Thursday, December 08, 2022

The Nauseation of the Adoration

I wonder if Christians realize how strange and creepy their manger adoration fixation looks to an outsider: adults on their knees, smiling half-wittedly while worshipping a baby who glows with an eerie light; wise men or kings or whatever they’re supposed to be traveling a great distance to bestow gifts on the same baby, guided by a striking celestial phenomenon not recorded by the many ancient civilizations that studied the sky and scrupulously recorded anything novel therein.

Meanwhile, Mary looks on with even more saccharine goopiness than one normally expects from a new mother. How quickly she has recovered from giving birth! Did she not writhe in pain during the process, shrieking at Heaven “I hate you!”? Perhaps giving birth to a godling is different from normal mortal birthing. Perhaps it’s an exquisite experience rather than an excruciating one. Perhaps the Blessed Virgin writhed, not in pain, but in ecstasy, shouting, “Oh, God! Oh, God!” I believe the Gospels don’t say, but possibly medieval Christian theologians discussed this matter, although without recording their conclusions.

Now I’m wondering what other aspect of newborn care might be different when the newborn is God himself. Never mind painless birth. What about His poop? Did Little God’s diapers smell like roses? Even that seems wacky for a godling. Perhaps he didn’t poop at all. Or pee. Or eat. How can a god eat—or need to eat—human food or nurse at a mortal breast? And if he does, you don’t want to make him eat what he doesn’t want to eat or deny him that breast when he wants it. The consequences could be awful. Don’t cross that baby! If he wants to stay up late, let him! If he wants to put something in his mouth, don’t tell him it’s dirty or dangerous. Let him!

If luminescent Baby Jesus did poop and pee, not only must the output of his godly bottom have smelled, well, heavenly, but it would also have been extraordinarily valuable and deserving of reverence. Never mind bringing gifts to the divine infant; people would have been fighting viciously for the infant’s gifts. Perhaps there’s a hidden storeroom at the Vatican containing all of those soiled diapers, a secret room where only the Pope and the most cardinal of the cardinals may enter to worship the ethereal nappies.

Oh, but wait! The sanctity of His shit wouldn’t have ceased with infancy, would it? That room must contain all 33 years of his infallible feces. And pee. And presumably any vomit and perspiration. That’s a big room.

That room must also be very well smellproofed. The odor of the divine dung, etc. is surely not only indescribably lovely but also of godly power, intensity, and reach. Thus the room must be smellproofed appropriately, for otherwise, treasure hunters would have only to follow their noses in order to find the hidden brown gold. Or, having done so and found—and smelled!—the paradisiacal poop, would they have a religious experience, fall to their knees, and promise to be exceedingly good thenceforward? Probably not. Better to smellproof the room really well.

Putting that aside, let’s get back to the nauseating weirdness of that adoration of a baby. I’ll admit that I start with a strong prejudice against any sort of adoration—of a celebrity, a politician, an athlete, an entertainer, etc. Such adoration puzzles me, and from puzzlement I usually move quickly to contempt. So when I see manger scenes or hear a Christmas Carol such as “Adeste Fidelis” (quite a beautiful song if you hear it in Latin, but in English the lyrics are nauseating) or hear references to the sweet little Baby Jesus, contempt comes quickly—contempt for the cringing servility of it all, the belly-crawling, boot-licking doggishness, the subjugation of the human spirit to an imaginary superhuman monarch, and moreover one in the form of a mere infant.

Religion is inherently nauseating, but Baby Jesus adoration is one of the weirdest, creepiest, and most nauseating forms it takes.

That’s even without the super poop.

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Ex-Jew Interview

I was interviewed this morning on the Chicago Jewish Cafe program about my book ONCE A JEW, ALWAYS A JEW? Here's the video link:

Friday, November 25, 2022

Cucumber God

Behold the Cucumber God.

