Brendan Powell Smith: Boilerplate & Beyond Vol. 4 [Interview]

Our fourth installment of interviews by Keith Goldman feels a bit like Stephen Hawking interviewing Albert Einstein, with the added danger that a pair of dice somewhere may come up snake eyes and the universe will implode. Take it away, Keith!

Brendan Powell SmithThis week I bring you perhaps the quintessential LEGO-nerd who is famous around the world and has been interviewed more often than any other AFOL.

I’m talking about the hobby’s one true rock star, who is all at once: builder, author, musician, actor, artist, raconteur, scoundrel, low-guy, philistine and the unofficial spiritual leader of our mannkinder flock: The Reverend Brendan Powell Smith.

I hung out with the critically acclaimed author of The Brick Testament series on Mount Golgotha, a rock cliff west of Herod’s Gate and just beyond the Old City of Jerusalem’s northern wall, overlooking the Garden Tomb. We drank Al-Sharq beer and talked about the Papal bull of 1493 (and the Treaty of Torsedillas), transubstantiation vs. consubstantiation, and the revelation that there were two “Roys” in “Seigfried and Roy.”

We also talked about LEGO.

The Bible

 
KG: You have mentioned in other articles that you have been flooded with requests to use your images by religious groups around the world.  Give me three groups or places that you found the most interesting.

BPS: Over the past three years now, I’ve been getting requests at the rate of one or two per day from churches and other religious organizations around the world to use material from The Brick Testament in sermons, Sunday Schools, church retreats, etc.  The requests are so frequent nowadays that I don’t have time to read and reply to them all in person, and have set up an automated system to handle these sorts of permissions.

I find it interesting, but not all that surprising to receive such interest from religious groups.  I am well aware that it’s possible for people to read the Bible and not end up an atheist, so it makes sense that religious folks would enjoy a creative and humorous but also faithful-to-the-text retelling of the Bible’s stories in LEGO.

I’m not sure I can pick out three particular groups that I found most interesting since I know very little about the religious groups that write to me.  But I can share a three anecdotes.

There was one teacher from a religious education class who found The Brick Testament very useful in class and found that the students really responded to it.  But when some of the other faculty discovered that some of the Bible’s sexual content was illustrated in LEGO, the teacher got fired from his job!  He wrote not to express any bitterness, but rather to express his admiration for the website, and hoped the higher-ups at his next job would see things differently.

A handful of times I’ve had secular college professors let me know they’ve used The Brick Testament in their religious studies classes, and that’s been pretty gratifying.

And about a year ago I unexpectedly got a $16,000 check from an agency that collects usage fees for copyrighted materials in Australia.  I am not even particularly clear on the details of who was paying these fees.  There was a note about Educational Institutions and photocopying or something like that, but um… thanks, Australia!

The Community

KG: I met you at Bricks West 2 (2003).  It was my first convention and you were the person on the roster I was most fired up to meet.  I was disappointed because I was hoping for a Garey Busey looking character with salt-and-pepper hair, a white suit, black cowboy boots and a Texas string tie.  Can you fathom my disappointment when I finally laid eyes on you, and have you had a similar experience meeting LEGO fans?

BPS: I could fathom anybody’s disappointment upon meeting me in person.  It’s been the low point of many people’s lives.

The closest experience I can think of to yours is this: After seeing the name “Leonard Hoffman” for years on LUGNET and, based on nothing more than the sound of his name, I had this image in my mind of Leonard Hoffman as an uppercrusty, high society, monocle-wearing, prudish British minor royalty.  I’m not sure I can say I was disappointed upon meeting the actually Leonard Hoffman, but there was a real sense of cognitive dissonance when I had to now associate that name instead with the image of an easy-going stoner-college-roommate type who friends called “Lenny”.
 
KG: Do you pay attention to what’s going on with the great unwashed masses of builders, through flickr or any of the older means?  If you do, is there a type of MOC that catches your eye?

