The parable of the erratically forgiving master

The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves.

When he began the reckoning, one who owed him 10,000 talents was brought to him; and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made.

So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.” And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt.

But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow-slaves who also owed the master 10,000 talents; and seizing him by the throat, he said, “Pay what you owe.”

Then his fellow-slave fell down and pleaded with him, “Have patience with me, and I will pay the master.” But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison to be tortured until he should pay his entire debt.

Then his lord summoned him and said to him, “Well done my faithful slave! I forgave you all your debt because you pleaded with me. Yet you still refused to have mercy on your fellow slave as I had mercy on you, because you knew that I am as pitiless to others as I am merciful to you.”

Hmm. I think I prefer the original.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=752002772 Andrew Glasgow

    “all fundamentalists are evangelicals, but not all evangelicals are fundamentalists”

    All Capital-F-Fundamentalists are evangelicals, but there are plenty of small-f-fundamentalists among christians of all sects, and indeed, other religions.

  • http://mistharm.deviantart.com/ JJohnson

    3 things:

    1) That’s not censorship. If you express an opinion I dislike, I have every right to let you know I don’t like it. There is nothing that says I have to be polite about it either, although I tend to try to be, unless you’ve really hacked me off in some fashion. It’s not censorship to tell someone to fuck off though; because you’re still able to say “same to you” right back. Heated statements != Censorship.

    2) This is a blog; the blog owner can do whatever the frak they want in terms of banning people. Fred has, in my experience, not done so except in the most incredibly extreme of cases, because Fred is open to alternate opinions. Nevertheless, this isn’t the government shutting down your ability to speak your mind, this is some guy saying “Get out of my back yard if you’re going to wave that sign.” That is, assuming Fred ever actually banned anyone.

    So while it might be censorship if that happened; it’d also be pretty reasonable censorship.

    Unless you’re telling me you expect to be allowed into my house to tell me how stupid I am; in which case see word beginning in F and another word ending in U.

    3) Your framing here is just plain ridiculous: You can either cave, or become a lapdog; you leave absolutely no room for someone to see an argument an be convinced by it. Nor do you leave room for agreeing to disagree, which adults to all the time. Granted the latter is less common here because it’s a blog with a lot of political, religious and philosophical discussion – wherein agreeing to disagree is the default state and the argument is sometimes the entire point.

    4) Finally it’s not a question of ‘popularity’. It’s a question of bigotry. I’m an atheist myself; but let me be clear: religion is not my enemy. If someone wants to believe, that’s fine by me. The only time it becomes a problem is when they let it directly interfere with something more concrete – like saying the Earth is 6000 years old when it clearly is not.

    That’s when we have a problem. But just believing, by itself? No, that’s not an issue; and griping at religious people for their beliefs* is a form of bigotry; no different from the crap I put up with when someone has decided that my lack of belief makes me unfit for certain jobs. Just because it’s a form of bigotry with no power structure to enforce it does not make it any less so.

    Okay so that’s four, four things! Amongst our things are such diverse elements as…

    *And that is precisely what is being done in that comment. Just because it’s subtle doesn’t mean it’s not obvious.

  • Anonymous

    Oh! I completely missed that it might be talking about hell. Sign of a brilliant parable: about four different interpretations are offered and all are equally applicable.

    I think there’s some mileage to be found in comparing the different interpretations, as well. What are the fundamental similarities between the entities/individuals in the role of the first slave?
    You have:
    - a megabank being bailed out;
    - a government getting away with massive expenditure on foreign adventurism during an economic crisis at home;
    - a fundamentalist assured that zir sins are forgiven telling zir neighbours that they are going to hell.

    It’s interesting that in each case there’s a power play going on, but it’s different with the fundamentalist because zie doesn’t have the worldly power to back it up (unless religious/social privilege is zir position of power?)

    Another point all three have in common is that they are weak at the point they lash out – the megabank obviously less so, but then the megabank isn’t really lashing out so much as continuing business as normal, so perhaps it’s less applicable there. The government is in economic and political difficulties and benefits from playing a game of ‘look! over there! a terrorist!’ The fundamentalist is likely to be someone who feels out of control of other parts of zir life, who needs to reinforce cognitive dissonence, and who feels the traditional respect and privilege of zir relgion being challenged.