He is surrounded by His adoring worshippers. The crowd is so dense that some of those in it must stand upon others so that they can be bathed in the effulgence of His divine stupendiferousness as he spews his seeds (of wisdom). Sadly, there seem to be some doubters among the tomatoes.

You might notice that the god is made up of two conjoined aspects. How can this be? How can He be both one and two?

This is a deep mystery that can be understood, to the extent mortal mind can understand it, only by those who have studied deeply the ancient writings, the Cuke Canon, and the centuries of exegisis performed thereon and extrapolation derived therefrom by generations of cucologians, cranky fellows crammed together in stinky little rooms, performing their sacred labor while their wives and children labored to provide food and shelter for their families.

For us ordinary mortals, it is sufficient to know that He is the bigod. When a person thinks he is saying "By God!" he is in truth offering a prayer to the only true god, the bigod. Or should that be the bigods? It is a bit confusing.


Sunday, October 16, 2022

Mysterious Midsomer Murders Mystery Solved!

I've long been puzzled by certain aspects of Midsomer County, the supposedly fictional English county with a shockingly high murder rate.

First, there's that murder rate itself. So many bodies in such a sparsely settled, idyllic setting! Why is the UK national press on the case? Why aren't the notorious British tabloids permanently ensconced there? Why aren't questions being asked in Parliament?

Second, there's the strange unimportance of time within Midsomer County. Murders there are often the result of events decades, generations, even centuries in the past. Past and present almost seem to coexist within the county.

Third is the question of the exact size and location of Midsomer County. It's a bucolic place, for the most part, with small villages and lots of farm country and open meadoes. Despite that, the total population, based on the number of different characters we've met during the life of the series, must be enormous. Our detective heroes drive over to Reading to get information and then return for the day, and there are residents who work in the City, so we know it's in the south of England, probably one of the Home Counties (but not included in any lists of them!). However, there are people who have lived there their whole lives who nonetheless speak with pronounced Northern accents. There is at a Welshman, DS Ben Jones, who nonetheless grew up there and whose grandmother lives there and knows local gossip from long ago.

Then there's that shapeshifter DCI Barnaby, who is really the same Barnaby throughout the series, despite changing his first name and family members. (Perhaps you see where I'm going with this.) (Perhaps not.) He's always accompanied by a companion, a detective sergeant, who also changes outwardly but not in essential nature.

And finally, and perhaps the most important clue of all, there is this astonishing list of people who have appeared, using different names, in both Midsomer Murders and another popular, supposedly fictional British television series:,tt0056751

In a blinding flash of insight, I realized that Barnaby is a Time Lord and Midsomer County is inside a TARDIS!

Somewhere along an obscure country road outside London stands what appears to be a blue police box. Inside it -- vastly bigger on the inside than the outside -- is Midsomer County, drifting randomly in time and all over the island of Great Britain in space.

How the tabloids would love to get inside that box! But of course, they never will.

Thursday, December 23, 2021


A Heartwarming Story for the Holiday Season

© 2021, David Dvorkin. All rights reserved.

It was the morning of December 25. The sun shone down from a cloudless sky, its light sparkling on the pure white snow that covered the town. Dogs barked, children shouted, giant birds with terrible talons circled above, looking for small animals to swoop down on and tear limb from limb for food and fun. It was God’s beautiful, perfect world.

Little Timmy Goldstein made his way carefully downstairs. His eyes shone in anticipation, while he held the banister tightly with his left hand and his crutch with his right. He couldn’t wait to get down the stairs, but he didn’t want another tumble like last week’s. That would truly ruin the holiday spirit.

For today was Chrismanukkah, the name his blended family had invented for their joint celebration of his mother’s Christian and his father’s Jewish heritage. To simplify matters, and because in America Hanukkah had long ago been transformed into the Jewish Christmas, Little Timmy’s parents had agreed to limit their observance of the Jewish festival to one day and to shift it to Christmas Day.

Little Timmy didn’t really care about those details. He just liked the special foods, the lights, the music, the family togetherness, and the gifts.

