Tarquin was an atheist and evolutionist by birth. Or rather, he was that way by education and conditioning, since “by birth” sounds a bit…oh, just a bit wrong. Even “by education and conditioning” is not really an adequate description, since it implies a passive role for Tarquin, and intellectual passivity was the sin of sins in Tarquin’s milieu. (Of course, “sin” is the wrong word in most contexts, however, you know, sometimes…)
Let us say that it was early impressed upon Tarquin that he would always “speak truth to power”. Tarquin had the kind of mother who encouraged contradiction, enforced it, almost. Beyond the three absolutes, which his parents declared to be “science, sustainability and inclusiveness”, all things were to be contradicted. In fact, Tarquin had at times grown tired of racking his brain for things to contradict, though he never said as much to his mother (whom he always addressed as Andrea). That would have been contradiction of the wrong sort.
While he did not enjoy all the exhausting intricacies of contradiction – his mother said no single English version of Proust was acceptable, not even Scott Moncrieff’s, so she read all versions at once – everywhere Tarquin Saunders went he loved to let people know his position on the most important things: atheism and evolution. The effect in his early years was delicious. At some point in a conversation there would be an opportunity and he would unleash his reserve of shocks in the mildest way, as if he were announcing a cricket score or asking for the salt. The milder the tone, the bigger the shock…
For a while!
Up to the age of thirteen, it had been so effective and the result so pleasurable. There was always that satisfying wave of surprise or outrage or stunned approval around a table of adults when Tarquin expounded. Cutlery would be suspended above plates, necks would crane toward him, his parents would beam discreetly but so smugly. Tarquin had once again spoken his mind as non-Saunders children never can.
But with years the effect dwindled. What shocked from a child was mere common opinion coming from a teen.
Still Tarquin persisted, in the hope of producing that one glorious effect one more time.
The first time he met a girl he liked at a party he told her:
“I’ve always been an atheist…”
“Oh, yeah. I am too, totally. Who isn’t?”
Then he remarked:
“I think I was an evolutionist before I could walk.”
“You mean, like Darwin and all that?”
“Yeah, Darwin was great. I think Richard Dawkins is pretty cool. For an old guy.”
Later that evening the girl went home with a boy who was good at sport.
You see his problem?
By the time he was in his twenties he could find nobody within his family or circle of friends who were the least bit responsive to his shocks. The wrong types were all long gone from the Saunders’ sphere. People of the non-inclusive sort had been excluded. All within that sphere were committed rationalists who referred constantly to The Science. All thought alike and thought like Tarquin. They all watched Neil Degrasse Tyson and read Richard Dawkins. They all believed people who held other viewpoints were suffering from “cognitive dissonance” and various mental aberrations as defined by Daniel Kahneman (whom they quoted frequently and with enthusiasm, despite the uncomfortable fact he was Israeli.)
Tarquin needed to find fresh fields of humanity on which to unleash his shocks. How was he ever again to find those delicious Tarquin-centric moments when a table fell silent as a small child announced his atheism and Darwinism as lightly as he might name his favourite Wiggle?
He had heard of groups and institutions where people were not atheists and evolutionists. He felt a call to meet these people and visit these institutions. The call grew so strong that it became like an unconquerable urge to pilgrimage.
Yes! Tarquin would go among the strangers. He would listen to them, discuss indifferent things and make them like him. Then he would administer his shocks and wait for those waves of awe, disapproval or admiration to come washing over him.
Author’s note: One can only represent Tarquin’s evolving state of mind and tell the rest of Tarquin’s story by sometimes using the florid, antiquated language of biblical accounts, pilgrimages and such like. Sorry, but there really is no better way. In fact this pleasant literary device, having its origins on the mid-north coast of NSW, is now enjoying a certain mode, and is occasionally referred to as Biblical Realism.
So Tarquin Saunders went forth from his familiar circle and travelled among men of all kinds in many and diverse places.
