Overheard at Dungeons and Dragons at my House

Sorry to be tardy posting this weekend.  I’ve had a lot on my plate (including a delightful Twelfth Night party, in which this chocolate bourbon cake was my answer to Sir Toby Belch’s question “Dost thou think, because thou art virtuous, there shall be no more cakes and ale?”).

You may remember that I have a group of friends who sometimes have me NPC (play an antagonist or ally) in their Dungeons and Dragons campaigns.  They last appeared on the blog, when they used an exuberantly strawmanned version of my beliefs as the foundation for a theology that had driven one of the characters mad.

In between some fighting and some villainous monologuing for me, we did manage to have some of the following adventures:

 

“Do you own the land?”
“No, my dragon does”
“Wait, can dragons own land?”
(The 1L in the room): “I think we covered something relevant to this in property law!”

 

During negotiations to set up a coup, the players ended up getting distracted from closing the deal by wanting to lay out the foundations of the new regime, until someone finally asked, “When did this turn into Dungeons and Constitutional Conventions?”

 

Player: “I do a listen check at the door”
DM: “You hear a stentorian female voice pronouncing harsh sentences on prisoners”
Me: “That’s my cue!”

 

And, in my favorite phase of the adventure… the technically-good-aligned band was trying to track down a villain who was kidnapping children, and got into a lengthy debate over whether they ought use an actual child as bait.  After running through a couple different options (one of them pretending to be a child, hiring a dwarf, etc), they settled on polymorphing a badger into a child.

Problem solved.

Until I came back in from setting the oven timer and asked, “So, if you turn a badger into a child, does it have the same capacity for suffering and moral worth as a child?  What does it mean to create a soul and/or sentience purely instrumentally”

I’m not sure whether the metaphysical debate or the cake was done first.  But both were quite enjoyable.

 

About Leah Libresco

Leah Anthony Libresco graduated from Yale in 2011. She works as an Editorial Assistant at The American Conservative by day, and by night writes for Patheos about theology, philosophy, and math at www.patheos.com/blogs/unequallyyoked. She was received into the Catholic Church in November 2012."

  • Noah K-G

    “Until I came back in from setting the oven timer and asked, “So, if you turn a badger into a child, does it have the same capacity for suffering and moral worth as a child? What does it mean to create a soul and/or sentience purely instrumentally””

    Fortunately, while the party may not have found the answer to that question that the moment when it was asked, the answer does exist online:
    http://www.d20srd.org/srd/specialAbilities.htm#polymorph
    “Magic can cause creatures and characters to change their shapes—sometimes against their will, but usually to gain an advantage. Polymorphed creatures retain their own minds but have new physical forms.”

    So in the example above, the Badger would presumably not gain the sentience of a child…

    • Darren

      Back in ye olden days of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, with the Polymorph Other spell, if the polymorphed creature failed a mental saving throw, it would believe it was the new creature and then become the new creature, gaining all abilities (or so I recall).

    • Darren

      Or, if you polymorph a potato into a pig, can vegetarian characters then eat it?

  • http://metabooleans.blogspot.com/ Nick

    Your timing in mentioning Twelfth Night was impeccable–I’m reading some excerpts of that tonight for my English class, and it’s just that that I should be doing right now rather than procrastinating by reading blogs…. Love the Dungeons and Discourse pic, by the way!

  • http://not-atamelion.blogspot.com Michael H.

    Dungeons and Constitutional Conventions would be a game I would LOVE to play, though I’d prefer to keep the “Dragons” D over the “Dungeons” one.

    Oh wait – in my 2010 NaNovel, there were dragons with parliamentary shenanigans!

  • Yvain

    “Until I came back in from setting the oven timer and asked, “So, if you turn a badger into a child, does it have the same capacity for suffering and moral worth as a child? What does it mean to create a soul and/or sentience purely instrumentally”

    At *my* house last night, Luke Muehlhauser initiated a discussion on whether a two-headed baby can go to heaven if only one of its heads has been baptized (conclusion: more research is needed)

    • http://www.ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca Randy

      You don’t baptize a head. You baptize a person. I don’t think there is any requirement that the water actually touches the head. It is the way it is typically done but it does not invalidate the sacrament if it does not.

      • Joe

        I think Yvain was making a joke about a baptized person serving two masters. In this case he may consider the person infantile.

      • deiseach

        That depends on whether you count a two-headed baby as a baby with two heads (one person) or as a set of conjoined twins (two heads, two persons).

        Is the second head functional (that is, does it have a working brain, can it talk – or, in the case of a baby, make noises, and so forth)?

        This site claims that “The teratologist Saint-Hilaire noted that conjoined twins were given separate names, indicating their individuality, as springing from the practice of baptizing children on their heads. A body with well-formed two heads was therefore baptized once on each head and each received a name.”

        I have some vague notion I saw something about this, or something like it, mentioned in conjunction with St. Augustine but I have no idea where or in what context. So – conditionally – both heads would be baptised as separate individuals, unless there was some reason not to think the second head was separate (I take the “well-formed” in the quote above to mean “looking developed as a head, not just a mass of tissue or inactive lump”).

        • Darren

          ”Is the second head functional (that is, does it have a working brain, can it talk – or, in the case of a baby, make noises, and so forth)?”

