Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The moral meaning of mourning-- Book of Job conversation

That is massively hilarious about God as Stan Lee, or Gene Roddenberry. Was Gene Roddenberry Jewish?

You know, there was actually a misunderstanding. I thought you were getting rid of the whole talking God part, which includes Job speaking in 42. Sure-- I like it with the speech as the ending. But imagine a fairy tale or an indigenous creation myth ending with a speech-- it's just not how those things tend to go. It's becoming a short story.

But I'm willing to shrug that off as a technicality. As I recall, God still gets to have some lines if you end it at 42, and I like him manifesting occasionally in the old times and behaving like a person (which is, as you complain, what he's doing). But, as long as you're willing to write off every other religious story featuring deific anthropomorphism and commerce, I will be glad to concede the point.

You don't like the hierarchical part of Judeo-Christianity, do you? What? NO I didn't call you Octavia Butler!

--- On Wed, 12/2/09, Noah Berlatsky wrote:

From: Noah Berlatsky

Subject: Re: Job thread II

To: "Albert Stabler" <>

Date: Wednesday, December 2, 2009, 2:38 PM

I will not take a free shot, but will instead simply climb atop my high horse and occupy the moral high ground. Atheists; always getting high.

I'll let you have the last word on most of this, but I think I will disagree with this: "Getting rid of any ending whatsoever leaves Job abandoned and ridiculous in his faith, a bourgeois boob crushed like a bug, screaming into a void."

I don't think that's right. I don't think Job is crushed in 42...or, rather, he is crushed, and it's when he's crushed utterly that he really attains to beauty and dignity. "Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know...Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes." I think that's maybe your answer there; at that moment, he's not a patriarch, he's not talking about what's been done to him or how many camels he's lost. He's not talking about himself at all, really. He's recognizing and accepting his own incosequentiality in the face of the divine. And, as I said before, in some ways that makes him more divine than the divine we're given in the book; Job's renunciation is more moving, and more God-like, in some sense, than God's boasting.

42 is the moment when Job is *not* a bourgeois boob. It's when he wins; he gets the last word, and he trumps God. Job can abase himself, he can give up everything except his faith, which is the best part of him. He's purified...and, as I said, he's actually more pure and more noble in that moment than God (or at least the God we're given here) who can't stop boasting about his patriarchal power for even a second.

So there are two epilogues here. The first is the one in the book itself, where God essentially says, "Fuck you, Job, you're not going to get the better of me," and dumps all the material trappings back on him so that he becomes, once again, a little bourgeois patriarch who God can safely look down upon.

The second epilogue, perhaps, is the crucifixion. You can see the wheels turning in God's head after Job 42, perhaps, maybe in a kind of Stan Lee or Star Trek vein — "How strange these humans are! So weak, and yet, parodoxically, so strong! I must study them more closely...and to do that I must become — One Of Them!"

Next: Comes a Man-God!

On Sun, Nov 29, 2009 at 5:10 PM, Albert Stabler < Bert> wrote:

First of all, appropriate apologies, you are a cleaner fighter than I am. Point taken. Howard Zinn is a tough barb to resist when it comes to progressive revisionism. You certainly are welcome to a free shot at me for that, though.

What if time didn't exist in this story, in the sense of a novel or a movie? What if it was all one sentence, or song, or poem? The beginning comes before the end of a poem in one sense, but really the end is only where the figures acquire a certain clarity. Getting rid of any ending whatsoever leaves Job abandoned and ridiculous in his faith, a bourgeois boob crushed like a bug, screaming into a void. That would be an unlikely religious story, unless Bertolt Brecht counts as a sacred author, which he certainly is for some.

I think that Job does live happily ever after. But merely not commenting on his grief at the very end doesn't mean that he felt none. In fact, most of the story would at least imply that he felt pretty torn up about losing the family he used to feast with every week. You haven't given me a way for him to talk about his loss that would be appropriate to a patriarch. Does a fall from grace not generally involve resentment? Or is it usually about passive feelings of paternal trauma?

