Monday, November 23, 2009

Oldbob vs. Newbob: Let's Rumble!

Okay, on to this debate with a ghost from my past. Perhaps I should begin with a little context. This piece I wrote about how to argue with door-to-door Christians was only intended to be half-serious. At the time, I was mainly just trying to be both clever and amusing. Therefore, much of the language is a tad over-the-top. I never actually said most of these things to anyone, nor would I have.

And again, I obviously know things about this Oldbob that he doesn't know about me, so I have an overwhelming advantage in this debate. After all, in response to each of the arguments, I might simply hold up my hand and calmly say, "just wait. You'll eventually get it if you really want to know. But at this point in your life, for whatever reason, you really don't want to know. Which is fine with me. Just like Muslims, I would never force my views on anyone."

I'm just free associating here, but another point occurs to me, which is that Oldbob obviously represents a bobstacle I had to overcome in order to make my way back to Newbob; as the poet said, I was so much older then, I'm younger than that now. So in that sense, Oldbob might have a valuable lesson to teach, as we all tend to overvalue or generalize what works for us. In other words, since Oldbob is the threshold guardian I had to get past -- the existential knot I had to undo -- perhaps much of my writing is already addressed to him. Do you see what I mean? Maybe he is the internal doubter, the eternal cynic, who insists that my writing satisfy the intellect, not just the emotions, as so much theology tends to do.

If that is the case, then you can see how a "defect" can actually be a spur to improve oneself. Only if the mechanism is wrenched from its context and reified does it really become something dysfunctional -- a mind parasite -- so that the door of perception becomes unhinged. Really, this isn't that much different from how the conscience works, is it? The conscience is always there, standing above us, observing and judging everything we do.

In psychoanalysis, there is a concept called the "corrupt superego," which is essentially a dysfunctional conscience -- one that unjustly punishes certain thoughts and behaviors, while being blind to others. Indeed, you might say that it is a literal "blind spot" in the conscience. The point is that we all have a conscience (true sociopaths excepted), except that it often becomes dysfunctional by rewarding the bad and punishing the good.

The Islamists are a good example of this. In reading the indispensable The Looming Tower, bin Laden is credibly depicted as a profoundly spiritual, ascetic, incorruptible, even "saintly," sort of man. The problem is, his version of sanctity involves cruelly murdering anyone and everyone who doesn't share his version of "purity." Unlike the sociopath, who murders because he lacks a conscience, most Islamists murder because of it. And the long and bloody history of Islam -- not to mention numerous passages in the Koran -- fully justifies their moral pathology.

Anyway, back to Oldbob. The title of the piece is Bob's Revised and Updated Tips for the Enhancement of Front Porch Forensics and Shopping Mall Dialectic with Proselytizing Pinheads -- sort of a mirror image of Ann Coulter's How to Talk to a Liberal (If You Must). It is trying to be provocative. I don't even know that I was an actual atheist at the time. My recollection is that I just enjoyed making fun of people I considered dorks.

Also -- at risk of getting blogged down in more autobobography than you ever wanted to read -- perhaps it should be noted that this polemic was written when my intellect was first coming "on line." Prior to the age of 25 or so, I was nobody's idea of a thinking -- or even rational! -- animal.

Rather, I was a man of action: drinking beer, partying, drinking beer, listening to music, drinking beer, hanging out with my fellow ne'er do wells, drinking beer, and attending college mainly as an excuse to perpetuate this lifestyle. I hadn't the slightest interest in school, nor in college. I never read a serious book until I was maybe 24 or 25, but even when I did start reading, it was almost all the fashionable nonsense of the tenured. It certainly would never have occurred to me to read anything "conservative." I shared the sneering contempt that elites hold to this day, that conservatism and Christianity are a priori nonsense, unworthy of serious consideration.

Therefore, it cannot be emphasized enough that I was leading with my prejudices -- just as, say, the liberal leads with the prejudice that anyone who doesn't want socialism is motivated by racism. So really, any appearance to the contrary notwithstanding, all of these "arguments" of Oldbob are simply rooted in prejudice; they are conclusions dressed up as arguments for the purpose of amusement and confirming my own intellectual superiority. Again, no different from the way liberals operate today.

