Satan’s Awful Majesty

Now the means usually employed by a witch to possess his victims with a devil is to offer them some sort of food; and I have remarked that he most often uses apples. In this Satan continually rehearses the means by which he tempted Adam and Eve in the earthly Paradise. And in this connection I cannot pass over what happened at Annecy in Savoy in the year 1585. On the edge of the Hasli Bridge there was seen for two hours an apple from which came so great and confused a noise that people were afraid to pass by there, although it was a much-used way. Everybody ran to see this thing, though no one dared to go near to it; until, as is always the case, at last one man more bold than the rest took a long stick and knocked the apple into the Thiou, a canal from the lake of Annecy which passes under the bridge; and after that nothing more was heard. It cannot be doubted that this apple was full of devils, and that a witch had been foiled in an attempt to give it to someone.

— Henry Boguet, Examen of Witches, 1590

What’s In a Name?

Puritans in the 1600s gave their kids some memorably pious names — here’s a sample from a Sussex jury roll circa 1650:

  • Accepted Trevor, of Norsham
  • Redeemed Compton, of Battle
  • Kill-Sin Pimple, of Witham
  • Fly-Fornication Richardson, of Waldron
  • Search-The-Scriptures Moreton, of Salehurst
  • The-Peace-Of-God Knight, of Burwash
  • Stand-Fast-On-High Stringer, of Crowhurst
  • Fight-The-Good-Fight-Of-Faith White, of Ewhurst

Taken to extremes these could get unwieldy. Charles Bombaugh (1890) claims that “A Puritan maiden, who was asked for her baptismal name, replied, ‘Through-Much-Tribulation-We-Enter-The-Kingdom-Of-Heaven, but for short they call me Tribby.'”

In the late 17th century a member of the British parliament was named Praise-God Barebone, with brothers and sons named Fear-God Barebone, Jesus-Christ-Came-Into-The-World-To-Save Barebone, and If-Christ-Had-Not-Died-For-Thee-Thou-Hadst-Been-Damned Barebone.

The last changed his name to Nicholas.


“Moreover, the satellites of Jupiter are invisible to the naked eye, and therefore can exercise no influence over the Earth, and therefore would be useless, and therefore do not exist.” — Astronomer Francesco Sizzi, on Galileo’s claim to have seen the moons of Jupiter

Jerusalem Syndrome

Between 1980 and 1993, 42 visitors to Israel experienced a peculiar psychotic episode with seven consistent clinical stages:

  1. Anxiety, agitation, nervousness and tension, plus other unspecified reactions.
  2. Declaration of the desire to split away from the group or the family and to tour Jerusalem alone.
  3. A need to be clean and pure: obsession with taking baths and showers; compulsive fingernail and toenail cutting.
  4. Preparation, often with the aid of hotel bed-linen, of a long, ankle-length, togalike gown, which was always white.
  5. The need to scream, shout, or sing out loud psalms, verses from the Bible, religious hymns, or spirituals.
  6. A procession or march to one of Jerusalem’s holy places.
  7. Delivery of a “sermon” in a holy place. The sermon was usually very confused and based on an unrealistic plea to humankind to adopt a more wholesome, moral, simple way of life.

These people had no history of psychiatric illness and arrived as regular tourists, with no special mission in mind. They recovered fairly spontaneously on leaving the country and were reluctant afterward to discuss the episode. No explanation has been found.

(Bar-el Y, et al. (2000) Jerusalem syndrome. British Journal of Psychiatry, 176, 86-90.)

Divine Mystery

The sermons of London theologian Frederick Denison Maurice (1805-1872) were always received with rapt concentration. Alas, there was a reason:

  • “I suppose I must have heard him, first and last, some thirty or forty times, and never carried away one clear idea, or even the impression that he had more than the faintest conception of what he himself meant.” — Sir M.E. Grant Duff
  • “I do not remember that a word ever came from him betokening clear recognition or healthy free sympathy with anything.” — Thomas Carlyle
  • “I am never in his company without being attacked with a sort of paroxysm of mental cramp.” — Carlyle’s wife, Jane
  • “Well! All that I could make out was that today was yesterday, and this world the same as the next.” — Benjamin Jowett
  • “Frederick Maurice has philosophical powers of the highest order, but he spoils them all by torturing everything into Thirty-nine Articles.” — John Stuart Mill

“Listening to him,” wrote Aubrey de Vere, “was like eating pea soup with a fork.”


God can’t make a genuine $10 bill. Only the U.S. Mint can do that. Presumably God could make an atom-for-atom copy of one, but it wouldn’t be genuine because it wasn’t produced by the mint.

Therefore God is not omnipotent.

Above the Law

For an omnibenevolent being, God has a lot of legal trouble. Nebraska legislator Ernie Chambers sought an injunction against the deity in 2007, asserting that He had caused “widespread death, destruction and terrorization of millions upon millions of the Earth’s inhabitants.” And in 2008 a Romanian prisoner claimed that his baptism had been a contract that God had broken by failing to protect him from evil.

God escaped both suits on technicalities. Chambers’ action was dismissed because God has no address and thus couldn’t be notified, and the Romanian suit was deemed to be beyond the court’s jurisdiction because God is not an individual or a company. So that settles that.