And the rich are treated pretty rough throughout the Bible (in the New Testament especially, but certainly in Isaiah), and, although job does okay at the end, he is certainly shaken out of thinking he deserves wealth (not just God's favor) just for being a nice guy. And Jesus makes some pretty big promises for the meek and the downtrodden, which are not the this-worldly utopianism of the revolutionary. Not that different from Job, if you make the ending a state of hoped-for resolution instead of a reward from God. But it's a figurative story where God behaves like a person and the transcendent boundary is routinely crossed, which is not how anyone involved in practical forms of living (farming, community, etc.) experiences the divine.

Would it be better if he had just one or two more kids? Or just a dog? He was restored, that's what it's about. The world is made right again. I don't know how you end up with a happy ending that acknowledges the sadness experienced in the story, unless you have a novel (say, Jane Eyre again) in which the ending is merely a post-traumatic lull in torment.

And does trying to explain the unexplainable seem unusual in religion? Or is it the entire project? It's never going to be completely satisfying. After all, as Oscar Wilde said, "Religions die when they are proved to be true. Science is the record of dead religions.."

--- On Sun, 11/29/09, Noah Berlatsky <Noah> wrote:

From: Noah Berlatsky <Noah>

Subject: Re: Job thread II

To: "Albert Stabler" < Bert>

Date: Sunday, November 29, 2009, 4:18 PM

I think it's maybe possible to assent to hope without presenting that hope as somehow a recompense for what's gone before, or as negating what has gone before. The symmetry (10 kids for 10 kids) seems very much to be suggesting that Job's loss has been made whole. And such losses don't get made whole, even if you have more kids. It's insulting to Job and insulting to God. Obviously, you can get over grief, but that doesn't make it as if the grief never was.

I think finishing the story before the epilogue would be somewhat helpful, if you're asking me to rewrite the thing.

"Jesus is a far better suited to modern tastes-- it's not easy these days for God to be directly anthropomorphized. It's not how we think."

Is it the difference between modern and pre-modern? Or is it more about the difference between one kind of people and another? Job is about bad things happening to patriarchs; Jesus is about bad things happening to people a bit further down the social ladder.

It's not clear to me that the choice has to be between Obama and some sort of God-as-vivisector, carrying out evil experiments for kicks. I mean, the point is, the effort to give God motivations here seems exactly the sort of thing that other parts of the text warn against. That is, the beginning of the story purports to explain why God does to Job what he does. But the whole point of the story is that such explanations are worthless. Why does pointing that out necessarily make me a humanist or an atheist or Howard Zinn or the whole litany of other sneers you've been tossing around? (I mean, I am a humanist and an atheist, but still.)

On Sun, Nov 29, 2009 at 3:34 PM, Albert Stabler < Bert> wrote:

Hope is not a minor item in religious faith, and is essential to eschatology. It's asserting that what is true in the moment and in the past is also true in the future-- the basis of everything we experience as presence is not chaos (or, if you prefer, multiplicity), but a single cosmic imperative. This imperative can certainly swallow us whole, but we are part of it, and we are no less relevant to that imperative than it is to us.

If you choose to believe in chaos, I would emphasize that as a positive choice, not a null control-group position. If you have objections to the conclusion of a story that relied on the terms of an agrarian culture to describe a consolation for the deeply frustrating inscrutability of the cosmos, I would suggest that you propose an alternative.

You can't really have Job and his wife go to couples therapy to deal with their loss, obviously. Do you think his wife should be given a more central voice? You have told me that you have doubts about the existence of matriarchy, and that certainly is not the social structure under consideration here. His inner peace sustains him for the rest of his days? That's pretty darn humanist-- the guy isn't a prophet or a rabbi or something. He has a role, in society and in the story, and, as I was saying with the crystal, they can become monstrous, but they are restored by grace. Jesus is a far better suited to modern tastes-- it's not easy these days for God to be directly anthropomorphized. It's not how we think.

In a way it seems literal-minded to call Him to account on a human moral point, but Job sort of does just that, and survives to tell the story, which is amazing. I think it's okay to view the ending (like many klunky endings to many stories) as aporia, a bit of hasty stitching that speaks on a yet more meta-allegorical level within an already allegorical story, as a veil over a giant question mark that Job finds peace with.

On a more practical level, a happy ending without new kids was not seen as a viable happy ending. It doesn't bother me-- plenty of people get over having a miscarriage or a lost child by having more children, adopting, volunteer work-- they don't give up. This is a story about not giving up.

