Should I not be concerned?

Or we could look at it this way. What we’re really talking about here in our dispute with Team Hell isn’t just “What about Gandhi?” — it’s also “What about Ninevah?

Scores of evangelical pastors and authors have condemned Rob Bell for asking “Will billions and billions of people burn forever in Hell?” and for expressing discomfort at the idea.

But Bell’s question echoes this earlier question:

And should I not be concerned about Ninevah, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 people who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals?

That question — the last words, the punchline of the book of Jonah — is nearly identical in substance to Bell’s question, but the tone is much angrier. That makes sense. Bell is a step removed from the subject. He’s asking, “Just what kind of cruel God do you think God is?” The latter question is more direct, more personal. It is God Almighty saying, “Just what kind of cruel God do you think I am?

I bring up the book of Jonah here because its place in the Bible provides one of the clearest examples of another dynamic that frustrates any attempt at a conversation between Team Love and Team Hell.

Jonah is a polemic — a guided missile of a story in which the author takes aim at the opposing point of view with the intent to destroy it utterly. It’s a brutal piece of work. The author wasn’t trying to present a civil, charitable, fair-minded assessment of the opposing viewpoint. The author, rather, was trying to ridicule that view out of existence, to burn it down and salt the earth and dance on the ashes and laugh.

It didn’t quite work out that way. The opposing point of view survived this broadside. It can be found in books of the Bible written after Jonah just as much as in books of the Bible written before this diatribe. And it lives on today in streams of Judaism and Christianity and Islam — among every tradition that regards the book of Jonah as a sacred text, you can find factions or schools of thought in which the very ideas that book attacks are still embraced.

There are two layers of conflict here and both create barriers to a meaningful conversation.

First there is the conflict between the opposing views portrayed in the book of Jonah. And then there is the unspoken conflict over the existence of that conflict.

What does it mean when we say that Jonah is a polemic? It means that we are encountering two opposite points of view — two contradictory ideas. The one pole of this polemic is the author’s own position — for whom the author of Jonah, stacking the deck, has humbly enlisted God Almighty to be the spokesperson. The opposing pole is the position the book was written to attack — the “Who cares if Ninevites die? They’re $#@& Ninevites!” position for which the author, stacking the deck again, has made the bumbling, chauvinist titular antihero the spokesman.

What is at stake in this argument is what it means to be God’s chosen or God’s children — the saved, the elect, the faithful, the righteous, the RTCs, the “few select people” Bell talks about.

For the character Jonah, this chosen-ness, this election and being one of the saved, means that he will be raised up to “possess the remnant of Edom, and of all the heathen.” That which now belongs to the unchosen, unsaved wicked nations will one day be given to him and people like him.

For the author of Jonah it means something very different. For the author of Jonah what it means to be chosen or elect or saved is to be called to participate in a divine plan by which “all other peoples may seek the Lord — even all the Gentiles.”

Huge difference between those polar opposite view points. That’s the first layer of conflict.

The second layer of conflict has to do with the inconvenient fact that “the authority of scripture” can be cited in support of both of these incompatible views. The conflict here isn’t over how to reconcile or choose between such competing views, but rather over whether or not the Bible ever presents opposing points of view at all. On one side of this conflict you have those who read this sprawling anthology of dozens of separate books written over hundreds of years and find in it arguments and disagreements and contentious disputes. On the other side you have those who assert that it is 100-percent unified and consistent, start to finish, Genesis to Revelation.

This aspect of the conflict is particularly confusing because it’s never wholly acknowledged. Someone like a Rob Bell will say that when the Bible presents us with these disputes and these contradictory ideas, we should look at the larger context of the character of God as revealed through Jesus Christ, making Jesus the standard by which we choose what side of the argument to embrace. But the other side doesn’t know what to make of that. They don’t see any need for such a standard for deciding between competing viewpoints because they don’t believe that the authoritative scriptures include any such competing views. If the Bible were like that, how would it serve the function they rely on it to serve as the “paper pope” (in N.T. Wright’s term) the ultimate arbiter of all disputes in the church? If those same disputes can be found within the Bible itself, then how could we use the Bible to resolve them?

This second level of conflict — this dispute over whether or not the scriptures include disputes — frustrates many attempts to discuss the sorts of questions that people like Bell are trying to discuss.

The concordance-driven proof-texting that provides Team Hell with its emphatic certainty is based on that premise of a 100-percent unified, consistent and never contradictory Bible. But because the Bible isn’t like that — because it does contain multiple points of view, endorsing or seeming to endorse different ideas in different passages — this proof-texting approach is bound to lead one astray.

Look again at the summaries above of the utterly incompatible ideas debated in the book of Jonah. Does being chosen/elect/saved mean that the righteous few who remain faithful will be given “the remnant of Edom, and of all the heathen”? Or does it mean that they have been given the privilege and duty of participating in the redemption by which “all other peoples may seek the Lord — even all the Gentiles”? It cannot mean both. If one answer is true, the other cannot be true.

But a proof-texting reader can find verses that support both of those ideas. Those summaries of those irreconcilable views are, in fact, citing scripture.

And I’m not  just citing different verses to support the two different ideas — I’m citing a single passage of scripture. Both summaries come from the very same words of the very same verse.

