What if I’m wrong about the clobber verses?

Excellent question. “What if you’re wrong?” is always an excellent question and I’m grateful to my inquisitors and critics for making sure I never forget it.

Even if I don’t always enjoy the tone of their full expression of this question, I thank them for the helpful reminder that I always might be wrong.

That’s the constructive aspect of this challenge, which comes up every time I discuss this topic of LGBT people and the church or make an argument — despite those clobber verses — against the intrinsic immorality of sexual minorities.

In it’s full form, that challenge looks something like this (I’m paraphrasing here, using more lower case and standard spelling, but this is the gist of it):

Oh yeah, Mr. Smarty-pants Liberal, did it ever occur to you that you might be wrong? And if you’re wrong, then you’re also leading others astray. You might be preventing others from finding their way to repentance. You might be damning yourself to Hell and dragging others down with you. Didja ever consider that? Huh, did ya?

First, let me agree that, yes, it is always entirely possible that I am wrong.

I do not think I’m wrong, obviously. My study, reason, prayer, conversation, debate and conscience all lead me to believe I’m right.

And, like most people, whenever I begin to think I’m not likely right, I take the expedient step of changing my mind until I once again am more confident that I am. I’ve changed my mind many times on many different matters. That experience confirms something I knew to be true already — I am fallible and incapable of either perfect knowledge or perfect reasoning.

That is the human condition. We can have greater or lesser degrees of confidence, but never certainty. The problem of human fallibility is inescapable. That is grounds for humility and thus for vigilant caution.

We Christians have a principle for accommodating such humble uncertainty: When in doubt (i.e., always), err on the side of love. When love seems in conflict with some rule or precept — she’s hemorrhaging and unclean, he’s an uncircumcised centurion, she’s a Syro-Phoenician dog — love wins.

But fallibility isn’t really the issue behind this question, “What if you’re wrong?” That question isn’t meant to remind me of human fallibility or of the imperative for humility, it’s meant to warn me to consider consequences.

They are asking me to reconsider my argument not on the basis of evidence or reason, but by weighing the potential risks against the perceived rewards. And that’s a bit odd.

Risk-reward analysis is a prudent and useful tool for many things, but not for ethics. If you’re contemplating whether or not to accept an invitation to go skydiving, then by all means contemplate the consequences, weigh the potential risks against the potential rewards, and then make your decision. But if you’re contemplating whether or not to do the right thing — whether or not to love — then such considerations really ought not to be part of the equation.

When this sort of calculation takes over ethical decision-making, I’m not sure it even counts any longer as ethics. It’s more like profit-seeking. That’s the dismal effect of the reward-and-punishment framework that has supplanted love as the defining crux of ethics for many Christians. When seeking reward and avoiding punishment shapes our decisions, then love is always displaced and diminished.

This is yet one more reason that Huckleberry Finn ripping up his letter and turning around his raft is, for me, a canonical text. Unless and until one can say, with Huck, “All right, then, I’ll go to hell,” then one will remain incapable of love.

When my inquisitors seek to remind me of the consequences of “what if you’re wrong?” they have a very specific set of consequences in mind. What they really mean, in other words, is not so much “what if you’re wrong?” but “what if we are right?”

So it’s not really a question as much as a statement — another reiteration of their claims in the hope that they might somehow become more persuasive by brute repetition. And along with that statement comes a kind of a threat: “Woe unto them that call evil good.” (Isaiah wasn’t talking about homosexuality there, but was condemning those who “join house to house, who add field to field, until there is room for no one but you.” But the prophet’s phrase and his denunciation in the same passage of “you who are wise in your own eyes, and shrewd in your own sight” are an apt summary of my inquisitors’ criticism of my argument here.)

I appreciate the severity and the gravity of what they’re suggesting, but I have a hard time following how this is supposed to play out. I’m trying to imagine the scenario of my standing before the throne of God on the day of judgment and hearing God say: “Depart from me, for thy mercy and love exceeded mine own, and thou has accorded too much dignity to these, my children.” Or would it just be, “Depart from me, for I was gay and you did not condemn me and demand I repent”?

