Mike the Martian and the Attack of the Argumentroid
One of the argumentroids of Robert Heinlein has annoyed me for years.
I was irked not the least because this particular argumentroid suckered me in my innocent youth, back when I was so proud of being a nonconformist, as were we all in my generation, and so proud of believing exactly what all the other nonconformists believed.
But let me first explain what my silly made-up word is supposed to mean.
I have always held that Science Fiction was never actually fiction stories about science. Instead, it is stories about fictional science.
Writers routinely commended for the “hardness” of their hard SF, that is to say, commended for their realism, such as Larry Niven or Isaac Asimov or Arthur C Clarke, will introduce teleportation or psycho-history or faster than light drives or telepathy, none of which has any more scientific realism than flying carpets that run on happy thoughts and fairy dust.
And Robert Heinlein, the Dean of Science Fiction, was like them a past master of the art of making their unscientific baloney seem scientific.
The writer’s chore is to lull the dragons of skepticism which guard the castle of the mind so that the waking dream of the tale can slip into the gates. The reader places himself into a half-hypnotic half-awake state known as “suspension of disbelief” where, for the sake of the story, the reader is willing to swallow the baloney if only his imagination is given enough excuse. In other words, it is not scientific accuracy that science fiction seeks or delivers, but scientific verisimilitude.
It is not supposed to be scientific, but scientifroid, if I may coin an awkward term for some hulking shape that looks vaguely like science in a dim light, but is not.
This is done in science fiction by mimicking some of the tropes of science. For example, Larry Niven posits in his ‘Known Space’ yarns that the law of conservation of momentum applies to teleportation booths, so that it is more expensive to teleport from the North Pole to the Equator than to the South Pole, because of the difference in angular momentum between a body at rest at either Pole versus a body being carried along at the speed of the rotation of the Earth. Teleportation is still hooey, but it seems more scientific if it suffers a reasonable scientific (or, rather scientifroid) limitation.
Now, it has been known since the ancient Greeks erected their first shrine to the Muses that poets and playwrights and novelists who have the craft of working this half-hypnotic trick of making the unlikely seem likely have a dangerous or divine power.
The novelist has the most powerful rhetorical tool of all at his command. He has an audience that willingly is attempting to suspend their disbelief for the sake of the story. This means, unfortunately, that a certain amount of mental litter, opinions, editorializing, propaganda and “spin” also can make it past the dragons of skepticism while they slumber.
And therein lies a certain danger, because the editorializing is not written like an editorial, where the readers knows the editor is opining an opinion; it is written like a tale. We judge editorials on their rhetorical skill and soundness of argument, their power to appeal to the passions and the reason. We judge tales on their entertainment value, their power to amuse and divert.
And, of course, the amusement value of any editorial hidden in a tale has nothing to do with the soundness of the argument given. Unless the reader already has a definite opinion opposing the writer’s, or if the reader has hair-triggered skepticism in general, will he be unlikely even to notice he is being played for a sap.
Because an editorial put across in a story will not actually put forth an argument, except on very rare occasions indeed. It put forth an argumentoid, a hulking shape that looks like an argument in a dim light.
Here is the particular argumentroid of Heinlein’s that exasperated me. It is from STRANGER IN A STRANGE BED, or a book whose title is similar to this.
But a word about the background of the scene, for those of you lucky enough never to have read this work. The first expedition to Mars ends in disaster, and only one baby boy named Mike the Martian survives, who is found and raised to adulthood by the Martians, creatures of ent-like patience utterly lacking in sex drive. Because they are an older race, the Martians of course have Way Cool Psionic powers.
The list seemed to change from chapter to chapter, but I am pretty sure it included the basics: Id Insinuation, Intellect Fortress, Mental Barrier, Mind Thrust, Psychic Crush, Thought Shield, Tower of Iron Will. The Crimson Bands of Cyttorak and the Shield of the Seraphim were not included in the basic Martian package, but Astral Projection was.
Just to make sure the story is utterly and entirely realistic, Mike the Martian is a handsome supergenius with boyish innocence, suffering no physical or mental defects by being raised by nonhumans, and as rich as Croesus, and the sole sovereign owner (by human law) of the entire planet Mars. And, because he has a high midichlorian count, the Force is strong with him.
