Paul Greenberg

In memory of Walter M. Miller Jr., author of the science-fiction classic, "A Canticle for Leibowitz."

Brother Erasmus might never have found the Lost Gospel had it not been for the pilgrim with girded loins who'd approached him in the wilderness. The monk was well into his fast in honor of the blessed St. Lysenko when his peace was disturbed.

Never before had Brother Erasmus actually seen a pilgrim with girded loins, but this one had to be the bona fide article. You could see him, and soon enough smell him, hobbling across the still slightly radioactive wasteland. And what an unsettling apparition he was: a spindly old fellow with a staff, basket hat, brushy beard, and a waterskin slung over one shoulder.

The old boy wasn't armed, so he couldn't be one of the highwaymen who covered the countryside. And he had only one head, which ruled out his being one of the mutants that roamed at night. He must be one of the few if any religious left.

Imagine that. Erasmus had assumed that all the Old Believers had been hunted down by the survivors of the Last World War. The massacres had begun during the Great Secularization, when people had realized how the old, divisive ideas had caused the final cataclysm. Most of the religious had been burned at the stake, along with the books that had spread their dangerous ideas. That should have been the end of their baneful influence. But here was one more false prophet.

The Darwinian order to which Brother Erasmus belonged taught only pure science at abbeys like his own, and no one was allowed to question it, lest the Dark Ages return. Those certified to teach the young were not allowed to question Darwin's revelation, and certainly not present alternate theories. That way lay division and dissent and, inevitably, fiery chaos.

People had forgotten the old superstitions, yet here came this remaining fanatic out of a distant past. Now he was shouting something in a long forgotten tongue: Ego te absolvo! The phrase had something to do with forgiveness, as best Erasmus could remember from Archaic Studies 101.

Forgive this, Erasmus thought as he reached for his trusty bow. The old man was not more than 20 yards away when the arrow hit him squarely between the eyes. Call it natural selection.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.