God does not make bets with Satan on a regular basis, but, at least to some degree, God needs Job to affirm him against nothingness just as Job needs God in the same way, This is a metaphor that you object to, but God is sort of a dictator (especially in the Old Testament)-- and a wise one at that, but not a human one. I certainly can't make God into Obama, but there is a difference between divine and earthly power. Have you ever tried to impeach an earthquake?

--- On Sun, 11/29/09, Noah Berlatsky <Noah> wrote:

From: Noah Berlatsky <Noah>

Subject: Re: Job thread II

To: "Albert Stabler" < Bert>

Date: Sunday, November 29, 2009, 2:40 PM

"In fact, I think his mediation solves your problem of God having more than one aspect in any story he's part of."

It's not the dual aspects which are the problem. It's these particular dual aspects; it's God as petty dictator and God as transcendent base that seem to me to be maybe problematic.

"Paul promises that affliction will be vastly outweighed by the glory to come"

And, yeah, I think that's a problematic promise in a lot of ways — and why the ending of Job (which, right, is supposed to mirror a final peace or a promise of paradise.)

You don't make up for losing your ten kids by getting ten more. You don't make up for earthly suffering with the promise that it'll all work out after you die. That's bullshit — the equally false inverse of "God will punish your children for your sins, and that's cool." The reward of heaven just doesn't make up for suffering on earth. God fucked Job over, and there isn't really restitution he can make for that. When you say there is, you turn God into some sort of abusive spouse ("Oh, jeez, sorry about kicking you in the gut...but here, look! I bought you some pretty stuff to make up for it.")

This is in part I think why the Christ story seems less problematic to me, in some ways. Human free will enters into Christ's crucifixion; it's people who nail him to the cross, not God. In Job, though, God's responsibility for what happens is made a lot more explicit. It's all part of a bet with Satan...which seems like a pretty crappy reason to ruin someone's life.

"God and man connect and overlap in lots of ways, but bringing a complaint to God (rather than trusting God) is like bringing a complaint to an ocean or a twig or a sunbeam."

That's a lovely way of putting that, and I don't even disagree in general. But the God in *this* story is portrayed as having recognizable motivations, and those motivations are not especially transcendent. Instead, they're kind of stupid.

I don't know; I guess the Greeks worshipped Zeus, accepting that he did lots of crappy things for recognizably human reasons, and yet at the same time believing you had to except his transcendence and see that as beyond human reason. So it's not like it's unusual. And I'm not especially militant in my atheism, as you know.

Basically, it's just the problem of how you reconcile a transcendent god who is supposed to be good with the existence of evil. A lot of Job is based around the recognition that there's not really an answer to that problem; there's just faith and hope. But there's also an effort to answer it, and the answer provided (essentially, things will work out in the end, even if, as you suggest, that end may be after we're all gone) isn't one that I find either convincing or especially comforting.

On Sun, Nov 29, 2009 at 2:14 PM, Albert Stabler < Bert> wrote:

I think there is ample reason to interpret the Book of Job as being, in the final analysis, a story about hope-- hope through faith, rather than the brittle rationalist "best of all possible worlds." As per my pastor's sermon today, Paul promises that affliction will be vastly outweighed by the glory to come, and Isaiah promises with rapturous joy that the city of false human pride, the empires of empty power, will be utterly obliterated for the creation of the City of God. This message is what the writers of the Book of Job were trying to get across,

While the limits of God are an important theme, there are a couple of reminders of the existence of God beyond and without man. In 35, Elihu tells Job that his spiteful nihilism and his righteousness alike are for his own destruction or benefit, respectively. And in 38, God announces that he is the one who sends rain and brings life out of the desert, with no human beings in sight. God and man connect and overlap in lots of ways, but bringing a complaint to God (rather than trusting God) is like bringing a complaint to an ocean or a twig or a sunbeam. It's an entire approach to the world that is universal and, while absurd, also far more profound than to try to answer on behalf of the twig or the ocean or the sunbeam. The acknowldging of suffering and the demand for justice are not trivial, and do deserve an answer. But they also require humility, as Job confesses.