Mike the Martian is brought back to Earth as an adult, but his sexy nurse begins to suspect the Evil World Government has designs on him, and there is some cops-and-robbers rigmarole where she kidnaps Mike, and then Mike kills some policemen who come to investigate the crime. She takes him to the house of a crusty old curmudgeon Renaissance Man, and when the police arrive there, Mike kills more cops. No scene from the point of view of the dead police officer’s widows or orphans is onstage. But we all know from sad experience that nonconformists love copkillers, and that cops are pigs.
That plotline dies of inattention when the Evil Government is bribed, and nothing from that plotline ever comes up again. I guess Evil Governments just stay bribed in this universe, and no one cares what happens to pigs, so there are no ramifications or blowblack from the zany Martian murder spree.
Next, an Evil Church of Tastelessness tries to get its hands on Mike the Martian’s money by converting him to their sect. This sect is an offshoot of Christianity, but one that has snake dancing and slot machines and a wet bar, so people go drunk to services, and the Church is a casino.
Mike murders the high priest of the Casino Church, probably due to a misunderstanding (Martian ghosts do not go to heaven at death, but form the ruling body of the Martian race), and there are no long term effects from this, either.
At this point the sexy nurse and the curmudgeon Renaissance Man have a conversation about religion. But before repeating the conversation, on which I intend to pour more attention than it deserves, let me reveal the balance of the plot.
Mike the Martian travels up and down the world, to and fro, tries various odd jobs, and tries to discover the nature of mankind, which is suddenly revealed to him when he sees a big monkey bullying a smaller monkey in the monkey house at a zoo. In a moment of insight, all the secrets of human nature are revealed to him: men are chumps, hoi polloi, the lead-souled sinks, except for that special elite, hoi aristoi, the gold-souled swells, who, by dint of their special willingness to ignore convention, that is to say, to break the rules, are the natural rulers of the whole lot. (As one can tell from the ancient Greek terminology here, this is the oldest idea in history.)
Mike, being raised by Martians and therefore having no idea what sex is about, or for, or what the difference between men and women might be, or what money is, or is for, or what productive labor might be, and being ignorant as well of the fundamentals of the human condition, such as the inevitability of death, starts a religion which answers all the deep questions about the human condition.
I suspect the irony of having an utterly yet blithely naive ignoramus — and I mean Mike the Martian, not Robert Heinlein — who knows nothing of human life suggest the overthrow of the way humans have done business since the dawn of time was lost on the author — and I mean Robert Heinlein, not Mike the Martian.
This religion is absolutely brand-new latest thing anyone ever thought of, and is a credit to Mr Heinlein’s wondrous powers of innovation and invention — oh, wait, sorry, my sarcastrometer was turned up too high — this religion is the same dippy horsecrap we heard about from Simon the Magician in the First Century AD, namely, Gnosticism, the idea that you are God but do not realize it, and so you answer to no one. Knock yourself out.
As the new messiah, Mike the Martian heals no sick, raises no dead, cleanses no lepers, and preaches no hope to the poor. He does preach that the nonconformist self-anointed elite should be allowed to have sex with anything that moves, and money will somehow fall out of the sky along with well-baked apple pies. These two ideas are popular with lazy and horny teenage boys with no social skills nor foresight which I assume form the target audience of the book.
A group of evil and bigoted southern Christians stone Mike the Martian to death, and, in a moment so Christlike that one is apt to develop a hernia laughing, Mike uses none of his way cool mind powers to save himself, nor is his death an atonement for anything, nor serve any purpose. Like Obi Wan Kenobi, Mike the Martian appears as a ghost to tell his lawyer friend not to commit suicide, or turn off his targeting computer, or something. Then Mike dons wings and a halo and goes to a curiously anarchic heaven to get to work doing whatever it is angels do in this screwy antichristian background.
(I would like some psychiatrist to do a study of petriphobia, this irrational fear that nonconformists all uniformly seem to have that Christians will suddenly up and stone them for some violation of the Jewish dietary laws. No one seems to be afraid of being stoned by Muslims, who still perform this grisly method of execution to this day, and no one seems to be afraid of being stoned by Jews, who did use this method a millennium or two ago. Strange.)
So back to the conversation, which, in light of events coming after, are crucial for the theme and point of the book.