          Goodness, that seems like a loaded question on this site…

          The link was helpful. What would you think as regards Chimera’s?

          ”Human chimeras
          In 1953 a human chimera was reported in the British Medical Journal. A woman was found to have blood containing two different blood types. Apparently this resulted from cells from her twin brother living in her body. More recently, a study found that such blood group chimerism is not rare. Another report of a human chimera was published in 1998, where a male human had some partially developed female organs due to chimerism. He was conceived by in-vitro fertilization. In 2002, Lydia Fairchild was denied public assistance when DNA evidence showed that she was not related to her children. After hearing of a human chimera in New England, Karen Keegan, it was eventually found that she too was a chimera and thus had two sets of DNA. Cyclist Tyler Hamilton, whose blood was found to have a “foreign blood population” in an anti-doping test, initially claimed it was natural, and his defense team suggested he could be a chimera. However, this defense was rejected.”

          • Mike

            Good point. Does the head have the potential for healthy functioning or the potential for becoming a human head or is it just something that looks like it might have been a head but is all out of kinetic energy so to speak.

            I wonder how many chimeras there are in the world. Tough cases make bad laws but remember that runner from South Africa who they said was born a man? I think they let her run with the women and but she still lost badly I think.

            Males and females are complementary; they are the 2 great halfs of humanity that combine to produce new life. Is it any wonder then that there’d be some anomalies produced from time to time. Actually what’s more incredible to me, especially considering evolutionary theory, is that there aren’t more chimeras out there! Like, whatever happened all those supposedly half-human monkeys that we were supposed to have sprung from? LOL :)

          • jenesaispas

            In the end he was probably a drug cheat.

      • http://theophor.us Ignatius Theophorus

        I’m pretty sure you need to get water on the head while baptizing. I’ll go with > 80% certain.

    • Beadgirl

      Hey! This issue is touched upon in A Canticle for Leibowitz, which I read last week!

      • Margaret Catherine

        Yes, but that raises the sticky question: is the second head sinless? Will it refuse baptism? If so, what does this represent for humanity?

      • Mike

        Just looked up the book. Had never heard of it; putting it on my list.

      • Arnobius of Sicca

        Yeah, I wondered it that was intended in the original comment. Recently read Canticle for Liebowitz myself. Very well done book

  • Joe

    Yvain you are so cheeky

  • http://turmarion.wordpress.com Turmarion

    Thank you for the link to the recipe for the cake! My wife will love it! :)

    • http://www.ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca Randy

      Your wife will love the recipe or your wife will love the cake after you bake it?

      • Mike

        Also cheeky.

      • http://turmarion.wordpress.com Turmarion

        Both! ;)

  • Far

    Can a badger not suffer anyway? Or at least feel pain and fear? If it was kidnapped and turned into an unnatural shape, it might even feel badgered.
    Sounds like a good time was had by all.

  • grok87

    “Until I came back in from setting the oven timer and asked, “So, if you turn a badger into a child, does it have the same capacity for suffering and moral worth as a child? What does it mean to create a soul and/or sentience purely instrumentally”

    Interesting. There is also stuff going on in today’s gospel with spirits shifting between people and animals:
    http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/020413.cfm

    “Catching sight of Jesus from a distance, he ran up and prostrated himself before him,
    crying out in a loud voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?
    I adjure you by God, do not torment me!” (He had been saying to him, “Unclean spirit, come out of the man!”)
    He asked him, ‘What is your name?’
    He replied, ‘Legion is my name. There are many of us.’
    And he pleaded earnestly with him not to drive them away from that territory.
    Now a large herd of swine was feeding there on the hillside. And they pleaded with him,
    ‘Send us into the swine. Let us enter them.’
    And he let them, and the unclean spirits came out and entered the swine.
    The herd of about two thousand rushed down a steep bank into the sea, where they were drowned.”

    Recently I read that one of the motivations for the Jewish proscription of eating pigs is the fact that they are actually more closely related to humans than other animals (such as goats, cows, etc.) Like sometimes heart transplants were done with pig hearts. Consequently:

    1) It’s easier to get diseases from pigs. Think swine flu, and also worms etc.
    2) Pigs eat food similar to people. Remember the story of the prodigal son who wants to eat the pigs food? Would that have worked with goats? And on farms today, people often feed pigs leftover people food, milk/slop etc. So basically if you keep pigs in a “food constrained” world such as the old testament, you are giving food to pigs that could be used to keep people alive.

    • Bad MF

      Pigs will eat anything. Including poop. In fact, pioneer homesteads would sometimes design the layout where the outhouse contents could easily be dumped into the pigs’ troughs. According to the very reliable wikipedia link, it is still a thing in India and parts of China. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pig_toilet
      Bleh. Why is pig so delicious?

      • deiseach

        Because it tastes like human? ;-)

        • grok87

          I think there may be some truth to that. Apparently in some pacific islands that practiced cannibalism, human flesh was called “long pig”
          http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/long_pig

          • deiseach

            I remember from way back some anthropology/archaeology reports that our early ancestors were cannibals because human bones had been found with scrape marks that ‘proved’ they were cracked for the marrow and eaten.

