Pulpit glurge and ghost stories

“Glurge” is not unique to church, but churches tend to cultivate their own native varieties of it.

Skimming through Snopes’ Glurge Gallery reacquaints me with several familiar stories that I’ve heard many times over the years in church or at youth group campfires or retreats. Stories of angelic intervention like “26 Guards” weren’t common in our kind of church (that’s more of a Pentecostal thing), but I heard dozens of variations of “The Anguishing Choice” or of “The Drawbridge Keeper.”

Such stories — melodramatic allegories of fathers sacrificing their beloved sons — are harmless when told simply as parables, but these stories are rarely told that way. Like all urban legends, they are embellished and presented as true stories — as accounts of events that actually happened.

Pulpit glurge shares several traits with ghost stories. Ghost stories are not told, usually, with the deliberate attempt to deceive the listener. The goal of the storyteller is a particular kind of emotional response — in the case of ghost stories, the shivery thrill of fear. Achieving that emotional response tends to involve storytelling conventions that require the teller and the listeners to agree to several false assertions. Ghost stories, to be effective, need to be presented as true stories. And it’s usually helpful also to localize them — to adapt them to the details, people and places of the area in which they’re being told.

A good storyteller telling a good ghost story will embellish it with just the right details to give it a sense of vérité and with just enough local particulars to make the tale seem chillingly close-at-hand rather than safely distant. Such embellishment isn’t usually something done wholly consciously by the storyteller. It’s just an organic part of the process that a good storyteller does almost instinctively. The local details and the grainy bits added for the sake of realism just click into place as the story unfolds. The storyteller is inventing falsehoods to spice up the ghost story and representing those inventions as facts, but the storyteller is not lying.

These inventions and embellishments aren’t added to deceive, they are just part of the unspoken bargain agreed to in the telling and hearing of ghost stories. In order to achieve the desired effect of making listeners pleasantly frightened, the storyteller invites them to accept a set of factual assertions that neither the teller nor the listeners really regard as true. The storyteller is not deceiving and the listeners are not deceived — they simply both realize that the emotional impact and enjoyment of a ghost story depends on the suspension of disbelief.

Preface a ghost story with a disclaimer stating that it’s pure fiction and the story won’t work — it won’t produce the desired effect of spine-tingling delight. That’s why when a really good ghost story becomes a bit too frightening, the listener will declare an end to the bargain, asserting that the story is not true and thus breaking its spell.

Pulpit glurge stories, similarly, are told in order to produce a particular emotional effect — in this case uplift or inspiration or gratitude. And as with ghost stories, that effect may be enhanced if the story is embellished with the claim that it is true.

But unlike with ghost stories, both sides may not have agreed to this bargain. Those hearing glurgey tales from the pulpit aren’t just playing along for the sake of the story. They’re not suspending disbelief, they’re believing. Thus with pulpit glurge, unlike with ghost stories, the listeners likely are being deceived.

Restating that in the active voice clarifies what that means: The storyteller is deceiving the listeners. The preacher is deceiving the congregation.

Put so starkly, that statement is bound to encounter objections in defense of those preachers who make a habit of artfully employing pulpit glurge. Sure, these preachers may embellish those stories, inventing and adding new details to create more realism or local flavor, but it would be unfair to characterize that as a deliberate attempt to deceive.

For one thing, it’s not consciously deliberate. It’s just something they do instinctively because they are skilled storytellers and such flourishes enhance the emotional impact of the stories they’re telling. And that emotional impact is their main intention. These preachers didn’t set out to deceive their listeners or to make them believe a fictional story is true — they just want their congregations to feel more deeply. Surely that doesn’t make them the moral equivalent of deliberate liars, even if the details of these stories don’t turn out to be technically true as presented.

So what’s the harm in a little pulpit glurge? The Drawbridge Keeper is a moving little allegory. Is it really so bad to try to make it a little more moving by presenting it as a true story? What’s the harm?

Misrepresenting such stories as true stories can be harmful. First, at the most basic level, it erodes the credibility and the trustworthiness of the preacher.

A preacher’s credibility depends on them not saying things from the pulpit that aren’t true. Obviously, saying something is a true story when it is not, in fact, a true story entails saying something that is not true. So it’s a bad idea.

