The Illustrated Man. Ray Bradbury

The sun was rising behind them.

“I think we had better go down to the others and tell them of this and bring them back up here,” said Father Peregrine.

By the time the sun was up, they were well on their way back to the rocket.

Father Peregrine drew the round circle in the center of the blackboard.

“This is Christ, the son of the Father.”

He pretended not to hear the other Fathers’ sharp intake of breath.

“This is Christ in all his Glory,” he continued.

“It looks like a geometry problem,” observed Father Stone.

“A fortunate comparison, for we deal with symbols here. Christ is no less Christ, you must admit, in being represented by a circle or a square. For centuries the cross has symbolized his love and agony. So this circle will be the Martian Christ. This is how we shall bring Him to Mars.”

The Fathers stirred fretfully and looked at each other.

“You, Brother Mathias, will create, in glass, a replica of this circle, a globe, filled with bright fire. It will stand upon the altar.”

“A cheap magic trick,” muttered Father Stone

Father Peregrine went on patiently: “On the contrary. We are giving them God in an understandable image. If Christ had come to us on Earth as an octopus, would we have accepted him readily?” He spread his hands. “Was it then a cheap magic trick of the Lord’s to bring us Christ through Jesus, in man’s shape? After we bless the church we build here and sanctify its altar and this symbol, do you think Christ would refuse to inhabit the shape before us? You know in your hearts He would not refuse.”

“But the body of a soulless animal!” said Brother Mathias. “We’ve already gone over that, many times since we returned this morning, Brother Mathias. These creatures saved us from the avalanche. They realized that self-destruction was sinful, and prevented it, time after time. Therefore we must build a church in the hills, live with them, to find their own special ways of sinning, the alien ways, and help them to discover God.”

The Fathers did not seem pleased at the prospect.

“Is it because they are so odd to the eye?” wondered Father Peregrine. “But what is a shape? Only a cup for the blazing soul that God provides us all. If tomorrow I found that sea lions suddenly possessed free will, intellect, knew when not to sin, knew what life was and tempered justice with mercy and life with love, then I would build an undersea cathedral. And if the sparrows should, miraculously, with God’s will, gain everlasting souls tomorrow, I would freight a church with helium and take after them, for all souls, in any shape, if they have free will and are aware of their sins, will burn in hell unless given their rightful communions. I would not let a Martian sphere burn in hell, either, for it is a sphere only in mine eyes. When I close my eyes it stands before me, an intelligence, a love, a soul—and I must not deny it.”

“But that glass globe you wish placed on the altar,” protested Father Stone.

“Consider the Chinese,” replied Father Peregrine imperturbably. “What sort of Christ do Christian Chinese worship? An oriental Christ, naturally. You’ve all seen oriental Nativity scenes. How is Christ dressed? In Eastern robes. Where does He walk? In Chinese settings of bamboo and misty mountain and crooked tree. His eyelids taper, his cheekbones rise. Each country, each race adds something to Our Lord. I am reminded of the Virgin of Guadalupe, to whom all Mexico pays its love. Her skin? Have you noticed the paintings of her? A dark skin, like that of her worshipers. Is this blasphemy? Not at all. It is not logical that men should accept a God, no matter how real, of another color. I often wonder why our missionaries do well in Africa, with a snow-white Christ. Perhaps because white is a sacred color, in albino, or any other form, to the African tribes. Given time, mightn’t Christ darken there too? The form does not matter. Content is everything. We cannot expect these Martians to accept an alien form. We shall give them Christ in their own image.”

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