Tuesday, March 28, 2017

What You Get When You Vote Republican

This past week gave us the results of two polls that, in tandem, don’t shine a very positive light on Mormons. The first was a Gallup poll that showed Donald Trump’s nationwide approval rating at an abysmal (but well-earned) 36 percent. The other was a Salt Lake Tribune-Hinckley Institute of Politics poll showing that 54 percent of Utah voters approve of the job Trump is doing. I find this utterly mind-boggling, but perhaps not all that surprising.
And let’s not kid ourselves. This is a reflection on the Church even more than on the state of Utah. County-by-county voting patterns showed that Trump did worst in counties with large non-LDS populations and best in strong Mormon counties. There is no reason to suppose this has changed since November.
Many Mormons vote Republican because they have felt that the GOP held the moral high ground, particularly regarding issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage. But when the party of “family values” and the so-called Christian right voted overwhelmingly in favor of a man who has bragged about sexual assault, who is not just immoral but completely amoral, and who doesn’t even have a passing acquaintance with the truth, any moral superiority the GOP may have claimed in the past has now vanished. So what can explain these polling results? Perhaps it is just that Mormons are such staunch Republicans that they’ve somehow found a way to normalize the ongoing mess that Trump represents.
But I don’t want this to be about Trump. There are many other reasons why Mormon voters should reconsider their party affiliation. Republican politicians have been very good at paying lip service to helping the poor and the middle class, but when you look at their actual policies and proposals, they are really all about funneling more wealth to the wealthy and reducing benefits for the poor and disadvantaged.
The recent fiasco surrounding the GOP’s attempt to replace the Affordable Care Act is simply additional proof that the Republican Party is all about ideology, comforting the comfortable, and afflicting the afflicted. They are not really concerned with the needs of ordinary Americans. And this pattern holds through a whole host of policy areas.
So let’s look at what you are really voting for if you vote Republican:
1. As mentioned above, you are voting for enriching the already rich and placing additional burdens on the poor and the middle class. This is what supply-side economics is all about, and the GOP has been devoted to this spurious economic theory for 35 years now. But simple arithmetic and long years of experience show that tax cuts do not pay for themselves.
2. You are voting for the senseless philosophy that corporations will self-regulate. The deregulation we are seeing already this year will result in more pollution, more tax evasion, and more reckless behavior on Wall Street.
3. You are voting for science denial, especially in terms of global warming. But this is actually part of a larger GOP movement that promotes mistrust of experts (or “elites,” as Republicans prefer to call them). We are seeing this play out in education, economics, the environment, intelligence, journalism, and politics in general. A look at Trump himself and his cabinet reveals a staggering devotion to incompetence. When reality and ideology clash, you can choose one of two courses. The GOP has chosen to hold to ideology, which leaves them in a world of “alternative facts.”
4. You are voting for lax gun laws, laws that would have been unacceptable during the Reagan administration. This comes from a gross oversimplification and misreading of the Second Amendment.
5. Particularly in Utah, you are voting for an underfunded education system that attracts fewer and fewer qualified teachers and that pays current teachers so little that many of them have to work second and third jobs just to make ends meet.
6. You are voting for a health-care system in which millions of Americans will either lose their insurance or pay much more for worse coverage. And don’t be fooled by the collapse of Rumpcare. It failed largely because a small group of hardline conservatives wanted to provide health care to even fewer Americans than Paul Ryan did.
7. You are voting for the increasing influence of money in politics. If you’re curious about the money behind Trump and the alt-right, I recommend a recent in-depth New Yorker article investigating the influence of hedge-fund manager Robert Mercer, who gave us Breitbart, Steve Bannon, Kellyanne Conway, Citizens United, and, in all likelihood, Donald Trump.
8. You are voting for a form of ultranationalism that is tipping toward fascism. What began as the hyperpatriotism of the tea party (American exceptionalism) has now become “America first,” a narcissistic worldview that will sour relations with our allies and hurt us in trade relations. In many ways, as Washington Post columnist Catherine Rampell has noted, “America first” puts Americans last.
