YouTube and the God of Job

YouTube and the God of Job April 19, 2013

(Note: I agree with Duncan today. I don’t need to add to the cacophony on the events in Boston, but “feel like talking about anything else is just weird.” So I’m pre-empting this week’s Left Behind Friday post and replacing it with the following. Feel free to ignore the idiosyncratic theologizing in the post below and just enjoy the links.)

I love the book of Job, which features, among other things, a longer and more celebratory creation account than the ones in Genesis.

Job is a play about the meaning of suffering and justice, beginning with a series of unsatisfying monologues suggesting possible explanations, each of which gets refuted and rejected in turn. And then “God” shows up. God is a character in this play — a deus ex machina without the machine and/or the tidy ending. We expect this God character to give us the right and final explanation, but after reinforcing Job’s prior refutation of the earlier foolish arguments, God basically just says “Trust me.”

That’s the gist of God’s argument, anyway. But about midway through a very long speech, God gets a bit distracted. The speech starts out as the basic sort of thing that experts often say when having to explain something too complicated for a lay audience to grasp. It’s that impatient thing they do when we ask such experts a graduate-level question before we’ve mastered even an introductory notion of the subject. Instead of answering the question, they just recite their qualifications and credentials as experts — reassuring us that they know what they’re talking about and that we’ll just have to take their word for it because we couldn’t possibly understand. That’s an annoying thing for experts to do, even when they’re right. Or maybe especially when they’re right.

And that’s how the character of God starts off, just listing all the incredible things he’s created as a way of bolstering his authority and trustworthiness. But then it starts to get away from him a bit. God starts grinning goofily at the thought of all these amazing creatures and the argument morphs into more of a reverie about just how freakin’ cool all this stuff he created has turned out to be.

It’s like part-way through this theological discourse, the character of God wanders off and just starts surfing the Web, laughing with delight at animal videos on YouTube.

I can relate to that. One video leads to another and before you know it an hour has gone by.

Here, for example, is a video of a baby giraffe standing up for the very first time. It’s mother’s name is Petal.

And here is a video of a baby elephant playing in the surf.

Pablo the Pug does handstands while peeing.

A pet crow feeds the cat and the dog.

A corgi puppy encounters its first tennis ball.

Penguins live on ice. Ice is slippery. Here is video of penguins falling down.

Here is a deer playing in a mud puddle.

This is a dik dik — a baby dik dik.

And this is an itty bitty baby octopus.

And this is a picture of a baby pig. In a sweater. And socks.

A baby otter named Molalla gets a check-up.

And here are some otters, chasing a butterfly.

This is a video of a seal pup trying, repeatedly, to get onto a surfboard.

And here is a sea lion pup, hanging out in the lobby of a hotel.

And here is a video of a monk seal named Onaona, who spins like a top.

Here are some videos of young polar bear cubs learning to crawl and to walk.

And another adorable polar bear cub.

This desert rain frog, from Namibia, is pretty cute even before it makes that amazing sound.

Naked mole rats are not cute, but they are fascinating. (I once got to hold one.)

Some marine ribbon worms are quite beautiful, others less so, but just look at them.

Here is a stunning time-lapse video of Yosemite Park.

The God of Job would have loved YouTube.

I think the author of Job is right about this. I believe that this is what God is like.

Except, of course, that God doesn’t need YouTube. We Christians believe that God is omnipresent and all-seeing. So while I might get caught up watching this sloth hugging a cat for the few moments in which this was captured on video, God is able to watch all the sloths and all the cats all the time.

And, like the author of Job, I believe that this is what God does. All the time. Because God loves all the sloths and all the cats, and all the puppies, otters, ribbon worms, naked mole rats, elephants, giraffes, rain frogs, polar bears, sea lions, seals, dik diks, pigs, leviathans, behemoths, penguins and octopi.

And the beetles too. I think Haldane was right, that God is inordinately fond of beetles.

I think God is inordinately fond of everything.


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  • Mrs Grimble

    Yes, my husband actually saw that once. Not near a traffic light, but on a rural road with a fair number of heavy trucks passing; the crow was rolling hazelnuts into the path of vehicles and letting them do the nut-cracking. He also swears he’s heard a pair of crows ‘talking’ together, making a series of soft sounds at each other that resembled the give-and-take of a conversation.

    My husband is fond of crows.