    I’m not sure what conclusions to draw, except that, as far as the position of power goes, we’re stuck with the megabank, the government can be removed but there aren’t exactly queues of fantastic alternatives and (though zir type is likely to be with us always) the fundamentalist in zir current form is potentially someone whose mind can be changed.

    Shouting down someone on the internet is not censorship, because it doesn’t remove their ability to talk back, but continuous shouting down by most of the board does drive people away. That’s not a bad thing if the shouting down is reasonable, which it generally is on Slacktivist (I’ve posted previously about how glad I am it happened to me back in the day). It’s a way of holding people to high standards of behaviour and expression.

    I also think it’s reasonable and healthy for people to question that process – it forces posters to read through the responses and check that they are expressing disagreement rather than bullying.

    Both of those things said, though, mostly when this happens the people who object are stuck on the level of ‘that’s censorship therefore automatically bad’ and the same arguments end up getting rehashed again and again, which is a pity.

  • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/5OPDTGMVEFDYDKHEXSNNWOFNWY Jim

    alfgifu, good analysis on both the parable and the demi-troll. I’m not a fan of shouting people down on the Internet – it’s just a waste of time, more than anything – but when someone demonstrates that they’re willing to stick their head as far into the sand as necessary to occlude their vision, sometimes there is no choice.

    Some Internet commenters have what I call Sweaty Toothed Madman syndrome – they come in late on a message board or in a blogger’s comments and speak what they believe to be Difficult Truths. Everyone who’s been there for a while sighs, rolls their eyes and politely asks the person to move on to other things, but this just tells the STM that they aren’t trying hard enough. Eventually, the only option is to make the environment so unpleasant for the STM such that they leave, or just ignore them.

    Re-reading the parable as referring to the fundmentalist* doctrine of Hell, the application is a bit easier, but I wonder if the parallelism – that it applies to bank bailouts almost as easily as Hell – is emblematic of the problem with the whole mindset of fundamentalism.

    * I really, really wish that this word could be used as though it means what it actually means. In practice, Christian fundamentalism is more like a combination of legalism with cult of personality.

  • RowanVT

    I think one thing I like about that parable (the original, that is) is that it seems to imply “hell” is not a place spent eternally, but until the debt is ‘paid’. Mind, I don’t believe in hell at all and find it an incompatible concept when combined with a ‘loving’ deity, but the temporary nature hinted at is certainly more palatable than what is so often shoved in my face. I’ll have to use this the next time someone tries to convert me with “eternity of torture”.

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

    > Eventually, the only option is to make the environment so unpleasant for the STM such that they leave, or just ignore them.

    Do you have any feeling/experience about what happens if STMs just don’t get any response?

    I mean, suppose a blog had a feature whereby a sufficiently annoying user’s posts were filtered from everyone’s views. They aren’t banned: they are free to keep posting. It’s just that nobody sees those posts, and therefore nobody responds to them. Is your sense of STMs that they’ll keep posting to the blog in perpetuity, or that they’ll wander off?

    My own sense is that faced with that reaction, most STMs, trolls, etc. will fairly quickly wander off… and that in almost all cases, the environment is left much better off using this strategy than the “make the environment so unpleasant for them that they leave” strategy.

    But I’ll admit that this is entirely theory; I’ve never seen the strategy applied. In every forum I’ve ever been on, there’s always a group of users who respond enthusiastically to the STMs, trolls, etc. and give them someone to engage with.

  • Shadsie

    I like that, too.

    As for me, my leanings and my preference, if you will, is for the “universalist” position – that Hell is a temporary condition at worst, at the same time, I do favor some form of it for some people. I can’t imagine a serial killer, for instance, getting a straight-shot to Heaven without being in a place to think about his/her crimes and getting hit with *empathy* like a sack full of bricks to the head before being allowed to be in the place where people who’ve learned empathy are and where his/her victims are.

    I liken it to being sick and not going to a doctor (assuming one has health insurance). I’ve been known to do this to myself (to the point of almost killing myself once by ignoring a condition for a long time that turned out to be life-threatening). You’re sick, you know you can go see the doc and get some antibiotics or something to knock your condition out faster, but something in you just doesn’t want to go, and so you just suffer and get worse until you swallow your pride and go. I think the grace of God might be like that sometimes, and that’s my current conception of “Hell.” If a person’s soul is sick (before physical death or after), they aren’t going to get better until they look to the One who has the cure, so they’ll suffer. In the end, however, they’re only in that place for as long as they want to be, or as long as they need to be.

