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://mistharm.deviantart.com/ JJohnson

    I could certainly agree with that.

    Really that perfectly sums up everything wrong with the right wing in this country. Not just the religious right – but the whole damned thing. Beg, cajole, and bully until you’ve saved your own hide, but if an opponent shows weakness? Go for the throat.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    Huh, who’s done what now? I can’t keep up.

  • Anonymous

    I’m with Sgt. Pepper: who’s done what now?

  • Anonymous

    I don’t know that this was about anything specific, more the general attitude of quite a few people and businesses in the US right now.

  • Anonymous

    It’s the fearless who love and the loveless who fear. (Borderless Love — The Flatlanders)

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

    I think it ties into the last post rather nicely.

    The only reason I can think that a politican would tell as many bald-faced lies about support programs as we’ve heard these last few years is that they care about playing cutthroat politics more than they care about showing mercy to the widows and the fatherless.

  • Anonymous

    Funny, I thought at once of the ‘too big to fail’ banks being bailed out by the state because they can’t honour all their obligations – and then repossessing homes because the people they’ve leant money to can’t honour their obligations either.*

    Of course in the state-banks case the master-servant relationship is a little more Faustian.

    *I know, I know, I don’t want the entire economy to fall apart either. That doesn’t mean I have to like it when the powerful escape the consequences of their actions.

  • Chris

    I thought the second slave owed money to the first slave, not to the master.

  • Lori

    He did, and the amount the 2nd slave owed was considerably less than the 1st slave owed to the master.

  • Lori

    He did, and the amount the 2nd slave owed was considerably less than the 1st slave owed to the master.

  • hapax

    Yes, that puzzles me with this re-write.

    Obviously imprisonment and torture is not the appropriate response, but how can the first slave forgive the debt that the second slave owes *to someone else*?

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

    I think that’s part of how this ties into the last post as well – the public has been roused to strangle Planned Parenthood and the like for their perceived misuse of public funds. Meanwhile, it looks like they’re planning to raise the defense budget to pay for three wars, none of which have an endgame and have cost in the hundreds of thousands of civillian lives in addition to the lives of thousands of troops.

  • Kubricks_Rube

    I think the first slave is the banks/financial system, and the second slave is the rest of us.

  • Anonymous

    But what can you do when a politician says as outrageous lie, is caught in it, and his response is “It wasn’t meant to be a factual statement.” Worse, saying that isn’t going to cost him his job but bolster his support among his base. Because they don’t care about factual statements, they care about the tribal totem that Planned Parenthood is nothing more than an abortion factory. I don’t know what to do, besides keep giving money to PP when I can and continue to hope that the teabagger population is going to continue to age out and die off.

  • Anonymous

    That more than anything is what frustrates me to no end. Any time a politician or public figure spouts an outrageous lie and frames it as the truth, they entirely avoid the consequences of lying. They are not called on their shenanigans.

    I don’t know what to do about that anymore. :(

  • John Small Berries

    Not only are they not called on their shenanigans, but if a media figure does utter the L-word, he’s roundly castigated by his peers; witness the response to Anderson Cooper’s quite correct statement that Hosni Mubarak’s government lied.

  • John Small Berries

    Not only are they not called on their shenanigans, but if a media figure does utter the L-word, he’s roundly castigated by his peers; witness the response to Anderson Cooper’s quite correct statement that Hosni Mubarak’s government lied.

  • Dea Syria

    The rewrite sums up the position of fundamentalist Christianity perfectly. Now the only mystery is why Slacktivist doesn’t disassociate himself from the whole thing like a rational person. Baring that, I’d love to see an essay in which he describes his concept of the supernatural and how it relates to nature and describe in concrete terms his views on salvation and eschatology. As it is, it seems like he keeps from thinking about it for some reason.

  • Anonymous

    Now the only mystery is why Slacktivist doesn’t disassociate himself from [Christianity] like a rational person.

    Off my side, you’re making me look bad.

  • Anonymous

    Ugh. This again?

  • Froborr

    I’m an atheist, but that’s not my side. My side is the side of tolerance, diversity, and plurality of belief, and Dea Syria’s pretty clearly on the other side.

  • http://www.facebook.com/Blotzphoto Louis Doench

    Look around Dea… i’m sure you’ll find something along those lines in the archives. Also, you might want to get ready too duck cuz most of us atheists here love Fred just the way he is and feel it makes the rest of us look bad callin him out like that.

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

    Huh.

    Am I the only one seeing the irony of commenters encouraging other commenters to duck for making them look bad, on this post?

