Monday, May 7, 2012

God's Quality Control 8.3: Punishment

Here I continue my thoughts on the message of Jesus.

Before I start, I'd like to direct your attention to YouTuber bdwilson1000. He has compiled an awesome library of YouTube videos that he calls "The Web's Best Videos on Evolution, Creationism, Atheism, And More." I'll put a link to his short introductory video in the Consummation Bar. Thanks much to BD for all the hard work, especially considering that he must have watched every single one of my 400-or-so videos. In the interest of full disclosure, I'll note that my videos are very well-represented in his library.

A few of you asked for clarification on my claim that no one has ever been persecuted because of righteousness. Persecution can never be more than indirectly connected to the morality of your behavior. The most important factor in persecution is whether enough of the right people in the world feel motivated to go to the effort of persecuting you. Clearly, the existence of persons with both the motivation and political muscle to persecute you is not a reliable indicator of the morality of your behavior. In some senses it's meaningful to say that you're being persecuted for your behavior, but it's never meaningful to say that you're being persecuted for your motives or for the merit of your motives. If Jesus had been a great thinker, he would have thought it through, and not only would he have refrained from spouting such nonsense, he would have eliminated the need for us to have this interesting, but ultimately tangential mini-discussion. In other words, let's move on, unless you find something highly relevant to the main discussion.

Naturally, there are lots of questions about the definitions of the words I'm using. Let's talk about the word punishment, but let's postpone attempting a formal definition. I really want to avoid this becoming a technical conversation if at all possible. Let's see if we can get a general idea of the meaning from some examples.
  • There are horse stables near where I live, and I recall hearing a horse owner explaining an idea he'd learned in a horse behavior clinic. It was something to the effect of loving the horse enough to be as harsh as necessary, but also loving the horse enough to be no harsher than necessary. If I'm harsher than necessary with a horse, that's punishment. We don't have to dig down into the meaning of the word necessary. Just assume that we can agree in principle on what's necessary.
  • When I was a young man I once brought home a forlorn little dog from the humane society. I took her to the vet for shots, and during the examination she bit the vet. I reacted by hitting the dog. The vet explained to me that hitting is not part of a dog's natural social life, and gave me the name of an excellent book on dog ownership. If I hit a dog, that's punishment. If I attempt to relate to a dog in a way that is difficult or impossible for it to understand, that's punishment, or at least something akin to it, something that's not conducive to anyone's flourishing.
  • Say you're a child who is not yet developmentally ready to handle scissors. In this example I'll be an adult. If I see you handling scissors I will confiscate them. I know that you might experience some grief at the loss of a toy, but that is unavoidable for me, given my motive of promoting the flourishing of everyone involved. With the exception of this unavoidable discomfort, I endeavor not to cause you any further discomfort. I might in fact cause you further discomfort, but I'm not making any deliberate attempt to cause you avoidable discomfort. In spite of your discomfort, this is not punishment. However, any deliberate attempt to cause you discomfort beyond the unavoidable definitely is punishment.
  • If, after I've recovered the scissors, I do or say anything that causes you any kind of emotional or physical discomfort (including sending you somewhere you don't wish to go), that's punishment.
  • If I kindly explain to you that the scissors aren't safe, that's not punishment.
  • If I tell you that scissors can cut you (in the hopes that you know what it means to be cut), that's not punishment. If I go beyond simple words like "cut" or "hurt," elaborating on the kind of injuries you might sustain or the pain you might experience, that's punishment.
  • If I threaten to cause you discomfort in the future if you handle the scissors again, that's the threat of punishment, also known as coercion. 
  • Say that I mistakenly believe that you're developmentally ready for scissors, so I allow you to handle them, and then you stab the family dog in the eye. At that point I'm no longer deluded about your readiness, and everything previously said about taking the scissors away still holds: gently confiscating, kindly explaining, and showing you sympathy for your grief are not punishment. Scolding you, browbeating you, sending you to your room, scaring you, physically harming you, all of that is still punishment.
I've given a few examples here to give you an idea of what I'm talking about when I use the word punishment, what I'm proposing we remove from our lives. I assume that these few examples will generate lots of questions and challenges, so I'll stop there for now. We can come back to the discussion of what punishment is after I see which direction the conversation goes.

In Verses 27-30 in the fifth chapter of Matthew, Jesus has some extremely harsh words concerning our inner lives in general and our inner sex lives in particular. Regardless of how you interpret Jesus' specific prohibition, it's clear that in his world, you definitely can cause harm simply by thinking, even with zero intent to act. This is obviously superstitious baloney. Also, it's clear that Jesus had some poisonous ideas on sex. As I've said, suppressing our impulses, especially the impulse to fantasize sexually, is a formula for madness.

In Verses 31-37, Jesus has some words on divorce and oaths. I find nothing in these verses even worth criticizing. If any of you guys see something good, please let me know.

In Verses 38-42 we find the best justification for living as a doormat any superstitionist will find in the words of Jesus: turn the other cheek, give more than you're asked for, go further than you're asked to go. Some of you have suggested that I'm misinterpreting the bible, but my interpretation is unrelated to the point of the discussion. I'm talking about large segments of the superstitionist community that have interpreted Jesus' words in this way. This is one of the many reasons I say that the words of Jesus weren't all that great after all: too many of the reasonable interpretations have clearly unreasonable results.

In Verses 43-48 we are exhorted to love our enemies. It would have been a lot better if he'd given us some practical advice on how not to have enemies. Enmity is just another expression of coercive morality.

In Chapter 6 Verse 2 Jesus delivers a command that I find utterly shocking, given his reputation as champion of the poor. Here he tells us to be quiet about giving to the needy. Talk about irony. If I give to the poor quietly, the poor do benefit from my gift, but consider: if I make a lot of noise while giving to the poor, maybe some of the people who hear my noise will consider giving to the poor as well. Surely it couldn't hurt. Seems to me Jesus should have kept his mouth shut on this topic.

That's 8.3. Thanks for watching.

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