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....