The Trillion Dollar Sermon

Somewhere in America right now, there’s a pastor who thinks he’s come up with the most brilliant sermon idea *ever* and he can’t wait to deliver it this morning.

Richard Beck is anticipating it and he’s beaten them to the punch. The only difference is that Beck’s joking about it while the pastor will be completely serious:

We, as sinners, have wracked up a debt we cannot pay. But God, in God’s great mercy, mints a coin of infinite value. Not a trillion-dollar coin, but a coin of infinite value! This coin is Jesus Christ. And God deposits this Coin in the Treasury of Heaven which can now — because of its infinite value — cover all our sin-debts.

And when that happens, you’re obligated to give your pastor the atheist response: Much like God, the trillion-dollar coin is entirely fictional, has no place in our government discourse, doesn’t actually solve our problems, and FOX News takes it way too literally.

(Thanks to folks on Twitter for their help!)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Slow Learner

    I don’t see why the coin is such a bad option. The US Government has two requirements on it – to spend money as mandated by Congress, and not to build up more debt than permitted by Congress.
    These are incompatible if Congress does not raise the ceiling. Any legal option to avoid the abuse of Congress’s power by House Republicans seems legitimate at this point.
    If you’re interested, try Paul Krugman on this, he’s pretty clear on the up and downsides of various options as the ceiling approaches.

    • http://www.facebook.com/chris.hallquist Chris Hallquist

      This was my thought too. The $1 trillion coin is a silly but harmless bit of loophole abuse that would let us get around a disastrously stupid (as in potentially-wreck-the-world-economy stupid) law called the debt ceiling, which isn’t even logically compatible with the other laws Congress has passed.

      • Lee Miller

        Why would you use the word “logically” in any comment related to the US Congress?

      • 3lemenope

        Silly but dangerous, rather. The coin gimmick would be a powerful signal that the executive believes that Congress cannot exercise its own clear duties effectively, in essence declaring that the US must resort to stunts in order to meet its obligations.

        • David Starner

          What’s the problem with the executive stating a fact that everyone knows? It’s like an airplane; there’s a time when the co-pilot grabs the wheel and steers it out of danger, even though that declares a lack of confidence in the pilot. There were 189 people on Birgenair Flight 301 whose deaths are blamed on the co-pilot not doing just that.

          • 3lemenope

            The main problem is that such action makes rather less probable that the dysfunction will be effectively addressed over the long term. A significant but unrelated problem is that positively confirming what everyone assumes is very different, in these sorts of circumstances, than just letting everyone continue to assume it; pointedly the president and his staff have more direct information than the average Joe over how likely a debt ceiling deal actually is, since they are the ones in the negotiation, and so their giving up on the process means more than outside observers’ mere lack of confidence because it is predicated on information pretty much everyone involved agrees is more accurate.

    • http://abb3w.livejournal.com/ abb3w

      Krugman suggests the direct macroeconomic effect would be minimal, comparable to the US issuing a trillion dollars in bonds. Indirectly, people might perceive it as a form of “running the presses”, with some impact on the subjective general international confidence in the soundness of the US dollar as the de facto primary international reserve currency. Krugman appears to neglect this secondary component.

      However, while that would be a serious problem, that would be far less of a problem than a default on US bonds, which I understand would have at least the same level of impact on that and result in an immediate downgrade of US bonds to F, massively increasing interest rates on US borrowing, and making the interest on existing US debt become an even larger fraction of the US budget, thereby worsening the deficit.

      Unfortunately, the latest word (Saturday) in the Washington Post is that neither the Treasury nor the Federal Reserve believe this would be legal. The former isn’t a major but non-fatal obstacle; if President Obama decided on it, the unary executive theory means he could effectively order it done — though possibly having to fire a series of (acting) Treasury Secretaries Nixon-style until he found someone willing to give the order (which wouldn’t help confidence). However, if the Federal Reserve is going to refuse to accept the deposit of the coin as legal tender despite the letter of the law, that’s a bigger obstacle.

