Dialog # 5

 

the cusp

It is a Spring morning in our park, lovely day, probably the nicest day of the year, or of the last several years.  The sky, patterned by intricate but well formed clouds, is peculiarly clear, an almost ominously intense cobalt blue, such as is normally seen only in the High Sierras.  Last year's drought ended in good winter rains but no letup in regulations.  Now the sycamore trees, old and statuesque, are in full green leaf.  Even the normally drab grayish-alizarin red eucalyptus leaves have a spring-green tint.  The scattered jacarandas, not native to these parts but a very desirable legal immigrant, like Hedy Lemarr, co-inventor of Wi-Fi plus being “most beautiful woman in Europe,” are in full glamor.  Ours may not be Walden Pond but is fine for me and our mallards with their fresh strings of chicks all in their rows.  In an old somewhat gnarled olive tree a mockingbird, perched boldly on a larger bare branch as if on a stage, has been singing continuously for maybe an hour and isn’t stopping.  A young man in shirt and tie jogs by – if he’s one of our resident grad students he’s out of costume; perhaps he’s on his way to a job interview, at a Bible Institute.  The only thing lacking, come to think of it, is a couple of old geezers frozen still over a chess board.

I see professor Plagno approaching.  As usual he is preoccupied with metaphysics and oblivious to all visible things.

“Wonderful lovely day, isn’t it professor?”  He supposes it is.  I add “I’m Ready for anything – bring it on.”

“Good-good-good!  Because I’m here to do just that, ruin it!  At the end of this you may be a changed man.  In  despair.  This is the dialog we’ve been building up to.  Others we might have, if we do, will be anticlimactic.  I am aware that you have felt our dialogs have been a bit on the surrealistic side.”

Nodding my head in a show of agreement, I reply, “Not just a bit, a ton.  But how could Plato not be surrealistic?”

Shaking his head in disapproval, Plagno declared, “My warning that I’ll make this a tough dialog for you must have scared you to pieces!  So you’re going for a pre-emptive strike?  Whadyamean Plato is surrealistic?”

"Plato’s idea of a god is so deliberately and connivingly vague it’s surrealistic."

“Surreal schlmeal!” huffed the prof.  “Surreal all you want but what I shall hit you with is as real and factual and hard for you to deal with as an iron manhole cover over a sewer, into which you Christians have plunged, you surreal dude.  But cheer up, the fact is that Plato can deliver you!  Always has."

“I beg to differ, professor.  While we Christians, like humanity as a whole, have sunk into the hole, that isn't the question -- it's Christ not Plato who delivers, 'the only name given among men whereby we must be saved.'  May I add the reference, Acts 4:12?"

"Skip it, dude," snaps the prof, "it'll just make my sorrow for you all the worse.  What I'm giving you is a godfather offer you can't refuse, or ultimatum you better not refuse, and this time I'm going to shout it," he shouts. "I give you an ultimatum  to stop being closed-minded.  Take your fingers out of your ears and LISTEN!  Here goes: Your Bible, your ‘word of God.’   Those atrocious contradictions, God’s monstrously evil commands to His chosen nation to conquer, annihilate, kill everything, man, woman, child even if in the womb.  And the draconian penalties dictated by Jehovah Himself to stone the culprit for so many crimes, to whack off the hand of a thief, or, for propitiation, to murder and sacrifice all those poor lambs.  He doesn’t seem to bother with fines or prison sentences, only capital punishment.  It’s a tough book to read much less swallow!  How can you?

“And that God of yours!  All the terrible things humanity suffers: tornadoes and tsunamis, earthquakes; wars, 9/11, murder as pastime, grudge, revenge, or in the name of religion, almost always religion, rape, theft of wallets and elections and identities, deception, incest, beastiality!”

 “Speaking of unnatural, surreal relations, dear professor, why didn’t gay marriage make it to your list?  And at the rate things are going, you’ll have to transfer incest and beastiality from your list of horrors to your awards list.”

