingdoms, they themselves had not believed in it.

The religion had originally arisen in Anacreon and the other kingdoms in the century and a quarter between the Zeonian Revolt and the end of Imperial rule in the Periphery. The Zeonian Revolt had been destructive enough, but the aftermath had been worse. The planetary universities that had acted as recruiting grounds for the Zeonians had been closed down by Imperial decree, and all higher education in the Periphery had ceased. Technical training had become practically nonexistent, and over the years buildings, bridges, power plants and the rest of the technological infrastructure had fallen into disrepair and, eventually, disuse. As the nuclear power plants went offline one by one, central heating systems were replaced by fireplaces. Forests were cut down and turned into firewood, and coal and oil were dug from the ground. All forms of mass media had vanished, to be replaced by rumor, legend, and myth. Half-remembered scraps of Imperial culture had been mixed together with tales of growing hardship and lawlessness, and the resulting stories mutated as they were passed down orally from one generation to the next. In the end, a folk religion grew up among the increasingly barbarized inhabitants of the Periphery, telling of the Fall from the Galactic Paradise.

The final ingredient to the mix was added by the Foundation. Technicians and engineers from Terminus had come to the worlds of the Four Kingdoms to repair and refurbish the disused hospitals, roads and power grids, and they brought with them the tale of Hari Seldon and his Psychohistory Project. Seldon was quickly absorbed into the folk religion, becoming the Prophet of the Galactic Spirit, and the technicians found themselves being treated as holy men. Back on Terminus, Salvor Hardin learned of the new development, and chose to encourage it. The technicians were organized into a priesthood controlled by Hardin, and the religion was co-opted by the Foundation as a means of controlling the people of the Four Kingdoms.

Hober Mallow eventually dismantled Hardin's system of technician-priests and state-sponsored temples, but by then the religion had acquired a momentum of its own. Although it was no longer supported by the Foundation, Salvor Hardin's Religion of Science continued to spread from world to world, supplying spiritual solace and an ethical framework for trillions of people throughout the Galaxy.

The Temple School in Terminus City was still there, and still served as a theological seminary for the Church of Science. As a historical landmark, the Temple School was open to the lay public, and hourly tours were conducted through its halls and lobbies. Trevize himself had taken the tour during a grade school field trip, as did all the schoolchildren of Terminus at one time or another. Twenty years later, all that remained in his memory was a vague impression of walls decorated with artwork depicting scenes from the Book of the Spirit. Hari Seldon was shown, not seated in a wheelchair, but standing atop one of the ancient domes of Trantor, a staff in one hand, the other reaching forth as he was graced with a revelation from the Galactic Spirit.

A duplicate of that mural was reproduced in the main vestibule of the Temple on Comporellon. There was Seldon, his hair and priestly robe rippling in the wind, dark clouds scudding across the sky behind him, while the light of the Galactic Spirit filled his noble face. Trevize suddenly remembered the story of Seldon’s adventure outside the Trantorian world-city, shortly after settling on the Imperial capital, when he became trapped in a snowstorm. Presumably the Anacreonian peasants had picked up that story from the Foundation technicians and made it one of the central myths of their folk religion.

Aware that the Comporellian priest remained by his side, Trevize turned to him and said, "It looks just like the one in the Temple School in Terminus City."

If the priest was surprised to learn that his guest had been to the Church’s central shrine, he didn’t show it. He simply said, "There is one like it in every temple in the Galaxy. It serves to remind us that the Galactic Spirit acts through the agency of humanity. From the Holy Prophet himself to the smallest child, all are vessels of the Spirit."

Not being a believer in the Church of Science, Trevize had no wish to become engaged in a discussion of theology. Instead, he asked the priest, "How long has the Church been here on Comporellon, Father . . .?"

Again, the priest showed no emotion at the change of subject. He simply said, "You may call me Father Dorno. It has not been long, as such things go. A mere matter of a generation or two. The first missionaries did not reach the Sirius Sector until two centuries ago, during the Time of Darkness." Trevize had never heard of the Time of Darkness, but it wasn’t hard to guess that the priest was referring to the period when the Foundation was under the rule of the Mule. "The men who ruled Comporellon in those days were unbelievers who would not permit the Church entry onto this world. The Galactic Spirit bids us to abide by the Laws of Men as we do the Will of the Spirit, and so we forebore to trespass here. It was a mere forty-seven standard years ago that the Presidium chose to reverse its policy and allow the Church to bring the word of the Holy Prophet to these people."

Now Trevize was curious. "What made the Presidium do that? A sudden revelation of enlightenment? Or pressure from the Foundation?"

Father Dorno smiled. "Not the first, I regret to say, and not the second either. The government of the Holy Foundation has taken no notice of the Church since its disestablishment under Primate Mallow, and does nothing to either encourage or discourage its spread. The men of the Presidium acted out of self-interest, as is so commonly the case in this life. It had not escaped their notice that elsewhere in the Sirius Sector, where the arrival of the Church was met with less resistance, that the worlds that allowed us access tended to have higher standards of living."

Surprised, Trevize asked, "Why should that be?"

"For the same reason Primate Hardin first established the Church. Our missionaries come from the most advanced worlds in the Galaxy, from those worlds that have been longest in the embrace of the Holy Foundation. Along with the Word of the Holy Prophet, they bring new devices, new techniques, new medicines. Not intentionally, as did the missionaries of old in the days of the Established Church. Nevertheless, they bring with them the things they are familiar with, and these things are often unknown to the people among whom they walk."

