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.


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