THE PROBLEM OF PAIN
DUMBER THAN DOGS
Dreamed 1984/5/15 by Chris Wayan
We're sailing across the tropical sea to the Isle of the Blest, banned to mortals for centuries. You might call us pirates, and there's some truth to it; two of the women on our voyage didn't want to come, and we kidnapped them. But they've become steadily reconciled to the adventure; one privately admits "We WANT to see the Isle--we're just terrified of the ban! What'll they do to us?"
We'll soon find out. The steep, conical islet looms ahead. A rainbow arcs down onto it, a curving cantilever of green, magenta, cream. We land the boat and step ashore, the first mortals in this age. A steep little beach outside a concrete ring-wall. Walking on the beach, we feel exposed not just to the angry eyes of the gods inside, but to sea-monsters and waves--the beach is so narrow and steep you could almost fall off.
So we lean up against the wall, spread towels, put on sunglasses, strip, and nude sunbathe on the doorstep of the gods. Partly bravado, partly that we want to provoke some reaction. It's easier than climbing the wall. I hang out near my two favorite crewmates, a mousy shy girl and a blonde glamor-girl. Funny--I find them equally sexy, sprawled out nude. Though I'm surprised the FCC allows it! We're on American TV, after all.
And then... we're in. The Isle of the Blest--the afterlife in the flesh!
The tract homes are a surprise. We all share a big ranch house. In heaven, all is allowed except ONE thing. Different for each of us--some bad habit God's trying to cure. But the punishment's painful, and I resent it. From Eden to Purgatory, doesn't this stupid tradition ever change? Tell God "Even if it were moral to hurt people so much over small flaws, and it's NOT... aversive conditioning isn't effective. Rewards work better."
On other issues, I'm well respected in Heaven, even consulted a lot by my neighbor angels, get a reputation for wisdom... but on this one point they all disagree with me. They accept God's mysterious wisdom about punishment and pain. And I won't. I'm insulted by God's disrespect. Even a dog learns better from praise than blows. When God teaches us through suffering, God is calling us dumber than dogs.
At last, God gives up on me as a bad dog, an incorrigible dog: for one morning I wake up banished from Heaven. I land on Earth, in a snowy, tough steel town in the Midwest. Stuck in my head, a parting shot from God, are the words to a song by Kiss, a band I don't even like. He snipes in mysterious ways.
Well, it's Earth, but not Peoria. Every lamp-post has a head-sized strawberry on top! They stand like luminous lollipops, casting rosy light on the parking-lot snowfields. Shades of Bosch...
Some berry-lamps are tall, some short. At last I recognize the pattern--they're musical notes! They spell out the tune to that Kiss song in my head. Below each lamp stand Americans, frozen still by some spell, but, I think, not dead--creepy in their silence. Crowds below some lamps, none below others, just me and the bubblegum snow.
I hear the tune sung faintly now, inside the brick halls of the University, where Kiss is teaching it to an audience.
Am I here in the flesh, or am I a ghost? I decide to consult one of the wisest angels: Honesty. I track down Honesty (who, of course, does live here in Ohio) and ask "Why pain? Pain here, pain in Heaven. Why?"
Honesty gives me the usual explanation about learning... and I just don't buy it. Honesty's not being quite honest. Rewards and the lack of them are just as effective as pain. It's a useful warning tool, sure, but we don't need THIS much. I'm particularly pissed because we both know that Honesty is really an aspect of God. God slumming, God incognito. Honesty insists "I only feel competent to discuss what this incarnation of Me knows." I don't buy that either. Evasions, from the boss right down to middle management--when agony for little things just isn't RIGHT!
I keep searching, through Earth and Heaven and Hell, for someone who can answer me. Funny: I'm never directly punished for inciting rebellion against God--just the same old agony we all get from our designated bad habit. I can walk through Hell unharmed; it seems my life is charmed. (Unless I eat junk food. Even on the astral plane, my allergies remain.)
Sorry about the lame rhymes; Kiss in the background, unrelenting, is getting to me.
One day, people from the future land on Earth. Two groups, each from a galactic empire, one German, one Portuguese. They say "Surrender now, and we'll let you choose which of us will rule you." I'd go with the Portuguese since I figure they'll be more inept, and I want us to be able to fight for independence.
So I get myself a small singularity and cage it in a sort of upside-down folded umbrella that blows a steady wind up out of its crumpled cone. Wires stretch up from the tips of the ribs and wave in the wind, forming a loose, weak cage for the black hole. I look close and find each wire is a stretched, narrow picture of mine! It looks as silly as a Mary Poppins version of the Olympic torch, but these futurians won't think so. They know how deadly the focused energy of a black hole can be.
I lift it with difficulty--gravity is neutralized by the uplifting properties of my art, but the singularity still has inertia, and it weighs several hundred million tons. Lucky I've been weightlifting.
I manhandle it into a small plane, and fly off to disrupt their computers. And we do it!
Worldwide parties. Independence Day. No one's ruling this world but us.
God appears. No more masks! I finally got God's attention with my little black hole. Well well well... But God still won't answer the problem of pain. Just says "You're responsible for Earth now. You've been in training all this time; now you're ready."
I object "I still disagree with your stupid Better Souls Through Pain program! And I won't change my mind without a very good explanation--I'm not deferring to you just 'cause you're God."
God's entire answer: "That's why." And God flies off into space.
I don't become an Earth Angel right away. The world can bumble along on its own a while. I have my own life to live.
But when I'm old, I'm walking on the moon one long day, admiring the desert--thin air, not much water, but cactus--a few with flowers already! Even the moon can flower in time.
And I decide I've seen enough, lived enough. It's time. Now! My soul lets go, and I become the Guardian Angel of Earth.
The "problem of pain", that all religions must explain, manifests a bit differently in me than in most folks. My environmental illness and food allergies make ridiculous, petty "sins" lead to big punishments; vigilance leads to a painless if somewhat dull life. Pain, in my life, really IS generally escapable--it's just stupid, about nothing much.
The Isle of the Blest grew partly from Dante's Purgatorio, but also from Korin's beautifully simple picture by that name of the Buddhist version, and of course Tolkien's isle in the west, Elvenhome, where no mortal may tread.
And God, this honest God, this pro-pain God? C.S. Lewis wrote a whole book called "the Problem of Pain." I wasn't convinced. As a kid, I read his book "Out of the Silent Planet", too. In it, the Oyarsa or archangel of Mars scolds Earth explorers: "You each try to be your own little Oyarsa." I thought "Damn right!" And I haven't changed my opinion much.
I turn on the TV after work and find WKRP IN CINCINNATI: Loni Anderson poses for a publicity ad on a fake beach; the photographer secretly takes nude shots of her in a changing room; her friends try to burgle his office for the photos.
The fear of trespassing; the uneasy beach scene; the issue of nudity and hidden watchers; realizing I'm on a TV show; all definite echoes of the dream! The mousy girl is Bailey, who I find just as sexy as Loni Anderson.
So why the hell would my dream carefully fuse a mystical meditation on the problem of pain with precognitive references to a TV sitcom? It's like chocolate-anchovy cake! But it did.
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