Open an English translation of the Christian Bible and turn to the final chapter of the book of Amos. There, in Amos 9:11-12, the King James Version reads like this:

In that day will I raise up the tabernacle of David that is fallen, and close up the breaches thereof; and I will raise up the ruins, and I will build it as in the days of old: That they may possess the remnant of Edom, and of all the heathen.

Now flip over to the New Testament, to the book of Acts, and read along (Acts 15:15-17) as James, the brother of Jesus, reads from this same passage in Amos:

And to this agree the words of the prophets; as it is written, After this I will return, and will build again the tabernacle of David, which is fallen down; and I will build again the ruins thereof, and I will set it up: That the residue of men might seek after the Lord, and all the Gentiles.

Same proof-text, opposite meanings.

As it happens, thanks to the pliability of a written language that didn’t include vowels, both of these readings are valid translations of whatever it was that Amos wrote. Plug in one set of vowels and you get a promise that the chosen people will one day “possess the remnant of Edom, and of all the heathen.” Plug in a different set of vowels and you get a promise that God will work through the chosen people “that the residue of men might seek after the Lord, and all the Gentiles.”

Plugging in both sets of vowels is not an option. You can’t read this passage both ways.

You have to choose.

Pick one.

Which do you prefer? How should you decide?

Some Christians will say that they don’t need to decide. They’ll shrug off the example here, or that of the book of Jonah, as some kind of liberal/intellectual/seminary trickery and insist again that the Bible never confronts us with such decisions. There’s no need to choose sides, they say, because there’s only one side, the Bible’s side, and the only choice you have to worry about is whether or not you’re going to submit to the Bible’s authority. The paper pope will sort everything out for us.

What that means in practice, interestingly, tends to be that they choose Jonah’s side — that they long for the destruction of Ninevah and the glorious day when they, the select few, are granted the spoils of Edom and of all the heathen. The suggestion that this might not happen, as we just saw with the response to Bell’s video, makes them very angry. “Yes, angry enough to die.”

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Anonymous

    Testing again.

  • Lori

    Because you have comments set to sort by newest first. See the scrolldown menu near the bottom right of the comment box? You can change the order in which you see comments there.

  • Anonymous

    Are you sorting by Newest First?

  • Anonymous

    This was supposed to be under Kit’s post(s), sigh.

  • Anonymous

    Long time lurker, first time poster. Like the new digs!

  • http://www.kitwhitfield.com Kit Whitfield

    Is this comment going to appear? (Sorry if all these posts are annoying. I do not like new technology.)

  • Jason

    Me neither. I get slacktivist on stone tablets. Its inconvenient but it works for me.

  • Froborr

    Annoying that it doesn’t allow me to sign in with my Google id, since that’s the one linked to my blogs, and work blocks Facebook.

  • http://timothy.green.name/ Timothy (TRiG)

    You can sign in with Google ID, because Google ID is a form of OpenID. If you don’t see a specific option to use Google ID, pick OpenID and then use https://www.google.com/accounts/o8/id as your OpenID.

    TRiG.

  • Jason

    Hey for those of you whose name was taken such as Rebecca, CaryB, and myself, you can go to your profile and change your “full name” and then it will display as your old handle (-:

  • Anonymous

    And now testing the last thing.

  • Anonymous

    Testing something else…

  • Froborr

    Testing something else…

  • http://www.kitwhitfield.com Kit Whitfield

    Speaking of profiles, Jason, I’ve been meaning to ask: what’s your picture? I assume it’s not you, so who is it?

  • Jason

    It is from a TV clip of a Russian singer from the 60’s that was floating around the internet a while back. His name is Eduard Khil and many people including myself found the video rather hilarious because of his strange mannerism. Mr. Khil is still alive and is taking his sudden world-wide internet fame in stride.

    I have no idea why I chose that as a profile picture. It seemed like the thing to do at the time.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t6FUR_nhGX8&feature=related

  • Anonymous

    The cool part is that he sang without lyrics to get crap past the Soviet radar. Props to that man. XD

  • Anonymous

    I always thought your avatar was Michael Cera! Well, my mind’s blown now.

  • Anonymous

    He’s also known as “Trololo Man” on the interwebs.

  • Anonymous

    Okay, so how do I get into “profile” if I want to do avatar pictures and such?

  • Jason

    In this little disqus drop down thingy underneath the main post

  • http://www.kitwhitfield.com Kit Whitfield

    Yeah, I don’t like threaded comments. Or at least, I think it’s going to make it mightily difficult to keep track of the conversation in a community as large as ours.

    I’m not mad about the ‘like’ buttons either. It seems liable to support competitiveness and side-taking.

  • Anonymous

    I dunno, Flickfilosopher also uses Disqus, and there the Like button mostly gets used as a substitute for “I agree but have nothing to add.” I haven’t seen any competition developing there… I think a combination of a relatively mature commentariat and the lack of a “dislike” button keeps things under control.

  • Jason

    I think it will be ok as long as we sort by newest first.

    I’m not sure what my opinion of the like button is.

  • mmy

    I personally dislike “like” buttons — they remind people picking teams in high school. Not mad about threading either.

    But it isn’t my blog is it?

    BTW, like your avatar.

  • Nicolae Carpathia

    As I’ve said: Given our tendency for multiple tangential sub-discussions on each thread, I think it might make it easier to keep track of conversations if they were sorted by topic. The comment threads on the old site have been moving so fast lately I have to keep zooming up and down the page until I get dizzy in order to keep track of what’s being said about one topic versus all the others people are talking about.

