* One boring summer afternoon, he’d gone through one of his father’s religious magazines with a ballpoint and replaced every reference to God with “Steve,” for the hilarity of it. (Who was Steve? Why were otherwise sane-seeming people going on and on about Steve?) But Ambrose had an idea so elegant that Perry wondered if there might be something to it. The idea was that God was to be found in relationships, not in liturgy and ritual, and that the way to worship Him and approach Him was to emulate Christ in his relationships with his disciples, by exercising honesty, confrontation, and unconditional love. Ambrose had a way of talking about this stuff that didn’t seem insane. He’d inspired Perry to devise a theory of how all religion worked: Along comes a leader who’s uninhibited enough to use everyday words in a new and strong and counterintuitive way, which emboldens the people around him to use this rhetoric themselves, and the very act of using it creates sensations unlike anything they’re used to in everyday life; they find they know who Steve is.
* He now saw that his supposed self-discipline, the outstanding study habits his parents and his teachers had always praised, had not been discipline at all. He’d excelled at school because he’d enjoyed learning things, not because he had superior willpower. As soon as Sharon introduced him to more intense forms of pleasure, he discovered how hopelessly undeveloped the muscles of his will really were. He found himself skipping organic chem lab for hardly any reason, just to take a long walk with her, not even to have sex, just to be near her. He had his first experience of fellatio on a morning when he should have been in Roman history. He failed to prepare for his cellular biology midterm because putting his penis in Sharon’s vulva had offered more pleasure, in the moment, than studying did. What this said about his self-control was bad enough. Worse yet was how it undermined his best moral argument for keeping his deferment—the idea that he could better serve humanity by working diligently at school, becoming a leader in the field of science, than by serving as a grunt in Vietnam. If he couldn’t keep his grade point average above 3.5, he truly had no right to a deferment.
Sharon, for her part, was wonderfully untroubled.