And there it all was, waiting for him when he finally struggled his way to the bottom of the stairs! A Christmas tree! A Hanukkah bush! A plastic Santa lighted from within! A plastic menorah ditto (with all its candles lit)! Piles of presents! Lots of lights! Shallow holiday music! Bleary–eyed parents! Food remnants everywhere! Innumerable siblings breaking their presents and stuffing their faces! The big morning celebration was over because poor, crippled Little Timmy was always last on the scene, but he didn’t mind. At least he was here, in the bosom of his loving Americo–Judeo–Christian–traditional family.

“Hello, family!” he shouted. “I love you!”

He ignored their distracted responses. His gaze had been caught by the two paintings that loomed over the living room from opposite walls.

One was a painting of a simpering Jesus with blond hair and beard, eyes raised heavenward. Across the room from him, a fearsome armored warrior glared at the family. This man was a bit darker, a bit more Middle Eastern. It could have been a gift from his mother’s side of the family. They were conservative Republicans and seemed to think of Jesus as an armed mercenary in the employ of America’s wealthiest classes, but Little Timmy had always assumed that this painting was his father’s property and that it depicted Judas Maccabeus, ready to smite him some Greeks real good, and perhaps the wimpy, flaxen–haired Jesus across the room, too, while he was at it.

Suddenly a new and disturbing thought struck Little Timmy. He wondered why he hadn’t thought this thought before.

“Say,” he said, thinking this thought aloud, “isn’t it odd that we spend so much time and money and brain juice and emotion worshiping Jesus, who probably never even existed, and at the same time making a fuss over Judas and the rest of the Maccabees, who attacked other Jews who worshipped foreign gods such as Jesus? Anyway, it all comes down to the idea of God, which is a silly idea to begin with, right? And what’s with all the lights and stuff? When you look at them objectively, they’re really very tacky. Also, most of the music is really bad.”

Silence fell on the room.

His parents rose from the couch, and his innumerable siblings stood up, abandoning their presents and food, and all of them began to advance upon him, hands held before them, fingers curling like claws, eyes blank.

“Kill,” they said in unison.

Moving as fast as he could, which wasn’t very fast but fortunately was faster than his suddenly mindless family, Little Timmy opened the hall closet, pulled out his heavy winter coat, his gloves, hat, and boots, and exited through the front door, slamming it behind him. His family lost interest in his existence and returned to their mindless holiday doings.

Little Timmy stood irresolute for a moment. Then the cold struck him and he donned the winter garb he had fortunately taken from the house. He felt it wise to put distance between himself and what had been his home. He went carefully down the icy front steps, once again holding the railing with his left hand and his crutch with his right, and then on to the sidewalk.

Again he stood still for a moment, wondering what to do next. Had he truly just lost the only home he had ever known? Where would he go? What was he to do next? This was the worst Chrismanukkah ever!

Nearby, a rabbit screamed as something ate it alive. Apparently, God’s eye, being on the sparrow, was too busy to watch the rabbit as well. Or possibly the Lord and Creator of the Universe was answering a prayer uttered by whatever it was that was tearing the rabbit to pieces. What a conundrum! If the fox prays for a rabbit to eat and the rabbit prays that it will not be eaten by the fox, how does God decide which prayer to grant? This is one of those mysteries that are beyond the ability of the mind of Man to comprehend.

That rabbit’s having an even worse Chrismanukkah than I am, Little Timmy thought. I shouldn’t stand here feeling sorry for myself. I know! I’ll go to Georgie’s house! They’ll take me in. They won’t mind what I said about Jesus and Judas. Not that Judas. I mean the other Judas.

Georgie and his family were atheists. Georgie had often invited Little Timmy to come to his house to escape what he called all that religious stuff. “If you ever get tired of it,” he would say, “come to my place. No one at my house cares about God or any of that silly nonsense.”

