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John W. Loftus

Jim West is remarkable when he...

A. is deceptive about his credentials;
B. makes fun of suicides;
C. is homophobic;
D. censors respectable comments form his blog just because he disagrees?

So, how is Jim West a "remarkable person"? And why is he loved if this is how he treats people?

JohnFH

John,

Thou dost protest too much. You return crankiness with crankiness.

A. I couldn't care less about his credentials, whether he has written five doctoral theses or none. It takes a total of five minutes to figure out that he is a well-read and knowledgeable person who expresses his ideas very well, whether you agree with his ideas or not.

B. Totally overblown. What, committing suicide makes you immune to criticism? Suicide has become fashionable. Enough.

C. To each his own phobias. We have to put up with your phobia of evangelicals. Recovering evangelicals like you have this effect on me: for all the unhealthiness I see in my world, it pales in comparison to the unhealthiness that you exemplify.

D. Who cares? It's a free country.

Merry Christmas, John. Wise men still seek him. How about you?

John W. Loftus

Thanks for your honesty.

David Ker

His harsh criticism of dilettantes and crackpots was welcome. But in the same breath he could insult someone who I admire with an ad hominem just because they are a woman. Across the board he was open (seemingly) about his biases. He could have been more gracious and good-hearted but then he wouldn't have been as entertaining.

However, I'm convinced that this is one faked death that he won't recover from. You can only cry wolf so many times...

Clark

Like people who commit suicide, atheists, homosexuals, and feminists with a chip on their shoulder.

This is odd because I thought the original line went,

"people who commit suicide, atheists, homosexuals, and fat people."

There were a few dumb blond jokes perhaps but I don't remember any posts about feminists.

JohnFH

Jim West railed at feminists when they suggested they were discriminated against in the biblioblogosphere.

I don't know if anyone remembers "As Good as it Gets," with Helen Hunt, Greg Kinnear, and Jack Nicholson. Such a funny movie, but absolutely unsparing of women, gays, straights, blacks, everyone. I think we need movies like that. Bloggers, too. But I'm not claiming that Jim served that purpose particularly well.

Clark

Jim West railed at feminists when they suggested they were discriminated against in the biblioblogosphere.

Obviously I have not read every post Jim ever wrote so I bow to your greater knowledge. I suppose that this will now be added to Jim's reputation since you have said that it is so.

steph

I find it sad the things bloggers find funny - nasty jokes about homosexuals, fat people, atheists and christians. That sort of humour wouldn't be tolerated in the staff room. Jim has now claimed that his suicide post wasn't poking fun. We think it is still nasty and malicious and he never acknowledged the man was found innocent as I'm sure you're aware. We loved Jim as a dear sweet friend, publiciser and supporter of scholarship, and witty humour in real life. We love Jim but not because we 'nurse the same hatreds'. On line poking fun at specific groups of people is never funny, just cruel.

JohnFH

Clark and Steph,

Lighten up, I say. It's like you are issuing a fatwa against people who poke fun, engage in satire, and the like. Have you never watched an episode of Saturday Night Live? Did you miss "As Good as it Gets"?

Who do you think you are fooling? The chief kick in life some atheists have involves pillorying believers. The opposite is also true. The chief kick in life some women have is tearing men down. And vice versa. This stuff is everywhere.

The main difference: the objects of ridicule vary from context to context. In some places it is politically correct to skewer Sarah Palin. In others, Hillary Clinton. In others: both. In others: neither. Others prefer to moralize about Cheney, or the Pope, or Jim West.

I do not agree with either the substance or the method of Jim West's moralizing. At least not in very significant detail. I don't agree with the style of moralizing of you two, either. So what? We can still have a conversation together, without one side parading around and making citizen's arrests based on linguistic infractions. This approach to things has gotten completely out of hand. It's just a power play.

The "cruel" argument is very lame. It reminds me of the ridiculous controversy about a statement of Obama's in which he said he bowled like someone in the Special Olympics (or something to that effect). People who love the Special Olympics or compete in it, except for the usual oversensitive types, laughed it off.

For the rest, if you are suggesting that you have no hatreds that you nurse, but only sweet thoughts about everyone, I have to wonder if you live on the same planet I do.

To recap, I found Jim West's blog style and content not to my liking. The style and content of the moralizing of his greatest detractors, in several instances, are even less to my liking. For example, what are we to say about Hector Avalos and John Loftus? If you ask me: Jim and Hector and John are peas in a pod. They deserve each other.

steph

You tell me to lighten up but you did your fair share of criticism. I've defended Jim for the credential attacks despite him criticising others over credentials, I defended him for intention to be funny, I pointed out all his positive contributions to scholarship, I've defended him before and I've been called all sort of names for it, and I did it again this time admidst similar name calling. And when the suicide post was brought up and I read it before the blog was deleted, and saw he never acknowledged the man was found innocent and I was really upset. So I said what I thought. And the humour had been escalating against groups of people which I had to acknowledge but I still balanced it with the good stuff. I have also said that on line Jim and John are two peas in a pod. One believes, one doesn't, one calls atheists loonies but claims he never means all atheists and one calls christians deluded but claims he never means all christians.

