Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Ill-Gotten Gains

If we look at the history of the American empire, it seems that ill-gotten gains are nothing to be ashamed of. If you're unfamiliar with the term, ill-gotten means "obtained in an evil manner or by dishonest means". In other words, your gains were garnered in an unscrupulous or immoral way and, if justice is to be served, said gains should be taken away from you so that you cannot benefit from them. Yet, time and time again, it doesn't appear to work that way.

It's a well-known fact -- both then AND now -- that many of the captains of American industry arose to their place on the throne through less than ethical means. Many of these titans stole, lied, killed, bribed, extorted, embezzled and intimidated their way to the top. Despite engaging in all these no-nos, such people were feted and hailed as "successful businessmen". Today, their progeny continue to reap innumerable benefits from these past (and ongoing) ill-gotten gains.

One of the odd aspects of the general American character is the lionization of crooks and robbers. Folks such as Jesse James, William Bonney (Billy the Kid), Bonnie & Clyde, John Dillinger and Al Capone became heroes in the eyes of millions of Americans for stealing from and killing people. Their lifestyles -- some opulent, others not -- were almost exclusively from ill-gotten gains, yet this fact didn't dim their stature at all in the eyes of a large portion of the public.

A third example of the celebration of ill-gotten gains concerns the conservative viewpoint on torture of "enemy combatants" and the unethical acts or behavior of law enforcement when interrogating suspects. In the conservative (often, Christian fundamentalist) mind, any information extracted is a-ok under these suspect circumstances.

It just strikes me as decidedly odd that, in a nation whose ethos reflects that of the Judeo-Christian perspective, ill-gotten gains would be treated in such a celebrated fashion. Remember, we non-believers are constantly being reminded of the divine importance of the 10 Commandments which state that, among other things, it is a blasphemy against the hallowed father to lie, steal, covet and kill. Yet, ill-gotten gains are built upon this very edifice!

I've been pondering how people who hold the 10 Cs as their supreme law can turn around to embrace reaping benefits from unscrupulous means. And then it hit me. The model for such behavior is highlighted in their own holy writ!

It's all contained in the story of King David. As the bible tells us, this David dude was a fine looking man. He became the right hand man of King Saul and was made commander of the kingdom's armies. In time, David ascends to the throne himself. So, we can easily surmise that Dav-o is a person of immense standing and stature.

One day King David was puttering around doing whatever royal people do when, all of a sudden, he saw the babe of babes. In the common vernacular, he wanted to get in her pants in the worst way possible. But there was a slight problem: the object of his lust, Bathsheba, was already married. Curses!!!

A lot of kings wouldn't have been troubled by this kind of insignificant fact; they would have simply summoned the woman and bedded her down. But King David was SUPPOSEDLY a righteous man and committing outright adultery was a big no-no. So, what to do?

Then he hatched a plan. As King, he retained the role as commander of the army. So he saw to it that Bathsheba's husband was killed in battle. With the unfortunate bloke now out of the picture, he could marry the object of his lust and get to know her in the most carnal of ways (if you catch my drift).

He was damn pleased that his subterfuge had worked out so brilliantly. Now he could Leave It to Beaver to cheer him up whenever he felt down or bored. Things seemed smashingly good until he learned that God was displeased at David's breaking of the four aforementioned commandments. David immediately begged for forgiveness and got off with a slap on the wrist (the couple's first child died).

However, here's the kicker: He still got to keep his trophy wife, the ill-gotten gain. Not only that, but it is supposedly HIS bloodline that leads to the man-god, Jesus. So, it seems to me that he ended up reaping quite a few benefits from his little escapade and, eventually, became a very celebrated figure in Jewish & Christian lore.

Now I realize that the apologists will argue that poor David repented of his initial sin and this means that God let him off virtually scot-free. The problem with this line of argument is that each time he engaged in his carnal lusts with this woman he was repeating the original sin -- the lusting for the bodily possession of a woman he could neither legally nor morally possess. Of course, maybe the way this works is that he beds her down each night and then repents every morning?

If the god of the Judeo-Christian tradition truly was a just being, the ill-gotten gain -- Bathsheba -- would have been taken away from David. Instead, he got to reap the benefit of the utter enjoyment of her company for the rest of his long life.

So, for me, this goes a long way toward explaining why so many Jews and Christians aren't bothered in the least about the rewards of ill-gotten gains. If David can reap the benefits, why not any other believer? (Needless to say, this dictum does NOT apply to non-believers. If we happen to receive an ill-gotten gain, then our eyes should be plucked out and we should be thrown into the fiery furnace for ever and ever. Amen.)


  1. i would hardly call killing their child a "slap on the wrist"... but just? not really. the child at least was innocent and that decision punishes it and the mother just as much, if not more, than "dave-o".

    it definitely seems as if children and women got the short end of the stick in biblical history. but it's not really that surprising considered that both were pretty much treated as property.

  2. Having been a Christian for many years, I find an even stranger story regarding Abraham. So it's okay to kill your child if god said to do so? I think back now and wonder what the heck was I thinking to accept that story as being an example of godliness...

  3. I have been following your blog for a month or so because I wanted read your views on the Tao. Your anti-christian post do not seem in the spirit of the Tao. We do not increase light, truth, or peace in teh world by attacking others' beliefs. I am not saying I disagree with your reasons; I just don't think it is the Way.

  4. Iktomi,
    In ancient times, infant mortality rates were exceedingly high; in fact, women often died in childbirth. So, my comment was meant more to illustrate that a dead child was not an anomaly of the time.

    And if you want to talk about someone being innocent, what about the woman's husband? He is nothing more than an historical footnote. It should be pointed out that no financial recompense was given to his family (a very common practice then) for the arrangement of his death and god didn't even charge David to go to his family to beg for forgiveness. As soon as he was killed, they were tossed aside as insignificant.

    Oh yes, I agree the story of Abraham is problematic on MANY levels.

    I find your comment interesting because the TTC itself can be viewed as a protest document. Most scholars believe that it was authored during the Warring States period.

    Clans & families were duking it out for control of vast swaths of territory. Wars, murders and political intrigue was the game of the day. Much of the text of the TTC is a critique against the mores of the then society. Lao Tzu, to a lesser extent, and Chuang Tzu, to a greater extent, often lampooned Confucianism.

  5. I always wonder what would be like if we all westerners were taught at least about how karma works, in our early years in life. Perhaps in our westerns countries things would've been a little bit different, better?... I don't know, but perhaps a tad bit different.

    I'm writing from one the most corrupted countries in the Americas, which its population is 98% or so 'pure' catholic, even our actual president was a bishop (with babies). In few words, here is a completely mess and nobody 'knows' why... and I eyerolled...


    Good post.


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