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The Last Temptation of Christ [Aug. 25th, 2012|01:39 am]
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Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert, where he was tempted by the Devil. After various lesser trials and temptations, the Devil led Jesus to the top of an exceedingly high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world. And they stood there together, gazing upon the vista below.

"Behold," said Satan, mostly to break the awkward silence. "all the kingdoms of the world."

"They're very nice," said Jesus.

Satan's features - still faintly angelic - formed into a pout. "Really?" he asked. "Because I worked so hard corrupting them and turning them against one another, and..."

"No," said Jesus. "Not like that. I was just trying to be polite, really. They're teeming with sin and abomination."

Satan beamed. Some more awkward silence.

"So," said Jesus. "Is this the point at which you offer me lordship over all these kingdoms, if I only I bow down and worship you?"

"Nah," said Satan. "Like I said, they're kind of crappy. I'm here to tempt you, not insult you. I was planning something more interesting."

He waved his hand over the panorama, and it expanded in a hard-to-describe way. The three-dimensional view became four-dimensional; the vista became a manifold.

"Behold," said Satan again, "all the kingdoms of the world. Now and forever. Before you, the entire scope of history."

Jesus hesitated, not really sure what the polite response would be.

"You could at least smile!" said Satan. "Look! These people love you!"

Sure enough, it was true. Many of the kingdoms before them were Christian, building great cathedrals and writing beautiful works of theology in Jesus' name. Among the remainder, many were Muslim, revering him as one of the greatest of prophets.

"It's pretty encouraging," Jesus agreed. "So what's the catch?"

"Always the catch with you people," said Satan. "Well, if you insist. Take a look particularly at the psychiatric hospitals."

Jesus gazed through the manifold, where ten thousand psychiatric hospitals presented themselves simultaneously to his elevated senses.

"As you notice," said Satan "your popularity has had some fascinating side effects. In particular, a pretty good proportion of psychotics, sometime in their illness, think that they're you. I don't think either of us wants to sit here counting them all, but could we agree on a hundred thousand as a conservative estimate?"

"A hundred thousand psychotics who believe themselves to be Jesus Christ, across the entire scope of world history," agreed Jesus. "Sounds reasonable."

"And it's a pretty strong delusion," the Devil went on. "They'd dismiss the contention that they're not you with barely a second thought. Whatever their reasoning processes are, they seem to be bent in on themselves somehow so that they always affirm the conclusion."

"It's very sad," Jesus said. "I hope my Father in Heaven will have mercy upon them."

"That's not what we're here to talk about," said the Devil. "What I'm really interested in is this - given a randomly chosen person who's absolutely certain he's Jesus, what's the probability that he is, in fact, Jesus?"

"Well," Jesus answered "There are a hundred thousand psychotics who believe themselves to be Jesus, and only one real Jesus. So by Bayes' Theorem, we calculate that believing one's self to be Jesus gives one only about a one in one hundred thousand chance that one is actually Jesus."

"Your reasoning is impeccable," said Satan. "So, what is the probability that you're actually Jesus?"

"What?" asked Jesus.

"You are an individual with a certain amount of evidence that you are Jesus. Specifically, you believe yourself to be him. You have various experiences which your reason tells you are consistent with being Jesus, like memories of your mother Mary and so on, but these seem like the sort of thing a damaged intellect could create to support a delusion. You previously determined that a randomly selected person with the belief that he is Jesus has a 1/100,000 chance of being Jesus and a 99,999/100,000 chance of being a psychotic. So, Mr. Person With The Belief That He Is Jesus, do you think those numbers apply to you?"

Jesus thought for a moment. "I'm not a psychotic," he said. "I think I would know if I were psychotic. I'd have all sorts of symptoms. Hallucinations. Confusion."

"You know what the number one hallucination reported by psychotic patients is?" Satan asked.

Jesus thought for a moment. "What?"

"The Devil," said the Devil.

"Oh, that's just unfair," Jesus told him.

"Usually they report he's trying to tempt them to do self-destructive things. You know, like jump off tall buildings. Remind me what we were doing earlier today?"

"You set that up to confuse me," said Jesus.

"And you mentioned confusion. Tell me, where are we right now?"

"An exceedingly high mountain," Jesus answered.

"Which one, exactly? Because the tallest mountain in Israel is a bit under four thousand feet. That's hardly see-all-the-kingdoms-of-the-world height. Are you even sure what country we're in right now? And, uh, last time I checked I'm almost certain the world was a sphere. So what particular mountain do you think we're on that allows us to see all the kingdoms of the world?"

"Uh, well, there are no kingdoms in the Western Hemisphere at this point in history..." suggested Jesus.

"Wrong!" said Satan. "Zapotecs and Mochica! You don't know where you are, you don't know how you got here, and you don't know how you're seeing what you're seeing."

"You took me here," Jesus countered. "I assume you used some sort of devil-magic or something. I didn't watch where we were going."

"Oh please," said Satan. "Outside View! In general, when someone says the only reason they don't know what country they're in is because the Devil is magically clouding their mind, does that make them more or less likely to be mentally ill?"

"Mrhghn," grumbled Jesus.

