Left Behinds

The anti-andrewsullivan.com. Or, the Robin Hood (Maid Marian?) of bright pink Blogger blogs.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Conversations I, an Atheist Jew, Had With God About How Jesus Was Crazy and a Big Jerk, Part V

Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV

Me: So do you have an opinion on those Danish cartoons? They are about your prophet, right?

God: You know, I haven’t actually seen them. Ask me why.

Me: Never mind. I remember the joke.

God: Spoilsport.

Me: You said you were going to do the Sermon on the Mount.

God: You sure you don’t want to hear my Marx Brothers? I can do a pretty decent Groucho. Send a dozen roses to Mrs. Upjohn and write, ‘Emily I love you’ on the back of the bill.

Me: I’m sure you do an even better Harpo.

God: Oh. That’s-a no good. Fine, I’ll do the stupid Sermon.
It starts well. Real pretty language, and I can get on board with meekness, righteousness, mercy, peace, and so on. Jesus gets off a little too hard on his followers suffering for his sake (Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.), but he’s an egomaniac, you have to expect some of that. I forgive him.

Here’s where I start to get annoyed.

You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.' But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment.

So you can’t get angry.

You have heard that it was said, 'Do not commit adultery.' But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

And you can’t think lustful thoughts.

This is totally unreasonable. I don’t care if you get angry with each other or want to fuck each other. Why do you think I made you capable of those emotions? What’s important is that you not act on them all the time if it’s inappropriate, but since when do we need to pretend that Jimmy Carter lusting in his heart is really the same as Bill Clinton spooging on a fat girl under the desk? You could really make yourself meshugeneh trying to police your thoughts.

If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.

Oh yeah. Okay.

Plus no divorce, ever, and you have to pray for your persecutors. Look, in My world if you’re a Masalit mother who’s just seen her ten-year-old daughter gang-raped to death by the Janjaweed, you’re not going to hell for your anger. You don’t even have to pray for the rapists. I don’t expect you to be perfect.

But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven…Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

That’s an impossible standard by definition. Jesus knew it. I’m mostly with the guy after this -- be good, not rich; judge not; don’t be ostentatiously religious; don’t be a hypocrite; etc., etc. -- but the problem is that at the core, ultimately it doesn’t matter what you do. You can spend your whole life trying to be good and still not be a good person in My eyes because of some insignificant shit. Apparently I have to admit people to heaven or not based on whims. Jesus said so. It’s logically consistent of Me, since I’m ineffable, but it’s damned annoying. I can’t even reward the faithful and generous all the time, no, every so often I have to send one to hell just to keep all the others on their toes.

Here’s the truth. I offer an absolutely iron-clad guarantee of where you’re going when you die:

You end.

That’s it. You’re not going anywhere.

Me: Thanks.

God: You’d rather have hell? I think people find the idea of a persistent consciousness more comforting than nothing, even if they have to be in constant, unendurable pain forever. Well tough titty. No heaven, no hell, just nothing, which you don’t experience. I know people don’t like it. But the sooner you all face up to it and stop pretending that I’m watching over you with a bowling scorecard, turning your splits into strikes if you just ask Me nicely enough, the sooner maybe you all start taking the world you live in a little more seriously. By all means be nice to each other. Make peace (because death is final). Be humble. Don’t be ostentatious in your religion if you’ve got to have it. But don’t do it because some megalomaniac who heard voices 2000 years ago said you’d go to heaven if you did, and stop thinking that because you got a chubby watching Britney and Madonna kiss that you’re going to hell. Hey, I beat off all the time. How do you think I made the Milky Way?

Me: Christ that’s awful.

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  • At 10:24 AM, Blogger Solomon Grundy said…

    Heh, I like the Milky Way joke. I have never heard the "I haven't seen them, ask me why" joke.

    This is interesting because I've always thought of the sermon on the mount as the best moment in the New Testament (or, really, the Beatitudes are the best moment). But I hadn't read the whole thing since 9th grade, so yeah, there is some weird shit even in there. Some of it is ambiguous enough that it could be defensible. For instance, when he said "anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgement," maybe he meant, "don't be grumpy without a good reason." I can get behind that.

