Sunday 16 March 2014

Zip-a-dee-doo-dah doodlings

by Kim Fabricius

“What a loser!” A phrase of the most dismissive social contempt which, on the lips of Christians, becomes the opening gambit of all truly counter-cultural evangelism.

On the other hand, some Christians think they are being “fools for Christ” when they are ridiculed for standing up in the public square, say, by picketing cinemas that show “blasphemous” films, or by making apocalyptic pronouncements about same-sex relationships, or by deploying pseudo-science in defence of young-earth creationism. These people fail to consider the possibility that their felt integrity is but mulish obstinacy; that their nonconformity is actually a form of self-validation confirmed by the applause of “the faithful”; and, above all, that their claims of persecution are fatally compromised by the sanctimoniousness of their witness. Self-proclaimed victims are, ipso facto, bogus victims; there is nothing cruciform about them. Secular contempt is neither here nor there, but bringing the faith into theological disrepute – that is not to be a fool for Christ, just a jerk for Jesus.

In regione caecorum rex est luscus. Credited to the humanist Erasmus, this doodling came to mind when I saw a clip of the fundamentalist Pat Robertson debunking young-earth creationism. Yes, even a luscus with glaucoma reigns among the sightless. Robertson began by saying, “There was a bishop in the Middle Ages, ah, 1800-something …” Presumably he was referring to James Ussher, ah, 1581-1656.

What’s my take on the fierce culture wars that rage in the US on “evangelical identity”? I refer you to the famous Neo-Freudian developmental psychologist Erik Erikson who coined the term “identity crisis” – and his observation that, fundamentally, it is an adolescent phenomenon.

As Samuel Beckett might advise Christians on contentious issues: “Ever discussed. Ever disagreed. Discuss again. Disagree again. Disagree better.”

For heaven’s sake, C of E: you should be paying less attention to liturgical wardrobes and more attention to episcopal closets.

When they’re planning a holiday to the US, Brits sometimes ask me what cities they should visit. “New York, Boston, Chicago, San Francisco,” I tell them. “If you’ve got a couple of minutes to spare …” – I mention a few others. Basically, however – to riff on Mark Twain – I tell them: “See the Big Apple and then die – but endeavour to die before you see Miami, Dallas, or LA. (Unless, of course, you’re an anthropologist.)”

Want to pare your Christmas card list? Ask yourself: if I am afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease, who will come to visit me, sit with me, stay with me, speak my name, talk about the old days, and, above all, tell me how wonderful it is to see me?

Bumper sticker: “Christians aren’t perfect – just forgiven.” Just?

There once was a nomad named Abe,
a magnet to Beersheba babes;
he mated with Sarah,
but not till Viagra
was Isaac so mirthfully made.

The certainty is that there is always a calamity coming; the tragedy is that it is never the one we expect.

In the lexicon of grief, the pages are blank.

Among contemporary bullshit virtues right up there with the faux-empathy of “I feel your pain”, the pseudo-fidelity of “being true to your feelings”, and the cod-authenticity of “being real”, is sincerity, which is usually saccharine and smug doublespeak for either shameless mendacity or pathetic self-deceit.

So the first known written use of the F-word in English – “fuckin abbot” – was written by a disgruntled monk in 1528 as a marginal note in a manuscript of Cicero’s De Officiis (ironically, an authoritative text on public rectitude, particularly temperance and self-control). Was the monk describing the hypocritical sexual activity of his superior, i.e., “the abbot who fucks”? Or rather, with modern usage, deploying the term for angry emphasis? In which case, I wonder what his superior had done to piss him off so much. Whatever, the potty-mouth language clearly suggests that the monk was Lutheran. Mind, Cicero himself could resort to squalid invective (check out his diatribes against Antony after the assassination of Caesar).

There is extreme heavy lifting, but some things also require an enormous effort to put down – like words on A4.

A question occurs to me after rehearsing this scene from John Williams’ Butcher’s Crossing. Hunting a huge herd of buffalo in the mountains of Colorado, four men are caught by a blizzard and snowed in for the winter. Miller, Andrews, and Schneider set about constructing a life-saving lean-to. Schneider cuts some thongs from a frozen-hard hide and throws them into a kettle. Then he calls over Andrews and Miller. “Piss in it,” he says. Andrews looks dubiously at Miller. Miller says: “He’s right. That’s the way the Indians do it. It helps draw the stiffness from the hide.” Here’s my question: Do you think this technique would work on a church-full of Presbyterians?

Of course the church is a whore. Why else would Jesus so enjoy our company?

Is the glass half-empty or half-full? That depends. Is the liquid sour milk or single malt?

According to Samuel Johnson, “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.” Of course, had Johnson been American, the “last” would be “first”.

“May I spend eternity in hwyl!” is the prayer of every preacher in Wales.

There once was a preacher with attitude,
whose sermons weren’t greeted with gratitude;
he preached the beJesus
too gracious and grievous
for people inspired by platitudes.

If sugar is the new tobacco, does that make Mary Poppins guilty of child abuse?

It is said that there is no communication in hell, because of the pandemonium, the torment, the tedium, the vanity, the mutual abuse. This is false. There is Twitter. Hell is the telos of tweeting. In hell tweeting is compulsory.

At the icy windswept centre of Dante’s Ninth Circle of Hell, a three-faced Satan chews on the triumvirate of history’s greatest betrayers: to the left and right, their heads visible, Brutus and Cassius; but – behold! – in the central maw, the “soul … which has the greatest pain”, his writhing legs protruding – hang on … – what’s that? – blood-soaked skinny jeans… Hey, it’s Rob Bell!

Finally, still on hell … Young-earth creationism is an intellectual disaster, but anthropogenic climate-change denial is, more, a moral disaster. It is not merely risible, it is repugnant; not just bad science but odious ideology. And world leaders for whom the penny has finally dropped – what do they do but loiter without intent, hands in pockets, counting their change? To wilful ignorance, economic self-interest, and political opportunism, add the global “bystander effect” – the more nations that witness other nations in even more distress than their own, the less likely any one nation will say “Enough is enough!” and act – well, one despairs even of damage limitation (like chemo with late-stage cancer). And you don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows: extreme meteorological events, environmental devastation, human suffering will worsen; mass migrations and territorial conflict will ensue; only fundamentalists will rejoice – they’ll have a sodden field day with the book of Revelation. We say climate-change denial is an “opinion”; our grandchildren will ask us why we didn’t call it like it is – a sociopathology.

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