BPS: I usually check in here at The Brothers Brick once or twice a day, and that’s become my main way of keeping up with the best of what’s being built these days.  I find it a little sad that there’s no longer one single place where AFOLs can both see and have substantial discussions about what’s being built.  Flickr and blog sites are great for seeing great MOCs, but simple comment boards just don’t allow for in-depth discussion.  Message board sites like Eurobricks allow for better discussion, but have never mastered a way for the best MOCs to be spotlighted.  And The Brick Testament never really fit in at the niche sites like Classic-Castle or Classic-Space.

LEGO castle minifig by 74loulouteAnyhow, the MOCs that catch my eye are the ones that are innovative, clever, and/or humorous.  

My favorite stuff is probably going to be close to the same sorts of things I build, so I look for a new way to pose minifigs, an unorthodox combination of parts, or just something deeply and darkly funny.  I’m too focussed a builder to deviate into participation in fads, but that’s not to say I don’t appreciate them or try to give them a shout-out in my own work.  

For other well-established building genres, I tire of the same old same old, so they tend to only catch my eye when they really stand out from the crowd, put a new spin on thingssubvert the genre, or take it to new levels.

But with so many great builders out there now and so many ways to share photos, I’m pretty much guaranteed to see something I like or am impressed by everyday.

KG: Has anyone inside or outside the community ever tried to glom-on to the success of your publishing career?  Also, do you get groupies like other famous authors? 

BPS: Every so often I get e-mails from other builders looking for advice on getting published and/or how not to get sued by LEGO.  I’m afraid I don’t have much helpful advice to pass on.  When I actively tried to find a publisher, I failed, so I just went back to creating, and eventually the offers came to me.

I haven’t really had any troubles with people glomming on to me personally.  I get a lot of nice comments via e-mail, but The Brick Testament has no comment section or message board, and maybe this has prevented potentially rabid fans from combining forces or whipping themselves into a frenzy, constructing effigies of me and burning them or having sex with them or both.

The Future

KG: Say you burn through the bible and you look for the next great project involving LEGO, would it feature some other sacred text, or would you leave the literary genre completely?

BPS: I have some interest in illustrating other holy books, but I’m not sure that would be at the top of my list.  And considering the Bible has kept me occupied for over eight years now, I’m not sure I could work up the same devotion for the Qu’ran, Book of Mormon, or Rig Vedas.  Maybe if I had more lifetimes.

I won’t know for sure what project I’ll feel like doing until I actually finish the Bible, which could conceivably happen two or three years from now.  But already I am embarrassed by the poor quality of my construction and photography from eight years ago, so maybe I’ll be caught in a vicious cycle where I’m always re-illustrating the crappy work I did eight years before and I’ll be stuck illustrating the Bible for life.  That wouldn’t be so bad.

But as of right now, the non-Biblical material that interests me the most for a future illustration project would be the various Christian gospels, acts, and apocalypses that didn’t make it into the New Testaent, or the works of the historian Josephus who recounts in great detail the events during and leading up to the First Jewish-Roman War of 66-70 CE.  Fascinating, humorous, and tragic stuff, much in the vein of the Bible itself.
 
KG: Will we ever see a sequel to your groundbreaking independent debut in Vendetta: A Christmas Story?  Has Hollywood come slouching to your door?  What about Bollywood?  Have you considered directing a brick-flim?

BPS: Vendetta was a blast to make, and I’m quite proud of it, but like any video project it was very labor intensive.  I’m not particularly drawn to doing a brick film since I feel like still photography storytelling is a genre I’ve become quite good at and appeals to me much more.  From adolescent experimentation I know a little about what goes into making a stop-motion film, and unless I had a paid and motivated crew assisting me, I think I’d always rather spend my time adding more still-image illustration stories to The Brick Testament.

I get requests from Bollywood at the rate of one or two per day.  But they are all for me to  stop singing, stop dancing, and stay out of India.
 
KG: Since the hobby keeps growing I’m sure you’ll agree that it is only a matter of time before some C or D list celebrity will become an AFOL.  Give me three celebrities from any field that would make great AFOLs.  I know you’re a Patrick Swayze apologist, but I’d appreciate if you’d limit your answer to the living.

