Word of the Day: Poe’s Law

About a month ago, I wrote a post titled, “A Powerful Defense of Reason … or Maybe Not.”  It was a letter from a pastor arguing both sides of the question of reason—that reason is a gift from God … but that it steers the honest Christian man or woman away from faith.  That reason eliminated disease like smallpox … but that Martin Luther called it “the greatest enemy of faith.”

The pastor who wrote it was Rev. Phineas P. Stopgauge—a made-up name for a made-up letter.  Though it was a parody (and had decent clues that it was), I received feedback from someone who seemed to have thought it real.

And this brings up Poe’s Law:

Without a winking smiley or other blatant display of humor, it is impossible to create a parody of Fundamentalism that someone won’t mistake for the real thing.

Is Landover Baptist Church a parody?  Apparently so.  How about Fred “God Hates Fags” Phelps?  Apparently not.  It’s hard to tell.  This shows the versatility of the (supposedly) immutable religion that it can morph into any form, even as parody, and still be mistaken for earnest Christianity.

We see an early example in the Cardiff Giant, a giant petrified man discovered by well diggers near Syracuse, NY in 1869.  But the entire thing was a hoax, commissioned by atheist George Hull and planted where it would be accidentally “discovered.”  Hull’s goal was to show how easy it was to fool Americans, especially Christians who believed that “There were giants in the earth in those days” (Gen. 6:4).

Even after scientists rejected the find and Hull admitted to the hoax, the Giant was still a popular tourist attraction.  P.T. Barnum offered the modern equivalent of millions of dollars, but the owners wouldn’t sell.  He created his own Giant to display and argued that his was the real fake and the other one was the fake fake.  Barnum’s conclusion: “The American people love to be humbugged.”

A recent example was the “GOD IS SO GOOD!!!!” video by TamTamPamela, an earnest 20-something woman from Florida talking about how fantastic it was that, in the lead-up to Easter, God showed himself to atheists through the March 11 Japan earthquake and tsunami (find more details about this event at the ThinkAtheist blog).

A few days later, after her address and phone number had been publicized and she received the obligatory delivery of unwanted pizza, she publicly stated that the whole thing had been just a provocation.

That this wasn’t obvious to begin with, and that a Christian could plausibly make this statement, makes this a classic example of Poe’s Law.

Photo credit: Wikimedia

Related posts:

A Powerful Defense of Reason … or Maybe Not

In wrestling with the issues of faith and reason and how they should be used within society, I asked for input from an experienced pastor.  Here’s his reply.  I’ll let you evaluate it yourself.

I want you to know that I do not shun controversy.  On the contrary, I will take a stand on any issue at any time, regardless of how fraught with controversy it might be.  You have asked me how I feel about reason.  All right, here is how I feel about this important matter.

If, when you say reason, you mean the arrogance that rejects faith, that would have us discard what we know to be true more deeply than sterile logic can express; if you mean the heartless drive to dethrone the innocent widow or precious child from their cherished beliefs; if you mean the pernicious force that shakes the faith of the honest Christian man or woman in almighty God, what Martin Luther called “the devil’s bride” and “the greatest enemy of faith,” what the greatest minds in Christianity have made a slave to faith, then certainly I am against it.

But if, when you say reason, you mean the tool that gave us medicine, the fruits of which are antibiotics, anesthesia, vaccines, and the distant memory of scourges like smallpox and plague; if you mean the technology that teaches us of our glorious universe and that landed men on the moon and brought us the vibrant world we live in today; if you mean the rejection of ancient superstition in favor of scientific explanations; if by reason you mean our ability to analyze and dismantle foreign religions and reveal their legendary origin, and to reject beliefs that are merely pleasing rather than correct; if you mean God’s greatest gift, the gift for which we must stand in judgment for using wisely, the very tool that gets us safely through each day, then certainly I am for it.

This is my stand.  I will not retreat from it.  I will not compromise.*

Rev. Phineas P. Stopgauge

Photo credit: Wikimedia

*Alert readers will recognize this as an homage to the 1952 “If by whiskey” speech by Mississippi State Representative Noah “Soggy” Sweat, Jr.  (No kidding—that was really his name.)