I mean, I’ve read that scene, so I know what comes after “depart from me” in that story, but that doesn’t help me imagine the script here.

I’m also not frightfully concerned with the supposed spiritual danger to which I’m allegedly exposing LGBT people. I understand the argument — that I should be demanding repentance instead of offering affirmation, that my love must be more conditional. But let’s face it, if things work the way my anti-gay critics say they do, then those folks are already cosmically screwed and nothing I say or do will really change that. I suppose, if this crypto-Pelagian scheme is correct, that if we really crank up the misery in this world, then there’s a slight chance that a marginal few people might be coerced into the life of self-loathing celibacy that could save their eternal souls. I get the strategy there. But for the vast majority, that can’t and won’t change the unchangeable fact that they’re apparently predestined to God’s special Hell for Queers.

And, well, if that’s what inevitably awaits them in the next life, then the least I can do is try to reduce their misery a bit in this one. It seems kinder to extend to them here the grace that God will ultimately rescind and thus to allow them at least a measure of happiness in this world.

Well, not real happiness, of course. Real happiness is something gay people can never experience until they repent of being gay. So no matter how genuine they may claim their happiness to be and no matter how genuine such happiness may appear, we must defer to anti-gay Christians, who clearly have superior knowledge when it comes to evaluating the legitimacy of others’ happiness.

Sarcasm aside, I simply cannot accept that my critics are right because I cannot accept what their claims assert and assume about the character of God. My response is essentially that of Lloyd Bentsen: I know Jesus. I pray to Jesus. Jesus is a savior of mine. And this person you describe, sir, is no Jesus.

Ah, but what if I’m wrong? What if they’re right and I’m wrong and this is what Jesus is really like — fearsome, wrathful, strict, full of graceless truth?

Well, in that case, all I can do is quote again those sacred words: “All right, then, I’ll go to hell.”

As long as I’m in, and in for good, I might as well go the whole hog.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=687121933 Carrie Looney

    Chris, that is exactly what I was thinking when I first read this post, and I was scrolling down the comments to see if anyone beat me to it. :) If you truly believed gays were going to hell, wouldn’t the Christian thing to do be to be as kind as possible to them in the meantime? :p

    For me, I go by the athiest version of Pascal’s Wager.  There is an infinitesimal, yet nonzero, chance of their being some kind of Infinite Being who judges.  My answer to that chance is to live what I consider to be as good a life as I can, and act in a way that generally helps people to be happy and doesn’t get in the way of them doing so (with all the caveats on people being happy not being dependent on harming others).  If this Inifinte Being is good and just, I’ve lived in a way that should pass muster.  If not – if, say, this Infinite Being required a certain set of arbitrary rituals or required us to be assholes to a certain subset of the population – I would be pleased to be in opposition to it.

  • Dan Audy

    That isn’t at all how I’ve ever read that section.  Certainly Huck knew he was going to be punished by God for it but that he chose to act anyway because he couldn’t live with himself for failing to.  While the Higher Power might consider it wrong the Lesser acts in contravention to satisfy their conscience knowing full well that they will receive a punishment for it.  That isn’t a belief that their act is wrong but rather an acknowledgement that they will be punished consequent to their act regardless of the merits it holds.

    I see it a lot like protestors who go outside the bounds of what the law allows to make their point.  They know that they are going to get arrested but consider their message to be more important to spread than abiding the laws.

  • Robyrt

     Thanks for the thoughtful and clear analysis.

    I am reminded of some previous posts, however, saying that loving someone doesn’t always mean accepting whatever they’re doing. Sometimes it means convincing them to stop, and in rare cases forcing them to stop. Quite often it means explaining in a considerate fashion why a particular attitude or behavior is wrong, even if it would cause that person considerable harm to give it up.

