Vail Valley Voices: Why it matters |

Vail Valley Voices: Why it matters

Bob Branden
Vail, CO, Colorado

“Global warming is a political feint, wars in the Middle East, natural disasters everywhere, a spiral staircase of amino acids with a sugar railing, Adam Smith and Godwin … What does it matter?” The student pulled at his hair in mock exasperation.

The crowd wasn’t full yet, they weren’t being bumped into, patrons weren’t asking to borrow the two empty chairs at their table. It was their favorite time. Conversation could still be maintained with a normal voice. It was almost possible for the student to catch the waitress’s eye.

“It matters because you’re going to take your final exam,” the teacher said seriously.

Sometimes when the teacher spoke it was as if he could take you to another time and place. The student sensed the room shifting. He could almost discern a throne in the distance on some sort of frozen sea.

“You want to pass, don’t you?” the teacher mocked and the tavern came back into view.

“Oh sure, you’re just going to grade me based on whether I agree with you or not.” The room shifted and now he was certain it was a throne. “What kind of teacher are you anyway,” the student continued to joke, aware that behind the best of jokes was a good deal of truth. “Agree with me and you get an ‘A’; disagree and you fail.”

“No,” the teacher laughed, “that’s for a different classroom where there’s a throne and a glassy sea.”

The hair on the student’s neck stood up. He tried to make it lie flat by drinking half his Stella in one gulp.

“No,” the teacher continued, “I’ll grade you on your understanding of some simple concepts. First, can you describe human thought and action based on the three tiered pyramid and explain why that’s important for critical thinking? Second, can you explain why Smith and Godwin are critical for understanding the thoughts that currently ebb and flow throughout our culture and can you summarize their views? Third, can you describe and explain DNA and support whether you think it was designed by an intelligent creator or came about through chance?”

“Okay, I can do those,” the student responded eagerly. The teacher raised one eyebrow. “But something’s been bothering me all semester. If Godwin is right,” he paused and looked down at the floor. “If Godwin is right,” he gathered his strength, “then there is no place and purpose to my existence.”

The waitress came over and the teacher waved her away, not wanting her to see the tear overflowing his eye to begin its course over his cheek and down to his jaw where it would wait on its brothers. He decided not to wipe it off. One. One student is beginning to see. It is enough.

“Your correct,” his voice wavered. “If Godwin is right, then there is no ultimate place and purpose for you or anyone else. It is, in the end, meaningless. You’ll do well on my test.”

The way he said that last sentence made the room fade and the throne appear again. “Is there another test?” the student felt compelled to ask.


“Can you give me a hint as to what I’ll be asked?”


The tavern was full now, but the student couldn’t hear a sound so intent was he on the teacher’s voice.

“That teacher will ask why you didn’t believe him. Can you imagine what someone might possibly answer to that question? Uh, I didn’t believe you because that professor at Stanford was pretty smart, smarter than me, and he said I shouldn’t believe you. Uh, you’re impossible to believe. Miracles don’t happen. You’re not omnipotent or omniscient. Uh, I was busy. I had a life to live. But, I’ll believe in you now. He will respond, ‘depart from Me, I never knew you.'”

“I heard an old, old story …” began to play loud and clear. The student couldn’t tell if he was still in the tavern.

Bob Branden is host of the podcast

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