Cold comfort

What cold comfort the relatives and loved ones of the hundred plus victims and fifty fatalities of the latest mass shooting in the US must receive from the prayers being offered them from certain quarters. Senator Thom Tillis, for instance, started praying for them yesterday and, rather generously, is continuing to pray for them today. Senator Cory Gardner is both praying and mourning and Senator Joni Ernst’s prayers are with them too. Senator Bill Cassidy offers prayer for them, and also support. Senator David Perdue sends his prayers; the mechanism of delivery presumably being invisible sky-fairy postmen. Senator Tom Cotton offers not only his prayers, but the prayers of all his constituents: one assumes there are no atheists in Arkansas. Senator Pat Roberts also uses those sky fairies to send his prayers, also accompanied by his thoughts. Senator Roy Blunt eschews prayers, but actually appears capable of spelling condolences. Equally sparing with his personal prayer-time, Senator Mitch McConnell can’t find his own to offer, but does note that those of the entire nation are with the victims and their families.

Prayers—especially those contained within the Twitter word limit—are cheap, but votes, it would appear, are not: for these nine senators alone have received a total of $22,596,399 in direct and indirect contributions from the NRA in the course of the careers. If they had prayed for more guidance concerning 1 Tim 6:10 or Luke 16:13 they might, perhaps, have thought twice about receiving such vast amounts of money to vote down gun control laws despite the fact that a clear majority of Americans favour them.

Which mourning relative, which traumatized survivor, which gay man or woman afraid to go out with their friends, which—to be frank—decent person of any country, faith, or background will read these tweets and feel anything but revulsion and disgust at the cheap, vacuous, and hypocritical platitudes of the very people who have obstructed even the most tentative steps towards making this kind of horror less of an everyday occurrence?

In which Fat Martin comes for lunch, and a theological debate ensues

Fat Martin Luther came for lunch here in Rio the other day. I served vermicelli, as I always do for him. “Why do you always feed me this rubbish?” he asked, after pushing it around his plate for a while. “Oh sorry, Fat Martin,” I said, “I forget you’re not so keen on a Diet of Worms.”

He gave me a long stare. “Nearly five hundred years, and that’s still funny?” he asked irritably. “And why must you always call me Fat Martin?”

“Well to be honest, Fat Martin,” I replied, “it’s because I’m amused by the contrast between your obsession with sin and the overt evidence of extensive indulgence in at least one of the seven deadly ones.”

“Popish superstitious nonsense,” he countered. “We are saved not by our works but by our faith.”

“That sounds suspiciously antinomian to me,” I admitted, “but actually that’s kinda what I wanted to talk to you about. This whole sola fide and justification business.”

“What of it?”

“Well, I’ve been thinking a bit about the Euthyphro dilemma—”

“—The what?” he interrupted.

“Oh, don’t pretend you don’t know, Fat Martin. You did the scholiast stuff before you got all vernacular and protesty. Euthyphro, where Plato points out the definitional problem of an all-good omnipotent deity. Either good is defined by Him—that whatever He wills is necessarily good—in which case we can know nothing of Him, for His acts can be entirely arbitrary; or He simply always acts according to what is good, in which case there would seem to be something ontologically prior to Him—goodness—and His actions would appear to be bound.”

“Greek rubbish, fit only for the Schools.”

“Well you have to admit he has a point. And what I’ve been thinking is that your ideas about justification and freedom of the will seem to be somewhat inconsistent on this point: that as far as the workings of justification are concerned you sit on one horn of the dilemma, but as far as its distribution is concerned you sit on the other.”

“How so?” Fat Martin was interested now. He may not have time for the Greeks, but he loves a good wrangle.

“Well, the whole concept of being saved by faith alone kinda requires that we know that God will act in a certain way. That is, He has promised, through His Son (who is also Him—always confuses me, that bit), that He will save those who believe in Him and His promise. You bang on about this quite a bit, you know, and often emphasise the nature of the promise. He has promised something, so we can have certainty that He will do it. This only really works if we accept the secondary horn of Euthyphro: because otherwise God could entirely renege upon His promise, and that would be fine because He is God and if He reneges on His promise then this is necessarily good. For sola fide to work, and for us to be able to know it will, God must be bound by what is good, and what is good must be accessible to human reason.”

“And?”