Secondly, this misrepresentation of glurge stories as true stories cultivates a habit of credulity in the congregation that contributes to a form a biblical illiteracy and makes the members of the church more vulnerable to other, more pernicious, lies.

Part of knowing how to read, and thus part of knowing how to read the Bible, is the ability to recognize when a story is or is not being presented as an account of something that actually happened. Someone who finishes reading Farewell, My Lovely and comes away believing that Chandler was claiming that Phillip Marlowe was a real person has a problem with the discernment that reading comprehension requires. The same is true if someone finishes Luke 15 and comes away believing that it teaches the existence of a “literal,” historic Prodigal Son.

This inability to discern the type of story one is reading is an epidemic problem in our churches, and preachers foisting off pulpit glurge as “true stories” are only making this worse.

Pretending these glurge stories are true also trains the congregation to swallow urban legends, and that makes them more likely to accept as true not just theses mostly harmless glurge stories but also to swallow the toxic nastiness of the many not-so-innocent urban legends that also swirl all around them.

Glurge stories may be saccharine and sentimental, but they’re mostly harmless if not misrepresented as true stories. That distinguishes them from many other, crueler legends and lies.

One way of describing this distinction would be to say that glurge may involve the bearing of false witness, but not usually against anyone. That makes glurge less worrisome than the nastier, more vicious urban legends — like the Procter & Gamble rumor or the related legends and lies told and retold about legal abortion. Those involve the bearing of false witness against the neighbors we’re accusing of being Satanic baby killers, and that “against” makes them a far more serious problem.

That more serious problem is what interests me most about this whole subject. I wanted to take this quick detour into the realm of glurge mainly to establish this distinction for when we return, in future posts, to those more serious urban legends and to the way they involve deliberate deception and the bearing of false witness against our neighbors.

As for glurge, ideally preachers would avoid such saccharine goop altogether. But if they’re drawn to such treacle and pudding, then there’s no good reason to misrepresent such stories as historic accounts of actual events. Stories told to illustrate a point don’t have to be true stories, they just have to be stories that illustrate the point.

Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan effectively and memorably illustrated his point about love for our neighbors. And most preachers regularly refer to illustrations from literature and movies. I heard one sermon that effectively used Frodo’s declaration — “I will take it! I will take the Ring!” — as an illustration. That sermon illustration wouldn’t have been nearly as effective if the preacher had also tried to insist that hobbits are real and that The Lord of the Rings was a true story.

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  • http://apocalypsereview.blogspot.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    I would want my death to mean more than the conviction of one criminal. If someone told me that I must die so that the Earth be turned into a paradise, and proof of that was given to me before I died, I would make the bargain in a heartbeat.

    Aside from that, though, I’d rather be alive.

  • Anonymous

    Fearless son it sounds very noble what you do but may I give you one piece of advice about the nature of sacrifices: everything worth dying for is also worth living for.

    Maybe it is very logical the way you see it, and I can see it as well, but reality has a horrible way of bending logical things into something illogical.

    Life is unfair and despite the fact that death is the great equaliser it also means that it is possible that your death can have the opposite effect of what you have hoped to archive.

    So I can see the logic and the beauty in your actions, but I can also see the problems it can cause by the disregard of your own safety.
    And when you die it is not possible to for you when you make mistakes to correct them.

  • Shadsie

    Coming back here to check replies (the conversation here is interesting), and I’ve been noticing all the talk around and nagging of Fearless Son.  I can see where people are coming from – “Don’t make a senseless sacrifice!” but I’m the same damn way.  I think if you can avoid it, do, but if you’re in a situation where you need to save life or a life – why condemn a hero?

    I risked my life once for a stupid horse:  http://sparrowmilk.blogspot.com/2011/06/i-watched-something-die-tonight.html

    Now, if the horse had trampled me and subsequently gone into the road and gotten hit, I would have died or been hurt for nothing, but at the time, I thought “it still wouldn’t be nothing” because I would have tried and would have only suffered for doing something brave/doing the right thing.  I got out unscathed and with the feeling that “I’d do that again in a heartbeat if I had to.”

    Another funny thing is: Even though I keep a belief in Heaven, unlike what some seem to think, I don’t need it to do the right thing.  I was in a period of severe doubt when this incident happened and I was thinking “If I die tonight, maybe I’ll go somewhere – maybe I won’t and will just face the nothing I’m not too keen on.  I’m doing the right thing, anyway.”