I'm light enough thanks and I don't watch TV - none at all in England - and when I did I didn't watch american tv. No I don't think I 'hate' and certainly not the same 'hatreds' as Jim. But Jim was a friend who could be very kind and sweet - and funny.

JohnFH

You express yourself very well and very charitably, Steph. I wish you a wonderful New Year.

steph

Thank you John. I wish you one too. See you in Atlanta.

steph

By the way, it is unfair for you to say lighten up, implying I haven't got a sense of humour. Of course Jim assumes that too. It is easy to attack someone like that. But it is not OK to jeer and poke fun at people, it is a form of bullying and unbecoming for you people of the church. Bullying of this kind is irresponsible with potential consequences for the bullied which you must appreciate. I hoped Christian pastors were above that.

JohnFH

I don't buy it, Steph. In reality, the more you seek to muzzle Christians, and pastors in particular, the more you convince me that Christians need to learn to be prophets again, fearless in the use of satire, as were Amos, Micah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel. Jesus wasn't bad at it, either. Nor was Paul.

Furthermore, if it is immoral for Christians to satirize and castigate, it should be immoral for politicians and cartoonists and op-ed writers to do so. It sounds as if you have an Orwellian solution of some kind in your thoughts.

Perhaps you will take the time to explain why your position does not fall into that well-known trap.

I'm very willing to talk about this issue with responsibility, with some honest reflection about the aesthetics of moralizing. But that means I can't accept the way you frame the issue.

Thanks for addressing an important topic, though I think you are going at it all backwards.

steph

Actually Jesus didn't jeer at fat people, who can't always help being fat, and as far as we know he didn't jeer at homosexuals. His attacks on the authorities (and John has limited use) were in a sense jeering but they were not personal attacks but attacks for the way they were applying the Law. As far as the prophets I would hope we have learned to treat people better in the 21st century than they did then.

Of course there is a place for satire. But there is all sorts of satire. I love satire. But this is not acceptable satire. Satire on racial groups is not. I'm suprised you cannot discern differences. I suppose I can't accept the way you frame the issue either John. It seems it's either all acceptable (you) or none (apparently me).

By the way, I think you're being pretty condescending to me. I suppose it comes with authority sometimes.

steph

fwiw http://thechurchofjesuschrist.us/2010/01/another-biblioblog-top-50-for-december-the-wrong-version/
joel has left a quote in the comments from mental health about suicide which illustrates precisely why the jeering post (which I have to wonder if you ever read) about the wrongfully (not acknowledged) accused homosexual suicide victim, was so appalling and irresponsible. It has absolutely nothing to do with 'political correctness'.

JohnFH

Steph,

I'm not in a position to argue the specific case. Nor are you. You are going on news reports, which may or may not be accurate.

Still, I agree. I consider it a safe assumption that Jim West's rhetoric of ridicule in this case, per the general rule, would not have been to my taste. He used the same ridiculous style on everyone, fellow Southern Baptists he despises, Bush and Cheney, rednecks, the list is endless. Come to think of it, he used it on me more than once. A libel suit is pending (sarcasm alert).

What I object to is this: you imply that you are fine with his style except when he targeted "fat people, atheists, suicides, and homosexuals." Yeah, right. Some of my best friends are fat and/or atheist, and/or committed suicide, and/or gay. But then again, some of my best friends are southern Baptists and/or Republicans and/or rednecks. Are you going to stand up for them as well?

Perhaps you wish to imply that we should make our speech as harmless as possible. But in that case, satire should be outlawed, since it depends on exaggeration and the ability to hurt through exaggeration.

In your earlier post, it's interesting that you see yourself and the "we" you construct in your speech as treating people better, hopefully, than the prophets. You make it sound like the prophets mistreated people. You are free to elaborate on your value judgment / stereotype / unacceptable generalization ("unacceptable" because generalizations are, by definition, unacceptable).

I think it's absolutely fine that you traffic in such generalizations. But, like all other believing Jews and Christians, I regard it as an unfounded generalization.

To be sure, your blanket statement, in the case of those with a thin skin, overly sensitive people who have been hurt in the past, even in completely unrelated circumstances, may come across as insulting or an attempt at slander.

I wonder if the prophet Muhammed mistreated people, and who you would feel safe pointing that out to, and in what context.

