He’s back! Here ends the story arc. Normal service will now be resumed.

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Discussion (51)¬

  1. Myrhinne says:

    As always very true. As a child I had a very clear image of Jesus in my mind, mostly based on one of my children’s Bibles (I liked the pictures because the people looked Middle-Eastern) and the kindly loving figure we were told about at school. I was very uncomfortable with images that conflicted so I disliked my other children’s Bible with its forbidding blonde Jesus. That version was for older children so it also had the scary stuff about weeping and gnashing of teeth that didn’t fit with my Jesus at all.

    Reminds me of som fan’s reactions when they didn’t like the latest installment of Harry Potter because a character behaved in a way that didn’t fit with their mental image.

  2. Necessary Evil says:

    Ah, where would Jesus and Mo be without one of its main protagonists?

  3. Don says:

    Yay, he’s back.

    Reminds be of a scene in Catch-22 where Yossarian’s rant against a cruel and vicious god reduces a nurse to tears. Surprised he says (from memory);
    ‘But you said you don’t believe in god’
    ‘I don’t, but the god I don’t believe in is a gentle, loving god not a vicious monster.’

  4. Acolyte of Sagan says:

    Well, we know that our Jesus isn’t imaginary as Barmaid talks to him on a regular basis, so I’m quite disappointed that there’s no explanation as to where he’s been. Not only that, but not so much as a ‘sorry’ to Mo for causing him so much distress by going AWOL is very un-Christian. Plus, if Mo’s doubt caused Jesus to disappear, how come Barmaid’s speech didn’t have the same effect. It’s as if she knew where he was all along……
    Please don’t tell me Jesus’ lost days were spent shacked up with Barmaid!

  5. Josh says:

    He’s back! After 3 comics as well. Perhaps Easter really means something? Or it’s all bullpucky. One of the two.

    (And first?)

  6. G. Bruno says:

    @AofS @ 1:23 pm

    OK – we won’t tell you. ;=))

  7. Mark Erickson says:

    Awwwww, I just realized that you could get a lot more out of this if you went with the “I see dead people” angle where Mo has been talking to his imaginary friend all these years. That would make Mo a believer in Jesus! Delicious!

  8. Dan says:

    Acolyte of Sagan,

    In response to your comment on the previous instalment – I’ve never been a believer.
    All religious belief is nonsense and all religious power is harmful. Some religions are only less harmful or do less harm to individuals because they are less powerful or have less power over the individual.
    Islamic Iran is no more or less harmful than medieval Catholic Europe.
    I believe that religion is incompatible with the epistemological methods of my civilisation and is now (and has been for some time) nonsense in the proper formal sense of the word.

    I’m surprised you think I’m a believer. I entirely agree that religious belief is (in and of itself) irrelevant (and harmless). I would go further and say it is harmful not only when one person uses it to ‘beat another around the head’ but being a arch-liberal humanist I believe it’s harmful when it affects the believer themselves. So religious belief is irrelevant so long as it doesn’t affect anything anyone does, says or thinks.

    I think that’s where my anti-religious views are confused by the strip. It comes out in the third and final instalment of the story (above).

    Jesus & Mo usually observes the utterly ridiculous deliberately blind nonsense that forms the basis of all religion. However this strip is edging toward the canard that religion fills some valuable (if emotional) void in Mo’s life.
    Notice that our understanding of the narrative is that Mo is better off and order has been re-established at the end of the strip.
    Surely Mo should have an epiphany and realise that he’s been living in a delusional state and is in fact an unemployed single man living in a one-bed in Wakefield (I imagine) who thinks he’s Muhammad and start to repair his life and Barmaid is his (formal or informal) therapist. Seeing the opportunity for real recovery she would never encourage him to drift back into his insanity as she does her.
    To continue the strip, he could always drift back to the delusion when he realises that without religion he can’t look down on everyone else and award himself special privileges and has to engage in reasoned methods of persuasion that may lead to him abandoning his simplistic and damaging prejudices.

    I’d hate J&M to drift towards religious apologism. Good to see normal service is about to resume!