      • 3lemenope

        Krugman misses the mark on the real effects of such a stunt, I think, because he conceives of the situation as a fiscal crisis only, whereas it is in actuality a crisis of governance. What has investors and national banks worldwide twitchy is the fact that the US government seems incompetent to the point of non-functional when it comes to facing fiscal challenges. Because it would “solve” the short-term fiscal problem, it would have the effect of letting Congress off the hook, meaning that there would be no direct pressure for them to change their behavior, leading to a reasonable assumption that the problem will recur.

        When viewed in that light, a one-off gimmick like the coin would be a confirmation to all interested observers of the dysfunction of the US government’s capacity to deal with fiscal crisis and an indication that the US is not serious about fixing those dysfunctions, which would do far more damage to credit-worthyness than the first- or second-order direct effects might suggest.

        • http://abb3w.livejournal.com/ abb3w

          As that’s a result of change in people’s perceptions, I’d put that in the same “secondary” category; the perception of “running the presses” being a specific form of governmental incompetence.

  • http://twitter.com/CyningDom King ♔ Dominic

    “And when that happens, you’re OBLIGED to give your pastor the atheist response”

    ‘Obligate’ is an adjective, pronounced like ‘surrogate’.

    • http://www.last.fm/user/m6wg4bxw m6wg4bxw

      “Obligate” can also be used adjectivally and verbally, similar to “surrogate.”

    • http://twitter.com/InMyUnbelief TCC

      You do realize that “oblige” is an actual word, a verb (as used here), and used in the correct context in this sentence, right? If you’re going to try your hand at pedantry, you should at least have your facts in order.

      • Guesty Guest

        I’m pretty sure he does know that oblige is an actual word, since he substituted it for the verbal “obligate” in the original quote. If you’re going to correct a pedant, you should be be sure to know exactly what they’re objecting to.

        • http://twitter.com/InMyUnbelief TCC

          If that all-caps was a substitution, then it wasn’t clear, but in either case, neither word is actually incorrect in that usage, so I can’t see how that improves the attempt at pedantry.

          • http://twitter.com/CyningDom King ♔ Dominic

            Obligate would be incorrect. It is wrong and ugly. We already have a word for being obliged to do something, without inventing an ugly back-formation like being obligated to do it too. Why would there be two forms of one word? Because one is the result of uneducated people not knowing the correct form and working it out from the noun (obligation).

            • meekinheritance

              That’s why everyone can babble ;-) in English, no matter what language they use!

  • Jack

    Well. Where is this Jesus guy and what has he done for us lately?

    • Pepe

      Hey, we did have Christmas!

      • C Peterson

        I think you’re confusing Jesus with Santa Claus. It’s Santa that delivers at Christmas; Jesus is just a distraction.

        • cipher

          I think you’re confusing Jesus with Santa Claus.

          Heh! Much the same as Christians do!

          • 3lemenope

            Odin is the reason for the season.

  • A3Kr0n

    I think equating Jesus to money, even of infinite value is quite disrespectful. Beck should apologize to his congregation for making such a comparison IMO.

  • trj

    A coin of infinite value? That would make money completely worthless. Sounds like this Jesus Christ fellow is out to destroy the economy.

    • Reginald Selkirk

      How do you make change for a coin of infinite value?

      • Brian Pansky

        by worshiping and praising forever, of course! maybe feelings of unworthiness too, dunno. my spiritual economic calculus is a bit rusty.

      • 3lemenope

        It becomes time to break out those crazy formulas for summing infinite series of fractions…

  • http://www.youtube.com/user/GodVlogger?feature=mhee GodVlogger (on YouTube)

    For this Jesus-vs.-USA coin analogy it breaks down pretty quickly….

    In the United States, although the Trillion Dollar coin is somewhat of a farce, at least there IS a real Mint that would make a real coin which could be deposited in a real Treasury to cover a real debt.

  • Puzzled

    Yes, of course, it’s the limit on out of control spending, which is raised every time they feel like spending more, that is destroying the economy. Not, you know, handing everyone’s money to banks and corporations.

  • advancedatheist

    I don’t see how the $1 trillion platinum coin differs from what happens when you buy a gift certificate from a private business. Say you pay $100 to buy a gift card in that amount from Walmart. The card gives you a $100 claim on goods and services from that company, while Walmart now has an additional $100 claim on goods and services from the people and companies it does business with. In other words, you have mysteriously created the equivalent of $200 out of $100. Do Walmart and other companies “debase the currency” by doubling dollars out of “thin air” like this?