That's my point: critical awareness gives the lie to your rhetoric which depends on the possibility of creating a world in which no one ever feels diminished or insulted.

In my own case, I will not be bullied into making my speech harmless. Nor, Steph, do I want you to change your delicate use of condescension and misdirection. This is great fun. Your style, and mine, are transparent.

It warms my cockles that you make an exception for Jesus. You would like the portrait of Jesus in my church's main hallway. Soft features, sweet smile, brown curly hair. Not too fat, not too thin. :)

I think we are going to have to disagree on this one.

I now see why you don't watch TV, or go to see movies like "As Good As It Gets." You would be horrified.

With respect to condescension: most pastors I know would take it as condescending for someone to imply as you have that they must abide by your rules of acceptable satire in order to win your seal of approval as a bona fide harmless pastor. That's how you come across. I hope you are at least enjoying yourself in the process. I know I am. I enjoy the sweetness of your barbed remarks.

Clark

Those of us who work in business or government are obliged to comply with an ethics policy which closely resembles the human rights declaration on gender and sexual preference. In secular employment we have become used to not making fun of women for being women or homosexuals for being homosexual. Or fat people. At least we don't flaunt it in the workplace. We have for the most part learned to be careful.

Here is part of the declaration.

"We are also disturbed that violence, harassment, discrimination, exclusion, stigmatisation and prejudice are directed against persons in all countries in the world because of sexual orientation or gender identity, and that these practices undermine the integrity and dignity of those subjected to these abuses;"

United Nations declaration on sexual orientation and gender identity


I gues the church stands outside this kind of thing.

terri

I find it strange to read a defense of the use of satire as some God-given right to offend or be cruel.

I guess that whole admonition Jesus gives against idle words and calling your brother "idiot", or "fool", has no traction nowadays?

I enjoy satire as much as the next person, but can't help but notice that it seems the only fallback for Christians who want to be "funny" or "make a point".

Pastors are people who shouldn't feel as if they have to hide their personalities to seem "good"......but I did always find it strange that so much of Jim West's posts were so focused on bringing the most "totally depraved" things to everyone's attention...eschewing the whole "whatever is true, noble, pure...etc...think on those things".

How totally depraved to so earnestly hold onto our right to be petty and mean while using humor to cover our tracks. ;-)


JohnFH

Clark,

Are you suggesting that the same rules apply to the world of blogging as they do in the stifling atmosphere of a workplace?

The dialogues in a movie like "As Good as it Gets" are inappropriate in many settings, but they have a place. Having said that, I don't think Jim West made the best use of satire or the rhetoric of ridicule. But it's not easy to do well, such that it hurts but also creates a context for catharsis, mutual understanding, and honest criticism.

You are right. The United Nations and "the church" follow the beat of different drummers. They have different foci, different pet peeves, different core values. There is also a large degree of overlap such that many of the most active NGO's which work hand-in-glove with the UN are church affiliated organizations. It's a very good thing when you think about it. Right?

Terri,

I agree with the gist of your comment. I thought there was way too much bluster and Sturm und Drang on Jim's blog, not to mention name-calling and all the rest. On the other hand, I really don't understand a comment like yours, which is similar to Steph's:

I enjoy satire as much as the next person . . .

Well so do I, but that raises the question: why is some satire and ridicule acceptable and other satire not?

Jesus heaped ridicule on his opponents: why was that okay, but it's not okay for someone else, a Democrat or a Republican, a PETA person or a fundamentalist, to heap ridicule on their opponents?

Surely it must be okay, within certain limits, for people to heap ridicule on whomever they please.

This is a great discussion topic. One thing especially I have tried to emphasize so far: "an aesthetics of ridicule" cannot consist of designing a list of untouchables. Given the nature of satire and given human nature, that amounts to what we call in Italian "un invito a nozze," an invitation to transgress.

Ken

John, is it not fair to distinguish between satire that ridicules a person for their ethnicity/disabilities/genetics, that is something innate, and satire that attacks them for their political/religious/social/economic beliefs, that is an affiliation they choose?

JohnFH

I see your point, Ken, and I think it has force.

The comeback, of course, is that about 99% of what we do and say is determined by a combination of nature and nurture, neither of which we are responsible for. In effect, then, we should never ridicule anyone or anyone's behavior.

About the only line that is authentic, but absolutely inappropriate, is the one we all learned hurt more than any other on the school playground: you are an SOB. I'll return to the question of why ridicule is important therapy for targeted people at the end of this comment.

The reason a 17 year old girl I know who is bipolar, a cutter, in and out of jail, an addict, who is doing a little better now because she is pregnant out of wedlock, with at least that one goal outside of herself, the reason she is the way she is, is because, to simplify, she is one of five children of a mother who had kids with three or four men (abusive in each case, as far as I can see) and is now living with another (abusive) man.

