The next morning the Queen commanded her maid to bring her a copy of The Complete Religions of Hoodahooda, Unabridged. Upon receiving the book the Queen locked herself in her room and for the first time in her life began to study religion. She skipped Section A, "The Idols of Hoodahooda," and went straight to Section B, "The Three Major Religions of Hoodahooda: The Invisible God."
The oldest major religion of Hoodahooda was called Calculism. It was popular with lawyers, bankers, and accountants, and anyone else who was mathematically inclined. It had an elaborate set of rules, and was remarkable for its precise use of statistics. In the Sixth Edition of The Official Rules of Calculism: Enlarged and Updated there are no less than 1,539 prescriptive rules concerning personal conduct, over 5,000 non-prescriptive or "discretionary" rules (breakable if approved by a 6-4 vote of the arbitration board), and 30,000 non-binding suggestions. Each of these sets of rules was divided into seven sub-classifications and four sin-effectiveness groups, although a strong reform movement kept trying to reduce the number of sub-classifications to three, a cause of much dissension in the church. Each person's TSO (Total Sin Output) was tabulated every two months by the Department of Sins, Follies, and Other Flaws, a powerful organization which could only be overruled by the arbitration board. The department gave out statistics in twelve categories, so that by looking at a person's "numbers" one could know everything about that person; for example, one could learn if that person was a "power sinner," a "finesse sinner," etc. The most important figure in the TSO was the ESA (Earned Sin Average). This measured the amount of prescriptive and non-prescriptive sins committed on the average day. Anything below 8.00 was considered good, and if a person's ESA dipped below 3.50 that person was considered a candidate for sainthood. Each year the ESA champion would win a gold cup (the J.P. Schweinbaum award) and a lead pencil, which was very useful in helping calculate faults and virtues.
The Queen was impressed by this very precise religion right away, but while examining the rulebook she came across a minor stipulation that disturbed her greatly. This was Chapter 4, article 3, subparagraph 7, rule No. 9A, which I will quote for you as it is worded in the sixth edition of the rulebook:
"All rules in this book are sacred and unchangeable, and each is essential for salvation and/or virtuous living; therefore, if anyone breaks even one of these rules he has broken all the rules, and whoever breaks all the rules will be forever damned. Whoever keeps all the rules, and never breaks a single one at any time, will live forever in eternal bliss."
At first the Queen thought this was a reasonable stipulation, but then, with typical penetration, it occurred to her that the J.P. Schweinbaum award winner of the previous year boasted an ESA of 3.23, which averages out to approximately 22.5 major sins per week. In fact, in all recorded history there had never been anyone who had an ESA of even close to 0.00, the requirement for eternal life. The lowest ESA in recent memory belonged to one Agnar Flatts, an angelic individual who gave all his money to the poor, and was eventually burned at the stake for being too kind to foreigners. However, Agnar hated cats, and was occasionally irritable if bothered during dinner, which caused his ESA to soar to 0.39, thus sending him whirling to eternal damnation.
The Queen wasn't the first to notice the grave flaw in this precise system, but most of the practitioners of this religion hoped that "God" (for that was what they called their deity) would loosen up at the end of the world and let everyone under 6.50 slide by without much hassle. Some particularly hopeful people (generally those with an ESA of higher than 12.00) believed that "God" would let them go into Heaven merely because they took the time to keep their scores, for they felt that knowing about their religion was just as good as practicing it. The Queen, however, was not a particularly optimistic person, and found Chapter 4, article 3, subparagraph 7, rule No. 9A discouraging. She then shifted her attention to the second of the three religions, Pambyism.
