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Religion, science

A Parable of Knowledge

avi was born in a small village on a small island in a large sea.  His childhood was tranquil and carefree.  He learned how to fish and how to farm and pilot a boat, and when he had mastered these trades, he learned how to dance and sing.  Life was good.

But something tugged at Kavi’s heart.  When he looked out over the sea, he felt a sense of longing — something like curiosity but much deeper.  Curiosity feels like an itch.  This was more like the angry growling pains when the crops have failed and the sea is barren.

Kavi went to his father and his family and told them what he was feeling.  His father was a man of advanced years and much accumulated wisdom.  He said, “Kavi, you are a very privileged young man.  This hunger inside of you can make you into a great man.  But you must complete a sacred task, or your privilege will be wasted.  You must go into the world and discover what is true and what is false.  Beyond the horizon are many lands, bigger than our little island, and filled with wonder.  You must visit them all and learn everything you can from each of them.  After you have done this, you will be confronted with a hard choice.  If you have been true to your quest, and have tried to learn from everyone you meet, you will make the right choice.”

Kavi prepared his boat and filled it to the top with provisions.  The next morning, he set out onto the wide open sea, anxious to learn all that he could and to see everything the world had to offer.

The sea was even bigger and wider than he had expected.  For thirty days he made his way towards the horizon, and for thirty days, the horizon was just as far away as it had been the day before.  On the thirty-first day, he was filled with despair.  He had no food or water left, and his will to go forward seemed equal to his will to quietly slip over the side and let the sea take him.  Perhaps his father was wrong and there were no lands beyond his island home.

That evening, he begged sleep to take him and sleep would not oblige.  Wearily, he gazed out over the distance and something was there.  It was so far away, it could be a trick of his weary mind, but the longer he stared, the more certain he felt that it was no illusion.  He summoned all his strength and made his way forward.

It was land!  Not only that, but there were sounds of music and singing, and smoke rising from cooking fires.  The smells and sounds were intoxicating.  Kavi made his way onto the island and was greeted by several men in beautiful robes.  They welcomed him with open arms, gave him a seat beside the fire, as much food as he could eat, and all the water he could drink.

For a month, Kavi lived with his hosts and learned from them.  He visited the mountain of fire in the center of the island and learned of the god who dwelt within.  He watched with fascination as they performed their weekly ritual offerings.  Each person took the best parts of their work, whether it be farming, fishing, or toolmaking, and joined a procession to the top of the mountain.  Once there, they tossed all of it into the mountain and sang songs of thankfulness to the god who dwelt within.

At the end of the month, Kavi approached the elders and told them of his quest and his father’s instructions.  The elders all nodded knowingly, and then the eldest of them spoke.  “Kavi, you need not continue your quest any longer.  We have all the truths you need here.  Can you not see that we have as much food, water, song and dance as you could ever want?  We make our sacrifices to the god who dwells in the fire mountain, and he provides everything we ever need.  What other truth could you possibly want?  Stay here with us and join us in worship of the only true god.

“But Elders,” replied Kavi, “I have also been told that the world is wide and there are many islands with many different peoples.  You seem wise and I have seen the abundance on your island.  But my father is also wise, and he told me that there is much more to see and learn before I can become a great man.”

“Kavi, you must trust us,” said the Eldest.  “I’m sure your father is a good man, and wise in his own way.  But we are the wisest of the wise.  We know this to be true in the deepest parts of our hearts.  You need not learn from anyone else in the world, for all that they teach is falsehood.”

“But Elder, how can I know this to be true?  You say that you are the wisest of the wise, but what if you only believe yourself to be the wisest?  What if there are other peoples who are truly wiser than you, but you do not know of them?  Have you seen the other islands?  Have you learned the ways of those people to know that they are foolish?”

The Eldest looked stern.  “Kavi, I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but there is another truth which you must consider.  The god who dwells in the mountain is an angry god.  He does not reward too much curiosity.  The truth is here for you to see.  There is no reason for you to look elsewhere.  But just to be sure that you do not become to curious, you must know — the god who dwells in the mountain will punish you severely if you decide to leave us and seek out any of the other islands or the people who live on them.”

Kavi went to his hut and sat down to think.  This was a horrible decision indeed.  He knew his father to be a wise man.  His instructions had been clear.  Learn all you can from everyone you meet. The elders had said that there were indeed people on other islands.  But what if it was true that they were all foolish?  Perhaps luck had smiled on him, and he had reached the best island on the first try.   But what if they were wrong?  What if these people were the most foolish of the fools, and thought themselves wise because they had never learned from any of the other island people?

Why would the god who dwells in the mountain be so angry at curiosity?  Why would he punish those who seek the truth?  If it is the truth, wouldn’t it be better to see all there is to see and know that it is the truth instead of believing just because the elders said it was so?

What was Kavi to do?

Kavi went to the elders the next day and addressed them with a very somber tone.  “Elders, I have thought all night, and I have one more question for you.  How do you know that the god who dwells in the mountain punishes people who leave the island and seek knowledge elsewhere?”

“That is a very good question, Kavi,” replied the Eldest.  “There is a magical island, invisible to man, where all of these people are taken after they are out of our sight.  Once there, they are tortured in horrible and brutal ways, and never allowed to return to this land.”

Kavi felt confused and afraid.  “So you have never seen one of these people receive their punishment?”

“We do not need to see it.  The god who dwells in the mountain has told us that it is true, so it is true.”

Kavi left the elders and sat on the beach, alone with his thoughts.  He faced a horrible choice.  Down one road was the promise of truth, but it seemed that he would not be allowed to learn any more than he could learn on this island.  Down the other road was the promise of learning all that he could learn, but he faced retribution from the god who dwells in the mountain.  Was he to end his quest so soon after it had begun and trust the elders?  They seemed completely sure of their beliefs, but was that enough to compel him to stay?  What if there were others on different islands who were equally certain of their beliefs?  How would he ever know unless he learned all that he could know before making his decision?

In the dead of night, Kavi packed his boat and quietly sailed away.

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