“Now that,” shouts the professor, “is a downright deplorable remark.  How can you be so surreal about such a serious, serious thing?  How can your God just let all that happen?  If He's in charge why does He allow it?  Maybe He has retreated, doesn’t care. [I'm thinking that a God who has retreated into some other universe and is oblivious to this abandoned planet sounds very like Plato's Form, a platonic notion that many religionists have indeed bought into.]  Maybe He does care and imposes these curses as punishment, heartlessly, gleefully.  Maybe He Himself is evil. – the best minds have declared God guilty of genocide, not just of Canaanites but of the human race.  He’s evil, or created evil along with pansies, and it was good. Now, my dear Dr. Wes, how do you deal with all that?”

 

“Whew! You’ve sure covered the waterfront, and how!”  I exclaim, without the despair Plagno expected, but with due solemnity.  “If, as you agnostics like to say, man has progressed from the cave to outer space and even the iCloud, so has that prized list of grievances burgeoned, even without gay marriage!  Thanks for the update.  You’ve just delivered with Oscar-winning eloquence the verdict that God is The Cosmic Criminal. By comparison, Nazi crimes and the holocaust, or even American crimes as indicted by Noam Chomsky, are but annoying itches.  So overwhelming is that list that it has thrown into despair and disbelief generations of gullible grungy high-schoolers and college students, like me about 75 years ago, and bearded theological scholars from the 3rd century church fathers to, you inform me, the 21st century SDA humanist academics, and, you still hope, me. … ”

 

“Yes, you!” grins Plagno. “You've borne the toxic pestiferous waterfront unusually well, which bodes well.  I’ve hit many a Christian with that list but you are unexpectedly unflinching, I’ll say that much for you.  You have the giddy obliviousness that passeth all understanding.  But how can you – seriously, you’ve got brains, I assume -- not see how unacceptable God and the Bible are, and seize liberation from such an overweening micro-macro-managing and demanding God, so repressive to human nature and intellect, such an arbitrary and manipulating God?  Plato offers reason and liberation!  Go for it!”  Plagno winks.  I’m so old I remember conspiratorial winks.  I had thought it out of style.

 

“Go for it indeed!" I respond, winking back.   "There’s plenty to Plato, and Plagno, to like, all right!.  Like his, and your, use of pure reasoning, neither of you use much else.  The idea of pure reasoning without getting out of my chair, or park bench, or away from the keyboard, has appealed to me since grade school, not just in stiff old age.  Brie isn't bad and calling everybody 'dude' has a certain charm.  And you can tell, it must be obvious, that I like dialogging, as Plato always somehow inspires.  By the same token platonic friendships I like at least as much as the facebook kind, they being pretty much the same, aren't they?   And believe me, sir, I can certainly grasp, and with my whole being sense, way too often crave, and not infrequently have fallen to, that exhilarating platonic God-be-gone liberation of humanity that you so enjoy and so forcefully advocate, you and Plato and the Serpent in the Garden, and his puppeteer Satan.  Satan rather than Plato  really should get the credit for inventing the line in the first place...."

I expected Plagno to pop up at this, and he does, sputtering something about how this dialog isn’t going the way it should.

"No, wait, professor -- please... don't you philosophers give credit where credit is due, or try to?...OK, of course Plato gets more credit than just about any mere human being, born of woman.  But seriously, my dear professor, you and Plato -- strike Satan from the credits if you must, as you have -- you and Plato do have a hot product -- liberation! -- going for you there, for sure.   ... Anyway, my dear friend, the important part is that, thanks to you, I’m even beginning to get a handle on Plato’s metaphysics, is it not?  I feel a certain triumph in finally catching the drift, even the thrill of finally apprehending something as adrenalizing, as game- civilization- history-changing, and hyped as platonism.  Plato would be proud of you!  Thank you, thanks indeed, my dear Plagno and my dear Plato.”

Plagno jumps up again, this time delightedly, and shoots his hand to mine in welcome and brotherhood, and we shake, my shake being, as he cannot but notice, merely polite and flabby, unexcited.  “I discern,” he moans, “mere politeness and flabbiness, not the ecstasy of liberation.  What don’t you get?” he demands.

