Apr/May 2000 Miscellaneous

The Dialogue: A Play in One Act

by Michael LaRocca

SCENE - JESUS and JUDAS are sitting in a sparsely furnished temple. Oil lamps hang from the walls. The setting sun is visible through a rear window. No one else is present. It is silent except for their voices.


JUDAS - Do you realise that this is the first time that I've been in a temple since I fled my bar mitzvah?

JESUS (smiles) - Why did you flee?

JUDAS - The religion just struck me as being so false. It's full of gross inconsistencies, vindictiveness, and mad Puritanism. Its leaders pound it into everyone's skulls until they accept it, when neither really knows just what it is they're accepting. They blindly try to follow a bunch of contradictory doctrines thrown together by a group of men who, if they were to assemble in one place, could not agree upon a single point.

There is beauty in the Testament if one knows where to look, but religion does not emphasise it. People are too busy concentrating on how they have been wronged by history. No one cares about right and wrong, or how they should live, but only what they've been bludgeoned into believing.

JESUS - This is true.

JUDAS - I'll admit that to conclude that there is no god is a far stretch, but I couldn't reason my way to one, and it's just not in my nature to have faith in anything except myself.

JESUS - The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.

JUDAS - No, in my case the spirit is unwilling and the flesh just doesn't give a damn.

JESUS chuckles.

JUDAS - Man has a need to reason that, since his present situation is unsatisfactory, it must have been perfect at one time, and that it will be so again somewhere ahead if he will but persevere. We are in a situation where we cannot be certain, but it is crucial that we come to a decision nonetheless.

We can bet that this is all there is, or that there is something beyond this. We should probably bet there is something beyond death, because if we are wrong we have only wasted some effort. But if we bet there is nothing after death, and there is a judgement, we lose everything.

Or we can confess our ignorance and refuse to make a choice. One cannot pretend to accept a view that is not his, for this is mere self-deception, and God would not let an individual into heaven who has done that. If there is a hell, I will be there.

JESUS - Earlier, you said the existence of evil is proof that an omnipotent, benevolent God does not exist, for He would surely destroy it?

JUDAS - Precisely. All who believe in an Almighty God are but naive children.

JESUS (smiles) - Including me?

JUDAS (grins) - Almost all.

JESUS - Let's assume for a moment that there is an omnipotent, benevolent God, and that He has created man's soul in His image. Would you agree that God has free will?

JUDAS - Certainly.

JESUS - And would a God who has chosen to be benevolent deprive man of that same choice? To compel a man to always do good is not the act of a truly benevolent deity. Depriving man of his free will would not be creating man in His image. He would instead be creating another element to control, just as He wills the sun to orbit the earth.

If only the good existed, and not the evil, there would be no freedom. There must be more than one course of action if man is to truly have free will. What we call suffering, death, disaster, misfortune, and tragedy, we should call the price of freedom. The only alternative to this suffering freedom is an unsuffering unfreedom.

JUDAS - I would suggest that man has no free choice at all. He follows a given course of action because his morals or his lack of them deems that he must react to the situation presented as such. That reaction in turn conditions his mind and his perception in a given way, to in turn influence his next decision. All men's actions contribute to the circumstances of others, so that they form a web whose patterns are unalterable.

Training is all there is to a person. What we call nature is merely heredity and training. We have no thoughts or opinions of our own, only those we learn. If we judge a person by how much he has overcome his training, the value of all humanity could pass through the eye of a needle.

JESUS - Do you realise the full implications of what you are saying?

JUDAS - Indeed. Our past actions predestine our present actions. A stone that rolls down a hill believes that it is striving with all its might to stay in motion for no reason except that it wants to. Such is human freedom, in which men realise their desires but not the causes of them.

The infant believes that it freely wants milk; the angry that he freely seeks vengeance; the frightened that he freely wants to escape that which frightens him; the drunkard that he has freely chosen to do or say something only to freely choose to regret it later.

Man has no free will. Your desire to find and spread truth, Caesar's lust for power, and a merchant's greed are not chosen paths, but the results of circumstances and their reactions to them. This view of causation does not assume that one's will is unable to alter the scheme of things, but rather that one's will is an integral part of that scheme. If this is true, then there is no such thing as escaping destiny.

JESUS (Long thoughtful pause) - If you say that A ought to have done X, and that he is morally wrong for not doing X, then you are also saying that A, by an effort of free will, could have done X. To condemn A for doing X is meaningless if A was predestined to do Y. If A can choose between moral courses of action, then he has free will. Otherwise, to judge him is meaningless.