Your entire beef seems to be, and seems always to have been, with the last chapter primarily, and to a lesser extent the last few. I suppose if you want to ignore the rest of the book to focus on that, that's reasonable, if somewhat cantankerous. If there were some New Testament passage where Jesus tortured a beggar or something, that would be theologically problematic, and worth harping on. But I don't think this chapter rises to that level. Jesus has not appeared to intercede for mankind, so God has to be humanized, just like deities in other mythologies and religions, in order to set forth the possibilities for expression What you have at the end of Job is a realignment of roles and a general amnesty, a microcosm of the peace that comes at the end of time.

I'm reading Gilles Deleuze, who is pretty elliptical and dense, but it's what I have to help me. In writing about film he argues for a mirroring expression of the plot-world through time, revealed through contemplative, slow scenes-- he calls it the crystal. Talking about a film where a criminal tries to play the role of a bishop and is struck by paralysis, he says, "We no longer know which is the role and which is the crime... The crystalline circuit of the actor, its transparent face and its opaque face, is travesty." There is a monstrous role that shifts from Satan to God to Job back to God. Job, like God in Eden and Christ on Calvary, is the very image of a king betrayed, who must face the empty unreason of evil in his environment as a reflection of himself. And it's the three comforters who have to make sacrifices-- basically they have to atone for not helping their friend.

Elihu is a pretty eloquent advocate for God, it's true. In fact, I think his mediation solves your problem of God having more than one aspect in any story he's part of. God is the author, after a fashion, but in that same sense he is also both a character among characters and a setting subject to shifting, he becomes an effect as well as a cause. You can call that sloppy, and Oscar Wilde can quip all day about religion being like absent black cats in dark rooms, that doesn't mean that there's ever going to be a religion that meets the standards of a committed skeptic. Which is why the skeptic generally becomes an apologist for force, expressed in edicts from elitist cabals of the oligarchy.

I am certainly an enthusiast for gay atheism, since, like Warhol, Wilde actually did follow a religious practice while spouting blasphemy. But most skeptics end up just being an in-name-only atheist like Zizek, a prosaic demagogue like Ditchkins, a flimsy ethical relativist like Richard Rorty, or a congenial fence-straddler like Eagleton. Job is essentially a blueprint for how to reject everything and not be rejected by the universe.

--- On Sat, 11/28/09, Noah Berlatsky <Noah> wrote:

From: Noah Berlatsky <Noah>

Subject: Re: Job thread II

To: "Albert Stabler" < Bert>

Date: Saturday, November 28, 2009, 9:45 PM

Speaking of metal, the new Marduk album is amazing.

I've finished Job. I'm still not really feeling it. I see where Chesterton is coming from, and there are lots of great moments (Job's sneering sarcasm is enjoyable throughout — I love the bit where he asks why on earth God punishes sons for the sins of their fathers) But a bunch of things stick in my craw.

— As I said, the extent to which Job's fortune and misfortune are measured in goods and patriarchal status really seems, to me, like it runs against what seems to be the moral or spiritual message. There's a lot of text expended on pointing out (quite correctly) that the good don't necessarily prosper and the evil aren't necessarily punished; that God's justice isn't that kind of justice, and that blaming people for their misfortunes is a sin. But then, at the end, Job forswears his questioning of God -- and gets rewarded by having everything restored! He even gets back the same number of sons and daughters — a detail which seems particularly unfortunate, really. And then there's all that bargaining with God at the end, where Job is supposed to sacrifice for his three friends so God won't zap 'em.

It just seems like there are two visions of God in the text. On the one hand, there's this tribal deity who makes bargains with humans and Satan and sees justice in terms of giving you back seven sons if he happened to kill the first seven — in other words, God as legalistic dunder-head. And then, on the other hand, there's a transcendent, unknowable God, who can't be questioned or understood. The two are irreconcilable. Maybe Chesterton would call that paradox...but, as Oscare Wilde might counter, it comes across to me more like carelessness.

— I think Zizek talks about this as well, but God's big response to Job really falls flat. Job asks about the injustice of the universe and God comes on like Foghorn Leghorn, "Ah say, look here, boy! I created the whale! Did you, I say, did you create the whale, boy? Well, did ya?" It sounds like God has been caught with his pants down and is trying to compensate with bluster. It just seems like if you were really all powerful and existed, you wouldn't need to come running to defend yourself in such a patently desperate manner.