BPS: Sam Elliott, Peter Scolari, and George Peppard.

5 Boilerplate Questions

KG: If you had to pick only one of your MOCs to go in the great FOL time-capsule, which would it be?

BPS: For The Brick Testament I really consider the photos to be the finished artwork rather than the MOCs themselves, so if it’s a valid answer, I’ll say a printout of the Book of Revelation.  If that’s invalid, just take The Last Supper which I still actually have around as a MOC.

KG: If you had to pick only one of my MOCs to go into the great FOL time-capsule, which would it be?

BPS: Now THAT is Black Fantasy, no doubt.

KG: If time, money and proximity were not an issue, give me 2 builders besides me that you’d like to collaborate with on a project?

BPS: I’d love to have Michael Jasper work on character and prop design for The Brick Testament, and Sir_Nadroj for vehicles, architecture, and scenery.
 
KG: What’ is your favorite comment or review you’ve ever received on a model?

BPS: I really enjoyed watching random residents of Bratislava, Slovakia come across my “Accept Communism or Die” story that the SPACE gallery had displayed across the length of their building.  Their stony silence spoke volumes.
 
KG: And finally, good sir, who controls the action?

BPS: Yahweh controls the action.

27 comments on “Brendan Powell Smith: Boilerplate & Beyond Vol. 4 [Interview]

  1. dshaddix

    Another great interview Keith, you’re certainly on the ‘jazz’. I’d like to hear more about transubstantiation and consubstantiation some time. And more to the point, I had NO IDEA that George Peppard is still alive!

    I love it when a plan comes together.

  2. AlexEylar

    Not to burst anyone’s bubble or anything, but George Peppard is quite dead.

    I’d suggest that we all come together in his memory, but it would sound suspicious.

  3. dshaddix

    ^That sounds like this fantasy I have about George Peppard, Dirk Benedict and all the random hot 80′s chicks we can squeeze into the van. I leave Mr. T out of it because he’s busy in Goldman’s Black Fantasy. Plus he is afraid of flying.

  4. Puddleglum

    Modern atheists have developed some curious habits of late. Namely, their tendency to stray from the (comparatively) defensible Fort of Nihilism in a futile attempt to capture the Plains of Moral Certainty. (Dawkins, Hitchens, et al) In the atheist worldview, are we not simply wet robots, chance by-products of that blind churning machine we call Nature? Given that, it makes about as much sense to be “dismayed” that certain beliefs about God are happening in someone’s brain, as it does to be dismayed that daffodils bloom in the spring, or that hurricanes form in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. That’s just how daffodils and hurricanes *are*, right?

    (Never mind the fact that there is very little overlap between Mr. Smith’s bizarre Biblical gymnastics and actual Christianity.)

  5. Thanel

    In general, really interesting interview, and the best by Keith yet. Looks like Andrew worked himself to death putting in links.

    @ Puddleglum: Though I do agree that there’s a silly amount of atheist fundamentalism out there, I don’t think The Rev. is being unfair here. I’m a Christian, but I still find the character of God in the OT a bit confusing, I struggle with the problem of innocents suffering, and am baffled by the way my co-religionists cling to certain theological beliefs (e.g. satan and hell), that have very little textual support in either the OT or NT, though plenty in the Apocrypha. As far as satan goes, I disagree w/ the good Rev. that he’s maligned within the Bible, I do think he’s blown out of proportion in Christianity itself, and retroactively reinterpreted into many Biblical passages.

    I think it’s good to have people like The Rev. pointing out Christianity’s hypocrisies, fundamentalist sloppy misuses, and the ignoring of inconvenient passages. It’s good to have someone keeping us honest. I don’t think it’s “Biblical gymnastics” at all. In many ways, I think he’s more in touch with Christian culture and Biblical interpretation than most Christians.

  6. Jargon

    Thanel, your reaction to Rev. Smith is one of the best I’ve ever seen. And, Mr. Goldman, your interview entertained me, as always.