“Well, there’s a problem, then, when we get onto the distribution of this. Because not everyone believes, not everyone will be saved. Fair enough, but you also insist—actually, quite correctly—in the absence of freedom of the will. You got into quite a spat about this. The saving belief in God is not taken by the individual as a freely-willed act, but is granted, by the grace of God. But then we come into a problem, because of the apparently arbitrary distribution of this. It seems resolutely unfair, doubleplus ungood, that people are not saved by their merits, or by their works, but by the whim of the deity. All people are necessarily equally deserving of hellfire, yet God selects some but not others to be given the saving grace of belief in Him. Doesn’t this require the exactly opposite view of the dilemma? We can only reconcile God’s goodness with this arbitrary allocation of grace if we accept that whatever He does is necessarily good, and that we should not attempt to reason about his acts using the human understanding of goodness. So which is it? If I cannot rely on God not acting arbitrarily then I can have no grounds to believe His promise; but if He cannot act as He pleases, how can we understand the random allocation of grace?”

Fat Martin was silent. He’s well known for his temper, and I worried he might be building up to a paddy. But eventually, slowly, he spoke. “I never thought of that,” he admitted. “You kinda got me there. I suppose I’d better take it all back. The whole shebang.”

“It’s a bit late for that now, you know,” I said as I passed him the bread.

He chewed it thoughtfully. And then suddenly gagged, coughed, and, red-faced, spat out two Brazilian coins which were buried in the dough. “What is this?” he shouted, perhaps relieved of an excuse to rant. “Are you trying to choke me?”

“They’re a gift for you,” I answered.

“Do you usually give gifts like this?” he inquired furiously.

“I’m sorry, Martin. I thought you were a fan of the Real Presents.”

Fat Martin stared at me again. “Fuck you,” he said, eventually. He does have a potty mouth on him, does Fat Martin.

Fat Martin is not amused

Fat Martin is not amused.

In which I get butt naked for God

I have spent today standing, stark bollock naked, in my back garden; and for once, I have done so with good reason.

The world, you see, is going to end today, and I figure I’m on slightly dodgy ground to be Raptured—what with the whole atheism business, not to mention thinking it’s a good thing them gays can get married, and a bad thing that the extraordinarily hypocritical Lord Carey can rant repeatedly and hysterically against this whilst having the small matter of a child-molesting bishop on what passes for his conscience. So I figured I should make things as easy as possible for God, and preemptively whipped off my togs and made sure I was outside for Him, the easier to be Taken Up into the air. In fact, I was jumping up and down quite a bit, just to make the point, until I got tired and the neighbours threatened to call the police.

Of course, you could argue that Chris McCann is just another nutjob, one in such a long line that you would have thought they might have learnt by now. The world, after all, did not end on 1 January 1000, despite the best encouragement of Pope Sylvester II, nor in 1284 as sanctioned by another pope (Innocent III: a man innocent of much, perhaps, but not incitement to mass slaughter). It also did not end on … well the list is rather long, so just go here and write your own damn funnies for each and every eschatological epic fail.

But there’s a serious point here; McCann may be a nutjob (though one who has carefully built a caveat into his prediction), but that does not exempt him from moral culpability. McCann’s prediction is a rescheduling of that of Harold Camping a few years back, prior to which a number of people committed suicide out of fear of the impending disaster. Were these people probably already at least slightly disturbed? Almost certainly. Might something else, in the absence of Camping’s predictions, have pushed them over the edge? Quite probably. Was Camping directly responsible for their suicides? Of course not. But does that exonerate Camping from the charge of having spoken recklessly and having misinformed his not insubstantial audience? No, it does not.

As for Camping, so for McCann. Should even one person kill themselves, or even commit less extreme panicked reactions, as a result of hearing McCann’s idiocy, then as far as I am concerned this should lie, in part, on his conscience. You do not cry “Fire” in a crowded theatre, and you do not publicly announce the end of the world when that very world has a substantial number of unfortunate and fragile individuals within it.

I’m guessing the Rapture won’t come today, but if a single person does themselves any harm as a result of McCann’s foolish pronouncements, then I’d recommend that when it does come he join me in my naked bouncing, because the weight of having needlessly and stupidly helped push a few people to despair will be distinctly anti-Raptural ballast around his neck.