    Also, I think it will help avoid those accordion-shaped posts where I’m blockquoting five different people on five different topics.

    Agree with you on the “Like” buttons, which are an invitation to popularity-contests and pandering… although, at least there’s no “Dislike” button, which would make it a gazillion times worse.

  • http://www.nicolejleboeuf.com/index.php Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little

    You know what I dislike even more than threaded comments? Comments in order of date descending, i.e. most recent first. Only, is that the case here? I can’t tell! ‘Cause it’s threaded!

    *shakes head sadly*

  • Jason

    In this little disqus drop down thingy underneath the main post

  • Anonymous

    I’m trying to develop an idea similar to this in a post about Objective fear. Part two is in the works, but I’d love to hear what y’all think.

    I’m not thrilled with the new platform because I’m having trouble posting sometimes. Instead of a box to enter a comment, I get “Please wait…” in that space and it’s unclickable. Anybody else having this?

  • Anonymous

    Yeah I’ve been getting that as well. I find that doing a ctrl+F5 fixes it.

  • hapax

    Testing… Am I “hapax” again? Did an obnoxiously cute kitteh show up?

    Literata, I have the same problem with the “please wait.” Nothing seems to fix it but logging out and logging back in, which means re-setting everything.

  • Anonymous

    I can get rid of it by going to my disqus dashboard and then back to the post, but it’s annoying as hell, pun nearly intended. It seems to happen when there’s a message in my status bar saying something like it’s reading from some media server related to disqus.

  • hapax

    Hmmm. No kitty. Maybe I’ll have to try my pink seahorse again.

  • Anonymous

    Sorry, hapax, but I see no kitten or seahorse. :( The way I set mine was to just grab a picture of the basic subatomic particles off the Web and supply that URL to the “avatar” section of my profile editor for Disqus.

  • Anonymous

    Mm. If all the people from the old site were able to/wanted to post on this one, I don’t imagine it would take me very long to get used to the new site’s mix of obvious improvements (no more breakable italics) and more…dubious…differences.

    Since that is not the case, I regret the change.

  • Anonymous

    I take it back. I had to wrestle with the site for 11 minutes to post this followup (not to say, to stay logged in and not get set to Sort By Popular Now), and therefore I now officially hate the new site on my own behalf.

  • Anonymous

    Also, my replies never show up as replies to what they’re replies to.

  • Anonymous

    The kludge for that is to manually refresh the page when you’re done posting your comment.

  • Anonymous

    I think the ability to edit, even after a reply has been posted, coupled with the lack of documentation of said edit, will have far reaching and unpleasant implications. We (the Nice People) may find others sawing off our limbs even as we crawl out in perfectly reasonable disagreement.

    I worry about the move, and am not convinced it’s for the better.

    And with threading, you can’t chase up the latest comments since you were last here …

  • Lori

    I agree that open editing could create problems. I like having a window of time to edit for typos and such. Another site where I sometimes comment gives you a half hour to un-embarrass yourself and that works well for me. Allowing editing at any time can be a troll’s best friend.

    I guess we’ll have to see how it goes. If the new format significantly hampers/changes the comment community maybe the Slacktivixen will exercise her spousal veto and send us all back to the old space. :)

  • http://mmycomments.blogspot.com/ mmy

    Ah, I was wondering if there were any sites that allowed “time limited” editing. Makes sense to me.

    I guess the best thing for now is if someone posts something that one feels might be a later point of contention — then save it. Not crazy about that though

  • R.C. Killian

    Key is to use quotes, I think. It would look mighty weird for someone to say, “But that text you copied and pasted isn’t the text I wrote!”

  • Nicolae Carpathia

    I’d prefer either a time-limited edit window or a documentation of edits, but I do enjoy having a chance to go back and edit for typos, especially in the absence of a “preview” function.

    Also, I think most of us (you included, of course) are grown-up enough to avoid misusing the edit feature to wiggle out of what we’ve said in general, and sharp enough to catch when a troll is doing it.

  • Anonymous

    One thing I wouldn’t mind is a slightly wider active area of the blog-window. Given that we all can post some ginormous freakin’ comments if we put our minds to it, the current width is kinda narrow-ish for that.

    Most laptops these days are minimum 1280 pixels wide, and that’s probably an acceptable standard to adhere to for a blog-window width. Or could we have a more flexible CSS that can expand the window for people with wide screens? Eh. *shrug*

  • http://mmycomments.blogspot.com/ mmy

    BTW, you can add your website link to your disqus profile. Hope people keep doing that so we can visit each other’s websites.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

    So, I posted this comment on the other site, but apparently the cool kids are all here now.

    Does being chosen/elect/saved mean that the righteous few who remain faithful will be given “the remnant of Edom, and of all the heathen”? Or does it mean that they have been given the privilege and duty of participating in the redemption by which “all other peoples may seek the Lord — even all the Gentiles”? It cannot mean both. If one answer is true, the other cannot be true.

    Actually, I challenge this.

    Consider Sam, a teacher in a grade school. Sam has without question been given the privilege and duty of participating in the process of education — the process by which all other people may be redeemed from ignorance. And, when they are redeemed and move on, Sam will reclaim from them their desks, and their books, and the space that they occupied, and Sam will move on to the next class.

