‘"- thou canst not then be false to any man. " Yes, sir. '
‘But you dropped the "g" from the participle. Repeat it and this time pronounce it correctly: You don't steal because -‘
‘I am too. .. stinking. .. proud! '
‘Good. A proud self-image is the strongest incentive you can have towards correct behaviour. Too proud to steal, too proud to cheat, too proud to take candy from babies or to push little ducks into water. Maureen, a moral code for the tribe must be based on survival for the tribe. .. but for the individual correct behaviour in the tightest pinch is based on pride, nor on personal survival. This is why a captain goes down with his ship; this is why "The Guard dies but does not surrender". A person who has nothing to die for has nothing to live for. Next commandment. '
Simon Legree. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour. Until you corrupted me -‘
‘Who corrupted whom? I am the epitome of moral rectitude. .. because I know exactly why I behave as I do. When I started in on you, you had no morals of any sort and your behaviour was as naively shameless as that of a kitten trying to cover up on a bare floor. '
‘Yes, sir. As I was saying, until you corrupted me, I thought the ninth commandment meant: Don't tell lies. But all it says is, if you have to go into court and be a witness, then you have to tell the truth. '
‘It says more than that. '
‘Yes. You pointed out that it was a special case of a general theorem. I think the general case ought to read: Don't tell lies that can hurt other people -‘
‘Close enough. '
‘Father, you didn't let me finish. '
‘Oh. Maureen, I beg your pardon. Please go on:
‘I said, "Don't tell lies that can hurt other people" but I intended to add, "- but since you can't guess ahead of time what harm your lies may do, the only safe rule is not to tell any lies at all. " ‘
Father said nothing for quite a long time. At last he said, ‘Maureen, this one we will not dispose of in an afternoon. A liar is worse to have around than a thief. .. yet I would rather cope with a liar than with a person who takes self-righteous pride in telling the truth, all of the truth and all of the time, let the chips fall where they may - meaning "No matter who is hurt by it, no matter what innocent life is ruined. " Maureen, a person who takes smug pride in telling the blunt truth is a sadist not a saint. There are many sorts of lies, untruths, fibs, nonfactual statements, et cetera. As an exercise to stretch the muscles of your mind -‘
‘The mind has no muscles. '
‘Smarty. Don't teach Grandma how to steal sheep. Your mind has no muscles and that's what I'm trying to correct. Try to categorise logically the varieties of not-true statements. Having done so, try to decide when and where each sort may be used morally, if at all. .. and if not, why not. That should keep you out of mischief for the next fourteen, fifteen months. '
‘Oh, Father, you´re so good to me! '
‘Stop the sarcasm or I'll paddle your pants. Bring me a preliminary report in a month or six weeks. '
‘Thy will be done. Papa, I do have one special case. "Don't tell fibs to Mother lest thy mouth be washed out with lye soap. " ‘
‘Correction: "Don't tell any fibs to your mother that she can catch you in. " If you ever told her the ungarnished truth about our private talks, I would have to leave home. If you catch Audrey spooning with that unlikely young cub who's been calling on her, what are you going to tell your mother? '
Father took me by surprise on that one. I had indeed caught Audrey spooning. .. and I had an uneasy suspicion that there had been something more than spooning - and it worried me. ‘I won't tell Mother anything! '
‘That's a good answer. But what are you going to tell me? You know that I don't have your mother's moralistic and puritanical attitudes about sex, and you know - I hope you do - that I won't use anything you tell me to punish Audrey but to help her. So what do you-tell your father? '
I felt walls closing in on me, caught between loyalty to Father and my love for my oldest sister, who had always helped me and been good to me. ‘I. .. I will. .. I won't tell you a durn thing! '
‘Hooraw! You took the hurdle without even ticking the top rail. Dead right, dear one; we don't tell tales out of school, we don't confess on behalf of someone else. But don't say "durn". If you need it, say "damn". '
‘Yes, sir. I won't tell you a damn thing about Audrey and her young man. ' (And, dear Lord if there is one, don't let my sister get pregnant; Mother would have fits and pray over her and all would be terrible. Thy will be done. .. but not too much of it. Maureen Johnson. Amen. )
‘Let's deal with number ten quickly, then move on to the ones Moses neglected to bring down the mountain. Ten doesn't seem to be a problem to you. Coveted anything lately? '
‘I don't think I have. Why is there a rule against coveting your neighbour's wife but not a word about not coveting your neighbour's husband? Was it an oversight on Jehovah's part? Or was it truly open-season on husbands in those days? '
‘I don't know, Maureen. T suspect that it was simply conceit on the part of some ancient Hebrews who could not imagine their wives wanting to jump the fence when they had such virile heroes at home. The Old Testament doesn't place women very high; it starts right out with Adam putting all the blame on Mother Eve. .. then it gets worse. But here in Lyle County, Missouri, we do have a rule against it. .. and if any wife catches you making eyes at her husband here, she is likely to scratch out your pretty green eyes. '
‘I don't intend to let her catch me. But suppose it's the other way. Suppose he covets me, or seems to. Suppose he pinches my bottom? '
‘Well, well! Who was he, Maureen? Who is he? '
‘Hypothetical case, mon cher père. '
‘Very well. If he hypothetically does it again, you may hypothetically respond in several hypothetical fashions. You may hypothetically ignore him, pretend to a hypothetical lack of sensation in your gluteus maximus sinister - or is he left-handed? '
‘I don't know:'
‘Or you can hypothetically whisper, "Don't do that here. Meet me after church. " ‘
‘You brought it up. Or, if it suits you, you may hypothetically warn him that one more hypothetical pinch will be reported to your hypothetical father who owns both a hypothetical horsewhip and a hypothetical shot-gun. You may say this most privately-or shout it loudly enough for the congregation and his hypothetical wife to hear it. Lady's choice. Wait one moment. You did say "husband", did you not? '
‘I did not say. But that was assumed in the hypothesis, I suppose. '
‘Maureen, a pinch on the bottom is an expression of direct intent. Encouraged, it leads in three short steps to copulation. You are young but you are physically a mature woman capable of pregnancy. Is it your intention to assume full womanhood in the immediate future? '
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