In the conversation are two characters, whom for the sake of argument (or, rather, for the sake of argumentroid) I will call Sockpuppet Son of Sockpuppet, and the Amazing Strawman Girl.
Strawman Girl is a assigned a role by the author of having a typical Midwestern Christian upbringing, Methodist or something, for the span of this scene, a personality characteristic which is not on display before or after, and has no effect on her personality otherwise. She is merely the ignorant bigot in this scene.
As I said, she criticizes the Casino Church of Wet Bar “Get It On” Dancing for having slot machines. That she would dare criticize a Church causes Sockpuppet Son of Sockpuppet to go into full pompous explanation mode with a side order of avuncular umbrage.
He first asks if she is familiar with Hindu or Muslim beliefs, not because any honest conversation about comparative religion is forthcoming, but merely so that Sockpuppet can be established in the reader’s mind as an Authority: He who Knows Stuff about Stuff. This is similar to Larry Niven, when making teleportation seem scientific-y, says it is limited by Conservation of Momentum. In order to sound like a Wise Man, the reader’s imagination is given an excuse to allow it to suspend disbelief into accepting that the designated Wise Man has studied the matter beyond the intellectual level of a midnight bull session among College sophomores who have downed a sixpack.
Let us enter the conversation at this point, and overanalyze it line by line, or until I run out of patience. Sockpuppet, the comedy relief curmudgeon, is speaking.
“… You know about Sodom and Gomorra? How Lot was saved from these wicked cities when Yahweh smote ’em?”
“Oh, of course. His wife was turned into a pillar of salt.”
“Always seemed to me a stiff punishment. But we were speaking of Lot. Peter describes him as a just, Godly, and righteous man, vexed by the filthy conversation of the wicked. Saint Peter must be an authority on virtue, since to him were given the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven. But it is hard to see what made Lot such a paragon. He divided a cattle range at his brother’s suggestion. He got captured in battle. He lammed out of town to save his skin. He fed and sheltered two strangers but his conduct shows that he knew them to be V.I.P.s — and by the Koran and by my own lights, his hospitality would count more if he had thought they were mere beggars. Aside from these items and Saint Peter’s character reference there is only one thing in the Bible on which we can judge Lot’s virtue — virtue so great that Heavenly intercession saved his life. See Genesis nineteen, verse eight.”
“What does it say?”
“Look it up. I don’t expect you to believe me.”
“Sockpuppet! You’re the most infuriating man I’ve ever met.”
“And you’re a very pretty girl, Strawman Girl, so I don’t mind your ignorance. All right — but look it up later. Lot’s neighbors beat on his door and wanted to meet these blokes from out of town. Lot didn’t argue; he offered a deal. He had two daughters, virgins, so he said — he told this mob that he would give them these girls and they could use them any way they liked — a gang shagging. He pleaded with them to do any damn thing they pleased … only quit beating on his door.”
” Sockpuppet … does it really say that?”
“I’ve modernized the language but the meaning is as unmistakable as a whore’s wink. Lot offered to let a gang of men — “young and old”, the Bible says — abuse two young virgins if only they wouldn’t break down his door. Say!” Sockpuppet beamed. “I should have tried that when the S.S. was breaking down my door! Maybe it would have got me into heaven.” He frowned. “No, the recipe calls for “virginis intactae” — and I wouldn’t have known which of you gals to offer.”
“Hmmph! You won’t find out from me.”
“Well, even Lot might have been mistaken. But that’s what he promised — his virgin daughters, young and tender and scared — urged this gang to rape them … if only they would leave him in peace!” Sockpuppet snorted. “The Bible cites this scum as a “righteous” man.”
Strawman Girl said slowly, “I don’t think that’s the way we were taught it in Sunday School.”
“Damn it, look it up! That’s not the only shock in store for anybody who reads the Bible. Consider Elisha. Elisha was so all-fired holy that touching his bones restored a dead man to life. He was a bald-headed old coot, like myself. One day children made fun of his baldness, just as you girls do. So God sent bears to tear forty-two children into bloody bits. That’s what it says — second chapter of Second Kings.”
“Boss, I never make fun of your bald head.”
