Parable of the Engineer

JOHN T. STARR

September 25, 1992|By JOHN T. STARR

With Senator Al Gore, a dedicated and vocal environmentalist, running for vice president, you can be sure that the environment will be far from neglected during the campaign. The desire of every true environmentalist is to change Earth into Heaven, into an Eden before the Fall. Environmentalists know themselves to be on the side of the angels, and they cite scriptural justification. Hell is almost completely disregarded, except possibly as a place to consign those who desecrate the environment of Earth.

Which brings to mind a parable. It concerns an engineer who, in the fullness of time, died and went to his hard-earned reward in Heaven.

When he appeared before St. Peter, the good saint asked hin, ''What on Earth did you do?'' This surprised the engineer somewhat, thinking as he did, that St. Peter kept meticulous records of the doing of everyone on Earth.

''I am an engineer,'' was the reply.

''Oh, so you drove a locomotive, did you?'' said the saint.

''No,'' replied the engineer, ''I am a civil engineer. I am a fellow of the American Society of Civil Engineers, and I control natural forces for benefit of man, using mathematical and scientific principles and aiming, all the while, to better the environment.'' He was quite pleased with his reply.

''Well, that's commendable'' said St. Peter, ''and I can see that you must have had a pretty tough job on Earth, but we have nothing for you to do here in your line. We just don't need you, so you can go to Hell and try your hand on some of the natural forces there.''

So, being civil, the engineer departed for the regions below, bidding a polite farewell to St. Peter.

And it came to pass that strange reports came to the ears of the saint, concerning a flurry of unusual activity taking place in Heaven. The inhabitants, formerly accustomed to having a bit of innocent fun at the expense of their unfortunate brothers and sisters who had not achieved a place in celestial bliss, were arranging excursions to visit Hell. The ladies of the Woman's Guild, the Ladies Aid Society, and even the DAR were vying for seats on the Hell-bound buses.

St. Peter told his most trusted assistant to go and find out what in Hell was going on. ''The ladies have found out something,'' he said, ''and I want to know what it is.''

Soon the assistant returned with a wondrous tale.

''That engineer you sent down there,'' he told St. Peter, ''has completely changed the place. He has used the heat from the eternal fires to generate electricity, and now the place is all lighted instead of being dark. He has installed air conditioning. He has even replaced the odious smell of brimstone with pleasanter, perfumed breezes. And he has paved streets, made gardens and parks, and even built play areas for young and old. Truly, St. Peter, that engineer you sent to Hell has made Hell into a realm of beauty and happiness.''

The lesson of this parable is that, with industry and dedication, a Hell can be changed into a Heaven.

John T. Starr, you will not be surprised to learn, is also a fellow o the American Society of Civil Engineers.

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