    The idea that they can’t both be true stems from the idea that there’s only one “win condition” — that if leaving school is good then staying there is bad, and vice versa. That if inheriting the Earth is good then giving up that inheritance is bad, and vice versa.

    But that isn’t always true.

    This, incidentally, is to my mind one of the most poisonous aspects of the idea of Heaven as a literal “place,” rather than as a metaphor: the idea that anything could be the proper reward for everyone.

    The reality is that people differ, and they find different things rewarding. One person’s eternal bliss is another person’s eternal torment. To embrace humanity is to embrace that diversity.

  • Anonymous

    Hi, this is MercuryBlue. Can you hear me now? More to the point, can anybody make out my avatar? Because I can’t, and I know what it is.

  • http://mmycomments.blogspot.com/ mmy

    I can hear you now — had to enlarge your avatar to get an idea of what it was.

  • Lonespark

    How do you enlarge it? I’m afraid the text on mine is pointless, because they’re so tiny.

  • http://mmycomments.blogspot.com/ mmy

    Clicked on the avatar to open up the profile page. Right-clicked on the avatar and selected ‘open image in new tab’. on the new tab I clicked control-+ until I could just barely see them.

    Depends, I think, on the resolution of your screen

  • Anonymous

    It’s the statue of liberty making out with Lady Justice. Who knew civics could be so HOT?

  • Will Wildman

    Your avatar was in the top five when I was trying to pick mine. So I can make it out, but maybe only because I already knew what it was? I’m trying to figure out what I would interpret it as if I were seeing it for the first time now, and it’s tricky. (Broccoli might be involved.)

  • Anonymous

    It appears to be Vampire!Poseidon going to town on an extra from an old Dr. Who episode.

  • Nicolae Carpathia

    It’s one of the more popular signs at gay rights rallies. Lady Liberty making out with Justice.

  • Anonymous

    I know what it is, but possibly only because I know what it is (Doctor Science uses it as an LJ icon). Unless you’ve changed it since you posted this, in which case I know what your new avatar is.

  • Anonymous

    Hi, Mercury/Ellie! I can hear you now, and thanks to many others who can, I now know what that avatar is. I’ve seen it before lots of times, but I never paid much attention to it.

  • Robyrt

    Sort by newest first is a really nice option. I’m sure I’ll get annoyed wrestling with the less simple interface, though.

    As far as the post goes – I prefer a middle road between “Side with one part of the Bible over another” and “There is one God and Scofield is his prophet.” There are lots of ambiguous bits in the Bible, and as such lots of legitimate disagreements about what it means. But the proper interpretation – whatever it is – must be one that is internally consistent, insofar as it reflects the nature of a God who is consistent.

    I don’t even think Jonah and Amos are diametrically opposed. God gives Nineveh the same deal he gives Israel – Repent, or be destroyed – and follows through on the deal despite Jonah’s best efforts. It’s just that the Assyrians get it right.

  • http://www.twitter.com/tchambers TimmyC

    I’m pretty sure I’m growing to disbelieve in “Hell” but believing more and more in “Gehenna” which was the word I’m pretty sure Jesus used 99% of his quotes on Hell. The only other time he used a different word was calling it oddly enough the greek word “Hades.”

    Matt.5:22 whoever calls someone “you fool” will be liable to Gehenna.
    Matt.5:29 better to lose one of your members than that your whole body go into Gehenna.
    Matt.5:30 better to lose one of your members than that your whole body go into Gehenna.
    Matt.10:28 rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna.
    Matt.18:9 better to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into Gehenna.
    Matt.23:15 Pharisees make a convert twice as much a child of Gehenna as themselves.
    Matt.23:33 to Pharisees: you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to Gehenna?
    Mark 9:43 better to enter life with one hand than with two hands to go to Gehenna.
    Mark 9:45 better to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into Gehenna.
    Mark 9:47 better to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into Gehenna
    Luke 12:5 Fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into Gehenna
    James 3:6 the tongue is set on fire by Gehenna.

    What he meant is a bit up for grabs, but he DIDN’T Mean “Hell” which was from a Norse word “hel” sometimes called “Helheim” after the Norse god who ruled it.
    I am pretty sure Jesus didn’t reference “hades” to mean literally the Greek underworld ruled over by Pluto either.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hel_%28location%29
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hel_%28being%29

    Andrew Periman would say that all these references are not to anything like a place in Norse or Greek religious “hel” or “hades” but rather to a place of God’s judgement in history: the Roman fiery destruction and massacre of Jews in 70 AD. God’s judgement on the wickedness of Israel at the time….And the destruction of Jerusalem was really a “Hell on earth.”

    Here is andrew’s thinking there: http://www.postost.net/2011/03/tim-keller-gets-lot-right-gets-hell-badly-wrong

    And if you look at the verses above, that kinda fits.

  • Anonymous

    If you’re talking about the Norse, it’s a goddess, Hel, who ruled a world that was part of the Underworld, if you categorize Norse worlds that way…and then it gets really complicated. But yeah, basically. And Helheim was probably cold, not hot.

  • http://www.twitter.com/tchambers TimmyC

    Hi Literata…. thanks I thought Hel (the god) ruled over (a place) called Hel or Hellium (the house of Hel) … but then again I’m relying on a distant memory of Norse mythology…. But the main point being that in Western Culture the idea of “Gehenna” somehow got mixed into the concept of “Hellium” and we ended up with “Hell.”