  7. Puddleglum

    @Thanel – I wasn’t at all trying to say that there aren’t difficult passages in the Bible, or situations in life that can be challenging to square with our faith. I simply feel that Mr. Smith’s MO is mostly “when in doubt, make it seem as bad or ridiculous as possible, and/or use Hitler somehow”, and in my opinion that sort of Biblical analysis is not something we need more of.

  8. Luigi

    @Thanel and Puddlegum – kudos for the intelligent conversation! I came into the comments dreading a lowest-common-denominator spat. Very refreshing.
    How is it that I find one of the most level-headed and mature message boards out there, on a site dedicated to a children’s toy? The irony.

    OK, back to my usual lurking, keep up the good work TBB!

  9. cjedwards47

    @Puddleglum-
    I can only speak for myself, but I find existentialism much more fulfilling than Nihilism.
    While I agree that we are wet robots, the very fact that we are capable of dismay makes it worthwhile to dismay over things that affect us and are within our control. The thoughts in other people’s brains lead to actions that can affect us. We can influence those thoughts by spreading new ideas. In fact, most of the thoughts that are there already there were put there by other people trying to spread their own influence.
    I realize that (from a certain point-of-view) it will all be “for nothing” if I simply cease to exist when I die, but I see that as all the more reason for me to care what happens while I’m still here. I don’t care about my soul or my afterlife (because I don’t believe in them), but I care very much about my life and all the other lives that will follow mine (whether or not they’re genetically derived from me).

  10. Thanel

    @ Shaddix: Isn’t the A-Team what we should always be talking about?

    @ Puddleglum: Though I agree that The Rev. is in danger of entering late-Lenny Bruce-type loss of funny in an effort to be edgy, I still see it as mainly making fun of the ways people actually do use, misuse and ignore certain passages. For example in the most recent BT additions about anti-semitism, and govt. authority, the use of Nazi, KKK and American Revolution images is appropriate because some people on all side of all of those situations used Biblical passages to support their cause. It’s provocative, we can at least agree on that. For good or ill seems to be where we disagree.

    @ Luigi: Thanks, we try. I should add that I’m really happy that so many of our readers enter into the good spirit of it, even when we disagree. I’m oddly proud of these hot-topic discussions that somehow don’t devolve into flame wars.

    @ cjedwards47: Totally on board w/ existentialism. Though a Christian, it’s really what I try to use as my day-to-day ethical compass. When I first encountered Sartre, it oddly reinforced my faith, because it gave me a fallback position if my doubt became overwhelming. I knew there would be an anchor even if my faith failed. I also like the ethical, social and practical emphasis that ties the diverse philosophers together.

  11. Andrew

    @cjedwards47 & Thanel: My secular humanism is largely founded on principles learned through faith. I continue to hold Martin Buber as one of my philosophical heroes. Similarly, the values espoused in the core teachings of Jesus (such as the Sermon on the Mount) have held firm despite the philosophical abandonment of my earlier belief system.

    Yes, perhaps the good Reverend takes the most extreme, negative view of the biblical passages he illustrates in LEGO, but they’re all interpretations that have been or are prevelant in Christianity throughout history. Applying this type of critical thinking and historical/contextual analysis to the Bible is something I’d love to see more people of faith engage in.

  12. dshaddix

    @ Thanel: The A-Team is all about persecution, justice and honoring fellow man. It also paved the way for MacGuyver and nobody every got hurt from all of the random gunfire that was going on during the last five minutes of the show.

  13. Shannon Young

    Due to the strict fundamentalist purist values I was raised with, I firmly believe that when the Reverend departs this life, the Lego Gods will cast him into a lake of exacto knife blades for all eternity. His continual and unabashed heresy of part modification will not go unpunished!

    Even so, I also believe that The Brick Testament is the greatest thing ever done in Lego.

  14. brendanpowellsmith

    @ Puddleglum: I don’t deny a bias in my Bible story illustrating and retelling. Such bias is inevitable for Bible illustrators/retellers. I think people are just used to it being a very different bias than mine. Either way it is still bias, so it more a matter of how much the illustrator/reteller allows that bias to show through. In this regard I would defend The Brick Testament as much better (or at least not nearly as bad) as any other illustrated/retold Bible I’ve ever seen.