    As far as imagining-God-on-the-day-of-judgment goes, I’m inclined to believe that God will be charitable and merciful towards those whose hearts are in the right place but wouldn’t get high marks on a theology test. It would be very much in character.

    I had a bit here about the character of God, but that’s really suited to some other post, and I can’t imagine this subject never coming up again :P

  • Carstonio

     

    Second, given the examples of Abraham and Moses, why should we assume that God would automatically lash out in rage over a contract dispute?

    Not automatically. From the Sacrifice of Isaac story,  it may be reasonable to fear that the being would be capable of anything no matter how capricious or irrational this may seem to humans. Theoretically, anyone is capable of lashing out in rage given enough provocation.

  • Xian-x

    In De Doctrina Christiana, Augustine argues that “no interpretation [of scripture] can be true which does not promote the love of God and the love of man.” That, in fact, is the ultimate rule of biblical interpretation.

    How Augustine understands this can be understood in part through his sermon on the apostle Paul’s use of the passage, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated,” which Augustine preached at the request of people who found the passage troubling. Augustine considers interpreting in the passage first in one manner, then in another. Each time insurmountable moral objections lead Augustine to reject the interpretation. Augustine continues with one possible interpretation after another, but every way that Augustine can think of to interpret the passage is plagued with monstrous moral implications. In the end, Augustine can find no acceptable interpretation. (Yes, there are biblical passages for which even one of the so-called “fathers of the church” can find no acceptable interpretation.) He ends up concluding that scripture can confound our ability to interpret it, but there is one matter on which scripture is perfectly clear: the god revealed in Jesus is a god of love–and that should always be where Christians make their final stand.

  • Aurora

    Unfortunately, I do not have the sheer balls to say I am willing to go to Hell, and this is why I have such trouble with the “but what if you’re wrong” problem. I am in no way courageous enough to face eternal pain and suffering because I bet wrong on a Pascal’s Wager.

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

    Belief in a Higher Power that acts capriciously can’t sensibly motivate behavior. As you say, It is capable of anything. Maybe It will lash out if I argue with It. Maybe It will lash out if I fail to argue with It. How could I ever tell?

    Faced with such a Higher Power, all I can really do is go on about my business as if it didn’t exist.

  • aunursa

    Actually, Isaac was not sacrificed.  And that was at God’s command.

    it may be reasonable to fear that the being would be capable of anything no matter how capricious or irrational this may seem to humans.

    On the other hand, faith in God is reasonable if He has justified the faith of our ancestors. 

    That faith is something that Jews and Christians have in common.

  • Carstonio

    Again speaking hypothetically, why would one be able to do that with a higher power and not with a human, such as an abusive spouse? I have a possible answer, but I’m interested in yours.

  • Beleester

    Utilitarian, risk-reward ethics works fine, if you’re trying to maximize *everyone’s* happiness and not just your personal tribe’s. You’re doing it yourself, when you point out that if they’re all damned either way, you may as well make them as happy as possible in this world, and when you say that you won’t be happy if it comes at the expense of others.

    Of course, this is an immensely complicated way of saying “You can’t decide what makes me happy” so actually calculating it out is kind of pointless, like using Newton’s laws just to verify that things fall down when you drop them.

  • Ross Thompson

    For me, I go by the athiest version of Pascal’s Wager.

    I prefer to use one that less athier.

    … I’ll get my coat.

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

    Faced with a human whose behavior I cannot predict and who will capriciously choose to approve of some things and not others, I cannot sensibly seek their approval. Faced with one who will lash out at me in unpredictable ways and who is powerful enough to preclude any attempt at overpowering or avoiding them,  all I can really do is go on about my business as though they didn’t exist. Faced with such a capricious human who is not that powerful, I can attempt to overpower or avoid them.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_2CUJHSQSQYTYT4DPZSKTVESYNQ B

    I think my answer would be, “If I’m wrong, then I’m wrong.  If God condemns people to eternal torment for not being infallible, then God is a :bleep:.  And if God is a :bleep:, then we’re all pretty much screwed no matter what.”

