Chapter 19.    At War with God

Roger was still fretting about what had happened at the bank that day when the community met together for tea on Tuesday night.

"We should report them," he said. "That woman lied to us today. Greg can testify to it. They shouldn't be allowed to get away with such things."

"Before you start any action against the bank," Dave began, "maybe you should know that we already have one court case on our hands at the moment. Remember Diane? The little woman you met in front of Hoyts?"

"Yeah, I've been meaning to ask about her. Is she still visiting someone?"

"She's in jail," boasted young Sean from across the dinner table.

"Jail?" Roger replied. "What did she do to..." and then he stopped, as he had second thoughts about Sean being present. "Oh, sorry. We can talk about it later, if you like."

"No need to do that," said Juan. "Sean knows all about it. Diane was arrested for taking food out of the industrial bins at Buy-Rite a couple weeks ago. She's been in jail since last Thursday, and she appears for sentencing tomorrow."

"In jail?" Roger, almost shouted. "For stealing rubbish? That's unheard of!" And then the truth dawned on him. "Ganley!" he shouted quite loudly this time. "It was Ganley's doing, wasn't it?"

The others nodded.

"He's sick! And to think I once trusted that man. Oooh, he makes me so mad! But certainly the courts wouldn't let Ganley tell them what do do. Why jail someone for stealing rubbish?"

"I don't know why, but they have," said Greg. "Ganley told 'em we're a cult, so they locked her up for a week, for a shrink to look at her."

"Actually, the shrink hasn't been back since his first visit," said Juan, who had been visiting Diane each afternoon. "She's hoping it means he's going to give her a good report, but I'm not so sure."

Roger continued to complain about the injustice of it all. He wanted to do a hudred things at once - contact the media, write to the local Member of Parliament, and expose Ganley in front of his congregation for starters. After tea, Dave and Juan tried to fill him in on how the rest of the community saw the issues.

"We're fortunate to live in a country like Australia," Dave began. "On the whole the courts do a reasonable job of protecting the innocent and punishing criminals. But it's all based on society's perception of who the criminals are. If the police become convinced that someone's a drug dealer, they don't mind cheating a bit to improve their chances of getting a conviction. "This is especially true if the criminal in question is poor. Expensive criminal lawyers aren't very nice, but at least they help to keep the police honest. But a petty criminal who can't afford a criminal lawyer is beaten before he even enters the court."

"But we're not criminals," Roger shouted in frustration at their willingness to take it all lying down. "They can't do it to ordinary citizens. And we're not defenceless either. We can fight them."

"What we are," said Dave with a hint of authority that surprised Roger, "is Christians. We need to ask ourselves what Jesus would do." Dave felt it was time to confront Roger more strongly on his bitterness.

"There are any number of causes in the world to get yourself worked up about. But we need to see the bigger picture - the picture as God sees it."

"I used to feel the same as you," said Juan, with a sad look in his eyes. "But the world really is at war with God. Not just the atheists, and satanists, and drug dealers and pornographers. No, the entire world - everyone from the grocer to the president of the P and C. Courts, churches, governments, banks... they're all part of a giant conspiracy."

"C'mon! I can't believe that," said Roger. "You're saying that they all attend secret meetings to take over the world?"

Dave motioned discretely for Juan to back off, as he tried to explain.

"They don't need to take over the world, Roger, because they are the world. What we're talking about is more theological than political. Everything people say about doing the right thing means nothing if, in the end, they are going to back down whenever it starts to cost them something personally. The devil knows this, and he's able to use their insincerity to manipulate them all. Ultimately, he controls every one of them, if they're not sincere about finding and following the truth. Most of them aren't even aware of it."

"With all respect," said Roger, "I think you're being too negative."

"I know it's hard to believe," said Dave. "But even you must agree that the world is part of a huge contest between God and the devil - between the forces of good and the forces of evil. Do you agree?"

Roger agreed with Dave, who then continued.

"People must consciously choose to do what is right, and they must be prepared to do so in the face of fierce opposition if they want to be on God's side. Very few people are ready to go to that extreme. They would like everything to be right and fair; but they aren't prepared to die for such ideals. In the end, their good intentions alone won't count for anything. Can you see that?"

"Well, I suppose so." Roger wasn't so sure that he did, and besides, where was it leading? "If someone comes along who is genuinely committed to God and Truth and Love - in other words, a genuinely sincere person - such a person is going to rile up everyone who is not wholely dedicated to Truth."

"That's what we've done to Ganley," interjected Juan.

"And to a lesser extent, we do it to every person on earth who is not sincere," added Dave. "So you can't solve the problem by appealing to a system which is fundamentally insincere to begin with. Even if it does give lip service to truth and justice, that won't stop it from turning on you. Your ultimate defence has to be God himself. Can you see what I'm saying?"

Roger said that he could not, and that was the truth; because his head was too full of plans for revenge.

Dave and Juan continued for a while longer, but they were not getting through. Roger's hurts at being betrayed by his wife and by his pastor had made him want to hit back. His desire for revenge increased with the revelation that Diane had been jailed because of Ganley's influence. Here he had a cause which was not so obviously selfish as his other grievances against Ganley. He was hell-bent on finding a way to hit back in Diane's defence.