    Keep in mind, though – if you think I’m “prone to throwing away my life too easily” (for something as stupid as saving a mere animal) – I do suffer from a disorder that gives me suicidal feelings sometimes and a general “I’m a burden on the world” feeling pretty constantly – so I figure going out saving *anything* might be the best/only good use of me, anyway. Also, adrenaline does funny things to the brain. 

  • Anonymous

    Um, you acted directly to save a life.  That’s within the realm of my understanding.  Being killed by a robber to potentially take that robber out of the equation gets an out of cheese error in my brain.  That doesn’t make it wrong, that makes it incomprehensible to me.  (There’s probably an element too that the only way Fearless Son’s way of thinking would make sense to me is if I were having a very bad attack of depression and considered myself utterly without worth.  I’m sure that isn’t actually where he’s coming from, but it does effect my responses – even if I’m trying not to let it.)

  • Shadsie

    In re-reading his original post – I don’t know that I’d give my life just to save a till of money, either, but that “getting between assailant and victim” – I’d like to think I would do.  Also, as I said, don’t underestimate the power of adrenaline in an extreme situation.  You may find yourself risking your life for a till of money just because that’s what the adrenline kicks you into doing. 

    We can all basically say what we’d do in a hypothetical situation ’till the cows come home, but you really don’t know until you’ve been there. 

    (I’m actually surprised I did what I did for that horse, considering I’m typically the last person you want around in a stressful situation – it was like surprise!courage!)

  • Shadsie

    In re-reading his original post – I don’t know that I’d give my life just to save a till of money, either, but that “getting between assailant and victim” – I’d like to think I would do.  Also, as I said, don’t underestimate the power of adrenaline in an extreme situation.  You may find yourself risking your life for a till of money just because that’s what the adrenline kicks you into doing. 

    We can all basically say what we’d do in a hypothetical situation ’till the cows come home, but you really don’t know until you’ve been there. 

    (I’m actually surprised I did what I did for that horse, considering I’m typically the last person you want around in a stressful situation – it was like surprise!courage!)

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Sue-White/1605859612 Sue White

    i>I saw my God. I came into contact with him. I encountered him. I joined him.

    I still don’t know what it means.   People make these sort of statements, but they rarely go into any detail.  You *saw* God – what did he look like?  How did you know it wasn’t Zeus?  What does it mean to “join” God?  What does “contact” consist of?  I would guess you’re talking about a mystical experience, but I can’t tell that from an assertion like “I met him”.

  • http://deird1.dreamwidth.org Deird

    I really can’t manage to go into more detail. It’s a bit like trying to describe something you sensed to someone with no experience of that sense. (“What does music sound like?” “Well, you sort of have these notes…” “What are notes?” “Um… bits of music…”; “It was a piece of fluff.” “What did it feel like?” “…fluffy.”; “What’s blue look like?” “Kinda nice. And relaxing.”)

    Either way, you end up with nonsense. I’d love to explain further, but I haven’t got the words.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Sue-White/1605859612 Sue White

    I’d love to explain further, but I haven’t got the words.

    Then you’re using the word “met” in a way that is different from the usual sense, so the thesaurus was pretty much useless. :-D  Like if you had just met Brian Boitano, you could probably describe the experience, where it happened, what he looked like, etc., in a way that wouldn’t leave most people in the dark.  You might even be able to introduce him to a friend.  I don’t think I’ve seen anyone really try to describe what “meeting God” is like.

  • P J Evans

    ‘Met’ is the best word for it, even if it isn’t in the real-and-physical sense you expect.
    (I understand what she’s saying. It’s something that happens, especially when you’re not looking for it.)

  • Shadsie

    (To depi)  I know this is all hypothetical, but you bring up a certain discomfortable feeling here…  I am now imagining a group of bystanders (perhaps made up of people who love to philosophize on the Internet, like us) watching a carjacking in progress and standing around doing nothing about it because they’re all too busy discussing the merits of stepping in to help.  “But he might shoot the guy, anyway!” and “He might shoot the guy and whoever steps in and it’ll be a worse situation!”

    Meanwhile, the victim gets shot because no one even TRIED to help. 