9. You are voting against any possibility of comprehensive immigration reform.
10. You are voting for a party that has put partisanship above the well-being of the country and its citizens. This includes nearly all Republicans in Congress turning a blind eye to Trump’s numerous immoral acts and ethical breaches.
Is this really what Mormon voters want? Maybe some do, but I would wager that a fairly high percentage vote Republican due to either ignorance, prejudice (those evil Democrats), propaganda (Fox News), or simple habit. Many of my Mormon neighbors are shockingly uninformed on the issues. They do not watch TV news or read a newspaper or news magazine (paper or digital). They have little interest in or understanding of basic economics. And so they end up voting against their own interests, not to mention the well-being of their country.
What will it take to change this pattern? I thought the experience of having Trump as president might shake a few to their senses, but the polls suggest otherwise.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Are Republican Legislators Terrorists? Some Thoughts on Rumpcare

I’m being only half facetious with this question. Well, maybe not at all. As Bernie Sanders put it after the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office revealed its analysis of Ryancare/Trumpcare (let’s maybe just call it Rumpcare), one result of this misbegotten excuse for a health-care plan, if passed, would be that “thousands will die.” Although Bernie was speaking off the cuff and doesn’t have a source for his claim, it certainly doesn’t take much imagination. Since the estimate is that 24 million Americans will lose health insurance in the next ten years if the Republican legislation is passed, and costs will keep many older working Americans from being able to afford insurance, the idea that thousands could die prematurely is hardly hyperbole.
So, when nineteen men, for perverted religious reasons, hijacked four commercial planes, crashed them into buildings, and killed 2,996 people, we called it terrorism. But what do we call it when a body of legislators, for perverted political reasons, rush to pass a horribly constructed law that could easily result in even more untimely deaths than the attack on 9/11? Do we even have a name for such silent, callous carnage? Maybe we ought to call it terrorism. It is certainly terrifying to those who will lose health insurance or be priced out of the market by purely partisan politicians who are more interested in giving tax breaks to billionaires than in preserving the health of the poor and the aging.

The ACA, a Republican Plan
So, why are we in this mess in the first place? For one reason and one reason only. The Republican Party chose to oppose health-care reform. Why? Well, that’s pretty much a head-scratcher. If the Democrats had done what they should have done, and what many of them wanted to do, they would have tried to join the rest of the civilized world and implement some sort of single-payer system. Country after country has shown us, in a variety of formats, that single-payer systems provide decent care for everyone at a lower cost than anything we’ve been able to come up with. But the Democrats let the moment pass and opted instead for a plan that was, essentially, a knock-off of Romneycare, which was based on conservative ideas, was implemented by a Republican governor of a blue state, and became his signature achievement (which he then had to repudiate when he ran for president because it was too similar to the accursed Obamacare). If the Republicans had been smart and had had the interests of the American people at heart, they would have seen this as a win, embraced it, and tried to help iron out the wrinkles. Instead, primarily because the ACA became attached to Obama’s name, they had to oppose it, since they had vowed at the outset to oppose everything Obama did. And so now they find themselves between a rock and, well, Trump. They have voted scores of times to repeal Obamacare. They have promised again and again that they would repeal the ACA. But that leaves them without a realistic alternative, except to move back in the direction of less coverage and higher costs—and then try to sell their creation as the best thing since sliced bread.

Three Basic Options
When it comes to health care, there are really three basic options: (1) a single-payer system that covers everyone; (2) a hybrid system like the ACA that keeps insurance companies in the loop, includes a mandate with penalties to keep young and healthy people in the pool, and offers subsidies so that the poor can afford to participate (with the subsidies being largely funded by taxes on the wealthy); and (3) a more market-oriented system, like what we had before the ACA, which leaves millions of people uninsured and relegates them to the most expensive sort of catastrophic care possible—the emergency room.