    The cure is always on offer and I like to think that physical death isn’t the end of the offering. Actually, the more I think about it, how did that idea come about in Christianity, anyway? The idea that physical death closes the door on grace? I’m geuninely curious. I know there are some words of Jesus about people “dying in their sins” but that could mean lots of things. I can’t seem to recall anything that says “once you’re dead, DOORSLAM!” The more I think about it, the more confused I am, actually.

  • Anonymous

    Dave, that would seem to be a version of the “ignore them and they’ll go away” tactic that is often the sole advice given to people bullied in school.

    There is just one problem with that advice: it doesn’t work. It didn’t work then, and I doubt it will work now. What it is about people that makes them want to keep picking until they get a response, I have no idea, but I have no faith in that strategy.

    Keep in mind, also, who you are helping by not speaking out when somebody spews some bigotry in the comments. It is unsupportive of those hurt by any given piece of bigotry, to say the very least, to give the bigot a silent pass until ze decides to go elsewhere.

    Edit: Especially with the whole silence=agreement thing that so often gets read into a situation, whether it is true or not.

  • Anonymous

    That’s pretty much the way Facebook works. I imagine that probably 90% of my “friends” don’t see the left wing rants and such that I post, since they blocked me after the first or second one.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Marshall-Pease/1324310862 Marshall Pease

    The trouble with making thing unpleasant for trolls is that it tends to make things unpleasant for everybody else also. I think probably effective evangelism can find some truth to speak into the trolliest of comments; and if you can’t say something goodnewsy, don’t say anything at all.

    This thread is coming perilously close to the anti-accomodationist discussion. Christians should be accomodationists above all else, it says here. The poor in spirit we will always have with us. And hey, in this case they’re only talkin’. They’re not the people who are mugging you for your lunch.

    @Dave: On the Guardian, where I imagine they get some *realy* obnox stuff, comments get “modded” (by the moderator) fairly regularly. I think getting so modded is a point of pride with some people, and it’s just more work for management.

    @Jim: “I really, really wish that this word could be use as though it means what it actually means”. Boy Howdy. I would like to be a Fundamentalist because I believe in sticking to fundamentals. I would like to be a Puritan because I yearn for a pure faith. I would like to be New Covenant because I believe that God offers a new covenant with each person through Christ. But there’s baggage and nobody would get what I’m trying to mean.

  • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/5OPDTGMVEFDYDKHEXSNNWOFNWY Jim

    David and redsixwing – I’m a message board moderator and I usually prescribe engaging trolls only if they’re willing to be untroll-like. In other words, if someone keeps repeating the same stupid stuff, ignore that, but if they suddenly and spontaneously decide to share their mom’s pecan pie recipe or tell what seems to be a sincere story on a topic unrelated to their STMness – admittedly a rare thing – then you engage them on that.

    You’re quite right that it usually results in the person eventually exploding, but that’s what the banhammer’s for.

  • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/5OPDTGMVEFDYDKHEXSNNWOFNWY Jim

    “The trouble with making thing unpleasant for trolls is that it tends to make things unpleasant for everybody else also. I think probably effective evangelism can find some truth to speak into the trolliest of comments; and if you can’t say something goodnewsy, don’t say anything at all.”

    Sorry if this turns out to be a double-post – this is exactly what I mean by an “unpleasant environment” for trolls. People of that ilk typically crave attention, so the most negative environment they can imagine is one where they do not receive any attention.

  • Kubricks_Rube

    Edit: I misread this as the second slave owing the first slave, when both owe the master. Nevermind the bank analogy.

  • Anonymous

    Ignoring the same stupid stuff presumes that the same stupid stuff is not so hurtful, ridiculous, and/or awful that either a) I cannot in good integrity ignore it or b) it’s going to drive me away from the site in the process, thanks.

    The problem with ignoring the trolls when they get their droppings everywhere is that there’s people who don’t want to step in troll droppings all the time, never mind dealing with the dramatic explosion if/when it happens.

    Also, Fred has not employed the banhammer except in the most egregious cases of awful personal attack and abuse; and I haven’t actually been around the Slacktivist (either site) long enough to remember the last ban. I’ve only heard about it.