    • trj

      Huh? How does Walmart get a claim on others by issuing a gift certificate?

      • Guesty Guest

        He or she is reasoning that Walmart received $100 in money for the card, which Walmart then can spend on what Walmart wants. It’s odd to term it a “claim” since it is completely fungible value, but I think that’s what advancedatheist is going for. He or she is still wrong; see above.

    • allein

      Where I worked the gift cards didn’t count as sales until they were redeemed for actual merchandise. Not sure how that money is accounted for at the time of the card sale, but it wasn’t reflected in our sales numbers.

    • Guesty Guest

      You are neglecting the fact that the $100 claim the buyer of the certificate possesses is explicitly on goods provided by the original issuer of the certificate, so no value is created.

  • http://daniel.bottle-imp.com/ Daniel

    The absurdity of the platinum coin mirrors the absurdity of the House GOP’s approach to politics these days. In any other world I would agree that is too gimmicky to take seriously, but marginalizing their agenda with pettiness almost feels appropriated at this point.

  • WallofSleep

    “Much like God, the trillion-dollar coin is entirely fictional…”

    Just as well. It likely would’ve been stolen by one Dr. Evil’s henchmen anyway.

  • C Peterson

    If the government mints a trillion dollar coin, it will be real. There will be pictures of it. They could put it on display at Fort Knox. People could touch it.

    An infinite value anti-sin coin in the Treasury of Heaven? Not so much.

    (Overlooking, of course, the problems that “infinite value” has no meaning, there is no such thing as “sin”, there is no “Heaven” to contain a treasury, and there is no god to mint this most peculiar coin.)

    • Guesty Guest

      And the whole concept of metaphor just glides right by you.

      But, you might say, how can an intangible concept do something physical like glide?

      And the whole concept of metaphor just glides right by you.

      • C Peterson

        The concept of metaphor is clear enough. The utter and complete failure of this one (which is so false it isn’t even appropriately called such) seems to glide by you!

        • Blacksheep

          It’s actually a terrific metaphor for the gospel. To you it’s worthy of ridicule because you “know” it’s not true, but millions of us think that it is!

          • C Peterson

            I’m happy to see that you know the difference between actually knowing something and just believing without reason.

          • alconnolly

            Quite correct Mr Blacksheep it is a terrific metaphor. Use a sleigh of hand accounting trick to “pay” for something. In the religious case. Create a “debt” by saying that everyone’s “sins” are “debts” and then pay it off by doing one of those magic appearing coin acts of creating the payment of the debt. A brilliant waltz on the Lewis Carol side of nonsense! Hurrah!

      • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

        Total aside, but Disqus has this weird bug, in which this particular comment:

        And the whole concept of metaphor just glides right by you…

        Is showing up for me as By C Peterson replying to C Peterson.

        I’m pretty sure it isn’t, and when I reload it will show correctly.

  • Luther

    Let him mint it, deposit it in the next collection, and free his flock from the need to contribute ever, again!

  • Edmond

    Unfortunately for Jesus, coins of infinite value can only be legally minted from unobtainium.

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

    Act now, while supplies last! Available for collectors in infinitely small numbers, this beautiful coin is backed up by the Universal Infinite Treasury and is guaranteed to increase in value over an infinite amount of time to exceed that of the The Girl Scouts of the USA Centennial Commemorative Silver Dollar, currently valued at one dollar. It comes mounted on a handsome teak and plastic display plaque and will be a stylish and inspiring addition to your home or office. Send just $19.95 check or money order to Spurious Sermons Enterprises.

    ___________________

    Whatever you do, DON’T EVER PUT THE INFINITE COIN INTO A VENDING MACHINE

    • WallofSleep

      Dear god, the Mentos! JETTISON THE MENTOS!!!

  • Robster

    I’d rather my coin hadn’t decomposed 2000 years ago supposedly. I’d like my coin to actually do something and be of some real rather than “spiritual” value. No thanks for the jesus offer, it simply doesn’t work. Failed completely.


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