“Well … Platonic metaphysics would be fine as something to be toyed with by otherwise unemployed intellectuals in gothic enclaves, or as hors d'oeuvres served to you by a dude in a tuxedo at cocktail parties, or as a sort of game like chess or poker.  That I could handle.  But, alas, it's platonism’s worldview of the consummate that I don't get.  I don’t get Plato’s woolly concepts and matching vocabulary.  Though bogglingly elaborate otherwise, the platonic vocabulary goes blank when confronted by the ultimate, able to come up only with Form, duly capitalized to turn a formless word into a cosmic concept, or Idea, or Monad, etc etc.  Rather like the Amondawa language has no word for time, platonism has no word for God.  Platonism, whose prime mover is agnosticism, can't or won't even try.  Capitalizing form to Form and de-capitalizing God to god, renders the words platonically usable, like magic, or a typo --  hit the 'shift' key and a triviality becomes the secret of the universe and God vanishes.  A platonized 3rd century church scholar is free to go back to saying 'God,' but would Plato himself?  Never.  I don't get that.  But I do get, sigh, the fact that platonism, functioning below the radar, very good at putting on the uniform of any ideology and taking command, is in fact as crucial to the world of thought as magnetism or buried tectonic plates to the planet."

"Well, that’s a start, my dear Dr. Wes!  If you grasp only how universally influential platonism is, only that, you have grasped the crucial cosmic reality.  You're making progress, though at a dunce's pace.  A tectonic plate is faster.  If you begged I'd give you a C rather than a D," he said, out of the blue handing me another piece of brie.

"Finally!  What a triumph for our park bench, your professorial patience, and brie... But this I also get: I grasp that God is my creator and heavenly father, my redeemer, as concrete a notion as the Himalaya mountains, although, to me in my present state, even more unfathomable than the Himalayas.  Plato has figured out that only the enduring things, mainly his thoughts, are ‘good,’ or beautiful, both equally abstract. ‘Beauty is truth, truth beauty, – that is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.’  That’s Keats, aptly his 'Ode on A Grecian Urn.'  But Keats aside, I need to know more than that – I need to know, and do know, that God created me and this world, including beauty, and will save it.  Plato and Keats know only that there is probably an entity so vague as to be knowable only as Form, so perfect it can only emanate, and the closest It can come to salvation is beauty.  Too bad beauty has gone out of style.  Ugliness is in!”

"Sad, sad, sad," murmurs the professor, "sad indeed.  But not regarding beauty is hardly as sad as your not letting Plato liberate you.  As you were saying…?”

“As I was saying, platonism collides smack with verses of scripture that have become, since these park bench encounters began, even more palpable to me:  'All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made…' 'There is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.'  'Without me [Christ] ye can do nothing...'  'God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not parish but have eternal life.'  'I go to prepare a place for you and if I go to prepare a place for you I shall return and receive you unto myself.'" [1 Cor. 8:6 ESV; John 15:5; John 3:16; John 14:2,3]

I had more to say but Plagno interrupts, “That's all very sweet, but you can’t fool the professor – it’s simply a way of ducking the awfulness of God and the Bible.”

“As a matter of fact," says I, "that’s exactly what I was going to tackle, the awfulness of God, and the Bible.  It was what I have been building up to.  The answer to your  question, how can you swallow such horrors, is, I think, the Great Controversy between God and Satan.  There is such an entity as Satan, just as surely as there is a God,…and --”

“…That’s dualism!” exclaims Plagno, interrupting me again.  Why is it every time I try to bring Satan back into the dialog, he interrupts me?   Platonists turn out to dislike the idea of a Satan as much as God!

"Dualism?.... I don't get the drift -- or relevance to what I'm talking about.  You must mean Manichaeism, which I understand to be the notion of the Good as the intangible and Evil as the material, something like that.  Sounds more platonic, and thanks to Plato more Hinduistic, than Christian, and totally irrelevant to the Great Controversy, which involves two equally tangible, equally intangible, totally intelligent entities, not just existing, like Platonic entities, but in conflict.  To identify the Evil merely as disagreeable material matter, fill in the blank, -- nowadays most people would plug in Wall Street or homophobes, any politically hateful incorrectitude -- is to deny the existence of an evil preternatural being, and out of the picture goes a real Satan."