From the pulpit, I ridicule the kind of behavior that got her into her mess and I ridicule behavior analogous to her own. Not in a crude and insensitive way, a la Jim West (but maybe we simply have different linguistic registers for expressing the same thought, and his register works better for certain kinds of people), but I try to distinguish right from wrong, and clearly.

The 17 year old girl listens, hears her story in the words, feels loved at the same time, and so gives her life to Jesus, and asks to be baptized. Invites all her street people to her baptism. The chains and black clothing and the stink and unkempt hair: it was tremendous (I love it, but then I'm a little weird). Half my congregation was horrified. Furthermore, she is hardly out of the woods yet. Old habits die hard. She's moved away, doesn't have the support she needs.

I don't what moral, if any, can be drawn from this kind of story, but I feel it is important to hate the sin and love the sinner. How do you drive a wedge between "sin" (99% the result of nature and nurture, in my book, though not for that reason excusable) and the "sinner"? How do you ridicule one and not the other? Is it even possible to do so? I don't think so, so we are in very dangerous but unavoidable territory.

Have you ever had a significant friendship with someone with Down's Syndrome? I have. When I want to doubt God and kiss the faith goodbye, all I have to do is think of Michele, a young boy (now a young man) I knew in Sicily. The moments of pure joy I had with Michele are unforgettable. If there is not a God who invented Michele, we will just have to invent a God for the purpose. There was an unworldly purity about his joy and his unfeigned love, but there was a similar purity about his sadness and despair. In such situations, I know it is a paradox, ridicule, in the right spirit, can help. Self-ridicule has well-known therapeutic value, but sometimes someone else has to kick-start the process. It's nice if that someone else is also someone ready to hold you tight and cry you to sleep. But it doesn't always work that way. Not at all. Life is hard.

steph

Sarcasm isn't becoming John. Jim treated suicide in an appallingly irresponsible way. Look into mental health about the issue. And if you want my 'portrait' of Jesus you'd better read Maurice Casey's forthcoming book. You have absolutely no idea what I think John and your assumptions are totally wrong. And I'm sorry no, this is serious and I'm not enjoying it. And I find your attitude fairly appalling and ugly.

JohnFH

Thanks for the conversation, Steph. I'm impressed that you let your words stand about the prophets. It's a good sign that you can hold on to your own stereotypes and generalizations without apology. I look forward to Casey's book - and hearing your take on the prophet Muhammed.

I think you take Jim West way too seriously and, at the same time, not seriously enough. But you seem to be in excellent company, so we might as well agree to disagree.

steph

I've never been a Christian so why should I think the Old Testament was valid? And as Jesus was a law abiding Jew who believed in the coming kingdom and judgement, I don't doubt he would have called homosexuals to return to God (tuv) had he come across them. What 'stereotypes' and 'generalisations'? And what take on Muhammed? What's yours? We just might agree. You certainly don't know my 'take' on Jesus. Just who is making generalisations and assumptions? I sure do take the issue about behaving responsibly over issues of mental health and suicide. And just exacly whose 'excellent company' do you think I am in?

terri

John,

You are arguing from a theoretical, intellectual point of view about the appropriate use of satire.

I would argue that, as Christians, we don't get the luxury of indulging ourselves....or at least that we shouldn't indulge ourselves. If we're talking about what's "best" or "right", it's helpful to be mindful that the only control we have is found in what we say, not in how others perceive it. So, if satire is frequently perceived by its object as hurtful or cruel, even though we may not have intended it that way, is there any value in using it?

Jesus used satire on those who were assured of themselves and were self-satisfied with their hypocrisy. He didn't use it to skewer the woman at the well, or the endless, needy thronging crowds, or any of the other powerless people he came across.

Perhaps the lesson is that satire is a weapon to be used by the powerless to reveal the hypocrisy of the powerful....instead of being used to simply ridicule indiscriminately.

John W. Loftus

steph wrote: "I have also said that on line Jim and John are two peas in a pod. One believes, one doesn't, one calls atheists loonies but claims he never means all atheists and one calls christians deluded but claims he never means all christians."

I DO mean all Christians! To be deluded by the dictionary definition (usually a secondary one) is to have a false belief. Why can't I use words by a secondary usage? We do so all of the time.

terri wrote: "Perhaps the lesson is that satire is a weapon to be used by the powerless to reveal the hypocrisy of the powerful....instead of being used to simply ridicule indiscriminately."

This made me feel a religious urge coming on: AMEN!

JohnFH

LOL, John. I'm impressed by your complete incorrigibility.