  • Anonymous

    It took me a minute to figure it out, which means that it’s a good parable. It’s this idea that YOU get what you deserve, and everybody else (particularly those people) is playing the system to get out of what THEY deserve. You are a good person, so you deserve mercy and understanding THEY are freeloading bums, so they deserve to be thrown into debtors prison. (If only we still had them!! Oh the good ol’ days.)

    In other words:

    Conservatives are terrified that somebody is going to get something they don’t deserve. Liberals are terrified that we’re all going to get what we deserve.

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

    Dea Syria, upon seeing you flop down on the shores of reason, I realize you have an unlit lantern in the dufflebag of your comprehension.

    Fred puts up a parable that is greatly changed from the original, that, in fact, directly contradicts the original. You say, paraphrasing “This is fundamentalist Christianity,” presumably referring to Fred’s altered parable. You go on to say that Fred should distance himself from this mindset.

    Did you miss the part where Fred said that he preferred the original?

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

    A certain kind of atheist feels quite free to tell Christians and other theists what is necessary to believe. Like Sam Harris last week thundering about hell rather than engaging William Lane Craig’s argument.

    The world needs more debate and less thundering all around, if you ask me.

  • http://brandiweed.livejournal.com/ Brandi

    Now the only mystery is why Slacktivist doesn’t disassociate himself from the whole thing like a rational person.

    But he *does* disassociate himself from fundamentalist Christianity.

    Also, what Ellie said.

  • Emcee, cubed

    The rewrite sums up the position of fundamentalist Christianity perfectly. Now the only mystery is why Slacktivist doesn’t disassociate himself from the whole thing like a rational person.

    Fred continually disassociates himself from fundamentalist Christianity. In practically every post he does. What he doesn’t separate himself from is evangelical Christianity, which is an entirely different thing. While there is a large overlap in the Venn diagrams of the two (or it might be more accurate to say “all fundamentalists are evangelicals, but not all evangelicals are fundamentalists” – but I’m not completely sure that is objectively true, it just seems that way…), they are not the same thing.

  • http://redwoodr.tumblr.com Redwood Rhiadra

    Given that there are a lot of Catholics who agree on virtually all issues with the evangelical fundies, we can’t say that all fundamentalists are evangelicals either.

  • Anonymous

    Another non-believer chiming in here, the problem isn’t religion or belief in religion, it’s when you use religion as a club to beat others with. Fred has always, consistently spoken out against that. I’m a humanist, and the idea of if there was no religion or belief in God it would act as a panacea to humanity’s ills is nonsense. Religion has done serious harm, but I know enough of human nature to know that if we’re commited to doing harm to one another we’re going to do it, with or without a religious excuse to justify.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=659001961 Brad Ellison

    Now the only mystery is why Slacktivist doesn’t disassociate himself from the whole thing like a rational person.

    This is, by my count, about the third time you’ve spewed up this view in a comment thread. As we’ve all had this conversation before, and you were there, because you started it last time as well, I find myself pondering the question of whether you’re naturally obtuse, or deliberately so.

  • Shadsie

    The modified parable:

    I see a lot of commentators comparing this to economics and politics. I feel weird because what I got from it was the idea of a man who falls upon the mercy (of God) and finds that he is forgiven/free from Hell. Immediately, he goes out and condemns another with the “You’re goin’ to Hell!” spiel and is *happy* to speed him there and to watch him burn. My clue in this was that, unlike the original parable, both debtors in the story have the same astronomical debt, and to the master directly. The original parable gives the second debtor a small debt to the first slave.

    My thoughts on it. Maybe I’m way off base.

  • http://leftcheek.blogspot.com Jas-nDye

    Interesting take, Fred. You seem to highlight the political overtones of the original with your changes and turned it into something more socio-personal.

  • http://leftcheek.blogspot.com Jas-nDye

    Snap! I totally missed the “hell” and “evangelical” tags there…

  • Mark Z.

    hapax: Obviously imprisonment and torture is not the appropriate response, but how can the first slave forgive the debt that the second slave owes *to someone else*?

    He can’t. But neither is it his job to try to collect it.

  • Gela

    “Obviously imprisonment and torture is not the appropriate response, but how can the first slave forgive the debt that the second slave owes *to someone else*?”

    In this rewrite, though, the first slave has taken it upon himself to be the enforcer regardless of what the master might want – without being instructed to, he approaches the second slave, he attacks him, and tells him to pay up what’s due. The second slave isn’t asking for the first to forgive the debt owed to someone else; he’s asking him to stop attacking!