Since option 1 is a nonstarter for Republicans, they have only two other possibilities, but they have basically declared war on option 2 (which should be their option of preference). So in order to “repeal Obamacare” while providing some sort of acceptable replacement, they can move in only one direction, toward a market-oriented system. The only problem, as the CBO score indicates, is that the more you involve the market and restrict government participation, the more people end up losing out. There is a reason for this.

How Insurance Works
The market, if properly constrained, works wonderfully in some industries. Unfortunately, for a number of reasons, health care is not one of them. The market always creates winners and losers, and it doesn’t care what happens to the losers. This is fine if the market is jewelry or high-definition TVs. But in health care, the losers are the sick and the poor. Allowed market freedom, insurance companies would exclude the sick from their pool of customers. They exclude the poor simply by pricing their product so that the poor cannot afford it. It’s really just a numbers game. Insurers will charge as much as they can and stack the pool of participants so that they bring in a lot more money than they pay out. They will lower premiums for some customers, but only when they can also reduce their payouts by limiting coverage and increasing deductibles. They will charge the elderly more than younger customers because the elderly have worse health. The entire point is to make a profit. Profit-driven insurance companies are not really interested in who is covered and who is not. They are only interested in turning a profit. They do this by having more healthy customers who can afford their product than unhealthy customers who can’t.
And that is the problem. There are lots of unhealthy and poor people. And so we have to find a way of providing an acceptable level of health care to the unhealthy and the poor. We can’t do this without having the healthy and the wealthy pay for it. But Republicans, whose ideology is sometimes downright blind, just can’t stand for this. Literally, they would rather have people die than have the wealthy subsidize health care for the poor or the healthy subsidize the sick.
Stephen Colbert had a little fun with Paul Ryan’s description of the fatal flaw of Obamacare. In a clip of the House Speaker explaining this concept, we hear Ryan explaining, “The mandates are arrogant and paternalistic. . . . The whole idea of Obamacare is . . . the people who are healthy pay for the people who are sick.” Colbert then points out, “You’ve just described how insurance works.” Exactly. That is the whole notion of how insurance works. On average, the healthy pay for the sick, and the wealthy pay for the poor. The idea is to get enough healthy and wealthy people in the pool so that you have sufficient revenue to cover the care of the sick and subsidize the premiums of the poor. And if you take out the profit motive, then you just have to break even.
All civilized countries (notice I didn’t say “all other civilized countries”) have figured this out. They understand that the only way to provide decent health care for everyone at a reasonable cost is to create the largest pool possible (all rich and poor, all healthy and unhealthy in the country) and eliminate the profit motive. Many Democrats have also figured this out. No Republicans have. You think I’m being biased here? Well, name one then.

The “Freedom” Caucus
The so-called Freedom Caucus is convinced that if government is involved, freedom is removed or restricted. What they really should call themselves, though, is the Freedom for the Wealthy Caucus. It apparently hasn’t occurred to them that sometimes government involvement increases freedom. Without regulations on corporations regarding everything from pollution and truth in advertising to worker and product safety, American citizens would be far less free. By the same token, my friends in Germany consider themselves far more free in obtaining health care than many Americans. A nationalized system creates more options for care, and no one worries about going bankrupt over an unexpected medical emergency. That is a sort of freedom many Americans do not experience.
But the conservatives in Congress are opposed to Rumpcare not because it doesn’t cover enough people, but—believe it or not—because it covers too many. They want to go back to the system we had before the ACA, or worse. The CBO evaluation of Rumpcare indicates that within ten years, 24 million Americans would lose insurance coverage. That is more people than Obamacare added to the insurance rolls, so we would actually be worse off than before under Rumpcare. And what the Freedom Caucus wants is to have even fewer people covered. That is absolutely mind-boggling.

