…in which Benny has been brought to a monastery where he learns that all of his on-line data has been erased and with it his identity off-line as well. As the action (or inaction) begins in this second half of the story, the narrator–the monastery’s abbot–is trying to help Benny understand the totality of the situation.
I said to Benny, “Perhaps it would be helpful to recall St Francis’s proof for the existence of God. Francis noted that we know of nothing which came into existence of its own accord. Instead, everything is the product of what came before; therefore, the creation of something out of nothing must require a being beyond our capacity to imagine–a god, in other words, which, without evidence to the contrary, I assume you are not. That being the case, you can no more re-create your online identity than an orange can create itself in an orange-less world or a tree exist where there was no tree before.”
“But I’m sitting right here,” Benny said. “I clearly exist.”
“In a corporal away, yes. But in a more enduring, electronic way, you do not.”
Benny stared for a second in my direction, but he wasn’t looking at me as much as through me. “So what do I do?” he finally asked.
“I suggest you consider joining us here. No one in this community needs a Twitter account or an email address; in fact, we eschew all forms of personality from the clothes we wear to our lack of hair on our heads.”
“So I shave my head, wear a robe, and then someday die and am buried here?
“Actually, the water table is too high on these grounds for a cemetery. We have a dispensation from the Provincial Prior to cremate.”
“That’s my fate? A shaved head and cremation?”
For the first time since Benny had arrived, I smiled. “You know what they say?” I asked him.
“No, what do they say?” Benny asked.
“A Benny shaved is a Benny urned.”
If Benny was tempted to smile along with me, he resisted; instead, he rose and when I had called Brother Lou back, he escorted Benny from the room as I began to complete an enrollment form, leaving blank the line on which a novice’s name is sometimes written.