Skeptic: Frankly, there is something about your "perfect" world that is disturbing to me. Your premise is that if we all subordinate our subjective goals to serve the Divine purpose in creation, we shall have a messianic utopia on our hands. But if mass servitude is the only way to achieve perfection, maybe it isn't worth the price. I, for one, would not surrender my freedom for the sake of perfection.

Believer: I don't think that we are talking about the same Moshiach. You're envisioning this Orwellian dictator with an army of thought police to enforce his strictly orthodox brand of morality. But as I said earlier in our discussion, the era of Moshiach is a time in which everyone recognizes the true purpose of his existence and chooses to devote himself to its realization.

When we speak of Moshiach as a king and humanity as his subjects, we are referring to higher sort of "subjugation" than is implied by the common usage of the word. This is not a "subjugation" in the terms of an imperfect today, in which the individual is forced to yield before a higher authority, but subjugation in the ultimate sense of the word: when a person acknowledges the limits of his currently defined self and chooses to surrender them to the vision of a greater truth

Skeptic: I still object to the very notion of "subjugation," whether it is achieved by coercion, brainwashing, or the persuasive force of a charismatic leader with a vision of a "greater truth." The suppression of the freedom of the human spirit is always a negative thing, even if it is for the sake of some higher ideal.

Believer: First of all, a little bit of humility never hurt anyone. A wise man knows his limits as well as his strengths, knows when to exercise his "freedom of spirit" and when to submit to that which is greater than himself. Do you know how the great Talmudic sage, Rabbi Akiva, survived a shipwreck? "To each wave that approached me," he later told, "I bent my head."

Skeptic: Well, I don't accept that way of thinking — at least not as a basis upon which to conduct my life. Fight those waves, I say, fight them, even if they threaten to drown you...

Believer: So as far as you're concerned, our world, as it is today, is just fine. We enjoy the freedom to do practically whatever we choose...

Skeptic: You and I are fortunate enough to enjoy such freedom, but remember that despite the encouraging developments of the last couple of decades, religious and racial prejudices are still the cause of much suffering across the globe. Furthermore, also in the so-called "free world" there is much injustice. Even as we extol the principles of equality and pluralism, we discriminate, in many subtle as well as in more overt ways, against those whose lifestyle or skin color is distasteful to us.

I am certainly not satisfied with the present state of society. I, too, dream of a better world. But my vision of the ideal is not a world that is governed by theocratic absolutes. I would like to see a world community that tolerates differing and even contradictory definitions of the truth, allowing each individual or group to find fulfillment and self-realization in the manner that they themselves define it.

Believer: What about the individual who "defines self-fulfillment" as the pleasure of sexually molesting small children? Or the cult whose "alternate lifestyle" includes inducing its members to mass suicide? Do they, too, have a place in your pluralistic ideal?

Skeptic: Unlike you, I do not claim that my ideal is perfect. It has many flaws and inconsistencies, both in theory and in practice. Obviously, there is a need for certain curbs on individual freedoms, lest society disintegrate to total anarchy.

Believer: "Certain curbs" you say. But how many?

Skeptic: The bare minimum. Look, I won't deny it — ultimately, freedom has a price. If you respect the validity of differing views on how to define good and evil, certain injustices and abuses (rather, I should say, certain things which I define as injustices and abuses) will occur. But I still prefer this to your "perfect" world, which I would find oppressive and quite boring. Like I said, I'm willing to pay the price.

Believer: You're willing to pay the price?

Skeptic: Yes, I am.

Believer: But you're hardly the one whose paying it, are you now? Here you are, basking in the comfort of a society which enjoys a standard of living that is among the highest on earth, zealously upholding the unalienable right of man to act as a selfish animal. If a person chooses to find "self-fulfillment" by surrendering to his basest instincts, it is his sacred privilege to do so. If the greed of men and nations causes hunger and destitution to untold millions, it is but a small price to pay in order to make the world more interesting...

Skeptic: As I already said, in my view there are no absolutes, including the freedom of self determination. If self-interest results in grain rotting in the fields while people die of starvation, then obviously something is very wrong. For pluralism to work, humanity must reach a consensus in which a certain balance is struck between individual freedoms and social responsibility.

Obviously, we still have a long way to go before we reach this ideal. But in my view, this is the type of world we ought to strive for, not one of totalitarian goodness and one-dimensional perfection.

Believer: You still haven't addressed my point. You still maintain that "freedom" includes the "right" to unbridled greed and hedonism, even at the expense of human suffering. You graciously offer to temper these "freedoms" so as to lessen their adverse effects, but, as you yourself acknowledge, there is always "a price to pay." So whom shall we choose to pay this price? In my view, if today we have the resources and technology to comfortably provide for the needs of all the earth's inhabitants, a single hungry child is one too many.

Skeptic: And you, my friend, still haven't addressed my point — aside from laying a guilt trip on me over all those children who are starving because I am not ready to submit to the dictates of a global theocracy. If Moshiach represents the world as envisioned by G‑d at creation, why does it preclude freedom? Is man's desire for freedom not part of the "Divine image" in which he was created?

Believer: It certainly is — although, perhaps, we have different ideas of what exactly is "freedom." I suggest that we examine the terms "freedom" and "servitude" more critically: What is true "freedom"? What does it mean to "serve"?