Spin, Spin, Spin
Once the CBO score was released, Republicans cranked up the spin machine. The Trump White House, consistent with what we’ve come to expect, tried to discredit the CBO, even though this is a nonpartisan institution led by an economist who was installed by George W. Bush. Paul Ryan didn’t discredit the CBO, but instead tried to put the best face on the report. He claimed that he was “encouraged” and that it exceeded his expectations, which left Fox News host Bret Baier stunned (yes, even Fox News couldn’t believe this reaction). Ryan’s contortionist act insisted that of course millions of Americans would lose their insurance. That’s because, since there is no mandate, they now have “choice,” and many will choose not to have insurance.
Like this is a good thing? Even if it were true? Of course it is only minimally true. Some younger people will choose to lose their insurance, but most of the losers here are either the poor who will be left out by the cuts to Medicaid or people my age who don’t have insurance through an employer and don’t earn enough to afford the higher premiums. But what about all those young, healthy people who choose to give up their insurance? Well, let me tell you a story.
On July 24, 2009, our family was at Lake Powell enjoying a nice vacation. Near Wahweap Marina is a narrow canyon that has filled up with blown sand. It can only be reached by boat. The sandhill is very steep and looks to be over 100 yards high. It is a hot and difficult climb, but when you reach the top, you can run down the hill and jump into the water at the bottom. On this particular trip, our oldest son, Matt, who was 23 at the time, ran down first and dove into the water. Somehow, when he hit the water, he turned straight down and hit his head on the compacted sand under the water. He was lucky he didn’t knock himself out. But when he came up out of the water, he knew something was wrong. When I reached the bottom of the hill, he walked over to me and said he’d done something to his neck. We carefully laid him down in the boat and took him back to our camp at Lone Rock Beach. From there, we moved him carefully into my truck, reclined the seat, and drove slowly up to the highway and then to the hospital in Page, Arizona, about ten miles away.
The physician’s assistant in the emergency room strapped Matt to a board to immobilize his head and did a CT scan. Because the PA was not permitted to interpret scans, he had to email them to a radiologist in Phoenix. But he did tell us he didn’t like what he saw. After the radiologist had weighed in, the PA showed us the scan. Even I could have interpreted what we saw. Matt’s C-1 vertebra had burst in four different places. To make a long story short, Matt and his mom got the $32,000 plane flight to the University of Utah Medical Center in Salt Lake. Our youngest son and I packed up and drove home as fast as we could.
The orthopedic surgeons put Matt in a halo brace, which he got to wear for the next twelve weeks. When the brace came off, they did another scan, and, lucky Matt, everything had healed right. Fortunately, he was still on my insurance, but the bills were rather impressive.
My point here, though, is that Matt was young and healthy, and if he had been on his own, he, like so many others in his age group, might have just foregone health insurance, considering it an unnecessary expense. And who would have paid for his bills. Well, you and I would have. I saw an estimate from before the ACA took effect showing that people with insurance averaged paying about $1,000 a year to cover those who did not have insurance. So, covering fewer people doesn’t really save us money in the long run.

Right or Privilege?
We sometimes still see the question raised, usually by Republicans, as to whether health care is a right or a privilege. They usually argue that it is a privilege. And this is how they justify denying health care to millions of Americans. But there really is no debate on this question. It was decided in 1986 when Congress passed the Emergency Medical and Treatment Labor Act, which forbids both public and private hospitals from denying indigent or uninsured patients care in an emergency. And just for the record, this act was passed by a Democratic House, a Republican Senate, and was signed into law by a Republican president. There is no debate. Health care is a right. Which raises the question of why we don’t do what almost all other countries do and just cover everyone in the most cost-effective and humane way.
But for some reason, Republicans still fight this notion tooth and nail. Instead of doing the civilized and sensible thing, they insist on making the indigent and uninsured obtain the most expensive care possible, which is not only expensive but usually late and less effective. The result is that a lot of people die who don’t need to. Which brings us back to the question asked in the title of this post. What word do we use to describe politicians who enact policies that cost thousands of American citizens their health and even their lives?

