...This excellent thesis was posted to talk.atheism on 20 January 1999 and I am certain it will find its way onto many, many web pages. It is simple and profoud and I am proud to post it here (without permission, of course :-)
I'm about to do something I swore I would never do. I'm about to write a philosophical post based on a Star Trek episode.
You remember that episode where Picard was captured by the Cardassians?
They didn't ask him any questions about Federation security or technology or anything like that. The interrogator sat him down in front of this bank of lights and asked him how many there were.
There were four lights.
Picard answered correctly. "I see four lights."
The interrogator shocked him with this torture device and corrected his mistake. "There are FIVE lights. Now, how many lights are there."
Picard paused, recognizing the game. He answered again, "I see four lights."
The interrogator shocked him again and repeated his question, "How many lights do you see?"
Picard stuck to his guns. Louder this time. "I SEE FOUR LIGHTS!"
The interrogator stormed out of the room. Picard would not get any food or water until he agreed that there were FIVE lights.
I believe our country, our culture, our whole bloody WORLD is like this interrogation room.
Consider my perspective.
I'm living in a highly Christian town, in a highly Christian state, in a very mystical world.
I have intelligence, ability, charm, and ambition. I could wrap this town around my finger if I wanted to. But first, I have to answer the question, "How many lights do you see?"
I feel like Jesus, brought high on the mountain to look down upon the Earth. The powerful men, the string-pullers, are making me an offer. "You can have whatever you want. We'll give you fame and power and money and love and everything else men crave. All you have to do is tell us how many lights you see."
I know what answer they want. But I can't give it to them. The answer they want is the WRONG answer.
But who am I to decide what the right answer is? I'm just one man. Fragile and scared and alone. Besides, these guys have been counting lights for 40 years. I just started counting three years ago.
Maybe there really ARE five lights. Maybe I'm just being stubborn. Maybe my dad is right. I've been told there are five lights all my life. Maybe I'm just REBELLING. Maybe I'll "grow out of it."
I hear the old ones talk sometimes. I tell them how many lights I see and they look down on me and they pat my head. They say, "When I was your age, I only saw four lights. But when you get to be MY age -- when you get a little more EXPERIENCE, you'll realize that there were five lights, all along."
I met a pretty girl yesterday. She was smart and funny and talking to her made me feel happy inside. I didn't want to ask the question. I tried not to ask. I tried to forget there even WAS a question. I tried to stop caring about the answer.
But finally, I couldn't stand it anymore. I asked her, "How many lights do you see?"
She smiled at me in that familiar way and said, "There are five lights, of course. What a silly question!"
I asked my Grandmother about it. Tactfully, of course. I asked her, "Grandma, have you ever considered the possibility, just the POSSIBILITY, that there are only four lights?"
Grandma got very angry. She said it was evil to say things like that. She said bad things happen to people who don't see five lights. She told me about Uncle Charlie and Aunt Sue. Uncle Charlie and Aunt Sue said there were only four lights, but they did lots of drugs and they beat their kids and they didn't even celebrate CHRISTMAS, for God's sake!
She said my mother saw five lights and she wanted me to see five lights, and if she wasn't dead already, hearing that I only saw four lights would kill her.
She said I might as well go to my mother's grave and spit on it, talking about four lights that way.
I loved my mother, and I miss her, and I wouldn't want to make her angry or sad. But no matter how hard I squint and stare and rub my eyes, all I ever see is four lights.
When I was really little they took me to this pretty house and asked me how many lights I saw. I was very young, and I wanted to make my parents happy, so I said I saw five lights. They held me under the water for a little while and when I came up, they said I could be in the five-lights club.
At first, it was fun being in the five-lights club. Talking about the five lights made my parents very happy. I got to play with the other children and sing songs and once I made a little house out of popsicle sticks.
But as I got older, I started to worry. Everybody around me got so happy when I talked about the five lights, I started to feel guilty about it. I felt guilty about lying.
I was a good speaker, and I knew lots of big words. My parents said I should devote my life to talking about the five lights. I didn't really say anything when the subject came up. I just smiled and changed the subject.
Finally, after I was all grown up, I decided to stop lying. I decided to tell everyone that I only saw four lights -- to apologize for lying all this time.
Some of the people I told got angry. Some of them got sad. And some of them said it was "just a phase" I was going through.
I told my friends about it. Friends so close they were like brothers. Closer than any real family I ever had. We all agreed on the number of lights while we were growing up, but we never really talked about it.
It wasn't something you really talked about, when you were a kid. You just accepted it as fact. There were five lights. Everybody around you saw five lights and they taught you to see five lights, and that's how many there were, until the day you died.
You could talk about what color they were or how bright they were, but the number never changed. There were FIVE lights, dammit, and bad things happen to people who only see four!
I told my friends how many lights I saw. I knew it would shock them but I knew they loved me. I knew they would accept my belief, even if they didn't share it.
I was surprised when they started asking me questions:
"How do you KNOW how many lights there are?" "Are you SURE there are only four lights?" "Millions of people see five lights, who are YOU to only see four?" "The fifth light is invisible, but you're supposed to see it anyway!" "We're not wrong, your eyes are wrong!"
They were still my friends. They still loved me. But now there was something wrong. Even when we're not talking about the lights, I can tell they're thinking about them.
They don't just see ME when they look at me anymore. They see the guy who only sees four lights.
They keep their distance sometimes. They were told that bad things happen to people like me. They're afraid that if they get too close, bad things will happen to them, too.
I haven't told my Grandma yet. I haven't talked to her in a long time. I'm afraid to talk to her, because I know that if we talk, she's going to ask me the question.
I've lied to her for 20 years, but I'm not going to lie anymore. If she asks me how many lights I see, I'm going to tell her the truth.
After I tell her the truth, a lot of people are going to be worried about me. Some of them are going to hate me. I don't know which part bothers me more -- the hate or the worry.
I'd rather have people hate me than worry about me. I'm funny that way.
Before I go, I want to ask you a question.
You don't have to answer right away. You
don't even have to say it out loud. Later tonight, when the doors
are all locked and the lights are out and there's no one around
to hear you or hate you or worry about you, take a moment and ask
How many lights do you see?
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