In fact, Job's lovely and gracious response in 42 seems to actually save God, rather than the other way around. That is, Job seems to have gotten something from God that God wasn't really necessarily offering. God comes across as a lame excuse for a transcendent bulwark of the universe, but the fact that Job nonethless accepts him as the transcendent bulwark on hand actually seems to ennoble the deity. Maybe that's what you're talking about with God needing us more than we need him?

On an unrelated point...what do you think of that impetuous youth, Elihu? Is he supposed to be speaking for God, or on God's behalf do you think? His message seems somewhat close to the one God himself gives (that is, God is too powerful to judge), though Elihu also kind of suggests that God is just in some sort of straightforward way, which doesn't seem exactly the point. But Job never gets to refute Elihu, and God doesn't call him out at the end when he censures the other advisors. I don't know...what do you think?

Huh; Wikipedia says Elihu is generally seen as being closer to God's vision, or opposed to the other speakers:

I also wonder about whether Job is supposed to be seen as finally cursing God, or speaking against God (does Satan win his bet?) Job curses the day of his birth, and seems to pretty clearly question God's justice — does that constitute cursing God? And when God at the end says that Job has spoken correctly of him, is he referring only to what Job says in 42? Or is he referring to Job's other speeches as well (in which he rejects the idea that God only punishes the sinful?

On Wed, Nov 25, 2009 at 10:21 PM, Albert Stabler < Bert> wrote:

Sorry to pile up little tidbits here. But I also wanted to maybe spice it up a bit.

I think that the blasphemous impulse in metal arises in conjunction with a deep patriarchy-related sense of the demonic at work in the crumbling and doomed world around us. And, in that light, the affinity of metal for fascist politics makes sense as a furiously perverse rejection of a wondrous possibility betrayed and made corrupt. The tricky thing is to enter into conversation with Satan and not be fooled-- or, in a modern worldview, with Hitler. Nothing can be accomplished by just attempting endlessly crush the urge to scream blasphemies. They must be neither tolerated nor dismissed nor rebuked. They must be felt, as a raw expression of a divine power that man is not to be given access to-- the power to kill.

--- On Wed, 11/25/09, Albert Stabler < Bert> wrote:

From: Albert Stabler < Bert>

Subject: Job thread II

To: "Noah Berlatsky" <Noah>

Date: Wednesday, November 25, 2009, 10:02 PM

Something to munch on, when you get a chance... here's Chesterton's conclusion regarding Job's conclusion:

The book of Job is chiefly remarkable, as I have insisted throughout, for the fact that it does not end in a way that is conventionally satisfactory. Job is not told that his misfortunes were due to his sins or a part of any plan for his improvement. But in the prologue we see Job tormented not because he was the worst of men, but because he was the best. It is the lesson of the whole work that man is most comforted by paradoxes. Here is the very darkest and strangest of the paradoxes; and it is by all human testimony the most reassuring. I need not suggest what high and strange history awaited this paradox of the best man in the worst fortune. I need not say that in the freest and most philosophical sense there is one Old Testament figure who is truly a type; or say what is prefigured in the wounds of Job.

If you want to read the whole thing it's at

It's only an allegory of the law in absentio (to sound legalistic about it). Job is not being punished for his sins. And, although I have yet to re-finish this story, I don't think he is being rewarded at the end-- I would argue that he forces God's hand. And, in a way, God serves the law--but maybe it's not the law. Maybe it's love.

As Jim Morrison once screamed, you cannot petition the Lord with prayer. In Christianity, a good life is about escaping compulsion and obeying through love. You can explain how that is the panopticon, I suppose.

Christianity is always somewhat masochistic, I admit. But masochism is about a closed constrained contract, a law, which is something that Paul, Christ, and Job are directly challenging.

Zizek's point about God being insecure is pretty relevant to your description of Satan (who probably is standing in for Baal or some competing deity). Eckhart says God needs us more than we need him, and I think this story exemplifies that principle as well. There's a lot to that. The Christian God is not necessarily omni-anything-- though I don't think that prevents him from being transcendent, or being God and not just people imagining God.