            Of course, this was in the days when they were swinging between “Neanderthals – savage bloodthirsty brutes rightfully overcome by progressive Cro-Magnons” and “Neanderthals – peaceful matriarchal society wiped out by aggressive patriarchal Cro-Magnons” so I have no idea where the current opinion stands :-)

          • ACN

            It’s a little more detailed than “scrape marks”.

            There are characteristic butchering marks that archaeologists look for: Breaks on long-bones for marrow extraction, cut and chop marks that result from removing flesh and skin. These butcher marks can be compared with marks made on animal bones to demonstrate that similar things were done to them. You can also look for things like human bones in fossilized feces.

            There are examples of cannibalism that stretch from nearly a million years ag0 (Ergaster or Heidelbergensis) through Neanderthals and into Homo Sapiens. Cannibalism need not require that hominids be “savage/bloodthirsty” nor is it precluded by being “peaceful”.

          • deiseach

            Thank you for bringing me up to date, ACN.

            Human – the other other white meat!

            :-)

          • ACN

            Om nom nom.

        • jenesaispas

          This is such a disgusting conversation!

      • Mike

        Good q. I love pork chops; especially schnizel!

    • wloch3

      “I am fond of pigs. Dogs look up to us. Cats look down on us. Pigs treat us as equals.”
      ― Winston Churchill

    • Darren

      “Now a large herd of swine was feeding there on the hillside.”

      Why were Jews raising large herds of pigs in Galilee?

      • Mike

        Commerce, lol?

      • http://www.ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca Randy

        The areas of the Decapolis is near what we would today call the Golan Heights. It was not really all that Jewish. It does not say the pig owners were Jews.

        • Darren

          Did Jesus have to pay for the pigs?

          • Mike

            He didn’t exist remember :) .

          • deiseach

            They might have been wild pigs; apparently there are herds of wild boar roaming around the hilly regions of Israel (and being a nuisance to farmers).

            Here are some grazing on the campus of Haifa University.

          • Darren

            ” They might have been wild pigs; apparently there are herds of wild boar roaming around the hilly regions of Israel (and being a nuisance to farmers).
            Here are some grazing on the campus of Haifa University.”

            Perhaps. 2,000 wild boar would have been quite a herd, though, and considering how destructive they can be, it would have taken some rather Laissez-faire goat herders to allow such a population to roam around unchecked. Always a possibility, though.

            I was _trying_ (and failing) to provoke the realization that something very… odd… was happening, and where something odd is happening, then perhaps there is more to the story than there appears to be.

            The story must have had some import, being told in multiple gospels, yet it leaves many question unanswered.

            Jesus sails across the Galilee, meets some victims of demon possession, does not, as was his habit prior to, cast out the demons, but instead sends them into a large herd of pigs, pigs which would have been very much forbidden by Jewish law, sending the pigs to their death. The swineherd tells the local villagers, presumably including the owner(s) of said former pigs, and they ask Jesus to leave, which he does with nary a word or backwards glance.

            Not sure what the dressed weight of a Galilean hog was, but if this had happened in Iowa instead of ancient Judea, the damage would have been well more than $1,000,000. Were these for agricultural purposes, this would have been either a king’s own herd, or the entire village’s meat supply… for years…

            Were the swineherds beaten for allowing their charges to die? Did the villagers starve (being long before the age of food stamps)? Did they file a civil suit against Jesus for unlawful destruction of property? Did the villagers fish out the soggy pigs and have a vast pig-pickin’ to celebrate the newly freed demoniacs?

            Did Jesus say, “Sorry about the pigs, didn’t really think that one through. Here, have some loaves and fishes?”, which would seem to have been the decent thing to do, all things considered, or at least turned the sea to wine for a few hours to go along with the pork…

            Anyways, maybe no one else ever wonders these things. My put-upon Sunday school teacher certainly seemed to think me more than a bit odd… He was protestant, though, and so anything beyond a plain reading was quite beyond him. I have found Catholics to be much more… philosophical… about such questions.

          • Mike

            All good questions Darren. They really do make the story look a tad silly don’t they?

            But I sometimes think that that’s precisely what makes it interesting. Why on earth would anyone hoping to create some new cult put in a story as obviously silly and improbable as that? It doesn’t seem to make any sense on its own. It would turn people away. But it didn’t. Why risk it though? If I were coming up with it I’d avoid such obviously risky stories. In fact I’d have thought things through just as you just have and come up with a story that contained the answers to all your questions in the first place.

            My point: even if the stories are embellished or totally untrue, they are obviously imbued with something so powerful that it could only have come from without so to speak, don’t you think? Or else, ancient jews were literally gods in human form, able to come up with stories and just stories that can withstand 2,000 years of scrutiny and yet not have an ounch of truth to them.

            Either way they’re supernatural. The stories, not the ancient jews :)

          • Darren

            “Silly” is your word, Mike, I said no such thing.

            If you wish to feed your sense of persecution, look elsewhere.

          • http://www.ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca Randy

            I think the point of the pigs was to show the power of the evil spirits and to show that they knew who Jesus was. If people had just heard strange voices than then the man was brought into his right mind then that would not show as much. Two Thousand pigs suddenly destroying themselves is a pretty unforgettable sign. I am not surprised the story was seen as important by the apostles.

            It does show the townspeople were more concerned about the pigs than they were about the man. They don’t say “praise be the miracle” but they say “get out of here.” We can be like that to. We get annoyed at God because his salvation messes with our world. So we tell Him to go. He does.