  • Carstonio

    I’m not necessarily challenging the existence of free will, or suggesting that eliminating it would cure suffering. I’m instead suggesting that using the concept to explain suffering brings up issues of responsibility and accountability. Not just for humans but for gods.

    If you’re postulating the existence of a non-interventionist god, that seems to be deism in everything but name. It’s reasonable to question why the postulated god would create a universe that, as a premise, includes suffering other than that caused by humans deliberately choosing to make other humans suffer. Such as suffering from events that weren’t caused by any intelligence.

    Under that framework, it’s possible that natural events that cause suffering were unavoidable in any system, or that this was the best option, free will or no free will. But that would be all speculation. The postulation leapfrogs most of the problem of suffering by simply acknowledging that suffering is part of existence – the meteor or the natural force that caused it to move is indifferent to the human underneath it. Your scenario between a god

    “Interventionist” is really an inaccurate term, because the alternative is not a god that violates physical laws, but a universe where the god controls everything and the physical laws are merely human perceptions of the god’s workings. The latter is my understanding of most monotheistic doctrines. The problem of suffering in that context involves any choice the god makes to cause some to suffer and others to prosper, not any choice by a human to be in a certain place at a certain time. It would be the same if I climbed to the top of the Empire State Building and deliberately dropped a heavy object – it would be irresponsible for me specifically to say that anyone hurt or killed was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

  • flat

    great article Fred, it made me smile.

  • But that’s my personal theology.

    I believe that is also Fred’s theology, and can be found in things he has written about the incarnation.

  • It probably comes as no surprise that I disagree.

    Where I disagree is on the issue of perspective. The God from the joke doesn’t have it. The God from the joke doesn’t know what these things are like if millions of years are as a second to him:

    When I kissed my first wife at the altar, I swear that the entire universe ceased to exist except for me and her. I’ve sat in a rocking chair and watched a sunset after a hard day’s work with people I love, and felt the seconds stretch out like ribbons of molten candy, and wanted nothing more than for those moments to last forever.

    To understand those things requires a more intimate perspective. Which is not to say that a god who knows everything shouldn’t also have a larger view. Humans can look at things from multiple perspectives, it would be extremely limiting the concept of divinity to assume that god can’t. There may be particular theologies that argue that, but in general I think it would be a mistake to assume that a randomly selected god being discussed can’t.

    It’s also not so much that I disagree about the way horrors and miracles of complexity and harmonies/joy stack up with respect to each other, it’s that I don’t hold to the theory that they can be balanced against one another.

    Healing can obviously occur if you’ve got horror then joy, the opposite if the order is joy then horror, but a significant part of that is the fading of the knowledge of what the first part of the equation was like. If you receive them in equal measure at the same time, or the memory does not become dim with respect to the experience of the first one when the second is experienced, I don’t think you can really place them on a scale and say, “Yeah I was tortured by the sunset was great so it all works out.”

    Ok, silly example, but you know what I mean.

    All of that said, I think what you say is sound in that if I agreed with your premises I would agree with the conclusions you draw from them.

  • But, you could also severly reduce free-will based suffering via two methods, one informed choices (as in grant people the information that they are otherwise lacking)

    Thus writing victim blaming into natural law. One can make informed choices but if they don’t make the choice God’s information is leaning toward it becomes, “Well God warned you, didn’t he/she/it/they? It’s all your fault that you were victimized.”

    That does maintain free will, but it also makes it so that the only way to use free will rather than be God’s automaton is to make things worse on yourself. So free will accompanied by being hit with a stick when actually bothering to use it. It doesn’t crush free will, just institutes a Pavlovian response against using it. And also, probably though not as definitely, engineers society to have no sympathy for those who suffer as a result of exercising their free will.

    and two simply not creating psychopaths.

    You are aware that the mentally healthy are more likely to commit crimes than the mentally ill, right? Because blaming human caused suffering on the mentally ill rather than those who actually cause it has a long history of creating more suffering for a real life group.

    Nothing we say here in this thread is likely to have much in the way of repercussions in the way of theology or the actions of divine beings should any exist, however pinning suffering on mental illness when evidence shows that’s bullshit (little to no predictive link between psychopathy and crimes) does have an effect. It’s been studied, it’s been looked into, and the effect is to further marginalize an already marginalized group (the mentally ill) and cause more suffering.

    So say there is a god and that god followed your advice, point the second, what would that do? Nothing or, at best, little to deal with suffering. So why the fuck would you bring it up?

    It does cause harm by contributing to a false narrative whose existence and reinforcement hurts real people, it doesn’t support your argument. Why is it even in your post?

    If I had to guess I’d go with the last four words of your post (deliberate lack of imagination) but I don’t have to guess. I can ask. So I am asking: What the fuck?

    Please respond without unnecessarily targeting any marginalized groups. Or unnecessarily targeting anyone for that matter.

  • MH

    > “We expect this God character to give us the right and final
    explanation, but after reinforcing Job’s prior refutation of the earlier
    foolish arguments, God basically just says “Trust me.””

    I’ve seen a lot of people talk about how this, and the preceding refutations, are a profound exploration of the meaning of suffering and so on. But it’s remarkable how carefully everyone doing this avoids remembering the beginning of Job, which makes very clear that God’s reasons are both easily understood, and entirely morally bankrupt. He is causing Job’s suffering in order to win a bet.

  • “Thus writing victim blaming into natural law. One can make informed choices but if they don’t make the choice God’s information is leaning toward it becomes, “Well God warned you, didn’t he/she/it/they? It’s all your fault that you were victimized.””

    Again, a deliberate lack of imagination. What about the people who cause suffering due to ignorance? Communication abilities, there, would greatly serve.

    Take, for instance, witch hunts. This is a more recent thing than we know and it involves mothers joining their communities in casting out their own children. How many of those people would be all too glad not to do that if only they had the knowledge in hand that said children were not witches? The mother? The father? The friends of the family? People with a sense of compassion? I’d say most.

    A dramatic reduction of suffering could be achieved through the simple act of informing all those adults that the children in question are not witches.

    Does that require victim blaming? No.

    Does that make it so that free will requires deliberately harming oneself and others? No. It only makes the choice by which free will is exercised an informed choice. To suggest otherwise is to suggest that the only possible free choice is one made in the absence of knowledge.

    As for the issue of the mentally ill. I did not target the mentally ill. I targeted psychopaths, psychopothy being defined as a condition of being incapable of remorse, regret, empathy, or compassion.

    I was very clear to specify psychopaths, rather than mental illness. While I’m well aware that the mentally ill, as a category, are not a threat to anybody and are much maligned by society, psychopath does not equal “the mentally ill”.

    If, however, it is not that you believe I specified mental illness but used language that a casual observer could take to be a part of marginalizing the mentally ill, then that would be a valid point… and also one that you could have made in specific.

    So, allow me to rephrase. “only make human beings who are capable of regret, remorse, empathy, and compassion.”

  • P J Evans

    I’ve heard jays doing that. One was talking to itself – little chirps and whistles. Ravens do it too. It seems to be a ‘I feel good’ thing for them.

  • Anton_Mates

    If it’s a single bird continuously “babbling” to itself, it’s probably young. A couple months after fledging, they go through a phase where they chain together lots of sounds, seemingly at random; as they age, these start to sound more and more like adult calls, or pieces of adult calls. Possibly analogous to the babbling of human babies, where they practice the syllables of their native language before they learn to assemble them into meaningful words.

    You also see pairs of adult birds cooing softly at each other–probably an affiliative signal, they do it after they’ve had a fight sometimes–and parents cooing at babbling or begging babies. Even if you’re too far away to hear the coo, you can see when they’re doing it because they sort of bob their heads up and down while pointing their bills down to their chests.

  • Aw, cute videos. I want to see. ._. I’m on a limited data plan so I can’t view videos.

    24 hours in Michigan and there’s been a snow storm, a limited data plan, bedbugs and rampant racism. ~_~ Yeah, fun times.

  • P J Evans

    It was looking for food in the flowerbeds by the front door – the door was open, and I was inside, but not visible. I’d never heard a jay talking to itself before. It was startled when I came to the door to see what was making the noise.

  • Anton_Mates

    Thus writing victim blaming into natural law. One can make informed choices but if they don’t make the choice God’s information is leaning toward it becomes, “Well God warned you, didn’t he/she/it/they? It’s all your fault that you were victimized.”

    But if victim blaming causes suffering, people would presumably receive divine warnings about doing that as well. That’d make us more likely to sympathize instead, or be concerned about the victim’s mental health if they seem prone to self-injury.

    Besides, we already receive information through our senses/instincts/learned understanding of the world, and (usually) use it to avoid suffering as best we can. We know what a fire looks like, we know that touching it hurts, so we don’t touch it. That may make it easier to blame someone who knowingly decides to touch it anyway, but it also prevents most people from touching it in the first place, which seems like an acceptable tradeoff suffering-wise.

    So free will accompanied by being hit with a stick when actually bothering to use it. It doesn’t crush free will, just institutes a Pavlovian response against using it.

    Choices have consequences, and we’re already hit with a stick whenever we make a choice with less-than-optimal consequences. To the degree that we’re capable of being conditioned Skinner-style, we’re already conditioned by the world around us. That must not be a problem for free will, if we have any.

    And also, probably though not as definitely, engineers society to have no sympathy for those who suffer as a result of exercising their free will.

    Not if those who choose to withhold their sympathy suffer as a result….

  • Disqus? Useful?

  • Lori

    That snow was totally ridiculous. I’m sorry about the bedbugs and the racism. As for the limited data plan, is there a public library nearby? If so I imagine they have some shiney, free, unlimited internet they’d be willing to loan you.

    Other than that, I got nothin’. (Things here are still a little crazy due to parental illnesses. Nothing life-threatening but between the two of them they’re averaging about 4 doctors appointments a week right now. If I can get them settled I’ll try to get in touch with you about meeting for lunch or something while you’re still in MI.)

  • As it turns out, I’m staying in the middle of nowhere and I don’t have access to the transportation I was hoping for, so my options are pretty limited. Seriously missing Washington’s bus system right about now. :p

    Sorry to hear about your parents. I hope they start feeling better soon. I’ll be in the state until the first, so there’s some time (and if not, hamna tabu). At least it’s a good retreat to get some writing done.

  • Anton_Mates

    Cool! What time of year was it?

  • Dash1

    Therapy dogs at airports: ask and ye shall receive. Well at some airports, anyway. This is a brand new thing, so perhaps it will expand.

  • Rhubarbarian82

    That’s amazing! Thanks for sharing the link. I’m actually flying internationally from LAX in a few weeks; let’s hope I can find some therapy dogs!

  • KevinC

    Huh. I wish I lived in Fred’s parallel universe. Over here where I’m at, copies of the Book of Job start with Yahweh killing the man’s kids and torturing him so he could win a friendly wager with the Devil. Then, instead of saying things like, “Dude! Aren’t baby giraffes adorable!” he’s all, “Can you lose the cords of Orion, puny human? Didn’t think so. I can, so STFU, punk. Just be grateful I’m giving you better replacement kids.”

    I can’t wait to see Fred’s rainbow sparkles and ponies interpretation of Numbers 31:17-18. -_-

  • KevinC

    Oops, that’s supposed to be “loose” the cords of Orion.

  • Carstonio

    I admit that Fred and others talk about Job as if the god in the story were really a metaphor for the storyteller’s convenience, a personification of natural forces that the storyteller really sees as undirected. A story where one person’s suffering is the outcome of forces indifferent to the person’s existence is a far different one philosophically than one where a being chooses to cause events with the goal of causing suffering for another being.

    That’s no excuse for the dickishness of your comment.

  • phranckeaufile

    Be afraid. Be very afraid.

  • phranckeaufile

    Alanis Morissette didn’t play god. Alanis Morissette is god.

  • If you’re going to insist on sticking to a literal reading of that bit at all costs, you probably want to note that God doesn’t do any of those things. Satan does. If you want to have the argument that “allows to happen” is the same thing as “causes to happen”, that’s fine, but you’ll actually have to make it.

  • KevinC

    You guys are doing the exact same thing for Yahweh that fans of the Left Behind series do when they’re all, “Oh wow, Buck and Rayford are such awesome heroes!” How can anyone complain that Rayford is a douche to Hattie (and pretty much everyone else)? That’s taking it literally, which is a major no-no.

    Of course, when it’s the Bible, we know everything in it is always wonderful because, well, it’s the Bible. It’s the Good Book, so everything in it is good, as long as you interpret it in the right way. Because, Bible.

  • Carstonio

    Do you realize that you’re replying to someone who doesn’t belong to any religion and who has repeatedly condemned the behavior attributed to the Old Testament god, not just in Job but also in the Sacrifice of Isaac story?

  • Fine then; when she played herself in Dogma.