Wittgenstein's Bastard

Waxing - and Waning - Philosophic


An investigation into the utility (or futility) of seeking meaning in a quasi-post-modern world.

In his famous Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, Wittgenstein sought to design a philosophical system encompassing everything logic could show. He concluded, "That of which we cannot speak, we must pass over in silence." Even though the phrase is a tautology, it is still wrong. Our aim is to speak of that which Wittgenstein could not: the illogical majesty of the universe, the nature of its creator and the meaning of man's being all wrapped up in it.

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Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Judgment Day

This doesn't follow the usual format of this little journal, but it attempts to address those things that we must pass over in silence. Wittgenstein would have laughed at me, for this is an attempt to express things that can't be said so very well. The basic outlines occurred to me after reading Wittgenstein's thoughts on a loving, punishing God ("How God judges a man is something we cannot imagine at all. If he really takes strength of temptation and the frailty of nature into account, whom can he condemn?" - Culture and Value, 1950) and finding similar questions in Walsch's What God Wants. I'm not sure God can condemn His creations, at least not without condemning the handiwork of their Author. See their flaws? Yes. Condemn them? Harder to imagine. This story, though hardly a literary masterpiece, tells more about what I think about God, in light of Wittgenstein's thought, than any essay of numbered points I could compose. Read it with an open mind. It's not theology, per se, just a new angle for considering things.

One day, while humanity was going about its business, the world ended. It did not end with a bang. It did not even end with a whimper. What it ended with was this:

High in the sky there hovered a marvelous vision, a miraculous vision, a vision the Star would have run on the cover of its next issue, had there been a next issue. It looked just like Porky Pig, a gigantic Porky Pig. The gigantic pig poked his head out of a hole in the heavens and declared, "Eh, ah, eh, ah, er, that's all folks!," winked and vanished.

A loud voice boomed, reverberating across all the earth: "Ha ha! I love that pig!"

The whole of humanity shook its head in horror and wonder.

Suddenly a black dot appeared in the sky and hurtled toward the earth. It fell through the roof of a courthouse in Manhattan and before anyone knew what was happening, there sat at the bench an extremely radiant Joseph Wapner, once of the People's Court. All those in the room gasped.

"Just kidding!" The judge spun around and suddenly Judge Harry Stone of the '80s sitcom Night Court was grinning at two very befuddled barristers and a jury still more confused.

Four or five more turns of the chair and God had done guest takes as judges from Law and Order, Judging Amy and other recently popular television shows. When he stopped, he was the living image of Oliver Wendell Holmes. Only the court clerk got this one.

"Good one, eh?"

The court clerk smiled weakly. "Yeah, God, good one."

The clerk didn't know why she had called him God, or how she knew he was God. She felt faintly uncomfortable, wondering if she shouldn't have said, "Your Honor."

"Well," God coughed, "what am I supposed to look like? Says here -" he thumbed through a Bible, "that I'm the judge of judges. But you people have some pretty wacky ideas what a judge oughta be like."

One more swivel and a slightly greying Richard Gere appeared. "They'll cast him for anything! One of my better pieces of work - the molding anyway."

He winked, spun around, and Princess Di smiled softly. Her look turned slightly serious and you would have sworn she'd just seen a Bangladeshi orphan. "I think," she almost whispered, "this feels right."

The prosecutor, a young man who was already talked about as destined for bigger things in New York's Republican party, looked horrified. "Your Honor, this is an outrage!"

Princess Di - God - looked saddened by his comment. She tried to tell herself he was just doing his job, realized he was and said, "To thine own self be true?"

The attorney looked confused, then smiled. "Just so."

Diana looked down, read a few more lines, mumbling to herself, then said, "It says I'm supposed to judge the world. I guess we should start with those of you who are here."

Everyone in the room fidgeted nervously.

* * *

Outside the courthouse, and indeed, around the world, everyone watched and waited. Humanity held one collective thought: "The world is over... Porky Pig said so." And then they went their own ways.

Some began to suspect they'd just seen a Hollywood promotion - maybe Warner Brothers was doing another classic DVD release. Slowly, taxicabs started up again. Within hours, Seven-Elevens were charging too much for cereal, policemen were using unwarranted brutal tactics and Congressmen were holding press conferences to demand hearings into why the President hadn't done anything to stop the Porky Pig thing.

A fair portion of the third world stared in wonder at the spot in the sky where the pig had come and gone. It was their first exposure to Hollywood and they wanted more. The results were mixed. Crops failed sooner, rather than later, but the food supply wasn't dramatically affected. More died from hunger, but since fewer died from war, that was a wash.

