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Word of the Day: Poe’s Law

About a month ago, I wrote a post titled, “A Powerful Defense of Reason … or Maybe Not.”  It was a letter from a pastor arguing both sides of the question of reason—that reason is a gift from God … but that it steers the honest Christian man or woman away from faith.  That reason eliminated disease like smallpox … but that Martin Luther called it “the greatest enemy of faith.”

The pastor who wrote it was Rev. Phineas P. Stopgauge—a made-up name for a made-up letter.  Though it was a parody (and had decent clues that it was), I received feedback from someone who seemed to have thought it real.

And this brings up Poe’s Law:

Without a winking smiley or other blatant display of humor, it is impossible to create a parody of Fundamentalism that someone won’t mistake for the real thing.

Is Landover Baptist Church a parody?  Apparently so.  How about Fred “God Hates Fags” Phelps?  Apparently not.  It’s hard to tell.  This shows the versatility of the (supposedly) immutable religion that it can morph into any form, even as parody, and still be mistaken for earnest Christianity.

We see an early example in the Cardiff Giant, a giant petrified man discovered by well diggers near Syracuse, NY in 1869.  But the entire thing was a hoax, commissioned by atheist George Hull and planted where it would be accidentally “discovered.”  Hull’s goal was to show how easy it was to fool Americans, especially Christians who believed that “There were giants in the earth in those days” (Gen. 6:4).

Even after scientists rejected the find and Hull admitted to the hoax, the Giant was still a popular tourist attraction.  P.T. Barnum offered the modern equivalent of millions of dollars, but the owners wouldn’t sell.  He created his own Giant to display and argued that his was the real fake and the other one was the fake fake.  Barnum’s conclusion: “The American people love to be humbugged.”

A recent example was the “GOD IS SO GOOD!!!!” video by TamTamPamela, an earnest 20-something woman from Florida talking about how fantastic it was that, in the lead-up to Easter, God showed himself to atheists through the March 11 Japan earthquake and tsunami (find more details about this event at the ThinkAtheist blog).

A few days later, after her address and phone number had been publicized and she received the obligatory delivery of unwanted pizza, she publicly stated that the whole thing had been just a provocation.

That this wasn’t obvious to begin with, and that a Christian could plausibly make this statement, makes this a classic example of Poe’s Law.

Photo credit: Wikimedia

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About Bob Seidensticker
  • avalon

    Gullibility and credulity are considered undesirable qualities in every department of human life — except religion. -Christopher Hitchens

  • RandomFunction2

    to all,

    I think I can conceive someone making a parody of a marxist ideologue that would pretty much sound like the real thing, so it’s not just the problem of religions.

    But the real problem here is that Bob is again chasing nutty fundamentalists rather than handling the most interesting and profound believers. The likes of Bultmann, Bonhoeffer, Tillich, Rahner, Moltmann, Gutiérrez, and so on.

    • Retro

      I could make a parody of ANYTHING.

      This is what we call humor. It’s funny when it’s about someone else, it’s only insulting when it’s about you.

      Take the very most basics of Christianity: God sacrifices Himself to Himself for sins done against Himself. God is three while at the same time is still only one. God shows up and hangs out with His believers when they eat a cracker and drink some wine. Some believers think He’s there spiritually, other believers think the cracker and wine physically become God.

      When stripped of it’s mysterious and magical setting, mainstream Christianity sounds rather silly.

      IMO, mainstream Christianty sounds no more or less riduculous than any fringe fundamentalist denomination does.

      • http://galileounchained.com Bob Seidensticker

        When stripped of it’s mysterious and magical setting, mainstream Christianity sounds rather silly.

        I listened to a William Lane Craig lecture once. He was arguing that the noncanonical gospels were noncanonical for a reason. He talked about one (Gospel of Peter?) where Jesus is carried out of the tomb by two other guys, and they’re taller than giants. And then a talking cross comes out.

        The audience chuckles at this, but I’m thinking: “Wait a minute–sure this is ridiculous, but have you read your own gospels?!”

    • http://galileounchained.com Bob Seidensticker

      RF2:

      Yep, this is a bit of an aside. But I think overall that I focus mostly on mainstream thinkers.

      If you’re curious, I’ve added a page that shows all posts (in the menu under the About tab). You can poke through there to see if you think that the majority of posts are not aimed at mainstream Christianity. I think they are.

  • Bob Calvan

    Retro, Retro, Retro, Tsk,Tsk, Tsk.

    You said:

    “Take the very most basics of Christianity: God sacrifices Himself to Himself for sins done against Himself. God is three while at the same time is still only one… ”

    As like Bob the Atheist you build a straw man that is not Christianity and than attack the straw man. If you are going to present a parody of the sacrifice, or the atonement, and the trinity at least present the correct Christian doctrine of the Atonement and the Trinity.

    You said “God sacrifices’ Himself to Himself….” Well you assume Unitarianism (God as one person) Which makes your quote moot and meaningless.
    God did not sacrifice Himself to Himself as you assume..The Eternal Son of God ( the second person of the Godhead) At His incarnation stepped into His creation and took on human form to be a substitute for the sins of those the Father gives to the Son. So He did not sacrafice Himself to Himself.

    “….For sins done against Himself…..”

    The Son does not sin against Himself. The Son is sinless.

    “……..God is three while at the same time still only one….”

    No God is one Eternal being..( not one person) . So take some advice if you wish to attack Christianity fine.. But at least present what Christianity teaches.

