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I hate cyclists

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Friday, January 06, 2006

"He was awesome in his conviction. I tell you, by the time he was done, I was close to feeling the presence and might of Allah myself. That was surprising and a little frightening, that Mahmud could stir such feelings in me, of all people. I was amazed. But then he had finished his expounding, and after a few moments the sensation ebbed and I was my own self again.

"What do you say?" he asked me. "Can this be anything other than the truth?"

"I am not in a position to judge that," said I carefully, not wishing to give offense to this interesting new friend, especially in his own dining hall. "We Romans are accustomed to regarding all creeds with tolerance, and if you ever visit our capital you will find temples of a hundred faiths standing side by side. But I do see the beauty of your teachings."

"Beauty? I asked about truth. When you say you accept all faiths as equally true, what you are really saying is that you see no truth in any of them, is that not so?"

I disputed that, reaching into my school days for maxims out of Plato and Marcus Aurelius to argue that all gods are reflections of the true godhood. But it was no use. He saw instantly through my Roman indifference to religion. If you claim to believe, as we do, that this god is just as good as that one, what you really mean is that gods in general don't matter much at all, nor religion itself, except where it is needed as a distraction to keep the people of the lower classes from growing too resentful over the miseries of their worldly existence. Our live-and-let-live policy toward the worship of Mithras and Dagon and Baal and all the other deities whose temples thrive in Roma is a tacit admission of that view. And for Mahmud that is a contemptible position."

- Robert Silverberg, Roma Eterna
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