    Overall, I'd say the Beatitudes redeem this passage, and it's sad that almost no Christians seem to have ever read the Beatitudes, or at least sure as hell don't act on them.

  • At 10:42 AM, Blogger Solomon Grundy said…

    Also, I love how in this passage tax collectors are the worst of the worst. That gets to my first thought, which is that this was being delivered to a specific people at a specific time and wasn't meant to be a general guide to morality for all eternity. Maybe he was emphasizing not being angry because the people he was talking to were fucking irascible nutjobs who would fight to the death over imaginary insults.

    But in general, as I reread it, I am struck by how this is not a moral system as Kant would define it, because the motivation for doing good is not that doing good is good in itself, but because if you don't do good you don't get to go to heaven. So the motivation for every "moral" act is self interest, which Kant (among others, but I'm thinking of him because he's so Christian) derided as selfish rather than moral.

  • At 10:58 AM, Blogger Solomon Grundy said…

    And ALSO, I am totally with you on how people come up with these fantasies because they're terrified of the finiteness of their consciousnesses.

    Other traditions have had ideas of persistence of "you" without persistence of your consciousness. Like, for example, your deeds becoming eternal by virtue of their memorability (or by virtue of being written down, even if they themselves were not unusual). I'm reading Gilgamesh, and even though there's a complicated afterworld system, there's a countervailing trend in the writing itself that says that he is eternal because we remember his great deeds.

    That kind of heroic tradition is not, of course, very useful for the unwashed masses who are not exactly heroic even if they're basically moral and who need candy dangled in front of them to motivate them to have the bare minimum of decency and morality. Hence, an opiate for the masses (who seriously might have nervous breakdowns if they had to deal with the reality that there was nothing more for them, ever, than their crappy little lives).

  • At 11:46 AM, Blogger Antid Oto said…

    Why you little Straussian.

  • At 12:16 PM, Blogger Solomon Grundy said…

    Ha yeah that does sound deeply condescending. Sorry, I hadn't had my morning coffee yet. I think part of the reason I've never read The Fountainhead is that I'm worried some part of me would be like "you know, she's right. I am a superman."

    So what was the "I've never seen them. Ask me why" joke?

  • At 12:22 PM, Blogger Antid Oto said…

    I put in the link. It was self-referential.

  • At 12:29 PM, Blogger Solomon Grundy said…

    Oh, right. That actually did make me giggle when I first read it.

  • At 12:31 PM, Blogger Antid Oto said…

    By the way, I think the Beatitudes are very pretty, but one of the things I find most striking about them and the whole Sermon is how Jesus de-emphasizes what was then a traditional obligation to charity. Mercy, forgiveness, and meekness are not the same as compassion and generosity.

    Historically, that may be because at that time the obligation to tithe was essentially a legal tax, and he was very anti-tax. I don't know enough to be able to say, which is why I didn't include the thought in the main post. But I do find it very interesting that he's more interested in self-effacement than giving to others. That may be what happens when you don't believe that what happens to people on earth is what matters.

  • At 12:44 PM, Blogger Solomon Grundy said…

    Ah, very interesting point. Too bad there's no historical documentation of this "Jesus" character, or we could really get to the bottom of this.

    It reminds me of a discussion I had recently with someone about dispensationalist Christians (people who believe we're in the End Times before The Rapture).

    He claims that that mindset, contra Moyers, does not actually affect how most dispensationalists think about long-term policy questions, because most people do not live consistently with every single logical implication of their beliefs, which I think is a fair enough point.

  • At 12:46 PM, Blogger Antid Oto said…

    Well okay, but you can't really defend a religious principle on the basis that people don't really act like they believe it most of the time.

  • At 3:54 PM, Blogger Antid Oto said…

    I clicked on the link finally. I will never understand why you're so polite to such people.