    One obvious way a bias can show through is in how the illustrator/reteller selects what material to feature, what percentage of the total material that amounts to, and how representative it is of the work as a whole. Most Bible illsutrators/retellers pick out only those few parts of the Bible that present the Bible in what they see as a positive light, whereas I mostly pick out those parts of the Bible that I see as presenting the Bible in a negative or absurd light. The important difference I would point out here is that I illustrate/retell a much, much higher percentage of the Bible’s content than those with an opposite bias. This is no small point. If someone illustrates/retells 5% of the Bible’s material and another person illustrates/retells 95% of the Bible’s material, who is giving a more distorted presentation of the book as a whole?

    Conceivably you could still argue it’s the person illustrating 95% of the Bible if they were doing so in a way that utterly distorted the original text. But it is actually the more traditional Bible illustrators who not only engage in far more cherry-picking of material, but then also take a free hand in completely rewriting stories to fit their own biases, dropping any parts of a story they find troublesome; imputing noble or evil motives to Bible characters that the text gives no indication of; adding attempts at moral justifications for the cruel and heinous actions of the Bible’s “good guys” that are unsupported by the text; and adding in the illustrator/reteller’s own interpretations of the stories that often are completely at odds with (or bear no relation to) a face-value reading of the text. These sorts of things are almost always done without any indication to the reader which stuff is actually in the Bible and which is pulled from the illustrator/reteller’s imagination and chock full of bias.

    By contrast, I limit the possible extent of my bias showing through by retelling the Bible’s material using only direct quotes from scripture. In the (overall all few) cases where I have the characters think or say something that is not a direct quote of scripture, it is put in gray text to signify that. So it is my estimation that it is other more traditional illustrators and retellers who indulge in far more egregious and pervasive “bizarre Biblical gymnastics”.

    You charge that my “MO is mostly ‘when in doubt, make it seem as bad or ridiculous as possible, and/or use Hitler somehow’”. Firstly I’d point out that there are 4,508 illustrations on The Brick Testament, and I could count the ones that feature Hitler on one hand. I only use such non-Biblical settings when I illustrate the law and teachings sections of the Bible. The idea here is that many people consider the Bible’s laws and teachings to be as applicable and morally admirable today as they were when written. Certainly the Bible itself presents them as being valid for all time. One useful way to test the validity of a law or teaching, especially one many people consider absolute, is to think of extreme cases, apply that law or teaching to those cases and see how well it stands up.

    Most of the time though, I simply illustrate the stories of the Bible exactly as they are told and come up with hundreds upon hundreds of things that strike me as “bad” and/or “ridiculous” in a book where, if it were truly written by a loving, omniscient god, one could reasonably expect nothing of the sort.

  15. Magnus

    Another exellent and entertaining interview! TRBP has always been an engaging interview subject, I once even had the pleasure myself, for Brick Journal back in the early days.

  16. Puddleglum

    @BPS

    Thanks for the response. I’m only familiar with one other illustrated Bible besides yours, so I can’t speak too much to that issue. I guess it goes without saying that I find it much truer to the source than your work. ;-)

    I coun’t help but feel a bit skeptical about your claim that there are “overall only a few” cases where you supplement the original text, since I couldn’t find a single quote in black text in any of your 10 most recent segments. But there were sure plenty of words put in God’s mouth!

    In general, I take issue with your concept of a “face value” reading of scripture. In the epistles, this seems to mean reading a few verses in complete isolation from the rest of the Bible, and concocting some bizarre application for them. For example, you attempt to apply Roman 13 to Hitler’s regime, but completely ignore other Biblical teachings about authority, including (for example) Pauls rejection of authority when being subject to that authority would have meant disobeying God. For someone who has obviously read a great deal (or perhaps all) of the Bible, I find these sort of facile and contextually displaced readings completely irresponsible.

    (BTW, the claim about you using Hitler when in doubt was just meant as a bit of hyperbole)

    Finally, I think what you mean to say in your last paragraph is, as an atheist, your interpretation of what the Bible says about God does not match your idea of what a loving God, (which you don’t believe in by the way) would be like. Which, to be honest, isn’t all that surprising.