            What is also interesting is the man asks to go with Jesus and Jesus says No. With blind Bartemaeus Jesus told him to follow and he did. This time he wants to follow and Jesus says stay. Tell your story among these people. That often happens when we ask God to leave as well. He goes but He leaves a little something behind. A reminder of the grace refused. Just in case we want to reconsider.

            It is an interesting tale. It is a good point that Jesus does not care that $1M is lost. Why should he? It is only money. Things get destroyed by an act of God all the time. I don’t see why this is different.

          • Darren

            Thank you, Randy, those are very interesting observations.

            ” I think the point of the pigs was to show the power of the evil spirits and to show that they knew who Jesus was. If people had just heard strange voices than then the man was brought into his right mind then that would not show as much.”

            I have, BTW, done some searching on this topic, and did not find much. One interesting theory that it was actually a historical narrative of a Jewish uprising of some 2,000 or so individuals who where put to death in the sea by a Roman “Legion”, but it seemed rather conspiracy-theory-like to me. Most of the other answers where pretty much in step with your observations.

            ” It is a good point that Jesus does not care that $1M is lost. Why should he? It is only money. Things get destroyed by an act of God all the time. I don’t see why this is different.”

            I am really interested in this tale, though. The whole point of Leah’s conversion to Catholicism was that it’s moral theory had the greatest overlap with her own. I am curious whether her own moral compass would consider the burning of a farmer’s fields by gouts of divine fire to be a more instructive moral lesson than, say, the transmutation of some water into wine or healing of some leapers.

            ” It does show the townspeople were more concerned about the pigs than they were about the man. They don’t say “praise be the miracle” but they say “get out of here.””

            I find it interesting that, faced with the sudden calamity of all their livestock being killed, possibly risking the starvation of their children, rather gratuitously as you yourself point out (“that would not show as much”), you hold Jesus to have acted morally, yet you see the villagers as immoral – as being ungrateful for the demonstration of divine power to which they were witness, for being insufficiently appreciative of the miracle Jesus had just wrought.

            You mention destruction of property by act of God, and how this is no big deal, so why should the (potential) starvation of a small village at the hands of Jesus be seen as any different. Where the actions moral and just _because_ Jesus was God? Or were the actions inherently good?

          • Mike

            “If you wish to feed your sense of persecution, look elsewhere.” Ouch! Take it easy Darren it was just a word that came to me in the moment. As I am sure you’ve noticed I am not the most versatile writer on the blog. To be perfectly honest, thinking using small words helps me stay focused on my argument whereas letting bigger/more precise words in tends to distract me or throw me off as everyone now says.

            Ok and feed my sense of persecution? WOW ok dude you need to chill out. You’re really jumping to conclusions here. I thought I was making an interesting point, that’s all. Geez you atheist types are really into the psycho-analyzing thing aren’t you? I’ve noticed it before. A perfectly sound argument is dismissed as “projecting” or “pomposity” or “privelge” or whatever. Haven’t you noticed it? But not everything is some expression of a repressed id. Chill out man.

          • Darren

            I have not made up my mind as to just what you are playing at, Mike, but I sincerely doubt it is honest discourse. You make the occasional good-faith remark, but most appear to be nothing but troll.

            Considering that you are the person I interact with the most on this blog of late, I begin to doubt whether I have anything productive to contribute… It says a great deal about someone, the company they keep…

          • Mike

            Ok I am not trolling. Yes, sometimes I am provocative on purpose, but that’s only because I am usually bored and want something fresh. I antagonize you because you seem to be interested in putting forth your opinion with verve! And you’re the angry atheist or whatever so it’s fun to poke you. But honestly I am not doing it to troll or whatever. Actually I think I am picking fights in good faith, plus I used to think alot of the same things you think so I think it’s fun to have some fun, good natured, at their expense. Oh yeah sometimes the tone doesn’t get across very well in writing, wouldn’t you agree? So sometimes I sound harsher than I mean to be; then I put up all these LOLs and smiley faces to compensate and end up looking a bit scatter brained/idiotic I am sure :) lol…see what I mean.

            Ok just read the wiki description of troll. Ok I can see why you’d think that. Well honestly I still don’t want you to think I am trolling but I am yes I guess needlessly provocative sometimes. But what do you expect when the topic is D&D for god’s sake? How the heck can I keep up with you guys when your polymorhphing this and spell casting that or whatever. I played World of Xeen to no end and LOVED RPG games but on computer.

            As for my company, well I don’t know about that, I think I am pretty good company, although yikes yes I am a recovering liberal practical atheist. Anyway I hope you don’t leave. I suspect Leah would be quite annoyed if you left. Oh yes one more thing. Like I said I am new to the Church and to some aspects of these debates so yes I can seem crude but that’s just me being either lazy, impatient or 99% of the time honestly just not as well versed as you.

            Oh and like I’ve always said to my friends whenver we’ve discussed these topics, which BTW isn’t often bc most of the time they just say I too bigoted to see I am wrong :) , see there did it again, I mean none of it to be in anyway to be taken personally. But that’s what great about blogs like these. 2 people who’d never agree or talk get to! See, I am for real diversity unlike you atheists (ok that was trolling, sorry) :) …shit

          • Darren

            Fair enough, that is what I had hoped you intended, but there were times I doubted. My apologies for thinking less of you than you deserved, really.

