Said a man, standing on a crate,
“Thought and comfort are species that cannot mate.”
This philosopher continued:
“An idea unchallenged can’t claim merit. Sacred stories are paper tigers.”
“Anything sanctified may lead to murder. For one person’s sacred object will bump into that of another, and it’s only by brute force that such conflicts are resolved. ”
The mayor was captivated by the philosopher’s words, and thought:
The youth are lumps, existing free…
So the mayor invited the philosopher to his town.
The townsfolk were not pleased.
The philosopher’s first act was the erection of a sign that read,
Your god is the wrong God!
One resident said, “How can you make such a statement?”
“I’m not here to offer instruction about how language works, but — rather — about how a thoughtfully lived life can be achieved.”
The first man kicked the philosopher in his left shin, and stormed off.
The second shouted, “But what gives you the right?”
“The right to what? To write a statement? To expose it to public scrutiny?”
“To make claims about which god is the true God.”
“I make no such claims.”
“But your sign says so.”
“Do you claim the sign is wrong, or that I have no right to make the comment — regardless whether it is true or false?”
“Well, mostly, the first one. The sign is not right,”
“Perhaps the sign IS untrue, and if proven so, I would certainly have to remove it. So tell me, is your counter-claim that your god is truly God?”
“It most certainly is,”
“Then tell me, how can I know that your claim is the correct one?”
“It is written in the scriptures.”
“So anything that is written in a religion’s scripture is true?”
“No. Not just any religion’s scriptures, just ours.” said, the man, thinking he’d anticipated the philosopher’s argument about how mutually exclusive statements can be true.
“And why just yours?”
“Because ours were written by the hand of God,”
“And how could a person such as myself be convinced of the truth of such a statement?”
“Because it is written…”
“So the scriptures of other religions don’t say they are the truth from God?”
“They may say it, but it’s not true.”
“So do you have more of an argument than that you believe something written centuries before your birth must be true and statements contrary to it must be false? If not, I must maintain that the statement on the sign has as much validity as your counterclaim. Both statements may or may not be true and with unassignable probabilities.”
And so the second man punched the philosopher in his right eye, and walked off in a huff.
A third man, a missionary, said, “That man was wrong,”
“I agree,” said the philosopher holding his palm over his eye, “violence is not a winning argument,”
“No,” said the third man, “not about punching you. He was wrong that what matters is the scriptures. I know my god is the God because I feel it’s true.”
“I had vertigo once. It felt like the room was spinning and like I would fall over, but neither was true. So, I can’t say that I put much faith in what I feel as arbiter of truth, but I definitely don’t have any feeling about the existence of your god — one way or the other. Are you saying he might be god to you — who feel this presence — and not to me, and to all those others, who don’t have such a feeling?”
“I’m not saying that…”
“Oh, good, because I was going to ask why you make so much effort to convert people to a subjective god?”
The third man kicked the philosopher in the right shin, shook his head, and walked off.
A fourth man approached and said, “Your sign is wrong because I have no god. I don’t believe in such hokum.”
The philosopher took out a marker and made some editorial changes. He wedged a large “V” in between the word “Your” and the word “god” and wrote “lack of” above it. He then crossed out the words “the” and “God.” The edited sign read:
Your lack of god is wrong!
“Surely, you aren’t going to attempt a proof for the existence of god after what you told your previous conversant?”
“I am not. You watched the previous discussions and should realize that I claim no more than that my statement holds as much validity as yours. Unless, that is, you are more successful at proving the non-existence of a god than the previous individuals did at proving its existence.”
“I cite Occam’s razor,” the fourth man said smugly, adding, “are you familiar with it?”
The philosopher said, “Indeed I am. But I wonder, why is it not called ‘Occam’s Law?’ Is it always the case that the simplest explanation is invariably true? Could we not find in the natural world instances in which the explanation for an observed phenomena was more complicated than an explanation we could theoretically imagine?”
“Not invariably, but a good rule…”
“So you base an absolute conclusion on a ‘good rule of thumb?’ Isn’t there potential for…”
The fourth man socked the philosopher in his left eye.
The philosopher, blinded with two swollen eyes and with a knob under each knee, sat by his sign, awaiting more takers.
The mayor came by and said, “I’m afraid this hasn’t worked out as I’d hoped. I’ve gotten so many complaints. Perhaps, it would be best if you move along.”
So, the philosopher grabbed his meager possessions, and limped one painful step at a time out of town.
Two weeks later, a colonizing army invaded.
The officers told the residents that they must convert.
The townsfolk all said that they would never convert.
The generalissimo said, “Convert or die. Those are your options.”
“That’s unfair,” said one man.
“What gives you the right?” said a woman.
The generalissimo then said, “OK. OK. If any of you can give me a sound reason why your religion cannot be supplanted by our own, I will reconsider…”