Yet in great gatherings and small, Tarquin could say nothing to surprise or even cause the slightest stir. It was as if the world was full of atheists and there was not one creationist to be found anywhere.
Perhaps if he went to a definite source?
He enquired at one Seventh Day Adventist school if he might speak to one of their creationists. The school secretary informed him that opinions on such matters were a little “fluid” within the religion, and gave a wink. She said the most suitable person to consult was the school’s head science teacher – but she was in Canberra receiving an award for Best Physics Experiment. Tarquin decided against pursuing this course.
He wandered through the remoter parts of the state, where men had slower speech and slower internet.
At last he came to a small and dusty village with two pubs and two churches.
Outside one of the churches was a tattered sign saying: “GOD MADE MONKEYS AND MEN. HE DID NOT GET THE RECIPES MIXED.”
This was promising.
Tarquin decided to dwell among these men, taking lodging at one of the pubs.
For a week he sat in the bar of that hotel and spoke of diverse indifferent things: of cricket, of weather and of the main interest of the village, cattle sales. Men grew fond of Tarquin, since there were so few from the great city willing to immerse themselves in the details of the sale of cattle.
When at last he had a large company assembled around him and there was opportunity within the conversation, Tarquin remarked that he was an atheist who had no time for the foolishness of creationism.
Yet his words were lost in air, tossed vainly upon the ether. Men continued to discuss cattle sales and only attended again to Tarquin when he spoke of…cattle sales.
In the second week he went to the second pub and sat amongst men there. Many of the customers were travellers from far places who had station wagons full of pamphlets and samples, and sold such things as castration devices and cattle drenches.
Tarquin decided he would no longer seek to seduce men with honeyed words and flattering interest in rural products. He merely said to as many as would hear him that he was an atheist with no time for the foolishness of creationism. No man seemed surprised or even slightly interested; most said they felt much the same. Only one man engaged him deeply on the subject, but Tarquin suspected that this man, being an impoverished drunkard, was only interested in free beers.
One night the drunkard, bored with Tarquin’s repetitions, finally remarked:
“Tarquin, do you remember the television show where the fat little man always insisted he was the only gay in the village?”
“I…seldom watch television, but…yes, I do seem to recall…”
“The trouble was that there were gays all over the place. Everywhere he went, whichever way he looked. Remember?”
“Yes, that was the joke of it all…”
“Well you’re like that bloke. You want to be the only atheist and Darwinist in the village. But that’s about all we have in this village. Maybe one or two reps, Hillsong types, and that potty old couple who grow mushrooms out at the old mine…but probably not even them. Who knows? Nobody could be bothered finding out. Truth is, it wouldn’t hurt to have a believer or two around the town. Just for variety, if nothing else.”
Tarquin’s heart was moved to wrath by these words and he thereafter insisted the drunkard buy his own beers.
In his bitterness he resolved to enquire at the church which displayed the worn creationist sign, and demand to meet its author. Through the course of a day he knocked and waited at the church door, but nobody responded or arrived. Around evening an old gentleman came hobbling by and explained to Tarquin that the church had been abandoned for years.
“And does the church have no owner now? Surely there is someone I can speak with.”
“Far as I know it’s still the property of the Gay Atheists Mardi Gras Committee. They use it for their AGM and rent it out for things like the Darwinists Ball…”
The next day Tarquin went to the other church, a Catholic church on the village’s only hill.
He found the presbytery was now a condemned building and the church locked up. On the door was a sign: Father Wayne Driscoll is presently conducting the Catholic Evolutionists tour of the Galapagos Islands. Nearest masses: Williwirrin Parish Church.
Tarquin Saunders returned to the pub in despair. While he must needs dismiss all notions of mysticism and destiny, it had always seemed to him that his quasi-divine role in life and society was to announce his atheism and his adherence to Darwin at tables full of religious dupes. If he was not born to that then why did the universe or society or whatever send him such clear signs in childhood?
Yet in the course of his wanderings he had found few religious people and absolutely no creationists. He had seen creationists on the television, usually in documentaries from America. But how far would he have to travel, and at what cost, perhaps only to discover that America also was full of atheists and Darwinists?