As for religion, I already knew you had one. Militant atheists typically do. That you also post as a poor, powerless victim, well, that is - how does MasterCard put it? - priceless.

Steph,

If you reread the comment thread, perhaps you will understand the gist of what I was trying to say. I posed a number of specific questions which you chose not to answer. That's absolutely fine, but it makes it hard to carry on a conversation.

Terri,

You do a fine job of articulating a "politically correct" approach to satire. But I don't buy it. Here's why.

(1) *Everyone* is assured of themselves and self-satisfied and is therefore in need of satire. This is one of the great needs that satire satisfies. Fat people, gays, suicides, feminists with a chip on their shoulders, pastors, blacks, whites: we all need to be taken down a notch. Have you seen "As Good as it Gets"? The film skewers everyone, and is a poignant witness to the ravaging effect of mental illness. The film is a success. Why is its rhetoric of ridicule successful, and not that of Jim West (actually, the more he gets guff for what he did, the more I wonder: perhaps he discovered a nerve that absolutely needs hitting)? That's my question.

(2) Ridicule, including self-ridicule, has therapeutic value. I wonder if you agree. Once again, the terms need to be clarified.

Who is more powerless than a suicide? I think you presume that. I don't agree. Many suicide-committers, not just the obvious cases, are suicide-bombers. Here are some reflections copied from another thread.

This is a great topic, but I feel as if the topic and the people affected are demeaned if the purpose is to pile on Jim West or anyone else who happens to say what suicide often (not always) is in practice: a terrible sin.

In order to understand this, one has to have an Augustinian understanding of the roots of sin - and if you don't like Augustine, find someone else with the same degree of insight (happy hunting). Augustine asked: why do people kill? Why do they commit adultery? He answered: out of love.

Surely he is right. The worst sins, the ones that kill and maim others, physically and/or psychologically, rather often are grounded in obsessive loves. Think John Brown. Think Osama bin Laden.

Anyone ever read a good biography of John F. Kennedy? The way that sin and sickness and love and loyalty and disloyalty formed a tightly woven fabric in his life is amazing. Better yet: read a good biography of Eleanor Roosevelt.

Note that it is not about being a victim in life. It's what you do with that, what you make of it. The people who get things done are those who sublimate the horrors they have witnessed, and/or endured, and/or perpetrated. In a sense, it is only people like this that God can use. That's why God chose Moses (a murderer), David (you name it, he did it), and Paul (another murderer).

I am an average person in every way, except that I am a pastor, which means I've seen a little bit more than most people do. I agree with Robert for sure that suicide is a nigh-incomprehensible tragedy on all sides.

A suicide I had to deal with recently involved a stunningly well-loved top executive with a beautiful wife and kids. He killed himself with one shot to the head in the prime of his life. He was very active in church, with lots of siblings, a tremendously loving context. But he had a deep-rooted psychological problem: *he could never measure up,* in his book or in the imagined book of his father. Despite all of the evidence to the contrary, he deemed himself a failure. His father raised all his 8 kids, boys and girls, with the highest expectations. My goodness, his father raised a whole town of kids singlehandedly; he ran a factory in which he gave work to anyone who was willing to work donkey-hard, including his own boys, whom he made work twice as hard. They all became, to a woman and a man, incredibly successful, incredibly driven, incredibly joyous people. Music welded the whole family together, and still does.

So why did this man kill himself? I'm convinced he did it to hurt his father, who had hurt him so hard so long and made him what he was in the process, something everyone honored and praised, but he knew the cost. No one else did. He did it to hurt his father, and guess what? He succeeded. He ruined the last years of his father, and was more than willing to end his own life if that it is what it took to get the job done.

Is this not a story of sin? Is this not a story of love gone awry? This is the stuff of life. The Greeks knew it. The Bible knows it. That it is not permitted to talk of suicide in these terms, but only in terms of a spotless victim, a sort of psycho-social whole offering to our demented consciences (read Girard if you don't believe me), is nothing more and nothing less than a tribute to how hopelessly we seek to run away from the truth about ourselves.

terri

Invoking the term "political correctness" as some sort of counter-argument that supposedly destroys the point I'm making is pretty meaningless to me....as if intuitively doing the opposite of what is deemed "politically correct" will lead one to a "true" insight into how to deal with people. Political correctness says,"Black"...and we're supposed to know that,"White" is the answer.

I find that tiring and not particularly useful.

As Good As It Gets has an overarching theme...the redemption of the unlovable and cruel. It skewers everyone, but not from the point of view that skewering everyone is the way to live one's life. The message of the movie is quite the opposite of that....Jack Nicholson's character learning to override his worst tendencies and attempt to let the better part of himself help others and win a little love for his own life. His satire is what causes hurt not only to others....but ultimately, himself.