JUDAS - The moral "ought" is yet another mistaken belief. When faced with an apparently free choice, A could only take one course of action, depending upon what he is. For example, if A found a large sum of money and knew its owner, it would appear that he had two choices, to either keep it or to give it back.

But if he were an honest man, and his honesty were stronger than his greed, then he would give it back. There would be no true choice made. His honesty and his desire to do what is right would predestine that he give it back. Likewise, if he were greedy, then he would keep the money. Period. There was no real decision involved.

His soul, be it honest or greedy, may take time to settle upon its course of action if the two feelings are similar in magnitude, or perhaps he plans to do something good with the money, or he hates the one who owns it. But he will eventually settle upon returning the money if he is honest or keeping it if he is not.

JESUS - The free choice comes in deciding whether to be honest or greedy in the first place. After he weighed the advantages and the disadvantages of honesty against those of greed, he chose to be one of the two. He could have always changed his mind, perhaps during the incident with the money, for the choice does exist. Man is always free to choose what he is and what he will become. Whether by his heart or his head, he does decide upon his actions. Man does have free will.

JUDAS - By what standards does he choose honesty or greed? Why will one man choose to place his integrity before his own gain and another man care only for himself and have no concern at all for his fellow man? Some people argue that it is inborn, and others that it is learned. But one thing that both heredity and training have in common is that the individual controls neither of them. All whom he encounters will affect him in some way. When he is faced with what you would call a decision, and he takes the course of action that his character dictates, his action affects his character. The results of his action will either confirm the decision or change his opinion on something involved in the decision. He does not change his opinion; circumstances do. Free will is naught but an illusion.

All circumstances are causes, and our characters are merely their effects. They act upon us, and we react as we must. This is not the act of a deity, but merely of an immutable set of natural laws. Circumstances alone make us what we are. What a man is determines what he does, and what he does determines what he is. We come to a point where several actions are possible, but we are capable of doing only one of them. A man can no more change what he is than a leopard can change his spots. It is foolish to wonder about the road not taken, for you could not have taken it.

The stone is given its existence, and need not fight for what it is, a stone in the field. Man likes to think that he is different, but he is not. He is what he is, and his past determines his future just as surely as nature determines that a rock cast from a high place will not float in the air, nor rise into the sky, but rather that it will fall to the ground.

There is no free choice in what we are. Perhaps not even sentience. Freedom of will is merely an illusion to which millennia of ignorance have given birth. Man will not believe that he is anything less than the centre of the universe when he is in reality nothing but another subject to its unalterable laws. All things, even Nature, must follow those laws. Nature is those laws.

I would rephrase the question of free will as, "When I have done something that I later regret, could I, by an effort of free will, have originally resisted the temptation to commit the regretted act?" I would reply that it takes no strength of will to resist temptation. It merely proves that the desire to resist is the strongest temptation.

JESUS (pauses reflectively) - Your argument is consistent, and possible. But is it correct? I truly do not know. If there is indeed a God, as I believe, perhaps He will be generous enough to reveal the truth to me before He casts me into Hell. But if there is no such God, as you believe, then no one can ever know the truth about anything.


JESUS - So what was Peter so mad about?

JUDAS - I stated my opinion.

JESUS (laughs) - Ah, that explains it. But what exactly did you say?

JUDAS - He asked me what I thought of all this. I told him I've always known you're not the Son. I'm surprised you didn't explain that to him before.

JESUS - I was waiting for the right time. (JUDAS laughs. JESUS grins.) Peter's a good man. I knew him, along with Andrew, James and John, long before this charade started. At times, I envy his faith. He makes an excellent rock upon which to build a church. But are you sure that you don't want the job?

JUDAS (chuckles) - I don't even believe in your God. Or had you forgotten?

JESUS (grins) - You won't let me. What else did you tell Peter?

JUDAS - I told him that what you are doing is long overdue. You open men's minds and teach them to consider rather than accept. True, you do have to tell a little white lie so they'll listen --

(JESUS bursts into laughter. JUDAS chuckles, and waits for JESUS' laughter to cease.)

JUDAS - Men have the tools to find tranquillity, truth and happiness, but they won't use them. Once you give them that, nothing will be beyond them.

JESUS - I have come to kindle a fire on the earth, when I would rather that it burned already.

JUDAS - Exactly. But Peter didn't see it that way.

JESUS - He makes a point of telling me. But he has been at my side from the beginning, as the true friend that he is, and he speaks from a genuine concern rather than malice.

(JESUS pauses.)