Little Timmy had visited Georgie’s house more than once, but not to escape from religion. In the past, the very idea of escaping religion had seemed sinful. Now it didn’t. Now it seemed to be just what he wanted. Also, it was very cold outside.

He walked the two blocks to Georgie’s house, shivering increasingly, walking carefully because of his crutch and spots of ice, eager for a welcoming place, warmth, and the absence of all things Chrismanukkahish.

When he got to Georgie’s house, Little Timmy was surprised to see a wreath tied with a red ribbon on the door. It gave him an uneasy feeling. Nonetheless, he rang the bell.

Georgie opened the door, greeting him with cries of delight and pulling him inside.

Little Timmy said, “I had to get away from—”

That was as far as he got.

“Of course you did!” Georgie’s father said, laughing his wonderful big, booming laugh.

“You’re always welcome here, away from all of that,” Georgie’s mother said in her lovely, musical voice.

Georgie’s brother and sister chimed in with similar charming sentiments.

Little Timmy felt warm and comfortable and safe. He did have some questions, though. “I was surprised to see a Christmas wreath on your door. Why—”

“It’s not a Christmas wreath,” Georgie explained with an indulgent smile. “It’s just a holiday wreath, a decoration for the holiday season.”

Little Timmy pointed to the decorated Christmas tree in one corner. “What about that?”

“That’s just a traditional symbol of the time of year,” Georgie’s father said with a chuckle. “It’s originally a pagan symbol, you know. The Christians stole it, so we’re taking it back from them.”

“And all that music?”

“It’s cheerful,” Georgie’s mother explained with a condescending smile. “We like it. This is a family time of year, and the music helps with the mood. It’s not religious,” she said while “Adeste Fideles” played in the background.

“Axial tilt is the reason for the season,” Georgie’s brother said, looking down his nose at Little Timmy, which was easy to do because Little Timmy really was quite little. “We’re celebrating the solstice.”

“That’s pagan, too,” Georgie’s sister said, a bit impatiently. “The Christians stole that as well, and we’re reclaiming it.”

“But you’re not pagans,” Little Timmy said. “And paganism is also a system of religious belief, so it’s just as silly as the stupid stuff I’m trying to escape from. It’s all just a bunch of nonsense. If you just want to celebrate family togetherness, why are you doing it at the same time as all the religious people around you are doing it, and with the same symbols and music? I think you’re just not strong enough to truly break away and chuck all of this nonsense out the window.” He spotted a half–eaten cake on a nearby table and felt suddenly hungry. “You’re trying to have your cake and eat it, too.”

Silence fell on the room. Georgie and his parents and siblings started walking toward Little Timmy, hands reaching for him. Their faces were blank, and together they droned, “Kill.”

He fled, slamming the front door so hard behind him that the non–religious, purely holiday–season wreath jumped from the door and landed on the ground.

High above, inaudible and invisible to Little Timmy, a warplane streaked by on its way to bombing the bejesus out of some recalcitrant brown people, who would be having a very bad Chrismanukkah indeed.

Little Timmy hobbled away as quickly as he could. Where would he go now? He had no idea.

While he pondered, he was approached by a man dressed in wretched, torn clothes who limped badly. He looked like someone whose every Chrismanukkah was a rotten one.

“Could you give me a dollar or two, sir?” he asked Little Timmy. “Or three? Or fifty cents? In the holiday spirit.”

Little Timmy gritted his teeth in annoyance at the last few words, but he did reach into his pocket to see what was there. He found a few coins, took them out, and dropped them into the man’s outstretched hand.

“What happened to your leg?” he asked the man.

“I asked some guy coming out of church for money, and he kicked me.”

Little Timmy felt around in his other pocket, found a few more coins, and gave those to the man, too.

“God bless us, sir, each and every one!” the man cried in delight as he took the coins.

“And this,” Little Timmy said. “I no longer need it.” He held out his crutch, which was, after all, just a metaphor.