  • Anonymous

    Nope, Hel is a goddess, daughter of Loki and a giantess. Not-so-fun fact: she is sometimes depicted as having a body half whole, half rotting.

    Your point in the other comment about translation and quoting is good. And I like the substitution of “the grave.”

  • Anonymous

    What bothers me most about Gehenna is that, from what people have said, it’s not necessarily a punishment for criminals–it’s a punishment for outcasts.

    Outcasts can be criminals. They can also be people on the autism spectrum who don’t understand the social rules of a community. They can also be people who are too good for the community–who have high ideals that the community doesn’t support.

    I’m seriously creeped out by the idea of consigning outcasts to a trash heap full of burning corpses and the like.

  • http://www.twitter.com/tchambers TimmyC

    Andrew Periman suggests this, in essence that it is not about outcasts, it is an allusion to Jerimiah 7 and chapter 19…and the analogy is not outcasts but the analogy is the judgment of the Babylonian attack back then:

    “The image of gehenna is drawn from Jeremiah’s vivid account of the horrors of the Babylonian invasion (Jer. 7:30-33; 19:6-8). Just as the bodies of Jerusalem’s dead were thrown into the Valley of Hinnom when the Babylonians attacked, so Jesus imagines the dead piling up in the valley of gehenna during the war against Rome. What the prophet Jesus imagines the historian Josephus describes:

    Now the seditious at first gave orders that the dead should be buried out of the public treasury, as not enduring the stench of their dead bodies. But afterwards, when they could not do that, they had them cast down from the walls into the valleys beneath. (War 5.12.3).”

    http://www.postost.net/commentary/matt/10/destruction-body-soul-gehenna

  • http://www.twitter.com/tchambers TimmyC

    More specific thinking on “Gehenna” here:
    http://fromdamascustoemmaus.com/a-bit-more-history-on-the-valley-of-hinnom-gehenna/

    one interesting point this author brings up is that according to historian Josephus, the Jewish dead from the seige of Rome were put literally in the Valley of Gehenna…. (I’ll need to study this more before I fully believe that this is historical) …but if it were, then Jesus may have almost literally been warning of Gehenna as a historical event and Judgement.

    http://fromdamascustoemmaus.com/hell-on-earth-the-jewish-war-and-gehenna/

  • http://www.twitter.com/tchambers TimmyC

    And as I look over “hades” use in the NT, it is just odd, as I’m pretty sure Jesus was talking about the Greek underworld, ruled by Hades the brother of Zeus and Apollo.
    Some commentators suggest this should be thought of as shorthand for the Jewish word and concept of “Sheol.” Not sure exactly why they say that but assuming it’s true that THIS word isn’t “hell” or “hel” or “hades” either, more like what we now call “the grave.”

  • Anonymous

    This came up earlier (not you, Timmy), but I didn’t say anything. But wasn’t Jesus likely speaking Aramaic, not Greek? IIRC, the only words in the Gospels attributed as a direct quote were usually transliterated as “eloi, eloi, lama sabacthana,” precisely because the author/compiler wanted to emphasize Jesus’ actual language (Aramaic) as opposed to the language in which he wrote (Greek). In short, I think it highly unlikely that Jesus was referring to Hades. But yeah, it’s important to separate out the concepts we bring to the translation and the reading from the original sources.

  • http://www.twitter.com/tchambers TimmyC

    A good, good point. In that sense we are quoting from a translation of the original and the translation shows maybe that the Greeks had no good word for what Jesus said OTHER than “hades.” But that makes our current state even more removed from the original concept, I’d think. Our image of Hell is based on a Greek word, that was at best a stand in for what must have been a Jewish original image. Right now I’m thinking and reading through all the verses that used the word “hades” and seeing if they make sense substituting “the grave.” So far all do.

  • Anonymous

    I’m tempted to leave scripts from Disqus off, because that seems to put all comments in chronological order. Unfortunately it also labels a lot of comments as anonymous when they’re actually not.

  • Anonymous

    Delurking to test new site.

    *Checks to see if Armed Sheep made it across safely*

  • Anonymous

    Joining in the comment testing.

  • Anonymous

    Threaded comments, nothing! It’s got an RSS feed now, which means I can follow the comments without having to obsessively refresh the comments page. I’m officially a “new site” convert.

  • http://mordicai.livejournal.com Mordicai

    Huh, I guess Slacktivist is a religion blog; I never thought of it as such, but sure. Anyhow, I for one like Disquis…when it first started gaining popularity, I was skeptical, but I find it functional. That, & the customer service has always done right by me.

  • Anonymous

    The threading is making me sort of dizzy. (It *could* be the smoke in the office, but I think it’s the threading.) I don’t like it.

    Also, Dav was taken. Davins is a little too precious, but I don’t have the energy to come up with something original.

    In other words: Change! We hates it, my precious!

  • chris the cynic

    Nothing interesting to say, just testing things out.

    Hi everyone.

  • Anonymous

    Can Fred amend the prompt text on the “Like” button to read “Internet”?

    Downside of Disqus: I set up an account months ago to comment somewhere else and now can’t remember the password, but they don’t seem to have a reminder facility, so I have to create a new one in a different name.