The Price of Shallow Ideology
In a March 6 New York Times column titled “A Party Not Ready to Govern,” Nobel Prize–winning economist Paul Krugman gets to the heart of mess that I’ve called Rumpcare. The problem, he says, isn’t just that we have a president who is “the least qualified individual, temperamentally or intellectually, ever installed in the White House.” The primary problem is that “the whole [Republican] party, it turns out, has been faking it for years. Its leaders’ rhetoric was empty; they have no idea how to turn their slogans into actual legislation, because they’ve never bothered to understand how anything important works.”
This reveals itself in their efforts to deregulate both Wall Street and corporate polluters, but especially in their opposition to and efforts to repeal the ACA. The Republicans threatened for seven years to “repeal and replace Obamacare.” But this was more political rhetoric aimed at scoring points at the polls than a realistic policy proposal. In seven years they came up with nothing workable. But now they have to come up with something, and the best they can do is Rumpcare, a piece of legislation that is feared by moderates, detested by conservatives, laughed at by Democrats, and opposed by nearly every significant medical interest group in the country.
How do we explain such a massive failure? According to Krugman, it is because many years ago, the GOP stopped dealing with the difficult intellectual work of understanding our complex modern society with its competing needs and demands. They settled for simple obstruction all through the Obama years. And they sold their intellectual souls for a cheap ideology that is easily encapsulated in bromides such as “return to the Constitution” (whatever that means), “reduce taxes” (no matter what), and “let the free market work its magic.” Their ideological devotion to the free market fails to understand how that market works best, why it needs to be constrained, and where it simply doesn’t work. One concept Republicans have shown no evidence of understanding is that a truly free market is unsustainable. Because it creates winners and losers, and the winners tend to absorb the losers and their market share, we eventually get monopolies. In other words, the free market, if left to its own devices, erodes the conditions in which a free market can exist. And this is just one of the many complexities modern society presents that are not easily solved by simplistic ideology.
Consequently, we have a governing party without a coherent plan for anything, particularly health care. As Krugman concluded, “Whatever the eventual outcome, what we’re witnessing is what happens when a party that gave up hard thinking in favor of empty sloganeering ends up in charge of actual policy. And it’s not a pretty sight.”

The Failure of Obamacare
One final point. For years, the Republicans have been claiming that Obamacare is a train wreck and that it is failing. I will be the first to admit that it is far from perfect. We would be far better served by any of several single-payer systems. But let’s get one thing straight. Obamacare was not failing. It was working particularly well in states that bought into it, such as California. It worked less well in states like Utah that sought to undermine it. And this has been the Republican strategy all along: undermine Obamacare without really having a realistic replacement. Perhaps the hope was that if they could cause Obamacare to fail, then we could return to the “system” we used to have, which was a mess.
Now, however, the Republicans are in a position to do very real damage to Obamacare. For starters, they can simply starve it, in which case it will die. And they are doing all they can to make it fail. In fact, this is Trump’s backup plan, in case Rumpcare doesn’t fly. Kill Obamacare and then blame it on the Democrats. Again, it’s all a political game. But this is a game the Republicans simply cannot win. If they kill Obamacare, the backlash will be severe. Many of those who voted for Trump believed his lie that he would give them health care that covered everyone and at a lower price. His support of Rumpcare has proved that, as with so many of his claims, this too was just another alternative fact. When millions of people who voted for Trump lose their health insurance, they will not be so forgiving. In fact, in this case, circumstances may ironically prove one of Trump’s statements true. It likely will be a “bloodbath” for Republicans in 2018. But not the bloodbath real terrorists expect.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Eternal Misfit (Part 3 of 3)

This is a short story I wrote a few years ago that was published in Dialogue. I’ve broken it into three parts because it’s fairly lengthy. The idea came to me one day when I was wondering what living in the terrestrial kingdom would be like. Trying to put flesh on the bones of that question revealed some perplexing paradoxes.

The next day fifty people gathered at Kim’s house. A few new faces were there simply out of curiosity, but others had heard about the soccer and the discussions and wanted to learn about Kim’s changes.