    In my mind the idea that God is loving, merciful, or even just (IMO there’s nothing we can do in a finite lifespan that would make eternal torment a fair and reasonable punishment) is incompatible with Hell.  And if God is hateful, cruel, and unjust, then all bets are off for anything and everyone.

    But I believe that God is loving, merciful, and just.

  • Jurgan

    “Sorry, that’s much too long.”

    Not at all.  Very interesting reading- thank you for that.

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

    I am in no way courageous enough to face eternal pain and suffering because I bet wrong on a Pascal’s Wager.

    Yeah… I sometimes feel this way.
    I find it helps to remember that there are multiple overlapping Wagers in play at once.

    That is, sure, there’s some nonzero chance that a god exists who so hates homosexual acts that He will send me to Hell if I commit one. I don’t think it’s true, but I might be wrong, and I can’t be sure.
    But there’s also some nonzero chance that a god exists who so hates abstaining from homosexual acts that He will send me to Hell unless I commit one. I don’t think it’s true, but I might be wrong, and I can’t be sure.

    No matter what I do, I face the (negligible) chance of eternal pain and suffering because I bet wrong on such a Wager. And I have always faced that chance. I faced it a year ago, and ten years ago, and when I was five years old.

    I know I am strong enough to face that chance, because I have been facing it all my life. And so has everyone else.

  • Carstonio

    Capricious and unpredictable may not be the right word for what I had in mind. Perhaps simply a fear that one might do something to set the person or being off.

  • Marc Tompkins

    Inorite?  

  • Marc Tompkins

    “My favorite people are the people of the dessert” said Lawrence, as he put down his fork.

  • AnonymousSam

    Which is one of the arguments for it. There are a theoretically infinite number of faiths and a theoretically infinite number of Hells and a theoretically infinite number of Sparkly Rainbow Pony religions. And even better, there are also a theoretically infinite number of gods who are enraged that you would worship the wrong one and who will destroy Heaven to personally smite you for worshiping Yahweh, so what exactly is the wager supposed to prove?

    A strange game. The only way to win is not to play.

  • AnonymousSam

    Seems odd that a sociopath like myself could have examined the cost/benefit ratio of “love over all” and come to a very different conclusion than they did. I wonder how that works in their minds? Is there a point at which you have to devote yourself, utterly and selflessly, to the spirit of all-loathing, and that’s where it starts to make sense?

  • http://lliira.dreamwidth.org/ Lliira

    Is there a point at which you have to devote yourself, utterly and selflessly, to the spirit of all-loathing, and that’s where it starts to make sense?

    I believe it starts with loathing themselves utterly. This is something that might be impossible for you to understand. But they hate — hate — their own bodies. There are incredibly important parts of their bodies and minds that they believe is totally sinful and depraved. Anything sexual is unclean.

    They’ve created rules within which these incredibly important parts of their bodies and minds are not so sinful, depraved, and unclean, but how does that work? How do you go through life being told “you must not must not must not, bad bad bad”, and then flip a switch and now it’s okay? Especially because even when it’s okay (heterosexual marriage), there are STILL lots of rules. Paul said “it is better to marry than to burn” — he did not say “it is good to marry”. A particular kind of sex within heterosexual marriage is simply seen as the least-bad option, but it’s still not seen as righteous. 

    Frankly, a lot of it looks like they’re jealous that other people do not hate themselves.

  • AnonymousSam

    These are the posts I look forward to reading, and they often come from you, Lliira. :D

    I don’t think it’s jealousy, but it certainly has the feel of astonishment, bewilderedness, etc. “What? How can you not hate your crotch? It’s so… so gross!

    Nevermind that the Bible, between the lines, still has plenty of penis-worship. Touching your father’s penis was supposed to confer his blessing upon you, or compel you to speak truths, or bind you to oaths… hence that “put your hand beneath my thigh” thing.

