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24 April 2005 @ 23:06
How Ron Wheeler failed to convert me to Satanism  

Ron Wheeler is a Christian cartoonist. I mean that in both obvious senses of the phrase: both that he is a cartoonist who is also a Christian, and that he is someone who draws Christian cartoons. He's responsible for various proselytizing comics that can now be found on the Web, but my first encounter with his oeuvre was many years ago, when one of his tracts found its way into my hands in its original, printed version. Although it clearly did not have the effect on me that Wheeler intended it to, it was, at least, memorable—largely because it contains the most damning depiction of Christianity I have ever seen.

The tract is called "The Judge," and, like many classic and not-so-classic Christian texts, it takes the form of a parable. The title character, who turns out to be the analogue of God in this little allegory, is a strict devotee of Laura Norder; we see her passing judgment on various defendants, who are all guilty, and who all invariably react to her sentences with the lament "Awww, bummer." She is tremendously successful ("Extra! Extra! Crime eliminated!" cries a newsboy, although somehow the judge does not seem to run out of people to waggle her gavel at), and all is well, until one day a familiar face unexpectedly appears in the dock. Here I think it is best to quote directly from the tract itself:

Mom! You were caught in the act?

As Wheeler says, the judge has "a dilemma," or what some of the rest of us might identify as "a conflict of interest." The coppers have dear old Mom bang to rights, and the inner turmoil stemming from the conflict between our heroine's filial sentiment and jurisprudential duty wells over into a heartfelt "Yeesh!"

But then the judge has an idea—a wonderful, awful idea, as Dr. Seuss might have put it:

I know! Because of my LOVE for you, I will serve your sentence.

And there you have it. Clearly somebody has to be sent off to jail, because Justice demands it. But who ever said that it had to be the criminal herself? No, any warm body can fill a cell as well as another, so why not let it be the judge? That'll really put a dent in the crime rate, or teach the judge's mother a stern lesson, or, um, whatever the point of this whole business is. Anyway, Justice will be served! (Frequently stuffed with chestnuts, as James Thurber might have put it.)

Right. So I expect you see where this is going, allegorically speaking: God (the judge) loves us poor sinners (the mother) but also insists that for every sin there must be a punishment (awww, bummer). But the Good News is that God doesn't actually require that we suffer for our own sins, so He sends His only begotten Son (also the judge; I catch a whiff of patripassionism here) to suffer and die on the cross so that His Justice can be served (chestnuts on the side, please) and all will be hunky dory.

Now, I am not entirely surprised to learn that there are people in the world who think that this is a good analogy for understanding the basic idea behind Christianity; nor am I at all surprised or displeased to know that some people in the world are Christians. But it appalls the shit out of me to think that these two sets overlap.

Honestly, if I believed that the Christian God existed, and that his position was in some way analogous to that of this dimwitted judge who not only did not have the elementary ethical sense to recuse herself from her own mother's trial, but furthermore actually thought that she would do some good by toddling off to jail in Mom's place—if I believed that, then I would feel that I had no option, morally speaking, but to cast my lot with Lucifer in His Majesty's Loyal Opposition. (Well, maybe not those guys specifically; they look like a bunch of dorks. But some sort of organized resistance group, anyway.)

Luckily (I guess) for Wheeler, I'm an atheist, so I don't think this Judge of his exists in the first place, and I think he's completely wrong about this analogy—I have too many sensible Christian friends to imagine that this nonsense reflects how they view their relationship with their saviour. But if Wheeler had convinced me, I might even now be spending my days scribbling pentagrams and vandalizing churches.

Meredith L. Pattersonmaradydd on 24. April, 2005 20:17 (UTC)
It amuses me no end that the majority of atheists I know are more generally well-informed about Christian history and doctrine than most of the loudmouthed Christians I run into. (The knowledgeable Christians, such as elwe, tend to be the quiet ones.)
Ryan: jeromeelwe on 24. April, 2005 20:49 (UTC)
:: whacks Anselm of Canterbury, across time, with a very large stick for ever coming up with this twisted, monstrous piece of "theology" ::
Meredith L. Pattersonmaradydd on 24. April, 2005 20:52 (UTC)
I am oh so very pwned.
Q. Pheevrq_pheevr on 26. April, 2005 09:18 (UTC)

At least Cur Deus Homo is more subtly argued, and doesn't try to connect Christ's punishment with ordinary criminal justice—isn't it more about repaying a debt to God so that He can save face? Which would make this a civil case, with the judge being also the plaintiff... oy vey. I applaud both your reach and your aim.

Ryanelwe on 26. April, 2005 11:31 (UTC)
"At least Cur Deus Homo is more subtly argued, and doesn't try to connect Christ's punishment with ordinary criminal justice—isn't it more about repaying a debt to God so that He can save face?"

Yes, that's right. Anselm's theory is somewhat different than the one in the cartoon, but he still deserves a whacking for moving atonement theology in the direction of thinking of in terms of a conflict between God's mercy and God's justice/honor/face-saving/etc., which laid the foundation for the cartoon's theology.
Q. Pheevrq_pheevr on 26. April, 2005 15:04 (UTC)

Then by all means, whack away!

Q. Pheevrq_pheevr on 26. April, 2005 08:56 (UTC)

Oh, I'm not particularly knowledgable about this sort of thing, although many atheists are. I just enjoy throwing around what little knowledge I do have, as in that offhand comment about patripassionism, which sometimes gives the wrong impression that there's more where it came from.

Oh, Snap!kutsuwamushi on 24. April, 2005 20:30 (UTC)
I think the most damning depcitions of Christianity I've seen are to be found in Chick tracts. The condemning to eternal torment of people who are basically good but mistaken (that Chick's god is the real god) doesn't go over so well with me.
鉄観音: cuteisolt on 25. April, 2005 18:38 (UTC)
I think Jack Chick is a perfect example of someone missing the point of Christianity. Ron Wheeler seems to basically get it but also seems to be appallingly stupid about the meaning of it all.

In other words, Jack Chick makes me sick to my stomach, while Ron Wheeler is making me smack my forehead in despair.
Q. Pheevrq_pheevr on 26. April, 2005 08:40 (UTC)

The "believe or be damned" attitude is certainly one that I find repugnant, no matter where it turns up. But what I meant here is that Wheeler's attempt at describing what it is that Christians believe in is remarkably unflattering: he makes the central idea of Christianity sound like something that no one with an ounce of sense would support. I find this in some ways more startling—and in all ways more amusing—than simply wrapping that central idea in Chickian intolerance.

Hellesponthellespont on 24. April, 2005 21:50 (UTC)
Eek! I clicked on the patripassionism link and had a disturbing flashback to my first-year Syriac Christianity class when we a very brief synopsis of the debates about the Trinity.

An elaborate system was put in the place of monarchianism, in which three hypostases ("essences") were said to exist in one ousia ("substance"). This allowed each person of the Trinity to be made of the same "stuff," while at the same time maintaining their separate realities.

God (no pun intended), that argument just went around in circles. Splitting hair's hairs. We should all stick with St. Patrick's shamrock analogy and be done with it.

Oh, and Ron Wheeler isn't fit to lick Jack Chick's wild-eyed crazyboots.
(Anonym) on 25. April, 2005 13:48 (UTC)
nothin' to do with content ...

Neat. You extended a construction. Satan will be pleased.

No hits for "appalled", either -- "* the shit out of" gives mostly scare/annoy/beat or various synonyms, with a couple of "impress" or "embarrass".

Anna Phor
Q. Pheevrq_pheevr on 26. April, 2005 08:41 (UTC)
Re: nothin' to do with content ...

Register clash is a specialty of mine....

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