“Who sent my name to those hair-restorer quacks? Whoever it was, God knows — and she had better keep a sharp eye for bears. The Bible is loaded with such stuff. Crimes that turn your stomach are asserted to be divinely ordered or divinely condoned … along with, I must add, hard common sense and workable rules for social behavior. I am not running down the Bible. It isn’t a patch on the pornographic trash that passes as sacred writings among Hindus. Or a dozen other religions. But I’m not condemning them, either; it is conceivable that one of these mythologies is the word of God … that God is in truth the sort of paranoid Who rends to bits forty-two children for sassing His priest. “
What I would like you to notice, dear reader, is the artistry, the craft, with which the scene is handled. Just as adding the Conservation of Momentum making Larry Niven’s teleportation booths seem more realistic, crafting the conversation in this way makes it seem as if it is conversation two living people might have when investigating some of the deepest mysteries of human existence, or, if not that, then at least shedding light on a hidden and unseemly nook of Biblical Lore which you can bring up to surprise and discombobulate the next door-to-door preacher you want to annoy.
The first note of the symphony is established right away: turning a man’s wife into a pillar of salt seems too harsh a punishment. This implies, without saying, that the punishment is harsh and tyrannical, but what the punishment was for is not mentioned.
Second, it is asserted that Saint Peter says Lot is a just and righteous and Godly man.
At the risk of drenching you, dear reader, with the difficult yet august language of the Bible, this is the passage from 2 Peter to which this refers, where Saint Peter calls Lot a just man:
But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction. And many shall follow their pernicious ways; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of. And through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you: whose judgment now of a long time lingereth not, and their damnation slumbereth not.
For if God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell, and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment; And spared not the old world, but saved Noah and seven others, a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood upon the world of the ungodly; And turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrha into ashes condemned them with an overthrow, making them an ensample unto those that after should live ungodly; And delivered just Lot, vexed with the filthy conversation of the wicked: (For that righteous man dwelling among them, in seeing and hearing, vexed his righteous soul from day to day with their unlawful deeds;) The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptations, and to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to be punished: But chiefly them that walk after the flesh in the lust of uncleanness, and despise government. Presumptuous are they, selfwilled, they are not afraid to speak evil of dignities.
I hope someone aside from me notices the irony of having Sockpuppet taking his reference from a passage specifically condemning what it is he doing with the reference: walking after the flesh in the lust of uncleanness, and unafraid to slander higher powers.
In any case, the assertion is not false, but it not the whole truth. Lot is mentioned in the same breath as Noah, as being someone who was spared divine retribution that fell upon the ungodly around him. The epithet “just Lot” or “righteous Lot” that is to say, a single adjective, is what the whole of this second point turns on.
The strawman here is what constitutes a “righteous” that is to say, law-abiding man. As matter of fact Noah is not depicted as following in the violence which Genesis condemns in the antediluvian world, and Lot does not follow the practice of Sodom in betraying, raping and murdering guests. Neither, by the way, did King David, whose also has a rap sheet of crimes and sins to answer for, ever cease to worship and follow God; nor did Saint Dismas (the thief crucified next to Christ, the one who did not mock but believed) achieve his sainthood due to his history. He was still a felon.
Third, a particularly nasty bit of slight-of-hand is played when Sockpuppet sneers that his own lights, as well as the Koran of Mohammed, would give more credit to a man who honored a beggar as a guest rather than an elevated dignitary. The nastiness here is because this sneer against Lot is unfair to the point of being illogical, and as a matter of fact is a piece of playacting or hypocrisy on Sockpuppet’s part.
The unfairness is that at no point does it say how many widows and orphans and beggars Lot entertained and aided. It might have been none, one, few or many. He might have been as generous as Job. Lot is being criticized by Sockpuppet for failing to do something he was not asked nor required to do. “Well, he defied a mob to keep his guests safe, did he, despite that the mob was provoked to do worse to him, did he? Is that all? Is that all? and by the Koran and by my own lights, his hospitality would count more if he had been protecting a dozen men rather than two, and donated his liver for a liver transplant to one of them, and used magic kung-fu to blind the mob rather than forcing the angels to do it, and emancipated all the slaves in Sodom, and rescued Lois Lane.”
