Thursday, August 3, 2017


The summer intern essay, part 6.

He teaches a ferocious morality, laws pared down to a perfect core. Child, your sins are forgiven, but mind the details. Not just murder but anger is wrong. Not just adultery but looking is wrong. Love your enemies. Forgive since you are forgiven. Be perfect. The combination of moral ferocity and forgiveness from another quarter – himself – must mean an eternal protection from the insane new rules of any era. The state or your neighbor or professor is not your master.

He is shrewd. No it would not make sense for him to drive out demons by the power of Satan, for why would Satan drive out himself? If then he drove them out by the spirit of God, then yes the kingdom of God is upon you (Matt. 12). Spooky scenes ring true. The only people who recognize him even as he approaches are those “possessed by demons.” I don’t understand this, but it makes sense that evil knows its enemy and must testify. They answer him as evil would. “What is your name?” “Legion.” 

 Investigating for the first time in decades the Gospels’ teaching stories cannot be the end of it. After them comes Passion and Resurrection. I don’t quite understand the logical jumps from moral teachings to: Child your sins are forgiven to: crucifixion equating to: future pardon if you believe all the foregoing: circularly, forever – a perpetual motion machine? – but the Resurrection also brings with it eyewitness avowals. The old proofs never change. Why would eyewitnesses to a dead man risen, go on later to their own executions affirming a sad lie? And the affirming and the testifying go on and on, century upon century, echoes of the big bang. Even if you timidly insist on the “Resurrection story,” it still built the West. It codified all the teaching and mercy and spookiness that made the soul feel its worth, as “know thyself” and even Sh’ma Yisrael did not. 

You may have thought it noble and truthful to wait to say I told you so at the end of time, to continue to live in the civilization that Christ and his Christians built. “This really wasn’t ever sound – what an unfair turn – but I’ll accept it as background.” But I came to think that’s kind of pusillanimous.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Yes, it probably would be like this

Or, what didn't get past the summer intern, part 5. 

If given all this you return to the Gospels as perhaps the plinth of the civilization, even if you don’t like the whole god-from-a-young-maiden trope, what do you find they are about, and what did the main character say or do? He is at minimum the most important person who has ever lived. Here are eyewitness records. It would be as if someone had been around to chronicle the Big Bang, and all its echoes. If you like origins and authenticity, well here you go.

As you read, even from the first few chapters of the first gospel, what starts to build is a sort of backward-assembling mental apparatus that reaches into the books and muses, well – yes – if a god, if God, came to earth, it probably would be like this. He doesn’t hover massively over the Roman Forum, telling Caesar what to do, although that might have been useful. Anyway why not Alexandria, why not Luoyang? Rather, he comes to an impoverished speck of earth on this speck of a planet whose smallness and greatness we do and do not grasp. He does the most important thing he possibly could, which is be human, like wonderful us. He knows family and friendship and death. He lives all except marriage, which also makes sense, since one God even in his full humanity cannot have a spouse. (But then why a mother?) A wife would imply children, and the one God cannot … oh wait.

Still the Gospel record rings true. Heedless people would flock to him for healing and then walk away in joy, often not bothering a whit about his teachings. Crowds would frantically rush, unled, to block his escape across the lake because they wanted their chance to be cured. Normal people would sit around and expect to be fed. His friends would deny him at the crisis. Of all reasons to die, well yes, what is worse or more typical than the human way of execution by “authority,” which is mortal itself. And what gift would humanity like to be given, if not absolution from wrongdoing, from guilt, and then bodily life after death? “Child, your sins are forgiven.”

I say blandly it would be like this because I have two more ideas in mind as background. One is the Christmas carol O Holy Night: “He appeared, and the soul felt its worth.” I wonder if that line alone does not sum up Christianity and its good news. Does Islam teach the soul its worth, or the authoritarian tatters of Western liberalism either?

 The other idea I have in mind comes from a beautiful coffee table book I used to own about astronomy. It was full of gorgeous pictures, color tinted, from the Hubble telescope. Galaxies, clouds, clusters of clouds of galaxies incomprehensibly huge, incomprehensibly far away. Half way through the book, I thought, “It only has meaning because we know. It’s just information – pictures on a page.”

The great universe is focused only on us and it has no meaning except that we are here to live and think about it. Have you any indication that the pictures in the coffee table book amount to anything else? In Renoir My Father Jean Renoir quotes his father the painter as scoffing, “that fool Galileo. Tells us we’re not the center of the universe, and no one behaves as if it were true.” Our backward-assembling mental apparatus returns to the Gospels to find out, after healing and feeding heedless clamoring people, what the Son of Man said about behavior.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

No one's fault: what didn't get past the summer intern, part 4

Years go by. Christmas always beckons. The Our Father remains the most perfect of prayers. The ritual words of the old Nicene Creed beckon. Large fragments of it still lie in my memory. “God from God, light from light … We believe in the life of the world to come.” I like ritual. I used to like bowing to the open Ark, and touching one’s Siddur to the Torah scroll in respect.

 Islam returns, as it has not done since Muslim slave ships cruised into Irish coastal towns and stole people from their fields, or imprisoned American sailors in the Enlightenment-era Mediterranean. Facing it, for our vanguard, we have the tatters of Western liberalism, white-eyed and gibbering, administering abortion and new sexes. It hates intolerance, and wants to change the world.

And you, personally again. Life goes on, you’re not 25 or 40 or 50 anymore. It’s no one’s fault that your grandmother’s old Sunday Missal, flipped open to remembered garish pictures of Scourging or Assumption, is something you can hold in your hand that is not foreign. It’s a true memory.
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