    Now, the situation is different if someone who knows what they are doing is there.  If cops have been called and have arrived, then I think it’s best to let them handle it, just as I wouldn’t enter a burning building to rescue people/pets IF firefighters were there because they’re the people who are trained for the situation.

    During my horse incident, I and my guy were actually good people for the scene since we actually know how to deal with horses. (I haven’t ridden in years, but I work at a horse farm and know things about equine behavior people who don’t work with horses know).  However, it chafed us that we saw several cars ahead of us *obviously* swerve around and drive right past the *large animals in a somewhat busy road* without calling the police or even driving to one of the neighborhood houses to ask if someone had lost their horses.  The simplest of things with no risk to person could have prevented the ensuing accident, kept a horse alive and kept me from risking my person to help the other one.  Yet, the simplest of things was something people couldn’t bother to do.   

  • Anonymous

    Oh, I didn’t mean to imply that people should never step in and help others, only that one can’t be sure whether that will actually lead to a good outcome.  Fearless Son seems to have an assumption that it will.  And maybe he’s usually right and what happened here was an anomaly.  I don’t know.

    I’ve done unwise things to help people – like once giving a lift to a woman who was trying to find her husband before he found someone he had a beef with and did something bad, like beat up said person.  It turned out well, but I’m not about to claim it was a bright thing to do.

    I’m very much in favor of people helping one another, and appalled that people will ignore people in need.  But on the whole, it might be best if people like Fearless Son weren’t convenience store clerks and were, instead, firefighters or police officers – it makes things much less complicated.  (And Fearless Son would probably be happier, too.)

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Sue-White/1605859612 Sue White

    Well, the original point of my post wast that I cannot understand why my mother would be upset about my death.  Why should she find it cause for pain?

    Okay, now I feel sorry for her too.

    I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that you don’t have kids.

  • Anonymous

    As Dash said, this has already been gone over, in some detail. FearlessSon isn’t disturbed, and he doesn’t need Serious Help to, basically, make him see the world exactly as you see it, or as I see it, or as anyone else here does. We’re adults here; we’re perfectly capable of acknowledging each other’s differences without hating or fearing each other simply because of who we are.

    Good grief. Despite my best efforts, that sounds sugar-coated, clichèd, trite, sappy, arrogant… but I think you get my point. Don’t attack the man just because his worldview is different from yours.

  • Anonymous

    I acknowledge FearlessSon’s right to be totally different from me, and from his mother and sister. I acknowledge the new information that he is, or says he is, on the Autism Spectrum and that he may have quite a bit of difficulty understanding other people’s emotions, emotional attachments, love, maternal/familial bonds. So what? 

    His mother, as he reports, thinks that his stated determination to have someone else eliminate him to save her trouble,  or to achieve a transient glory by saving a negligible amount of money for an employer while dying in the attempt is a problem for him and she urges him to get therapy. I agree. I don’t care whether he sees the world in shades of black, white, or grey. He is asserting as a matter of fact that he can see no other means of asserting his individuality and his personal identity except through an incredibly childish excercise in self destruction which he imagines will be rewarded with the applause of imaginary bystanders after his glorious death. I see no reason to treat his Aspergers as some kind of sacred boundary–that would be an incredibly stupid and childish approach to life, justice, property, and meaning in a non aspergers person.  More than that, I think we can see that this attitude is either pure show–that is, mere self glorification and ego puffing itself off with grandioise hypotheticals or it can and will lead to real harm coming to this individual.  Since I don’t believe in an afterlife and, moreover, don’t believe that even with an afterlife the applause of random strangers for an act of stupid self sacrifice to send an unheard message “petty thievery will not stand!” constitues a rational justification for self slaughter I absolutely am willing to tell FearlessSon to get some professional help.

    If he told you he wanted to kill himself to protect a piece of wax fruit and believed that doing so was meritorious, just, and would result in strangers applauding his courage and the message he sent to the despoilers of wax fruit–and that he, moreover, had told his mother that she was delusional for wanting to prevent him from doing that–I would say the same thing.  If your argument is that as a result of his Aspergers he can do no other, well, that’s absurd. There are plenty of Aspies who don’t demonstrate this level of social and emotional indifference or illogic.