            I don’t feel particularly angry… I was intensely angry as a Christian, as an Atheist, what do I have to really feel indignant about?

            Believe it or not, I actually am not looking to fight with anyone. Sure, my ego loves to make a dazzlingly brilliant observation, but how often does that happen (has it ever?)? If people discussed all of the questions that I wanted answered, I would be content to sit back and read and learn at the feet of the masters.

            There have been times when I have spent a fair amount of effort to explain something, and it is perfectly fine for you to disagree, even to say I am being a total dumbass and should just be quite already, even just to say you are flat-out not interested – that’s fine too. I would hate to waste your time and mine discussing something one or both of us have no real interest in.

            But, deliberately engaging in a conversation, say by being provocative, without having any interest in what the response actually is, or in deliberately misunderstanding the response to be yet more provocative? I think that rather rude myself, and would hate for that to be something I was guilty of doing.

            Go right ahead poking, if you like, understanding better I’ll be a better sport, but do me a favor and don’t ask for a clarification or explanation if you don’t really have any interest in it, we both have better things to do.

            Best regards;

          • http://www.ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca Randy

            I find it interesting that, faced with the sudden calamity of all their livestock being killed, possibly risking the starvation of their children, rather gratuitously as you yourself point out (“that would not show as much”), you hold Jesus to have acted morally, yet you see the villagers as immoral – as being ungrateful for the demonstration of divine power to which they were witness, for being insufficiently appreciative of the miracle Jesus had just wrought.

            I did not frame it as a moral/immoral thing. They encountered a supernatural evil. A man that could not be controlled even by their best chains. Then God shows up and heals the man. Yet there is collateral damage in the spiritual battle. Some pigs are dead. It reminds me of The Incredibles. Where people don’t want superheroes because things might get broken. We need to be aware that Aslan is not a tame lion. Jesus can make a complete mess of our lives. He is God.

            These people just wanted Jesus to go. They don’t thank Him for the healing. They don’t ask Him, “What about the pigs?” They just want Him gone.

            You mention destruction of property by act of God, and how this is no big deal, so why should the (potential) starvation of a small village at the hands of Jesus be seen as any different. Where the actions moral and just _because_ Jesus was God? Or were the actions inherently good?

            We know they were good because Jesus is God and God is good. But they are really objectively good. The goodness of God is rational so it can be understood by us at least in principle. Still many of the great pains of this life will not be fully understood by us until all is revealed at the end.

            Islam is different. They say God’s goodness need not be rational or consistent so we have no chance at understanding it.

          • deiseach

            I don’t know if it would be considered philosophical, Darren, but you had me Googling pig rearing in the Decapolis :-)

            Now, if we take the number of “two thousand” as being somewhere near accurate (and I wouldn’t be too pushed; I think the Gospel writers mean us to be amazed at the quantity of demons being cast out – and by association, the kind of authority Jesus exhibited in being able to command a very legion of demons – not worry about how come that many pigs were grazing on the hillside), then that does sound like intensive pig rearing, possibly even for export (I know Rome treated Egypt as its bread basket; did it treat the Decapolis as its hog butcher?).

            Interesting little snippet from this site may shed some light on the meaning beneath the plain words of the text (and in this, we do no more than follow the traditional five senses of Scripture used in Catholic exegesis):

            “The Decapolis city-states were satisfied with their freedom under Roman authority. They could enjoy their Greek practices, from sacrificing in their temples to eating pork (also used for sacrifices). ”

            Okay, so I’m going to indulge in some wild speculating here, but what we have are: (1) demons, a whole host or indeed legion of them – and hang on to that term “legion”, because the occupying Roman army was made up of the famous legions, which had anywhere between 5,000-6,000 members (2) pigs which are ritually unclean beasts and forbidden to Jews for food (3) the practice of using pigs in sacrifices in the half-Hellenic, pagan cities of the region.

            So we could say that it is fitting for the demons to end up in the pigs, the animals which are sacrificed to the pagan gods (pigs were sacrificed to Demeter and Persephone in the Thesmophoria). I also wonder if the reference to “legion” is not a coded swipe at the Romans, who were both the resented occupying power and the protectors and patrons of the pagan, pork-eating, idol-worshipping Decapolites?

            For a Jewish audience, the destruction of a herd of animals which were both forbidden and potential sacrifices to pagan gods, possibly owned by a business concern operating under Roman auspices and selling to Roman markets, due to the inrush of demons would – I imagine – not have been seen as a tragic economic loss, but rather poetic justice?

            :-)

          • Darren

            Well then, to actually see if I can contribute to this. Knowing Mike participates in good faith, my apologies for doubting, then even a conversation of just us two is productive.

            ”All good questions Darren. They really do make the story look a tad silly don’t they?
            But I sometimes think that that’s precisely what makes it interesting. Why on earth would anyone hoping to create some new cult put in a story as obviously silly and improbable as that? It doesn’t seem to make any sense on its own. It would turn people away. But it didn’t. Why risk it though? If I were coming up with it I’d avoid such obviously risky stories. In fact I’d have thought things through just as you just have and come up with a story that contained the answers to all your questions in the first place.”