  • Daughter

     Many RTC’s also think that God is going to punish the U.S. as a nation because of “sin,” based on the fact that the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament describes God punishing nations for their sin.* That’s why you get all the proclamations by Pat Robertson and other to that effect when there is a natural disaster. And why they talk about things like the Roman Empire falling apart because of the decline of morality (read: sexual sin). (They don’t seem to address the fact that by the time the Roman Empire fell, Christianity was firmly entrenched).

    So they think that marriage equality hurts them because they’ll end up as the innocent collateral victims of God’s wrath, and thus they need to fight like hell (pun intended) to prevent it.

    * IIRC, God generally punished nations for the following sins: 1) idolatry; 2) violent aggression toward other nations; and 3) oppression of the poor. So if God indeed operates this way, God might be in the mood to punish the U.S., but not for the reasons RTC’s imagine.

  • The_L1985

    A lot of Bible translations appear to censor the word for “penis,” so this can be confused.  For example, I vaguely remember a passage where someone (Melchizedek?) circumcises himself (ouch!) and touches the foreskin to Abraham’s feet.  The footnote in my Bible (Today’s English Version, if you’re curious) says “This may be a euphemism for the genitals.”

    But yeah, it’s called a testament because you originally swore on your own genitals.

  • AnonymousSam

    Yeah, they euphemize it to “thigh” most of the time, but the Bible isn’t the only place where scholars are starting to agree that “thigh” was not the body part they were referring to… Dionysus, anyone?

  • Tricksterson

    My problem with Pascal’s wager is that in order for it to mean anything the Supreme Being has to be a malicious psychotic willing to subject people to an eternity of torment over a difference of opinion.

  • Tricksterson

    If Fred’s critics want him to seriously consider that they might be right and he might be wrong then they should be willing to return the favor.  Otherwise I see no reason to pay attention to them.

  • RickRS

    Gus,

    I didn’t see an answer to your question as to “What, exactly is a “clobber verse”?” so here a link that might help:
    http://www.gaychurch.org/gay_and_christian_yes/calling_the_rainbow_nation_home/7_gac_the_clobber_passages.htm

  • http://mistformsquirrel.deviantart.com/ mistformsquirrel

    Before I lost my religion, I genuinely struggled with this line of thought to.  Eventually I came across the idea of the Atheist’s wager, and it honestly made me feel infinitely better about the whole thing (as well as helping to finish my shift away from faith altogether.)

    “You should live your life and try to make the world
    a better place for your being in it, whether or not you believe in god.
    If there is no god, you have lost nothing and will be remembered fondly
    by those you left behind. If there is a benevolent god, he will judge
    you on your merits and not just on whether or not you believed in him.”

    The idea being that if you just do your best to be a good person, period, then regardless of the existence of a benevolent deity, you’ll be fine.  Now if there is a god, and that god is *not* benevolent, it’s fair to say we’re all fucked regardless, in which case the wager still holds up simply because there’s nothing you can do against a malevolent deity.

    None of which is to say “And thus you should be an atheist”.

    It’s more a way of saying that if you strive to be a good, kind, loving person, then regardless of the existence of a good deity, you ought to be just fine.

    That’s my thought anyway.

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

    I felt that way for a very long time. It’s why I remained a catholic for so long.

    But there are other ways than be willing to say “I’ll go to hell.”  For example, you could refuse to accept that “But what if you’re wrong?” is the same  question as “But what if we’re right?”

    I might be wrong. But I can’t imagine the odds of me being right are worse than the odds that God is cool with child molestation but not with two dudes exchanging rings.

    When someone asks “What if you’re wrong?”, you say “Then I just hope Cthulu eats me first.”

  • Tricksterson

    Yes, their God does seem to go around actively looking for reasons to torture people, doesn’t he?

  • aunursa

    In my new religion, my all-powerful deity will torment you for your failure to quote that line perfectly.