The first "argument" asks my interlocutor why he is darkening my door (I'll delete the gratuitous expletives), since we both know that Christ said "If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor."

Really, this one is too easy. Christ obviously said many things, sometimes intended as generalities, other times intended primarily for the person or group to whom he is speaking, some things meant literally, others figuratively. But even more generally, revelation can only be understood in its totality. Any moron or trial lawyer can take an isolated fragment of truth in order to prove what he wants. And I suppose in this case, Oldbob wants to "prove" that any Christian who doesn't live like a dirty hobo is a hypocrite.

Let's look at the overall context of that passage. What is it saying? First of all, this wealthy man has come to Jesus, asking for advice about the spiritual life -- about how to attain to eternity. It is here that Jesus famously asks Why do you call Me good?, and says that No one is good but One, that is, God. So straight away, Jesus is emphasizing the intrinsic "impossibility" of the task -- a task man is incapable of without divine assistance. Man alone cannot make himself worthy of eternal life.

The man then mentions that he follows the commandments, but as we all know, this is neither here nor there if it is done mechanically, in the absence of a conversion in the heart. He tells Jesus that it's just not working for him. You know, I'm doing all the right things, but nothing is happening.

It is at this point that Jesus -- having seen into the man's heart -- drops the rhetorical bomb on him. "Okay, let's test your real commitment to God. I think you love your possessions more than you love the Truth. But Buddy, if that's the case, you're not fooling God, only yourself." The real point is not the "giving away," but the re-ordering of one's priorities -- the following, the surrender, the self-sacrifice. It is really about loosening one's grip on the horizontal in order to be reborn in the vertical.

If He were speaking to Oldbob and his particular issue, he might say, "If you want to get anywhere, Einstein, start by giving all your stupid books to the poor and tenured. For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a genius like you to enter the Kingdom of God."

I probably should have burned most of those books, but I ended up giving them to the local library.

Oops! Out of time. To be continued....


Blogger Northern Bandit said...

This is just too good! Talk about a great diversion and coonversation starter!

I expect plenty of coons were similarly benighted and arrogant in the bad old days -- I sure was.

Confronting one's younger leftist self -- it would make a good play...

Nice segue from the music post; the older we get the clearer it becomes that our lives play out in time like a symphony (or in the case of Bill Maher, a Bronx Cheer).

11/23/2009 09:12:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

"In other words, since Oldbob is the threshold guardian I had to get past -- the existential knot I had to undo -- perhaps much of my writing is already addressed to him."

With one face forwards, and one facing back, guarding and keeping the way with a flaming sword in hand....

11/23/2009 10:11:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

The letter echoes a few recent conversations I've had, with people who are now in some ways where OldBob was. Proselytizers at the door fill them with indignant outrage, and they don't understand why it doesn't bother me. This is a helpful reminder that they can still grow past that stage, God willing.

11/23/2009 10:28:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

NB said "I expect plenty of coons were similarly benighted and arrogant in the bad old days -- I sure was."

Yep, I didn't have a list to work from though... when they came to the door, I just let them know I was a practicing Reformed Druid.


"Yeah, you know, it's no longer kosher to burn people in the big baskets (wink, wink), sort of our New Testament"

What can I say, Threshold Guardians sometimes have a strange sense of humor.

11/23/2009 10:37:00 AM  
Blogger debass said...

The Islamists are playing out the old "if my God can't have him then no God can" routine. But you never see the leaders blowing themselves up. They send out the young and stupid to die for them, after convincing them they are dying for Allah. A religion based on the God of the moon and Genies, come on. These guys are no better than Dahmer, Manson, Hitler, etc. or any sociopath, whatever their excuse.

11/23/2009 11:46:00 AM  
Blogger Joan of Argghh! said...

I'm with NB; what a great idea for a vignette, if not an entire play.

In having to check the I.D.'s of people under 30 every day of my job, I get a kick outta busting their chops for the decidedly amusing photos of their former selves. The smirky teenager now 27, the horrible hair, the well-dressed dweeb then, now wearing a wizard's garb. It's a mini-parade of the persona in transit to becoming. . . ?

11/23/2009 01:10:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It has been posited the depth of one's atheism can be the foreordained measurement of the the height of one's faith after the necessary conversion.