            Yes, you are on the right track. Why put it in? What was the reason? Being the Son of God, Jesus must have had a reason to do most everything he did, and being as he likely did much more than is recorded in the gospels, there must have been a reason for why each story was included.

            Paul has none of this, and his writings were probably first. What does that mean? I find the criterion of embarrassment (which is what you are referring) to have some merit (non-scholar that I am). I suspect, if there is a historical Jesus to be found, that we stand our best chance of seeing him in these rather odd moments: The Gadarene Swine, Jesus inciting a riot in the temple courtyard, Jesus telling his mother to bugger-off, he was busy with his friends, Jesus at a wedding and for some unknown reason the kitchen staff bother _him_ about running out of provisions, Jesus napping in a boat that is about to sink…

            Then again, the gospels were written long after the events, and in what might as well have been a completely different world, and appealing to a very different culture of potential converts. What cultural shorthand, or mythic embellishments might these things represent? The virgin birth is possibly a later embellishment to put Jesus on a par with the typical Grecco-Roman concept of what a self-respecting Man/God would be, but what use having Jesus curse a fig tree to death for not having figs when it was not fig-season?

            If you are interested, and are not overloaded with Unequally Yoked homework as it is, I would suggest “Jesus: A Life”, by A.N. Wilson, and “The Harlot by the Side of the Road”, by Jonathan Kirsch.

            I make no representation that either is the last word on the subject, just that I found them interesting (Harlot is probably a lot more fun to read, though, depends upon your tolerance for non-fiction)

          • Darren

            Ah, thank you deiseach!

            That is what I was wondering, but lacked the background and eloquence to reach myself.

          • Mike

            Yeah, I see what you’re saying about them being written long after the actual events. Although I am not sure they were since we have actual fragments of NT scripture from like the 1st century AD (I think the earliest bit is in a museum in Manchester.) but I still see what you mean. Although I once looked up what say the earliest version of The Republic was that we have and it was from like 1,000 AD but we have no problem believing the things in it.

            I guess the veracity of the events described has never bothered me that much because well ok to be a faithful Catholic you don’t have to believe that all the stories happened exactly as they are presented. They are very much like news reports yes but not like transcripts. The supernatural stuff seems weird to me, some of it. Not the virgin birth but like when one of the apostles is transported to another place in acts. That’s just weird, what theological significance can that contain. But and this is really really oversimplying, the ultimate point is that even if one of them happened, even one, then they are all possible. It’s kind of like in math. You only need to find the one set to disprove Fermat’s last theorem. Even if one miracle occured then by definition they are all possible. (I realize there are other arguments for why miracles are not irrational but bear with me.) Ok I am rambling but my point is that the point of the entire gospel is there is real hope for us. Real as in not a psychological state or the hope that your children won’t suffer like you, but real as in physical redemption. Injustice will not win out in the end. This is a big reason why I think the RCC doesn’t believe in sola scriptura because it can trap people sometimes if they are not as well trained in interpreting the books for they are books not 1 book. Anyway the point is that there is a way out, there is a draft of fresh air in what appears to be a sealed room. It’s coming from somewhere and it’s faint but you can feel it if you really try. I got that from GKC btw. But it’s a good analogy.

            Oh just want to add that Randy makes a good point. We today in the West only want to see the happy-clappy you’re ok I am ok Jesus but that’s not who he was. In some ways he was a jerk, a trouble-maker, he was tough, he preached “hard sayings” and of course he was rejected and killed. And so that’s why the modern west doesn’t like the RCC because we are submerged in a culture of emotivism and Oprah. If it feels good do it even if ya shouldn’t don’t let anybody push you around.

          • Darren

            Mike;

            ”Yeah, I see what you’re saying about them being written long after the actual events. Although I am not sure they were since we have actual fragments of NT scripture from like the 1st century AD”

            I was thinking 90 CE, but I see some sources claiming 50 CE, which is within living memory. Claim withdrawn.

            This is a very nice post, thank you.

            ”Ok I am rambling but my point is that the point of the entire gospel is there is real hope for us. Real as in not a psychological state or the hope that your children won’t suffer like you, but real as in physical redemption. Injustice will not win out in the end.”

            And this is the part of Christianity that I have no argument with at all.

            Anyways, I really do not have much to add, mostly wanted to acknowledge I had read and appreciated.

          • Darren

            deiseach;

            ”For a Jewish audience, the destruction of a herd of animals which were both forbidden and potential sacrifices to pagan gods, possibly owned by a business concern operating under Roman auspices and selling to Roman markets, due to the inrush of demons would – I imagine – not have been seen as a tragic economic loss, but rather poetic justice?”

            Well put. And certainly destruction of a cash crop, especially one owned or raised for occupiers, is a much different moral animal than food crops for humble farmers…

        • jenesaispas

          I’ve found this, some guy called Gill talks about in his commmentary (scroll down). long story short they probably weren’t jews.
          http://bible.cc/matthew/8-30.htm

    • grok87

      Correction. Looks like my comment that pigs are more closely related to humans than other animals was wrong. Just found this mammal family tree
      http://www.molekularesystematik.uni-oldenburg.de/download/Publications/mammalST.pdf
      Looks like the most closely related (after the primates) are the lagomorphs- i.e. rabbits.
      So I think the prohibition on farming (eating) pigs may go back to the “food” argument- i.e. feeding your leftover food (bread/milk/corn etc.) to omnivores like pigs means you are using resources that could be used to keep more humans alive.