    Having goals is good, having a strong sense of what is worthwhile and pursuing those goals is good, but becoming fixated on an unworthy goal, potentially at the risk of one’s life (or having a romanticized illusion of courage propped up by fantasies of heroism one has no intention of carrying out) is not worthy.  I don’t accept the notion that FearlessSon’s Aspergers puts him outside or above the normal bounds of discourse or criticism.


  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that you don’t have kids.

    No.  In fact, I had myself sterilized at age twenty-one.  My father was upset, felt that I had made the wrong decision, but accepted it.  My mother was almost broken down by it, nearly disowned me.  I believe her exact words were “He’s dead to me now.”  We did not speak for a week, but eventually patched things up.  We get along well now, but the sterilization has never been spoken of again. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Sue-White/1605859612 Sue White

    Well, the original point of my post wast that I cannot understand why my mother would be upset about my death.  Why should she find it cause for pain?

    Okay, now I feel sorry for her too.

    I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that you don’t have kids.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Sue-White/1605859612 Sue White

    You’re talking aboput a guy who says he actually told his own mother she should have had him executed.  Not having kids of my own, I can only try to imagine how someone would feel if their kid said that to them.  Somehow, I don’t think they would write it off as a mere difference of worldviews.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Sue-White/1605859612 Sue White

    I believe her exact words were “He’s dead to me now.”

    Good heavens.  I feel less sorry for her now. 

  • FangsFirst

    Good heavens.  I feel less sorry for her now.

    Knowing someone who dealt with a less voluntary form of sterilization, this is not an uncommon reaction in severity. Not that, quite honestly, I think that makes it an acceptable one. The person I know has not revealed it out of fear of that; their partner (with permission) told *their* parents, who, being more decent people, said it was still kind of sad and disappointing (in the ‘not going to have grandkids’ sense), which kinda suggested that someone intensely interested in this would react even more strongly.

    Say, like Fearless’ mother did…so, said person I know has not really revealed that knowledge to their own mother, for fear of a reaction similar to that.
    It does get into propagation of the species, instincts and so on after that (and the idea of ‘investment,’ ironically: there’s an investment in children that implies a desire to continue a family, and ending that nearly broke, for her, Fearless’ value as an investment)

    Some of those stumbles have lead to the parties to which I have been
    trying to build an interpersonal relationship declining to recriprocate
    my attempts to be personable, and tell me that though they may have to
    get along with me, we will never be “friends”.

    Sometimes I wonder how others have gotten such shitty luck as to run across people who are, well, that honestly sounds like you’ve met a disproportionate number of assholes.
    I mostly wonder because I don’t exactly lend myself (I often think) to positive reactions but get them almost universally. I sometimes feel like I’m cheating somehow, ’cause there’s no way I deserve them. I feel even worse when I see others who don’t have that kind of ‘luck,’ who do not seem to be bad people at all.

    When they say that though, what I hear is “You are a product so flawed
    that no amount of adjustment will ever allow you to pass a threshold of

    This strain of thinking, though, is not perfectly rational which is kind of what I meant in all of that rambling goop:
    You are responding to an emotional reaction with a rational evaluation, but a rational evaluation taken to the logical extreme, past the point of rationale. The perception–as Izzy references–of these things is not some “Okay, you have failed my checklist-test of what makes a person acceptable as a human being, we need to recycle you.” It is a matter of differing opinions and thought processes and reactions and so on. Because it is, then, not perfectly rational on their parts, it makes a rational reaction in congruous: it requires ascribing a rational motivation to an irrational decision on their part, in order to respond to it on that differing scale.

    And then beyond that, no matter how great a number–even as it seems it may be disproportionately large–its nature as emotional response means it is unlikely and almost impossible that it be rationally considered a universal and definitive “failure” as a human being (though, in some respects, this gets into the fact that your feeling that your perceptions are superior actually doesn’t fit with the way social systems generally work, and suggests that, if your response is ‘Then I probably shouldn’t be here,’ leaves us with a slight break in the rationale: if it’s superior to you, why do you simultaneously agree it is broken and makes you unworthy of life?).

