The Gnosticism of Everyday Life

One of the most familiar types of “clever” remarks is to pretend to take it literally when someone says, “I’m sorry” in response to some tale of woe, responding, “It’s not your fault.” Indeed, so typical has this “joke” become among males my age that I am increasingly reluctant to express basic human sympathy out of fear of providing the set-up for some hackneyed joke.

Today, however, I came up with a solution that allows me to signal my empathy while gaining the upper hand in the increasingly competitive market for quips. Instead of simply saying, “I’m sorry,” one can respond to accounts of unfortunate events in which one had no hand as follows: “I apologize on behalf of God, who has so poorly fashioned the world.”

This quip works particularly well when dealing with people suffering from seasonal allergies or problematic wisdom teeth, which help to lend some credence to the Gnostic notion of Incompetent Design.

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14 Responses to “The Gnosticism of Everyday Life”

  1. Hill Says:

    It drives me totally crazy when people say “it’s not your fault” in response to “I’m sorry” as an expression of empathy. I’ve actually experienced this in the mode of passive aggression and not humor.

  2. poserorprophet Says:

    Not sure if your solution solves the problem of setting up a hackneyed joke. In fact, you risk making that joker look like he is putting a more clever spin on things. I see thing’s going this way:

    Male Adam’s Age: [Tale of woe.]

    Adam: I apologize on behalf of God, who has so poorly fashioned the world.

    Male Adam’s Age: God’s not your fault.

    All: [Laughter.]

  3. Adam Kotsko Says:

    I think that in Poser’s scenario, the other guy will look dumb. Already, the standard reaction to “taking I’m sorry over-literally” is a sarcastic laugh — repeating the same line when it’s clearly inappropriate would at best get a courtesy chuckle.

  4. Rob L Says:

    Could this segue into an explanation of the atonement as a divine apology? i.e. “I apologise on behalf of God who has so poorly made the world that he sent his only Son, that whosever is aggrieved by him, may (via Roman and Jewish representatives) exact justice upon God, and discover unto him the wretchedness of his world.”

  5. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    Surely Jesus died out of embarrassment out of how poor an architect of all Creation his Father is.

    Heresy Wednesday?

  6. sarah fok Says:

    as a side note: in some contexts, it might be an issue of cultural difference.

    when we first became friends, APS used to say this to me and i was bewildered beyond belief. we’re british (i say ‘we’ i’m not sure to what extent i qualify) — it’s too active an expression of sympathy! it isn’t your fault! why are you apologising! i still don’t entirely get it.

    to avoid such problems, i would advocate “i’m sorry to hear that” which i guess is what “i’m sorry” is an abbreviation of…?

  7. nicola Says:

    I think the apologetic sense is very late, a strange twist to older sense of sorrow, care, maybe a kind of histrionic confessionalism. Perhaps we can bring strengthen the ‘wretched’ sense, so that one someone says “I’m sorry,” the response becomes “indeed you are.”

  8. ben Says:

    I am proud to have experienced this at first hand, possibly before this post went up.

    (I told Adam not to let it happen again.)

  9. Adam Kotsko Says:

    Our conversation inspired this post.

  10. ben Says:

    That was what I figured, but I didn’t want to appear presumptuous.

  11. Bruce Rosenstock Says:

    Ok, so now analyze the theology behind this linguistic phenomenon among orthodox Jews. If you ask one of them how they are doing, s/he will answer: “baruch ha’shem” in a sort of sing-song lilt, voice dropping off at the end. The phrase means, literally, “blessed be the Name.” Where does this phrase come from? It comes from the book of Job, where after Job is informed about the death of his children, he says: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return, the Lord gave, the Lord has taken. Blessed be the name of the Lord” (1:21). So, is this a way to reject the gnostic heresy of cursing God for his bad creation? And what could you quip after this in response? “Curse God and die!” (Job 2:10). Or is that really what Adam’s quip is saying?

  12. Adam Kotsko Says:

    I do think that just directly saying “Curse God and die!” would be awesome.

    “Wow, that’s a terrible situation. Sounds like you only have one real option here…”

  13. The Necromancer Says:

    I like this. Then again, I’m also reading VALIS right now.

  14. cynic librarian Says:

    When someone says they are sorry for me, I sometimes add “It’s not your fault… Or is it?” [paranoid smile] It’s broken much ice and led to many nervous breakdowns. People hate it when you add a bit more paranoia into the world. I think this is better than bringing God into it, since no one takes that seriously anyway. But they do take paranoia seriously… U just never know.


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