It was the end. There was only beer.
That night in the first pub and then the second pub he drank all the beer he could, but still the bitterness gnawed at his heart.
It was Saturday and the bars were full. As the evening wore on Tarquin found himself seated in a large group discussing…oh, he did not know what they were discussing. Probably cattle sales, but maybe weed killers.
He was drowsing boozily when he felt a nudge. He looked up and saw a ruddy faced young farmer.
“Tarquin, mate, what do you reckon?”
He could only manage a drunken slur:
“About the old glyphosate. How it worked out cheaper than the new stuff if all you had was some bracken to worry about…”
“I’ll tell you what I think…I think…I think…Are you all listening? I think the world, bracken and cattle and all, counting rest day, was made in seven days. Exactly seven days. What’s that in hours? Let’s see…seven twenties…one hundred and forty…plus seven fours…twenty eight…that makes…one hundred and sixty eight hours…
“That’s how long it took to make the world!”
The entire group fell silent, and even those beyond the group went quiet from curiosity about what was being said. The young farmer:
“Are you fair dinkum, Tarquin? The whole world? A hundred and sixty eight hours?”
“Exactly. You could have set your watch by it…Of course, you’d have to allow for daylight saving…And that’s counting the rest day. Without that it was…six by twenty-four…mmm…one hundred and forty-four days!”
Deep in his beery sulk, Tarquin had scarcely been aware of anything but his own thoughts.
But now he looked up and saw the entire company looking toward him, silent, their glasses suspended. He continued, half-aware now:
“4004 BC. That was when the world was made. Some say October 23, but don’t believe it. That’s the old science. Day one began 9 AM Oct 3…4004 BC…Can I get a beer?”
The others continued to stare. Then one of them, a touch aggressive:
“Tarquin…you are giving us a bake, right? Because we’re hicks out here, you reckon…”
Tarquin was suddenly sober, and now fully aware of the silence and surprise around him.
It was that moment! That feeling! That sense of suspension!
He had recovered it at last. His Grand Contradiction.
“Hicks? If you people are hicks then I’m a hick and Isaac Newton was a hick…I tell you, it’s written down in black and white, just needs some further modelling to confirm a detail or two. And don’t get me started on your missing rib!”
And Tarquin travelled back to his own people. His family and friends rejoiced to see him, and his father declared they should hold a bountiful feast of sustainably harvested good things.
And when they had caroused and eaten their fill Andrea Saunders addressed her son:
“And now tell us of your travels, Tarquin. What manner of people have you dwelt among and how deeply have you contradicted them?”
“Am I not the son of your loins? Shall I not call you mother?”
The table grew eerily silent. Ah, the suspension. That delicious suspension. Tarquin continued:
“My mother, and all of you my friends, I propose we say grace to give thanks for this bounty we have received – particularly the excellent calamari in its own ink. What a craftsman is the creator, they he should give the squid ink for its protection and give us, his stewards, both the squid and its ink for our delectation.”
The suspension and silence were now absolute, and at their centre…Tarquin!
A number of Sydney’s inner-west residents invited to the feast were renowned experts in irony. Yet none could find irony in Tarquin’s wording or expression as he continued:
“We give thee thanks, o almighty God…”
And though Tarquin was cast out from his brethren and friends, it mattered little. Everywhere he went he was able to contradict more casually yet more splendidly than any Saunders before him. Room after room, table after table, went into silence and suspension when Tarquin gave forth on the miracle of creation and its precise dates and details.
He soon married a devout super-model from Venezuela and began to take speaking engagements and countless other gigs on both new and old media.
The Tarquin Saunders Creationist Cook Book is presently the best seller in its category on Amazon, and has netted him millions. His new books, Successful Stewardship and The Contradicter’s Bible, are climbing the charts rapidly.
According to IMDB, the film of his life will star the only nice Baldwin brother and has the working title: The Only Creationist in the Village.