Little Timmy watched in satisfaction as the panhandler hobbled away, leaning heavily on the crutch.

Standing up straight on his two sound legs, no longer quite so little and no longer quite so cold, Little Timmy looked up at the cloudless blue sky. He knew that the appearance of a dome holding us in is an illusion created by the diffusion of sunlight. The sky is gas, thin and tenuous, and beyond it is the vastness of the universe: stupendous numbers of galaxies, stars, planets, and surely civilizations. The immensity of it all is incomprehensible to the human mind, but it’s all just matter and energy. There are no gods.

Probably, Little Timmy thought, there are a great number of silly religious ideas out there, just as there are here on Earth, but there must also be many sensible worlds, many intelligent species that have liberated their minds from the absurdity of religious belief and religious celebration or were perhaps never subject to any of it in the first place. How wonderful it would be to live on such a world!

If only I could visit them, he thought. I never will, but it’s wonderful to think that they’re out there and that there are probably many other Little Timmys, alien in form but not in mind, looking up and thinking the same thing, and all of us freed from silliness.

The future would be difficult. He had no idea what lay ahead. But he did know that he was free.

Thursday, September 02, 2021

Adult Animals Drink Milk

And why shouldn’t they?

I suppose we’ve all heard the supposed dictum that adult humans shouldn’t drink milk, that doing so is unnatural and bad for us, and we’re the only animals that drink milk past childhood.

Let’s start with the last part.

I read of a hunter who saw an adult male polar bear kill a lactating female polar bear, tear open her teats, and drink the milk. There’s no need to go to the far north and hunters’ tales for examples of adult animals drinking milk. Anyone who has owned dogs or cats knows how eagerly they lap the stuff up if they’re given the chance.

Ah, but adult dogs and cats don’t drink milk in the wild, do they? Putting aside the fact that dogs and cats aren’t wild animals but creatures bred by us for thousands or tens of thousands or years, and that we don’t know for sure that adult feral dogs and cats don’t drink milk, let’s ask why adult wild animals, as a general rule, don’t seem to drink milk.

The answer, of course, is that milk isn’t available in the wild except when it comes from a nursing mother. We humans have an immense production and distribution chain to procure milk, process it to make it safe to drink, transport it, store it, and sell it to us. In our homes, we have refrigeration so that we can store milk safely. When it comes to milk, all of this is what really separates us from adult wild animals, not some divine edict or mystical rule of nature.

As far as we can tell, wild animals also don’t have refrigeration or cook their food. (I think I’ve read of a few remarkable exceptions to that statement, but it’s still true for all but those few exceptions.) If we should not drink milk as adults because adult wild animals don’t drink milk, then we should also not refrigerate or cook our food. We should not live in houses or wear clothing. Goodbye to eyeglasses, hearing aids, telephones, and so on. But of course we don’t want to return to the life lived by our very ancient ancestors. The story of civilization is one of constantly inventing new ways to further distance ourselves from the natural state, that state in which life, as Thomas Hobbes said, is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”

Think of that polar bear. Isn’t it better to get your milk from the fridge?

Let’s return to the first part of the original assertion, that drinking milk is harmful to adults. As far as I can tell from a bit of Googling, this is either completely true or utterly false. The “false” position highlights all the healthful nutrients milk contains. The “true” position counters that the same nutrients can be obtained elsewhere and milk also contains lots of saturated fat, which is known to be bad for us.

One doesn’t have to drink whole milk, though. My wife and I switched to 2% milk years ago, and when we were used to that, we took the next step and switched to 1% milk. It tastes fine in tea, coffee, and cereal. (Perhaps we’ll manage to go all the way and switch to skimmed milk, but I doubt it.)