      Getting back to badgers, in the mammal family chart in the paper they are in the carnivore order and mustidelae family, which is not particularly close to humans. So I think using the badger as the decoy (in Leah’s original post) is fine. But now if you were talking about a rabbit, well that would be a different story…
      :)
      cheers,
      grok

      • TerryC

        Aren’t rabbits also prohibited?

        • grok87

          yep, camels too

          • Darren

            Yep, and who knew people eat them?

            Camel Meat

            It makes sense in retrospect, it just never occurred to me…

      • grok87

        @Deiseach,
        Thanks for the excellent link to the piece on the decapolis. Very informative and consistent with other recent things I have read- “The desire of the everlasting hills” by Thomas Cahill.

        As the decapolis piece points out, it’s important to remember that the Jews of Jesus’s day lived in a world where their culture was under siege. I don’t think the Jews of Jesus’s day would have seen anything wrong with a herd of pigs being destroyed. They were unclean animals and deserved to be destroyed. That would have been the mentality. We can criticize it and say it is not consistent with the best modern Christian ethics. But I think that misses the point. Again these were a people who were drowning in a sea of Hellenistic culture, being oppressed on every side. They just want the greeks to leave and go home and take their pigs with them!
        cheers,

        • deiseach

          I also meant to say that, for an audience of hearers (and later readers) in the ancient world, the notion of pigs being flung off cliffs would have had a resonance with the Thesmophoria – the festival in honour of Demeter and Persephone (in her aspect as Kore, the maiden carried off by Hades to the Underworld) celebrated by women, the main aspect of which was the sacrifice of pigs by throwing piglets into either natural clefts or chasms in the earth, or a specially dug pit called a megaron. The next year, the decayed remains were brought out of the pit or chasm and buried with seeds to evoke fertility in the land.

          So the story for the earliest listeners of Jesus casting out demons which then went into swine which “rushed down a steep bank into the sea” would definitely have had echoes of the sacrifices to Demeter, and would be seen as rebuking them since these were offerings to false gods, demons not deities, and the true God in the person of Jesus had power over those false ones and punished them by sending the demons into their chosen sacrificial animals, where the demons then killed the beasts as normal.

          Or, at least, that’s how I interpret it :-)

          • Darren

            Deiseach;

            Is this a Catholic teaching on the subject?

            If so, color me impressed.

          • deiseach

            Darren, I am a cradle Catholic. This means I have no idea what the Official Church Teaching on the subject (any subject) is :-)

            Any heresy is all my own and I submit to the teaching of the Church. But I love this kind of comparative religion stuff and mythology and folklore and history and general rambling at great length on diverse topics. Also, you must remember that I am Irish and we never yet turned down an opportunity to ráiméis about anything, whether or not we actually knew what we were talking about.

            ;-)

          • Darren

            deiseach;

            ”Darren, I am a cradle Catholic. This means I have no idea what the Official Church Teaching on the subject (any subject) is”

            Ah, but they’re the best kind; it’s the converts you gotta’ watch… ;)

            ”Any heresy is all my own and I submit to the teaching of the Church. But I love this kind of comparative religion stuff and mythology and folklore and history and general rambling at great length on diverse topics.”

            Heresy or not, it is the most elegant and plausible explanation I have found. Color me doubly impressed for it being original work.

            ”Also, you must remember that I am Irish and we never yet turned down an opportunity to ráiméis about anything, whether or not we actually knew what we were talking about.”

            Maybe _that’s_ my problem… my Irish is getting over on my German!

          • deiseach

            Thank you for the kind words, Darren, but my ramblings are often like the quote attributed to Samuel Johnston: ” Your manuscript is both good and original; but the part that is good is not original, and the part that is original is not good.”

            If there’s anything to the notion, I’m sure someone a lot earlier already thought of it; and if I’m talking through my hat, then I’m the only one who’s ever made the connection. But don’t be mean to converts – I would know nothing about What Catholics Really Believe if it weren’t for reading and participating in discussions on blogs by converts and earnest Protestant enquirers (e.g. I never knew, until I got into the middle of a discussion about the Rapture engendered by the most recent ‘prophecy of the imminent end of the world proven by the Bible texts, this time for sure!’ announcement, that Catholicism had an opinion one way or the other on this – for the record, we’re amillenialists, apparently).

            Irish versus German is always bad – we seem to afflict otherwise sensible Teutonic types with all kinds of misty-eyed romanticism. On the other hand, today the entire country is pretty much owned lock, stock and barrel by Angela Merkel due to the E.U. bailout being paid for almost entirely by the Germans.

            :-)

          • Darren

            ” If there’s anything to the notion, I’m sure someone a lot earlier already thought of it; and if I’m talking through my hat, then I’m the only one who’s ever made the connection.”

            That’s the trick, though. In my ‘spare time’ I invent new medical devices (tissue adhesives and such things). Along the way, I have had to teach myself the arcane art of writing and prosecuting patents. With 7+ million issued patents in the U.S., and the rate exponentially increasing, it is very difficult to come up with something truly novel (and the patent office can take a rather hard line on novelty).

            Nothing new under the sun, and that was 2,000 years ago!

