Monday, January 28, 2008

Parenthetical Thought

I spent, um, at least three hours yesterday filling out 46 4x6 cards. Although that has some lovely symmetry, it also hurts like you wouldn’t believe by the time it’s over, especially since I have a tendency to grip pens tightly and press down hard with them. I was, at the time, breaking down the latter half of the chapter “Patrocleia” from Christopher Logue’s War Music in to more easily memorized chunks for the purposes of performance (seriously, find a copy of War Music. Read it slowly, preferably aloud. Savor it. Take the time to understand the rhythm and the visuals. It may not be a direct translation of Homer, but it’s far more alive, vibrant, and Homer-esque than any of the direct English translations I’ve seen. And, y’know, poetry can’t be translated anyway. It has to be re-imagined). Anyway, some time this morning, long after the aching in my hand had subsided, I realized that my long contact with Patroclus, Sarpedon, Thestor, and Hector amidst their struggles beneath the watchful gazes of Zeus, Hera, and Apollo had given me some tiny insight in to a different world. In my entry on mythology and monotheism I wrote, “(The rejection of the Saints by the Protestant denominations, meanwhile, has probably had negative repercussions because it has forced a Protestant mythology without any real structure. Although this is blue-sky speculation, so don’t hold me to the thought. I might explore it later.)” I’ve officially reached that “later,” and much faster than I’d have suspected. So here goes. And, Stinger, I wouldn’t hold it against you if you read this while saying, “Dance, monkey! Dance!” and cackling... I grew up attending one of those large suburban non-denominational churches that would now be called a “megachurch.” Such places are generally warm and welcoming on the outside, but if you take the time to scratch the surface you’ll find a hostile undercurrent to a lot of attitudes. Lots of effort is expended making sure that everyone knows that certain other churches fall outside the strict definition of what it means to be a proper Christian. The Presbyterians or UCCers down the street are too liberal. Folks like Fred Phelps are way too conservative. Only this church and a few other similar ones get the whole following Jesus thing just right. There should be a sign hanging on the door that reads, “Goldilocks loves us!” The worst offender in all things, however, is the Catholic Church. They put the priests and the Pope between the people and god, so the accusations go. Even worse, they worship the Saints. I took that first accusation (admittedly without too much reflection) as a sign of horrible, extra-Biblical things until I took a Judaism course at my four-year university and realized that the priestly order is simply built to reflect the Levites and the line of Jewish priests following Aaron starting way back in the Torah. I learned well before that about the whole “worship the Saints” thing. Specifically, I had already learned that it was a load of crap. Catholics venerate saints and request their intercession in important matters. This is far from worship. Say there’s a Patron Saint of Bloggers (there might be by now, I haven’t really kept track). St. Verbosia we’ll call her. I really believe that this particular blog post that I’m writing is important and I want lots of people to read it in the spirit of understanding. I pray to St. Verbosia, but not to say, “Hey, Saint, help me out.” Instead I pray that St. Verbosia will go talk to the Lord on my behalf because I have no reason to believe that my prayers will be heard, but I believe that St. Verbosia has that extra bit of oomph necessary to get the ball rolling. Even after explaining this distinction I’ve run in to arguments that this is bad because it puts layers between people and the deity. I tend to think this is a good thing. For this I’ll allow Homer to provide guest commentary through Christopher Logue, specifically this stanza as Patroclus and Sarpedon prepare to fight while God (Zeus) looks down, aware of what is about to happen.
God and His wife (who is His sister, too) Watched them prepare. He, with regret; she, With satisfaction heard Him out: “Surely Fate has marked enough good men without Sarpedon? Shall I return him to his waving plains Or let...” And she: “Others beside Yourself have children due today. If one god saves his bud – why not the rest? My dear, I know you love Sarpedon: and I know His death goes hard. Why not do this: Let him fight bravely for a while, then, when Patroclus severs him from care and misery, Sleep and Death shall carry him to Lycia by Taurus, Remembered by wise men throughout the world, And buried royally.”
Sarpedon, one of the great warriors of the Trojan War, was fated to die. Zeus himself was forced to stand by and watch. Bravery was not enough for Sarpedon, nay, being the child of the head of the pantheon could do nothing in the face of Fate. It’s a concept intrinsic to all mythology. Being the child of a god, even being an actual god, means very little when the time comes for Fate to snip that ribbon that represents your life or the life of a loved one. Some things just can’t be controlled. In maintaining a Levitical structure and installing Saints in their various offices, the Catholic Church maintained this understanding of the universe. The Reformers who came along and pushed the Protestant movement: Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, etc., sought to make the whole thing more accessible and less terror-inducing for the average human. It’s a noble goal, I suppose. I certainly wouldn’t want to spend my time listening to Latin chants and trying to decide if I had a shot at anything other than Hell. But somewhere back in the depths of the Protestant movement somebody (or, probably, several somebodies) made a massive mistake. They forgot to allow room for mythology. It would take a good four or five centuries for the problem to really make itself known in the relentlessly personal churches of the various Baptist denominations, the non-denominationals, the Pentecostals and the megachurches, but we can see it now. The entire mythological pantheon has been replaced in neo-Christianity with exactly one person: the individual believer. All the stuff about a personal relationship with Jesus, an indwelling Holy Spirit, and the concept that all believers are a priesthood whose individual prayers the Godhead inclines an ear to hear send one message: “You are the center of the universe.” So we go back to that church in which I grew up. It’s not as bad as some I’ve seen or heard of. It’s not even as bad as one or two I’ve attended. Still, I grew up learning that if I prayed the right way, God would speak to me when I was ready and doing things the right way. After I nearly went insane taking that theory to its logical conclusions I realized just how massively dangerous it was to encourage people to believe that there is an Almighty who has nothing better to do than wait around to hear what they have to say about things. We hear echoes of this when TV Christians like Pat Robertson inform people that they will receive wrath for doing things Robertson disagrees with. I see it with my favorite Young Earth Creationist punching bag Ken Ham too. There’s a deep existential terror at the root of the whole thing built around the theory that being wrong about one thing means being wrong about everything. And if that happens, that means that the center of the universe is located somewhere else; possibly far away or, worse, down the street in that United Church of Christ building (and perish the thought it would be in a mosque). In these situations there is no proof, only speculation. So the only way for people to be sure is to surround themselves with people who agree or make sure they win every argument against those who disagree. So they do things like deliberately ignore scientific progress, alter the grounds on which debates occur and deceive the unfortunate people who cross their paths and don’t have the necessary background to argue against their twisted “truth.” And it’s all done in the name of a mythology that acknowledges only two players: the individual who has god’s ear and the god who is limited to a world bound only by what that individual is willing to comprehend. It takes away the heroes, the gods, the vagaries of merciless Fate, and replaces them with one person who considers himself hero and god in one and deserves neither title. This wouldn’t be so bad were it not for the fact that many people regard these individuals as the latter-day priesthood, holding in their hands the keys to the Kingdom. Those arguments for a rejection of logic in the face of a Bible that supposedly proves a 4004 B.C.E. birth date for the entire universe are just as terrifying, in their own way, as a priest chanting in Latin from a platform in the darkened, candle-lit nave of a cathedral. Both invoke things too terrifying to contemplate and leave the believer filled with the uneasy sense that damnation is well at hand and a simple miss-step will bring it close. So the terrified but well-meaning buy in and behave in much the same way, pushing the twisted mythology of the god on Earth forward in a vicious cycle. Up next: Back on track with that whole synthesis thing...

1 comment:

stinger said...

...cackles...