The professor chortles.  “Exactly!  Exactly!  Nobody, even the most award-winning theologians, believes in a Satan any more.  He’s so medieval.  How many times must I tell you that.  This is getting boring, we're stuck in your Satan rut.  Maybe, I say for the sake of debate, maybe, maybe there is such an entity as a God – He can be included among the putative intelligent designers Intelligent Design hypothesizes – but Satan? Ah c’mon, dude!  Demons, or morally ambivalent hermaphroditic platonic demiurges, those are good platonic certainties, but not a living consummate evil being.  And sin?   There is no such thing either. Calling anything ‘sin’ is a stupid misnomer, and intolerant, bigoted, judgmental.  What you call sin is merely the absence of formulated paideia or the abstract good.  Or, worse, your rejection of such enlightenment in favor of your Commandments and with them, 'sin.'”

 

“Say what you want,” is my rejoinder.  “Only the model of a Great Controversy between god and Satan works to explain so much.  Only a Cosmically Great Controversy explains so much of what would otherwise be utterly inexplicable, to wit, your famous list of divine crimes and how Satan’s main and central lie – that God is not love but evil, the consummate and living evil.  It’s Satan’s father of lies.  It is the consummate inversion of fact.  Talk about identity theft!  Talk about role reversal!  Please, for the sake of that good old debate, granted a Controversy and such a canny enemy as Satan, would he not conjure and broadcast just such a lie?  Without a Satan -- or a God -- where’s the Controversy?  And besides, the 10 commands are not mine, they are God

“OK OK,” Plagno sighs condescendingly, as only a professor can.  "You can have your, er, God’s commandments, Satan and that Great Controversy, for the sake of debate.  Oh what silliness must be endured for the sake of debate.  You almost make me doubt whether debate, at least ours, is worth it!  But… proceed.  I’ll just sit here and munch brie and wish for something stronger.”

 “Thank you, professor. Here’s something stronger: only the Great Controversy between God and Satan would explain all of human history, especially what we see going on in the world today...and, speaking of horrors, tomorrow.

“It all started in heaven and extended to earth, when Satan, before known as Lucifer, the highest and most powerful of the created heavenly beings, somehow decided he was the equal of uncreated God and His Son and due equal reverence, but was denied it, ergo, God and Christ were unfairly repressing him.  Discriminating against him, to put it in the language of 1990.  Denying him the vote, robbing him, cheating him -- the newest way of putting it.  This bogus syllogism set off the Great Controversy between God and Satan, with us as pawns and fodder.  And with that same whiny complaint, extended as applicable to every other created being in the universe, embellished with the promise of liberation from such cosmic tyranny, Satan deceived a third of the heavenly population and the vast majority of us humans, thus imposing mortality upon us all, starting with Adam and Eve.  Satan thus took over as the acting king of the planet and all that in it is.  Now, God of course could have whacked Satan and smashed the whole controversy as easily as He had created Satan and the universe in the first place, but He chose not to.   Demonstrating consummate love rather than consummate evil, He offered to all of us the choice between Himself and Satan.  He offered Salvation.  And somehow that required the Son to be sacrificed on the cross, and then resurrected, which somehow imparts to us, if we chose Him, kinship and direct access, and true and total liberation, from Satan and from death.  God is not evil and He did not introduce evil – calamities and misfortunes, everything from weeds to AIDS to tsunamis to atomic bombs, and worst of all, the insertion of a wall between humanity and Himself.  God did not.  Directly and indirectly, Satan did.  But whether God created evil or not, He did, I expected you to plug in, passively allow it, which is tantamount to being the active perpetrator.”

Plagno smiles.  “I deliberately passed over that point so as to see if you would say it, and you did.  Good for you.  Your reward is another piece of brie.”

“Thanks for another piece of brie.  And thanks for giving me the opportunity of saying that actually God didn’t passively allow it; he actively allowed it, which to you is worse yet, I suppose.  There I said it for you did."

 

“OK, so you did.  Are you quite finished?” asks the professor.  “I would hope so, I can stand only so much of your pish-posh.  It’s time I reminded you that this ‘Great Controversy’ of yours, it’s ancient stuff too, in some form or other, complete with risen gods, rampant in Plato’s day, you know.  But now we know better.  We've outgrown that silliness, thanks to Plato.  My updated Adventist grad students have too.   You old-time Adventists, are the only people holding to, and perfecting, belaboring that idea.”