If you think that saturated fat is sufficient reason to avoid milk entirely, then I assume you also don’t eat butter or eat cheese. You should also reject meat, especially red meat. Avoid alcohol and tobacco, limit ingestion of fried foods and snack foods, get sufficient sleep, don’t sit for too long, exercise regularly, avoid stress and pollution, drink plenty of water and never soft drinks, and never eat processed meats. And all of the other rules that most of us know quite well and try to observe, sort of, for the most part, but with occasional lapses. (We have good intentions.)

If you’re one of the rare few who actually do follow all of those rules strictly and always, congratulations. I admire you. I’ll never be you. You’re doing everything you should do at the 100% level, whereas I’m at the… I don’t know. Better than 50%, I’m sure. Perhaps I can even say 75-80%, at least on a good day. I don’t think that eliminating the moderate amount of 1% milk I drink in tea and coffee would raise my good-health-habits percentage significantly. I’m quite sure it would eliminate the pleasure I derive from those beverages.

Few of us will ever attain perfection in anything, and that’s especially true of the healthiness of our lifestyles. Perhaps it’s wiser to establish moderate habits and to aim for a high but reasonable level of healthiness. Make small improvements as you’re able to.

Don’t beat yourself up about it. Sip a bit of milk. I hear it’s calming and helps fight stress.

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Knowing the Mind of God

The world is rife with people eager to tell us what God thinks about this or that—marriage, work, family, food, entertainment, the purpose of life, and just about everything else.

I always wonder how they know.

Sometimes, they refer to the Bible. That’s silly enough to begin with. The Bible was created by people to whom the universe was little more than the Middle East—or in the case of the New Testament, the Roman world—and the sky above it, which they thought of as not very high up. Their god was an unpleasant and emotionally insecure father figure who insisted that things be done his way, or else. Like any such father, the only reason he gave was “Because I say so!” To follow rules supposedly laid down by this tiny, limited god of a tiny, limited world is absurd. But let’s accept that, for the sake of argument.

The Bible contains many dos and don’ts supposedly written by this god, or by humans inspired by him. Some of those rules are fundamental to the conduct of a sane society and are found all over the world; the most obvious one is “Thou shalt not kill.” Those rules are old, basic, and owe nothing to the Bible; they are recorded there but didn’t originate there. They are irrelevant to this discussion.

As for the others, they are largely nonsensical but in some cases clear enough: keep the Sabbath (why?); pigs are unclean (huh?). Many of the rules, though, are tricky because they were written in a far simpler time. People who take the Bible seriously must jump through strange logical hoops to figure out how to apply those rules to modern life. For example, the Old Testament forbids lighting a fire on the Sabbath. Modern observant Jews therefore don’t turn on electric lights on Saturday, even though no fire is involved. At some point, when electricity became common enough for this to become an issue, rabbis pondered mightily and declared that turning on lights violates this biblical proposition. God knew all of the past and the future, but he neglected to write down a rule for electric lights, the mention of which would have been bewildering to the ancient Hebrews but which God knew would become a problem for them in a few thousand years. Thus human religious authorities were required to tell us what God meant but neglected to write down.

If he didn’t write it down or cause it to be written down, how do they know what he meant?

This is very common in Judaism, the religion I was immured in until I was able to leave home. Almost all of what we now consider Judaism, such as the wacky dietary laws, was invented by rabbis centuries ago. Crammed into little rooms, they argued with each for hours other about the meaning of a word or phrase in the Torah (the first five books of the Old Testament). The records of their discussions fill immense volumes, called the Talmud, which rabbis and religious students have studied and memorised ever since. The discussions of those ancient rabbis, along with later such theological squandering of brain cells, have been codified into detailed sets of rules that dominate food preparation, dining, and much of the rest of daily life among observant Jews.

(Those rabbinical discussions weren’t limited to the written version of the Torah. They also included discussions of a number of unwritten rules and regulations supposedly transmitted to Moses by God on Mount Sinai and then passed on, without a word being changed, from one generation of priests/rabbis/theologians to the next. The number of improbabilities and assumptions one has to swallow to believe in all of this is remarkable.)