    I think threaded comments are just something you have to get used to.

    chris y

  • Anonymous

    actualluy disqus does. If you try logging in on the main disqus page you have a “cannot log in?” option. Click that and punch in your e-mail.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks. I’ll try when I have time.

  • Anonymous

    Hullo again and stuff. :) Incidentally I’m on my laptop which has a resolution of 1366×768 and the white backgrounded part does not go off the edges of my screen. This blog could definitely be widened out to 1280 pixels without trouble.

  • http://guy-who-reads.blogspot.com/ Mike Timonin

    I note that avatars seem to have become increasingly common, but I can’t figure out how to edit my account – I’m signing in with my Google account – any thoughts?

    Further, I do like that I can choose how to sort the comments; newest, oldest, most popular – that seems like it will be useful in the future.

  • http://www.kitwhitfield.com Kit Whitfield

    I think the problem with ‘like’ clicks is that they allow people to take sides in conflicts – and let’s agree, we have a lot of those – without having to justify themselves. If all you can do is post, you have to explain why you’re siding the way you are, even if all you do is post ‘What X said’. It takes a certain effort, and you have to be reasonably clear about what you think.

    When all you have to do is click on a ‘like’, on the other hand, you don’t give any indication as to why you agree. It tends towards making others feel ganged up on rather than talked to. Outnumbering looks quantifiable, expression becomes vague. It all becomes mechanistic.

    And another big problem comes with apologies. I’ve actually left a board partly because someone was being a jerk, I argued with them about it for ages at some cost to my peace of mind, and when they finally apologised, they got more likes than I’d got for all the effort I put in convincing them. I didn’t flounce or anything, I just drifted away, but the reason was that the ‘like’ system can wind up rewarding people who act like asses then stop more than the people who made them stop. Everybody likes a good apology, right? And not everybody wants to get involved in a conflict. So the upshot is that some people do the hard graft of getting the ass to stop assing while other people stay out (and don’t ‘like’ because that feels like joining in a fight), then weigh in to reward the modified jerk more than the activist.

    Plus – well, I’ll be honest. I’m one of the posters who gets echoed and agreed with fairly often on Typepad, so I’d probably get a reasonable number of ‘likes’ if I wrote a good post and we were using the ‘like’ buttons. In my experience, there’s usually some bugger around who has issues with popularity or group agreement – and sometimes they get very vindictive towards people they feel are undeservedly popular. More than once I’ve had someone assume I’m some kind of head cheerleader and be nasty to me. With that kind of person around, too many ‘likes’ seem like putting a target on someone.

    And, you’ll note, those two worries are opposites: one is me complaining about not getting as many likes as others, the other is me worrying about getting more. This is because with likes, You Cannot Win.

    On another subject, I’m not sure I like this e-mail notification of replies. Sometimes people want to take a break and be left alone, especially when things get heated. With e-mail, they can’t do that: whether they intend to or not, people will keep bothering them.

  • http://mmycomments.blogspot.com/ mmy

    I ‘get’ both of your concerns.

    1) Praise for not being an asshat. This a fairly common issue in the world of feminism where a guy will get incredible amounts of praise for doing what innumerable women were doing in the first place. I would suggest that if there is to be a ‘like’ button then there should also be ‘about time’ button. That would allow other bloggers to acknowledge the apology without loading the poster with praise.

    2) I too have been accused of being “a leader” because I am often one of the first people to respond and/or I am one of those people who can post fairly long reasoned responses with speed due to the fact that I am a touch typist. In neither case am I a leader. Nor do I enjoy being accused of silencing the many “silent lurkers” due to my supposed leadership.

    Hence, while I heartily approve of / agree with your comments I am not going to press the “like” button.

  • http://www.kitwhitfield.com Kit Whitfield

    I hope you don’t mind – I ‘like’d your comment to see how it works.

    I don’t like this reply threads thing either. It’s just harder on the eyes. It feels less like reading a book and more like watching MTV.

    *grumble grumble grumble*

  • http://mmycomments.blogspot.com/ mmy

    I don’t like this reply threads thing either

    I am in fear that I will soon start yelling “get off my lawn” to the kids next door.

    On a serious level, I think that much of what fostered the growth of a real community on Slacktivist was the fact that it wasn’t threaded. Threading encourages people to skip over subjects (and people) they dislike reading about. People like Jason (sorry to single you out) turned me off when they first posted. Had the site been threaded I might never have realized that Jason had changed into a poster who I looked forward to reading.

  • Nicolae Carpathia

    On the other hand, this might be good for those who can only come every couple days or so and can’t be here for the start of the thread.

    There were many times on the old site when I arrived a day or so late, and there were already 8 pages of comments, and on pages 3-5 there was a discussion split off onto a topic I really wanted to reply on, but then I go further and find that this topic has stopped by page 6, and I would have felt really awkward replying then. Having its own thread might provide a more flexible discussion window.

  • Madhabmatics

    I know it’s better for me – reading the Typepad threads always drove me nuts.

    My big pet peeve was that there was no “most recent post” button, so every time I wanted to continue reading where I left off I would have to either note down the page number the last time I read it, crowd my favorites with bookmarks, or click “Next Page” 30 times until I started seeing new posts.

    And God help me if someone referenced a post 20 pages earlier and I want to hunt it down and read it.

  • http://www.blogger.com/home?pli=1 Coleslaw

    I don’t like the font. The other site had a larger, prettier font that was easier on my aging eyeballs.In fact, I’m surprised by how much my impressions of this site are affected by the layout. I wonder if I would have kept reading it if I had encountered this version first.