As far as suicide goes...I wouldn't presume to know or guess why some people choose to end their lives. Some people are surely in pain and may simply want the pain to end, some people are mentally ill, some people are temporarily lost or confused...and maybe some want to hurt other people....but to confidently assert to know those things without the suicide e blatantly telling someone what their motive was...is a foolish practice.

The theorizing only serves to further hurt those who are left behind dealing with all the baggage the suicide left them.

I am both an idealist and a realist. This causes me no end of struggle, personally. Realistically I know that people and pastors are not perfect and have their own foibles and quirks to overcome. Idealistically, it pains me to read a pastor communicating a message that it's OK to use satire indiscriminately. It's OK to poke fun at people. It's OK to indulge our desire for the ridicule of other people.

It troubles me.

If we make any claim to Christ, however liberal or conservative that claim may be, how can we justify behavior that we know is likely to be perceived as degrading or cruel to other people?

We can feed the need within ourselves to have our humor satisfied through the ridicule of other people....or we can try to resist the cheap shots and barbs that come so easily to our tongues...or, in this case, to our typing fingers.

Well...that's enough sanctimony from me today. ;-)

JohnFH

Thanks, Terri, for the conversation. I agree that it's important to be very goal-oriented in the use of ridicule. I remain convinced, however, that we have barely begun to plumb the subject matter.

There is so much to say that rarely if ever gets said. For example, it's sometimes very helpful to ridicule a sufferer, or at least question a sufferer very pointedly. It's a strategy God uses in the book of Job.

Furthermore, I think we are overlooking how almost all humor, not just satire, depends on drawing blood and inflicting pain. That's why, and justifiably, tender and also very pure souls have a problem with humor tout court.

Umberto Eco wrote a book about the issue (among others): The Name of the Rose.

With respect to "As Good as it Gets," if you are saying that the moral of it is not to ridicule, I don't see that. But surely you are right, if I may reformulate the point, that the problem with judging is that we judge ourselves in the process.

Some Christians use, of course, Jesus' admonition "Judge not . . ." as a cudgel by which to judge others - and fail to see the irony. Jesus' admonition is exceedingly important, but must be understood in a non-superficial way, as Luther puts it, from the perspective that we are always, always simultaneously in the right and in the wrong before God (simul iustus et peccator).

My use of the term "politically correct" was meant to irk you. Label it however you want, the fact remains: you give a nice long list of possible reasons why someone might commit suicide, but you are careful to de-emphasize as much as possible something that is typical about human beings: our innate tendency to take things out on others, even if that means hurting ourselves in the process; to be self-absorbed; to apply a double standard . . . in short, to commit sin. Surely all of this is often in play in suicide.

I don't see what good it does to play these facts down, precisely when it comes to suicide. It helps no one, least of all someone with suicidal tendencies, to go along with the tendency to wallow in self-pity, to play the victim, and so on. Those who have suicidal tendencies are responsible for their actions. Those who are mentally ill are responsible for their actions - a point made well in "As Good as it Gets."

Clark

I don't think Jim West made the best use of satire or the rhetoric of ridicule. But it's not easy to do well, such that it hurts but also creates a context for catharsis, mutual understanding, and honest criticism.

If ridicule was all it took to bring about peace then you and West should be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Just out of curiosity have you managed to promote a lot of mutual understanding with these methods so far?

Are you suggesting that the same rules apply to the world of blogging as they do in the stifling atmosphere of a workplace?

So the blogosphere is just the sandbox of the church? Is that it?

JohnFH

Nice use of ridicule, Clark. Rhetorical questions are a great device.

As for Peace Prizes, you're right, Jim West needs one. Like Obama. It's called a very heavy hint, that you do as we think is right. Note that Obama declined the attempt at co-optation in his Nobel Peace Prize Speech, quoting almost a Christian theologian, Reinhold Neibuhr. How does the song go? Onward, Christian Soldiers.

I mean no harm. I really don't. Humor and satire are, nonetheless, wonderful ways of hurting others but maybe even with the intent to heal.

If you think I feel chastened in the least by your sanctimonious speechifying, you have another thing coming.

The blogosphere is everybody's sandbox. Including yours, I note.

All kinds of things happen in the sandbox. Most of the time, I build sandcastles, and explore those of others. But it's all right to throw wet sand once in a while, and even to put some down someone else's bathing trunks now and then.

steph

John, I'm not interested in having a conversation about Christian ethics and seeing whether ridicule can be justified biblically. I am not a Christian and I'm not going discuss fundamentalist morality. I've got no idea what you mean by my 'take' on Muhammed. I wouldn't suggest, Jesus (a Jewish prophet), the other prophets or Muhammed are models to follow. So what was the relevance of my 'take'?