After giving the group a few minutes to visit, Kim tapped a crystal goblet with a spoon to get their attention.
“Let me get to the point,” he said. “Alma was right yesterday. Soccer isn’t enough. If we want our lives to be meaningful, if we want a purpose that can sustain us for an eternity, we need more opposition, more conflict.”
“What are you thinking of?” asked Leslie.
“We can’t do much to cause physical pain or illness or even poverty, and we don’t have any natural disasters here. I’ve thought recently that what we need in the terrestrial world is a massive forest fire. We need a little Nevada here to help us appreciate all the beauty. Unfortunately, our trees are as eternal and indestructible as we are. And we can’t cause a drought or an earthquake or a hurricane. So what we’re left with is what we can control.”
“What would that be?” asked Ronny.
“We can create inequality.”
Kim looked around and saw puzzled expressions. Everyone in the room could remember inequality, of course, but none of them had experienced it since the resurrection.
“Inequality creates tension,” Kim explained, “and tension creates conflict, and conflict gives people opportunities to rise or fall, to conquer or surrender. In all of mortal history, the goal was always to overcome conflict and create a peaceful, prosperous society. Mortals achieved this ideal state only a handful of times; but when they did, they tended to stagnate. That’s why Adam and Eve had to leave the Garden of Eden. It was nice, but it was a sort of damnation for them. As it is for us. There’s something about inequality and conflict and adversity that pushes people to improve. If there is no conflict, there can be no victory. And Alma was right—soccer is just a surrogate conflict, so it can’t produce a genuine victory. Or a meaningful defeat.”
“Just how do you propose we create this inequality?” asked Cory. “We all have everything we need.”
“Maybe we’ll create money,” Kim answered. “Money is the seedbed of inequality.”
“But what could we buy or sell? And who would buy it?”
“We start accumulating things we don’t need.”
“Such as?” Leslie asked.
“For starters, I’m going to take a surname. Nobody in this entire world uses a surname. So from now on I want you all to call me Kim Contra.”
Cory laughed. “People will just think you’re vain.”
“Good. That’s a start. And next, we’ll start charging people to watch our soccer games and listen to us speak about our plans for a more unequal society.”
“But what will we use for money?” asked Ronny.
“Jewelry, polished stones, bottles of colored sand, whatever. Money is just a symbol. On earth we used paper, which was only worth something because of what it symbolized. Or maybe we can have our spectators pay with a contract to serve us in some way.”
“But why would anyone want to watch us play soccer, let alone pay for the privilege?” asked Leslie.
“Because it is forbidden.” Kim flashed a devious grin.
After everyone left, Kim was lying on the sofa when a strange thing happened: He fell asleep. And he dreamed. He was standing in a field of rocky soil and tiny corn plants, holding a crude hoe made of a carved wooden shaft and a flat rock. He was trying to keep the weeds from strangling his corn crop. Kim marveled. He hadn’t seen a weed in over six thousand years. A cow was lowing softly in the distance, and the clucking of nearby chickens almost drowned out the cow’s complaints. A wooden fence separated the corn from several squat buildings made of rough wood and adobe with thatched roofs.
“Sam,” a voice called from somewhere near the buildings. “Sam!”
“Over here,” he yelled, not even wondering why he answered to the name Sam.
A woman came from behind one of the buildings, a genuine woman, leading a black and white spotted cow behind her on a braided rope.
“Sam, Melba has gotten into my garden again. You need to mend that fence.”
“I’ll get to it this afternoon, Nori,” he said. Somehow he not only knew her name but knew that she was his wife.
“No, you’ll get to it right now. I can’t have Melba eating my peas. Your weeding will wait.”
“Yes, dear,” he said with just a hint of impatience, and yet inside he felt a zest for life and a bond to Nori that was as tangible as the hoe he held in his hands.
