I can’t resist quoting at length from a glorious piece by Fred Clark on his problems with a spam filter. Clark is a Baptist journalist, whose blog, the Slacktivist, contains an extended, gloriously funny, deconstruction of the Left Behind books, and a great deal else that is thought-provoking, and clearly expressed. This week, he has been afflicted with Six Apart.
I should note the almost theological response we humans have to this kind of arbitrary system. We look for meaning and, if it cannot be found, we impose meaning. On my end, this produces something like the behavior one sees in a person who believes in the mechanical/magical efficacy of prayer (it’s not doing anything — I’ll do it more and do it harder). The multitude of comments trapped in the filter, meanwhile, seem to be rehashing the dialogues of the book of Job, with several taking the Eliphaz/Bildad approach (I’m being punished, I must have sinned) and others following the counsel of Job’s wife (curse TypePad and die). No one has yet taken the proto-Calvinist approach of young Elihu, arguing that all of our comments deserve to be deleted as spam and that if TypePad graciously allows some elect few to be published we ought to respond only with gratitude. Theology was once regarded as the Queen of the Sciences. If that strikes you as inappropriate, consider the theological scientific method at work in response to the seemingly arbitrary blocking of comments. We hypothesize that there is a reason or a meaning for why a given comment is blocked, and we experiment by resubmitting it with variations in an attempt to discern what those reasons and that meaning might be. Not the sort of thing one can measure with calipers, yet not wholly unscientific either.
On a related note, Quentin Stafford Fraser quotes something he found in one of Dan Dennett’s books:
Philosophy is questions that may never be answered. Religion is answers that may never be questioned.
But this doesn’t go nearly far enough, because it assumes that these unchanging answers are always the answers to the same questions. And the great discovery made by scripture-based religions is that they don’t have to be. You can take the eternal, divinely inspired answers, and then choose among the questions until you find one to which the answer is right. In this way it is entirely possible to switch your position on such matters as slavery, democracy, divorce, the position of women, the age of the world, and anything else you care about. The process is slow, I admit. But it is also comprehensive, and erases its own tracks, so that by the end of it, everyone is sincerely, and reassuringly convinced that oceania has always been at war with eastasia. That is the blessed assurance that historical enquiry / the higher criticism really damages. But it is still true that heresy, like treason, is a matter of timing, and they would have burned even the current Pope as a heretic at Trent.