--- On Wed, 11/25/09, Noah Berlatsky wrote:

From: Noah Berlatsky

Subject: Re: Job thread

To: "Albert Stabler" <>

Date: Wednesday, November 25, 2009, 9:16 AM

I'm not sure it's not about the law. It's about status and the father and punishment (for nothing or for something; for being too pious or not pious enough; it's not clear that it makes much difference.) And then he gets rewarded for the same thing. You don't think there's some fetishization of the law for its very arbitrariness? A touch of masochism? I don't know; it seems pretty into reveling in defilement before the arbitrary exercise of power. It's hard to get around that when the primary relationship in the story is between lawgiver and subject....

The parable about the women and Vishnu and the water sounds lovely. I like in that too that Vishnu gets to be the heavy as well as the God. What do you make of Satan, anyway? He basically baits God and God more or less falls for it; for all the stuff about "how can you understand me" in the back half, at the front the supreme being comes off as a somewhat dim-witted ruler with a crafty advisor.

On Wed, Nov 25, 2009 at 8:23 AM, Albert Stabler < Bert> wrote:

Well, Howard Zinn, I suppose if I were to write a parable of a good and fortunate person fallen from grace, I could choose a protagonist who was not the iconic anchor of the society. But I would be probably telling a different parable then.

Read Job 22. It's all about one of the vulture-friends accusing Job being punished for witholding mercy from the destitute. And rather than defensively denying the charge, he says that the wicked are constantly rewarded for their evil, and that we only receive justice when we are all being eaten by worms.

They are subtle, but every dialogue brings up another theological ratinoalization of fate, and Job just shoots them down.

And it does have a happy ending-- I know you'd like to see him get dragged behind a bus or something, but it's a parable, not (precisely) an absurdist comedy.

But I have to offer you a point-- one of the most beautiful stories I ever heard (actually, two versions of it) was in my class on Hindu art. There's a woman who mets Vishnu (I think it's Vishnu) in the desert, and she asks him to show her the nature of reality (or wisdom or desiring or something...). He says okay, but he asks her to fetch him some water first. She goes to fetch some water at a house, and meets a young man, and she gets invited in. They fall in love and get married and have a great family and two sons. Things are great for a while, then the father gets killed in war and a great flood destroys their house, and as she's fleeing with her children, she loses them both in the flood. She wanders for a year in absolute misery until she runs across Vishnu, who says "so, where's my water?"

There is a version of that with a male protagonist-- I think I sort of combined the versions. But it speaks to your point that Job could care more about love and the people he has lost than about God and truth and dying as soon as he possibly can, but I would say the conclusion is not so much different than the Vishnu story. He learns not to demand anything of God but to be grateful, obedient, and detached. As far as Oedipus is concerned, I see your point there too, but, for being a Jewish story, Job os really not in any obvious way about the Law, which is kind of all Oedipus is ultimately about.

Mourning is not really a morally meaningful act. Abraham Lincoln told his wife that if she insisted on continuing to pine all night for their dead son, he would have her committed. Not that he's a moral paragon, or a sensitive husband, but, unlike Oedipus, Job's family is gone completely. He speaks as a soluitary individual, stripped of everything.

I should reread Zizek on this point-- I recall that he interprets the Job story partly as an expression of God's jealousy and impotence, which is interesting, and the ultimate arbitrariness of suffering, which I feel les certain about.

--- On Tue, 11/24/09, Noah Berlatsky <Noah> wrote:

From: Noah Berlatsky <Noah>

Subject: Re: Job thread

To: "Albert Stabler" < Bert>

Date: Tuesday, November 24, 2009, 10:27 PM

Oh all right. Sure, it's not a realist narrative. But it doesn't just "choose" the devout patriarch in some sort of random eenie-meenie-minie-moe fashion. It picks the devout patriarch because his troubles are the ones that are considered important. And, moreover, it's his troubles *as a patriarch* that are important, rather than as a husband or a father or as some random schlub. The tragedy is in losing the father's power. It's Oedipal in a way I wasn't expecting and which I end up finding kind of irritating.

The stuff about the wicked prospering is definitely interesting...but then seems at least somewhat undercut by the end, where Job is raised back up because of his virtue.

That's great about Marx encouraging Job to adopt new tilling methods. Would that be more irritating than having someone tell you to pray to God more earnestly? And would Zizek tell you to...I don't know, pray more earnestly for better tilling methods?