He was tired. He was always tired, and his body ached from hard work, but it felt good. He leaned the hoe against the fence and walked toward Nori with a broad grin on his face. He took her in his arms, and then suddenly he was awake.
His heart was pounding, a physical reaction even four hours of soccer had not produced.
* * *
Their next meeting was at Ronny’s house. When the others found out about Kim’s dream, they were both jealous and nervous.
“Why did it happen?” asked Leslie. “It’s not normal.”
“What we’re doing is not normal,” answered Kim. “I think it’s a sign.”
“Of what?” asked Ronny.
“That we’re doing something right. We’re changing things.”
“What’s next?” asked Cory.
“We need to create some real opposition in this world.”
“What do you have in mind?” asked Pat, looking concerned.
“Well, without evil in this world, there is no real virtue. And because there is neither good nor evil, we have no stories here worth telling or history worth writing. If people here are to be virtuous or creative, there must be something for them to oppose, to rise up against. There must be evil. And if no one else will provide it, then I will.”
A collective gasp escaped the group.
“You can’t be serious,” said Ronny.
“Of course I am. Where do you think this little experiment has been heading all along, Ronny? An eternal soccer league? I’m bored. You’re all bored too. We’re all stagnant here. Do you want that for eternity? Do you think anybody does—even Alma? Of course not. But nobody is willing to give us opposition, so I have to. I am willing to make that sacrifice for the good of all. You can join me if you like.”
“But no unclean thing can dwell in the kingdoms of God,” said Cory. “That’s an eternal truth. It’s the condition for our staying here. If we rebel, we’ll be cast out.”
“Then let them cast me out,” Kim stated defiantly. “Because I don’t want to live here if there is nothing to fight for, nothing worth losing everything over.”
He stared at the group, but only a handful dared look him in the eye. Everyone knew the meeting was over, and slowly, most of them slipped away. Eventually only five remained.
“Well, there goes our soccer league,” said Leslie with a wry grin.
Kim laughed. “There will be more. But we have work to do. Go home and think about this. If you’re committed, then come to my house tomorrow at noon. If not, I’ll understand.”
He turned away and walked home.
Later that evening Alma stopped by.
“Some of your former disciples came to see me, Kim Contra,” he said. Kim thought he heard a hint of sarcasm in Alma’s voice.
“They’re not my disciples. They’re my friends.”
“Not anymore.”
“Maybe they don’t consider me their friend, but I consider them mine.”
“Whatever,” Alma shrugged. “They told me what you want to do.”
“Have to do,” Kim corrected him.
“This is unprecedented, you know,” Alma said. “Creating evil intentionally so that others can achieve genuine goodness. Admirable, but misguided.”
“I’m amazed it took me over five thousand years. And I’m amazed I was the first to reach this conclusion.”
“Don’t flatter yourself.”
“There have been others?” Kim asked, genuinely surprised.
Alma shrugged. “Not in Caldora.”
“Not anywhere else either, I’d wager.”
“The terrestrial world isn’t exactly a hotbed of former revolutionaries,” Alma conceded. “All the creative geniuses and real leaders from earth ended up in either the celestial kingdom or the telestial. We’re the ones who were unwilling to pay the price.”
“Maybe we’re just slow,” Kim offered.
“So, have you come to try to talk me out of my heretical plans?”
“Oh no, not at all.”
“You want to join me?” Kim grinned.
Now Alma smiled too. “Not that either.”
“Then why are you here?”
“When your disappointed disciples left me, I made contact with the authorities.”
“I’m too big of a problem for you and Marn?”
“Quite frankly, yes,” replied Alma. “I told them what you’ve been doing and what you’re planning.”
“You’ll be receiving a guest tomorrow.”
“From the capital?”
“No, from the celestial world.”
“Then I’d better clean the place up.”
“Good luck, Kim.”
Alma turned and walked out.