"So let's recap. You believe yourself to be Jesus. You admit that you have been seeing the Devil, and that he commands you to jump off buildings, a command you resist only with great difficulty. You don't know where you are or how you got there, and your only weak explanation is that malevolent demons magically transported you there and meddled with your mind so you don't remember it. Using the Outside View, what is the probability that you are even remotely sane?"

"Look," said Jesus. "Could you just tell me what the temptation is already?"

Satan waved his hand, and a syringe materialized within it. "5 mg haloperidol, IM" he told him.

Jesus looked at the Devil. He looked at the syringe. He looked at All The Kingdoms Of The World. He looked back at the Devil. His brow furrowed in thought. He looked at the syringe again.

Then his eyes shone as the Holy Spirit flowed through him. His indecision vanished. "Your lies have no power over me, demon," he told his tormentor.

"Please calm down," said Satan, only now he spoke with the voice of a middle-aged woman. "We're just trying to help you, Mr. Anderson. Please just hold still and let me give you your medication."

"Get thee behind me, Satan!" shouted the Christ, and he pushed the Devil off the mountain. Satan screamed as he plummeted, screamed with a woman's voice, until he vanished from sight in the depths below.

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[User Picture]From: ikadell
2012-08-27 05:59 pm (UTC)
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From: (Anonymous)
2012-08-27 06:04 pm (UTC)
Delightful dialogue! It reminded me quite a bit of Chesterton's novel "The Ball and the Cross". It is about an atheist and a Christian have a series of wacky adventures together, interspersed with philosophical discussions. At one point, each of them has a vision in which they are "tempted", in a way suited for their specific ideological prejudices. Both reject the temptation; in the case of the atheist, by calmly reasoning that he must be dreaming!

You should read it if you haven't; it is one of the few occasions in which Chesterton managed to create a sympathetic atheist character, and even give him some non-strawman part in a discussion. Of course, since this is Chesterton, he is a character in a world where Christianity is true and so the deck is stacked against him, but still.

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[User Picture]From: cartesiandaemon
2012-08-27 07:17 pm (UTC)
That's really interesting (and scary at the end).

I was debating with myself, how can I tell if something which seems obvious to me is actually a hallucination. I felt I needed to ask someone with experience with people who have that sort of problem what they experience and what cues they seem aware of, but discount, so I can try to be aware of them.

Of course, it may be futile if I'm hard wired to believe whatever my hallucination is despite evidence. Like the woman who was sure that she didn't have an arm. But maybe I can prepare myself to accept that even if I DON'T have an arm, if I have a clever fake which seems to work, I should just accept that?

My best guess is that if lots of people tell me something is delusional, and I know the logic is correct but can't reconstruct it, it may be spurious. But I don't know if that's realistic.

I'm thinking of A Beautiful Mind, which was evocative but flawed in both medicine and mathematics, but I was very moved by Nash's commitment to just ignore his hallucinations, even when it meant discounting some of his oldest friends, in order to continue living with some other of his oldest friends.

Of course, that's just an ordinary delusion. If I'm comparing the hypotheses that "I'm Jesus and Satan is creating many illusions" and "I'm hallucinating" both hypotheses can explain so many ideas that either could be true.

If I restrict myself to those two hypotheses, I guess I could try being utterly passive, on the assumption that Satan can't harm me directly, and if I'm hallucinating, eventually I may meet someone who doesn't seem like Satan. But I don't think that would really work.
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[User Picture]From: Julia Wise
2012-08-30 02:34 am (UTC)
We read this aloud at my house.
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From: (Anonymous)
2012-08-30 05:40 pm (UTC)
I'm not sure I like this; there seems to be a flaw in how you pose the core argument here. Jesus* takes as factual the proposition that he would become so popular in the future that mental patients would believe they were him. This would come naturally to the modern mad pseudo-Jesus, being an established fact in the modern world, but the actual Jesus (assuming there was one, who existed as depicted in the Bible) should find this hard to believe. Not only is there no evidence (as far as I am aware) for this proposition in the actual Jesus' time and place, he would in fact be speaking to the King of Lies and should therefore probably be discounting any evidence he provides.
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From: (Anonymous)
2012-08-31 12:14 pm (UTC)
According to some traditions the devil never lies at all, and only tempts with the truth or deceives by omission.

If the devil is at all pragmatic, he won't lie so often that his pronouncements can be discounted.

Anyway, we're already dealing with a character who can follow the devil up a mountain, whereupon the devil tells him to behold all the kingdoms of the world, and this experience doesn't ping his implausibility sensors.
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[User Picture]From: steer
2012-08-31 12:02 pm (UTC)
Foolish Christ. As he can see the four dimensional universe in its fullness he can see whether he is the *earliest* person with the conviction that he is Jesus+.

So, if he trusts the observation of the four dimensional universe it is evidence he is sane.

If he does not trust the observation of the four dimensional universe it is no evidence either way.

+Of course it is entirely possible (even likely) there were earlier people who were deranged and had the belief that they were some kind of son of god/messiah but that's rather different to what is posed here.
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From: (Anonymous)
2012-08-31 12:24 pm (UTC)
That's still the sort of argument a schizophrenic might use to justify their delusions. "My visions showed me that while many people have claimed to be me, I am the first!" Maybe he just thinks that because he's a crazy person having crazy visions because he's crazy.
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