Not to place too much weight on the point, but I do not interpret the passage to mean that Lot knew, when first he greeted them, the status of his visitors. The prostrate bow and pressing them to take refuge for the night in his house could have been something he would have done to any traveler of any rank or degree, in order to preserve them from the violent men of Sodom. The passage at least implies this. And it was something he did at a certain risk to himself. The extravagant courtesy implies courtesy: Old (and New) Testament figures are always referring to themselves as “your servant” or “your handmaiden” — that is, calling oneself the other’s slave — as a matter of exaggerated oriental politeness. The implication that Lot would have snubbed beggars is sneer that comes out of nowhere and has nothing to back it up.
It is also hypocrisy, since there is a no scene where Sockpuppet offers his hospitality to any beggars. In the book, he offers his hospitality to the superhuman and super-rich Man from Mars, and a few playboy bunnies. Sockpuppet withdraws his hospitality, and very abruptly, from one of his hired hands, the poorest character in the story, when that man says he does not want to eat at the same table with a man-eating cannibal. So while Sockpuppet boasts himself more righteous than Lot, in fact, he is not.
There is then some back and forth between Sockpuppet and Strawman Girl to make it seem as if Sockpuppet wants Strawman Girl to look up the passage herself and not to trust his interpretation. He then gives an interpretation which no one in his right mind could ever believe springs from the passage in question. In other words, that by-play of reverse psychiatry was once again a bit of craftsmanship, the kind of thing a skeptical and independent thinker would say, here soldered onto a idea which only a gullible parrot would swallow.
The point of this by-play is to aid the reader’s suspension of disbelief, so that he will think he checked the sources to confirm the story, when, in fact, such a check is fatal to the argument, because it is at this point that the only out-and-out lie is told. The lie is hidden amid so many half-truths and innuendos it is likely to pass unnoticed.
And there came two angels to Sodom at even; and Lot sat in the gate of Sodom: and Lot seeing them rose up to meet them; and he bowed himself with his face toward the ground; And he said, Behold now, my lords, turn in, I pray you, into your servant’s house, and tarry all night, and wash your feet, and ye shall rise up early, and go on your ways. And they said, Nay; but we will abide in the street all night. And he pressed upon them greatly; and they turned in unto him, and entered into his house; and he made them a feast, and did bake unleavened bread, and they did eat. But before they lay down, the men of the city, even the men of Sodom, compassed the house round, both old and young, all the people from every quarter: And they called unto Lot, and said unto him, Where are the men which came in to thee this night? bring them out unto us, that we may know them. And Lot went out at the door unto them, and shut the door after him, And said, I pray you, brethren, do not so wickedly. Behold now, I have two daughters which have not known man; let me, I pray you, bring them out unto you, and do ye to them as is good in your eyes: only unto these men do nothing; for therefore came they under the shadow of my roof. And they said, Stand back. And they said again, This one fellow came in to sojourn, and he will needs be a judge: now will we deal worse with thee, than with them. And they pressed sore upon the man, even Lot, and came near to break the door. But the men put forth their hand, and pulled Lot into the house to them, and shut to the door. And they smote the men that were at the door of the house with blindness, both small and great: so that they wearied themselves to find the door.
The passage is quite clear what happens. Lot invites the two strangers to be his guests, which, in the ancient Middle East established a sacrosanct relationship. The host held his honor on the line that his guests would not be harmed or molested.
When the mob of Sodomites surrounds the house, it is not to have a polite conversation with the two strangers, but to sodomize (hence the name) them and rob and murder them. They are not just making noises.
It is a measure of the desperation of the scene that Lot makes the offer his does. We might not think much of a man who throws his daughter off a lifeboat when the lifeboat is sinking, but we would certainly think less of a man who threw his guests off the lifeboat. If the alternative is to defy the mob and be torn to bits, while that might seem more manly to someone safely typing a science fiction make-believe story in a comfortable and civilized country, and might appeal to the Cowboy instinct, keep in mind Lot is not being recommended by Peter for being a martyr or an action hero, but for being just.
When Sockpuppet in a very similar situation is trying to keep Mike the Martian away from the cops, Sockpuppet goes out in a storm of wrath to berate the policemen for not producing a warrant. These are the men he refers to — rather self-flatteringly — as S.S. I call it self-flattery because defying the Schutzstaffel is an act of heroism, because it could get you killed, whereas yelling at a public servant is an act of spleen. Had Lot acted in this Cowboy Action Hero Way, it would have been gratifying for his courage, but it would not have been keeping with the prudence that has kept the Jewish race alive since the dawn of time while other more warlike and cowboylike races, the Egyptians, the Ammonites, the Babylonians, the Persians, the Medes, the Seleucids, the Romans, have either been reduced by history to a memory of their former glory, or reduced to not even a memory.