  • At 5:09 PM, Anonymous Solomon Grundy said…

    I actually think the Kenny guy who was responding to me is very smart. He's a software engineer who went to Princeton and, I think, Harvard, and he replied cogently to my questions without sermonizing. He is almost definitely the smartest evangelical I have ever communicated with, though it might bear noting that most of my communication with evangelicals has consisted of "Could you shut the fuck up? We're just trying to take the bus home and aren't interested in hearing about how we're all going to hell [cue applause on bus]." Which is to say, as a New Yorker the only ones I come into contact with are the lunatic fringe.

    I was very, very interested in what that Harvard professor guy wrote on that site about Zionism and evangelical Christians, as well as Kenny's reply. I don't want Bill Moyers to be my go-to guy for evangelical theology's influence on public policy, cuz what the fuck does Bill Moyers know about evangelical Christianity?

    (btw, I'm posting this from a library terminal and forgot my Blogger pw)

  • At 5:01 AM, Blogger Neda Cole said…

    Kenny's latest "very smart" post. Um... over-complimentary description?

  • At 5:28 AM, Blogger Neda Cole said…

    I think as much as we'd like to not be elitist in respecting the validity of peoples' opinions, we have to acknowledge that christian evangelism, like zionism and islamic fundamentalism, necessarily impedes the objective intellectual analysis of almost anything. The same could be said of any bias that's so strong it becomes a basis for opinion prior to the examination of facts or the implementation of sensible reasoning processes, but 'isms' that base themselves in the unquestionable word of a divine entity are even further handicapped by the perceived sin that accompanies intellectual investigation of their basic tenets.

    My point is, that while someone like Kenny displays some signs of intelligence, his inability to see the logical inconsistencies of some of his more disturbing opinions is directly linked to his zealous belief in religious politics. Were he a grocery store clerk from a small mountain town, "very smart" might be an appropriate description, but considering he has had the benefit of an education at the level he has, his opinions and analytical abilities remain shocking.

    N'est-ce pas?

  • At 11:49 AM, Blogger Solomon Grundy said…

    Ah, I had only read his replies to me in that thread. Yeah, his site is pretty scary.

    And very true that you really wouldn't expect someone with such a good education to have such backwards, hateful ideas about things. Or at least as an optimist I wouldn't.

  • At 5:45 PM, Blogger Ken Pierce said…


    I don't wish to intrude where I'm unwelcome, but as I seem to have become the topic of discussion I thought I might be forgiven for chiming in.

    First and very much foremost, Solomon, thank you very much for the compliment, which is the only thing anybody has said in this discussion that actually comes from direct interaction with me, and whose sincerity I feel all the more forcibly since it comes from somebody who probably doesn't agree with me about much of anything. And the later insults don't hurt my feelings since they amount to saying, "But it turns out he disagrees with me on subjects about which I feel strongly."

    [grinning] By the way, I think you guys are pretty easily scared.

    I also strongly suspect that a whole bunch of what you folks think are "logical inconsistencies" are actually differences in premises. But it's hard to tell since you aren't particularly specific in your criticisms.

    At any rate, it's certainly true that a religious person's set of fundamental axioms constrict his ability to recognize any truth that might happen to conflict with those axioms, if they are indeed false or if he has not formulated them coherently. But then that is true for every person, religious or not; every person has a set of axioms he considers self-evident, which axioms he is very unlikely to have arrived at through a rational process; and those axioms constrain his ability to recognize his own errors.

    What strikes me about the criticism you guys offer is the abundance of question-begging emotional terms you use to describe my opinions: they are "hateful" and "backward" and "scary" and "disturbing." If you were to say, "he doesn't seem to realize that the middle term of that syllogism is undistributed," that would be rather more to the point.