Therefore, it is good that Oldbob was an atheist. Had he not been , Newbob may not have opened himself as much as he did later.

Had be been a waffling fencesitter, he'd still be one. There is insufficient energy for change in fence-sitting.

The Newbob of now is the Oldbob of the future, so you're indeed headed somewhere else from here.

You won't be able to guess the destination but its fun trying.

You get as far as you can and then you die. Hopefully the gains can be consolidated and added upon from life to life.

Presuming a chain of organized lives is how things are really set up. It sounds the most feasible of all concievable alternatives but nobody really knows....

The worst thief can be the most honest of women..

The most afraid, the most courageous...

The most proud, the most humble...

The most lustful, the most successful celibate....

The timing is everything.. You have to get the conversion in before you expire or you got to do it over.

Find your darkest places. There you will find the brightest light.

11/23/2009 03:26:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I might also add that proselytizing is and always will be the most appropriate activity for raccoons to engage in.

Everything else is just maintenance. The gains are made by influencing people and events.

So, don't be afraid to speak out loudly although a subtle approach admittedly works better 9 out of ten instances.

11/23/2009 03:30:00 PM  
Blogger Northern Bandit said...

It's a pity the NYT is such an abomination when it comes to political reporting (or anything at all where a "progressive" spin can be applied). They do have some superb articles on a regular basis. This one on diabetes really opened my eyes to what sufferers live with on a daily basis. I didn't even know that Type I is an autoimmune disease.

Thinking About Diabetes With Every Bite

I can't recall if you ever told us, Bob. Are you Type I or II? (Feel free not to answer obviously, as this is quite personal)

11/23/2009 04:08:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

I have Type I, but it's adult onset -- which is atypical -- so I've only had it for five years. Just had my bloodwork done last week, and my A1c -- the best measure of glucose control -- was about as good as it can be, 5.3, which is on the high end of normality. But it takes constant work, every day.

11/23/2009 04:17:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Deepak has sunk beneath even himself in this demented rant about Sarah Palin.

11/23/2009 05:42:00 PM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

I'm rivetted! :^)

11/23/2009 11:26:00 PM  
Blogger Northern Bandit said...

If Oldbob is anything like OldNB, he was a basically decent sort who loved the party life and was far too intellectually immature to make sense of anything deeper than say, quantum physics (which fascinated me). But I wasnt depraved in the way that certain "progressives" seem to be. I rarely go to LGF any more, but I had to check Queeg's reaction to the incredibly damning evidence contained in the climategate emails. Naturally he dismissed the entire thing out of hand, quoting the last rats on the sinking ship at the WaPo and NYT. This takes a profound level of internal emptiness. TI can't quite put my finger on what it is with Charles Johnson -- I guess he elicits a similar response in decent people that Sarah Palin elicits in those who are indecent.

The LGF forum is a cesspit, barely indistinguishable from the worst leftist sites. Virtually nobody is left from when we were there. The stepford wife remains of course, along with some arsehole called Cato who pastes Greek text into his messages and has this to say in response to allegations that climategate is a huge scientific scandal:

I still think the science scandal of the millennium is letting a Christian run the NIH.

Really, the only thing we can do is pray for such people, and work to keep them out of positions of authority and power at all costs.

11/24/2009 05:28:00 AM  
Blogger Northern Bandit said...

Another enigma for me: I've never listened much to Charles Johnson's music, however I understand he is fairly well-respected as a jazz session musician. How does this happen? How does anything remotely beautiful issue from this twisted creature? Plenty of great musicians were messed up on drugs and were otherwise failures in life, but to me this is different. The heroin addicts were a mess, but they didn't have that complete aversion to Truth that so characterizes Johnson and his ilk.

11/24/2009 05:33:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

I don't know if that's true about Queeg's chops. His discography strikes me as pretty lame.

11/24/2009 06:57:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

I mean, most of the records he's played on are more adult contemporary instrumental "smooth jazz" musical wallpaper, not real jazz. It went out of fashion once Xanax came on the market.

11/24/2009 07:03:00 AM  
Blogger Susannah said...

I'm fascinated with this glimpse at OldBob! Thanks for the peek...

11/24/2009 09:39:00 PM  

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