    Anyways, have a nice day.

    Matt

  17. brendanpowellsmith

    @ Puddleglum : If you’re new to The Brick Testament and starting with the Epistles, I can see why you’d think the whole site is full of the gray text. When illustrating narrative material (which is what comprises 92% of The Brick Testament’s illustrations), they gray text is used far, far more sparingly. I don’t have time to do a full accounting, but I just took a quick look through The Life of Jesus section of the site as an example and out of 397 illustrations, 25 had gray text. 10 of those instances were simply to provide dialogue implied but not specified by scripture, such as when the Bible says something like “And Mary told the disciples what she saw.” I think only 1 instance was to emphasize an absurdity, and the rest were relatively innocuous attempts at humorous asides that were not Biblical criticisms. So that’s what I mean when I say the gray text is fairly infrequent.

    But yes, I do use it considerably more for the non-narrative illustrations of law and teachings that make up 8% of the site’s content. My general approach for laws and teachings is to show examples of those laws and teachings in practice. I don’t think that’s an outrageous approach. But since the dialogue in such examples would obviously not come from the Bible, I quote the scripture I’m illustrating below the illustration and make up dialogue to fit the example.

    You criticize me for “reading a few verses in complete isolation from the rest of the Bible” in the Epistles and use as an example Paul’s teachings in Romans 13 about obeying authorities because authorities are put in place by God (and that to go against authorities is to go against God). You say that applying this to Hitler’s regime is an example of me “concocting some bizarre application” of this teaching, but I fail to see how this is the case. Hitler was an authority figure. Any authority figure would have done, but using Hitler certainly throws Paul’s teaching into sharp relief. You would have preferred Diocletian? Napoleon? Abraham Lincoln?

    You make reference to another teaching by Paul you think mitigates the one I illustrated, but you did not cite it. I did a keyword Bible xsearch for the words in your paraphrase of it, but did not find it. But those searches did turn up other teachings echoing Paul in Romans 13:

    “Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account.”
    Hebrews 13:17

    “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right.”
    1 Peter 2:13-14

    1 Timothy 2 urges that we pray for all those in authority.

    2 Peter 2:10 and Jude1:8 denigrate those who reject authority.

    But let me know what teaching you were talking about if you can find it.

    Cheers,

    -Brendan

  18. Puddleglum

    Well this is a bit embarrassing, I said Paul but in fact it was Peter that I was referring to. My only excuse is that that story is in Acts, which follows both of them at different times. Anyways, I was referring to Acts 5:29:

    27 When they had brought them, they stood them before the Council. The high priest questioned them, 28 saying, “We gave you strict orders not to continue teaching in this name, and yet, you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.” 29 But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men.”

    I was never trying to say that subjection to authority was not a Biblical teaching. But implicit throughout scripture is that God is the ultimate authority. So it only makes sense that given the choice, believers would choose clear commands from God over obedience to a governmental authority. Further, those verses are as much about the role of governmental authority as they are about the believers response. It’s clear that governments are to punish evil and not good. Indeed, from these verses we can see that the very concept of authority is tied up with justice. To the extent that a government has abandoned justice by ceasing to punish evildoers (or worse, celebrating evil), the believer must have faith that God will give them wisdom with regards to whether or not to continue to subject themselves to that authority. (Asking God for wisdom is a general response by believers to situations where they are not sure how to proceed. I recognize that this is far to vague and subjective for many to handle.).

    But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.
    (James 1:5)

    Finally, there’s a bit of historical context here. The letter was written to believers in Rome. There was a growing movement of Jewish revolt against Rome at the time. It makes sense that Paul, as a missionary and a pastor, would want believers (most of them Jewish after all) to have good standing in their communities, and not be viewed as fomenters of rebellion.

    Matt

  19. fanboy

    @Puddleglum, @brendanpowellsmith thank you both so much for having followed up the discussion, it was really fascinating to see these two positions side by side with biblical references too!