    Every thing you wrote is irrelevant, because your parody has nothing to do with Biblical Christianity

    • Retro

      “If you are going to present a parody of the sacrifice, or the atonement, and the trinity at least present the correct Christian doctrine of the Atonement and the Trinity.”

      I agree, I could reword it better so it’d be more accurate to your version of Christianity. The end result would still be the same.

      However you wish to word it, the Trinity is apparently beyond logical description. The only thing you can really say is that if you claim to understand the Trinity… then you don’t really understand the Trinity.

      As far as the Atonement goes, God the Son cannot be sinless while at the same time He takes on the sin of the world. Maybe Jesus didn’t commit any sins personally, but He took on all the sins of every human that ever lived. (2 Corinthians 5:21) And of course it’s meaningless to say that God the Son actually died whenever every Christian today proclaims that Jesus lives! Maybe it’d be more accurate to say that Jesus “took a nap” for our sins?

      So then maybe the Atonement is like the Trinity, and it is also beyond logical description. If you claim to understand the Atonement, then you really don’t understand the Atonement.

      If I still have it wrong, then maybe you could point out where this is all PLAINLY explained in the Bible. Picking and choosing dozens of verses scattered throughout dozens of different books is not plain.

    • http://galileounchained.com Bob Seidensticker

      God did not sacrifice Himself to Himself as you assume..The Eternal Son of God ( the second person of the Godhead) At His incarnation stepped into His creation and took on human form to be a substitute for the sins of those the Father gives to the Son. So He did not sacrafice Himself to Himself.

      OK, you don’t have Unitarianism, and you don’t have polytheism. So what do is Trinitarianism then? God isn’t one, and he isn’t three. So what is he then? You say it’s a “he,” and that’s Unitarianism. You say it’s a “they,” and that’s polytheism.

  • Bob Calvan

    Retro, Retro, Retro, Tsk, Tsk ,Tsk. I also posted this on the previous blog

    You said:

    ” I was once a Christian, and accepted that somehow God created everything. The how’s and why’s didn’t matter so much…”

    No, you were never a born again Christian with saving faith. If you were you would still be one. Salvation is a special supernatural gift of God.. Where you become a new creature. Where your heart of stone is taken out by God and a new heart of flesh is given too you. It is a Spiritual birth given by the Holy Spirit..Of course you will neve runderstand this, unless it happens to you by the Grace of God.. But you were never a true Christian. What you had was an intellectual understanding and acceptance of the Chrisitian religion. But you were never a regenerated child of God,.

    You said:

    ” If God does exist, and He actually cares whether I believe in Him or not, I think God would be smart enough and powerful enough to find a way for me to believe in Him…”

    You are falsely assuming God can not find a way to save you? Well you claimed to be a Christian and you do not understand the doctrine of Soteriology? Hmmm? As I said you were never a Christian.

    We have three premises:

    1. God could save everyone

    2. God could save no one

    3. God could save some.

    God is Holy, Just, Love, and Grace. God to show all His attributes and His freedom chooses # 3.

    If God saved everyone (1) we would see His Grace and Love

    If God saved no one (2) we would see His Wrath and Justice. ( We all have willing broken God’s law and all deserve Hell)

    If God saves those He chose’s we see all His Attributes His Holiness, Justice, Love and Grace. And that is what God freely does, He chooses those He wills to save..The rest He leaves in the sins..And leaves them where they want to be in rejection of Him..As you and Atheist Bob are.

    You said:

    Until then, I’m simply going to be the best person that I can, and take care of my friends and family the best that I can. I will treat strangers with kindness, and claim no right for myself that I will not freely extend to others.

    Well that’s nice. Of course you can not account for Human Dignity? Why bother being nice to other bags of protoplasm? Who cares what molecules in motion do to other bags of molecules in motion?

    All those nice things you are doing to your family and friends are a stench in God’s eye. All those nice things you are doing are filthy rags ( Kotex) in God’s eyes.

    Because all those things you do you do not do for the Glory of God. You do for yourself. ( Idolatry)

    Good works in your religion of Human secularism are an abomination to a Holy God. That is why you will spend eternity in Hell, because you are sinning against an eternal infinite being.

    • Retro

      “No, you were never a born again Christian with saving faith. If you were you would still be one.”

      So anyone that disagrees with you MUST be wrong. It’s the classic “No True Scotsman” fallacy.

      “Of course you will never understand this, unless it happens to you by the Grace of God.”

      Which makes it totally POINTLESS for you to be debating people about it. It’d be much better for you to pray that God might give me the grace to understand than for you to waste your time blathering on just to hear yourself talk.

      “Why bother being nice to other bags of protoplasm? Who cares what molecules in motion do to other bags of molecules in motion?”

      Which is more noble: A man who does good for goodness sake, or a man who does good because he desires a reward and fears a punishment?

      “All those nice things you are doing are filthy rags (Kotex) in God’s eyes.”

      Then doing good is a completely meaningless concept.

      “Because all those things you do you do not do for the Glory of God. You do for yourself.”

      Since when does an infinite God need anything? Since when can an infinite God be harmed?

      You doing things for an infinite God is meaningless and pointless.

      PEOPLE have needs. PEOPLE can be harmed. Doing things to fulfill people’s needs and to minimize harm is the only logically possible way to do actual “good”.

      “That is why you will spend eternity in Hell, because you are sinning against an eternal infinite being.”

      An truly infinite being could never be harmed by an infinitesimal creature like myself. Your God sounds less like an infinite being, and more like a spoiled brat throwing a temper tantrum.

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