I gather that something similar applies in Catholicism, where the rules by which the devout live were deduced from holy writ by theologians arguing with each other about what God–Jesus (remember that the two are mysteriously and inexplicably the same) meant by this or that phrase or sentence. For that matter, I think this is generally the situation in religions generally, monotheistic and otherwise.

The old men spending their days debating meaningless theological minutiae while being supported by hardworking peasants or family members are imbued with the aura of divine authority. Their supposed wisdom (they pronounce nonsense with great conviction), learning (they know their religion’s fairy tales in great detail), and holiness (they have big beards and soft hands) are taken to mean that their decisions about right and wrong bear God’s stamp of approval. He is speaking through them.

(“But, God, why didn’t you just cause everything to be written down in great detail in the first place. That way, there’d be no risk of a misinterpretation?” “I was busy, okay? I had a universe to run.”)

The religions these old men represent are granted elevated status by time. The dogmas are covered by the accumulated grime of centuries, which looks like a holy patina.

Actually, that patina isn’t even required. As we know, dogmas are revered even without that layer of grime. New sects arise in a moment—especially in Protestantism—whenever a self–appointed leader appears with a new dogma, a new claim to know the mind of God. The sheep line up to hand him their money and follow his new set of rules.

This is common in religion, and it’s even more common in the world of woo–woo. In that case, it’s not the mind of God that the new leader claims to know but rather the secret workings of nature, hidden to all save that new leader. But it amounts to the same thing: “Only I can see what’s beyond the veil, what God/the universe requires of you, how to propitiate/harmonize with the divine/secret force and live happily ever after.”

Of course, much of this simply a confidence game. But there are, I think, a fair number of religious/woo–woo figures who are sincere. They delude themselves before they delude their followers. They really do think that they—and only they—know the mind of God/true nature of the universe, and they burn with the need to impart hat knowledge to the masses. And there are masses, sadly, who are eager to believe them.

That raises a very different question: Why? Why are the masses so ready to believe these people? Rabbis, priests, imams, politicians, self–appointed health experts, music experts, fashion experts, wine experts, conspiracy theorists, talk radio babblers, and on and on. Why is their self–proclaimed authority so readily accepted?

There has been research on this subject, and it seems to confirm what I’ve long thought: that the believers and followers fear uncertainty, want definite rules, want to think the universe isn’t random, want to think someone knows the answer, and want to be part of an elect group of insiders who know the truth.

However, that’s not the question I started with: Why do the people who claim to know the mind of God believe themselves?

Again, I’m not talking about the con men, the preachers with immense incomes happily fleecing the sheep. They’re despicable but no more so than con men of any other type. I’m talking about the ones who are actually sincere. They are legion. They are everywhere. Most of them aren’t even preachers; they’re simply convinced that they know the mind of God, although they may express that knowledge by saying that “the purpose of life is...” or “I believe we were put on Earth to...” Others, though, are eager to share their special knowledge with the world, to preach.

No doubt a fair number of such preachers are bonkers. Perhaps the most famous example is Joan of Arc, who saw visions. I have the impression, though, that most of them are sane. They’re not hearing voices, let alone the voice of God telling them what he wants. They don’ t claim to have a literal direct line to Heaven. In a way, that would make a kind of crazy sense. What’s even stranger is that they seem to think that they have an extraordinary ability to simply know what God wants and what verses in the Bible really mean.

Perhaps in some cases, they never grow out of being nineteen–year–olds. That’s the stage at which people tend to think they know everything about everything. (In my case, that happened around seventeen, and by nineteen, I had begun to realize how incomplete my knowledge of everything was.) Maybe the people I’m talking about simply don’t progress past that point.

But surely that only explains a minority of them. Few people retain the ignorant certitude of nineteen well into adulthood. I have to assume that the people I’m talking about realize how little they know about other areas of life. So why do they continue to think that they know the mind of God? What is the nature of that part of their self–image?

I’m mystified.