  20. wunztwice

    I, as I suspect many others did, opened the comments expecting to see a virtual firefight, each side picking off strawmen mercilessly. I am quite pleased to find a generally respectful and intelligent conversation (ie, how I remember TBB being…)

    For the sake of condensing and keeping the conversation somewhat reined in I have just two questions. (And please bear in mind my intent is with utmost respect, and should not be viewed and condescending, but rather taken in the best possible way. I am curious and am seeking real answers to my real questions.)

    Firstly, Brendan (If I may so call ye), why have you taken on the title of Reverend. I have read some on your site, but I would appreciate very much a direct answer. Is it the title from a Unitarian/Universalist organization, or have you simply titled yourself?

    My second question involves a bit of a question within a larger issue. As an Atheist your position is one of “There is no God, or higher power, governing the universe, and therefore no Authority to ‘bow’ to,” correct? I, for one, am a bit confused by Atheists who are upset at God. If you follow me:
    “Most of the time though, I simply illustrate the stories of the Bible exactly as they are told and come up with hundreds upon hundreds of things that strike me as “bad” and/or “ridiculous” in a book where, if it were truly written by a loving, omniscient god, one could reasonably expect nothing of the sort.” (-Smith)

    My question is essentially this: You claim there is no God, but disagree with the way He runs the universe. You do not believe in God, but think you know better how to run the Cosmos. Huh…?!
    For the sake of discussion lets just say God IS (and you believed he IS), would you think you know how things should be more than He, and on what basis?

    Thank you for your time, and to everyone so far for the relatively humane discussion this time ’round!

  21. brendanpowellsmith

    Hi, wunztwice.

    “The Reverend” is a nickname first given to me in middle school, originally based on nothing more than a mispronouncing of my first name by a friend with a mouthful of sandwich. I quickly grew to like it though for the way it made light of the idea of *anyone* putting an honorific title in front of their own name. It seemed comically vainglorious, like expecting other people to call you “His Majesty”, or appending your first name with “the Great”.

    I was certainly aware that its most common usage was in referring to church ministers and priests, but I saw no particular reason why that group of people was more deserving of the honorific than others, or why they should have an exclusive right to its use. Thus I have never felt the need to become an ordained minister of something like the Unitarian Universalist Church since I don’t see that or any other religious ordination as a proper requirement or justification for the use of such an honorific. In all cases, calling oneself “reverend” is to say “people revere me” which is an oddly boastful claim. The difference when I use it is that I do so in a knowingly unserious way.

    As an atheist I am not upset with Yahweh, the god of the Bible, any more than I could be said to be upset with any fictional character. But just because a character is a literary creation does not mean a reader will not judge them as kind or cruel, worthy of praise or condemnation, etc. If there was a book about a fictional US president who commanded genocides and commanded that he be worshiped on pain of torture and death, I am guessing you’d have no reservations about making a character assessment of him or thinking “I know better than this guy how to be US president” even if you’ve never been a US president and therefore cannot completely fathom what it’s like to be one.

    I realize that a god and a US president are different, but one of the main ways they are different is that a god’s abilities would be much, much greater and his limitations far, far fewer (if any). In this sense it would be easier to judge a god’s character, for we know that however kind a US president is, he must makes each decision based on a necessarily limited knowledge of relevant facts, a very limited the knowledge of the future consequences of any given course of action, and a very limited set of possible courses of action due to the limited powers of humans. A god’s actions and decisions, by contrast, would not be subject to these limitations, so we wouldn’t need to cut them any such slack.

    Of course, illustrating (and thereby cataloging and drawing attention to) a fictional god’s countless acts of cruelty would be a curious, but not particularly poignant, project if it were a god no one believed in, worshiped, or held in the highest esteem. But any time there is a figure, fictional or not, held at such extreme levels of esteem by so many people (such that it significantly affects their lives and others), it seems worth it to take a second look at the evidence to see whether such an extreme level of esteem is warranted. And when that second look reveals a character so mind-bogglingly at odds with his reputation, it further seems worth it to point this out so that people might revise their estimation of this character.

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