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Mortons Fork / Mythology and Folklore

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  • The Calvinist concept of predestination leads to both Hobson's Choice and Morton's Fork. The predestination doctrine (God decrees every human being to either Heaven or Hell before he or she has been born and there is absolutely nothing he/she can do to alter his/her fate). A sinner therefore is not doomed to Hell because of his sins, but he commits sins because he has already been doomed to Hell. While this doctrine is Biblical, it also makes God the source of all sin and evil in the world. The Calvinists avert this dilemma by the total depravity doctrine: since human nature is totally depraved, they choose by their own free will any of the sins available, but they cannot choose not to sin. Likewise, the total depravity of human nature enables humans to refuse God's call (by their own free will), but not to answer it.
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  • Cú Chulainn in Irish myth was under a geas whereby he would lose his strength if he refused hospitality or consumed dogflesh. His enemies learned this and promptly invited him to dine on dogflesh, meaning he'd lose his powers either way.
  • Older Than Feudalism example from the New Testament:
    • The Pharisees tried this trick several times to try and turn Jesus' popularity against him. In Mark 12:13, they asked whether the Jews should pay the oppressive taxes imposed on them by their Caesar. If he said yes, then he was acknowledging that Caesar ruled over the Jews. If he said no, he was guilty of treason. He didn't let this trip him up. The phrase "Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's, and unto God what is God's" is familiar enough, but the subtext isn't quite obvious. He had first asked the Pharisees whose image was on the coin used to pay the tax (Caesar's). The meaning was therefore that one should give unto Caesar that which has his image on it (i.e. pay the tax, because it's just worldly money) but give unto God that which is made in his image (i.e. humans, i.e. devote your whole life to God, not just your money).
      • The full context is even sneakier, rhetorically and politically. Since the coin likely used would have been a denarius with an image of Tiberius and the motto Ti[berivs] Caesar Divi Avg[vsti] F[ilivs] Avgvstvs, or "Tiberius, Son of the Divine Augustus," with the reverse declaring he was also Pontifex Maximus (Highest Priest, which he officially was of the Roman state religion). Even carrying such a coin into the temple district in Jerusalem would be an act of heresy and idolatry, so tricking his opponents into showing they had done so undermined their credibility and supported his contention that the Pharisees were hypocrites.
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    • The Pharisees attempted to do this a second time in John 8:1-11, where they asked Him to judge a woman who was caught in adultery. If Jesus chose to let the woman free (instead of stoning her, as the Jewish law required), He'd be acting against the law of Moses; while if He did condemn her, He would be contradicting His own stated purpose to save sinners. The Pharisees were themselves violating the Law of Moses by bringing only the guilty woman, not the guilty man as well, despite them both being caught "in the act." If Jesus condemned her, he'd have shared in the Pharisees' sin. So he replied, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her." Realizing they have failed, they all leave. Jesus asks the woman if anyone is condemning her, and she answers no, since all her accusers had left. He says "neither do I condemn you," which was also according to the Law, as at least two witnesses were required for a capital crime. But he never denied her guilt, for he says "Go, and sin no more."
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    • In the page quote Jesus attempts one himself against the Pharisees. John was a popular figure just like Jesus and he was executed prior to this event, so he tries to discredit them by asking if they thought John's baptism was of heavenly or mundane origin. If they answered "from heaven" they would get discredited for not becoming his followers. If they answered "of human origin" they would get discredited because the people believed that John was legit AND risked being stoned to death by them.
  • Nasruddin Hodja, the Sufi Muslim Trickster (known as Juha or Goha in the Arab World), especially when people pestered him for a piece of wisdom. Once when he had to preach but wasn't in the mood for it, he talked his way out of it... three Fridays in a row:
    Nasruddin: O people of Akshahir! Do you know and understand what I am about to say to you?
    The people: No, we don't.
    Nasruddin: What?! How can I speak to such ignorant people! (leaves)
    Nasruddin (one week later): O people of Akshahir! Do you know and understand what I am about to say to you?
    The people: (remembering what had happened the last time) Yes, we do.
    Nasruddin: Wonderful! Then there is no need for me to speak to you today.
    Nasruddin (one more week later): O people of Akshahir! Do you know and understand what I am about to say to you?
    The people: (Some shout "No", some "Yes")
    Nasruddin: Wonderful! Now let those who know tell those who do not know.
  • This trope is one of the two theories about how Gautama Buddha met his deathnote . As the story goes, Buddha was kindly offered a meal which unknowingly contained bad food. While Buddha recognized the food wasn't safe to eat, the people offering it to him didn't. Either Buddha could have gone against his beliefs and refused hospitality or eaten the food and let his health suffer. He ate the food and died from it, but accepted his fate as his time to die.
  • The story of Procrustes in Classical Mythology includes an element of this. Procrustes, a blacksmith who kept a house on the road outside of Athens, had an iron bed, which he offered to weary passing travelers. However, he seemed to have this thing about his guests fitting exactly on the bed, so once they were asleep, he either "stretched them out" to fit the bed if they were too short, or "cut them down" to fit if they were too tall, inevitably killing them (which, besides making him a murderer, made him in gross violation of Sacred Hospitality). The bastard realised, however, that he risked the guest being the right size for the bed—which would be no fun at all. Hence a second layer of this trope: he secretly had two beds. Yeah. Theseus eventually "fit" Procrustes to his own bed (ordered by Zeus, the God of Hospitality among other things).
  • In The Epic of Gilgamesh, the goddess Ishtar tried to seduce Gilgamesh. This put Gilgamesh in a bad situation since sleeping with Ishtar would lead to Death by Sex, and refusing her would earn her ire. He refused her, and Ishtar responded by whining to her dad to unleash the Bull of Heaven on Gilgamesh's kingdom. And showing its status as an Unbuilt Trope, Gilgamesh pretty much calls Ishtar out on this. He spends a page or so listing all the previous lovers she had and what happened to them. And then he goes on to say that if he refuses her it would lead to her unleashing the bull of heaven. He then said she could Take a Third Option and just take rejection gracefully. Gilgamesh also did this knowing it would lead to another Mortons Fork. He either allows the bull destroy his kingdom, or he kills the bull and the Gods would destroy his kingdom. He killed the bull as at least that way he would deserve it and keep his pride.
  • When Paris is asked to choose, among Aphrodite, Athena and Hera, who is the most beautiful, it is not considered, but given what happens when he chooses Aphrodite, it is clear that, no matter who he chooses, he will anger two powerful Goddesses.
  • As Paris' choice kicks off the Trojan War, poor Orestes is forced to bear with its final aftermath. Orestes' father, Agamemnon, returns home successful from the siege of Troy—only to be murdered by his wife, Clytemnestra (who was herself avenging their daughter, Iphigenia, whom Agamemnon slew in sacrifice). Orestes, as his father's heir, had to avenge his murder, or else the Furies would pursue him to the ends of the earth. However, because matricide is a sin, the Furies were bound to torment Orestes even if he did kill Clytemnestra. In the end, Orestes chose to kill his mother.

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