  • Anonymous

    You can turn off e-mail notification under Change Profile>Notifications.

    I’m not a fan of the “like” button since it doesn’t reveal any useful information or communicate anything, really. There are too many possible and competing interpretations of what it means to “like” something. The seemingly quantified agreement becomes background noise that gets in the way, I try to ignore it. Not that I’m always successful.

  • Lonespark

    Yeah, the like thing is utterly useless here. It would be vaguely fun if we could give people little icons of internets or fluffy iguana cookies or boobies or something. But still also pointless.

  • Dav

    Little stickies that say “It’s More Complicated Than That?”

  • Anonymous

    “Fluffy iguana cookies” is a wonderful turn of phrase. I need to work that into daily conversation. That may be tricky.

  • Anonymous

    You can turn off the email notifications in your settings thingy

  • http://timothy.green.name/ Timothy (TRiG)

    Hi Kit. I’m a member of h2g2, a community which is currently run by the BBC and is going independent. We’ll be facing a lot of upheaval, and moving to a new system. It has been suggested that we implement “Like” buttons, and there’s been a fair bit of debate about that. Would you mind if I quoted your post over there?

    Thanks,
    TRiG.

  • Anonymous

    Well, LMM was taken, so this is my second-best alternative.

    Fred, if you’re reading this — could we get a check-in thread? (I haven’t skimmed the comments to see if this has been suggested, but it seems like a good idea.)

  • Lonespark

    That is brilliant, yes. A roll-call coffe hour kind of place, so we know who used to be who and introduce ourselves to new folk.

  • http://www.kitwhitfield.com Kit Whitfield

    Just for everyone’s information: I have turned off e-mail notification. If I don’t seem to notice your reply, it’s probably because I haven’t noticed, not because I’m blanking you.

  • http://www.kitwhitfield.com Kit Whitfield

    Oh man. I checked a post of mine that had 3 likes, and it said it was liked by Socks of Sullenness ‘and 2 more people’.

    Can we ‘like’ anonymously? I do not think this will end well.

  • Anonymous

    You know, it’s odd. In my teens I was a judgmental prick. In most of my twenties I took much more of a live-and-let-live, everybody is trying their best, who am I to judge sort of attitude. But in the last couple of years, I’ve realized that yes, it is possible for someone’s beliefs to be so abhorrent that they cease to be worth knowing.

    Hell is one such belief. Specifically, “Hell” as a shorthand for the combination of two beliefs: “God is just” and “some subset of humanity get punished eternally.”

    If you believe both, then you believe that there are people who deserve to be punished eternally.

    And if you believe that? You’re a terrible person, and I have zero interest in knowing you or hearing what you have to say on… pretty much anything, really.

  • Dav

    In my experience, it is not always possible to choose one’s beliefs in that way. I tried for decades to believe in the God of Abraham, and in Jesus as a personal savior. I couldn’t. It just never clicked.

    A lot of people have told me I’m a terrible person because I don’t believe in God, but it’s not something I’ve experienced as entirely voluntary. I’d say I’m a voluntary agnostic now, because it *feels* right, like the things I tell myself that I believe and the things that I actually do believe fully align.

    I think for many people, they don’t experience a voluntary choosing of beliefs. Certainly, what they believe reflects *something* about their inner lives, but I don’t think it’s as straightforward as “believes this, and therefore is ______”.

    My hell “belief alignment” is all wonky, probably from decades in evangelical churches. Intellectually, I don’t believe in Hell, or at least have no reason to believe. But in some corner of my brain, I do. I suspect this is residual trauma stuff, but that doesn’t change that some piece of me believes fervently in a very traditional evangelical Lake of Fire. There’s intellectual tension between that and “I’m not even sure what God might be”, just like there’s intellectual tension between “there is Hell” and “God is just and sends some people to burn there forever”, but beliefs are complicated things.

    I don’t think it’s wrong to challenge this tension, but I don’t think holding such a belief ipso facto makes you a terrible person.

  • Lonespark

    Yeah, I don’t think we are necessarily in control of the types of beliefs we are able to hold or that really captivate us. As always, it’s actions that really matter.

  • Anonymous

    True, but people ultimately believe what they want to believe, on some level. Sure, it’s complicated, and the “want to believe” may be just some corner of their mind twisted up by trauma, but I’m under no obligation to actually give a damn about it.

    Obviously, in order for me to know you’re on Team Hell, you have to say or otherwise demonstrate your belief. That right there is an action.

  • Dav

    What evidence do you have for “people believe what they want to”?

    Most people stay within the traditions they grew up with; there’s some drifting, but not lots of big conversions.

  • Anonymous

    Weighing in as someone who tried to believe for a long time and simply couldn’t-I don’t think you can always choose what to believe. I have often wished I had any kind of faith but have slowly come to accept myself as default-agnostic because I simply can’t.

  • Dean

    The problem with this line of thinking is that it’s not healthy for society in general. I find myself thinking the same way when it comes to the abortion on demand crowd (not to raise that issue here, but just because I have recently had the same reaction talking to someone about abortion as you did re: people who believe in hell). I think, though, there is a difference between engaging people who hold abstract beliefs that you disagree with and those who through their actions treat people with disrespect. I do feel like our country is getting so polarized that it is starting to really scare me, I think this perspective is the root of that phenomenon.

