February 23, 2009

Poe’s Law

Posted in Atheism, The Bible tagged , , , at 3:12 pm by Andrew

A serious question for my Christian readers: can you tell me if this little vignette is a parody or not? I certainly read it that way, until I dug into the parent directory, which appears to be an in-all-seriousness online manual for youth ministry.

But seriously:

Jesus: Wait a minute, didn’t I heal ten lepers? Why didn’t the other nine come back to thank me? The only one who came back to give praise to God was the Samaritan.

Disciple 1: Hum, maybe we were wrong about Samaritans.

Now I know how I read Luke 17:11-19, which is the passage of Scripture on which this little vignette is based. I think about those other nine lepers for a moment — but only a moment, because they’re not real. We know that even the worst ingrates are incapable of behaving like this; if you get magically cured of one of the worst diseases known to man, you’re going to at least stick around and figure out what just happened, right?

And that’s why it only takes a moment. As the reader, you can instantly recognize this passage as a badly-written bit of fiction. (That’s not to indict the whole Bible; there’s a lot of well-written fiction in there, too.) The nine ingrate lepers aren’t real people; they’re cartoon extras who exist for the sole purpose of providing the Samaritan leper some sharp relief. He gets to behave sensibly, and then Jesus can make his point. It’s a morality play, not a work of history. And the more you read the Bible, more and more of it reads the same way.

That’s why on first reading, I thought “Ten Lepers” had to be a clever parody. But now I’m not so sure, and that’s Poe’s Law in a nutshell.

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1 Comment »

  1. Foobear said,

    Poe’s Law applies to atheist writings too. Are you actually being serious here, or are you writing a parody of atheist criticisms of the Bible? I honestly can’t tell.

    The story went:
    1) Jesus cured the lepers (which we’ll stipulate)
    2) Jesus ordered them to present themselves to the priests. This was part of the Law (which I guess I’ll assume you know, since you’re writing criticisms of the Bible) regarding leprosy.
    3) The 10 guys, miraculously cured, follow the order of this guy that just cured them, and follow the Law and present themselves to a priest.

    But you say: “If you get magically cured of one of the worst diseases known to man, you’re going to at least stick around and figure out what just happened, right?”

    Poe’s Law.

    You should be asking, “If you get magically cured and the man who cured you orders you to follow the Law and go run to a priest, would you stick around?” (But then your argument against the Bible sounds kind of ignorant and illogical, doesn’t it?)

    4) One of the guys tracks him down later to thank him. As someone who is about 7 months behind on my thank you cards for my wedding, I can tell you how unfortunately easy this is.


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