  9. Religious apologism? Hardly. Mo has just accepted that he depends on the belief.

  10. Depends on it in more than one sense, by the way.

  11. Brilliant yet again, Author. I must find a new superlative. Took me a moment to realize that Jesus is still missing inside the pub. He’s only back after Mo leaves. Does this mean that Barmaid will never see him again? Did she ever see him, or was her seeing him part of Mo’s delusion? Including hallucinating a cheerful “What can I get you, boys?”

  12. Don says:

    Surely Jesus has just been down the street at 23 Skidoo?

  13. hyoid says:


  14. oldranger68 says:

    As you start to read too much into this ‘arc’ I find I begin to suffer confusion and if it does not stop I may have trouble forgetting that this troublesome interlude has occurred and just return to l’ing mao with each new strip.

  15. Al West says:

    I’m awfully glad Jesus has reappeared. Poor chap, disappearing like a small god.

  16. Dave, A Non-Celebrity says:

    I find that Dan’s words bring me comfort.

  17. Dan says:

    @Ophelia Benson,

    Mo has realised he depends on belief but in the same process that he depends on nonsensical and even insane belief.
    So I’m sticking with apologetics if we’re to believe there’s no better for Mo in which he doesn’t need to cling to his fantasies.
    I for one hope Barmaid eventually breaks through to him and he eventually achieves genuine recovery.
    Perhaps that’s why I can’t find this arc funny. Mo is suddenly so tragic.
    Mo has moved from perpetrator to victim in 12 panels.

    There are millions of people (e.g. The Pope) who dedicate their entire lives to total and impossible bullsh*t.
    It’s a heart breaking waste of human life.

    It’s a bit like Steptoe and Son (for readers old enough). It’s supposed to be funny but it’s actually a f**king tragedy.

    On the idea of Jesus being shacked up with Barmaid. I know we’ll never see her but Phwooar basically. There’s a MILF. Mind I’d Like as a Friend ;).

  18. Who says we’re to believe there’s no better for Mo? He could find some real friends, instead. How about the local Skeptics in the Pub?

    (Provided they don’t invite Steven Moxon, that is.)

  19. Author says:

    @Ophelia – funny you should say that. I have just this minute returned from a local Skeptics in the Pub meeting. But there was nobody there. It was the wrong night. Good grief.

  20. jerry w says:

    “Jesus Christ, where have you been?”. I often will hear that when I stop in to my neighborhood bar for a drink. In retrospect, what is usually said is “Jesus H. Christ, where have you been?”/

  21. Dan says:

    I’m emphatically saying that I believe there is better for Mo especially now we understand his tragedy better over the last 3 episodes.
    Anyone for whom religion is even a good outcome is genuinely without hope.

    I’m concerned this strip could be mis-read as suggesting it’s an acceptable outcome that he doesn’t find it, settles for his Jesus fantasy and worse his skeptical interlocutor seems to sympathise by describing the fiction of Jesus as a genuine comfort to some. I think that’s the most favourable thing Barmaid has ever said about religion.

  22. Nassar Ben Houdja says:

    Perfection is a very nice from a preacher
    Especially when concerning spiritual creature
    But the disgusting insanity
    Displayed by humanity
    Is what ends up being the main feature.

  23. Acolyte of Sagan says:

    Good grief! This is getting very David Lynch indeed. Although the end of your post, DH, from “Does this mean…” onwards, could easily have been preceded by the “Next time on Soap..” voiceover guy.

    Dan, I apologise for my false assumption on your religious status. I though I detected a hint of empathy with Mo in the last line you wrote, about having no urge to laugh at the cartoon. To be honest, I’d say that that was the most tragi-comic cartoon so far on this site, and on reflection even I could only manage a wry smile rather than the usual guffaw.
    I have to say that I suspect you’re over-thinking the final frames on this one though (and apologies if anybody’s made this point, I’m 10 comments behing because of ‘caching’…whatever that is). I see the whole point being that, as Barmaid so succinctly points out “..(Jesus) is so hard to get rid of”. Why is he hard to get rid of? Because he (or more correctly, Religion) is happy to let the goalposts move as long as the coins keep rolling in. “Don’t believe I’m the Son of God? Fine, as long as you still like me as a person”. Every major religion has its extreme wing, but also its moderates and ultra moderates. Hell, that’s how we got so many religions within religions within religions to start with.

