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The eldest gel informed me yesterday that her class is doing a production this spring of Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream and that she has been cast as Bottom the Weaver.

When she first broke the news, I had to work mighty hard to keep a smirk from flashing across my face.  I can’t prove it, but I am morally certain that the gel was chosen for this particular part as a kind of tribute by her teacher to the gel’s obstinacy, self-importance and general mulishness.  (Ol’ Robbo loves his family dearly, but that doesn’t mean he’s blind to their, hoom, personality quirks.)  Type-casting, anybody?

Far from criticizing the battle-weary teacher from putting the gel on a stage sporting a donkey’s head, I really rayther salute her subtle revenge.

Of course, I refrain from floating this theory in front of the gel herself.  For her part, she’s delighted at the prospect of really hamming it up during the Pyramus and Thisbe scene, and getting a laugh out of the younger kiddies with her ass’s ears and braying.

* ‘Either God or a bad man.’

Greetings, my fellow water swiggers!

Last evening I went back to the beginning of the DVD series on Catholicism hosted by Fr. Robert Barron (about which I previously posted here).  Although I have in general given up teevee and moovies for Lent, I make an exception for such content-appropriate programming once in a way.

Anyhoo, I had forgotten how hard Fr. Barron hammers on the all-or-nothing way in which we need to deal with Jesus, either accepting him as God Incarnate or else dismissing him as a complete looney, and also on the absolute uniqueness of this all-or-nothing approach of Christianity among the various religions of the world.

And in one of those felicitous little incidents of coincidence, it reminded me of a bit out of C.S. Lewis (indeed, I strongly suspect that Fr. Barron was channeling Lewis pretty heavily in his presentation) that I had read not all that long ago and that, because this is my blog, that is mine, I offer for your consideration:

On the one side, clear, definite moral teaching.  On the other, claims which, if not true, are those of a megalomaniac, compared with whom Hitler was the most sane and humble of men.  There is no half-way house and there is no parallel in other religions.  If you had gone to Buddha and asked him ‘Are you the son of Bramah?’ he would have said, ‘My son, you are still in the vale of illusion.’  If you had gone to Socrates and asked, ‘Are you Zeus?’ he would have laughed at you.  If you had gone to Mohammed and asked, ‘Are you Allah?’ he would first have rent his clothes and then cut off your head.  If you had asked Confucius, ‘Are you Heaven?’, I think he would have probably replied, ‘Remarks which are not in accordance with nature are in bad taste.’  The idea of a great moral teacher saying what Christ said is out of the question.  In my opinion, the only person who can say that sort of thing is either God or a complete lunatic suffering from that form of delusion which undermines the whole mind of man.  If you think you are a poached egg, when you are looking for a piece of toast to suit you, you may be sane, but if you think you are God, there is no chance for you.  We may note in passing that He was never recognized as a mere moral teacher.  He did not produce that effect on any of the people who actually met Him.  He produced mainly three effects – Hatred – Terror – Adoration.  There was no trace of people expressing mild approval.

– C.S. Lewis, God in the Dock, Chapter 19 “What Are We To Make Of Jesus Christ?”

I have found in the years since I started taking Lent more seriously that my own programs tend to break down into one of two variety, either that of reinforcement or that of exploration.  This looks to be shaping up as one of the reinforcement years.

On the other hand, I can’t end this post without also acknowledging a bit of exploration.  As I noted a week or two ago, on a recommendation I recently picked up a copy of Sarah Ruden’s Paul Among The People, The Apostle Reinterpreted and Re-imagined In His Own Time.  Ruden (who currently is, oddly enough, a visiting scholar at my old college), is a classicist and New Testament scholar by training, a Quaker by way of background and a self-professed former Paul-hater.  Her basic thesis is that one cannot understand the Letters of Paul without having some sense of the social, religious and cultural status quo under which he wrote them and his audiences heard them.  To this end, Ruden pulls a number of classickal Greco-Roman texts for their commentary on the then-contemporary state of sex, marriage, slavery, the status of women and the like.   She then parses the allusions, assumptions and imagery of Paul’s texts in an effort to highlight what she, Ruden, believes Paul is really saying.

(I emphasize that the opinions are Rudens because she herself makes no bones about the definitiveness of her interpretation.  Other writers seeking to use Paul for their own purposes are morons: Here’s what he really means, because that’s what I say he means.)

On the whole, I find her arguments to be quite plausible. (I won’t say “convincing” because I don’t hold the least pretension to any standing to judge them so.)  Her focus on the way in which agape, the Christian notion of selfless love, pervades all of Paul’s thinking and powers his radical agenda, is, from what little I know, sound.  And the way in which she uses contemporary sources to argue that many of Paul’s instructions to his audiences, far from the binding, stifling stuff that many people shy away from these days, were in fact carefully calibrated to give them the maximum chance of establishing and maintaining this radical new Christian idea in a society dominated by a brutally Hobbesian social structure and a predatory, savage, polytheistic sexual ethic imported from the East, is really quite intriguing.

I guess my only trouble with the book is that from a certain perspective I found myself saying, “Okay.  And then?”  Ruden, not that I really especially needed it, sells me on Paul.  Yes, he was cranky, impatient, arrogant, critical and given to bouts of exasperation.  (He admits all this himself.)  No, as she argues, he wasn’t a misogynist, an apologist for slavery or a frustrated, closet player for the other team.  His instructions to his various audiences – about sex, marriage, wearing veils in church and other matters – were specific responsive to the hostile environment in which the early Church was trying to establish itself.  Fair enough.  But what do we do with his teachings now?  Women are no longer treated as chattels.  Slavery, for the most part, is non-existent in the West and is condemned by law.  Homosexuality, which in those days was (despite Plato’s fraudulent utopian ideas to the contrary) a matter of wanton sadistic dominance, has now morphed, at least according to its advocates, into a bond of loving consent no different than heterosexuality.  If, as Ruden argues, Paul’s writings are a product of his times, how do we apply them to ours, in which things are supposedly so very different?  Do we stick to the spirit and reject the practical?  Do we continue to adhere to the practical on the belief that we, ourselves, are never as far from the slide back into barbarism as we like to believe we are?  Do we cherry-pick based on the individual issues?  Ruden doesn’t really say.  I don’t hold that out as a criticism, necessarily, because I don’t believe it was part of her original scope, but one can’t help such questions immediately leaping to mind.  It strikes me that there is ammunition in Ruden’s thesis for both sides in the current cultural wars to use.

As for style, the book is breezy, at times to the point of flippancy, cut across with personal asides and of a conversational tone which reminded me more of an extended blog post than a scholarly work.  I would also mention Ruden’s translations of Roman and Greek texts, which are highly idiomatic.  Personally, I have no problem at all with such translation, so long as I’m confident that the translator is absolutely concerned with getting the correct feel of the original and not with injecting his or her own slants into the English equivalent.  I think Ruden takes that line too, and I highly enjoyed her renderings.


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March 2012