Kim didn’t bother cleaning. He sat alone and wondered what the authorities would do. No one had ever been imprisoned in the terrestrial world. And no one had ever been banished. It had been a point of doctrinal discussion on earth whether there was advancement from lower to higher kingdoms in the hereafter, but after the resurrection, no one needed to ask. The nature of resurrected bodies in the various kingdoms rendered all discussion moot. But now Kim pondered the opposite question. Was it possible for a person to regress, to be demoted from a higher kingdom to a lower one, or even to outer darkness? This last thought chilled his soul, but he knew he couldn’t turn back.
Sometime in the middle of the night Kim heard, and ignored, a knock at the door. After a minute or so, Cory and Leslie walked in.
“We talked with Alma,” said Cory. “He told us what’s happening.”
“You’re here because you’re curious? You want to see what happens to me?”
“No,” Leslie replied. “We’re here because we’re your friends. And we support you.”
“What if I’m no longer fit to stay in this world?”
“Then we’ll leave with you.”
“What if I’m sent to outer darkness?”
“They can’t do that to you,” said Cory
“How do you know?”
“Because you’re not trying to do anything wrong.”
“Sure I am. I’m rebelling. I want to create evil.”
“No, you’re trying to create opposition, which people need, even if they don’t realize it.”
“Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe people don’t need it. Maybe it’s just me. Maybe I don’t belong here.”
“Then we don’t either.”
“Thanks for your support,” Kim said. “But I think I need to be alone until they come.”
“We understand,” Leslie offered. “We just wanted you to know we’re with you.”
Kim nodded, and his two friends left.
 * * *
The next day at exactly noon the celestial visitor arrived.
Kim had limited experience with celestial beings, but the light streaming from this one was so intense he had to shield his eyes.
Kim motioned toward the sofa. “Please sit down.” The being did not sit, but planted himself squarely before Kim and looked down on him with both compassion and curiosity.
“Kim,” he said, “I am Raphael. Do you know why I am here?”
“I think so.”
“We have been aware of your little movement here. I’m afraid you have reached the point of no return. You cannot stay in the terrestrial world any longer.”
Kim’s head drooped. This is what he had feared.
“So, where are you sending me? The telestial world? Outer darkness? A planet where I will spend eternity all alone? How do you handle cases like mine?”
“Fortunately,” Raphael answered, “there are few cases like yours. But we have a special program that you might find interesting.”
“What do you do with eternal misfits like me? I don’t really belong anywhere, except maybe mortality.” Kim sighed. “I guess I’m trying to finish finding the purpose I couldn’t figure out on earth.”
“Yes, you are right. So that is what we offer you.”
“Go back to mortality?”
“But I’m immortal. The resurrection is permanent.”
“Maybe not as permanent as you think.”
Kim squinted into the bright celestial light and stared at his visitor.
“There is a fruit,” Raphael stated. “You know this, but you have never made the connection. It is a fruit with the power to change an immortal body back into a mortal one, but it does not grow in this world.”
“The tree of the knowledge of good and evil,” Kim whispered. “I don’t understand.”
“When we people a new world, we need two first parents who are immortal and are willing to fall.”
“But I have a terrestrial body. I can’t very well procreate, you know.”
“The fruit is very potent.” Raphael’s expression was serious, but his voice betrayed mild amusement. “What do you say?”
“Do I have a choice?” Kim asked.
“Not really. We know what you will choose.”
Suddenly a light went on in Kim’s mind. “And where will Nori come from?”
Now Raphael smiled openly. “Her name at present is Leslie.”
“And what will happen to Cory and the others?”
“If they follow in your footsteps, they will also partake of the fruit.”
“And if I find a greater purpose than I did in my first try at mortality?”
“Then you will lead your posterity into a celestial world.”
“And Julie?”
“You know the answer.”
“Yes, I do. And I know it will be hard.”
“Then shall we go?”
Kim nodded.
“Take my hand.”
As Kim touched the celestial flesh, a calm came over him, and then a subtle breeze that shook him to the core, and suddenly he could remember nothing.
“Come, Sam,” said Raphael. “There is much you need to learn before we place you in the Garden.”