In the more advanced nations, though, things were trickier. Nearly half the population believed the world had ended and it had stopped going to work. Depending on your location, it could take ten minutes to get a Big Mac and attendants were in extremely short supply at full-service gas stations.

There's no need to get into the state of public restrooms in the developed world, but it's fair to say that those who were making the least to do the lousiest work were the first to realize God wanted them to stay home and await judgment.

Congress wanted an investigation into the problems with Big Macs and public restrooms soon enough, with Democrats denouncing the Republican President for letting the economy backslide. They called for "Hope funds" to raise wages high enough to put the toilet cleaners back to work. The Republicans wanted the National Guard called out to force the toilet cleaners back to work.

In other words, life went on. But in a court room in Manhattan...

* * *

Lady Di sat at the bench, leaning forward slightly. A prostitute, brought in on charges of solicitation, was recounting a life of sin and squalor. Her boyfriend had gotten her hooked on crack and she had ultimately wound up on the streets to support her habit - and her three kids.

The Princess leaned forward, maddeningly understanding. It was her first case and she'd let the woman talk three days now. The DA fidgeted uncomfortably. He knew he'd lost this one and wanted to get the acquittal over with and move on to the next case.

Finally, Lady Di cut the woman off. "But my dear, you realize you've made very poor choices."

"I know that now!" the woman cried out. "By the time I knowed, it was too late!"

"Oh dear, I wish we could get you counseling." She thumbed through the Bible again. "Hmm. I guess that's not how this part works."

The DA sensed things shifting his way and started to step forward. A voice in the back called, nasally, "Your Honor, this is an outrage! You can't have a Bible in a court room. Well, for show, maybe, but you're not supposed to read it!"

Lady Di looked up.

The man continued, "Er, um, Leonard Peterson, New York ACLU. I came as soon as I heard."

"Hello, Leonard. How's Esther."

"Er, she's fine."

"I know."

"How did you know -"

"I'm God. I know and see all."

"Well, then you definitely have no place in a courtroom! How can someone get a fair trial in those circumstances?"

The ACLU attorney wasn't backing down.

"Relax and have a seat, Mr. Peterson. You'll get your turn soon enough."

The DA stepped forward. "Your Honor, I think we've heard enough."

Lady Di surprised everyone by saying, "Agreed. I think I know enough to judge this one. Actually, I guess I knew from the beginning. But I thought I'd get her side of the story."

The woman set to wailing. Lady Di asked, unperturbed, "Ms. Lee, do you understand that you did wrong?"

"I do, I do, but, it all happened so fast."

"I know, my dear. Are you sorry for what happened."

"I sure am. I sure am."

"Very well, dear. Guilty as charged -"

The defense attorney, till now quiet, shot up. "Your honor, this is ridiculous. I demand a retrial. I demand -"

"There's only one judge, one trial -"

"Request for leniency." The defense attorney was quick on his feet. Or maybe he'd just been doing the routine too long.

The judge looked down. "I was getting there. Sentence suspended due to extenuating circumstances."

"What extenuating circumstances?"

"Well, there is the boyfriend-"

"This is her fifth time here," the DA interjected. "She had her chance to get straight."

"Is counsel telling me how to run my courtroom?"

"No, Your Honor."

The attorney saw a long and difficult time ahead. Here he was, practicing before God Himself. Herself. And She turned out to be a liberal judge.

After the first five years, the DA was on the verge of giving up. People from all over the world were coming to New York for one thing or another. When they came, they'd stumble into a traffic accident, witness a mugging or some other such thing and find themselves at the courtroom on the wrong end of Manhattan.

After five years, the DA interrupted to ask how much longer the trials were going to continue. "Do not worry," Diana said patiently, "we've got all the time in the world."

* * *

It took the DA five years and three more months to truly tire of goings-on in the little courtroom. He was patient. The rest of the world had lost interest long before then. True, the newspapers carried updates. And a cable network was set up that carried the trials gavel to gavel, fulfilling the prophecy that all would be judged in the sight of the whole world. But even Dennis Miller's new show got better ratings.

* * *

For a while, it was feared that with Lady Di's slow pace people would keep being born faster than they could be judged, making Judgment Day into Judgment Eternity even before the following Eternity could kick in. But with the spread of satellite TV and the creation of a new station running nothing but "The L-Word" and "Sex and the City," copulation came to be a thing for viewing, not doing - the logical conclusion to the popularity of reality television - and the problem abated.

