Bourbaki v. Job
So, like, right now for example. The Haitians need to come to America. But some people are all, “What about the strain on our resources?” Well, it’s like when I had this garden party for my father’s birthday, right? I put R.S.V.P. ’cause it was a sit-down dinner. But some people came that, like, did not R.S.V.P. I was, like, totally buggin.’ I had to haul ass to the kitchen, redistribute the food and squish in extra place settings. But by the end of the day it was, like, the more the merrier. And so if the government could just get to the kitchen, rearrange some things, we could certainly party with the Haitians. And in conclusion, may I please remind you it does not say R.S.V.P. on the Statue of Liberty. Thank you very much.
As promised, a guest post! You guys must have thought I was crazy, putting up the prelude on Friday with “more to come later in the week.” But that’s really how slowly the time passes in Sacramento. It’s like zero-gravity, only, you know, chronological.
Our guest is my good friend Nicholas Bourbaki, who just reread The Book of Job, and was surprised to find it really lame. He sent me his travesty of it, which I’m posting, and to which I’ll respond to more completely soon. To begin with, though, he reminded me how much I hated Siddhartha when I first read it — especially since my own relative, Doris, had to endure the company of a mystic who liked contemplating rivers almost as much as Hesse’s protagonist.
Some of the problems with Job have occurred to everyone, and there are orthodox ways of “answering” these “questions” about it. For someone like myself, who is not religious but studies religious texts, it is very tempting to recite such catechisms in a show of learning. Despite this, I don’t find such “answers” useful, especially compared to honest provocation.
The Book of Job as I Understand It
I don’t know if anyone else has been reading The Book of Job lately. But let me tell you, the story is fucking nuts.
Basically, one day the Devil comes along, and God’s like: “Hey, have you ever noticed my servant Job? He’s so blameless and upright. He’s the best guy in the whole land of Uz.” And the Devil’s like: “That’s just because you made him so rich with she-asses.”
So, naturally, God turns this into a bet. He’s like: “Okay, you can take away all of Job’s possessions. He still won’t turn against me.”
Let me point out that the Devil didn’t try to start this bet. He didn’t even ask if he could take away all of Job’s stuff. The whole thing is started by God.
So the Devil gets to work. One day a messenger runs up to Job and tells him his sons have been killed and all of his she-asses were taken. And then another messenger runs up and tells him the sky started raining fire and it burned up all of his sheep and some more of his sons. And then a third messenger runs up and says a big house just collapsed on all of Job’s remaining sons and daughters. All of this happens in about thirty seconds.
Oh, and apparently children count as possessions, because God is never like: “Hey, I didn’t say you could kill Job’s children!”
So Job cuts off all his hair, but then he’s like, “You know what? I didn’t have any stuff when I was born. I was fine then, and I’m fine now. Thanks, God.”
So the next time God sees the Devil, he’s like: “See?” God apparently has zero issues with the Devil murdering all of Job’s children.
And the Devil’s like: “This doesn’t prove anything. You wouldn’t even let me touch him. I bet if you let me hurt Job, he’d totally blaspheme you.”
To which God is of course like: “Okay. But you can’t kill him!”
So this time the Devil gives Job a severe skin inflammation. Job ends up spending all his time sitting around and scratching himself with a pot shard. And Job’s wife, who is apparently a horrible person, keeps saying: “Get it over with! Just blaspheme God and die! Seriously.” But Job is like: “Should we accept only good from God and not evil?”
Then Job’s three friends show up and start arguing with him. They’re almost as bad as the wife. They’re like: “What did you do to piss off God, Job?”
And Job is like: “I didn’t to do anything.”
And they’re like: “No, seriously.”
And Job’s like: “No, I swear. Nothing.”
“Okay, okay. So you did something.”
“No I didn’t.”
“You did. Quit your whining. Suck it up. And accept—”
“But I didn’t!”
“—that you deserve your severe skin inflammation.”
They go back and forth for a really long time. The friends are just terrible. All they care about is that maybe God’s going to punish them if Job keeps complaining.
Eventually Job is like: “You know what? I may be complaining about God. But at least I understand that he doesn’t have to play by our rules. You guys are acting like you could take God to court or something. That wouldn’t work.” Which is probably true.
At which point this other character, Elihu, comes up to them. He doesn’t even know these guys, but he’s like: “Hey Job, I heard you think you’re right and God is wrong?!”
“Look, I’m only fifteen years old or something, and you’re all old men, but I’m going to yell at you!”
And everyone’s like, “Woah, woah. No one cares.”
But Elihu just keeps going. He’s replying to his own arguments, he’s replying to his replies. “In truth,” he says, “my words are not false. A man of sound opinion is before you.” Which has never worked in the history of arguments, I’m pretty sure. It’s like Elihu is operating out of some kind of bad-argument instruction manual. His arguments are like: “If God hates justice, then why did he choose to govern?” I guess that makes sense, because only lovers of justice choose to govern. And so on.
Finally, God shows up in a big tempest, and he’s like: “Hey, Job! Who do you think you are? Where were you when I laid down the pillars that hold up the earth? Can you open up the vaults where snow comes from? And the vaults where I keep all the hail, in case I need a lot of hail one day? Do you know why the sun rises, Job? Because I told it to.”
God just keeps boasting about how powerful he is, like he’s in a rap video. He goes on and on. “Everything under the heavens is mine!” he says. “Mine!” He spends like twenty minutes talking about whales, and how no one is tough enough to take one on, but he created whales. “The sneezings of the whale are like lightning! Who can strip the whale of its skin? Who can penetrate the folds of its jowls?”
It’s like God thinks the best proof of his power isn’t that he created the universe, but that he created a universe with whales in it. He’s totally obsessed with whales.
So finally Job is like: “Okay, okay. You can do anything. I shouldn’t have talked about things I can’t understand.” God is like this insane bully, and the only way to calm him down is by saying how great he is.
Then God turns to Job’s friends. He’s like: “Job really gets me. You guys should really listen to him.” He also promises to give Job twice what he had before. So instead of seven thousand sheep, Job ends up with fourteen thousand. He gets double the she-asses that he had before. He also has seven new sons and three new daughters. These replace the seven sons and three daughters that the Devil murdered.
And you know what? According to the story, Job’s new daughters are even hotter than the old ones.
A hundred and forty years later, Job dies contented.
So, as far as I can tell, the morals of the story are:
If someone enters into a friendly wager that involves infecting you with a plague-like disease, don’t rush to conclusions. Maybe he’ll give you the antidote, and then everything will be even-steven.
Also, children are like commodities. If someone murders your children, but then gives you the same number of children in exchange, consider this: are your new daughters hotter than the old ones? If so, you should be contented—especially if the murderer throws in a few she-asses and sheep.
Finally, one must not question why bad things happen to good people, and good to bad, because the answers to such questions lie beyond our understanding. Who knows why the Lord allows the just to suffer and evil to flourish? Perhaps, in each case, there is a good explanation. For example, perhaps God made a bet with the Devil, and the only way for God to win the bet was by letting the Devil torture you and murder your children.