On Tue, Nov 24, 2009 at 9:21 PM, Albert Stabler < Bert> wrote:

And the other thing I keep waiting to hear you somehow dismiss is the fact that Job violently bemoans the fact that so many wicked people are not punished by God, but are rewarded with wealth and position. This is the part that really seems to be a seed of something in Christianity. And in Marx.

Basically, in response to your complaints about the details of Job's misery, a book in the Bible is just not a realist narrative that intends to convey inner life on the scale of the individual. It chooses the devout patriarch as the central figure of the society, and it tears him a new one.

On the Marxist thing, did you know there was a revolutionary Messiah after Jesus, who led the Jews to a cataclysmic defeat against the Romans? Bar-Kochba. Not the Jewish Che, to say the least.

And let's remember-- Marx believed deeply in capitalism. Non-economic hardships befalling large farmers might stir some perverse pleasure, but he would really just be itching to tell the guy to adopt new tilling methods or something.

--- On Tue, 11/24/09, Albert Stabler < Bert> wrote:

There's lots of beautiful stuff in the comforters' words. That's where the sparks line comes from.

The ostentatious piety of the rich is virulently condemned by Jesus. And the Book of James, wow. The Old Testament, not so much, but the Pharoah doesn't do so well.

I have to run now, but I thought I would invote you to explain why the Bible should be more Marxist.

--- On Tue, 11/24/09, Noah Berlatsky <Noah> wrote:

From: Noah Berlatsky <Noah>

Subject: Re: Job thread

To: "Albert Stabler" < Bert>

Date: Tuesday, November 24, 2009, 8:35 AM

Yes, Job's sneers at his "comforters" are obviously on point...but did you notice that in a lot of way, narratively, they're exactly right? They tell him "the wicked suffer, but if you keep faith in God, he won't let you down." And they're exactly right! Job doesn't curse God, and so he gets everything back — even new kids. Yay! All good now.

Also, it seems reasonable to wonder — why is it devilish to wonder whether the ostentatious piety of the rich might not be somewhat hypocritical, or at least contingent? Obviously, sneering at the downfall of others is problematic...but in the real world, the rich don't tend to get rich by being all sweetness and light and godly, y'know? Surely Marx would be...not among the "comforters" exactly, but drawing slightly different lessons from the altercation.

On Tue, Nov 24, 2009 at 8:17 AM, Albert Stabler < Bert> wrote:

Harangue indeed. Have you gotten to the part where Job tells his friends what "miserable comforters" they are? It's hilarious, and so true. For my own part, I'm just reading along like it's a Socratic debate or something, until Job points out that these people are supposed to be helping him somehow, not telling him about how he cannot know the depth of his own sin or the mind of God. They (and you) function as devil's advocates in a literal way, because they doubt Job as Satan claims to-- like "oh, he just acts like he loves God because God gave him all this stuff."

Have you ever been spit on? I had a kid defecate in my storage room once, but I've never been spit on. Reputation is nothing small to lose, especially when the contingency of your place in the community is made as crystal clear as it is for Job. People kill each other (and themselves) for goods and reputations a whole lot more often, even now, than they do over grief. Job spent a while lot more time with his kids than many fathers do, and thanked God ceaselessly-- I think that's the best he could do.

And Job isn't Christian, he's Jewish, but still- Jesus begged God to save him from his fate. Haranguing may be more Jewish and whining may be more Christian, but they both suffered injustice, and they knew it was unjust. Meister Eckhart says that the truly just man loves justice even more than he loves God. Grief is utterly awful and it can damage someone permanently, but injustice demands more than grief, it demands some kind of reflective realignment of the world in light of some unbearable truth. And sometimes that reflection leads to action, which can take the form of resistance.

The obvious thing in Job is to imagine we are the put-upon protagonist, but it seems more appropriate to me to imagine myself as the miserable comforters, telling someone experiencing colossal anguish how they ought to act. It's a form of Schadenfreude, which Nietzsche and Christ are both right to deplore. Poverty is sacred, as is suffering (which is a form of poverty), but not because it's peaceful and emotionally balanced, but because it encourages detachment from the world and a jagged, non-patronizing empathy.