This was something Trevize hadn’t expected to hear. In the familiar history he had been taught as a child, it was the Traders who spread the Foundation’s reach after the Church of Science had lost its power to control the people of the barbarian fringes. Had Hari Seldon known that the Church would continue to spread outward, bringing the culture of the Foundation in its wake? He must have; it would have been right there in his equations. Was the Second Foundation monitoring the Church? Trevize found himself wishing he could ask Stor Gendibal, the Second Foundationer whose mind he had briefly touched.

It occurred to Trevize that there seemed to be a blind spot concerning the Church among the people of Terminus. The history books always seemed to convey embarrassment when discussing the century-long era of the Established Church. The historians tended to hurry past it, and one could sense their relief that they could stop talking about the pious, faithful missionaries and start discussing the devious, mercenary Traders. As for the citizens of Terminus, there was that one field trip to the Temple School as schoolchildren, then the whole episode seemed to drop out of their consciousness.

Trevize blinked, realizing he was allowing his thoughts to sidetrack him. He was supposed to be getting a quick history of the Church of Science on Comporellon. "So," Trevize guessed, "the Presidium were becoming fearful that Comporellon was falling behind its neighbors technologically."

Father Dorno nodded. "It is often the case that a world finds itself welcoming the Church for the most unspiritual of reasons. And as Primate Hardin was wont to say, if you’ve got them by the purse strings, their hearts and minds will follow. So it was that the First Minister of that time allowed the Reverend Father Rendic Poros to establish the First Temple here in the Capital."

Trevize looked around him. "This temple?"

"No," said Father Dorno. "We stand in the third temple to be established on this world. The First Temple is half a mile from here, in the Karien District."

Trevize was still hazy on the various districts that made up the Capital, but he recalled that Karien was an industrial site where some of the poorest inhabitants of the city made their homes. He asked, "Was the site chosen for the First Temple by the Reverend Father or by the First Minister?"

Father Dorno smiled faintly, no doubt following the trend of Trevize’s thought. "The choice was the Reverend Father’s, although I’m given to understand that the First Minister was pleased by the choice as well. The Reverend Father Poros was following a well-established tradition of the Church, for we have found that it is usually the least-regarded members of a society that are most in need of spiritual solace. At any rate, there are now thirty-four temples here on Comporellon, and an additional twelve scattered across the other worlds of the Commonwealth."

An odd thought struck Trevize, prompted by Father Dorno’s use of the phrase ‘least-regarded members’. "Tell me, Father, do you have any temples in the region of the Central Mountain Range?"

Now Father Dorno’s smile grew more pronounced. "You are quick to see to the heart of things, my son. As it happens, no less than fifteen of our temples have been established in the Central Mountain Range. The folk of the mountains have been particularly receptive to the Word of the Holy Prophet."

Having spent so much time in Mitza Lizalor’s company, Trevize had become quite conversant with the beliefs of the mountain folk. His curiosity engaged, he asked, "Have you had much trouble reconciling the Galactic Spirit with He Who Punishes?"

"The Galactic Spirit embraces all things. He Who Punishes is but one of the Spirit’s many facets. With time, the mountain folk are coming to recognize this."

"The older ones, though, still cling to their original beliefs," Trevize guessed.

"Some of them," Father Dorno admitted. "It is of no consequence. In their way, they follow the path laid out for them by the Holy Prophet, as do we all."

Trevize found himself wondering how Father Dorno would react if he were told that the people of the Galaxy, in fact, were no longer following the path laid out for them by the Holy Prophet, but were instead following another path laid out for them by the Holy Prophet’s robotic mentor.

No doubt, the Father would simply remark that Daneel, too, was a vessel of the Galactic Spirit, his robotic origins notwithstanding. The Church might even decide that Daneel also qualified as a Holy Prophet.

They might, Trevize realized with a chill, decide that he did, too. To get his mind off his possible elevation, Trevize asked, "How has the government responded to the spread of the Church?"

"With a certain amount of hostility, you may be sure," said Father Dorno. "Even though we no longer have any connection with the government of the Holy Foundation, the Presidium sees us as part of the Holy Foundation’s campaign to absorb Comporellon. As, in a sense, we are, for has not the Prophet Seldon set all worlds on the path of inclusion in the Holy Foundation?"

"True enough," Trevize admitted.

"In the last ten years," Father Dorno continued, "at the promptings of First Minister Erkar, the Presidium has begun promoting Comporellon’s own folk beliefs. They run approving stories in the government-run media, invite folklorists to government-sponsored events . . . "

"And give positions in the government," Trevize added, "to prominent Believers such as Mitza Lizalor."

"Just so," said Father Dorno.

"What do you expect will happen now that Lizalor has ascended to the First Minister’s office?"

"It is difficult to predict," said Father Dorno. "Comporellon is not the first world to react to our presence in such a fashion. Sometimes, the effort to promote traditional beliefs fails, or is abandoned. There have been worlds, though, where the government sought to foment violence against the Church. You understand, such worlds tended to be particularly barbaric, worlds where the natives were already engaged in violent confrontations over spiritual matters. Yet, there have been worlds just as civilized as Comporellon where Church members have been subjected to mass arrests, incarcerations, even mass executions, at the behest of a fearful government."

Trevize found himself staring at the priest in horror. "And what will you do if such things happen here on Comporellon?"

Father Dorno had seemed a genial enough man, but Trevize could see a glimmer of steel in his eyes as he said, "Then we will follow the path laid out for us by the Holy Prophet, wherever it may take us. If Comporellon’s road to the Holy Foundation must be marked out with the blood of martyrs, then that is as the Galactic Spirit wills it."

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