  • Anonymous

    Ignoring the same stupid stuff presumes that the same stupid stuff is not so hurtful, ridiculous, and/or awful that either a) I cannot in good integrity ignore it or b) it’s going to drive me away from the site in the process, thanks.

    The problem with ignoring the trolls when they get their droppings everywhere is that there’s people who don’t want to step in troll droppings all the time, never mind dealing with the dramatic explosion if/when it happens.

    Also, Fred has not employed the banhammer except in the most egregious cases of awful personal attack and abuse; and I haven’t actually been around the Slacktivist (either site) long enough to remember the last ban. I’ve only heard about it.

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

    @redsixwing: Perhaps you’re right that it doesn’t work. As I said initially, I’m just operating on theory; I’ve never seen that theory actually tried, so of course I have no way of knowing if it works.

    That said, I do take exception to the idea that the only way to support me is to attack others.

    If someone feels inspired to support me (for example, in the face of anti-queer bigotry) I’d rather they do so by actually, you know, supporting me, rather than by attacking the people who are attacking me. Which is also a fine way of avoiding being understood as agreeing with the bigot.

    Mind you, if they would rather attack the bigots instead, or in addition, that’s entirely their right. As long as they don’t do it in my name, it’s not my place to tell them to stop, as much as I often wish they would.

    @jim: Yeah, ignoring the behavior you don’t want and rewarding the behavior you do want works astonishingly well for training all kinds of animals, including humans.

  • Rikalous

    Your post got me thinking about the possible salvation of people with antisocial personality disorder. These folks are literally incapable of feeling empathy. They respond to moral problems with the logical parts of their brains rather than the emotional parts. Based on that, they’d be damned from birth, which is awfully horrible and tragic. I think the sack of empathy bricks you were talking about might be the only way for them to get in to heaven, and it generally strikes me as the perfect way to punish people for their sins: put them in the shoes of everyone they’ve made suffer.

  • Anonymous

    As an ex-moderator of a fairly busy forum, I will say that ignoring trolls tends to make them go away.

    The main difference between online trolls and real-life bullies is that pretending to ignore a bully doesn’t work. They can keep escalating things until you’re forced to respond. Online, that usually isn’t an option (barring hacking attempts or DDoS attacks) so if they don’t get a response they leave.

    That said, short of having moderators that go in and block/delete posts before anyone replies you’re not going to get people to ignore trolls. It just won’t happen, and even one response is often enough to keep them coming back.

  • Anonymous

    That said, I do take exception to the idea that the only way to support me is to attack others.

    At what point did “respond to a troll” become “attack them?” I’m trying to make that logical leap from what you’ve said, and what I’ve said, and not getting it.

    There have been many many civil and polite responses to trolls, though if the troll keeps escalating things, yeah, they are very likely to get yelled at.

    I don’t think that is unreasonable. Unpleasant, yes, but superior in my opinion than letting the troll drag muck everywhere unopposed. Your opinion seems to be different. That’s cool.

    GDwarf:

    That said, short of having moderators that go in and block/delete posts before anyone replies you’re not going to get people to ignore trolls. It just won’t happen, and even one response is often enough to keep them coming back.

    I see your point – that version of ignoring trolls does tend to get the individual to leave. However, it also tends to set up the given forum for multiple-troll attacks (see here: the whole thing re: a comic regarding phallic canines at a large feminist blog).

  • Dea Syria

    Not that anyone will read it down here, but need I point out that Fred calls himself an evangelical? That isn’t distance enough.

    I’ve read this blog for two years. Fred is very good at saying what is wrong with the beliefs of his opponents. But I’ve never read anything where he says what he believes. Sometimes he says he believes in love, but then he worships a god who routinely ordered and carried out genocide according to his book. What the Hebrew Bible is, is he sick fantasy of someone a lot crazier and a lot more perverted than Lahaye. Fred just needs to turn his acumen on that text. He has has to face that divide. Easter is coming up. A good time for him to share his rationalizations.

  • Lori

    That isn’t distance enough.

    Distance enough for whom?

    I’ve read this blog for two years. Fred is very good at saying what is wrong with the beliefs of his opponents. But I’ve never read anything where he says what he believes.

    Bwah?

    Are you looking for him to provide you with a bullet pointed list? If so I’ll grant you that he hasn’t done that. However, I have a pretty good idea what Fred does and doesn’t believe and I’m not at all sure why you don’t.

