(Story begins here) “Oh, er, hello,” managed Pete. “It’s beautiful here.” He continued feeling he should contribute more to the conversation.
Laozi gazed past Pete at the spectacular sunset, casting beautiful colours across the smooth rock faces. “It is Huangshan mountain, honourable Pete. A favourite place of mine when I was Laozi.” To Pete’s ear, the old man spoke fluently in English but with a light Cantonese accent. “So I understand that you are having difficulty explaining the big bang during your preaching?” Pete was surprised.
“You believe in the big bang?” Laozi smiled to himself.
“Yes, honourable Peter, there is no contradiction between advanced science and spiritual truths. Only those that know little of either would feel the need to denigrate one to justify the other.”
“That sounds good, but how can creation myths be compatible with the idea of all matter and energy appearing out of thin air as a fluke? The big bang, I mean.” Laozi smiled to himself again. He seemed to do that a lot.
“If you will forgive my saying so, you have made a number of false assumptions, honourable Peter. The main one being that the big bang was a fluke, the next most grievous error is that the big bang came out of nowhere.” Pete tried to take this in.
“So, where did it come from?”
“Yin and Yang” said Laozi simply.
“I’ve heard of those,” said Pete thoughtfully, “they’re opposites which balance each other?”
“Yes, honourable Peter, that is good. They do not just balance each other though, they create. This is the nature of reality and central to my teaching. Out of one, what you would call God, came Yin and Yang, out of Yin and Yang came many.”
“Yes, my apologies honourable Peter, is my English failing me?”
“No not at all,” said Pete hurriedly, “it’s just that ‘many’ sounds a bit vague.”
“Why honourable Peter, it is not vague. You have spent your life living in ‘many’. It is what you would call ‘reality’ or at least ‘the universe’.”
“I see, so the big bang was…”
“The start of many, it was created by Yin and Yang, but from your perspective, that was… behind the scenes, to use a fitting English phrase.”
“You may have forgotten that what you call the ‘abstract’ is more real than what you call ‘reality’. The ‘abstract’ is what Plato called the world of forms, what I would call heaven. Tea?”
“Indeed, honourable Peter. I never mentioned the big bang in my teachings as it would have taken too long to explain and would have been a bit of a… tangent.”
“You knew of the big bang in your life time? But it wasn’t discovered until thousands of years after you_”
“Forgive my interrupting, but when an old soul manifests, we still retain a spiritual height which enables us to if you like, see into neighbouring gardens. We can ‘know’ things without discovering them or being taught them.”
“Alright, so one creation myth is compatible with the big bang, but what of others? Adam and Eve for instance.” Laozi paused for effect.
“The reason that Adam and Eve are compatible with Yin and Yang is that Adam and Eve are Yin and Yang.” Pete was stunned.
“But Yin and Yang are just abstract, symbols basically? Whereas Adam and Eve were…”
“Let me help you there, honourable Peter. You may have forgotten that what you call the ‘abstract’ is more real than what you call ‘reality’. The ‘abstract’ is what Plato called the world of forms, what I would call heaven. Tea?” Laozi interrupted this incredible explanation to offer Pete a small handle-less cup of fragrant, jet black liquid.
“Oh, um, yes thanks. So you were a Platonist?” Pete took the tea gratefully. Laozi poured himself a cup and took a thoughtful sip before continuing.
“Yes, I would not have used that term in my lifetime, but it is a simple fact that heaven supplies earth with life, with forms, with reality, whatever you call it.”
“In my teachings, I used the metaphor of a giant pair of bellows between heaven and earth, fanning the flames of reality. In Plato’s analogy, the fire is heaven, the cave wall is earth, but both metaphors are suitable to describe true reality.”
“So you’re saying Adam and Eve started the big bang?”
“I might be of assistance with that one Laozi” called an elderly upper-class voice, breathlessly. Pete looked over his shoulder to see a thickly bearded man in full bishop’s regalia stumbling over a rocky outcrop, panting and red in the face. “Really Laozi, it’s jolly decent of you to invite me to your little soirees, but can’t you hold them at slightly lower altitude? We’re not all acclimatised, old chap!”
“Please accept my apologies, honourable Bishop,” said Laozi, formally. There was a pause, then the two old men both creased up with laughter.
“Forgive us Pete, said the old bishop, we do like a bit of a laugh, obviously, no one has to worry about getting out of breath in heaven!” Pete smiled politely as young men do when trying to fathom the humour of old men who are good friends. The bishop bustled over, extending a warm flabby hand enthusiastically. “Sorry old chap, never introduced myself. The names Augustine. St Augustine of Hippo to use the full title, but I don’t like to make a big ruckus about it,” said the old bishop modestly as he straightened his mitre hat. “Is that about right?” he asked looking futilely upwards. “Anyway, no matter. Yes so, Adam and Eve, the pair of bounders that gave us all original sin_”
“But, how could they have existed before the big bang? How could the Garden of Eden exist before the big bang?” St Augustine tugged thoughtfully on his beard.
“Well, there’s a simple reason for that, old chap. As I always said when I was on earth, if the bible ever contradicts reality or reason, it should be taken metaphorically.”
“You said that? But a lot of people these days think Christians trying to say the bible isn’t literal is a recent phenomenon in the face of scientific developments proving it wrong.”
“Not a bit of it old chap, it’s always been the case, I was knocking around in 400AD-ish and other Church doctors like Origen said the same thing hundreds of years before me. I nearly got myself in a spot of hot water by saying in one of my writings, The literal Interpretation of Genesis, I think it was, but no matter. I said that the universe wasn’t literally created in six days, well that went down like a lead balloon in some circles. Then again, I’m used to being in hot water, this one time at the market, as a young man, I met this very attractive widow. Can’t remember her name, but no matter. Long and the short of it was, we went back to her place and she showed me her_”
“Perhaps that is sufficient, Augustine,” interjected Laozi, politely.
“Was only going to say ‘new mosaic’,” said St Augustine dejectedly, but he turned and winked mischievously at Pete, who was shaking with quiet laughter. “Something funny old chap?” asked St Augustine innocently. Pete controlled himself.
“I thought all the old Church fathers were very serious and stuffy.”
“Not a bit of it Pete. I was a bit of a chap in my earlier days. Was quite famous for bragging about it too.” Augustine gazed across the mountains in fond reflection. “I once said Lord give me Chastity, but not just yet!” the old bishop snorted with raucous laughter as Pete smiled politely. (continue)