The Long View 2006-05-08: Unauthorized Versions
John Reilly mentions the Gospel reading from May 7th, 2006 mostly as the set-up for a Monty Python reference, but today's Gospel reading, from the second chapter of the Gospel of John, really does read like an internet meme:
15 He made a whip out of cords and drove them all out of the temple area, with the sheep and oxen, and spilled the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables,
As it turns out, one of the answers to WWJD? is (╯°□°）╯︵ ┻━┻
Regarding the Gospel reading for yesterday, I was struck again by how dim the evangelist makes the apostles look. I paraphrase John to only a slight degree:
In a little while you will not see me; then in a little while you will see me.We do not understand what these things mean.
I am going away, but I will be back.
But what do you mean, you are going away, but you will be back?
I mean I'm here now. Soon I won't be here. Then I will be here again.
We do not understand.
Let's try it like this: Step One: here; Step Two: not here; Step Three; here.
We find these words a mystery.
Look, just forget I mentioned it.
If you insist. But could we get back to the bit about the cheesemakers?
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The Cheesemakers, of course, figure in one of the good parts in Monty Python's Life of Brian. (I'm not quite sure the film rises to the level of blasphemy; the problem is that it's a feature-length film with enough material for a 25-minute show.) These comments by some listeners at the edge of the audience of the Sermon on the Mount must surely be known to all students of Scripture:
Ahh, what's so special about the cheesemakers?
Well, obviously, this is not meant to be taken literally. It refers to any manufacturers of dairy products.
Monty Python's film and my version of John bear pretty much the relationship to the Biblical canon that the Gnostic gospels do: they are much later, obviously frivolous, and not intended to reflect history. Scholars have always known this. All that has changed in the last few years is that postmodern skepticism of mere facticity has reduced serious history to "just another version." The DaVinci Code, meaning the book by Dan Brown and the film based on it, does not purport to be history, but it has benefited from this collapse of intellectual integrity.
* * *
Perhaps this is the really progressive take on Brown's book. It comes from Futurechurch, one of the residual feminist groups that linger in the morbid backwaters of liberal Catholicism:
"However, while the book paints an attractive portrait of the underlying unity of male and female, it ultimately undercuts women's leadership because it focuses on the fiction of Mary of Magdala's marital status rather than the fact of her leadership as the primary witness to Jesus' resurrection. Unfortunately, this reinforces gender bias that women are only important because of the men in their lives."
You can't make this stuff up.
* * *
The backstory of The DaVinci Code is a riff on Wolfram von Eschenbach's 13th-century version of the Grail legend. In the French and British Grail stories, an order of knights guarded the Grail. In the German tradition, there was a Grail Dynasty that secretly ruled the world. The transformation of that dynasty into a Jesus dynasty, however, is a modern motif. The story of the transformation of the Grail legend is fascinating: see this review of Richard Barber's The Holy Grail: Imagination and Belief.
It is a good idea to use the premier of the DaVinci film to recount the real history. Launching a jihad against it is a bad idea:
"Sometimes it is our duty to do something practical. So it is not I who will tell all Christians what to do but some know legal means which can be taken in order to get the other person to respect the rights of others," Arinze said.
Lest anyone miss the parallel with the recent riots occasioned the cartoons of Mohammed, the cardinal also noted:
"Those who blaspheme Christ and get away with it are exploiting the Christian readiness to forgive and to love even those who insult us. There are some other religions which if you insult their founder they will not be just talking. They will make it painfully clear to you," Arinze said.
Cardinal Arinze is usually worth listening to, but he is quite mistaken here. For one thing, blasphemy and hate-crime laws are already being used to impose sharia in many Western countries. Christians should be trying to get those laws repealed, not to be enhancing their prestige by using them.
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Here's a completely different topic: a federal proposal to make the online availability of some research material mandatory:
The Federal Research Public Access Act of 2006, proposed last week by Senators Joseph I. Lieberman, Democrat of Connecticut, and John Cornyn, Republican of Texas, would require 11 government agencies to publish online any articles that contained research financed with federal grants. If enacted, the measure would require that the articles be accessible online without charge within six months of their initial publication in a scholarly journal.
I think this can do only good.
Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly