Friday, April 14, 2017

Captain Caveman vs Hank Hanegraaff

A major news item in apologetics came out this week, as it was announced that Hank Hanegraaff, the President of the Christian Research Institute (CRI), had formally joined an Orthodox Church.  This post won’t exactly be about that, though, beyond a few immediate disclaimers and caveats.

First, I have only positive impressions of the Orthodox Church and of Hanegraaff’s decision. Readers may search this blog for a series I did with the title Journey Through Orthodoxy, wherein I make some observations about Orthodoxy. It’s not for me, but some of my beliefs match theirs (and I arrived at those beliefs independent of knowing what Orthodoxy believed).

Second, it’s only fair to remind readers that I have deep connections to CRI and have written extensively for the Christian Research Journal. I also consider the editor of the Journal, Elliot Miller, and his wife to be close personal friends. I have had interactions with many staff members at CRI over the years, including Hanegraaff. Most recently, he and I shared a telephone call during which we discussed eschatology.

Now with all that said, here’s what this post is about: It’s about how certain fundamentalist personalities have foolishly reacted to Hanegraaff’s joining with Orthodoxy. I have in mind particularly a certain brutish thug named Jeff Maples, at the insipid “Pulpit and Pen” blog, where you dare not raise scholarship for fear of being burned at an electronic stake. 

Maples loudly bonks his forehead down on each and every one of the piano keys that is hit when a fundamentalist sees someone convert to one of the so-called “smells and bells” denominations (as one other crude item put it). He cites 1 Timothy 4:1 about “deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons,” in spite of the fact that Maples has no theological education to speak of and would find doctrines of demons in the contents of a Chuck E. Cheese menu. He hauls out the same idiotic objection to “graven images” which Dan Barker the atheist uses to condemn everything from the Ark of the Covenant to illustrated Bibles. (Maples has no idea what graven images actually were, of course: They were like phone booths to the gods, unlike Orthodox icons which are more like educational visual aids.) It speaks for itself that Maples is so theologically and historically inept that he unleashes an objection that is exactly the same as that of one of the world’s most ill-educated ex-Christian atheists. And yes, he spews a torrent on how Orthodoxy gets it wrong on salvation, grace, and faith, though you can be sure he has no idea how first century people defined those terms in the context of a patronage relationship, much less would he appreciate the nuances of difference in how those terms are used in each setting.

In light of that, we need the Large Economy Size Irony Meter to celebrate when Maples belches forth that Hanegraaff’s joining with Orthodoxy “should be a testimony of the dismal state of the evangelical church in our modern day. There is a sure lack of biblical truth and doctrinal stability to which many can be left wandering.” Oh really? Mind you: Hanegraaff is certainly in the top 10% of informed Christians today when it comes to truth and doctrine, and it is only Captain Caveman clones like Maples who are screaming their objections – not scholars like Mike Licona, or Craig Blomberg, or Ben Witherington. For an itinerant pixel-scribbler like Maples to use this as an example of decay in the church is like Pee Wee Herman telling Steve Austin that he needs some strength training.

Maples babbles further that this is “an example of what happens when professing Christians elevate something other than Scripture as the final authority on all things.” The funny thing is that Maples doesn’t realize that he “elevates” the English language as a final authority every time he cracks open his Bible (KJV, eh?). Like most such inepts, Maples is oblivious to how defining contexts are part and parcel of the defining of Scripture. They are necessarily “elevated” in tandem. 

Such gall as this naturally arouses curiosity in me. So I looked into Maples’ history to see if he might even have a smidgen of authority to run his mouth on this subject. Of course he doesn’t; he’s a classic poster boy for Nichols’ epitaph over expertise. In a paper-or-plastic testimony, Maples testifies mainly to his prior ignorance, saying that he “was one of those who grew up thinking I was saved because I had raised my hand and prayed a prayer…” He also says, “I don’t remember a lot of deep theological bible (sic) study or preaching.” His main concern though is that he “never had a youth pastor or preacher make me uncomfortable enough in my sin to either repent–or leave.” He also didn’t have a youth pastor who fed his brain, apparently.

On Maples goes, telling us one of those typical personal testimonies that sometimes seems more like a sample of pornography than a meaningful account: Lurid detail, not fact, lies at the heart of such stories, as even here where Maples tells us: “Drinking and partying became a prominent part of my life. I felt no guilt over it.” His initial cure for this was to join the military, but while stationed overseas he fell into more partying and drugs, and ended up going to jail. But finally, and thankfully, he got out of that mess and became a Christian.

Anything missing? You bet: The authority to tell off someone like Hanegraaff.
Not one iota of Maples’ biography gives any hint that he has the know-how to judge Hanegraaff or anyone else. Not one seminary class. Not one reference book by a scholar. The best we get is that he went to church with his Roman Catholic spouse, and seems to have been a bit discomfited. After that, we get a few quotes from fundamentalist comfort-food speaker Charles Spurgeon. Obligatory comparisons to the Laodecian church in Revelation. Satan waved around on a popsicle stick. Hangdog laments about how wicked humans are. And this:

I don’t care if people think I’m mean. I don’t care if people think I’m divisive. I don’t care if people think I should “tone down the rhetoric.” I don’t care if people unfriend me, on social media or real life. I don’t care if anonymous trolls attack me online. People are dying and going to Hell faster and faster every day. We don’t have time to sit down and have coffee with everyone. If you believe that somehow my “tone” or “kindness” is going to interfere with the Holy Spirit working through the truth of God’s word being spoken, you need to rethink your beliefs. There are people out there, lost, just like I was, and if someone doesn’t reach them with the truth, their eternity is Hell.

OK, Mr. Maples, I agree. So here’s my take on that: 

We don’t need ignorant people like you running your mouth on these subjects. And you’re a perfect example of the problem of the Internet, where someone who is unschooled as you are, or someone with a personality disorder, or someone who didn’t even finish third grade, has the ability to lash out and disrespect their betters without any justification. You and other babblers like you are not channeling the Holy Spirit; you are not speaking God’s Word, and you are not in any position to tell anyone, not even an atheist, that they need to rethink their beliefs. The mere fact that you have a Bible in your hand doesn’t make you as authoritative as its ultimate author. What you really need to do is shut up and go serve someplace like a soup kitchen.  

Of course, Maples would never heed such advice; no doubt the Holy Spirit is telling him right now how he is a righteous saint being persecuted by Holding, who is no better than an apostate. That being the case, all someone like me can continue to do is what I do now – make an effort to make sure caveman like Maples are countered with a loud voice. 

I’ve been doing it for years. I won’t be stopping any time soon.

Friday, April 7, 2017

The Misinformation Maelstrom

I like to tell people that I've been using databases that worked like Google since long before anyone knew what Google was. Back in the early 1990s, I was learning to use databases offered by a company named DIALOG (they're still around, but much changed) that functioned using the same basic Boolean search principles that are used today by effectively searchers.

The best and most effective way to do electronic searches has never changed. The problem is that most people still have no idea what the best and most effective way to do an electronic search is. Even worse, vendors like Google have encouraged poor use of electronic search tools with all kinds of silly gimmicks and games meant to please advertisers and cuddle up to ignorant users. The "Ask Jeeves" search engine (now just "") was representative of one of the stupidest devices to ever be invented for online searches. It coddles users by encouraging them to perform searches in the form of a question. That's a good way to make people feel buddy-buddy with their computer, but it's a dumb way to do research.

I'm not just saying this; there are now a raft of authors who have written extensive works on how the Internet has made us stupider: Nicholas Carr, Andrew Keen, and Tom Nichols, to name a few. I won't say that I saw this coming back in the 1990s, but it wouldn't have been too hard to guess that it was ahead. I took a college course to learn how to search effectively. Simply because we have Google immediately available doesn't mean we're all experts at it.

My newest ebook, The Misinformation Maelstrom, is a collection of essays written mostly by me (with some portions by Nick Peters) that I have been working on and adding to since 2009. By that year, the epistemic disaster that has become the Internet was even more predictable, and I look back now and see that some of the comments I made in 2009 included forebodings of what is becoming more starkly clear in 2017. The issues here transcend our religious leanings; even you fundy atheists out there had better pay attention, because the latest "fake news" crisis is just one more example of how the Internet is making people stupider.

I'll round this off with a surprise: The kind of stupidity engendered by the Internet was known as long ago as the 1700s...and Thomas Paine, the fundy atheist idol, was a pioneering figure in the technique. Read it and find out how.


Friday, March 31, 2017

Ancient Historical Writing as an Atheist's Inerrant Scripture

One of my projects this week has been an examination of claims by one of the supposedly better-educated atheist critics out there. I'm finding that, as usual, even when they have degrees, the education these folks have pretty much stops at the tip of their own noses.

One of the arguments made by this character is that the Gospels don't deserve our trust because they lack certain features of what they take to be reliable histories. For example, they quote the following from Dionysius of Halicarnassus:

For perhaps readers who are already familiar with Hieronymus, Timaeus,
Polybius, or any other historian that I mentioned a short while ago as being careless in their works, when they do not find many things in my own writings that are mentioned in theirs, will suspect me of fabricating them, and will want to know where I learned of such things. Lest anyone should hold such an opinion of me, it seems better that I should state in advance what narratives and records I have used as sources.

According to this critic, the Gospels would have a lot more credibility if they included stuff like this where the authors discuss their sources.

Yeah, right. If you believe for one minute that any atheist would suddenly give the Gospels more credibility if only Matthew or Luke or whoever had gone on some skein like the one above, I have some land here in Florida to sell you. It's a great deal, you just have to evict the giant mouse living there right now.

That's the most obvious problem, but here are a few more. The first is that this amounts to a ridiculous argument that no author has e.g., made use of sources unless they say something like the above. The second is that while an author like Dionysius had plenty of scratch available to publish their works, the authors of the Gospels generally did not -- especially because they were publishing for a mass audience, whereas Dionysus was publishing for a small group of like-minded peers. I have yet to see an atheist critic take any serious accounting of the fact that this wasn't a world where you could pop down to Office Depot and buy a ream of paper for $5.59. This was a world where paper (or parchment or whatever) was an expensive luxury. Yet they have a fit when the Gospel authors don't expend their limited resources to lay out what amounts to methodological window dressing.

The last problem I'll note, though, is the most significant one, and it indicates a blind spot in atheist critics that is as serious as that of a KJV-Only fundamentalist. Basically, atheist critics often take a profession of critical examination (like the one above by Dionysius) and turn it into a citation from inerrant Scripture. You've seen it before: For example, all Carl Sagan had to do was babble, "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence," and suddenly he became a deity who could say and do no wrong, not even when it comes to his screwed-up history of the Library of Alexandria.

What escapes such critics is that a statement like the above is anything but a profession of objectivity and careful source-filtering. Basically, here's what it is really for: Dionysius is covering his backside in case he is called a liar. He is concerned about his personal honor, which was the primo #1 concern of members of honor-shame societies. What the critic takes to be an explanation by Dionysius of historical rigor is actually little more than an extended pre-emptive exercise in covering his own posterior and protecting his honor rating, and that undoubtedly from peers all too willing to savage it in a context where honor was seen as a zero-sum game.

There were plenty of other motives for Dionysius to say stuff like this, and a cynic who treated his work like the critics treat the Gospels might be apt to pull those out also. The basic description of Dionysius' work indicates that Dionysius "states that his objects in writing history were to please lovers of noble deeds and to repay the benefits he had enjoyed in Rome." Read that through the lens of that social world, and it amounts to him writing as a way to repay the favor shown to him by his patrons or others from whom he had received benefits. Put in a nutshell, his history was a work of quid pro quo.

The standard description also says that one of Dionysius' purposes was to "reconcile Greeks to Roman rule." That sure sounds like an objective measure, doesn't it? Sort of like, a 19th century slave owner writing tales of how happy all the slaves were as a way to "reconcile" their chattel to slavery. Yes, using that logic, we definitely have someone here who was writing the A-1 Steak Sauce Objective History of Rome, don't we?

In light of all that, it's more than a little laughable when critics downgrade the Gospels for being documents meant to encourage faith in Christ. Dionysius was writing for people who wanted to hear things they wanted to hear; a cynic might argue that he was under what amounted to a censor's control and that his history was therefore to be taken with the proverbial grain of salt. Therefore, it could be argued, his work is entirely untrustworthy. If anything, if we follow this logic to the end, the Gospels are clearly more objective histories than those of Dionysius, because at least the authors don't fill their text with a lot of self-serving descriptions of how gloriously competent they were, and they also at least were not in the pay of some patron who wanted them to make the local home team smell like a rose garden in order to placate the guys who were being compelled to spade the manure.

I'm not actually arguing that, of course. But I am pointing out just how easy it is to allow your ideology to govern the discussion. And that's exactly what atheist critics do when they complain that the Gospels deserve an F because e.g., they don't imitate Dionysius' self-serving rhetoric.

Friday, March 17, 2017

The Banana: Proof God Does Not Exist!

I'm kind of busy this week, so I asked our recurring fundy atheist punching bag, I. M. Skeptical, to write me a post about the best argument for atheism he could come up with. Here's what he gave me.


There was once a slimy, snotty Christian apologist who made the argument that the banana is an “atheist’s worst nightmare” because it has so many great design features. I used to love that argument when I was a stupid, blind fundy, and now as an intellectually fulfilled atheist I think it is really stupid! In fact, I want to argue now that if anything, the banana proves that God does not exist, or that if he does, he is evil, malevolent, and really snotty! Here’s why:

The banana has a slippery peel which can be thrown on the ground, causing innocent people to slip and fall. The banana has been used for endless, cruel practical jokes (especially on me, and I have the bruises on my butt to prove it!) and this would only be a feature designed by a malevolent creator, or else it would have evolved in a godless, uncaring universe. If there was a God, he would have created trash cans everywhere with targeting vacuum suctions to keep people from using banana peels for practical jokes.

The banana comes in bunches, making it an especially vulnerable target for shoplifters. With many fruits, you can only steal one at a time, but bananas have been an unusual burden on the merchants of the world because they can be grabbed in large bunches. (I know that grapes and cherries, for example, are even worse; but these are yet more proof of either a malevolent creator or a godless universe.)

The banana has an unusual shape which makes it a special target for filthy double entendres. To put it bluntly, the banana is a pornographic fruit! Only a god who was a disgusting pervert could design a piece of fruit this way. The banana also encourages violence because you can hide it under your coat and pretend it is a handgun; or in Australia, you can use it as a boomerang. The banana is a fruit for perverts and criminals.

Bananas have an ugly yellow color and turn an even uglier brown or black when they spoil. What’s worse, they smell terrible when they go bad, and get all squishy and disgusting! That they turn brown or black when they go bad has also undoubtedly contributed to the problem of racism in this country.

“Banana” is spelled real stupid. You can’t keep track of how many “nas” to add, and it’s a real pain in the butt! A loving god would make sure there’d be no confusion, or wasted ink and paper, as a result of adding to many “nas.”

So as you can see, if anything, the banana is prime evidence that if any God exists, he is a mean, nasty, disgusting, stupid, and pathetic moron! And if you don’t agree, you’re a snotty idiot and I don’t want to hear it!

Friday, March 10, 2017

The Cockroach Dance

Here in Florida, we have a lot of cockroaches. They're so prevalent that they've been made the state bird (almost). If you're a native like me, you learn to cope with these beasts in unique ways. You can't just step on the darned things; they apparently have some kind of special sense that makes them able to feel the breeze your foot makes on the way down, so they can scurry out of the way. You have to learn to anticipate and stomp (or smack) where they're going to be a  millisecond later.

I was reminded of this part of my heritage this week because we had a fundy atheist show up on my YouTube channel who goes by "Golf Mania." He turned out to be a specialist in what I called the Cockroach Dance. What I mean is, he'd raise up some standard fundy atheist objection; for example, the old "most prison inmates are Christians" routine. I'd slap that down with an answer. Then he'd ignore what I said in answer and haul out some other standard canard from the fundy atheist arsenal. Not once did he ever so much as try to answer anything I presented in reply to him.

What does it mean when someone does the Cockroach Dance? More than anything else, it suggests an unmitigated arrogance. The fundy atheist (or whoever) who does the Cockroach Dance expects his or her opponents to be unable to answer their points, and to immediately shut up or succumb. They don't have any sort of second line of defense prepared because they haven't anticipated any answers. That, in turn, is because they simply accepted that argument themselves completely uncritically and didn't bother checking it for flaws.

It's really no surprise that this kind of thing happens on YouTube; it's just what to expect given the class of fundy atheist that does business there. In this case, Golf Mania happens to be a followers of one of the biggest Cockroach Dancers on YouTube, a guy who called himself DarkMatter2525. Dark makes decent computer-animated videos, but you need only watch a few of his vids to see that he's ultimately shallow, never does serious research, and is more interested in making jokes at the expense of the Biblical narrative (or of fundamentalism) than he is arriving at the truth of a matter. I once challenged Dark to take a test to see how well he understood Christian scholarship. He found excuses not to do so.

Golf Mania made a big deal of the fact that Dark's vids have hundreds of thousands of views. As I said in reply, and to which Golf had no do vids on how the moon landings were faked.

Friday, March 3, 2017

It Couldn't Have Happened to a Nicer Store

One morning this week, Mrs. H asked me to check on something she'd heard on the radio. Apparently, Family Bookstores (formerly Zondervan) were closing their doors.

Let me first say that there's a terrible aspect any time any legitimate business has to shutter itself. Thousands of workers will now be without jobs. Our economy is currently in a state where many will be able to find new jobs quickly. Others won't be affected much because their job with Family Bookstores was only a sidelight. But that won't erase the fact that some of the laid off workers will undergo significant stress in the coming months.

That said, the cynical side of me wants to say that Family Bookstores has only itself to blame for whatever suffering its workers endure because of the store closings. They sure didn't do much to earn the right to stay open, and that's where the sting of this post will begin.

I have one of these stores not a mile from where I live. I have never ceased to be amazed by how petty much of the stock is. I don't just mean the endless supply of Precious Moments figurines, useless trinkets, and Testamints. I also mean row upon row of useless garbage on the bookshelves. Christian romance novels. Self-help books. End times fiction, most of it badly written. (There was once a time when they had several rows with nothing but Left Behind material.)

You needed a shovel and a telescope to find anything that would disciple Christians in this mess. (No, Joyce Meyer doesn't count, sorry.) Apologetics books in particular were scarce, and they were mixed in with end times speculation works. You had a few of the usual unqualified popular preachers doing their thing, but overall, you may as well have discipled yourself with Disney cartoons.

Oh, of course, there were Bibles in plenty. One to suit every need. My poodle Cocoa approves of the Playful Puppies Bible in particular. Family Bookstores, however, otherwise fed us a steady diet of spiritual junk food, so it's no shock that they couldn't keep the business going. Junk food diets don't lead to return customers, because part of that allure is always looking for new types of junk food to stave off boredom with the old types of junk food.

There's broader forces at work here, too, such as the inevitable move to e-books which has people so attached to their Kindles that they wouldn't recognize a print copy of something if it bit them on the nose. ("What is that thing? Some sort of butterfly?") But in the end, most of the blame lies at the feet of those who worked so hard to make Family Bookstores "relevant" that they treated "thou shalt be relevant" as one of the Ten Commandments.

And my cynical side says, it couldn't have happened to a nicer store.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Is Slapstick Sinful?

Derived from a 2014 article in the E-Block.


Is slapstick comedy unbiblical or immoral? Is it a sin to laugh when Bugs Bunny blasts Elmer Fudd with his own shotgun? And more broadly, is it wrong to enjoy it when other people suffer, even if (we might say) they "deserve" it?

These seem like odd questions, but they were raised of late in the context of some of my YouTube videos, in which I freely make use of outrageous physical humor which resembles that found in the classic Warner Brothers cartoons. And closer to home, my local ministry partner Carey and I have discussed the enjoyment of reality television programs like Survivor, in which contestants are frequently subjected to public humiliation. According to some, the sin here concerns what some term schadenfreude -- a German word that refers to pleasure felt at someone else's troubles. According to my YouTube critic, we enjoy seeing Elmer Fudd get shot because he is suffering.

To answer this point, I relied on my own (admittedly layman's) knowledge of the animation industry, and then discussed the matter with a longtime reader of Tekton who is a Hollywood insider with professional credentials in animation. The results of this are that the basis for our enjoyment of this form of humor, which I too have employed, is not the suffering of others but rather that it is comic precisely because it lacks suffering. But TV shows like American Idol do raise some serious questions for the Christian.

As we know from news stories, a real shotgun blast causes serious damage to flesh and bone. Elmer Fudd comes away from such a blast with nothing worse than torn clothes and gray skin. He does not cry out in pain, and nor does any blood spurt. The intrinsic immortality of cartoon performers, and their ability to walk away from such scenes and return in the next one fresh and unharmed (or at worst, encased in bandages that they can immediately shake off and come out of whole, like some sort of revivified Pharaoh!) are the true source of this type of humor.

Of course, there is a certain matter of degree involved here. "Slapstick," a related genre, can refer to Moe poking Curly in the eyes; but it also can refer to humor such as depicted in America's Funniest Home Videos, where the pain can be real. And, it is fair to say, that the lower the pain the greater the laughs. Under such circumstances, we are not laughing at misfortune, as schadenfreude would have it; rather, we are laughing at misfortune not ending up worse than it could have been, which really renders the laughter a sign of relief and not joy at pain.

What, then, is true schadenfreude? For an answer to this I picked up the highly recommended Joy of Pain by Richard Smith (Oxford University Press), which is regarded as a respectable and leading treatment of the topic. It comes as no surprise that Smith does not use either Stooge-like slapstick or cartoons as examples of schadenfreude -- except to the extent that certain cartoon characters (like members of the Simpson clan) engage it in their treatment of each other, but not in terms of what the audience experiences and not in terms of what would be regarded as unique to the cartoon genre. The classic examples of schadenfreude from television are rather to be found in programs like American Idol, as when a contestant falls flat on his face. And how would this tie in, if at all, to the sort of cartoonish antics used by Bugs Bunny or Popeye, and what does it say to the Christian about enjoying such things as that, or slapstick comedy, or even American Idol?

Misfortune or humiliation happening to others can make us feel superior, and lead to schadenfreude. This sort of experience may indeed be ripe for sin; however, it would rather strain credulity to suppose that anyone gains any sense of "superiority" from watching cartoon characters bash each other with mallets, or even the Three Stooges poking one another in the eyes. I would regard any such claim as a strained effort at psychology; and we would be told, by those who prefer to argue about it, that we are harboring "secret" schadenfreude and not realizing our doing so. At such points the matter becomes akin to history as written by Dan Brown: The conspiracy covered up the evidence, then covered itself up to make sure we wouldn't know what it did, so, it is little more than a begged question.

The bottom line is that it is difficult to argue that a person can feel "inferior" or "superior" to a fictional character. The most that could be said, perhaps, is that one imagines one's despised neighbor to be much like said character, and what we really want to feel superior to is the real-life person who has (whether in reality or not) the same traits. In other words, the fictional character becomes a proxy for schadenfreude, not it's true or actual object.

In contrast, it is quite possible for this experience to legitimately emerge on a showing of a program like American Idol, and encourage sinful thoughts. It is readily conceivable that one might envy, and feel inferior to, someone who performs well on the program, and then delight in their failure to perform at a critical moment. What this suggests, then, is that (as is often the case) it is not the object that is the problem, but the person who makes use of the object. It is akin to Paul's attempt to sort out the question of who should eat idol meat. If you watch American Idol to see people humiliated - you probably shouldn't watch it. (If you watch Popeye cartoons to see Bluto humiliated...there is probably something much deeper wrong with you than schadenfreude!)

Smith also refers to a "superiority theory" of humor, in which it is maintained that "humor has social comparison at its core." A related theory is that some things are funny because they make us feel superior.

Here again, it is impossible to dovetail our subject into the issue in any realistic way. Elmer Fudd, and Moe Howard, are not "safe" targets; they are phantom targets. They are not members of any group "disliked" by anyone. (Again, if someone thinks so, their problems are much more deep-rooted than anything we can discuss here.)

So then: Is there indeed anything in the Bible relevant to this emotion? No, not directly, but we do know that the Bible speaks of justice being a "joy to the righteous," (Prov. 21:15) and also says that those who rebuke the wicked will have delight (Prov. 24:24-25). This is probably as close as we will come to what we call schadenfreude in a good sense. (In contrast, the "bad" sort of schedenfreude might be covered by 1 Corinthians 13:6, which warns us to not rejoice in iniquity.)

How then does, or can, this relate to our subject at hand - fiction? Again, I would say only in a vicarious sense, at best. A bad guy like Yosemite Sam, we may say, gets what he deserves when his own rifle goes off in his face, but these are not only phantom targets, they are phantom injustices. At most, these gags may remind us that we would like to see justice done in real life.

This is especially the case because, as Smith points out, this sort of schadenfreude emerges most often when our target is convicted of hypocrisy, as was the case with Jimmy Swaggart. Yosemite Sam is a roughneck, but he is not a hypocrite: He doesn't condemn others who shoot varmints! It is also at its height when the subject is someone evil, as is the case with the reality TV program To Catch a Predator. Yosemite Sam is a "bad guy," sure, but it would be excessive in the extreme to apply the term "evil" to him.

We will close this examination with a comment from my friend in the animation industry. As a response to the criticisms I encountered from the objector I referred to above, he told me about one of the older (black and white!) Popeye cartoons which seemed to be a response to those who thought that the point of cartoon violence was to enjoy schadenfreude. The title of the episode was It's the Natural Thing to Do, and it begins with viewers of the cartoon requesting by telegram that the characters stop fighting and act more refined. The bulk of the story thereafter shows the threesome of Popeye, Olive, and Bluto clumsily trying to act more "refined" by wearing tuxedos, engaging in small talk, and consuming sophisticated appetizers. The threesome end up bored and unable to cope with refined behavior, and Popeye and Bluto quickly return to fighting each other...and enjoying such behavior. It can hardly be said that we could take pleasure in this sort of "pain"!

The pleasure in this genre, then, cannot come from schadenfreude, least of all from what Smith describes as its "dark" side; rather, it comes from absurdity, and from reversal of expectations, and surprise. As noted, it is certainly possible that someone uses the sufferings of a character like Daffy Duck as a proxy for their desire for someone they know, who is like Daffy, to suffer ("He sure reminds me of my boss"), but this is clearly a case of an innocent surrogate taking the blame for the guilty party. There is nothing sinful about laughing at gross physical comedy.


Friday, February 17, 2017

The Washington Monument Conspiracy

It's been three years since I put out m ebook Jesus Was a Mushroom and Other Lies You Won't Believe. To celebrate the anniversary, and the fact that we have a President now who thinks Alex Jones is a great guy, here's a bit of the ebook on the Washington Monument.
This one would have to be a second favorite of the conspiracy theorists. It stands right at the axes of the nation’s capital (Michael Bednar, L’Enfan’t’s Legacy), so it serves the very purpose we’ve said an obelisk is supposed to serve. If that’s the case, why read more into it?
The first thing that makes the conspiracy theorists suspicious is that the cornerstone of the Washington Monument was laid by Benjamin French, who was a Freemason. Well, it’s true that he was, as confirmed even by the National Park Service.  But so what? That’s only a problem if you assume the Masons are up to no good. But as we’ll see later in this book, there’s no reason to think they are.
Second, it might be pointed out that a lot of Masonic lodges contributed to the building of the Washington Monument, and left memorial stones in it. Well, it’s true that some lodges did this, about 24 of them, but that’s out of a total of 193 memorial stones, which means Masons have contributed only about 12% of the stones. That’s not very impressive for a vast conspiracy, especially when you also had a lot of stones contributed by groups like, "The International Order of Odd Fellows."
The third thing that gets these guys upset are the measurements of the Washington Monument. For them, these numbers add up to bad news:
“At the ground level, each side of the Washington Monument measures 55.5 feet, which is 666 inches.”
The math is right, but the measurement isn’t. It’s actually 55 feet, one and a half inches, which makes it 661 ½ inches. Maybe instead of the Mark of the Beast, it can be the neighbor of the beast!
“The height of the Washington Monument is 555.5 feet which is 6,666 inches.”
Again, the math is right, but the measurement is wrong. Or maybe it isn’t. The thing is that there has been more than one report of the height. According to the National Park Service, the Monument's height has been variably reported between 555.43 feet and 555.75 feet. Maybe the Washington Monument is only the Mark of the Beast on the weekends!
Now, someone might say, “OK, but that’s so close on both counts, someone was obviously up to something.” Really? Like what? Here are a few things to consider.
First, there’s a good deal of the Monument that’s below ground, which makes the actual height of the structure more like 592 feet. Second, we have to ask: What do conspiracy theorists think anyone was trying to accomplish by matching up the height to the number of the beast? Do they think people will want to worship the beast because of it? Is this supposed to be some kind of subliminal advertising for Satan? Do you know anyone who’s converted to Satanism because of these measurements? I sure don’t!
Some of these guys tell us that the numbers convey a message to the initiated about the importance of America in the plan of some New World Order. Well, can I ask a really dumb question? Why would the “initiated” need the Washington Monument to get this information? Can’t they just tell each other verbally, or with secret signs? Or, how about just talking in a corner somewhere? They obviously have to do something like that to tell each other what these numbers mean in the first place. So why bother spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in construction costs towards engineering a giant obelisk to relate the same message? Or, is this some kind of weird, childish, "ha ha we know something you don’t know" game the “initiated” are playing with the rest of us?
If that’s what it is, I’d say let the conspiracy run its course. The "initiated" are so dumb that they’ll likely all soon die in some sort of freak accident involving a calculator.