Again, your average agnostic or atheistic reader will have no particular sympathy for the idea that divine things are holy and should not be desecrated, and this includes angels being ass-raped and murdered. A man of Sockpuppet’s temperament (by which I mean driven insane by overweening pride until, like Caligula, he thinks he is a god) also would reject a notion very clear to the men of the ancient East or West, that divine things are higher in dignity than human things. To such men, between seeing an angel under your protection killed, and a human being, even one of your own, an unsentimental moral code would demand the human take second priority, and for much the same reason that given a choice between rescuing a human baby and a puppy, only an insensate moral monster would seriously contemplate recurring the puppy, even if it were his very own.
So, no, Lot does not offer his virgin daughters to the mob in order that they “stop beating on his door.” That is a unmitigated lie. Lot makes the desperate offer to preserve the holy and supernatural beings under his roof from being anus-raped and murdered by a mob, which is a different thing than Lot selfishly wishing for Lot and Lot alone to be left in peace.
There also may be an arch commentary hidden in the words of Moses on the depravity of the mob that the girls of the female persuasion had no particular appeal to them. The think to notice here is that the Sodomites utter the sentiment which is the point of Sockpuppet’s whole argument, if only he knew it: “This one fellow came in to sojourn, and he will needs be a judge: now will we deal worse with thee, than with them” Or, translated out of the Shakespearean idiom, Lot is hated by the mob for being judgmental. He does not believe in situational ethics or multiculturalism.
Well, by Jove, that by itself is enough for Lot to be called “righteous” in my book.
As part of the shrubbery surrounding this central lie and obscuring it, we have several comments meant, once again, to lull the reader’s disbelief into hypnogogic suspension.
Strawman Girl says this is not the way it was taught in Sunday School, which is, of course, a true statement, since the version we just heard leaves aside any mention that the men of Sodom are bad guys bent on an unnatural crime. This is mean to imply that Sunday School teachers are liars, and only Sockpuppet is bold enough to defy convention tell the real truth.
Now, again, the comment is about Sunday School, that is, it is only about the parts of the Bible told and taught to children. Even Sockpuppet is not insane enough to aver that grown ups who read and study the Bible are unaware of passages men of ordinary reserve might be reluctant to describe in lurid detail to their toddlers.
The comment about the “Whore’s wink” is merely like pepper in the soup, to add a greasy flavor to the process of discussing sacred scripture, by accusing it, without actually voicing the accusation, that the Holy Book is disgusting or unclean, too mean and nasty for high-minded nonconformists like Sockpuppet and the readership.
Likewise, the comment about actually reading the Bible is an aid to the suspension of disbelief, where the reader is supposed to be left with the impression that a real conversation about something really in the Bible just took place, and that Christians do not read the Bible. This allows the reader to give himself a pat on the back for knowing more about the Bible than Bible-thumpers do. And, yet, again, this is implied, not said. It is part of the craft of making it seem as if an argument took place, or an idea was explored.
And again, the by-play about exposing any of the sex bunny characters to the police and inquiring if Strawman Girl is a virgin is meant merely to lower the level of the conversation.
Elevated language, respectful language, forms of courtesy, and everything else the nonconformists despise are meant for one reason only: to recognize Man as above the animals. This story about Man being monkeys, not above the animals. The idea of defining Man as God instead of elevating man, desecrates God.
Crude and uncouth language or crude topics discussed in jocular language has a definite purpose in the craft of weaving a suspension of disbelief. Once you believe Man is Higher than Beast, you must of necessity acknowledge the concept of Higher, that is, in other words, More Holy. But the idea of Holiness is kryptonite to such a pretend conversation as this: so some crude joke or desecration is needed.
The character of Strawman Girl does not have any reluctance to discuss sexual matters to the point of boredom and beyond in any other scene than this: this character trait is present merely so that this jest can be made, which is, again, merely to lower the tone of the conversation.
