God: The ultimate dead celebrity
Today’s post is inspired by this Gizmodo article grousing about people’s constant speculation about what Steve Jobs would have thought about new electronic doodads and Natalie Reed’s take on the “god loves trans people” meme. This is all part of grand old tradition, dating back to at least twenty-five hundred years ago when Onomacritus of Athens attributed his own writing to the oracle of Musaeus, apparently in an effort to influence court politics.
When Gene Marks writes on Forbes that Steve Jobs would have released the new iPad or Deskarati says he wouldn’t, what they really mean is that they have opinions about the new iPad, but know their names carry less weight than Steve Jobs’s. It’s clear that people aren’t just talking about his hypothetical opinion as a historical what-if, but as a guide to what should be done. This Steve Jobs they are talking about is an abstract idea of how to run Apple, whose ideas can be supported by selectively citing the many things Steve Jobs said or did when he was alive. In this situation, we do at least have the advantage that Steve Jobs had a lot of well-known opinions about consumer electronics. The products that are currently being released aren’t fundamentally different from what he worked with.
With God, we have numerous contradictory books purporting to contain second-hand information of him. Only a handful of them purport to give God’s direct opinion on anything and those deal with situations from two or three thousand years ago with unclear applicability to modern society, For the most part, we have a bunch of stories that we are supposed to infer a principle from and since there are a lot of stories, most of which aren’t overtly didactic, there are a lot of inferences you can potentially make. As I covered a bit before and will cover in-depth later, people can and will draw all kinds of conclusions. Unlike literary arguments, though, where it’s generally just conclusions about the author or the significance of the work at stake, in religious arguments you decide ahead of time that work is the most significant thing in history, then try to find ways to argue that it supports your ideas.
When a religious believer says that God loves gay people, or hates gay people or would want taxes to be higher or lower,all they really mean is that they believe this. They typically will really believe that God agrees with them, but that’s because they see God as the embodiment of all that’s right and see rightness in terms of their own ideals. If they didn’t, they would have different ideals. In practice though, this means people project their ideas about right and wrong onto their religions scriptures even as they think the moral transfer is going the other way. It’s not like God is ever going to show up and clarify any of the ludicrous amounts of ambiguity, so this is a fairly safe approach.
I’m rather busy tonight, so this will have to hold you for now. I hope to get more done tomorrow.