I defend anyone's freedom to express their opinion and I did defend Jim's. I dismissed some of his opinions which made me cringe, simply because I understood that he is has very conservative biblical morals. However when I read that suicide post, it demonstrated his abuse of that freedom. It was appallingly irresponsible and dangerous and is the very sort of attitude that drives others to suicide quite apart from the fact the man was innocent, something Jim never conceded. It put all his other 'humour' in perspective, and the claimed intention to be 'funny' became suspect.

steph

John - I know you do but your attacks against the deluded are only directed to fundamentalist flavours. Same goes I think with us loonies and Jim's attacks/jokes.

steph

John W Loftus - sorry, two Johns, above comment to JWL.

JohnFH

Steph,

It's just fine that you have whatever calculus of moral aesthetics appeals to you. But Jim West has a right to his, and to express it as he sees fit. And you have a right to tar and feather him - verbally - as you see fit, just as you have done.

As for me, I don't have to agree with your moral aesthetics, or those of West. And I don't.

You can repeat "unacceptable" and "irresponsible" and "appalling" as often as you want. Your attempt to make the blogosphere a safe and sunny place, where never is heard a discouraging word, is very motherly of you.

The problem is, the blogosphere is a domain of consenting adults. The only way you can remove the possibility of abuse of its level of freedom of expression is to suppress the framework entirely. Those who require a more controlled environment are invited to move to North Korea.

I'm glad we agree that the Danish cartoonist and the Dutch filmmaker were within their rights, no matter how abominable their satire and ridicule were is in the eyes of millions of practicing Muslims.

I'm sure you also agree that the perps responsible for the filmmaker's brutal slaying deserve whatever retribution Dutch law stipulates, and those who egged the perps on, our eternal disdain.

I'm sure we agree on many, many things. We don't agree on the best ways to prevent suicide.

steph

You continue to make false assumptions John. So I hope it's false for me to assume that you think Jim's way of 'preventing' suicide is 'good'. My idea of 'prevention' is based on reading researched studies of the causes of suicide which demonstrate that some attitudes reflected above, encourage suicide.

JohnFH

Sorry if I extrapolated improperly. This is a freedom of expression issue. Now you leave me wondering how controlled you think speech should be, and by whom.

One of the things I like about the Dunedin school blog to which you contribute is the voice it gives to Marxist views. That of course invites questions that people sometimes like to avoid. There is Marxism, and then there is Marxism-Leninism. There is Stalinism, and then there is Mao's version of Stalinism. Then there are those, including myself, who find the historical consequences of all of the above to be dark, murderous, and utterly unconscionable, but still believe that all of these "isms" address real issues in authentically human ways. They have, furthermore, forced capitalist economies to make positive changes that otherwise might not have been made.

How do you see the Left today, and the role of Marxist thinking? It's a natural question, given that we are discussing a freedom of speech issue. The attitude of conventional Marxism, and of the Left in general, is terribly well-known. The only free speech they are interested in protecting is their own.

I differ with you about the conclusions you reach re the causes of suicide. Researchers disagree among themselves on the matter. We are talking about open questions in a field of free inquiry, not open-and-shut cases. This is typical of the social sciences. Take any similar subject, such as: why do people divorce, why are people abusive, why do people have low IQs, and you will run into a buzz saw of controversy papered over by a veneer of consensus that is ever changing.

I read in the field of psychology in search of insight as well, but I find insight of equal and sometimes more compelling grandeur in the Bible, in literature, and in philosophy, none of which are based on empirical research.

The "researched studies" bit, and your use of words like "demonstrate," fail to impress.

steph

John why do you always go off on tangents? What on earth have the interests of some of my co bloggers to do with anything? I am a friend of Otago University, and was asked to be a contributor. I have blogged once on Ben Witherington. As far as Marxism, I'd rather not discuss such ideas with someone from a troubled Marxist past. And why on earth would I try to impress you. Perhaps I should add your reading in the field of psychology as well as your 'more compelling grandeur' fail to impress as well. You're impressed enough with your own opinion.

JohnFH

You know, Steph, you link to the Dunedin school blog through your name when you comment, and I'm glad you do. But if you don't want your comments to be associated with that blog, you may want to rethink that habit.

I associate you with Leftist thought based on past conversations. If you have since renounced that political persuasion, you might as well let us in on the news.

I'm not surprised you don't want to talk about Marxism or its Wirkungsgeschichte. It's hard nowadays to find Marxists who are willing to stand up for what they believe.

The question of free speech is problematic for the Left. This is well-known and quite undisputed. For all the world you seem to want to muzzle Jim West or anyone else who says things science has "demonstrated" are hurtful to others.

