Thursday, July 12, 2007

Is God a crybaby?

A friend of mine recently pointed me to an outstanding blog, The Meming of Life. There the author describes issues that come up with raising a freethinking child. He also manage to use each enjoyable anecdote as an illustration of some interesting point, whether it be about the accusation of relativism to understanding when it might be acceptable to take things on authority.

Old news: A memetic view of blasphemy

At any rate, reading the The Meming of Life reminded me of some of the conversations we've had with our daughter, in particular I recalled a discussion I had with her about blasphemy when she was five years old. I had never really thought much about blasphemy before that conversation. That isn't exactly true. I had thought about blasphemy. It is the perfect example of a meme which exists to defend the meme complex it is part of. I am not a great fan of memetics, although I am a great fan of Richard Dawkins. But in this case a memetic point of view appears to be exactly the way to look a blasphemy. It's been described before, far better than I could do it, so I won't repeat that aspect of it.

I would like to invite comments with links to such memetic analyses. (See how lazy I am?)

A child's view of blasphemy

Here is a slightly modified version of an email message I sent to a friend in May 2004.

T and I had an interesting conversation in the car today.

T: Oh my Gosh! I said "Oh my Gosh" because God doesn't like it when you say "Oh my God".

J: He doesn't?

T: No, he doesn't, and it makes him upset.

J: Well, if he doesn't like it when I say "Oh my God" he is welcome to ask me to stop saying it. But so far, he hasn't complained to me at all about it.

T: That is because he is way up in the sky and you can't hear him.

J: Well, if he is way up in the sky where I can't hear him then I'm sure that he won't be bothered if I say "Oh my God".

T: But he watches everything.

J: So he is so far up in the sky that I can't hear him, but he can still be bothered by me saying "Oh my God".

T: Yes.

J: Isn't that a bit strange?

T: He is magical.

J: Then if he is so magical, I'm sure he can figure out a way to tell me clearly if I am bothering him. So far he hasn't asked me to stop. But I will stop as soon as he does ask me.

T: God *really* doesn't like to hear people say that he doesn't exist.

J: Oh dear. I guess he will have to cover his ears a lot.

T: [agitated] And God doesn't like it when people tease him.

J: Really? I would have thought that if he were so powerful and magical he wouldn't really be bothered.

T: He really gets upset when people tease him.

J: So he is a cry-baby?

T: Daddy, [tearfully] don't tease God! You'll make him upset.

J: You know what I think? I think that if God is real then he probably isn't a cry baby, so won't get so upset at a little teasing.

T: And in heaven, people aren't allowed to cry.

J: OK. I'll be sure to remember that.

T: Heaven is where God makes people come back alive. [long break for other conversation (in which I'd learned where she acquired all of this wisdom)]

J: You know what I think? I don't think that God is bothered by what anyone says. But there are a lot of people who get upset when you tease God. So it is best not to tease God when those people are around.

So is God a crybaby? Does He really get upset when people say bad things about Him? Is this really the concept of blasphemy among believers? Why does God care about blasphemy? Why are half of the Ten Commandments about how God and religion should be treated?

I don't mean those as rhetorical questions. I would like to hear opinion on these.