Pambyism was easily the biggest religion in Hoodahooda, although no one was very enthusiastic about it. It was especially popular with three groups: respectable people, those who wanted to be respectable people, and servile politicians. In theory this religion had several rules, none of which was ever seriously followed. The two main precepts of this religion were to try to "be good," and never to criticize anyone for failing to live up to that standard. They believed in only one deity, whom they unimaginatively called "God." This "God" was a rather wishy-washy individual, who gave several commands but never expected them to be obeyed, who opposed sin but would forgive every sin of every person at all times whether they asked him to or not, and who created the world and everything in it, yet never liked to get closely involved. His main concern was that the world have "love," a word which he defined very loosely. His followers would generally ignore him, except on public occasions, when they would mention his name repeatedly, usually with an eyeful of tears. The great beauty of this religion was that it allowed no distinction between vice and virtue; if you did good you were good, and if you did bad you were still good, because you were automatically forgiven whether you asked for it or not. This appealed to the Queen greatly, but she soon became conscious of the religion's main flaw: namely, that there was really no reason to believe in it. For, in fact, according to the Pambyists everyone was forgiven for all their sins even if they didn't believe in the religion, or never did one decent thing in their entire lives. Thus, the only practical use of the Pambyist church was to make people look respectable, and help organize ice cream socials. In the end the Queen utterly rejected this religion, partially because she was allergic to ice cream, but mostly because she wanted to see a religion that was a little flashier.
The last major religion was called Trollerism. It was especially popular with poor people and old people, although it had many adherents of widely differing backgrounds, including the Queen's own daughter, Princess Purella. This religion had been founded only 40 years before by a famous hero named "Trollkiller" Sven Svensson. This Svensson was an epic hero of almost mythic proportions, who conquered kingdoms, slayed dragons, and rescued helpless maidens with alarming frequency. Ironically, he was not physically impressive, nor would he ever stand out in a crowd; nevertheless he always succeeded in everything he attempted, and he defeated so many super-villains that their ranks were depleted for many years to come. However, it was because of his religious views that "Trollkiller" earned his greatest notoriety.
Hoodahooda was once a largely pagan country, and idols dotted the landscape. The temple of the great god Fungo, which was part of the royal palace, was the most revered pagan temple in the world⎯that is, until "Trollkiller" Sven Svensson came along. One day, during the Awesome and Most Sacred Fungo Festival, when thousands of worshippers paid homage before the 60-foot image of the god, "Trollkiller" Sven Svensson sauntered into the temple. He walked straight up to the altar without bowing three times, painting his face red, or collapsing in a heap, all of which together being the prescribed method of approaching this most hallowed shrine. The high priests were shocked at the impudence of "Trollkiller," and shouted at him that his rashness would be quickly punished by the angry god. However, "Trollkiller" was unperturbed, and boldly announced to the crowd that the monolithic figure they worshipped was not really a god, but was nothing more than a lifeless piece of granite that had been rather crudely chiselled into a face. After making this announcement he pulled out a couple of ropes and, faster than you could say "Jack Svensson," he had them looped around the head of the magnificent and all-seeing Fungo. Then, by using the principles of leverage and gravity, scientifically calculated by him in advance, he skillfully caused the god to topple over and smash into a thousand pieces, while the high priests looked on in horror, and bellowed that Fungo's revenge would be bloody and unmerciful. Fortunately for "Trollkiller," the god proved to much more easygoing than was hitherto believed, and not only let his own demolition proceed with impunity, but also watched "Trollkiller" smash everything in his temple (including his high priests) in conspicuous silence. That very day paganism fell out of fashion, and the Awesome and Most Sacred Fungo Festival was never held again.
The name of "Trollkiller" Sven Svensson's deity was also "God"; however, this "God" was quite different from the "God"'s of others, and was altogether a very idiosyncratic individual. He not only created the world, but he insisted on taking an active part in all earthly affairs, regardless of whether the participants wanted him involved or not. Nevertheless he was a stealthy fellow, and never allowed himself to be seen openly, although he gave sly proofs of his existence continually; in fact, these proofs were given so regularly and convincingly that they were always ignored, partially because of their familiarity, but mostly because no one wanted to believe in this "God" in the first place.
"God" was unpopular with many people because he was extremely strict on questions of morality, and was insensitive enough to label everyone as "sinners," regardless of the fact that all people of delicate sensibilities find that term offensive. "God" was willing to forgive anyone's sins, but only if they asked for forgiveness, and were sincere. This wrangling nit-picking on "God"'s part was best demonstrated by the perverse emphasis he placed on "justice" and "truth," traits which he valued as highly as love and mercy. He had a very fussy and exact idea about what was "right" and "wrong," and was so hardheaded that he refused to alter his opinions, despite the fact that times change, and a sizable portion of the population would always disagree with him. To sum up, although "God" had several followers, he was generally not well-liked, and many people claimed, perhaps with some justification, that his laws were so unaccomodating and his attitudes so unchanging that he really seemed almost inhuman.