Skeptic: I know exactly what you're going to say — I've heard that polemic so many times from believers of every faith and persuasion that I can recite it in my sleep...

I know — everyone serves something, be it the dogma of his religion or of social convention. A person might worship the dollar, fame, the dictates of fashion, or his vision of a split-level suburban home with two cars in the driveway. In either case, he subordinates himself to a "god" which he sets as the prime priority of his life, at the expense (or even the ruination) of all else. The most pathetic slave, many a believer has informed to me, is the unfortunate hedonist. He is a virtual hostage to his basest passions. His desires are never sated — no matter what he attains, he always lusts for more. He never enjoys a moment of inner peace. True freedom, maintains the believer, is to be a servant of what is highest and most sublime in your potentials. By serving the G‑dly ideal, you free yourself of the constraints of your mundane, temporal self.

To the believer, the materialist's freedom is slavery, and what the materialist would regard as slavery is freedom. One who follows the whims of his heart is enslaving himself to his own ego and his lowliest animal passions, while he who devotes his life to the purpose of his creation experiences the ultimate in freedom and transcendence.

Believer: And what do you say to that?

Skeptic: That's all fine and well — if that's the freedom you want. But you're what (to my mind, anyway) is the most important freedom of all — the freedom to define "freedom". Believe it or not, some people want to devote their lives to the pursuit of physical comfort and gratification. For them, freedom is the freedom to chose such "slavery" for themselves. There are many types of freedom, and I think that each person should be free to choose whatever freedom he desires for himself. To impose (what to your mind is) the "highest" form of freedom on everyone else, is the very opposite of freedom.

Believer: Let me ask you something. You eat three times a day, right? Does it disturb you that you have to eat? That you have no choice in the matter? Or how about the fact that, want to or not, you are always thinking. Is your sense of freedom outraged my the fact that you are compelled to engage in these activities?

Of course not. But why not? Because that's what you are — a human being who eats and thinks and does countless other things by "force" of nature. You recognize that these activities are crucial to your being what you are — and you want to be what you are, not something else. You do not (if you are psychologically sound) want to be a chimpanzee, a rock, or a mathematical equation; you do not feel limited by the fact that you don't have three legs or that you're not ten feet tall — you want to be you.

Freedom is the freedom to be you, to be free of all that constrains you from being truly and uninhibitedly yourself. The fact that your nature compels you to be yourself and prevents you from destroying yourself is certainly not perceived by you as "servitude."

Skeptic: When my doctor told me that I must stop smoking, I did not like it in the least. It sure did feel like "servitude" being compelled by the physiology of my body to refrain from something that I greatly enjoy.

Believer: Only because you do not tangibly and directly perceive the damage that it does to you. You take the doctor's word for it, you know that your health is deteriorating as a result of your addiction, but you don't see it. So although your mind wants to stop smoking, your body still wants to smoke, and you must enforce what your "higher" objective self wants on your "lower" subjective cravings.

But if each time you were to light up you were to perceive the shortening of your life in some immediate and concrete way, you certainly would feel only revulsion to cigarette smoke.

Skeptic: Maybe you should take out a patent on your method. You can call it "The Messianic Way To Stop Smoking."

Believer: Believe me, it would work. Imagine that a person was hooked-up to a computer that was able to calculate exactly how long he will live and his medical prognosis for the rest of his lifetime, and that each time he inhales a puff of smoke he would see, on the screen, how his life has been shortened and the quality of his life reduced. Do you think he will even want to smoke?

The most basic and powerful drive of the human body, the drive from which all other drives and desires stem, is the drive for continued existence (the will to live and procreate). So how is it that we can even desire things that run contrary to the ultimate objective of all our desires? Only because at times we lose sight of what we truly want and engage in all sorts of self- delusions and denials. True, we know the statistics on lung cancer, but these are only statistics — who says that it's going to happen to me? The mind may understand that the pleasure of smoking is hardly worth the dangers involved, but smoking can still be a "pleasure" as long as its effects are not immediately and concretely felt. This, in fact, is the difference between our present reality and the reality of Moshiach...

Skeptic: You sure have a one-track mind. I mention smoking and you turn it into a metaphor for Moshiach...

Believer: The way we are today, we often perceive the very tools of liberation as restriction. My mind may decide on a course of action to realize my deeper potentials, and yet, I have to force myself to follow this course because my physical, animalistic self, which basically relates more to what is immediate and concrete than to conceptual knowledge, remains unconvinced. As a result, it is possible for me to be drawn to things which hinder me from realizing my true essence and purpose. I must therefore chose: Do I want a "higher," more "spiritual" freedom? Or do I prefer the so-called "freedom" to succumb to my every instinct, no matter how superficial or perverse?

There is, however, a third option, what you called "The Messianic Way To Stop Smoking." A person can understand something so thoroughly and completely that it is no less tangible and real to him than something that he sees before his eyes. When the self-destructiveness of smoking is as obvious as the need to eat. When the dictum "what is hateful to you do not do to your fellow" is sensed to be as basic to our humanness as the need to think and employ our intelligence. When being true to the purpose of one's creation is not only understood but also tangibly sensed as being truly oneself, so that acting accordingly is certainly not a "restriction" but an expression of the most basic freedom of them all — the freedom to be oneself.

Skeptic: What it boils down to is that you're telling me what my true self is. But what if I'm perfectly satisfied with the me that I know? Why should I fight the way that I am now?