    Alexander, Solomon was polite to me because he is a nice person who is not needlessly rude and because I was polite to him. It seems to me that Solomon believes that the fact that someone disagrees with you is no reason to be rude to him, which I find admirable in Solomon. (A couple of the epithets he used in these comments were perhaps rather more vigorous than kind, but then Solomon didn't think I would read them and wasn't worry about hurting my feelings; so that doesn't really count.) Also, I agree that you can't defend a religious principle on the basis that people don't really act like they believe it; but then I wasn't defending the religious principles of the Left Behind folks, who I think are rather dimwitted -- which I believe is the first thing I said in that particular conversation.

    Solomon, I was in fact a classics major at Princeton, and returned to Christianity from agnosticism precisely because of the quality of the historical documentation, which was something that as a young agnostic I didn't know enough to pay attention to. Whatever standard you're using to set the bar for what constitutes "historical documentation" is a standard that would (if consistently applied) rule out most of what we think we know about people of the ancient world. For example, nobody doubts that the elder Pliny died at Pompeii, despite the comparative paucity of documentation of that event. The difference between the critical apparatus when one is reading, say, Suetonius or Xenephon, and the critical apparatus in the New Testament, is staggering, and the comparison is very much not in favor of Xenephon. You can, if you want, argue that the accuracy of the historical documentation is suspect because it was written by partisans / contains accounts of miracles; but that is quite a different thing from saying that there is no documentation at all.

    Neda, I would be interested to hear your definition of "sensible reasoning processes." Before this century that phrase would naturally have been taken to refer to the avoidance of logical fallacies, the careful and nonequivocal definition of terms, and the questioning of fundamental assumptions. In modern mouths it more often than not means "starting your argument with the same assumptions I and my subculture start from," but I don't want to assume that you're unreasonable just because you use a cliche that has suffered much recent abuse.

    Also, Neda, I do not for a moment perceive any sin in intellectual investigation of Christianity's basic tenets; indeed the process that originally took me into agnosticism began precisely because, on religious grounds, I considered that investigation to be a religious duty of the first order. And since my strongest religious belief about politics is that Jesus should be taken seriously when He says, "My kingdom is not of this world," I'm not sure to what zealous religio-political belief you're referring; nor can I imagine what makes you link my opinion on the Palestinians to my religious beliefs. I suppose that since the ultimate root of my belief that hatred is morally bad is a religious moral code, you might be coming from that direction; but if so, you missed the point of my post entirely, which was the practical effect that hatred has on those who embrace it. And that springs from my own observation of human behavior and its consequences, not from any particular passage of Scripture.

    It's also interesting to see you guys attributing a motive of hatred to somebody who has just written a piece about how foolish and self-destructive it is to embrace hatred; your sole evidence that I hate people would seem to be the fact that I disagree with your political views. Perhaps I misunderstood you and you meant no such accusation, in which case no harm done. But if you really are honestly convinced that everybody who disagrees with your political and/or religious views is full of hatred, then may I very humbly suggest that perhaps you need to broaden your social circle somewhat dramatically?

    Finally, if I may do you all the honor of speaking bluntly, the idea that a good education would preclude any ideas unpalatable to the subculture one happens to have been personally shaped by, is empirically naive, intellectually provincial, and psychologically limiting. Each of you has core assumptions, and the more passionately you feel any particular belief, the less likely you are to be thinking rationally and the more likely it is that your core assumptions are in play -- and the more likely you are to describe the opinions of the Other in terms of emotional distress rather than of rational analysis. There is only one way to have those core assumptions shaken up, and that is to deal with people (a) who do not share them and (b) whom you do not dismiss instantly by some knee-jerk emotional reaction. From whom are you going to learn, if anyone who disagrees with you is instantly labelled "backward," "shocking," "scary," and "hateful"?

  • At 5:50 PM, Blogger Ken Pierce said…

    [grinning] Oh, by the way, the compliment for which I'm thank you, Solomon, is, "He replied cogently to my questions without sermonizing," not, "He is almost definitely the smartest evangelical I have ever communicated with" -- the latter being, I suspect, not much of a compliment...

  • At 11:11 PM, Blogger Solomon Grundy said…

    Heh. I'm still not totally used to strangers reading the candid things I write about them on this blog, even though it happens again and again. I still think of it as a personal chat with friends, but it really isn't.