    I don’t know. In some respects, I feel like I could be you, were it not for my endless romantic streak. I have known how much I need discipline all my life, tried to treat things as rationally as I can figure out most of the time, analyzed my worth in terms of cost-benefit to those around me only to find it comes up lacking and I debate the value of my continued existence…
    But, for whatever reason, I have an underpinning desire to find an interpersonal relationship that actually creates some clear emotional bond for me, as I seem miserable at actually forming them (for all that I have always had friends, and many who will do an awful lot for me and so on) by actually feeling things for other people.

    Perhaps that’s why I came to the conclusion that my own internal cost/benefit analysis is generally irrelevant, no matter how much sense it makes to me. Our society, culture, etc, is based, on that microcosmic level, on those emotional bonds, or at least respect for or recognition of them and even those of us who don’t, can’t, won’t or see no reason for them cannot invalidate all the ones around us, or redefine our value outside of them. Externally, our value is different, and that value is more collectively held. IE, if you do not understand or value or feel emotional bonds, in all likelihood, there are still more people who DO feel them for you, which sort of negates your attempts to value yourself, as value increases with higher ‘demand.’

    Not that I’m perfect at remembering, acknowledging or accepting that, being as I struggle with it mightily every day these days.

    Note: none of the above is intended as condescending; I talk myself through these things as I write them, and so if I am talking down, I’m also doing it to myself, and thus just bringing the level down to MY level…

  • Izzy

    Well, there’s “good enough” and then there’s “someone I want to hang out with,” and the two aren’t necessarily related.

    There are many people–co-workers, extended family members, even fellow geeks–who are great folks, who are probably very interesting to people who share their perspective/hobbies/etc, and who I wish all the best, but with whom I have no desire to interact more than necessary. Sometimes we just don’t have much in common; sometimes our conversational styles, or whatever, don’t mesh. That doesn’t reflect badly on either of us.

    I mean, I wouldn’t eat ice cream and steak together–even really good ice cream and really good steak. They just don’t go. That’s how it is.

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    There are many people–co-workers, extended family members, even fellow geeks–who are great folks, who are probably very interesting to people who share their perspective/hobbies/etc, and who I wish all the best, but with whom I have no desire to interact more than necessary. Sometimes we just don’t have much in common; sometimes our conversational styles, or whatever, don’t mesh. That doesn’t reflect badly on either of us.

    Normally I would not be so persistant.  However, these were also people with whom I shared a roof.  Or if not that, we still had many mutual friends in common and could expect to run into each other on a semi-frequent basis.  It made sense for us to try and remain in each other’s good graces, and I was willing to be as flexible as I had to be in order to maintain that.  The issue I took was when I am told that no matter how I flex, it will never be enough. 

    When one of them told me that the only way we could be friends is if I was “someone else”, my first thought was to seek to have myself brainwashed, my personality torn down and rebuilt in a different form, and my appearance surgically altered to be more suitable to them.  They told me that would not be enough either.  Other mutual friends told me that attitude was part of the reason they felt that way to begin with. 

  • Izzy

    Oh, that’s more of an issue, yeah. If you’ve got mutual friends, I think–barring things like actual bigotry or harassment–both parties should make an effort to remain on good terms. Not necessarily close friends, but people where you can share a table at a wedding and not want to stab yourself with your shrimp fork. It’s better for you; it’s better for the people around you.

    I mean, there are people in my circle of acquaintances that I don’t particularly like; there are a few people who I actually hate. (Most of these, thankfully, are no longer in said circles.) I’ll argue certain issues if they come up, but I’m not going to stage a public scene or refuse to be at least superficially let’s-talk-about-work-and-Buffy friendly, because…well, mutual friends, and pissing them off means pissing off other friends, and I do not need to assassinate that metaphorical Archduke, thanks.

    I’ve never really wanted to talk much to any of my roommates who didn’t already start out as friends, I have to say, and it irked me sometimes that I couldn’t make dinner without getting involved in fifteen minutes of Chatty Cathy: can we not go with the “Good evening?” “Yeah, you?” “Yeah, good,” and move on with our lives? But again, I’ve always at least wanted to be civil.

    @facebook-100001171828568:disqus : Whoa. I’d try it, at least!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jeff-Lipton/100001171828568 Jeff Lipton

    I mean, I wouldn’t eat ice cream and steak together–even really good ice
    cream and really good steak. They just don’t go. That’s how it is.

    What if it was trout ice cream (in one of the early Japanese episodes of Iron Chef, one of the chefs made and served trout ice cream)?

