By Andrew Osmond
Electronic Version © 2011, Andrew Osmond
Minnow Press/Smashwords Edition
ISBN 978 1 907507 18 2
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The events of 9/11* were to cause a fundamental, philosophical division between the followers of the Church of the Higher We. On one side there were the members that believed that the use of aeroplanes as instruments of terror and destruction only further proved that vehicle’s merit to be worshipped; they argued that, although the destruction of the twin towers of the World Trade Center was perhaps the most graphic example of an aircraft being used as an actual weapon, it was by no means the first occasion when that particular means of conveyance had been used against Man - indeed, since the beginning of the twentieth century the skies had become the new arena of modern warfare: battles were no longer won on the ground, but instead in the air; it was only necessary to consider perhaps the single most catastrophic action of man against man - the bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima at the end of the Second World War - to see that the agent by which the nuclear devices were delivered was the transcendent aeroplane. The opposing argument countered that the Church had always differentiated between aeroplanes designed specifically for warfare and those large passenger jets that plied a regular, commercial route across our planet’s lower stratosphere, with the latter vehicle being the exclusive object of veneration, and that to witness the way in which such a ‘plane could be used to such destructive ends was comparable to the Christian God in his heaven suddenly making an appearance and smiting the earth with a large stick. The Pro-Destructionists - as they became known - response to all this was to argue that there had always been aircraft accidents - they pointed to Tenerife in 1977; Mount Osutaka in 1985 - they went further still in their attempts to reunite the disparate factions, when these previous examples were dismissed as being the Higher We equivalent of ‘natural disasters’ - one Anti-D. spokesman memorably comparing the Orango Bay runway crash as being beautiful like a volcanic eruption - by reminding the doubters that there had been plenty of past occasions of terrorism in the skies, none of which had previously troubled their religious sensibilities - the Laila Khalid hijacking was recalled, as was Entebbe, so too Lockerbie. It was all to no avail: the Anti-Destructionists could not be persuaded; followers left in their droves. Some Anti-Destructionists talked of establishing a new church: the Church of the Flying We briefly flourished while memories of the September 11th atrocity were still fresh in people’s minds, but it was never a serious rival to its long standing forebear and ultimately membership dwindled and the breakaway church was disbanded. For other Anti-Destructionists the loss of their faith was too much to bear; there was a rush of suicides. The most glorious and symbolic death for any advocate of the Higher We had always been considered to be whilst in mid-air, on board the object of reverence, actually immersed in one’s faith, but very few disciples had been fortunate enough to end their days in this fashion and those that had, had become Higher We icons, sanctified in the same way as Christian martyrs before them. Mrs Ethel Bernstein was the first Higher We saint: a founder member of the Church, Ethel had died of a heart attack on one of the early Comet flights in 1953; always a nervous passenger, her ultimate sacrifice is still remembered today by older Church members who raise their right hand across their heart during the pre-flight safety procedures as a mark of respect to the Church’s earliest martyr. A similar ritual is observed by some younger believers, who always make a point of leaving a small portion of their in-flight meal as an offering to Marcus Braithwaite, who died tragically on a Pan Am flight from London to Boston in 1984 as a result of a massive allergic reaction to the peanuts served alongside his complimentary drink. The spate of attempted mid-air suicides were not all successful: non-Higher We passengers proved not to be sympathetic to the self-destructive inclination of disenchanted Church members - it was discovered that most people don’t like to dwell upon the subject of death when they are cruising at 33,000 feet. One suicide in particular was to have a profound effect on the future way in which all existing Church members were to be tolerated by the wider community: how Lars Mortenson ever qualified to become a pilot will perhaps always remain shrouded in mystery; normally Higher We members were wheedled out during the rigorous training and selection process - excessive blind faith of any persuasion is never a particularly attractive quality in a pilot; a belief that the reason that your aeroplane stays aloft is in any way ‘magical’ is actively discouraged. The cabin’s onboard black box flight recorder committed Lars’s final announcement to his passengers to the pages of history, and the Church of the Higher We was to obtain for itself another saint - and a big problem. Where in the past Church members had been largely invisible to the wider flying public, overnight they were viewed with deep suspicion and, in some cases, active persecution: there were incidences of disciples performing their pre-flight take-off rituals in airport lounges being attacked; several of the larger airlines enforced a total ban on Higher We followers; even a case of one ‘plane being halted on a runway halfway through its take-off procedures because a passengers’ vigilante collective had suspicions - wrongly as it turned out - as to the religious convictions of one of their fellow travellers and were refusing to assume their seated take-off positions unless the heretic was removed from the craft. It was a difficult period for the Church of the Higher We. All the more surprising then that this should be the very moment that Martin Meek chose to turn his back on his predominately Protestant upbringing and took his vows of allegiance to the four-engined God of the skies.