    Author, please tell me I’m right for once!

  24. Acolyte of Sagan says:

    Dammit! I posted a little early, there was more to say (apart from apologising for the typo’s, that is). I can tell it’s half-past medication 🙂

    As I was saying, my conjecture above seems to be confirmed by the last panel when Jesus says “I can live with that”. What he’s saying is, ‘I don’t care what you believe just as long as you do’. But what of Mo’s reactions throughout this trilogy? He’s just a man whose flatmate, bed-mate and best – indeed only friend vanished. Of course he’ll be bereft. But here Mo’s playing the role of Christian doubter (hey, he’s a body double; I bet he’d play in pantomime if the money’s any good) and good Oph-whoops-Barmaid, far from promoting apologetics – wash your mouth out with disinfectant, you naughty Dan – is only telling us what the Church understands only too well about human psychology in respect of religion, and how they’ll use it to their advantage.

  25. azoomer says:

    a touch-ing rejoinder… 🙂

  26. Chris Phoenix says:

    Hopefully-closer version of Catch-22 quote, also from memory:
    “The god I don’t believe in is nicer than the god you don’t believe in.”

  27. FreeFox says:

    This time I only have issue with Mo’s emphasis in the last panel. Shouldn’t it be “I still don’t believe you’re the son of God”? To stress that while he doesn’t allow for J’s divine family bonds, he (grudgingly?) again believes in Jesus per se.

  28. Acolyte of Sagan says:

    FreeFox, I think that Mo’s re-asserting his position within the relationship. It was doubting J’s status as the Son of God that caused the split, so Mo is back to his vainglorious best, and why not? He got what he wanted without having to compromise his own belief and that’s what he’s telling Jesus; “You left because I didn’t believe in your divinity, and now you’re back and I still don’t believe in your divinity”. Win-win for Mo.
    I suppose it’s a very clever analogy of the two belief systems in as much as Islam is still determined to have things its own way, and will not readily accommodate revisions to its core values, whilst Christianity, especially in its CofE guise, is nowdays seemingly happy to go with the flow.

    So on to my new Nassar hypothesis; Nassar and Ben are different people! Look at his contribution above; the first two lines could easily have been written by whichever one of them hasn’t fully mastered English, whilst the final three lines are, in my opinion, a brilliant ending crying out for a better start, and written by one with excellent knowledge of the language. One more piece of evidence supporting my claim is that Ben is capitalised, whereas normally it would be Nassar ben Houdja.
    Heh-heh; Nassar Ben is the new Jedward

  29. Don says:

    Here’s the quote;
    “I don’t. But the God I don’t believe in is a good God, a just God, a merciful God. He’s not the mean and stupid God you make Him out to be.”

    But it wasn’t a nurse, it was Lt. Scheisskopf’s wife.

  30. John B Hodges says:

    As I recall: (Yossarian): “I thought you didn’t believe in God.”
    (Nurse/girlfriend): “I don’t! But the God I don’t believe in is a good God, a just God, a merciful God, not the mean and stupid God you make Him out to be!”
    (Yossarian):”Hey, we need a little more religious freedom here. I’ll not believe in the God I don’t want to believe in, and you don’t believe in the God you don’t want to believe in.”

  31. Dan says:

    AoS, No need to apologise. My sympathy for Mo has perhaps confused you because it’s in the middle of his transformation from perpetrator to victim.

    I still think that in describing the tenacious power of religion Barmaid has (wittingly or unwittingly) unleashed that same power on a man at a critical and vulnerable position. Mo is uncharacteristically silent and doesn’t even appear to touch his pint! I think we’re to understand that he’s listening and deep in thought.
    There’s no narrative continuity unless Barmaid’s words have contributed to the outcome in panel 4.
    In the normal run of the strip Mo, Jesus, or both would dismiss Barmaid’s wise words with a comment that reveals them to be determinedly entrenched fools. Mo’s failure to retort in panel 3 surely speaks volumes.