 

“Yes, alas, I gather we are.  It’s part of the unique message Adventists – those who haven’t gone platonic and become embarrassed by original Adventism -- have to offer.  And, no, I’m not finished.  As to the gruesome Old Testament being so comprehensively different from the Beatitudous New Testament, that cannot be denied.  I don’t try.  Indeed the two testaments must be absolutely different. It is the Great Controversy itself that is gruesome, being the outcome of Satan’s evilness, of which the OT is a fair and balanced, no-holds barred, in-your-face, that is to say accurate, record.   The ‘spin’ is not a modern invention.  The teleprompter is modern but the spin is ancient.  In contrast to hieroglyphic etchings on ancient shards and pop or political presentations, nothing is held back in the Old Testament, warts and all.  Transparency in action. ...  And deliverance aka salvation could somehow – I say ‘somehow,’ and not for the last time --  come only through Christ as a human Himself actually setting foot upon Satan’s own domain, and being sacrificed, dying, and resurrected.  What Christ would do and why is so far beyond human comprehension, patently beyond Plato's cerebrum, even beyond the prophets themselves, that before He actually did come only symbol and dark speech could be used.  To differentiate Himself from Plato's Form -- just a blank, -- and on the other hand from prevailing ultra tangible but lifeless stone gods, He presented Himself, only in the Old Testament, as Jehovah, consummately and inarguably alive, too alive for your taste, alive in contrast to inert but illogically attributed powerful stone images.  Thus the language and frank atrocity and opacity of the Old Testament.

“But all that changed when He Himself came to earth and demonstrated by His very presence as well as His own words and actions, His and His Father's true nature.  And He was seen and heard by ‘our very eyes,’ as testified by an eyewitness, the apostle John.  Their record is the New Testament.  His advent necessarily could bring a sea change to the thrust of God's message, even its vocabulary and logic.  Only with the Great Controversy does it all, certainly the two testaments, fit together.

“Now, about the Bible, inspired and ordained and guarded by God, the owner’s manual, by which the now otherwise opaque wall between God and man is penetrated. … --”   I expected Plagno was getting restless and wouldn’t let me finish that sentence.  He didn’t.

“Oh, you and your Bible!  I’ve noted that you repeatedly extol the Great Controversy as the key, but then plug in the Bible as the key.  I invite you to explain that, if you can.”

“Thanks, and I shall.  If he gets off his platonic duff and opens his eyes and mind – the true open-mindedness -- to the glories around him that still exist after Satan burst upon the scene, man can, without the Bible, infer the existence of a God.  Just by scientific observation mankind can get as far as Intelligent Design, but no further.  It is only via the Bible that God is recognized not merely as among the array of putative designers but THE Designer.  By the same token it is only the Bible that discloses the Great Controversy.

“That said, I’ve got to acknowledge that -- this is a piece of information you’ll cherish -- that the Bible’s disclosure of the Controversy is in bits and pieces, starting in Genesis 3 in rather devious language, all coming together in Revelations, again in symbolic language.”

“Yeah, just like the whole Old Testament.  Way too labyrinthine for this simple-minded professor equipped with only a cerebrum.  I’ve tried to read a verse or two of your ‘Revelations’ and gave up, tossed it aside, donated it to the Gideons.  I’ve got to say you Adventists are a creative bunch to make anything of it.”