            ”But don’t be mean to converts – I would know nothing about What Catholics Really Believe if it weren’t for reading and participating in discussions on blogs by converts and earnest Protestant enquirers (e.g. I never knew, until I got into the middle of a discussion about the Rapture engendered by the most recent ‘prophecy of the imminent end of the world proven by the Bible texts, this time for sure!’ announcement, that Catholicism had an opinion one way or the other on this – for the record, we’re amillenialists, apparently).”

            I was just being cheeky…

            The Amillennialism is interesting, though. Never occurred to me to ask, as back in my days of Theism, Catholics were viewed with great suspicion by we protestants. Such an odd time to be alive, that was, growing up in the American prairie in the last days of the Cold War, expecting at any moment to be either raptured up into heaven or vaporized by H-bombs

            ”Irish versus German is always bad – we seem to afflict otherwise sensible Teutonic types with all kinds of misty-eyed romanticism. On the other hand, today the entire country is pretty much owned lock, stock and barrel by Angela Merkel due to the E.U. bailout being paid for almost entirely by the Germans.”

            “The old saying holds. Owe your banker £1000 and you are at his mercy; owe him £1 million and the position is reversed.”

            -John Maynard Keynes

        • Darren

          grok87;

          ”I don’t think the Jews of Jesus’s day would have seen anything wrong with a herd of pigs being destroyed. They were unclean animals and deserved to be destroyed. That would have been the mentality. We can criticize it and say it is not consistent with the best modern Christian ethics. But I think that misses the point. Again these were a people who were drowning in a sea of Hellenistic culture, being oppressed on every side. They just want the Greeks to leave and go home and take their pigs with them!”

          I dare say they would have! Very nicely put.

          This gets at the heart of the matter, IMO. A story, an event, divorced from its historical and cultural base is just a rather odd bit of scripture. It is this historical and cultural background that we normally overlook when trying to bring the teachings forward into our own time.

  • http://thoughtfulatheist.blogspot.com/ Jake

    I recently played a game of D+D in which I repeatedly summoned a chimp and sent it to its death (testing for traps, you know). Only after the GM started describing how excited the chimp was to be doing its duty and pleasing its master did I begin to feel a pang of guilt.

    And then I sent it to its death. Better him than me, after all :)

    • ACN

      No worries, as long as the chimp was ‘summoned’ and not ‘called’ it just poofs back to its home plane without any lasting harm if it takes lethal damage. :)

    • Darren

      “I send Lil’ Knobby Foot ahead to check for traps…”

      Knights of the Diner Table

  • ACN

    “the technically-good-aligned band”

    Ah, the best kind of adventuring party. :)

  • Darren

    If you have not seen it, then you must:

    The Gamers: Dorkness Rising

    ”Bard: [voice-over] What is that?
    DM: [voice-over] The Heart of Therin. Legend has it the gem is composed of solid light.
    Bard: [voice-over] Can I steal it?
    DM: [voice-over] Well, considering it is one of the holiest symbols of the church and that the cathedral is swarming with paladins, that would most likely be suicide. Go right ahead.”

    Wherein is also explored the fine art of “Paladin distracting”…

  • Darren

    What the heck, is Patheos getting Denial-of-serviced?

    Most of today it had been rerouting to some music sharing site…

  • Darren

    …What does it mean to create a soul and/or sentience purely instrumentally”

    When I knew I was hooked by HPMoR – the Sorting Hat!

  • Mike

    Ok q. here for D&D geeks: what is it? is it a board game or a role playing thing? I am really not sure, I mean I’ve heard of D&D and have seen the computer games but that’s not what I think you’re going on about here. Is it like that card game that I can’t think of now?
    If it is role playing, how do you keep track of what’s happened, where you’ve been and what you have left or whatever?

    • Brandon B

      Traditionally, D&D is a role playing game, played by people sitting around talking to each other, where things are kept track of with paper and pencil and random outcomes are determined by dice. Some details may simply be remembered informally if it’s not likely to be forgotten, or not important (“What was that town named again?”).

      There are many other games that have come from it: later editions, copy-cats, rip-offs, spin-offs, expansions of the genre, and of courts ports to other formats (board games, card games, computer games, LARPs, etc.).

    • ACN
      • LeRoi

        Nice! I totally have to use that in the future.

      • Mike

        Ooh I like that; very cute :) . And again, cheeky. This topic is bringing out the cheeky monkey in folks.

    • CBrachyrhynchos

      “is it a board game or a role playing thing?”

      With recent changes by the publisher, the answer is “both.”

  • http://davidgriffey.blogspot.com/ Dave G.

    Wow, a blast from the past. I didn’t realize people played dungeons and dragons much anymore, at least not on computers. It was a big thing when I was in high school Every other guy I knew was playing it. Can’t remember many girls playing it. Still, that was a long time ago. Late 70s and early 80s.

    • Darren

      It’s what many of us (or at least me) did in HS and college instead of dating…

      Odd that the (protestant) church is so against it – D&D was responsible for several years of my virginity… ;)

  • Darren

    Randy;

    ”We need to be aware that Aslan is not a tame lion.”

    Did you really just tell me that Aslan is not a tame lion? Straight-up, non-ironically, not a tame lion?

    Well, sir, that is a bold move and I simply have no counter. The point is yours.