    The first slave may even think he’s doing the master a favor. (My fanciful interpretation goes like this): “Wow, I didn’t have to pay any of this back. I really owe him big time now! And look, here’s that guy that owes him a bunch of money, too…. I can show the master how grateful I am by helping him out here!” Then he self-appoints himself the leg-breaker and the rest follows.

    On the other hand, if you take the story as a parable about the interactions of fundementalists acting ‘on the behalf of God…’ then I’m not sure how much my interpretation would hold up. Probably not very.

  • Anonymous

    interesting rewrite Fred, nothing more to say about it.

  • Anonymous

    I got nothing to say against you what the others have already said.

    And if you want to know his opinion about nature and salvation I advise you to read his article about flatland.

  • http://accidental-historian.typepad.com/ Geds

    Like Sam Harris last week thundering about hell rather than engaging William Lane Craig’s argument.

    Fascinating. See, from where I was sitting that debate was William Lane Craig bloviating in his usual nonsensical way while Sam Harris brought up issues that Craig always handwaves past. And, surprise surprise, Craig proceeded to ignore them.

    Funny how it’s always the guy on the other side who’s doing the thundering and getting it rong, isn’t it?

  • Shay Guy

    Given that the “little guys” in the US are more likely to owe money to banks than to the government, I think the second slave owing (less) money to the first works better.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_6B4Q4GBCSR3MAPACKTN6PQAK3U Swintah

    The little guy owes money to investors in mortgage backed securities, lease backed securities, and other financial clap-trap, not banks. Banks just created, managed, and destroyed the securities for their profit. I think the parable is apt.

  • Froborr

    Actually, between tax refunds and government bonds, most “little guys” are owed money *by* the government.

  • biology guy

    because that’s the ‘accepted’ method of dealing with posters who express unpopular opinions… abuse, deride, and in the end use the ‘nuclear option’ until the disagreeing or unpopular poster either goes away (censorship) or caves and becomes a lapdog and poster boy for the utility of said ‘nuclear option’

    ironic indeed

  • Anonymous

    Posters with “unpopular” (P.S. pigheaded, arrogant, presumptuous, illiterate) opinions are yelled at on the Internet? Heavens to Betsy, how atrocious!

  • http://www.facebook.com/Blotzphoto Louis Doench

    I thought I was being quite measured in my response… if I had wished to abuse or deride the commenter I would have told him/her to gfys… like you can.

  • Anonymous

    Um. Just sayin’ here, it’s not so much that that’s an unpopular opinion. It’s more the fact that he just misread the entire post and ended by insulting a major core belief of the blog’s author, as well as a fair portion of the community here. This happens often – A Certain Letter, on the old blog, used to come around and tell us all how stupid we were for not denouncing religion entirely. It gets tiresome, and people’s patience wears thin with dealing gently and patiently.

    That said, I don’t think anyone was deriding or abusing the poster below. Disagreeing with, perhaps. And maybe it could’ve been nicer? But again, this happens all the time. Nobody swore at …xir?* that I saw, no one used all caps, and I don’t -think- anyone was insulting. All in all, disagreement and requests to be more respectful are in good order, here– as anywhere.

  • Anonymous

    That’s the Conservapedia translation, right? Or are the Randroids doing a translation too?

  • Lori

    As others have pointed out, the problem is not that the opinion is “unpopular”. It’s the the poster has now repeated it multiple times and is not adding any value to the discussion. The first time the comment was addressed in a pretty polite fashion. Second time, same thing. This is now the third time and folks are feeling less patient and generous.

    Being told off after commenting with the apparent intent of repeating oneself until everyone agrees is not the stuff of martyrdom.

    Also, if you think the responses in this thread represent the ‘nuclear option’ you must be new to the internet. I don’t recommend that you wonder very far afield from this site if you value your tender sensibilities.

  • Matri

    On the other hand, if you take the story as a parable about the interactions of fundementalists acting ‘on the behalf of God…’ then I’m not sure how much my interpretation would hold up. Probably not very.

    *looks at the Republicans* I’d say it holds up very well.

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

    The rewrite sums up the position of fundamentalist Christianity perfectly. Now the only mystery is why Slacktivist doesn’t disassociate himself from the whole thing like a rational person. Baring that, I’d love to see an essay in which he describes his concept of the supernatural and how it relates to nature and describe in concrete terms his views on salvation and eschatology. As it is, it seems like he keeps from thinking about it for some reason.

    It’s no mystery at all, but what is a mystery is why you keep posting questions like this even after receiving an answer and being told repeatedly that you’re being disrespectful to Fred.


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