At first glance the Queen looked on this religion with some favor; after all, her daughter liked it, and it was certainly more exciting than the other two. She particularly liked the stories of "Trollkiller" destroying idols; the idea of smashing things in public places appealed to her greatly. However, there were two things about this religion that bothered her.
First, there was the question of "Trollkiller" Sven Svensson's current status; namely, whether he was alive or dead. Most educated people felt that he was certainly dead; he had disappeared rather suddenly, and was rumored to have been brutally killed. His followers, however, adamantly believed that he was still alive and would someday return. Old-timers would often tell you (if you were ever unlucky enough to get caught alone with one) that "Trollkiller" was not only alive but was watching Hoodahooda closely, and that, if ever anyone set up an idol again, he would come roaring back like a lightning bolt and would knock it to the ground that same day.
The more sophisticated citizens scoffed at these tales, and over the years "Trollkiller" Sven Svensson became the object of a considerable amount of wit and ridicule. Indeed, in order to be considered "witty" or "clever" one was required to mock poor "Trollkiller" nearly every day. Doctor Oldair, who was very witty and extremely sophisticated (he often wore glasses), let loose a veritable torrent of flippancies whenever the famed hero was mentioned, much to the delight of the King and his courtiers. Occasionally the good Doctor's jests would reach such a high level of hilarity that everyone within earshot would be rolling on the ground with laughter, and the Doctor, who had a singular aversion to humility, would usually join in the laughter most heartily. However, a shrewd observer of these wit sessions would have noted something about the Doctor's behavior that was quite perplexing. For some reason, after every couple of "Trollkiller" Sven Svensson jokes he would turn and look nervously behind him, as if he half-expected to see someone standing there, watching.
The Queen rightly felt that it was somewhat irresponsible of a religion to have a central character who was not definitely alive or definitely dead. This, however, was a minor offense she could easily pardon, but this religion had still another unpleasing factor which forced her to reject it entirely.
Everyone is a sinner. These four words (as I hinted earlier) played an important part in the Trollerist religion. However, try as she might, the Queen just couldn't apply this proposition to her own case. She thought about it and thought about it, but she still couldn't think of a single thing she had ever done wrong.
"This religion could never apply to me," she said, "because I'm basically a good person."
On this note of sober judgement she concluded her analysis of the three major religions and speedily came to a conclusion: they were all foolish and out of date. Therefore she would proceed with her plan to start up a religion of her own, with a trendy new idol, where she would be High Priestess, and there would be lots of sacred feasts, sacrifices, fireworks displays, demanding rules, elaborate ceremonies, and thousands of people daily grovelling at her feet. Pleased with this prospect, she fired off a letter to Prince Charming of Skindeepia, inviting him to marry her daughter at one o'clock next Sunday afternoon, and then marched boldly down to The Great Hall.
Her entrance into The Great Hall did not go unnoticed. She stomped into the vast chamber, drop-kicked a few unfortunate dogs that got in her way, and marched up to The Great Table. She pulled the King out of his soup just as he was going down for the third time and accosted him thus:
"Listen you," (she often called him "you") "we've got to change a few things around here! What we need is a new religion, with a great big new idol! Everyone's going to have one at their castle except us!"
"But...but darling," the King replied, "Last time we had an idol some guy smashed it."
"That's why we need a new one!" the Queen bellowed.
"Whatever you say, sweetheart," said the King as he slid under the table. Two burly servants helped him back into his chair.
"For this question," the red-faced monarch orated after resuming his seat, "I will need the advice of our friend Doctor Oldair, the greatest philosopher in the western world."
A servant was instantly dispatched to find the good Doctor. Doctor Oldair did not live in the castle, but rather in a cottage on a nearby plot of land called Bushey ("that's pronounced, 'bu-shay'!" the Doctor would always indignantly say). However, the servant was wise enough to know that the Doctor wouldn't be at home at that hour of the afternoon, and so headed straight for the castle garden. The castle garden, which Doctor Oldair and everyone else referred to as "Doctor Oldair's garden," was the pride and joy of the Doctor's heart, and sure enough the servant found him in the middle of it, working feverishly in the dirt. The servant informed the Doctor of the King's command, and a few minutes later the immortal philosopher prepared to make his entrance into The Great Hall.