    Anyhow, this was so many months ago that I can't quite remember what I thought was scary. Even in that Palestinian post, though, you denounce hatred in a hateful way, making all sorts of anthropological judgements that run contrary to my experience with Arabs and that align rather too neatly with the distortions of American media bias. That is, I suppose, more a disagreement over empirical evidence than logic, though I suspect (though do not know) that your direct experience with Arabs in Texas might be somewhat limited (and yes, I skimmed your Kazakhstan adoption story, which is touching and nicely told, so for all I know you're a world traveler who spent 20 years in Palestine, but from what you wrote I rather doubt it).

    One logical fallacy you commit is that by lumping me and Neda together as a group that you then treat as an individual (the fallacy of hypostasization, look it up;), you can then conveniently combine Neda's critique and my emotional adjectives (notice that none of our regulars replied to my rather histrionic last comment, which I will admit was more an expression of emotion than a set of propositions). "We" only commited question-begging if you combine our individual comments into one argument.

    Jesus, your loquaciousness is contagious. Heh. I'll stop for now with these first, not terribly thought-out thoughts.

  • At 9:52 AM, Blogger Ken Pierce said…


    Don't worry, I think of my own blog as a journal rather than as a platform if it comes to that, and I genuinely was reluctant to intrude on what seemed to be more a private conversation among friends than a public debate. No offense taken. Most of what appears on my own blog is written under the assumption that the people reading it will know me personally.

    I think perhaps when you say "hateful way" you mean "in a way that I detest" rather than "in a way that bespeaks hatred on your part."

    On the Arab thing, my direct experience with Arabs is indeed with ex-pat Arabs I've met and grown close to in America, and with the Jordan Times, which I used to read rather religiously. I think perhaps you, not knowing me, could not tell from the title and the tone of that piece that I was myself expressing a lack of confidence in my own expertise ("Time to reinforce my preexisting opinions" is a dead giveaway if you know me, since reinforcing preexisting opinions is generally a bad thing in my book; and "appear to" is a phrase I habitually use as a red flag to say, "But I haven't dug deep into this, so while it's an opinion, it's one that I wouldn't bet much money on"). Our disagreement is indeed a disagreement over empirical evidence. If you want to say, "I have much more personal experience in this than you," then I will absolutely agree that that is true. Only, I will then ask whether it is possible that Nonie Darwish has, a forteriori, even more experience in this matter than you do. Is there any particular reason I should give more weight to your opinion than hers? (That is a sincere, not a rhetorical, question.)

    I don't need to look up the fallacy of hypostasization; if you do a Yahoo search on "fallacy of hypostasization" you'll find my own blog appearing as the second and third links on Yahoo's list. However, I'm not sure in what respect you think I illegitimately bundled you and Neda together: after all, I addressed several different points people made by addressing directly the specific individual who had made that particular point, and both you and Neda were using emotionally-loaded terms rather than specific criticism. I have the impression that you're trying to say that you used emotional terms and Neda provided logical cricism and then I bundled you together as "you guys." But you were both using emotional language rather than raising specific points of evidential or logical concern: Neda (whose stereotypes concerning religious people and country bumpkins appear to be at her instantaneous beck and call) calls my opinions "disturbing" and my beliefs "zealous" (which I doubt seriously is meant as a compliment in your circle), and you reply in agreement, "Yeah, his site is pretty scary," and add that my ideas are "backwards" and "hateful." In what respect, exactly, was I hypostasizing by addressing the two of you simultaneously in pointing out that you were both using question-begging, connotation-rich and denotation-poor epithets, rather than raising actual logical objections?

    Please note that I'm not offended or annoyed by the epithets, by the way. Also, your last comment was quite different in tone and content -- as one would expect since its purpose and intended audience was different.

    I do run on too long, and you can tell me at any point, "I'm tired of this conversation," without offending me or making me think less of you. You and your friends have long since moved on past this topic, after all, and I have intruded without an invitation.

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