    As you do, we can of course study J&M as both an allegory for the wider aspects of religion and as the individual journey of the protagonists.
    You appear to be reading, in your recent comment, that Jesus represents the established church and in panel 4 alludes to it counting as its number people who firmly disbelieve all of its main tenants but tick a box marked Christian because it’s what they’ve been told they are.
    That’s a fair interpretation of at least one of Jesus’s roles in the strip (to represent established Christian behaviours). It’s certainly true to say that The Christian church is figment with no existence other than the consensus of its existence. It’s also true that the notion of Christianity has transformed over time and is in part sustained by people whom believe none of what others think are its ideas.
    If no one thinks they’re a Christian anymore (what a glorious day that would be), then Christianity no longer exists.

    I think your reading of the allegory and my reading of the characters are allegorical duals of each other. That is Christianity and the Jesus character are figments of their believers imagination invented, destroyed and reinvented ultimately on the terms of their inventors.
    Your reading of the characters denies (above) the indication that Jesus has ceased to exist because of Mo’s disbelief. However surely such an understanding sure makes the allegorical comparison stronger. Perhaps Barmaid is indulging Mo. I think everyone who engages in discourse with the religious finds themselves necessarily indulging part of their religious nonsense at one of point or another.

  32. Acolyte of Sagan says:

    Don, you got there in the end. Actually, if you transpose the I’s and you’s in the quote, it sounds rather like one of FreeFox’s arguments to me a couple of comics ago.

    Dan, I think we’re pretty much agreeing, we’re just coming at it from different angles. Here’s a thought; maybe, just like with the holy books, the correct interpretation is whatever the individual comes up with.

  33. Dan says:

    AoS, I think we do broadly agree. There’s no single correct reading or any non-trivial text. However, that understanding would contradict your appeal to Author for confirmation of your correctness.
    I’ll be surprised if Author is foolish enough to weaken their work by offering a confirmed interpretation.

    One of the many differences between J&M and holy books is that someone is at least able to give an understandable explanation of the allegory. In all my encounters with religion its defenders either use ‘allegory’ as a cop out or the explanation bears almost no resemblance to the allegory.
    In the case of the Christian parables I’m left with the sense that the allegedly great teacher from which we can still learn so much is in point of fact a truly dreadful teacher from whom we can learn little.

    Author on the other is a great teacher and has clearly revealed so much of the nonsense of religion.

  34. Acolyte of Sagan says:

    Dan, yeah, that last bit about individual interpretation was a sudden flash of inspiration, so Author please disregard my request for confirmatiion.
    I’ve always had one problem with the whole ‘allegorical’ bible non-explanation. Were the average desert-dwellers of 2000-4000 years ago really intelligent enough to re-interpret the stories, or even to recognise them as allegorical? I very much doubt it, which makes me suspect that the stories were meant to be taken literally; it was only when we started to see through the nonsense that they began to desperately re-interpret them to suit. To paraphrase Bill Hicks, “The Bible was supposed to be the Word of God; later on people decided that God didn’t really mean what was in the book. ‘This is what He really meant’, they said, and re-wrote it. They were correcting God! Even I don’t have that much confidence”

  35. Acolyte of Sagan says:

    Going back to an earlier conversation about the truth of religion being irrelevant, I’ve come to the conclusion that the only people who think that the truth of the matter is important are….atheists.
    Fundamentalists like that Phelps character don’t care about the truth as long as they can use the Bible to justify their own prejudices and hatreds: The ‘mad’ mullahs don’t care about the truth so long as they can use the Koran to brainwash the gullible into doing their dirty work for them: The Pope cares not for the truth as long as the faithful keep breeding: The CofE hierarchy don’t care as long as they can play dress-up and flounce around their gilded palaces and count their tax-free wealth now and then: Tele-vangelists – well, it’s all about the money, Honey: Anybody with a reasonable intelligence – and access to a balanced education or a good library – who identify themself as religious are obviously wilfully ignorant to the rot they’re fed, otherwise there would be no believers with an IQ of average and above. It’s almost as though the warm, fizzy feeling in their tummies when they think of the ikkle baby Jesus (aaaah) is like crack cocaine in that the next fix is worth all the lies and loss of self-respect that such dishonesty must bring. Obviously the poor sods in those countries where the general populace have no access to any education other than what the Imams and Mullahs allow, so how can they question the truth of what they’re told if they haven’t the resources to realise they’re being lied to in the first place? The conclusion has to be that, for the most part, those involved with any organised religion really don’t care about the truth being at all relevant.
    Which really just leaves us atheists, most of whom are atheist because we do think that truth is relevant. Oh, and FreeFox, of course.

