Thomas Talbott wrote:
Consider the following parable:
Long ago in ancient Atlantis, a series of prophets appeared among the Atlantans and spoke in the name of Morg, whom they proclaimed as the one true God of the universe. In the name of Morg, these prophets performed many mighty deeds: They healed the sick, brought sight to the blind, and even raised a few men and women from the dead. They spoke with great power and authority, preaching absolute obedience to Morg, whose holy and just character, they said, could not tolerate wicked disobedience. They called for economic justice, for peaceful relationships between the states, for children to obey their parents and parents to love their children, and for the people to engage in certain prescribed forms of worship. They also produced many writings: letters, sermons, historical accounts, and the like; and in later centuries, these were collected into a set of sacred scriptures called, The Book of Morg. Though the scriptures included a rich variety of religious writings, not all of which were easy to harmonize, converts to Morgism nonetheless came to regard them all as the inerrant word of Morg.
Now the Atlantans were generally a dark-skinned people, but it so happened that about one in five was albino, totally devoid of any skin pigmentation. There was no discernible pattern to this phenomenon. An albino parent was no more likely than a dark-skinned parent to have an albino child; and though approximately 20% of the population was albino, no one could predict when an albino child would be born. But the Book of Morg had some important things to say about this phenomenon; certain texts seemed to imply that white skin was an abomination in the sight of Morg. To be sure, the interpretation of these texts, sometimes classified among the “hard sayings,” was controversial, in part because they seemed incompatible with other texts. But Azeb 8:22 explicitly used the term “abomination,” and many other texts seemed to imply that albinos would have no place in the Kingdom of Morg. According to Morgist fundamentalists, therefore, there was no salvation for albinos; and so the fundamentalists excluded albinos from the holy temples, and they supported laws against intermarriage between albinos and the dark-skinned majority.
As you might expect, however, these practices produced some great theological controversies. Those whom the fundamentalists castigated as liberals pointed to other texts in the book of Morg that seemed to declare Morg’s love for all Atlantans; they even pointed out that, according to Epaga 13:5, there are no color distinctions at all in the Kingdom of Morg. And philosophers among the more liberal party supplemented these exegetical considerations with the following philosophical argument: If Morg is truly holy and just, they contended–and if his very essence is perfect love–then he could not possibly hate the albinos and exclude them from his Kingdom simply on account of their white skin. But the fundamentalists had a whole arsenal of arguments against such considerations as these. They found some fifty texts in the Book of Morg in which the word “all” did not literally mean all, and they therefore argued that the more universalistic-sounding texts imply only that Morg loves all Atlantans of color. After all, one must harmonize one text with another. If there are no color distinctions in the Kingdom of Morg, for example, that is only because the albinos have already been excluded. The fundamentalists also responded with great anger towards the more philosophical arguments: The liberals, they claimed, had elevated human reason above the Book of Morg, which should be the ultimate standard of truth. But the liberals had no right to judge Morg; it was Morg who would eventually judge them.
And so the controversies raged among the Morgists until Nivlac, the greatest exegete and theologian of Atlantis, put an end to all such controversies by the power of the sword–which, he claimed, Morg had placed in his hand. According to Nivlac, Morg did not hate the albinos on account of anything they had done, good or bad; he did not even hate them on account of their white skin. To the contrary, their white skin was but a visible sign that Morg had already hated them from the foundation of the world. Against the liberal party–“venomous dogs who spew out more than one kind of venom against Morg,” Nivlac wrote:
Foolish men contend with Morg in many ways, as though they held him liable to their accusations. They first ask, therefore, by what right Morg becomes angry at his creatures who have not provoked him by any previous offense; for to devote albinos to destruction just because it pleases him is more like the caprice of a tyrant than the lawful sentence of a judge. It therefore seems to them that albinos have reason to expostulate with Morg if they are hated solely by his decision, apart from their own merit. If thoughts of this kind ever occur to pious men, they will be sufficiently armed to break their force by the one consideration that it is very wicked merely to investigate the causes of Morg’s will.
Nivlac went on to make two additional points: first, that Morg’s will is the highest rule of righteousness, and second, that nothing in Morg’s nature prevents him from hating the albinos. Accordingly, Morg’s hatred “has its own justice–unknown, indeed to us but very sure.” Nivlac thus concluded that any argument from a human conception of justice is fundamentally misconceived: “We deny that Morg is liable to render an account; we also deny that we are competent judges to pronounce judgment in this cause according to our own understanding.”
[Note: I, JRP, am treating Tom’s subsequent commentary as being part of the parable material, since its form and function are almost totally equivalent to what has preceded it; and since everyone, Tom included, treated this material as being equally parabolic, during the DangIdea discussion. Please see here for the full text without my slight revisions.]
A question many might have, is this: If certain texts in the Book of Morg really did contain such a horrendous doctrine about the albinos, why did so many Morgists regard the book as an infallible revelation nonetheless? Why did they not just throw out the objectionable parts? One answer might be that most of them had learned about Morg in the first place by reading the Book of Morg, and they did not feel it right simply to pick and choose what they would, and would not, believe. They regarded the entire book as the holy Word of Morg, and they denied themselves any authority to stand in judgment upon the veracity of this text or that.
Alternative interpretations of the crucial texts were indeed possible. But what could a simple peasant, who knew little of the book’s historical background and nothing of the languages in which it was originally written, have to say on that score? How could a simple peasant controvert the opinion of so great a scholar as Nivlac on the meaning of a specific text? So long as the less learned considered it impious to question the authority of scripture, therefore, Nivlac could employ his greater learning as a club to beat them into submission. His superior knowledge of history and the languages of scripture and his more sophisticated exegetical arguments made him, for all practical purposes, the final arbiter of all truth–not just the truth in the area of his own specialty, but of all truth
There is, of course, a way in which even a simple peasant could have undermined all of Nivlac’s pretensions. Suppose that a peasant woman should have approached him and have said something like this: “Look, Nivlac, I love Morg with all my heart, and I believe that the Book of Morg is indeed his holy Word. And I don’t know what to say about your fancy arguments that seem to imply such awful things about Morg. But I do know this. No holy or just or loving Creator like Morg, no Creator of the kind that I worship, could possibly hate this little albino child of mine that I love so much. Indeed, if he loves me, as you say he does, then he must also love my baby. So if you are right about the meaning of these verses–mind you, I’m not saying you are right–but IF you are right, then these verses are just wrong; they are not a true revelation from Morg.”
By her simple willingness to hold onto certain convictions even on the assumption that they contradict the Book of Morg, or contradict certain texts in the Book of Morg, such a peasant woman would have nullified every advantage that Nivlac’s superior knowledge of history and language might otherwise have given him. All of his railing about wicked disobedience, about substituting her own human judgment for Morg’s, about making accusations against Morg would then simply pass her by. For as even a simple peasant woman could see, there is no question here of making accusations against Morg. Her bone of contention was with Nivlac, not with Morg.