That night Dave discussed the situation with Cherry as they were lying in bed.

"If he doesn't let go of his bitterness, it'll destroy all that has been accomplished so far," Dave said. "And he was coming along so well too."

"Do you think it's wise to take him with you to court tomorrow?" asked Cherry.

"Probably not. But now that he knows it's on, I don't think we can stop him. He's pretty strong-willed. We'll just have to pray for wisdom in helping him to deal with it."

*    *    *

The next morning (Wednesday) everyone except Greg and Sean attended the court proceedings. Ganley was present once again, along with Groenig, Sinclair, and the police prosecutor. Of greater significance was the presence of three members of the Press in the gallery.

Things progressed swiftly... a bit too swiftly, almost as though they had been rehearsed. Sinclair gave his report. He said that he had established that Diane was sane, and that she was not unduly influenced by Dave Hartley. But he reported that she had developed such a strong in-group bias that she was incapable of responding to normal social mores and taboos. This was evidenced, he said, by her total lack of remorse for what she had done at Buy-Right.

"The matter before the court is a relatively trivial one," Sinclair said. "But in my opinion, the defendant lacks any social conscience. She is capable of committing much worse offences, if she felt that her actions would further the causes for which her religious sect stands."

Sinclair had obviously decided to silence his conscience by convincing himself that Diane had the potential for evil, even if he couldn't show that she actually was evil. He had chosen his side in the great cosmic conspiracy that Dave and Juan had been talking about.

"What treatment do you recommend?" the magistrate asked.

"I recommend further counselling and further interaction with people outside of her religious sect."

The police prosecutor then asked leave to offer new information, and leave was granted.

"We have information that a Toyota Hi-Ace van registered in the defendant's name, was seen parked near Bondi Beach at 4am eight days ago, at the same time that thousands of dollars worth of damage was done to the beach retaining wall by graffiti vandals."

"Have charges been laid?" asked the magistrate.

"No, your Worship. Investigations are proceeding, but it may be difficult to prove that the defendant was directly responsible for the vandalism."

"What do you have to say for yourself?" asked the magistrate, as he turned to Diane.

"I wasn't there. I was home in bed."

Actually, this was the time when Diane could have said anything that she had wished to say in her own defence, but the magistrate took advantage of her ignorance by pursuing the Bondi Beach connection instead.

He said, "And do you know how your van came to be parked at Bondi Beach at four in the morning?" "I... uh... Do I have to answer that question?"

"You don't have to do much of anything, young lady, but I must tell you that things are not looking very good for you at the moment."

"I'm sorry." There was an awkward silence, before Diane added, "I don't have anything more to say." She looked steadfastly down at her hands in her lap.

"Very well," said the magistrate. He then paused to shuffle some papers on his desk before proceeding to do what he had come there to do.

"Ms. Ventura, would you stand and face the court?" Diane stood and looked up at the magistrate.

"The offence, to which you have pleaded guilty, is not, in itself a particularly serious one. However, the circumstances are that you have shown no remorse and no willingness to alter your behaviour or lifestyle in such a way as to guard against returning to this court charged with similar offences. You have more or less admitted to the court that this is not the first time that you have taken food from supermarket bins; and there is little doubt in my mind that you have participated in other illegal acts, such as the vandalism at Bondi Beach which was mentioned by the police prosecutor today. Your involvement with an unnamed religious sect, based in Redfern, appears to be a contributing factor to your anti-social behaviour. In order to give you time to develop more desirable behaviour patterns, I hereby sentence you to thirty days' detention, with manadatory participation in counselling sessions aimed at rehabilitating you.

"Next case."

Diane was quickly led down a special flight of steps to the holding cells under the court room.

Two of the journalists met Sinclair, Toogood, and Groenig as they were leaving the court room. They appeared to know the men from a previous encounter. While they were getting information from the three men, the third reporter came over to the huddle of bin raiders, who were still recovering from their shock at the harshness of the sentence.

"Are you people friends of Ms. Ventura?" she asked.

"I'm her husband," said Juan.

"And how do you feel about the sentence?"

"How do you think I feel? I'm upset, of course." Juan's voice was quavering a bit.

"Will you be appealing against the sentence?"

"I don't know. I don't even know how long it would take. She'll probably be out of there before an appeal could go through."

"Do you have any children?"

"We have a son. He's four years old."

"And how do you think he'll cope while his mother is in jail?"

"Oh, he'll be fine. My friends here will help out."

The reporter turned to Dave. "And are you Ms. Ventura's father?"

"No, I'm a friend," said Dave.

A few more questions were asked, and then the reporter asked Roger what he thought about the sentence.

"It's a conspiracy," he said. "Anyone can see that. These people haven't hurt anyone; and yet people like Ganley Toogood have set out to destroy them. It's cruel and un-Christian."

Once Roger got started, there was no stopping him. He complained about the judge, about the prison psychiatrist, and when he got to Ganley, he spilled his guts about what Ganley had done to his marriage. His bitterness was showing, but the reporter did not seem to notice. She was having too good a time taking down notes on Roger's various gripes.

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