Sunday, January 5, 2014

Home Truths: An Agnostic Visits Heaven (a playlet for the snowbound, and others)



[Scene: From total darkness, a blinding flash of light (with thunderclap) reveals upstage center a man. He's dressed casually but conservatively in today's garb, standing astonished in the middle of a cozy living room in 1950s American style, blandly and comfortably appointed. Downstage on either side, angled, are a couch on which a middle-aged woman sits, knitting or reading a magazine, and on the other side, an easy chair, in which her husband reclines, smoking a pipe and casually reading a newspaper. They are dressed in the ordinary at-home fashion of the era. The bright light quickly subsides to normal illumination, as they look up at him with milder astonishment than his.]

Heaven, he's in heaven, and his heart beats so that he can hardly speak.
It's humble, but in our hero's view, Mr. and Mrs. God call it home.
Man:  God?

The Couple (together):  Yes?

Man (awkwardly):  I know this sounds presumptuous, but I was really hoping to see God.  That's why I'm here.

Mr. G.: You're speaking to us, son.  (Pause) We're God.  Welcome home!

Mrs. G.: And  to what do we owe the honor of this visit, young  man? We hear from you and your siblings down there on earth all the time, and that's a blessing, but here you are in the flesh.  What a treat!

Man:  Well, thanks, I guess. I'm not really an emissary of all humanity, at least not officially. But
I'm desperately worried about us, so I'm sort of self-appointed.

Mr. G: No need to apologize.  Any human being who's ever done anything out of the ordinary has been self-appointed. Don't worry about it.

Man (trying to relax):  So, anyway, you're God — both of you?

Mrs. G:  Of course. Divinity requires constant teamwork, you know. (Pause.) We've been doing this... well, forever, I guess. (Pause, then as if talking to a small, confused child.)  We're your parents.

Man (uncertainly):  Oh. Kay. I'm not sure I ever believed in you down there, and now this: a married couple living in the 1950s — middle-class Americans, probably Eisenhower Republicans — God! It's a lot to take in. (He finally starts moving a little, looking around.)  So this is what heaven really looks like?

Mrs. G (mistaking his wandering gaze for admiration):  Glad you like it.  We've got it just about the way we want it now. It suits us — now that you kids  have left home and are out on your own.

Man (slowly, ruefully):  Out on our own, are we?  Oh boy, let me tell you: That's why I wanted so badly to talk to you in person — and  I'm an agnostic!  Look: Things are getting way out of  hand down there.  I think humankind may be a little too much on its own.

Mrs G (putting aside her knitting): Believe me, we've heard all about it. Come sit down, son, and try to relax. (She motions to the other end of the couch, smiling warmly at him. The man sits down.) Oh, the prayers! Let me tell you, and from across the spectrum — even from atheists, though they never realize they're praying.

Man:  Then you know what a mess things are down there. Of course, how could you help knowing? So, where is God in all this, is what I'm wondering. A creation that ends up being like what we've got on earth now just doesn't make sense.

Mr. G (becoming increasingly indignant in the following speech): Really?  Are you sure?  Don't get me started, young man.  Your mother and I did our best for you and all your brothers and sisters. We gave you every advantage.  Oh, sure, we may have made mistakes, but I hope you didn't come up here just to find fault with us. That won't do at all!

Man (uneasily):  Oh, no. I suppose I'm grateful for all you've done — the sacrifices you've made. (Trying to think of an example.) You didn't compel us to worship you, or even believe in you, for that matter. That was a gift.

Mr. G:  You better believe it was, son.  We gave you free will.  It's always been up to you where you go with it.

Man:  Well, we're not going in any positive direction, on the whole, and the evidence for that  is growing exponentially: We're killing each other in so many different ways, sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. And we're not doing the planet much good, either. I've brought along some of the evidence, right here (Shaking the papers in his hand and thrusting them forward.)

Mr. G: So you think we're not aware, eh? (With a twinkle, turning to Mrs. G). It looks like omniscience isn't what it used to be, darling, doesn't it?

Man: It never was. (Triumphantly) The first question you ever asked a man was when you said to Adam in the Garden of Eden: "Where art thou?" How's that for omniscience!

Mr. G (dismissively): It was an existential question. To give him something to think about. He and Eve had just tasted the fruit of the forbidden tree, remember.

Man (tired of the argument, his tone turns demanding): All right, whatever! But we need some intervention, and it's got to be decisive — and soon!

Mrs. G: My, my, my.  Such ordering around we're getting from our grown-up child!  Although we're used to it, frankly. Oh, some of those prayers! On and on, do this, do that, gimme, gimme, gimme! God help us!

Mr. G:  Your mother has introduced a salient point: Humans are grown up now. In the infancy and early childhood of your race, a certain flailing around was understandable.  Over time, though, it's not unreasonable to expect you to act like adults, is it? Or am I mistaken  here?

Man:  I see your point.  But when we were kids — at least according to some of our books — you were all over human existence: A revelation  here, a revelation there — miracles all around.