Some people - those who didn't watch "The L-Word" or "Sex and the City" for fear of damnation - were extremely upset with the direction the world was taking. They marched on Washington, demanding that the President address the issue, but the new President, a Democrat, kept saying he'd address the issue just as soon as "Sex and the City" was over, then reporting he'd caught the beginning of the next one, and, well -

While conservative groups in Washington marched, Islamic groups in the east bombed infidels. Increasingly, though, it was turning into a house to house campaign. Once satellite television caught hold, no one went out anymore. Especially given the state of public toilets.

Some Muslims heard of a lady judge who claimed to be God and who was judging souls as they came to her courtroom. They thought this preposterous and ranted about it at length. Their wives turned increasingly religious, relying as they did on headresses to cover the slightly evil smiles that came to their faces when these rants started.

In India, Tibet and elsewhere, different Buddhist sects remarked upon the folly of going to New York to be judged and judged themselves. They all went to Nirvana, which was good for them and lightened the judge of judges' workload.

In the meantime, some did come to the courtroom of their own volition, wanting to be judged, ready to be judged, and reasured that no one yet had actually drawn a damnation sentence.

A few preachers showed up, demanding that the pain of hell be inflicted where called for. One even volunteered for hell because, he reasoned, how could the people be held to faith if no one was ever actually damned? This actually moved the Princess to tears and she stepped around the bench to hug him compassionately before sending him to heaven. She hugged his wife even tighter, then regained her professional demeanor.

* * *

Finally, after sixty-two years, everyone was judged. Everyone save the attorneys. She sent the defense attorney straight to heaven, no questions asked. Then she turned to the prosecutor.

The prosecutor liked his chances - no one else from all of humanity had been damned, all repenting once they'd had a chance to talk it over with the loving judge. But he was alert to tricks.

"You, sir," the Princess said, "are a marvel, faithfully executing your office for sixty-two years, making sure that both sides of the issue were heard even knowing how things would come out. All are blessed, but you most among them."

"But wasn't I a headache?"

"A migraine and a half." Lady Di smiled. "As was I, judging each individually when I could have done the whole thing at once. But we have to do things by the Book." Another smile.

Lady Di then looked sad and serious. "And so, it all comes down to you."

"To me? Because I'm the last one left?"

"Because we have only judged the living but not the already dead."

He saw a seemingly infinite string of cases ahead of him, saw his out and protested, "But there's no defense attorney!"

Lady Di paused a moment, looked out the window, then spoke: "I created all this. All the world and all the people in it. As I look in your faces, I remember every one one of you, every one of your stories. But I did not just make you, I gave you life.

"Could I, like an angry child, smoosh you up, stomp you flat, scribble you out? I can't. Judge I can, but condemn I cannot. All I see is my effort in creating you, and your efforts in creating your lives.

"I see so many stumbles, so many mistakes we might both have made. And yet there is such beauty in it all, the horrid stories often more moving, more revealing - more artful - than those lives lived most closely to my first law, yet so divorced from my second, to love, for how can you understand and feel compassion till you've known not only pain but doubt for yourself? That's why my Son, that's why I had to leave Him to His own at the end."

She sighed, looked at the DA and repeated, "And so, it all comes down to you."

He looked quizzically.

"I set myself a test. Set us a test. Set humanity and my wisdom in creating it a test. You have seen the best and the worst, the whole of what humanity has to offer. I can judge it, can know what worked, what didn't, but feeling that what didn't work worked too, in its own way. I have judged the living. It is for you to judge the dead. Only by knowing how my creation resolves itself can I truly know the meaning, the sense of what I created."

The DA suddenly had a view of the whole of history. He saw Hitler and Buddha, Martin Luther and Pol Pot, Kant and Sartre. He watched the horror of wars and the greater horror of broken hearts. And then he burst into laughter and within seconds was sobbing like a two-day's babe. He curled into a fetal position, pulling tighter and tighter into himself as sobs and peals of laughter came ever louder from the curious ball. At last he uncurled, lay flat on the floor staring up, his eyes teary, his mouth in a broad grin. "So splendid," he whispered, and the whole earth cracked and all those buried within ascended to heaven.

"I'd hoped it would turn out this way," God mumbled to Herself, a tear in Her own eye. Then, with a blink, She was again everything and everywhere, but with Her attention turned from the cares of Her greatest and most beautiful project to the still greater joy that lay in deciding what next to make of all the marvelous essences again in Her domain now that earth had run its course.

posted by gbarto at 10:45 AM