  • http://feygelegoy.com/new/ Feygele Goy

    I wish there was a way for OpenID folks to personalize our profiles. Like avatars, etc.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jon.maki Jon Maki

    Yeah, same here. I like signing in via Facebook and am okay with it using my profile picture as my avatar, but I wish I could change the link it displays in my “Expanded Profile” so that I could put a link to my blog or my other site rather than to my FB page. Oh well.

  • http://mmycomments.blogspot.com/ mmy

    And I prefer not to give facebook any more information about me than is minimally required. They (the ptb at facebook) have not shown themselves to be protective of the personal information they gather about people and quite willing to monetize my very existence.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jon.maki Jon Maki

    Yeah, same here. I like signing in via Facebook and am okay with it using my profile picture as my avatar, but I wish I could change the link it displays in my “Expanded Profile” so that I could put a link to my blog or my other site rather than to my FB page. Oh well.

  • Anonymous

    Ooh, major flaw with the threading: If you sort by newest/oldest first, it positions a thread according to the *oldest* post in the thread, not the most recent. That’s… stupid.

  • Anonymous Al

    I’m blind and use a screen reader, and Disqus has a few accessibility quirks that make the comments section a bit less usable than the Typepad site.
    Unlike many other comment boards, Disqus doesn’t use nested HTML lists to indicate threading. The only way that threading is indicated is the “In reply to X” line after the comment.
    Another problem is that lists are used in ways that make navigating to the next comment a bit slower. After each comment, there is a list that contains the “Reply” and “Like” options, followed by another list that contains the date/time and “In reply to X” if it’s a reply to another comment. I usually read web pages navigating by paragraphs, and a list item is always read as its own paragraph. This isn’t exactly a huge problem, but it does require a few more keystrokes to read each comment that weren’t required on the old Typepad site.
    I’ll probably email the Disqus folks and let them know about these issues. Hopefully, they’ll be receptive.

  • http://mmycomments.blogspot.com/ mmy

    I have a blog of my own and until you posted that I hadn’t even considered how easy/difficult it would be to navigate via screen reader. I’m glad you brought it up.

    Several years back I had a blind student who took several courses from me and I learned a lot about how a few simple changes in my web pages and the electronic material I used could make them far more accessible to people.

  • Anonymous Al

    Your blog is actually quite accessible. Most blogs usually are. There can be problems if a blog doesn’t make use of headings. Screen readers usually provide keystrokes to quickly jump to the next heading, list, form field, etc. Most blogs, including Blogger, WordPress and Typepad, format their article titles as headings, which makes it much easier to jump to another article.

    With blogs that don’t have such a large number of comments as Slacktivist, the comment system (threaded or unthreaded) isn’t as much of a concern. It’s usually possible to keep track of threads, even if the pages aren’t marked up very well. However, with articles that have an extremely large amount of comments, keeping track of threads is impossible. This seems to be a problem for a lot of people, however, not just screen reader users.

  • Anonymous

    I feel like a cat in a new house; sniffing and test-biting the features of my new environment.

  • Anonymous

    And “Raj” has been taken as a username? When I find the dastardly knave who purloined my good name, I shall give him a sound thrashing! (Queensbury Rules, of course.)

  • Anonymous

    testing …

  • Anonymous

    Also testing. And for what it’s worth, I think I might like threaded comments myself. I certainly know I like not having to deal with paginated comments. I have always wanted to be an active member of the commentariat here, but could never quite seem to figure out how to keep up without spending, like, all day refreshing the page.

  • Anonymous Al

    I agree that you need to refresh quite often in order to keep up with the comments here, and pagination can sometimes be annoying. However, I believe it’s vastly superior to a threaded system, at least in such a large community. It makes catching up almost impossible, since there’s no easy way to immediately see unread comments. You need to scroll through everything all over again. Then, there’s the fact that different threads are interwoven in ways that are only really possible with flat comments.

  • Anonymous

    This is true. I don’t know. I mean, I wasn’t really keeping up so well on the old site. Now at least I have new and different ways to not keep up?

  • Anonymous

    I also use a screen reader. And noticed those same accessibility quirks. It’s nothing I can’t manage, and I think I prefer this kind of threaded comments to what LJ uses, where I can’t automatically expand the threads by default.

  • Anonymous

    I do most of my Slactktivist reading on trains on my mobile phone, and it seems to be displaying the posts in chronological order with no threading. Which, given that we already seem to be giving up the notion of quoting what we are replying to, is making the following of conversations VERY hard.

  • Anonymous

    Hmm. I’ve actually not turned off my “send to email” and since I have my email set up to thread all messages from one source with the same subject line into one long conversation (Gmail does it, how Hotmail has that option as well), I can actually read all the comments whether nested in side-threads or not. So long as it’s less than 50 or 100–not sure the number yet–comments since the last time I read it. After that it breaks the email. :P I can control the font that way too (I agree that the Typepad font is easier on my eyes).

    Still like the format on the old blog better, but I suppose I’ll live. And yes please, let’s have a check-in thread!

    (Everybody knows that Nicolae found out that you can change your display name to whatever you want, even if your Disqus account name is taken, right? So Raj and Mink and all, you can still show up as yourselves even if you had to sign up with Disqus as something strange and eldritch.)