Next we get to Elijah. I will not dwell on this point, because frankly I am not qualified. I can read the New Testament in Greek but not the Old in Aramaic. All I can say is that a quick check of a round dozen translations use the word “youth” or “unimportant youths” rather than “boys” or “little boys.” So we may or may not be talking about a street gang of punks who outnumber the Jets and Sharks together attacking a little old man. If “youths” is the correct translation, then he was not being “sassed” — or not just being sassed — but was being driven out of town by the youth mob, and act of considerable more brutality.
The point of this passage is to introduce a few more jokes at the expense of our lovable curmudgeon Sockpuppet, to get the reader to like him. This is because it is easier to agree with someone you like than with someone you dislike.
And the point is to call God “paranoid” — a word that seems to have no reference to anything that has gone before. I do not see why a divine being insisting on being treated as holy is paranoid as opposed to completely rational. I have never, for example, heard anyone make a coherent argument that keeping the Sabbath holy was an act of paranoia. Last I heard, that word meant having a persecution complex, being fearful, being a megalomaniac. I agree that a man who thinks he is God (such a Sockpuppet later in the story) is a megalomaniac by definition. But a God who thinks He is God, is thinking what is only common sense.
The passage ends with the usual throat-clearing one always hears from nonconformists. Sockpuppet says he is not singling out Christianity for his ire, when in fact he is. No mockery is made of Mohammedanism, and indeed, one of the main characters, portrayed as utterly sympathetic, is a Mohammedan. The shortcomings of that particular heresy is never discussed, but instead always treated with dignity and respect. This book was written in 1961, just shy of a decade before he Moonshot, and Muslims were not in the news then: but any foe of the Christian was a friend of the nonconformist, even back then.
Sockpuppet then says that the Bible contains some “common sense and workable rules of social behavior” — all the rules Sockpuppet despises, in other words — which is a compliment about as backhanded as saying that the US Constitution contains some memorable turns of phrase, despite being worthless as a legal document.
The point of the throat-clearing is to brush away the obvious: that the passage is just a slander against the Christians, and only against them, and is motivated by the same malice that motivates a graffiti artist. Claiming that all religions are equally false allows Sockpuppet to the pretense of being objective, and claiming that there is something useful in the Bible allows Sockpuppet the pretense of being open-minded. Both pretenses are necessary for the suspension of disbelief. If Sockpuppet has snarled at the end of the paragraph about how the knuckle-dragging Neanderthals were clinging bitterly to the guns and Bibles, the spell of suspension of disbelief would break.
Strawman Girl represents the strawman argument first put forward, to my knowledge, by Thomas Paine in AGE OF REASON that the Bible should contain no passages which will shock the conscience of a child.
Mr Paine, of course, was a Deist, who argued in favor of monotheism and against the divinity of Christ and against the inspired status of the Bible. No Biblical scholar, and, I wager, no Sunday School teacher either, ever claimed there was not shocking material in the Bible.
Indeed, most every teacher I have ever heard seem to indicate that the Bible carries the message that some unthinkable primordial catastrophe, the Fall of Man, marred all human existence and perhaps the natural world as well, and that men are wicked, craven, fallen, and totally depraved. Because of the utter desperation of Man’s wretched plight, Jesus Christ, the very incarnation of the Divine Being, was forced to suffer an unimaginable loss of dignity by becoming mortal, and forced to suffer a very painful and grim passion and torment and death.
The honest atheist can dismiss this whole story as a fairy tale if he wishes, but no honest atheist can possibly make the claim that it is a Bowdlerized and saccharine fairy tale, taking place in Oz where no one dies and nothing really very bad every happens.
Of course, another point never mentioned is that Moses and Peter use the words “righteous” and “just” to mean “law-abiding” – someone who obeys rather than defies divine will. King David, for example, is held in considerable honor by Biblical writers, as is the patriarch Moses, despite the fact that both men are murderers. King David’s son Amnon conspires to outrage his half-sister Tamar, which is certainly reported, but, again, there is no hint that it is commended.
And, anyway, was not Lot the ancestor, not of the Jews but of their arch-enemies the Moabites? One would think that if Moses was slanting the story for propaganda purposes, he would make out Lot to be as wretched as possible. The fact that the tale shows Lot lives amid the treason and violence of Sodom without cooperating with it shows remarkable broadmindedness on the part of the writer, whoever he was. (I myself assume that Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible, but I realize that many people think Bacon wrote them.)
