Walking alone along a beach, you notice a half-buried object. You dig it out, brush it off, and poof! Out pops a Genie.
Unfortunately, this is no three-wish Genie. He instead offers you a choice between just two alternative destinies.
“The first,” he explains, “is your life as it already is and whatever it eventually will be.”
Big woo – you think the second better be good, otherwise this Genie business is a time-waster, especially for him (How long as he been in that bottle?).
“Or,” he proceeds, “you may choose suffering-free immortality, with your understanding of the universe perpetually expanding, and endowed with risk-free liberty to hold all of your religious convictions with ever-increasing certainty. There is, however, one catch.”
Of course there’s a catch – always is with these smoke-and-mirror offers, so you begin to resign yourself to more disappointment.
“The catch is you will be the only biological creature with highly advanced consciousness. Forever. So, which do you choose?”
I interrupt this parable to report that its originator – my friend O. Ryan (aka “O”) – reports that not all he has posed this question to have answered it, but most have, and always in favor of life as it is and will be. He further shares that he likewise would have no interest in endless existence without the companionship of other people. Moreover, the prospect of life with zero risk-filled challenges to overcome seems to him purposeless and mind-numbingly dull.
O allows that there may be some few who honestly prefer perpetual solitude. His parable does not aim at ferreting them and their reasons out, however, though he expects both will prove fascinating if and when met.
The point instead is to prompt reflection by the majority: why do they (we?) prefer abbreviated, difficult lives filled with often-complicated human interaction, rather than suffering-and-death-free perfection that includes unlimited opportunity to simultaneously (though solitarily) deepen our religious devotion and expand our knowledge of the universe? Returning to the not-yet-completed parable may provide some illumination . . .
Before you go far in your thoughts, the Genie interrupts: “I grow impatient – your answer is required to free me from the lamp. Since I am empowered to sweeten the pot (lamp, whatever), you may choose eleven people to join you in the alternative future. But, there’s a catch.“
You roll your eyes, and await his explanation.
“You must choose between two pre-appointed groups. All the members of one group share your religious beliefs. But they don’t share your interest in learning about the universe, and apart from expecting your full participation with them in pursuit of ever-greater devotion to those beliefs, they frankly aren’t all that interested in associating with you.”
“Let me guess,” you intervene, “The second group’s members don’t share my religious beliefs, but they are intellectually engaging and a pleasure to be around.”
The Genie smiles his confirmation, and before he fades, you provide your answer. He immediately departs, reveling in his long-desired freedom, leaving you with a beat-up lamp and doubts concerning whether you made the best choice.
If you remain uneasy about preferring Option 1, O advises revisiting Jesus’ proclamation that he was “the way, truth and life” by which people would “come to God” (i.e., experience the riches of spiritual life). You may associate theological propositions with those words if that is how they were taught to you (as they frequently are), but the gospels don’t portray Jesus advocating theology about Jesus. They instead focus on his elevation of liberty-expanding, golden rule-guided interpersonal relationships as the way to both experience and propagate abundant life.
Jesus (both directly and through his apostles) assured anyone and everyone that as they forgave others they revealed their true identity as sons/daughters of God; that everyone who loves proves that they are born of God; that true religion is caring for widows and orphans; that evidence of this Spirit emerges through every act of love, joy, peace, patience, tolerance, gentleness, goodness, self-control and humility.
Believing in/loving Jesus meant nothing more or less than incorporating his teachings into one’s life, and had nothing to do with pledging allegiance to any set of theological propositions.
Jesus lived out his teaching and – as was commonplace among ancient spiritual teachers – identified himself with his practice. Be encouraged, then: in opting for Option 1 you choose the way, truth and life that Jesus and his disciples likewise chose, assuming you likewise engage in the spiritual life of compassion toward self and others.
P.S. Preferring Option 2 – somewhat akin to electing to remain alone on Mars unlike Matt Damon’s astronaut (sans hardships) – is not a character defect. O requests that should anyone meet this Genie and make that choice, ought write a book about their experience and use their vast learning to transmit it to him for publication in this universe. It would be a best-seller. Regrettably, he would have no way to advance royalties, and even if he did such recipient would have no need for them, but they may rest assured: he will find a way to put them to good use!
P.S.S. Parables are intentionally provocative, but not meant to be taken literally. People generally don’t believe Genies exist (though they might rub a brass lamp should they find one while beachcombing). Nor does O mean to convey that everyone who shares your particular religious perspective is intellectually dull and unpleasant, while nobody else suffers either of these interpersonal shortcomings. Honest readers will admit that there are some of each type in both populations, and acknowledge that the one-wish Genie alone selects each group’s eleven.
Rob Hunter is a business owner, real estate investor, fly fisherman, avid reader, and writer. Rob has four adult children and lives with his wife Carolyn and their two dogs, Spud and Lucy, in Billings, Montana. Rob is a board member of Presence, which – as he puts it – has been pivotal to transforming his perceptions of the biblical narrative and spiritual life.