I'm replacing one dogmatic faith with another. I tell people not to judge and yet I've judged them all to be fools needing my wisdom and guidance. I tell them to know their hearts and yet I don't even know my own. They don't look at me as just a preacher who is stating his views, but as the Son of Almighty God. The confirmation of their faith, the Creator of heaven and earth, and the man who will give them back Jerusalem. Soon we will follow in the footsteps of John the Baptist.

JUDAS - Yes, that about sums it up. I told him that most people sit around waiting for someone or something to come and answer all their questions and turn the world around. At least you are willing to do something about it. You are trying to put mankind back onto the right path, and there is no sin in that.

JESUS (genuinely moved by JUDAS' speech) - I thank you, Judas. But Peter does have a point. Men would rather accept what others tell them than think for themselves. This makes our chosen mission rather difficult. They prefer to take what I say as law rather than listen to it, and think about it, and either accept or reject it. It is as though anyone who listens to us will unquestioningly believe everything we say.

JUDAS - I've noticed that as well. It would be terrible to think that all people are going to become pious.

JESUS (smiles) - Yes, Judas. But I have given up everything for this cause of mine, and now it appears to be all for naught. I left my home to spread the word. I left the woman I love to do this thing. I disowned my family before the masses. Like Peter said, I have forfeited my very soul. Was it really all for naught?

JUDAS - I don't think that what you do is for nothing. Given time, we will succeed.

JESUS - Whatever I say is not thought about, but accepted as the Word of God. I am no better than the priests and the scribes. I say it, and they believe it. Am I really accomplishing anything, or am I merely brainwashing them in another direction?

JUDAS - You are too hard on yourself. There are people who have heard your teachings and thought about what you are saying. There are still those who have nothing but blind faith, but you are doing enough good for enough people to make it all worthwhile. Your chosen mission is not in vain. It is for the good, and your sacrifice is a most worthy one indeed.

And if there is a god, surely he agrees, and thus your soul is not forfeit, as Peter would suggest. Peter is a Bible-thumper who cares more about the words than their meanings. You teach, among other things, to look beyond the mere words, and to understand the ideas that lie behind them. So, while the words might dictate that what you do is blasphemous, the Lord would judge a man by his heart, and in that respect you are greater than any of us.

JESUS (smiles) - I want to believe that, my friend, and when you say it, you make it so easy to do. But alas, I must still wonder. Are we truly reaching them?

JUDAS - It is only natural that you would question your actions, for it is that act of constantly questioning ourselves that makes us men. We are not acting as the priests and the scribes, who blindly obey what they have learned and never question what they do.

No, we are a different breed. We are thinkers. All that we do, we do because we have carefully considered it, and believe that it is right. If we can teach others to live their lives in the same manner, then that alone is worth any price we pay, and anything else that happens along the way matters naught.

JESUS - More food for thought, as usual. (Pause) But my will grows weak, and I fear that I may not be able to keep up this pretence for much longer. I fear that I may just turn my back upon it one day. I feel that I must end it.

JUDAS - What do you propose to do?

JESUS - There is only one way to end this charade without destroying all the work that I have already done. (Pause) Martyrdom.

JUDAS (Long pause) - Are you sure that you would rather not live at all than live the life you have chosen?

JESUS - Yes, Judas, I am sure. It becomes more tempting to just abandon it all, and I know that I will soon give in to that temptation unless I get out now. This is the only way.

JUDAS - Do you mean to pretend to die?

JESUS - I have deceived the people long enough. My whole life has been a lie, but at least my death will not be.

JUDAS - And what do you think this decision will do to your chosen mission?

JESUS (smiles) - You are thinking of the power that martyrs have over the living. I do not plan to truly die a martyr. I shall instead die an outcast. If I am truly the Son of God, then even death should be no obstacle to me. No, I shall promise to return in three days.

JUDAS - But you won't be able to keep that promise.

JESUS - Exactly. I leave it to you and Thomas to keep the others honest. (Smiles) Knowing John, he may have them all saying that I returned to life with a host of angels at my feet.

JUDAS (Long pause) - I hope you will change your mind. But if this is what you truly wish, then I will help you in any way that I can.

JESUS - I thank you, Judas. (Pause) What gives us the right to do this thing? You and I are sitting here, elevating ourselves high above the populace and deciding their fates for them. Why is it that we have decided that we have the right?

JUDAS - Remember, rules were meant to govern fools, but only to act as guidelines for wise men.

JESUS (thoughtfully) - That is true. But which are we, Judas? Which are we?


In the rear window, the sun sets as the stage lights fade to black.


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