    Sometimes he says he believes in love, but then he worships a god who routinely ordered and carried out genocide according to his book. What the Hebrew Bible is, is he sick fantasy of someone a lot crazier and a lot more perverted than Lahaye. Fred just needs to turn his acumen on that text. He has has to face that divide. Easter is coming up. A good time for him to share his rationalizations.

    If you’re at all wondering why you haven’t gotten a particularly warm response to your recent posts, just read this again. What in the name of my blue heaven makes you think that you’re in a position to tell Fred what he has to do or when he has to do it?

  • Anonymous

    Not that anyone will read it down here, but need I point out that Fred calls himself an evangelical? That isn’t distance enough.

    You seem to be under the impression that people were upset because they disagreed with you in a manner like “You’re wrong! Fred totally isn’t evangelical, where are you getting that from?!” People were upset with you because it’s condescending to go on advising Fred to be ‘more rational’ and just ditch his religion already, and because you apparently missed the entire point of the post, which was that the parable says the opposite of that quote. And, honestly, because this topic comes up n times a week, and we’re all sick of it.

    I’ve read this blog for two years. [...] But I’ve never read anything where he says what he believes.

    …You sure you’ve been reading this blog, and not some dissimilar doppleganger? There are a lot of blogs on the internet, I could see how it gets confusing. Here, let me help you out. In this post, Fred addresses the idea that if he does not believe certain very specific criteria, he is not a Christian. Then there’s this one, containing the line “And for those score-keepers keeping score, let me state for the record that I believe this. This is what we Christians mean by Christ-ian, after all.”

    So… yeah.

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

    @redsixwing: This exchange has gotten pretty tangled and confusing, so let me back out and try to restate more clearly what I’ve been trying to say:

    1) I suspect that the unpleasant people we’re labeling “trolls” will, if denied interaction, go somewhere else where they get the interaction they want.

    2) I agree with you that interactions with those people tend to escalate to “yelling at,” or “making the environment unpleasant for.” To my mind “attacking” is just a third synonym there, but if it means something different for you I apologize for the confusion and withdraw the term.

    3) I agree with you that “It is unsupportive of those hurt by any given piece of bigotry, to say the very least, to give the bigot a silent pass until ze decides to go elsewhere.” And I agree with you that supporting the targets of bigotry is important.

    4) It is absolutely not my place to tell anyone else how to behave. If you choose to talk to trolls or bigots, or yell at them, or make the environment unpleasant for them, that’s your choice to make, and I endorse your right to make that choice. That’s especially true if those are the best ways you know of to defend yourself.

    5) That said, when you suggest that refraining from those behaviors is “unsupportive of those hurt by [..] bigotry,” I take exception. I particularly take exception to the implication that, when I am being hurt by bigotry, those who wish to support me have to talk to trolls or bigots, or yell at them, or make the environment unpleasant for them. I don’t think any of that is true. I think it’s perfectly possible to support me by interacting with me, and more generally to support the targets of bigotry by interacting with the targets of bigotry, rather than by interacting with the bigots. And it’s absolutely my place to say so.

    6) I accept that you didn’t mean to make a statement as sweeping as the one I understood, and in particular that you didn’t mean to talk about supporting me at all, but rather about defending yourself. In which case point 5 doesn’t apply to any of what you said, and it’s no longer my place to talk about it. I apologize for the misunderstanding; I genuinely did understand you to be making a sweeping claim that applies more generally to supporting me and other targets of bigotry, not just to defending yourself. Had I understood you better, I would have kept silent.

  • Barney

    It seems to me there’s a touch of the Parable of the Dishonest Manager mixed in here, in which a sacked servant goes away and indulges in some fraud – and is then praised by his (ex?) master. http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=169645324

    One of the strangest parables in the New Testament, it seems to me. Did you have that in mind as well, Fred, when writing this post? Do you have an opinion on it, anyway?

  • Anonymous

    Tangled and confusing, indeed. Thanks for the re-state; I think we are on the same side.

    I think it’s perfectly possible to support me by interacting with me, and more generally to support the targets of bigotry by interacting with the targets of bigotry, rather than by interacting with the bigots. And it’s absolutely my place to say so.

    I am in complete agreement with you here.

    My apologies for making such a broad statement; I did indeed not mean to do that, and will watch where my broom goes in the future. (Sweep, sweeping away.)


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