Monday, 20 August 2007

If You Love Satan, Raise Your Hand Re-reading Mark Twain's Letters from Earth (1909) provides a bracing reminder of why they turned me into an atheist all those many years ago. The Letters are from Satan to his fellow angels, and they document humanity's idiotic attempt to understand the God who created them, i.e. The Bible. Reading it now, two things immediately strike me: The Letters presuppose the existence of God and His Heavenly Host, they simply insist that humans have got the story all wrong. Satan may not be the most reliable of narrators. These facts overlap invidiously in terms of audience: people who would consider Satan a reliable narrator are not people who presuppose the existence of God. Short of members of the Church of Satan—not founded until sixty years after the Letters were written—it's not entirely clear who Twain imagines his audience to be within the fiction's framework. Beyond it, his intent is obvious: he employs Satan as a narrator because it galls those he mocks and delights sympathetic atheists. But obvious as it is, the text contravenes it at all turns. For you to buy the legitimacy of Satan's critique, you have to accept that there's an actual Heaven to which the absurd creation of humanity compares. Quick example: I recall to your attention the extraordinary fact with which I began. To wit, that the human being, like the immortals, naturally places sexual intercourse far and away above all other joys—yet he has left it out of his heaven! The very thought of it excites him; opportunity sets him wild; in this state he will risk life, reputation, everything—even his queer heaven itself—to make good that opportunity and ride it to the overwhelming climax. From youth to middle age all men and all women prize copulation above all other pleasures combined, yet it is actually as I have said: it is not in their heaven; prayer takes its place. They prize it thus highly; yet, like all their so-called "boons," it is a poor thing. At its very best and longest the act is brief beyond imagination—the imagination of an immortal, I mean. In the matter of repetition the man is limited—oh, quite beyond immortal conception. We who continue the act and its supremest ecstasies unbroken and without withdrawal for centuries, will never be able to understand or adequately pity the awful poverty of these people in that rich gift which, possessed as we possess it, makes all other possessions trivial and not worth the trouble of invoicing. Satan knows from profound coitus, so silly humanity err twice-over: once, for the paltry quality of mundane intercourse; then again, for even leaving its meager attendant joys out of its conception of heaven. The whole work is thus structured around Satan's knowledge of the True Heaven from which he's been temporarily expelled. But his knowledge of God's mind isn't even what he implicitly claims it to be. Consider this bit from the opening narration: "Yes," said Michael, "and He said He would establish Natural Law—the...
Thank You, God, For the Silicon in My Motherboard, the Carbon Dioxide I Expel, the Paper in My Book, &c. &c. &c. According to this article, "frozen smoke" or "Aerogel" is a "miracle material for the 21st century." All well and good. Until you read the comments. "Edmund Burke" opines: If it is produced in the laboratory, it is not a miracle. "Markangelo," from "Torrance, Amerika," responds: Why can't "GOD" make a miracle in the laboratory[?] "CK" of "DFW, Texas" answers his question: He did. The Universe that provides the elements that the scientists manipulate to make these wonderful things. Or, did you miss that? "AGS," from Chicago, attempts to bring some common sense to the proceedings: Please note that "miracle material" is not a theological term implying supernatural origin. It simply indicates unusually outstanding properties and applications that exceed the conventional by a wide mark. He is ignored. "Eric" of Atlanta merely repeats "CK"'s answer to "Markangelo"'s question: He made the silica gel, the carbon dioxide, and the brain of the man that has the arrogance to think he can "make" anything. All glory goes to God. Humanity arrogantly credits itself for His work in the world. To be honest, I hadn't noticed this mode of theistic complaint until it was brought to my attention yesterday. More Twain, again from Letters from Earth: If science exterminates a disease which has been working for God, it is God that gets the credit, and all the pulpits break into grateful advertising-raptures and call attention to how good he is! Yes, he has done it. Perhaps he has waited a thousand years before doing it. That is nothing; the pulpit says he was thinking about it all the time. When exasperated men rise up and sweep away an age-long tyranny and set a nation free, the first thing the delighted pulpit does is to advertise it as God's work, and invite the people to get down on their knees and pour out their thanks to him for it. And the pulpit says with admiring emotion, "Let tyrants understand that the Eye that never sleeps is upon them; and let them remember that the Lord our God will not always be patient, but will loose the whirlwinds of his wrath upon them in his appointed day." They forget to mention that he is the slowest mover in the universe; that his Eye that never sleeps, might as well, since it takes it a century to see what any other eye would see in a week; that in all history there is not an instance where he thought of a noble deed first, but always thought of it just a little after somebody else had thought of it and done it. He arrives then, and annexes the dividend. For "Eric," "CK," and their ilk, nothing is possible without God, therefore all credit ultimately belongs to him. This is why home-runs lead to hosannahs: If God had not blessed a particular athlete with the skills required to hit a home-run, he never would have been able to the swing the bat (whittled from lumber of His stock),...

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