    EDIT: Or … just see the post above mine.

  • Daughter

     Eh. Whenever some new imperial power arise and took over other nations, the prophets interpreted that as God’s divine judgment (over the losers–of course, the winners would usually later get theirs). And since most nations had something of worship of gods other than Yahweh, aggression or oppression in their history, that was viewed as the justification for the punishment.

  • VMink


    A strange game. The only way to win is not to play.

    Worse, actually.  If there is a finite but extremely large set of all possible human belief systems — including but not limited to everything from atheism to omnitheism and all possible variants — you not only have no way to tell how to win (you can’t be certain which is the One True Faith) you are also vanishingly unlikely to be able to win (your particular interpretation of the One True Faith is likely to develop, I don’t know, compiling errors or divide-by-munificence errors or something) and you are also unable to say “Sod this!” because atheism is part of the continuum and you can’t be certain that’s the One True… er, Thing, either.

    So you go with what you know, live your life to the fullest, and be the best person you can be to other human beings because it’s the right thing to do and not just because someone told you or scared you into doing it.

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

    Um… OK?
    I think at this point I’ve lost track of your question, so let me back up and try again.

    If some entity E will try to hurt me for engaging in some behavior B, I can either avoid B, or avoid E finding out about B, or I can prevent E from hurting me when it tries, or I can be hurt.

    If I don’t know which behaviors will cause E to hurt me, I can’t avoid B.
    If E is sufficiently perceptive, I can’t avoid E finding out about B.
    If E is sufficiently powerful, I can’t prevent E from hurting me if it tries.

    None of this depends on whether E is a deity or not.

    Does that help?

  • Trixie_Belden

    Well, as I understand it ( I didn’t grow up with the term myself), “clobber verses” as used by fundamentalist Christians refers to certain verses of the Bible which, in their opinion, are so clear and unequivocal that they “clobber” any attempt to argue for a different interpretation.  As in the saying, “God said it.  I believe it.  That settles it”. I’m kind of embarrassed to admit this, but even after years of reading Fred’s blog I can’t name the particular verses, but with regards to LGBT people, there are certain verses in Leviticus and The Acts(?) or the Epistles(?) which fundamentalists regard as such clear condemnations of homosexuality that they regard liberal Christian talk of love and acceptance as muzzy-headed wishful thinking at best and outright wickedness at worst.

  • Gotchaye

    There’s definitely a place for “what if you’re wrong” questions and cost-benefit analyses in ethics.  And I’m not talking about factual uncertainty but ethical uncertainty.

     Take animal rights.  Some people think that killing and eating animals is unproblematic.  If they’re right, people are allowed to eat tasty meat.  Some people think that killing animals is very, very wrong.  If they’re right then meat is something like murder.  The ethical stakes (steaks?) here are not balanced, and so people who eat meat have to wrestle with “but what if you’re wrong”, and they need to be very sure that they’re not wrong in order to justify eating meat.  Vegetarians don’t really have to wrestle with that, since if they’re wrong it’s no great loss, and so people who are unsure whether or not it’s ok to eat meat probably shouldn’t.

    And people actually do apply this.  Lots of people don’t eat meat, or only eat meat rarely, not because they’re absolutely opposed to meat-eating but because they’re ambivalent about it and are playing it safe.

  • Ursula L

    While I agree in principle, that doesn’t seem to be Fred’s point, at least from my reading.  

    I agree with you, that isn’t the point that Fred was making.  Which [i]is[/i] my point.

    For Huck Finn to say “fine, I’ll go to Hell” was not merely an act of love and kindness and morality.  It was also an also an act of courage in the face of certain destruction and  self-sacrifice to the point of being self-destructive.  

    And Huck Finn acted in a time and place where many other peoplewere sending such letters.  And part of the reason for sending such a letter was the genuine persecution you’d face from not sending such a letter, but instead helped an escaping slave.  There was fear of going to Hell, certainly, for committing an damnable act.  