Perhaps you agree with the spirit and even the letter of Cuban Communism, which until recently prohibited Christians from being teachers. Science demonstrates, according to Marxism as the Castro regime understood it, that Christians corrupt children and spread lies.

It's hard to know sometimes. As you say, I have long first-hand experience with Marxism. I can think of many positives. A commitment to free speech is not one of them.

This whole maneuver, of which you have been a part, to tar and feather Jim West for his typically ungracious comments, is a transparent ploy. It's not Jim West that is your target. It is Christianity itself, anyone who takes its tenets seriously.

That is absolutely fine. But I don't see why you have to hide behind a criticism of Jim West in order to make that sort of claim. Why not be forthright about the scope of your target?

The honesty of John Loftus is admirable. He believes all Christians to be deluded, and makes no bones about it.

steph

My goodness John you assume again. I'm happy to be part of the Dunedin School. I'll be there in 3 weeks in fact of a conference. If you look carefully John, you'll see there are several of us and we blog on different things. We're actually independent minds with independent ideas who can share a conversation, but not part of some social sub group with single political affiliation. But what we blog there is nothing to do with Jim which is the topic of the post. You don't have to be a Christian to be interested in Christianity, you don't have to be a Marxist to be interested in Marxism. And my main interest is rational historical criticism. No my target is not 'Christianity' John much as you might want it to be. My criticism of Jim was purely because I think he had abused his freedom to express his opinion, on suicide. I haven't liked alot of his making fun of people and I don't like some of his conservative biblical morality. But I dismiss it because that is his opinion and we don't share it. But if you don't understand the gravity of suicide and the consequences of how we handle it then you shouldn't have the responsibility of a church.

And thank you for the label, it's hysterical. And so is the apparently 'transparent ploy'.

JohnFH

Steph,

A wise man once said, "The way to keep yourself from making assumptions is to ask questions." But that doesn't work with you. You decline questions that might put your line of argument in doubt. Like it or not, the ploy is transparent.

Very sweet plug for the Dunedin school. I much enjoy reading those who write for it. You make it sound like a group of people with an ordinary mix of political views, ranging from libertarian to social conservative to classical liberal to socialist. Those who go and read the posters, and I hope people do, are in for quite a surprise.

It has gotten to that point, hasn't it? People will admit to being interested in Marxism, but never to being a Marxist. The Left is now afraid of its own shadow. When I was a card carrying member of the Left, I belonged to the Communist Party of Italy. But now the fun must be completely gone if no one has the temerity to self-identify as a Commie.

Even though you are tongue-tied when it comes to your political stance, you have no trouble morally disqualifying, unless they are Muslim, an "authority" (your word, not mine) in a religion.

But it's good to see you come right out and say what you believe: a Christian who doesn't think like you about suicide shouldn't be given pastoral responsibilities.

I appreciate your candor. It's absolutely disarming. As you will note, I'm happy to go toe-to-toe with you in the candor department.

steph

Oh you're so presumptious, arrogant and wrong. I'll always remember you as the guy who wrote a completely ridiculous review of a book he hadn't even read.

JohnFH

A gracious exit on your part, Steph.

I was hoping to snare those accolades from you before you called it a night. It’s what you have been saying all along. Now you add the effect of inclusio.

My trouble with James Crossley’s Jesus in an Age of Terror – not a book designed to make friends, as he himself admits - is that I had read enough of it to understand its gist before you and your friends –including Jim West – skewered me for daring to make a critical remark about it.

After reading the whole thing, I composed a long review but chose not to post it. I still think that was the best choice. But say the word, and I will be happy to reverse course.

steph

because you hadn't read it John.

And really, do you think James - or I - would care?

JohnFH

You bring back fond memories, Steph.

Here are the links for those interested:

http://ancienthebrewpoetry.typepad.com/ancient_hebrew_poetry/2009/03/good-and-bad-imperialism.html

http://ancienthebrewpoetry.typepad.com/ancient_hebrew_poetry/2009/03/whats-wrong-with-n-t-wrongs-antiimperialism.html

By the end of it, James and I on the one hand and N.T. Wrong and I on the other had gotten down to brass tacks. The substance of the discussion, aside from the saber-rattling, is actually of continuing interest.

Your response and that of Jim West to my so-called review of Crossley's work were highly entertaining. It comes back to me now: I had forgotten how much the two of you sound alike when you are cross. It was like you two had taken an oath to be Crossley's bodyguards, and thuggish ones at that.

Kind of like this time, except now you are cross with a dead man named West, and with me for offering a very qualified defense of his rants.

So much merriment and gnashing of teeth. Thanks for the animated conversation.

Regretfully, I'm closing the thread. I have more boring things to attend to.

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