Sophisticated Theology

M: Hey, great party, you. You really know how to throw together a proper bash.

Y: Oh, it wasn’t me. Steve put this together.

M: Steve? I guess I don’t know this Steve person.

Y. Oh, no? You should definitely get to know him. He’s in the kitchen. Go say hi.

M: I will. …Uh, so I went to the kitchen, and there’s no Steve there.

Y: What do you mean, no Steve? You must not have looked hard enough.

M: No, I popped in, and there clearly wasn’t a person in sight.

Y: You need to go back and try again. I am telling you—you can find Steve in the kitchen.

M: Um, okay? …Look, I went and looked, and there’s absolutely no one there.

Y: If you don’t find Steve in the kitchen, it’s because you’re not really trying to find him. Why are you being so stubborn?

M: Stubborn? That’s an odd thing to say.

Y: I just really want you to meet Steve.

M: Well, maybe you could call him on your cell phone and see where he is.

Y: First off, Steve is in the kitchen. That’s where I encountered him. And second, Steve just doesn’t appear whenever you might want to summon him. He’s beyond that.

M: So you don’t actually have a way to communicate with Steve, then.

Y: I talk to Steve all the time!

M: Well, then, maybe next time you’re chatting with Steve, you could ring me up, and I could come meet him.

Y: It doesn’t work that way, you know. You have to find Steve yourself.

M: I tried. I went to the kitchen and everything, and he wasn’t there.

Y: Of course, Steve is there! Steve built that kitchen, you know. Everything in that kitchen is a result of Steve’s creative powers.

M: That’s an odd way of phrasing things. I suppose you have some proof that Steve built your kitchen?

Y: I sure do! Check out these documents.

M: Okay…. Uh, these are by no means definitive.

Y: What do you mean? These are original accounts of Steve’s work building that kitchen.

M: Original in what specific sense of that word? I’ve read a lot of accounts of kitchen building, and this smacks of some other such tales. Moreover, there seem to be some inherent contradictions here, as if these aren’t all the same account but a variety of accounts stitched together by a later editor. This one letter says that Steve built your kitchen in a week, while this diary entry is a little more vague. The letter says he put your sink in after painting the walls, while the diary has the reverse. Finally, I can tell by the dates that all of this was written long after the fact by people who did not actually witness the building of your kitchen.

Y: Look, obviously these documents are not meant to be taken literally—

M: How’s that? You handed them to me as proof of your assertion that Steve built your kitchen! And I’m not supposed to take them literally?

Y: Obviously, the essence of Steve transcends what any earthly documents could describe.

M: I guess that could be said about any living person. But the fact is that you hold onto these documents and assert that they convey some truth about Steve, a person you say you cannot introduce me to, and I want to know what that truth is.

Y: It’s a big T truth, a truth about the ultimate reality that is Steve.

M: Ultimate reality? How is that different from, say, reality?

Y: It’s about peering beyond the veil, so to speak, beyond the kitchen.

M: So then Steve has nothing to do with the kitchen, then?

Y: Of course he does! Just because Steve is not bound by the kitchen does not mean that he is removed from it, that he exists only at a distance, that he just builds a kitchen and then leaves.

M: Most contractors do. But okay, if Steve is still in the kitchen, then why can’t I find him there?

Y: You will find him everywhere you look in the kitchen. Everything in the kitchen will speak to Steve’s presence. Take the toaster apart, and its coals and switches will speak to you of Steve. Sift through the accumulated dog hair under the refrigerator, and there you will find indications of Steve’s presence. I can show you Steve in a handful of dust.

M: That really makes no sense. I mean, how will an investigation into the contents of the kitchen produce evidence of Steve?

Y: Because Steve is an orderly person. And there is order in the kitchen. Look at how the knives are arranged according to size and use! Are you saying that this is just accident?

M: There could well be many ways to explain the ordering of those knives without evoking Steve. The thing is, you are the one making a factual assertion about the existence of this person named Steve. Therefore, it is up to you to provide evidence to back up that assertion. Perhaps if I study knives and other kitchen utensils, I can come up with a rational explanation for their ordering that does not depend upon the presence of Steve. You are the one insisting upon his presence. Therefore, the burden of proof is upon you. Why can you not simply point to something that proves that Steve is here? And don’t just say that the existence of the kitchen is proof enough. If you insist upon invoking a builder, why not Tony or Moriah or Angie? Other people here at the party have told me that Nora or Buddy built the kitchen, not Steve.

Y: Well, yes, and rather than doubt them, I just like to think that everyone has encountered Steve in his or her own special way.

M: What the hell does that mean? If they have all encountered the same person, then why are their accounts of that person and his kitchen-building so fantastically different?

Y: As I said, when confronting the ultimate reality that is Steve—

M: Yeah, I am going to stop you right there, because I still don’t know what ultimate reality is and how it differs from reality. Look, why would it be wrong for me to operate from an assumption that Steve is simply not in the kitchen until I encounter definitive proof to the contrary?

Y: If I didn’t believe that Steve was in the kitchen, then I could act just any old way, couldn’t I? I mean, I could put cans of beer in the oven or leave the freezer door wide open! What is to prevent me from doing something horrible like making sausage gravy from a prepackaged mix?

M: Um, some modicum of self interest would prevent that. I mean, you would have a vital interest in not tearing up this kitchen that you are using. Plus, I think it would be natural for those who make use of this kitchen and have to deal with each other to form some kind of social contract that aims for a mutual regulation of behavior for the purpose of maximizing happiness all around. Such a social contact could work to prevent the making of gravy from a powdered mix. It might not prevent all cases of that, and the contract may be renegotiated throughout the tenure of people’s lives here, but it would certainly provide a bases for proper behavior in the kitchen. I don’t understand why a failure to believe that Steve is here would suddenly turn everyone into barbarians.

Y: So, first, you attack the idea of Steve, eh? And next I suppose you’ll move on to music, art, literature—all the things that make life worth living.

M: Do you even remember how this conversation started? You had a very simple premise—there was, in the kitchen, a person named Steve. You have yet to offer any evidence supporting this premise, and every time you find yourself backed into a corner regarding this lack of proof, you try to change gears and pretend that the original argument was moral or aesthetic or something other than it was.

Y: Your problem is that you haven’t read enough books about Steve to make a solid judgment about him.

M: I went down to the kitchen! I looked for him! Steve is apparently not there! I am open to the existence of Steve in the kitchen, but I don’t understand why I have to presuppose his existence to understand his presence in the kitchen. I don’t have to presuppose the existence of rocks when one hits me in the head. You say that Steve is a part of our reality. I don’t go around presupposing our reality in order to experience it. I simply experience it. Why is Steve different?

Y: Because Steve is ultimate reality.

M: In what way ultimate? Your documents contain contradictory information about Steve and date from a time long after he was supposed to have built the kitchen. Other people here claim that someone else built the kitchen or built it in a different way. If ultimate reality is not truer, then in what way is it ultimate?

Y: In that it exists beyond our senses.

M: Well, how do you prove that? How do we even begin to experience something beyond our senses? Our senses are the way we experience this world! True, as Scrooge noted, our senses can be deceived, that a bit of mustard or undigested beef can affect them, but we have means of compensating for that. So tell me, what proof do you have for the existence of Steve?

Y: The proof is within.

M: Within what?

Y: You are obviously too blinded by the ways of the world to understand Steve and his magnificence.

M: Well, I’ll be honest. I don’t mind you believing in Steve—just as long as you don’t try to make changes to our household operation on the basis of that which you cannot prove.

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