“May I say, ‘scholarly bunch’?  Bible scholars, not platonic scholars such as the Adventist academics you’ve taught.  But seriously, you have just hit on another point that I’ve been wanting to work in.  It might indeed seem that the bible, the main line of communication God has chosen to provide, does not seem very effective for the purpose – it is not instantly unequivocally clear, but in places downright confusing, and hopeless if available only in an unknown language, as was true until the spate of translations in the Reformation, and now when those old Reformation translations are no longer commonly understood. Fresh translations, like the New International Version, largely fix that issue.  But clarity is the least of the problem.  To me it seems God Himself has booby-trapped (I'll use that word to tease you) the very means of communication He provided for humanity. Thus when on earth He purposely, as he clearly explained to his disciples, spoke to the public mostly in easily misunderstood parables rather than legally lucid imperatives as He had, with His own finger, burned into stone, the Ten Commandments.  And He deliberately gave his enemies a figure of speech so loosely phrased that they could use it, He knew they would, against Him in the trial that doomed Him to crucifixion.  Walking in the magnificent Temple of Herod that took 46 years to build, one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world, He said, ‘destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up again.’  ... While I'm at it, it seems to me that God also booby-trapped nature, the very nature which otherwise so clearly discloses God.  And into these fossil-baited traps Darwin et al eagerly leaped.  I see these devices not as unfair, or inept, or evil, but as another of His ways of granting choice to us.  And if before His Advent He spoke in symbols and dark speech, after He came, His coming itself having explained so much, He could speak in an entirely different way and tone of voice, as He Himself acknowledged -- 'Ye have heard it said in aforetime... but I say unto you...'  But at core, what He said before and after His advent was the same, as He again stated, 'think not that I come to change...not one jot or tittle shall be changed.'  By His coming the outcome of the Great Controversy was decided, but not ended.  And until it is, humans, even those closest to God, must be spoken down to.  But if you truly yearn to understand, He will give you all the understanding you need through the Holy Spirit.  Having created your brain He knows how to work it. The Holy Spirit is your private tutor.  That's the crucial extra power He has promised, upon demand.  ... On the other hand if you have made your decision to reject Him, if you are hellbent on not understanding, He will not override your intent and free will but – would you believe! -- assist it, at least passively.  He will allow you to fortify your argument for rejection by turning you over to time-tested platonic doubt, and a PhD to boot.   It must be one of an agnostic's most ecstatically gratifying moments to discover yet another Biblical apparent snafu.  Look, if a genie grants even regrettable wishes, why should not God?  Just as God's blessing of rain famously falls upon the just and unjust alike, so now this blessing, so precious to the recipient, falls upon the determined disbeliever.  Biblical booby-traps are, if thus perceived, precious gems.

“Yet, I do indeed still have,” I add without reticence, “a lot of ‘somehow’s’ and ‘seem’s’ and a bundle of huge questions that I know cannot and will not be answered, now.  But they will be, comprehensively, totally -- after the next totally logical and clearly prophesied event in the Great Controversy, Christ’s Second Advent, which ends the Controversy.  That Second Advent will be as literal as the first, as literal a day as the days of Genesis 1, only this time He comes not as an infant but as God of the universe and in contrast to the first Advent and Creation, every eye shall see, every human being will behold, for as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.  And then, as St Paul says, no longer will I see through a glass darkly; no longer will I know in part.”

“A wondrously convoluted and tortured evasion, I'll have to say.  I'll give you an A for sheer chutzpah.”

“Gee thanks, professor.  So, do you look forward to ever being comparably informed on, say, anamnesis?”

“If you're expecting me to compliment you on a penetrating question, don't.  It's a phony, distracting, rhetorical question.  Have I not taught you that platonism-paideia has been upgrading knowledge throughout history, and at an ever accelerated pace will continue to do so until the unified mind of all people has taken great leaps forward and utopia supervenes?  It’s a long slow process, these leaps forward.  We must have patience.”

“Slow process indeed, professor, requiring the patience of Job but not, I should hope, of Darwin.  Lots of luck with anamnesis.”

Dead silence, then: "I feel so sorry for you.."

“Why, because I’m following booby-trapped ‘cunningly devised fables’?”

“Precisely – cunningly devised fables.  I’m so sorry for you.”

"Thanks for your sympathy, but hold it, my compassionate prof.  'Cunningly devised fables,' that's a quote of 2 Peter 1:16, but only part of the verse.  A crucial 'not' was omitted.  In context it reads, and I shall quote: 'For we have not followed cunningly devised fables when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, for we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.”

“Now that’s the limit.  I’ve borne with you long enough.  You’ve dodged and diverted our dialog into total silliness.  I demand that you start over: prove there even is a God – prove it!”