Mr. G:  I'm not going to say a word for or against what your religions take to be revealed truth. That's your affair. It's part  of your exercise of free will. It isn't guaranteed to come out well all the time.

Mrs. G:  And that's right there at the start of one of those entertaining sacred books you kids have made: The forbidden tree, it says, provided knowledge of good and evil, which also means it provided knowledge, period.  And the ability to get more knowledge, come what may.

Mr. G: And from that all the good and bad things have  come. Your Jewish siblings who gave you that story had it about right, though they went on to enlist us in all their bloody battles for a homeland.

Mrs. G: My word, was that ever exhausting for us! I remember. They seemed to think we would be joined at the hip with them forever.  On the other hand, it was an inspiring illusion.

Mr. G: And for their pains, they've gotten more than their share of grief from the rest of you.

Man (pointedly changing the subject):  So, what's the use of all these purported revelations, if they aren't really in loco parentis, as it were, if they really don't come from you?

Mr. G: ;The same as the point of all the science, the art, the technology — the free exercise of your curiosity, your knowledge and your capacity to reach your potential. Even human parents tend to endorse that in their kids, don't they?

Man:  Sure, but it's a little unfair of you to let go of us just because you've decided we're all grown up.  On earth alone, of all your creation, we're a fairly young species. I mean, look at the long run the dinosaurs had.

Mr. G:  Ah, yes, the dinosaurs.  They enjoyed millions of years of equilibrium in their environment.  And that's because they fulfilled their potential and prospered.  The human potential is so much greater than the dinosaurs', don't you agree. So, it may take longer. Keep working at it!

Man:  But my point is that we may destroy ourselves and the planet we live on well before we've accomplished what you have in mind for us.  (Pause.) And, by the way, what do you have in mind for us? You could let me know and I'd sure feel this visit was worthwhile.  I mean, our fate is foreordained, isn't it? So, give!

(Mr.and Mrs. G look at  each other, bemused.)

Mrs. G: Now, son, that wouldn't be quite fair, would it? For our children to have free will — created by us, let me point out; we didn't have to do it — and for us, Almighty God, to be locked in, with no flexibility?

Mr. G: We may want to change our mind, is what your mother is saying. And we have from time to time.  Running all of creation is a complex task, and we gotta keep our options open.

Man: But are  you running it?  It seems out of control to me, at least from my earthly perspective. (Growing irritated.) And you're content to sit around up here in your cheesy 1950s living room, looking like the perfect Kiwanis couple, and call yourself God in this Saturday Evening Post set-up heaven? (Loftily.) I would expect more inspiring choices from any deity worthy of my worship.

Mr. G: What a display — a little agnostic hissy-fit! When you calm down, you might take a moment to consider that what you're disdaining is your real idea of heaven, and that may be more important than whether or not this is in fact the real heaven,

Man:  That's a horrifying thought, actually.

Mrs. G (chuckling): But not bad for an agnostic, eh?

Man (sinking glumly into the couch):  So, what can I take back to earth?  That God is going to continue to let this mess play itself out, just because you're so proud of the free will you bestowed on your screwed-up kids?

Mr. G: And the intelligence to make the best possible use of it, remember. Plus, you've long had dominion over all the other creatures.

Mrs. G (smiling benignly): Except the microbes, of course.

Mr. G (not quite amused): Always they will have exceptions to deal with, dear.  (Loftily.) The exceptions, the things that don't quite fall into place, the choices to make — most of them trivial, some of them scary and  consequential.

Mrs. G:  As for what you can take back from this little tete-a-tete,  Mister...there won't be anything. Nada. Zilch.

Man: Oh, great. so now you're going to erase my memory of this edifying conversation. Just turn it upside down and shake it like an Etch-a-Sketch, huh?

Mrs. G (severely): We're not going to lift a finger, sonny.

Mr. G: She's right. We won't have to.  You've got too much to defend as an intelligent boy wanting the best for his human family.   You don't want to risk all that just to be taken for some delusional kook. There would go all your possible influence to make things better.

Mrs. G:  You kids are always so forgetful anyway. From this, you'll probably only have access to a renewed sense of appreciation for your freedom.  What could be better than that?

Man: Well, I guess I'll have to be satisfied with that.  It's not much in the way of reassurance, I have to say.  And if this place is really my idea of heaven, and you are my idea of God, I'm awfully disappointed in myself.  (He turns disconsolately to go.)

Mrs. G:  Take heart, son.  That's better than being disappointed in yourself — or in your Mom and Dad, who will always want the best for you. (She hugs him.)

Mr. G:  Give our best to the whole human family, will ya?  We'll always love them, though I'll admit they often won't be sure of that.  (He claps the Man on the shoulder.) But that's parents and kids for ya, right? (He hesitates, then hugs his son.) And keep in touch.

Mrs. G (sweetly): Just don't overdo it, honey, OK?

[Man exits toward the back of the stage, turns to look back quizzically, then leaves; Mr. and Mrs. G watch him go.]

CURTAIN