A few days after Joan and Adam had settled back in their apartment, she received a long Email from her father. He was using the encryption system that Luke had devised several months before, to keep their sensitive communications from being eavesdropped on.


I know you want to hear the end of this, though it is still a bit open-ended. Mr. Phagan disappeared after your encounter with him, and we're still searching for him. I wish you hadn't scared him, but I suppose if you hadn't confronted him, we wouldn't know about the whole scam in the first place.

Several other kids at the church admitted, under promise of legal immunity, that he had worked the God scam on them as well, tricking them to commit petty theft. Livy was just the first to be caught. Afterwards, if they refused to obey another "divine command", he would blackmail them over their original crimes. After all, these were religious children for whom the offenses were sins as well as crimes, and didn't want friends and family to learn what they had done. He didn't need the stolen objects themselves, he was just getting them into compromising circumstances.

What was his goal in all this? I don't know, but I have two theories. One is simply that he was trying to organize a thieving ring, maybe stealing more valuable stuff as time went on. But it was a dangerous game; a single mis-step would blow the entire scam, as you proved.

My other theory is that this God scam was a dry run for a bigger con game: a cult with himself at the center, issuing "divine" commands to worshippers who would accept everything he told them. I've gotten his photo from the church, and I'm going to circulate it among law enforcement officials who specialize in cults.

And now, I'd like to discuss my thoughts about all this.

I know, Joan, that you think I'm paranoid about your missions for God. But this case seems to be an example of how easy faith can be abused. What should one do if "God" tells somebody to do something unethical? My reaction would be, refuse to act until God tells me exactly what is going on. Never act on blind faith.

You have been going on these missions for God for two and a half years, and it seems that every one of them has had "good ripples", as you put it. Acting blindly in this case, you successfully uncovered a nasty con game, the corruption of innocence, and I'm grateful for that. God seems to be honest. But you must always be on your guard.

And now, I hope that you can put all this behind you and concentrate on your studies. Let other people fight evil for a change. After all, it's my job.

Joan closed the window, then another popup appeared without her requesting it. She recognized the image, particularly since it seemed to have attributes beyond the powers of her computer.

"Hi," she said. "Do you resent Dad's attitude?"

"Not at all, Joan," said Popup God. "He simply takes the opposite view of the Euthyphro Dilemma than religious people do."

"The youthy what?"

"More than two thousand years ago, according to Plato, Socrates raised an interesting philosophical question. Do I, God, approve of an action because it is inherently virtuous? Or does an action become virtuous because I approve of it? Your father takes the former view, that virtue can exist independently of Me."

"But which answer is right?"

God smiled and closed the computer window, leaving Joan to think over the problem herself.