Leaving the Tabernacle, Mike seems confused. Jubal tells Jill that he was compelled by the Fosterites' salesmanship, and that he fears them. Jill is disgusted by their vulgarity, but Jubal argues that they are no worse than any other religion. Jubal cites potentially offensive tenets of many world religions, including Christianity.
Mike, Jubal, and Jill return home, where Ben and Mahmoud have come to visit them. Mahmoud worries about Digby's possible influence on Mike; Jubal argues that Mike deserves to be exposed equally to all beliefs. Jubal knows that Mahmoud has tried to explain Islam to Mike. Jubal remarks that Mike may end up being a prophet of his own sort, and Mahmoud concurs. Mahmoud jokingly wonders aloud if he has died and gone to the Islamic Paradise, as he is surrounded by beautiful women serving food and drink in a beautiful garden. Mahmoud suggests he may hope to convert one of the girls to Islam so that he could marry her. Miriam rejects his offer, but Dorcas flirts.
Mike goes to his room and into a trance, to contemplate his interaction with Digby. He worries that he had taken an action, "wasting food," that defied Jill's instructions. But considering, Mike decides that he needed to make his difficult decision according to what he felt was right at the crucial moment, despite Jill's instructions. Mike has a stronger sense of self for trusting his own judgment. Mike feels ever surer of the assertion he has made to many: "Thou art God."
Mike runs into one of the girls in the kitchen after the rest have gone to bed, but the narrator does not specify which girl. They sit by the pool. She asks him if he is ever homesick for Mars. He says that he was initially, but now he groks that he will never be lonely again. They kiss, and then make love.
Mars is being prepared for human colonization. The Martian Old Ones give this slow consideration. The narrator tells of trivial-seeming events on Earth. A new Fosterite Supreme Bishop has been chosen to replace Digby, who has died. The Fosterites announce that Digby is now in Heaven, an Archangel beside Foster.
Foster meets Digby in Heaven. Foster still harbors some bitterness for Digby having poisoned and murdered him. Foster explains the bureaucratic rules of being an archangel. Digby submits to his new job.
Jubal is uncertain of Mike's role in Digby's death. After many days spent in trance-state, Mike's personality seems to alter—he goes from docility to cockiness. Mike seems almost fully human now to Jubal, except that he still does not laugh. Mike announces to Jubal that he needs to leave and see the world, taking Jill as a companion. Mike tells Jubal that he considers him a father.
The narrator describes a traveling carnival. One attraction is a tattooed woman named Patty Paiwonski. She had been tattooed by her late husband, a devout Fosterite just like her. Another act is a magician named Dr. Apollo, and his assistant, Miss Merlin. Apollo performs astonishing tricks, including levitation and making objects vanish, but the audience is unimpressed. The carnival owner tells Dr. Apollo that he cannot continue with the tour. The owner advises Apollo that, though his tricks are impressive, he needs to learn showmanship—he needs to learn the psychology of the "chumps" in the audience.
The narration reveals that Apollo and Miss Merlin are actually Mike and Jill. Patty regrets that they are leaving, and she arranges to visit them at their hotel that night. Driving to the hotel, Jill thinks back on the months since they left Jubal's home. They had traveled to different cities and done different jobs, experiencing the country.
Jill and Mike take a bath together. Mike makes his clothes vanish—he now no longer needs to grok wrongness in an object to make it disappear. Mike worries aloud that he does not grok chumps. Jill admonishes him for calling people "chumps," but Mike groks that they are in fact chumps. Patty arrives.
In these chapters Mike undergoes a transformation from meek outsider to a man in full control of his destiny, and the major catalyst for this shift is his murder of Digby. Heinlein reveals this fact gradually. In Chapter XXIV Mike worries about what he has done, and later when he goes into a trance, we are told that he disobeyed Jill's instructions not to, as Mike calls it, "waste food." Heinlein does not spell out what exactly occurred, and it is not until the next chapter, tucked in amongst narration about a number of seemingly unconnected events on Earth, that we are told for certain that Digby has died. This decisive, personal action begins Mike on his journey from being a "stranger in a strange land" to being very much at home in this strange land.
We are never told for certain why Mike felt forced to kill Digby; it remains one of the novel's great mysteries. We find out in Chapter XXV that Digby had in fact killed his former superior, Foster, so it is certainly plausible that Digby may have tried to kill Mike. Digby had had reason to feel threatened by Mike; as a charismatic, powerful, and unique personality, Earth people were going to look to Mike to spiritual guidance whether or not Mike chose to provide it. Mike could have been an influential ally for Digby, but it is possible that in their discussion, Mike's philosophy ("Thou art God!") might have seemed threatening to Digby. Perhaps Digby had realized that Mike could not be convinced to follow the Fosterite belief system to the exclusion of other religions, and Digby therefore decided Mike must be killed. This is all speculation, as Heinlein does not tell us why Mike killed Digby, so we must ponder for ourselves.
When Digby dies he ascends to Heaven, and the narration of the novel takes a bold jump in scope. Since the opening chapters, Heinlein has accustomed us to narration that leaps between small interpersonal exchanges and God-like views of the whole galaxy over centuries, but nothing has prepared us for a narrator who is omniscient enough to see into Heaven. More importantly, nothing has prepared us for the presentation of Heaven as an irrefutably factual place. In a novel in which the Earthbound characters spend much of their time discussing comparative religion and the most reliable philosophical voice, Jubal, is agnostic. It is an ironic and wildly comical step to show that Heaven exists, and that Heaven is a combination of Christian cliché elements (halos, winged angels) and bureaucratic business practices (a result-oriented God, like a foreman, overseeing his archangels' work). Whether this willfully irreverent portrait of Heaven is meant to be taken literally in a novel that otherwise tends toward a stylized realism is again up to the us—these afterlife scenes may be seen as metaphor, if we choose.
After coming to terms with his ability to make his own decisions, Mike follows a classic pattern of coming into manhood. First he loses his virginity, and Heinlein makes another curious narrative decision, not revealing which woman is Mike's partner. Critics who accuse the novel of sexism often site this scene as the prime example of the interchangeability of Heinlein's women, as if it the differences between the four women are so unimportant that they need not be granted individuality. Yet this omission of identity can be seen in terms of Mike's personal growth: in "growing-closer" with the one woman, and "grokking God" with her, he is in fact growing closer to all of them, to all of humanity. In this sense, the woman's specific identity is irrelevant. After he loses his virginity, it is only a short time until Mike leaves his adoptive family and goes off to explore the world. His adventures with Jill are mostly glossed over—after having spent half the novel on events that took place over a matter of weeks, Heinlein compresses months into short paragraphs—but the narration makes it clear that, in these months, Mike has completed his journey to self-actualized manhood.
The summary incorrectly states that Apollo is the Greek "word" for Mars. Actually, Ares is the Greek name for the god known as Mars in Latin.
Apollo is one of the few classical gods known by nearly the same name in Greek and Latin. In English, he is called Apollo in both contexts.