  36. Dan says:

    I think that generally the religious genuinely believe their stuff.
    OK, so some TV evangelists are just cynical con merchants. However most religious people believe their own BS.

  37. Acolyte of Sagan says:

    Dan, I’m not sure that they really do believe it. I mean, how could they? We’re talking about otherwise perfectly intelligent people here. I have an idea – and will need a lot of convincing otherwise – that if we could invent a device that could record the thoughts in our brains and play them back like a talking book, and then record the thoughts of believers as they contemplate their religion, we would find that the vast majority of recordings would contain a background voice just barely audible above the conscious thought-noise, desperately shouting ‘Oi, Dorothy! Look behind the fucking curtain!”.
    What mystifies me is why so many are happy to keep that voice quiet

  38. hotrats says:

    @Necessary Evil:
    #_Ah, where would Jesus and Mo be without one of its main protagonists?_#

    Sorry, but UPOTW must remind you that you can only have one protagonist (lit. first actor or contender). The word you need is antagonists (lit. struggling against).

    #_(apart from apologising for the typo’s, that is)._#

    The typo’s what? It had to happen eventually – a real mis-spelling in the typo apology. Reminds me of the graffiti in Chicago saying ‘Nigger’s Out!’, underneath which a witty pedant had added, ‘But he’ll be back real soon’.

  39. Dan says:

    AoS, I think that position may be true of some religious people but with it’s difficult to provide for all.
    I think many perfectly intelligent religious people subscribe to some kind of non-overlapping magisterium model in which their way of believing is allowed to be different and have different characteristics in different areas.
    Although never religious myself I think I once idly tolerated such thinking.
    In fact I still believe there are two magisteria that we always seek not to confuse. There’s the magesterium of reason and facts and the magestrium of irrationality and/or nonsense.
    Science (or more correctly Empiricism) dominates the first and religion occupies the second. But given that many people don’t consciously recognise that the division exists it doesn’t seem surprising that they don’t know where the boundary is!

  40. Acolyte of Sagan says:

    Hotrats, I could have sworn I’d put more words into that sentence. It was supposed to read “”…apologising for the dreaded typo’s occasional appearance…”.
    No, it’s a fair cop, although I’d argue that a superfluous comma is an error of punctuation rather than spelling, but that really is barnet-splitting. Anyway, enough of such trivialities, we’re risking another scathing aside from FreeFox 🙂

    Dan, I’m not convinced. I’m not suggesting that the majority of believers spend their lives in a constant state of mental turmoil whilst they wrestle with cognitive dissonance, although I’m sure that there are plenty that actually do. When you or I are told something that we recognise as bollocks, a voice from the rational part of our brain yells “Oi, that’s bollocks!”; if we’re told something that sounds like bollocks but could just possibly have some truth to it, that same voice says “Probably bollocks but I’ll pass it on to the research department just in case” However, the image I get of the workings of the mind of the averagely intelligent pew-filler is that when they are told something that the brain should recognise as bollocks or probable bollocks, the rationality dept. (R.Dpt) is guarded by a religion filter. It lets R.Dept. deal with earthly matters, but as soon as any religious input is received which starts to cause a little excitement it steps in and says “It’s OK, guys, I know it sounds daft but, well, it’s God, innit? I mean, what can you do? Mysterious ways and all that”.
    Now, if they want to know where the boundary is, I can help there: A man lies in hospital in a trauma-induced coma for three days before waking and making a full recovery – Science.
    A half-god / half human lies dead for three days before waking and making full recovery, only to be whisked away to an un-Earthly Paradise, never to be seen again -Fantasy.

  41. Dan says:

    I don’t think our views are so far apart. However I’m suggesting that they don’t see anything wrong with a religion filter. They’re normalised to religion or accept the common social notions that “there’s things that mere science can’t explain” and so consciously and without “inner doubts” employ what you call filtering but I call different ways of knowing. The filtering image suggests their blocking something whereas my sense is that rather than blocking (say) an instinct their very naturally doing something else.
    One thing I’m sure about human beings is that deep critical thinking is not an instinct that is automatically highly developed. A great many perfectly intelligent people think it automatically true that people have a soul, free-will and there needs to be a reason relevant to them personally why the universe exists.
    Look at these two supposedly important but easily answerable questions posed by perfectly intelligent people:

    Since evolution made us the only earthly creatures with advanced consciousness, what responsibilities are so entailed for our relations with other species? What do our genealogical ties with other organisms imply about the meaning of human life?