Like Homer, who shows his heroes with their warts and all, and his villains with their good sides, and unlike the simple cardboard cutout characters of Sockpuppet, Son of Sockpuppet, and Strawman Girl, the various Biblical authors tend to portray events with astonishing, even remorseless, objectivity. Compare Pravda airbrushing Trotsky out of pictures with Stalin to the almost comical cowardice and dunderheadedness of Saint Peter before his transfiguration at Pentecost.
Hence this the main point implied but never said is also false, and is grossly false. The idea there is that any event the Bible reports as coming from a man is one of which God approves, and which can be used as a model or behavior.
And anyone familiar with the Bible, from the murder of Abel by Cain all the way to the death of Saint Stephen at Saint Paul’s behest is more likely to condemn the Bible for portraying too dark and grim a picture of the human condition, a long list of crimes and folly and wickedness than to condemn the Bible being saccharine.
Ah, but wait! Surely this was not what the argument actually said, is it? Well, reader, let me pull the same trick on you as the passage quoted plays, and urge you to read it, or even to get the book and read the surrounding material. What is the argument given, if it were given in a straightforward fashion?
1. Strawman Girl objects that the Casino Church is undignified.
2. Sockpuppet counters by saying all religions are undignified, specifically, that they contain absurdities and enormities, such as, for example, (a) a man Saint Peter upholds as “righteous” is instead vile cad who threw his daughters to a mob merely to enjoy some peace and quiet (b) a paranoid God has she-bears maul forty-two wee children guilty of nothing but sassing a vain bald man. Or, in other words, the Bible is loaded with “crimes that turn your stomach” that are asserted to be divinely ordered or divinely condoned.
3. Therefore — what? At this point all Sockpuppet says is that he is not condemning the Church, which is most certainly and most obviously is. The unstated conclusion is that the Christian religion is false, and that there is no God.
What makes this an argumentroid and not an argument is that this conclusion does not follow from the assumptions. If there is a being that stands to us in the same relation as a man stands to a dog, that is, a higher being, while we would be able to grasp some of the higher beings thoughts and actions (even as a dog can tell when his master is happy or fretful) some things are beyond our ken. Try has he might, the man cannot explain to the dog that he is fretting over the Theory of Bimetallism, or happy about the outcome of the Caledonian War. See THE BOOK OF JOB for details.
There is also the question that the minor premise, namely, that the Bible is full of sickening crimes said to be divinely ordained or condoned, is false, or, at least, is unsupported by the two examples given.
Logically, however, if there is no God, then the fact that a crime turns your stomach does not mean that this crime offends any cosmic law, or, indeed, any law aside from what you and your fellow human beings have deduced or intuited or perhaps invented.
Now, if you then say that you and your fellow human beings have deduced and intuited all or part of a real and objective moral order to the universe, you have to explain why the one thing all moral codes in all ages save the present have in common, namely, a belief in the supernatural sanction behind the code, is the one thing in the objective moral code every generation before yours got wrong.
On the other hand if you say that you and your fellow human beings invented, rather than deduced, the moral code in question, it is no longer a moral code properly so called, merely a matter of custom or fashion of a large and long-standing group, in which case there is no moral imperative to treat that custom as authoritative, only the practical consideration of not offending your unenlightened neighbors—which is, in fact, a theme mentioned in another place by Sockpuppet, Son of Sockpuppet, and seems to be the point of the book. Do As Thou Wilt is the Whole of the Law.
In the same way that the suspension of disbelief is necessary when reading stories about telepaths saving galactic empires to treat the make-belief as if it is science, in a case like this, the suspension of disbelief fails if the young and naive nonconformist (such as I was when first I read this argumentroid dismantled above) gets any hint about how old, stale, shopworn, and tired these ideas are.
Gnosticism and elitism and hedonism are all ideas that have been around long enough that they have Greek rather than Latin names, so most of them are old enough, two millennia or more, that the first people to invent them, Simon the Magician and his crew, might have indeed been rightly afraid of being stoned to death by antenicene Christians. Or thrown into a well by a Spartan ephor.
But to admit that these are the oldest and in many ways the most trite ideas in the world would spoil the suspension of disbelief for a science fiction story. They need to seem like Tomorrow’s News, not Yesterday’s rewarmed Leftovers.