Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Relocating Pergamum

Today is the launch of my hero's journey novel Sephirot!  An ordinary man is suddenly catapulted into a network of interconnected worlds where nothing is as it seems, and he has to rely on his wits and courage to find his way through.  But will that be enough to get him safely home?

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Jonathan Swift commented, with his usual eagle-eyed clarity, "You cannot reason a person out of a position he did not reason himself into."

This, in a nutshell, sums up why it is so damned frustrating to argue with conspiracy theorists.  Not only do they summarily dismiss any facts you might come up with, they have abandoned the necessity for facts at all.  They've moved from the faith-based stance of "believe this despite the fact that there's no evidence" to "believe this because there's no evidence."  After all, those conspirators are pretty smart guys.

They wouldn't just leave evidence lying around.

But once you've landed in that territory, you've opened yourself to falling for anything.  As an example, consider the latest bizarre conspiracy theory that's been making the rounds, that has repeatedly caused the people who run Wikipedia to have to go back and fix the pages for an archaeological site in Turkey and an obscure Roman Catholic bishop who is the patron saint of toothache.

I swear I'm not making any of this up.

The whole thing started with a passage from the Book of Revelation -- specifically, Revelation 2:12-17:

To the angel of the church in Pergamum write:

These are the words of him who has the sharp, double-edged sword.  I know where you live—where Satan has his throne.  Yet you remain true to my name.  You did not renounce your faith in me, not even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was put to death in your city—where Satan lives.

Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: There are some among you who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin so that they ate food sacrificed to idols and committed sexual immorality.  Likewise, you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans.  Repent therefore!  Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.

Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.  To the one who is victorious, I will give some of the hidden manna.  I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it.

Notwithstanding the fact that most of the Book of Revelation sounds like a bad acid trip, this seems clear enough.  The people of Pergamum are pretty okay for the most part, except for those who eat the sacrificial lamb or fool around out of wedlock; to them the angel says, "Don't make me come over there and give you a good talking-to."

Simple, right?  Nope.  There's a group of conspiracy theorists who have grabbed the "where Satan has his throne" part, and run right off the cliff with it.

The Antipas mentioned in the passage was a real guy; he was the bishop of Pergamum, and was martyred either during the reign of Nero or Domitian (it's uncertain which), allegedly by being placed inside a hollow brass bull and roasted over a fire.  Somehow, he became the patron saint of toothache, instead of the patron saint of third-degree burns, which would have been more logical.

So the conspiracy theorists put their mind to trying to figure out where Satan's throne is.  They reasoned, "Well, the biblical passage says that it's in the city where Antipas died, so if we can just figure out where that was, we'll know where Satan's throne is located!"

Um... let's reread the passage, shall we?

It says right in the first line of the passage that the city is called Pergamum.  Antipas is known to have been the bishop of Pergamum.  Not only that, Pergamum was a huge metropolis of the ancient world, which left a sprawling set of much-studied ruins (now a UNESCO World Heritage Site) located in what is now western Turkey.  The city was settled in the eighth century B.C.E., inhabited continuously through the Hellenistic, Roman, and Byzantine Eras, is documented hundreds of times in contemporary sources, and was only more or less abandoned in 1300 C. E. when the Ottoman Turks took over.  Furthermore, the district within which the archaeological site is located...

... is still called Bergama.

Despite all this, the conspiracy theorists were sitting around and scratching their heads in total perplexity.  "This is really complicated, dude," they said.  "Where can it be?  They sure hid Satan's throne well, those sneaky guys!"

But you'll be relieved to know that after much pondering, they figured it out.  Antipas of Pergamum was actually buried in...

... wait for it...

... Geneva, Switzerland.

Why Geneva, you might be asking?  I know I sure as hell was.  Well, they're happy to explain that it's because Geneva is home to the following evil organizations:

  1. The CERN particle accelerator 
  2. World Economic Forum Headquarters
  3. World Trade Organization
  4. World Council of Churches
  5. World Federation of United Nations
  6. World Health Organization
  7. World Meteorological Organization
  8. International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association
  9. GAVI (The Vaccine Alliance)
  10. Lutheran World Federation
  11. Internet Governance Forum
  12. UN Watch
Okay, I can see them targeting CERN, given that the mad scientists there are currently trying to recreate the Big Bang or generate black holes or trigger a false vacuum collapse, so that they will enjoy 3.8 nanoseconds during which to cackle maniacally and rub their hands together in glee before they get vaporized along with the rest of us.  It's also unsurprising that an association supporting us evil queer folks made the top twelve.  And a lot of the others on the list have that "One World Government" flavor conspiracy theorists just hate. 

But... the Lutherans?  Why target the Lutherans?  What do they think the Lutherans are gonna do, organize Satan's dish-to-pass supper, or something?

What is most baffling about all this is not that some loon had a crazy idea.  That's what loons do, after all.  What is completely mind-boggling about all this is that when said loon posted this idea, he got shouts of acclamation about his bravery in coming forth with it, along with people decrying the evil folks of Geneva as being -- once again, I'm not making this up -- "vile, in plain sight, such evil."  And enough people took a look at this claim and said, "Makes sense to me," that the Wikipedia pages for Antipas, Pergamum, and Geneva keep having to be fixed over and over after they're edited to reflect this new and groundbreaking version of reality.

I'm not sure what more to say about this that "What the actual fuck?" doesn't cover.  One slightly hopeful note is that this kind of thing usually has a fairly short shelf-life; the conspiracy theorists get bored with yammering about one weird idea and then move on to something else in fairly short order.  Probably this time that Newark is actually located in Cambodia and is the final resting place of Mussolini, or something.

Okay, so I'm not sure how reassuring this actually is.

One thing that's certain, though, is that as useless as it seems, I will keep fighting against the purveyors of nonsense with the sword of my mouth, lo until the end of days.  Maybe I'll even get rewarded with a white stone with a new name on it.  You never know.


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