    The answer is obviously “Nothing. Nothing whatsoever. There isn’t really an answerable question the questioner has invented a bunch of sciencey/moral sounding concepts and thrown them together into a superficially intriguing piece of mystical codswallop.”

    I think analogies differ to the extent that you feel they’re turning something off and have doubts about doing so and I suggest they’ve never turned it on and have no such qualms in doing so because they think questions like the one above can’t be answered by science but must be answered by some authoritative apparently externalised means.
    It is getting less common to find people who think the resurrection story is literal truth. It is pretty hard to swallow in the modern world.

  42. Daoloth says:
    1) Self-proclaimed and self-congratulatory rationalists can’t regulate their own non-acrimonious conduct between the sexes without a set of explicit (and often funny) rules.
    2) Said self-proclaimed rationalists make a lot of fun of systems (religions) that, whatever else they do, look to a lot of psychologists, anthropologists and others as a set of rules (often pernicious) regulating conduct between the sexes.
    3) Resultant spats rival those of religious schisms for bitterness, bile, ad hominem attacks and general disregard for self-proclaimed principles of rationality.
    4) Religious types have a good laugh.
    5) Rinse and repeat.

  43. Daoloth says:

    And, might I add, on a personal note–to all those who took the trouble to call me names when I suggested that this whole thing was worth a look for how males and females tended to interpret social systems differently:
    Ha ha ha

  44. Dan says:

    Perfectly intelligent people act like children all the time but even if some of their supporters tactics are childish the argument of Atheism Plus has some validity.

    Empiricism, critical thinking and skeptical enquiry have a great deal to say about social issues, morality, the nature of beauty and so on.
    However basing a moral or social system around a disbelief in a supernatural seems as fruitless and distracting as basing it around belief in a supernatural.
    And all the evidence is that it’s utterly fruitless and distracting.

    The clearer divide is something like Reason versus Religion not Atheism versus Theism.

  45. Acolyte of Sagan says:

    Dan, rather than basing them around disbelief, moral or social systems brought about without reference to the supernatural would do me just fine.

    I’m pink, therefore I’m Spam.

  46. Dan says:

    AoS, That’s exactly my point. Putting Atheist (such as Atheism Plus) on the mast-head is the distraction.
    I’m first and foremost an empiricist and critical thinker. Atheism is just a fairly inevitable by-product.

    We should do more to help people see the existence or non-existence of God as an irrelevant distraction from moral and ethical debate not its starting point.

  47. FreeFox says:

    @AoS: “Oh, and FreeFox, of course.” Thanks. ^_^

  48. Acolyte of Sagan says:

    My pleasure, FreeFox. Obviously I can’t call you atheist, but neither can I insult your intelligence (or mine) by lumping you in with the ‘The Lord is my shepherd / Allah is great’ wishful thinkers.

  49. David B says:

    Regarding whether the religious really believe or not.

    Apparently many of them claim that their god is watching their every action.

    Now someone’s mother may well forgive a child of all sorts of outrages, as they claim their god will.

    I doubt that a priest would indulge in kiddy fiddling, or even having a wank if they believed that their real, living mother was watching.

    It don’t, in many cases, seem to let their imaginary father in heaven get in the way, though.

    David B

  50. FreeFox says:

    @Dan: I so agree with you. It’s critical thinking and taking empirical facts as the only acceptable basis and working from there that’s important. And it’s not the existence or non-existence of some deity/ies but our conclusions from that and how we each live our lives. Right?
    So… what *IS* the best starting point for the relevant moral and ethical discussions, Dan? What would be a truly universal on-devisive basis for ethics? ^_^

  51. hotrats says:

    Thanks very much for the John Prine link, what a star.
    Here is a witty animated treatment of his classic, Your Flag Decal Won’t Get You Into Heaven Anymore:


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