    But there was also punishment in this world.  Prison sentences, and long ones.  Fines, incredible high, so that for most people they’d loose their home and everything they owned, not only bankrupting themselves but leaving their families and any dependents destitute and helpless. 

    Huck Finn can say “fine, I’ll go to Hell”, because all he faces is hell.  He’s incredibly poor, with nothing of value to loose in fines.  He has no family, who would be left unsupported if he is imprisoned or destitute if he looses the family property to fines.  If he faces punishment on Earth for his actions, he’s the only one to suffer, and most of the punishments worked into the laws designed to stop people from helping escaped fines don’t really affect him.  He faces the Hell-on-Earth of prison, and Hell in the afterlife.  He doesn’t face seeing his wife and kids and elderly parents starving on the street because he’s in prison and everything the family owned (which was all “his” because of the fact that women’s property belonged to their husband) has been taken as fines, since he has no family.

    It’s easy to come across as claiming Huck Finn’s courage as your own, when you’re sitting comfortable and safe at home, doing nothing courageous or self-sacrificing.  And that, in turn, can come across a bit like those conservative Christians in the US who claim they’re being persecuted, or that they’re bravely standing up to persecution, because they can’t keep someone else from getting proper medical care.  

    A decent person always hopes that, if the situation should arise, they would bravely stand up to persecution, of themselves and particularly persecution of others.  

    Armchair courage is easy.  It’s tempting to take pride in armchair courage, as proof of your own courage in the face of certain harm to yourself.  

    ***

    I’m not saying that Fred is doing the same thing as conservative Christians in the US whining about persecution.

    I’m saying that he, interestingly, touches on the same concept, the difference between imagining what you would do in a situation where you faced great personal danger standing up to persecution, versus actually standing up to persecution when you’re actually facing the certainty of being harmed for doing so.  

    ***

    I’m also saying that Mark Twain made Huck’s choice artificially easy.  By writing Huck as a person so poor and alone that the financial punishments for helping an escaped slave didn’t apply.  

    And by not having Huck think about what it would mean to be imprisoned for helping Jim.   Not thinking about the Hell-on-Earth of prison and what imprisonment would mean for a free spirit like Huck.  Only thinking about the more distant and abstract concept of Hell-after-life.  

    The people who owned slaves and who were powerful and behind the various laws to stop slaves from escaping and stopping people from helping escaped slaves were deadly serious about what they were doing.  Think of the current mess created by the “war on drugs” or the current focus in the US on punishing “illegals” and put it on steroids.  

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

     Something or other I once read pointed out that for a lot of men, when they were very small children, one of the first formaive experiences they can remember was some form of discovering that there was this one bit of their body that seemed AWESOME, and then having the first important female figure in their life slap their hand and tell them that that they must NEVER EVER pull it out, show it off, or play with it. Often in the form of “Put that thing away and don’t touch it, it’s filthy,”

  • vsm

    It was also an also an act of courage in the face of certain destruction
    and  self-sacrifice to the point of being self-destructive

    Huck Finn is not that kind of a story, though, or freeing Jim could not have been played as a farce. It’s a picaresque adventure story that does deal with some very serious subjects, but reading it like a psychologically realistic novel seems like a mistake to me. The moment Huck decides to go to Hell is not portrayed as him taking on a horrifying existential burden, but the ironic triumph of his inherent decency over society’s tyranny. In that spirit, I think it’s okay for us less brave people to quote Huck as well.

    As for sitting in the comfort of one’s home, our host’s critics are implying his posts are enough to send him to Hell, along with all the innocents he’s corrupting.

  • Kiba

    Yes, that’s something I do as well and I’m a Pagan. Normally I don’t give two hoots and a holler what your beliefs are, or lack there of, but if you are going to start trying to make everyone else live their life according to them? Yeah, that’s when I start saying, “prove it.” 

