The Great Sage’s Visit

Part of A Book of Blood

A great sage and moral teacher is coming to town – so well is his name known that it need not be repeated here. The honor this luminary pays us by his visit cannot be overstated. He is widely considered a more moral person than the Pope, Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Teresa or the Dalai Lama, and billions of his devoted followers in every country of the world praise his timeless wisdom day and night. He has been received with honor by a vast number of governments, whose officials unanimously proclaim him the most important person alive today. This man has won the Nobel Peace Prize, the United Nations’ International Peace Award, and virtually every other prize, medal, award and distinction imaginable. There is hardly a house in the world that does not have at least one copy of one of his books, which give simple yet beautiful and powerful advice on how we should live.

As an exclusive piece to this local newspaper, here are some excerpts from his new book:

Chapter 1
“Love is the highest, the purest and the best of all human emotions. We should love everyone and everything – our life, our family, our friends, our fellow human beings, our world, even our enemies.”

Chapter 2
“Homosexuals are disgusting, wicked perverts. In my opinion, they deserve to die. We should make homosexuality a capital crime carrying the death penalty.”

Chapter 3
“Compassion is the most important human virtue. We should always treat others with empathy, generosity and kindness, enshrining in our thoughts and our actions the golden principle, ‘Do not do to others what you would not have them do to you.'”

Chapter 4
“People who are handicapped, deformed or diseased disgust me. I don’t want anything to do with any of them.”

Chapter 5
“No one should ever rebel against his rulers.”

Chapter 6
“I think one particular race of people is superior to all others. I like them the best and so they deserve special privileges.”

Chapter 7
“We should practice respect and tolerance for those who believe differently from us. We need not agree with all their choices, but we should acknowledge their right to make them.”

Chapter 8
“Women are inferior to men. They are less valuable than men and should be treated as property. Men should be able to marry as many women as they want, but a woman should never marry more than one husband. Women should obey men and keep quiet in public. Unmarried women who are raped should have to marry their rapists.”

Chapter 9
“Generosity is a great virtue, and so we should give freely to the poor and to charity. Those who selfishly hoard their riches rather than using them to help their fellow human beings are indeed immoral.”

Chapter 10
“The best way to govern society is through a hereditary kingship. One person should be the supreme ruler over a country with the absolute authority to do whatever he wishes and make his every whim a law, and anyone who disagrees with him or questions him in any way should be killed.”

Chapter 11
“The righteous person cultivates a deep and abiding respect for all life.”

Chapter 12
“I grant permission to my devoted followers to wage war in my name. After they are victorious, they should torture the prisoners they take, put them to death, and forcibly marry their widows.”

Chapter 13
“We must establish justice and see that it is distributed fairly and without prejudice, ensuring that evildoers are punished as they deserve, with the ultimate aim of reforming them, while at the same time making sure that the virtues of good people do not go unrewarded.”

Chapter 14
“Those who dispute my privilege as the supreme moral authority disgust me. They should be beaten with hooked rods of iron, cut in pieces, and then burned alive, and I hope they die childless, miserable and forgotten.”

Chapter 15
“I see nothing intrinsically wrong with slavery.”

Chapter 16
“Whoever does not obey any of the moral precepts of this book deserves to be slaughtered like an animal. Their entire family should also be killed along with them – their wives, their young children, their brothers and sisters, their aged grandparents, their pets, everyone. Those who do the killing should rejoice and be glad afterwards and should wash their feet in the blood they’ve spilled. This is my will.”

Chapter 17
“If anyone does not acknowledge me as the wisest and the best moral authority who ever lived, they should be rounded up and thrown into white-hot blazing furnaces that will inflict on them the most horrible agony a human being can suffer. I have already built the furnaces for this purpose. Once they’re inside, it’s too late for them to change their mind, and even if they scream for mercy I won’t let them out.”

In other news, a small group of demonstrators has gathered to protest this dignitary’s visit. Vastly outnumbered by his devoted followers, these naysayers arrogantly insist that this great sage, as ludicrous as it may seem, is actually an immoral person who gives bad advice, and as proof of this they point to passages from his own books! Of course, no one pays the slightest bit of attention to the gripes of these bitter, disaffected complainers, as it is widely known that they are in fact the evil and immoral ones. Since they reject our glorious leader’s wisdom, it is obvious that they have no basis for morality whatsoever.


Is there anything wrong with this scenario? I ask the religious in all sincerity: Is this so-called great sage worthy of the extravagant praise heaped upon him? Does it really make any sense to say that unquestioningly following his teachings in every detail is not just the best but the only way to be moral, or that if one rejects them there is no alternative ethical framework available?

Even if some of this book’s teachings are praiseworthy, a cursory glance would show that those ones are thoroughly intermingled with a great many others that shock the conscience of any decent individual. That such a manifestly flawed and immoral book would be held up as the epitome of moral goodness is ludicrous; that the ones who point out its flaws would be labeled the immoral ones is an obscenity. These are simple, obvious judgments that no one would deny unless they had some type of prior bias or prejudice in favor of the particular book being examined.

How might a follower of this “great sage” defend his book against criticism? Consider a few of the more likely arguments that an apologist might vouchsafe to the naysayers:

  • “The even-numbered chapters are from an earlier phase of his life – he wrote them a long time ago and doesn’t do those things anymore, he relates to people through a new system now.”
    If this explanation were true, it might go some way toward mitigating the manifest immorality of the even-numbered chapters. However, it is contradicted by the fact that this shift is nowhere acknowledged. Nowhere in this book does this sage admit he was at fault, disavow his earlier thinking, or explain what motivated the change. Indeed, most of this sage’s followers continue to insist that there has been no change in his thinking or beliefs, and that he still believes the even chapters’ advice is fully legitimate and appropriate, which only emphasizes their abhorrence.

