Written for QuinFirefrorefiddle
It wasn't until later, when Teal'c asked the question, that George gave it any thought. Though, in highdsight, it was obvious that a Jaffa would notice a mark on someone's forehead.
It was late, the crisis that pulled him back to the mountain was safely over, and all George had been thinking about was heading home and to bed. Hopefully, the adrenaline would have worn off enough during the drive to let him sleep right away, because he needed it. But Teal'c had hung around unobtrusively as the rest of SG-1 had left, and George had smiled and asked him what was on his mind.
"General Hammond, you have a mark on your forehead," Teal'c said, gravely.
"Yes, I know," George replied. "It's a religious symbol, a cross. We have it put on our foreheads once a year at a special worship service. Today is Ash Wednesday—I'd just gotten home from church when I got the call to come back in."
"It is a mark of your god?" Teal'c's face was unreadable.
"A mark of possession?" The distaste was clear, there, and George supposed that a man with the mark of a false god he could never get rid of would have issues, even with one that could be washed off.
"No, it's not about possession," George said. "It's about repentance." At Teal'c's raised eyebrow he went on. Sin wasn't really a concept in Jaffa religion, as far as George knew, so there was probably a whole category of vocabulary that Teal'c didn't have the concepts to understand. "It's a way of saying we're sorry, for all the things we've said and done that we shouldn't have, and for all the things that we didn't say or do that we should have. It's about acknowledging we aren't perfect, that we're flawed and fallible."
"It is a mark of shame?"
George hesitated. That was probably about as close to it as any other way he could think of to explain it. "Yes. And a mark of death—as the minister puts the ashes on your forehead, he says 'Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.'"
"And your God requires you to don a mark of shame every year?" Teal'c said, his voice heavy with disapproval.
"Well, I don't know," George said. "I don't think there's anything specifically about it in the Bible—that's our holy book—"
"I am aware of the Bible," Teal'c said. "I thought it was a collection of legends?"
George frowned. "That depends on who you ask," he said. "Like I said, I don't know that Ash Wednesday is in it directly; it was probably one of many rituals we humans came up with, later, to express and teach aspects of our faith."
Teal'c frowned, considering George's words. "May I ask a personal question, General Hammond?"
"Sure, Teal'c," George said.
"Daniel Jackson says that asking a human about his religion is to be avoided, for fear it will cause division. Captain Carter seems uncomfortable with the subject, and O'Neill says the answers are beyond his pay grade. But I know that several members of this facility believe in gods, as you do. When you know of the Goa'uld, how they manipulate and use their powers to pass themselves off as gods, how can you believe in any god? How do you know that your god is not the same?"
"I don't know," George said. "That's what faith is for." He waved a hand. "I know that's not a good enough answer, but it's the beginnings of one. And honestly, if you'll forgive me for saying it, the Goa'uld have never come across as particularly god-like, to me. They're just too … small. Too petty. They're supposed to be gods, and wealth and territory disputes are their highest concern? That's not any kind of god. That's not even a very good mortal. Just a selfish, petty tyrant.
"A god should be greater than that. Not just in wealth and armies, but in character and goodness, or else what's the point? If they're as bad as we are, or worse, what is there to worship about them?" George shook his head. "The Goa'uld sacrifice and torture their worshipers for their own amusement and to save their own skin. The God I worship loves mortals so much that he was willing to die to save them. That's a pretty damn large difference. No Goa'uld could masquerade as my God, not for long."
Teal'c nodded. "You may be right. I have never heard of any Goa'uld acting out of love, still less endangering itself even for its own mate. It would not know where to begin. But … if your god loves mortals, why then does he shame you?"
George shook his head. "That's not … really what it's about. More like … humility. Being willing to admit you're not always right, that you don't always act like you should." He put his hand on his hip and tried to figure out how to explain repentance to someone who didn't know what "sin" was. He wished he could take Teal'c to church with him, because it would be so much easier to have Pastor Toni explain this. "Think how much pain there is in the world caused by people who are so focused on their own ideas of the way the world should be that they can't step back and see what they're really doing to the people around them. And sometimes people get caught up in their own fears and desires and do bad things because of it. And sometimes people will blame others for their own faults. Ash Wednesday is a day to step back and stop lying to yourself about the parts of yourself that aren't what they should be."
Teal'c nodded. "I know of many who would greatly benefit from such a time of contemplation. And many who might participate in the ritual, but never truly understand or care what they were doing. Is it different among humans?"
George smiled. "No, I'm afraid not. There are a lot of self-righteous people who give lip-service to the ceremonies and traditions without really putting their heart and soul into them."
"The Goa'uld do not promote religious ritual concerned with the heart and soul," Teal'c said. "Only obedience. Though there are many ways in which Jaffa of a mind to do so may add elements of enlightenment or what I believe humans call spirituality. Though there are many who have no time for such things."
"Really?" George said, surprised. "But you all have to meditate every day. Surely that adds enlightenment whether you're looking for it or not."
Teal'c shook his head. "Humans practice meditation primarily as an aid for enlightenment, either personal or spiritual. Jaffa practice kel'no'reem primarily as a method of bodily care. It can be a source of spirituality, but it need not be unless one wishes it to be, any more than most humans find enlightenment in their dreams. I have found it helpful, but there are those among my former comrades who would scoff. Meditation alone does not make one wiser, or contemplative. One must strive for such things."
"So you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink, is that it?" George said. "All the ritual in the world doesn't make a damn bit of difference if you're not paying attention."
"Indeed," Teal'c said. He paused. "General Hammond, may I come to you in the future with questions about Earth religions? You have answered my questions better than my teammates."
"Of course, Teal'c," George said, "though you know I'm not a scholar. I can only give you my personal perspective on Christianity, my own faith."
"There are times when a personal perspective is to be preferred," Teal'c said. "Daniel Jackson can describe the outer forms of the religion with great accuracy. He cannot give me the heart of it."
"That's probably true," George said. "You know you're always welcome in my office."
"Indeed," Teal'c said. He glanced at the clock. "Though perhaps less so at 2230 hours than at other times of the day."
"Perhaps," George said. "I'll see you tomorrow, Teal'c."