Monday, 9 May 2011

Giggly theology: Owen responds to Off the Shelf

My video on six types of reading has provoked a brilliant and provocative response from one of America's youngest philosophers. Here is Owen, son of R. O. Flyer and grandson of Roger Flyer, subjecting my video to a stringent critical analysis:



I'm especially impressed by the way he bursts into peals of laughter when he hears the name "Chesterton": the word tends to have the same effect on me.

In fact, I once missed out on an important job opportunity simply because the interviewer – the dean of Harvard Divinity School – happened to mention the name of G. K. Chesterton. We sat in the autumnal light of the dean's office, facing one another across a polished mahogany desk beneath the shadow of towering bookshelves and the high baroque majesty of that Ivy League ceiling. "... And that's the real problem with someone like G. K. Chesterton," he said.

I cleared my throat. I shifted in my seat. I felt my nose twitch as I stifled a little giggle. I concentrated all my mental powers on suppressing the shaking that had started somewhere deep in my diaphragm. I wiped a solitary tear from my eye. I breathed.

At last after a few moments I had calmed myself. I coughed politely into my hand, and opened my mouth to make an erudite remark about Catholic thought on distributist economics – when, to my horror, the dean leaned back in his chair, coffee cup in hand, and said the dreadful word again: "Chesterton." All my defences collapsed. It was as though a gigantic hand had seized me by the rib cage and given me a fierce shake. I covered my mouth. I heard a terrific snort. I wiped my eyes and said, "I'm terribly sorry, I do beg your pardon. We were speaking, I believe, of Ches – Ches – Chester –"

And then it happened. The Dean of the Divinity School leapt from his chair as though stung; coffee shot from his cup like a missile and splattered across his lap, across the floor, across the papers on the desk, across my lovingly shined black shoes. For, before I had quite pronounced the name of that immense theological humorist, my lungs seemed to have erupted in a single, tremendous, high-pitched, belching great guffaw, just as if a bewildered donkey had burst into the room. I covered my mouth. I was mortified. I began to apologise, leaning forwards in my seat and scrambling to remove the coffee-sodden papers from the mahogany desk.

Then I heard it again, that terrible sound, that startled guffaw. And before I knew what was happening, I had blurted out the name at last, bellowed it, all in capital letters – "CHESTERTON!" – not so much a name as an air raid siren. And it was only then that I knew it was really too late: I would never get the job, would never hold a position at Harvard Divinity School, would never fulfill my dream of becoming Administrative Assistant to the Dean. For just as Satan fell from heaven, so I had plummeted from my chair on to that luxuriant coffee-stained carpet, and was rolling about the floor in the shrieking grip of a helpless, hilarious, humiliating theological hysteria.

14 Comments:

Pamela said...

"My real judgment of my own work is that I have spoilt a number of jolly good ideas in my time".
G.K. Chesterton

It's good to see a discerning young critic now active at F & T!

Paul Tyson said...

And its good to see this important emergent field of research - theological hysteria - get a bit of air play at long last. Indeed Owen's praxiology of hysterical theology is greatly to be admired.

roger flyer said...

Owen is a brilliant student.

roger flyer said...

Chocolate is funnier (and safer) than Chesterton.

Ross said...

"Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly; devils fall because of their gravity."

- G.K. Chesterton

R.O. Flyer said...

Owen isn't at all attracted to Christian orthodoxy nor God for that matter. Though he respectfully joins us in prayer at the dinner table and attends Sunday school on a regular basis, he's always been adamantly atheist. Of course he's plenty joyful and content about this, despite the expressed concerns of his Sunday school teachers. It's a good thing I'm a voluntarist!

This information should at least complicate what we think Owen may contribute to this emerging field of "a/theological hysteria"--but it certainly shouldn't be a surprise that it would begin with laughter about Chesterton and chocolate.

Glad you enjoyed the video, Ben!

Paul Tyson said...

It makes perfect sense that Owen is an atheist. Let's face it, what great theologian wasn't! Indeed, I think it quite possible that God Himself is an atheist who doesn't believe anything told to Him at Sunday School either. Indeed, He is probably as hysterical about theology as Owen is, and Ben, and perhaps even more so. That is why I think giggly theology is a really serious and significant field (Ha!!).

Pamela said...

Paul - giggly theology: Is that when your church has a "men only" State of Origin footy night in the church hall and "women only" hospitality team?

Student said...

Very concerned how those books sitting atop the radiator will survive. Chocolate Chesterton, OTOH, shall remain laughingly timeless.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps Owen can already spell "atheist", "agnostic", "Theist", or even "Chesterton", though I don't think I could have, back then, that is. How can I possibly criticise this adorable child? I have nothing to say. DWLindeman

Paul Tyson said...

Well Pamela - perhaps. Me, I'm not sure that giggling would be the best way to approach such a situation. I'm thinking 'dramatic theology' might be better in that context. How about tearing one's clothes, wailing loudly (for the women) pulling one's beard out (for the men... those macho state of origin type blokes should be able to handle that) and refusing to eat anything for a week? Or perhaps this might be a good plan: what about trying hysterical giggling first, and if no-one gets it, then move to dramatic theology?

Pamela said...

Thanks Paul - I've already tried "hysterical giggling". I may move on to dramatic theology!

Paul Tyson said...

Alas, Pamela, not being a state of origin type, I don't have a beard to pull out, but I am more than happy to rip my clothes and wail loudly from up here in Brisbane in solidarity with your dramatic venture. Power to your arm! Alas, if only giggling would work...

Susan said...

How cute! he is so funny ;) Great video!

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