    In any case, even some of the odd-numbered chapters are at best highly questionable, while others are outright wrong. 5, 15 and 17 are the most obvious offenders in this regard. Even if we disregard the even chapters, how can we explain these remaining departures from morality’s dictates?

  • “The even-numbered chapters weren’t written by this sage, but were added without authorization by an editor. He doesn’t believe those things.”
    Although this explanation is superior to the previous one in that it concedes the evil of these chapters for what it is, rather than trying to excuse it, it still leaves unanswered a great many questions. First and foremost, if these passages contravene what this sage believes and stands for, why would he permit his book to be reprinted, widely disseminated and attributed to him, knowing it contains such flaws? Why would he not speak out, publicly and forcefully, to let everyone know that this is not what he wants people to do? If he did so, then this explanation would have merit, but as long as he remains silent, that silence looks very like tacit approval.
  • “The even-numbered chapters should only be read symbolically.”
    Even if this is true (and evidence from the sage’s book itself to support this seems to be non-existent; every indication is that the even chapters are meant to be taken every bit as literally as the odd ones), should it really alter our moral judgment? Would a truly good person express themselves in such terms, even only symbolically? Would a good person cloak their teachings in language of violence, hate and death?

    Apologists who use this argument are tacitly admitting that their sage’s teachings really are not good at all. In essence, they are going through the book, identifying which teachings are good and which are evil by using their own conscience, then labeling all teachings of the latter kind symbolic. But if we can do that, then we have a perfectly satisfactory basis for morality already – that same conscience. And what, then, do we need a book of teachings written by a supposedly great sage for?

  • “Since this sage is so good, we have no right to judge him.”
    Those who make this argument seem not to notice that they contradict themselves within a single sentence. If this sage is truly beyond our capacity for moral judgment, then we have no right to call him good either. In such a case, we would simply have to say that we do not know why he advises what he advises or whether he is a good or an evil person. The inconsistent and ad hoc nature of this defense is clearly shown by the fact that followers of this sage did not hesitate to judge him a good person based on his morally praiseworthy teachings; it is only when his teachings would tend to cast doubt on his goodness that they hastily draw back and declare we have no right to judge.

    However, in reality, it makes no sense to say that someone is so morally advanced that we lesser mortals cannot judge them. It is nothing more than a garbled appeal to moral relativism. Since morality is universal and applies to all people equally, an act that would be wrong if advocated by anyone else – such as torture, slavery or genocide – is equally wrong when advocated by a supposedly great sage. There is no good reason to dispute this simple and obvious conclusion.

  • “A perfect person experiences anger and judgment as well as love and mercy.”
    It is true that there is nothing intrinsically wrong with feeling anger at evildoers. But what skeptics of this sage object to is not the mere fact of his anger, but the extreme cruelty of his wishes and the fact that that anger is targeted at innocent people, whose only transgressions seem to have been either their birth into a particular group or the fact that they think that someone who displays such frequent and violent bursts of anger might not be the supreme moral authority. Even if this conclusion is wrong, surely it is at least permissible to discuss it without holding that all those who doubt it in any way are evil heretics who deserve only to suffer.
  • “Since this sage is so good, he has no choice but to inflict these harsh punishments on those who dispute him.”
    The use of “no choice” in this context is bizarre. No one is forcing this sage to say or do anything; rather, he decreed that those who do not follow him would be subject to the brutal penalties he advocates in his book. What is the source of this vengeful and unjust attitude? If this sage is so good, why can he not just forgive those who disagree with him and accept their right to follow their own path?

    Some apologists say that infinite punishment in this sage’s furnaces is the only fit punishment for doubting infinite goodness such as his. But that cannot possibly be: if he is infinitely good, he will not make anyone suffer forever (because if infinite goodness means anything at all, it means that). Conversely, if he is not infinitely good, then it cannot be an infinite crime to doubt him and no one deserves to suffer forever.

In reality, the claim that anyone would offer these defenses or any defense of a book such as this seems implausible. Most of the above “excerpts” from this book are gravely immoral, and could only have been written by a gravely immoral person. No one would doubt that or argue if these writings were the product of a human being; it would be obvious to all.

But now imagine that the advice in this book had existed and been believed since time immemorial, and had become the focus of a large, powerful and wealthy organization whose followers fiercely defended it against all criticism, using excuses like the above. Even in this case, would that change our moral opinion of those passages? Would it make them any less evil that they were widely believed and praised? Or is it true that immorality is immorality, regardless of the context in which it appears, regardless of what esteem it is held in by society or how many people defend it?

Footnotes

Most of the “chapters” discussed in this article, and all of the even-numbered chapters, are direct paraphrases of verses from the Bible. The interested can view the corresponding verses here:

1: Matthew 5:44
2: Leviticus 20:13
3: Matthew 7:12
4: Leviticus 21:17-23
5: Romans 13:1-2
6: Deuteronomy 7:6
7: no Biblical equivalent
8: Exodus 20:17; Leviticus 27:1-7; Exodus 21:10; 1 Peter 3:1; 1 Corinthians 14:34; Deuteronomy 22:28-29
9: Deuteronomy 15:7-8
10: 1 Samuel 9:17; Numbers 16:1-3,32-33
11: no Biblical equivalent
12: Deuteronomy 7:1-2; 1 Chronicles 20:3; 2 Chronicles 25:11-12; Deuteronomy 21:10-13
13: no Biblical equivalent
14: Psalms 2:9 (see also the Qur’an 22:21); Psalms 58:7; Psalms 140:10; Psalms 109:6-14
15: Ephesians 6:5
16: Joshua 10:40; Psalms 58:10
17: 2 Thessalonians 1:7-8; Matthew 13:41-42; Luke 16:19-25

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