--- On Mon, 11/23/09, Noah Berlatsky <Noah> wrote:

From: Noah Berlatsky <Noah>

Subject: Re: Job thread

To: "Albert Stabler" < Bert>

Date: Monday, November 23, 2009, 10:40 PM

I don't necessarily need him to be more upset. But doesn't it seem interesting, or relevant, that it's his clothes that abhor him...that it is, in fact, almost all about being abhorred? It's a vision of suffering as communal banishment and loss of station. You can sneer at indie rock bands and modern family relationships and humanism all you want — but the striking thing about Job's suffering isn't that it's not modern, but that it's not Christian. All the stuff he's complaining about and bemoaning and saying is intolerable is pretty much the stuff Christ said you should do to yourself, isn't it? Christ's "poor shall inherit the earth" — Job's basically upset because he's poor.

I also think that Zizek is maybe missing the point when he compares Christ's moment of despair on the cross to Job's questioning of God. Job is basically pointing out that God is unjust — Job has done nothing wrong (no idea of original sin here, as you note). Christ's moment of doubt seems to be more about love and mercy; it's the cry of a child to a father, not the angry harangue of a citizen who has been deprived of his goods without due process.

On Mon, Nov 23, 2009 at 10:18 PM, Albert Stabler < Bert> wrote:

I am declaring my intent to include my earlier Job comments in whatever gets blogged.

A patriarch is essentially a king in ancient Jewish folklore. It's not a humanist narrative-- the camels and the children are perhaps valued more equally than you would like. But Job is begging for death. Sure, his reputation is destroyed, he doesn't have a modern personal relationship with his kids that he is sensitively bemoaning in an indie-rock balad-- but I don't think he could suffer more. His non-fictional contemporaries thought that story up, and if they can't do anything worse to him than kill his family and destroy his animals and give him boils, who are we to object?

How much more upset do you want him to be? His wife might be pissed, but probably just as much because she holds him responsible for their despair as because she wants his emotional support.

I mean, his own clothes abhor him.

Here's what I said earlier-- "Quote--"

I'm not expecting you to be ready to think about Job yet, especially, but I restarted and got through two pages before bed.
I noticed that God behaves like Job-- Job gathers with his sons, and makes a sacrifice to God. God gathers with his sons and decides to make an example of his most wealthy and loyal servant. Pretty instant parallel.
I also, more generally, thought about the fact that Job is never in the wrong, and that is the core of the story. If the atheist interpreters have any point to make, how do they get around Job being a complete fool? He rejects the superciliouis entreaties of his friends and neighbors, but, while radically skeptical, remains completely faithful. At the same time, the more thick-headed pastor at my church recently brought up Job as a doubter and denouncer of God-- which is exactly what all of his detractors say. Job loves God more than religion, and more than himself. But he insists on truth, in the face of the incompleteness of knowledge.


Just so psych you up-- I memorized this line from one of Job's consolers-- "For affliction comes not from the dust, nor does tribulation spring from the earth, but man is born to trouble, as the sparks fly upward."
Really good line. I finished Eagleton, who ended on this tepid "need for further research" sort of note. His whole thing about how God is dead because Europe is atheist smacks of "Class-X" level bullshit.

--- On Mon, 11/23/09, Noah Berlatsky wrote:

Not too far into the book, but as an initial thought, and something I
noticed last time I read it; it's kind of amazing the extent to which
Job's travails are about property. His sons and daughters dying is
the capstone of the tragedy, but they're death is (only barely)
different in degree from the death of his camels and donkeys and so
forth. If I remember, at the end he gets a new family and new
children and that's supposed to all be okay then.

Also, it's kind of amazing the extent to which the fact that all these
other people are getting killed is really just presented as being part
of Job's tragedy — presumably some of his sons and daughters had
family too, and, hell, even camels are alive. But the story really
doesn't care about them except as a way to showcase Job's troubles.

It's really very much about the tragedy of a patriarch, and the main
part of that tragedy is losing his patriarchal status. When he
bemoans his fate, most of it is about how upset he is that he has
nothing and people are spitting on him on the street — not about how
he misses his sons or daughters. You sort of get the sense maybe of
why his wife tells him to "Curse God and die." Maybe she's sick of
his self-indulgent whining and wishes he'd just shut up already so she
could grieve for her children in peace.

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