So I got this email from a reader demanding to know why I make my world-famous “Get Out of Hell Free” cards available. I’ve written about that quite a bit over the years, so I don’t intend to repeat it all here (see the GOOHF site if you’re not already aware of the story. The basic answer, though, is “Because people like them.”)
Anyway, William in Zimbabwe wrote:
I am a Christian and your GOOHF cards are leading people further into sin. (Knowing how dumb some Americans are, they probably believe they won’t go to hell with those cards.) Why do people make hell look good? Just wait till you get there, then we’ll see who thinks it’s really good. Surely God’s going to punish you for leading His Children further into sin. Oh, and when He sends you to hell, make sure you have a GOOHF card with you–not that it will help, but Satan might find it amusing!
The Confused, The Proud
I asked William why he thought I was trying to “make hell look good,” especially considering that if the cards enticed anyone to go in any particular direction, it would be out of hell, not toward there. He replied, “Why else would you come up with a Get Out Of Hell Free Card? It’s just one big joke to you isn’t it?” (Well yeah! But apparently William isn’t quite able to grasp that.) He continued:
Stop trying to play games with me. You know what I mean. Why do you distribute those cards?? May God forgive you for any souls you have led astray. This matter is serious. Who do you think you are–what authority do you have to ‘Get people out of Hell’? You work for Satan if you publish things like this: [the American Taliban story about Pat Robertson in last week’s issue.] The people in that report are nowhere near true Christians.
So it’s “Satan’s work” if I write about how stupid people are who profess to be Christians, but really aren’t, according to him. And he demands to know “who I think I am” to issue cards he says don’t work?
My, how confused the not-quite-secure-in-their-faith types can be.
He at least established that it’s OK to ask this: who does he think he is? Well, nothing more than the guy who gets to decide who the “true Christians” are. (But I don’t, because …well… I guess because Americans are “stupid.” Uh, yeah.)
It’s apparently OK if I write a story criticizing non-Christians, but God forgive me if I write one with the same sort of criticism of a “nowhere near true” Christian. Or, no, gee: that’s not it. Or is it? Whatever. I guess he’s afraid that someone, somewhere, just might be mocking him because he isn’t sure what he believes. And that’s terribly, terribly sad.
I get this sort of mail all the time. But at the same time, I get mail (and, yes, orders for the GOOHF cards!) from “true” Christians — including the clergy of many, many different denominations — who not only have a clue, but are secure in their beliefs …and have a sense of humor. Priests and ministers and rabbis from Roman Catholic to Methodist to Baptist to Lutheran to Jewish Orthodox to Pagan to whatever have the cards (and other GOOHFy products) and enjoy and share them.
None think it’s a license to go out and steal and kill and covet thy neighbor’s wife. And anyone who thinks they do really needs a life.
So William, I have something for you. Send me your mailing address and I’ll send you a free GOOHF card. But you don’t have to worry for your eternal soul: it’s stamped “VOID”.
(Alas, he never sent me his address. But checked three years later, he was indeed still reading TRUE.)
Not Everyone is Clear
But not everyone got the most basic point. Marina in Washington was the worst off:
I enjoy most of your comments, but I gotta say, I think you’re taking advantage of your wide readership to devote so much of your column trying to make one reader look like a fool or stupid by your rant on his opinions. So what if you don’t like what he wrote? It was in a private discussion with you; your responses should have remained as private. What was the point of insulting him in front of quite a bit of the whole world? Other than trying to get the last word in and publicly insult him, that is. That’s pretty small of you, knowing that he doesn’t have recourse to treat you as meanly. I expect more from a person of your stature and intelligence, but I realize that this is not the first time you have resorted to this type of dirty fighting, and know also that, unfortunately, it won’t be the last.
I’m not sure what Marina expects when someone writes a letter to the editor of a publication to express an opinion (just as she did), but let’s examine this.
First, as far as me being “unfair” to ranters, someone else long ago put their finger on it: it is unfair to have a battle of wits with an unarmed man. So what?
Second, I didn’t make William “look like a fool or stupid” — he did.
And third, she’s darn right it won’t be the last time I publish/respond to such a letter! Why? Letters are part of the content, and True is about stupid people doing stupid things in public — and getting their comeuppance. I’m supposed to simply ignore stupidity just because it comes from a reader as a letter to the editor? No way! That would be …um… foolish or stupid. As Josh in California put it in the Comments, such people “need to be taken to task. For what they believe? No, for not thinking.”
When I told Marina that letters are part of the content, she replied:
This is your way of baiting the public, daring one to disagree with you, thus providing more grist for your mill. Your version of letting 100 flowers bloom, Mr. American Mao? Do not reply to this; I will never see your letter, it will go straight to trash.
So publishing a letter to the editor is “baiting” readers — but don’t dare present any argument to that because she’s slamming her mind shut? Um, yeah: that’s an intelligent, thoughtful approach.
Luckily, the vast majority of the readers do get it, which says something quite positive about their intelligence, thoughtfulness, and sense of humor. Even the Christians. (And even the lawyers! This week Clara in ACT, Australia, ordered a two-year Premium upgrade and noted in her order that she was “Another bloody lawyer finally getting off her lazy Aussie arse and ordering an upgrade. Thanks mate, you really make me laugh; now I know that it’s not just my clients that are so stupid.”)
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