ONE
THE BEGINNING
To Question or
Not to Question,
That Is the
Question

        The following journey was an inside-out dream that I had (or that had me).
        It was a dream, but it seemed I was its object, not its subject, the dreamed-about, not the dreamer.  My earthly life appeared to me through a heavenly mind, or God's mind, or the mind of an angel, or something else, I could not tell.  But in my dream it seemed to me that I was in that heavenly mind looking down on my earthly life from above, rather than generating heavenly fantasies form below.  This "above-below" reversal was physical as well as mental:  instead of being flat on my back on a bed gazing upward, I seemed to be floating, or swimming, face down, as on a wave, body-surfing my life, looking through the water at a lobsterlike creature scuttling across the sea floor (My name, Kreeft, means "lobster" in Dutch, by the way.)
        The journey began in my present, which is middle age - just as Dante's journey did:
         In the midway of this our mortal life
           I found me in a gloomy wood astray,
        Gone from the path direct. ...
           How first I entered it, I scarce can say.
Instead of a gloomy wood, I found myself in a gloomy underground cave.  It was enormous, yet I felt claustrophobic.  Behind me I saw row upon row of people sitting in comfortable chairs, as in a movie theater.  They were all intently watching the play of shadows on a wall of the cave.
        I immediately recognized the cave as Plato's - the most famous image in the history of philosophy.  As soon as I realized where I was, I heard a harsh and ugly voice speaking in a surprisingly winsome way.  It came from the ugliest man I had ever seen.  His body was short, fat and twisted; his head was oversized, bald and bulbous; his eyes were froggy; and his nose was pug.  I instantly recognized my favorite philosopher.
        "Socrates!" I cried joyfully.  "Is it really you?"
        "As really me as that thing I am looking at is really you," he replied with a cryptic twinkle.
        Foolishly trying to impress Socrates with my cleverness, I said, "You mean you can't see my soul, my true self, only my body."
        "No, I mean only what I say," he replied.  "It's a strange habit of mine that you will just have to get used to, I'm afraid.  I meant only that if the laws of logic have not been suspended, you can be sure of this, at least:  that I am I and you are you.  Everything seems to have this strangely stubborn habit of being itself, being logically consistent.  As for me, I only try to copy that habit.  So do you think you can endure the presence of such a strange creature, one who is constantly out of alignment with people whenever they are out of alignment with truth?  One who takes the side of truth against humankind rather than the side of humankind against truth?"
        "I would love to have you as my companion, Socrates.  Are we going to hang around this cave like bats, or will you lead me out?"
        "Well, now, that depends on you.  If I guide you on this journey, I will only give you maps, and advice, and arguments.  It is you who must choose at each fork in the road."
        "What road?  I see no road."
        "That one."  He pointed to a dimly discernible path, strewn with rocks, that climbed steeply, perilously close to abysses, and ducked through tiny tunnels that we would clearly have to crawl through.
        "And where is the first fork in the road, the first choice I have to make?" I asked obviously.
        "Why, right here of course.  Right here at the beginning."
        "I don't see it."
        "How can you miss it?"
        "Please show me."
        "No, let's see whether you can find it for yourself.  I will not tell you, only teach you; that is, I will only ask you some questions so that you can tell yourself.  That's my style, you know.  I just can't make speeches.  The last long speech I had to make was a disaster.  I can still taste that hemlock!"
        "I know your method, Socrates.  Ask away!"
        "Tell me, then, what does one do at the beginning of any journey?"
        "I don't know."
        "Yes you do.  Just remember the logical law of consistency, the law of identity that we spoke of a moment ago.  Now what do you do at the beginning?"
        "You begin, I suppose."  I was beginning to sound petulant.
        "Bravo!" Socrates cheered, as if I had just discovered the theory of relativity.  "And does this just happen to you, or do you have to choose to begin?"
        "You have to choose," I said.
        "Well, then, there is your first choice: to begin, or not.  To travel, or not.  To seek a way out of this cave, or not.  To get on this road, or not."
        "If I seek a way out, can you guarantee me that I will find it?"
        "No.  But I can guarantee that if you do not seek it, you will not find it.  Is that not enough to move you to seek?"
        "I don't know, to be quite honest with you ..."
        "Please do.  Please be quite honest with me.  Nothing will work unless you are."
        "I have doubts... All those people sitting here in this cave - it seems confined, but they seem very happy and content."
        "Content they surely are.  Whether they are happy or not is another question - unless happiness is nothing more than contentment."
        "Don't you think it is?"
        "What I think is not important - or shouldn't be to you.  What do you think?"
        "I think it is.  If you're content, you're happy."
        "Have you ever heard of 'contented cows'?"
        "Yes."
        "Have you ever watched a cow?  Have you ever observed how contented cows are?"
        "Yes."
        "And how discontented humans are?"
        "Yes indeed."
        "Tell me, do you think you can be happier than my cow?"
        "Yes..."
        "But you are not as contented as a cow?"
        "No."
        "Then it follows that happiness cannot be the same thing as contentment, does it not?"
        "I guess it does."
        "So which do you seek?  Contentment or happiness?"
        "Happiness."
        "Good.  Then we can travel.  You see, I cannot lead you out of this cave unless you choose to seek the way out.  And to do that, you must be discontent, not content.  You must disobey the first law of your society's most popular prophets."
         "What law?  What prophets?"
        "Your pop psychologists, whose law is 'Accept yourself as you are.' In other words, be contented, be a cow.  If you will not chose to question their authority, you will not question anything, except the shadows on the wall of this cave."
        "I see.  My first choice, then, is to choose whether to be Socrates dissatisfied or a cow satisfied."
        I thought Socrates was getting ready to congratulate me on this wisdom, and I was getting ready to feel satisfied about my dissatisfaction, when suddenly one of the inhabitants of the cave rose from his seat, turned to me and interrupted.  I saw that he came not from one of the small chairs but from a tasteful little walled garden in an unusually pleasant corner of the cave.
        "Don't let this charlatan seduce you," he said to me.  "There is nowhere else to go except this cave.  This is all there is.  Tales of another world outside the cave are mere myths.  There is no proof of those other realms that Socrates will claim to lead you into.  Only children believe such fantasies."
        Disconcerted, I now began to doubt and wonder what I was supposed to do.  Socrates, however, was neither discouraged nor upset by the man's attack.  He even seemed to recognize him as an old friend.  "Why, Epicurus!  I suspected you would show up.  It seems it is time for us to go to war again for another soul."

The Journey - A Spriritual Roadmap for Modern Pilgrims by Peter Kreeft.  InterVarsity Press, 1996.

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