“I Can’t say," I say, "I haven’t been expecting that – the agnostic chime right on cue, prove it!-- as if Plato actually proves what he asserts.  To St. Paul, and me, easiest thing in the world, for existence of God has been ‘plainly discernible through things which he has made and which are commonly seen and known, thus leaving men without a rag of excuse.’ (Romans 1:19, 20, JB Phillips).   As an MD with research training and a scientific mental set, to me what is most convincing is – … but LOOK!  Right up there over our heads!  Would you look at that!  Those backlit clouds, vapor as opaque and solid as a mountain yet floating in the air, with sudden blindingly luminous rims against the dense cobalt sky – just seeing that fills me with His presence.  It's not a matter of being convinced, it's a matter of seeing what’s right in front of your nose and feeling it, and Him.”

“You’re kidding, dear doctor!  You’re expecting me a platonist to buy that as proof?  – merely your own personal sensory input, the most illusionary and inferior argument in the platonic epistemological system?  Why didn’t you --.."

"--...but I'm talking about beauty, professor, and could anything be more transcendently beautiful than those clouds right above our head?  To a platonist is not beauty a god, equivalent to Goodness, or the Form?  Are you not being disloyal to the Hellenist idol of Beauty?"

Whereupon the professor, clearly fed up with me, stands and bows stiffly and offers what I take as a valediction: “...another rerun of 'who's on first,' that’s all I’ve been hearing; the single longest monologue this park bench has ever had to bear up under, and in many ways the hardest to bear, I do declare.  No student would ever be allowed to go on and on like that, even about preserving the planet; my Adventist grad students don’t. ... You, you seem to have it down pat.”

“As a matter of fact I do -- thanks to you, my friend.  Brought up with the Great Controversy and other Adventist doctrines hard-wired in, I gave them no thought.  The idea of questioning those foundational things didn’t even occur to me.  For they are right out of the Bible, and therefore inarguable, so what’s to think about?  It’s all settled.  As to all the contradictions agnostics so relish and rehash, they were indeed mentioned, lightly perhaps, by my teachers, and settled to my undemanding satisfaction.  Anyway I was at the time preoccupied with other things, notably school and exams and being top in my class (really tough), girls (about as tough), becoming a doctor, specialty training, my career and keeping current, and painting, all of which monopolized my time and mind, just like the thorns of Christ’s parable of the sower (Matt 13). But now I’m retired with nothing to do but write essays, and stroll the park.  But then one day we happened to meet on this very park bench and I was treated to your zealous campaign to convert me, in the name of Plato, to agnostic disbelief of everything I had known.  And you succeeded – in causing me to open my eyes and look again, this time intently, at the whole business, questions and all and there are plenty of them, that’s inarguable.  In fact, the more questions, penetrating of course, the better -- proves the mind is in gear.  God is a churning universe and engine so to speak, not merely a platonic form or Buddhist nirvana.    But a question is not the same as a doubt, not the way I've seen it work with my Adventist scholar friends.  When it's questions, fine.  When it's doubts, uh-oh, down the slippery slope they go."

“And on that note…,” Plagno stands, hands me a brie, the last piece in his ziplock bag, bows and begins his departure, turning to say, “I proclaimed at the beginning of this dialog that after being hit by my unanswerable list of horrors you’d be a changed man.  But it doesn’t seem that you are, yet.  How disappointing, again.  But, well, my dear Dr. Wes, in spite of the antic apologias, your verbal catharsis, I do not despair of you, not quite.  We platonists never give up.  I detect that you might be on the cusp of a tipping point.  Darkest night just before the dawn, you know.  You just may be ripe for plucking.  Or you may be hopeless.  You're due for either an A+ or F-.  I’ll give you one more chance.  I want to see you right here … in six months.  Farewell for now.”

Watching him stroll away, I remain seated on our bench for a few moments, again aware of the fine day with clouds still scudding in the blue sky, now backlit in the afternoon sun, far above the troubled fog that had settled over our bench. In the olive tree the mockingbird, silent while Plagno and I prattled, is singing again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

• Last dialog, #6: Platonic Endship

 

 

 

In which the professor throws the old

Plagnonic book at yours truly,

who doesn't just sit there

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Wesley Kime