  • Amaryllis


    One stated rationale for “magic bad, miracles good” that I’ve run across
    (I think it was in the context of “D&D bad”) is that with miracles,
    you’re asking God for a favor, and with magic, you’re bending the world
    to your will. Even accepting the premises, the conclusion that magic
    was evil and sinful puzzled me, since humanity has by this point made
    much of the natural world its bitch via technology. How is, say, a
    crystal ball any morally worse than Skype, or flying on a broom worse
    than flying on a plane?

    There are those, I understand, who see a difference between “invocational” magic and “incantational” magic. That is, are you flying on that broom with the aid of an evil spirit who’s making wood and air do what they otherwise couldn’t do, purely as a matter of your own will? Or are you flying by, as John Granger puts it, “harmonizing with God’s Word by imitation,” and thus sharing a little bit in the creative power of God with wood and air, beyond what we know of their ordinary properties?  Creating a spell, by that standard, is like creating a poem:

    Creation of a word, this place. What word? The word is streaming across
    time, holding this place and all planets and all grains of dust in a
    pattern, a strict equation. I am always trying to imitate the sound and
    shape and power of the unknowable word. Dry whisperings: a poem.

    -George Mackay Brown.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Sue-White/1605859612 Sue White

    Knowing someone who dealt with a less voluntary form of sterilization, this is not an uncommon reaction in severity.

    Kind of sucks though, doesn’t it?  I can’t imagine my mom reacting that way.  I didn’t have any kids, and neither did my brother or sister.  But Mom never complained.  She seemed to be satisfied as long as we were happy.

    There’s never any guarantee that your kids will live up to your expectations.  FS kind of has a point.

  • FangsFirst

    Kind of sucks though, doesn’t it?

    Absolutely. I fear the day that person has to tell their mother and the mother’s devastation devastates said person, who will feel like a disappointment. Already feared it would make her a disappointment to partner’s…oh screw it, I can’t write these pronouns.

    She feared it would be a disappointment to my parents. My mother said she was, if honest, disappointed, but would not hold it against her at all.
    That pissed me off enough–if my parent had expressed disappointment and it were me I would sure as heck be devastated or angered beyond belief. Then again, a lot of my anger over the idea that her mother would be ‘disappointed’ comes from the fact that this was NOT voluntary.

  • LanceThruster

    I’ve summed up Xian redemption mythology as follows…

    “God sent god to die for god so that god could forgive god’s creations according to god’s unbending rules.”

    Too Rube Goldberg for me.

  • muenchner kindl

    There is an additional argument that I think Fred forgot to mention:

    False stories are bad recipes to follow.

    To take a non-religious example:

    The story of the man who planted trees  is very inspiring. It’s been made into a coloured book (sold with seeds to go tree planting) and an animated movie.

    Sadly, the whole story was invented out of whole cloth.

    The story of the woman who planted trees (30 million!) with the Green Belt Movement and received the Alternative Nobel Prize (Right Lifelihood Award) is maybe less well-known.

    But it’s also true.

    Many people reading the first story will feel inspired, because the moral is that one person with small steps can change a lot for the better.

    Unfortunately, because the author was more interested in the feel-good message than in facts and didn’t know anything about real trees, forests and re-planting, anybody who does go out and try to imitate the protagonist will just waste their time and effort.
    Because you can’t simply regrow a forest from a barren plain over which the wind howls and where water is scarce by making holes and dropping seeds. Those seeds won’t grow without enough water, they won’t be able to hold against the wind, they will be eaten by the sheep.

    Anybody who reads the real accounts of Maathai, or who volunteers for a proper reforestation program, can make a difference, too. But by working with knowledge about trees and climate, effort is not wasted with dumb ideas. And resources are pooled by getting 20 volunteers together to plant seedlings from a nursery, chosen for that specific climate and soil, with additional protection like woven mats. And other villagers are chosen to look after the seedlings.

    So an invented tale leaves people frustrated and with effort wasted that could have been better used.

    A real tale leaves people with actual trees and the knowledge why “Meaning well is NOT the same as doing well, because you need to know what you’re doing first”.

  • Panda Rosa

    Dvorak wrote a charming piece of music called the Noon Witch, which describes this quite vividly.