  • Carstonio

    My original point was that I didn’t understand how the Jewish theological tradition could hold that humans should be unafraid to challenge a god. That’s because fear seems to me like a natural feeling in the face of someone with a certain level of power, human or divine. That’s because how the intelligence responds to you, whether for good or ill, is based on your behavior toward it. That’s not an endorsement of the belief that natural calamities are divine punishments – my argument is about situations where there’s no question about the powerful being’s involvement, such as if one were a character in an Old Testament story.

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

    And I’m not talking about factual uncertainty but ethical uncertainty.

    Er?

    That is, it’s not “contributing to the deaths of intelligent creatures is wrong, but I’m not sure how intelligent cows are, so I don’t know whether contributing to the deaths of cows is wrong”… that would be factual uncertainty.

    It’s “even if I knew everything about cows, I wouldn’t know whether it was wrong to contribute to their deaths”?

    That’s… huh. It seems like what I’m uncertain about in this scenario has nothing to do with cows. It seems that what I’m uncertain about is my own values.

  • Carstonio

     I don’t see Fred or anyone else here claiming Huck’s courage as their own, so while you’re on the mark with your criticism of armchair courage, I’m not sure how it’s relevant. Are you suggesting that Fred should have acknowledged the phenomenon?

    Also, I wouldn’t discount hell as distant and abstract for people in Huck’s culture. For people with little to lose or gain financially, the state of their souls may have mattered more to them because that’s all they had, as treasure in heaven. Similar to how poor whites in that region have longed valued the status that wrongly comes with skin color. 

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

     The Jewish theological tradition I was raised in doesn’t hold that one has any particular ethical obligation to be unafraid of challenging God. It does, however, hold that challenging God can under some circumstances be a righteous act.

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

    On the subject of clobber verses, I like to say this: Never try to use the bible as a cudgel, because there is always someone with a heavier holy book.
     

  • Albanaeon

    “because there’s nothing you can do against a malevolent deity.”

    Sure there is.  You go ahead and become a loyal minion and rub your hands gleefully in anticipation of the upcoming smack-down.  Left Behind seems to be a manual for how to go about it.  Particularly if the deity in question seems completely off hir rocker and doesn’t mind you taking advantage of the enemies rewards while said smack down is going down.

    That it makes people like Herb “Cameron “Call me Buck” Williams” Katz who are heroes only in their own minds and assholes in everyone else’s is beside the point.  There’s some serious gloating coming, after all.

  • http://profiles.google.com/marc.k.mielke Marc Mielke

    I will bring desert with me!

    That sounds kind of ominous, like Genghis Khan salting the land after laying it to waste.

  • http://profiles.google.com/marc.k.mielke Marc Mielke

    You basically can’t bet anything but wrong on Pascal’s Wager! Any position you take has equal chance of a good or a bad outcome!

  • aunursa

    Content: CANNIBALISM

    I tried to substitute abortion for animals, but somehow, it doesn’t quite work the way I expected.  This is what I was left with…

    There’s definitely a place for “what if you’re wrong” questions and cost-benefit analyses in ethics. And I’m not talking about factual uncertainty but ethical uncertainty.

    Take abortion rights. Some people think that killing and eating unborn babies is unproblematic. If they’re right, people are allowed to eat tasty fetuses. Some people think that killing unborn babies is very, very wrong. If they’re right then fetal cannibalism is something like murder. The ethical stakes (steaks?) here are not balanced, and so people who eat baby food have to wrestle with “but what if you’re wrong”, and they need to be very sure that they’re not wrong in order to justify eating the unborn. Vegetarians don’t really have to wrestle with that, since if they’re wrong it’s no great loss, and so people who are unsure whether or not it’s ok to eat unborn babies probably shouldn’t.

    And people actually do apply this. Lots of people don’t eat fetuses, or only eat baby back ribs rarely, not because they’re absolutely opposed to fetus-eating but because they’re ambivalent about it and are playing it safe.


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