Vandals

Well, this happened. For peace, you must be better than this.

(source: Photos of the Violent Protests of Trump’s Inauguration)

OK, I have to admit.  Part of me wants to just leave it there.  And part of me can’t help pointing out that these presumably leftist dolts attacked those high symbols of conservative hegemony, Starbucks and the Washington Post.

The all-conquering Will to Incoherency does not lend itself even to strategic planning, apparently.

Just Published: “Interpret Carefully” in Christ and Pop Culture

I suggest three fundamental approaches to finding the best possibilities in Silence. When I go to watch Scorsese’s movie, I’ll be hoping he chooses to emphasize elements such as these; I shall be elated if that happens and critical if it doesn’t. First, it is possible to read the very cryptic section that follows the end of the main plot as offering a definitive reinterpretation of the plot. When the story moves on past the self-justifications Rodrigues offers for his apostasy, and instead traces the bureaucratic records concerning the household where the new apostate has been set up, it is possible that we are meant to see that both Kichijiro and Rodrigues return to the faith. That is, though both of them break under pressure, they are subtly called back to the faith; their baptismal faith repeatedly subverts their apostasy, and triumphs over it when they are punished. To weigh this very heavily in our evaluation, though, we need some basis for disregarding pretty much every conclusion that Rodrigues draws from his experiences. Most importantly, we need a reason to believe that Rodrigues has returned, or returns periodically, to a faith that specifically repudiates his claim that Jesus personally called him to commit an act of apostasy.

(source: Interpret Carefully: Balancing Caution and Hope in Responding to Shusaku Endo’s Novel Silence – Christ and Pop Culture)

From the cutting-room floor: Why bother retrieving the nourishing from the toxic?

This is the second post that features portions deleted from “Interpret Carefully: Balancing Caution and Hope in Responding to Shusaku Endo’s Novel Silence,” just published in Christ and Pop Culture.

(Incidentally, here’s the first “cutting-room floor” post.)

This was an extra conclusion, not needed for the article’s internal logic, but connecting to an anecdote I included at the beginning (which, alas, didn’t make the cut, either).  You can see how these paragraphs, exciting though they were to compose, were good candidates for the “kill your darlings” treatment.

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Here, then, the paragraphs attempting to vindicate the effort of sorting good from ill in Endo’s signature novel:

Why bother with such a reading?  Why bother to seek vindication for truth when it seems so futile, when the interpreter’s arguments begin to sound so plausible to us?  Here is where we consider Rogue One and the kakure kirishitan.  In Episode IV of Star Wars, the “new hope” spoken of in the title is the resumption of the Jedi line–of a discipline that guides its practitioners to right use of a talent invisibly implanted within them–after the destruction of all the Jedi by Darth Vader.  The genius of Rogue One, I argue, is in convincingly depicting the era when those who had heard of the Force, who were sensitive to it or were aligned with the benevolent goals of the Jedi, were scattered “like sheep without a shepherd.”  Rebel factions protested each other, fought and undermined each other; lone Force sensitives marched into dangerous situations full of devotion to what they remembered but untutored and without well-founded hope.  Goodness, hope, reverence do recur in such situations, and Rogue One bears compelling witness to the beauty and tragedy of those who achieve great things in such terrible times.

But finally, Rogue One describes a generation that lived and died without any well-founded hope that their desire to do good was anything but a futile refusal to acquiesce in evil.  Under those circumstances, we see people who want good things justify terrible acts; we see leaders of men fatalistically embrace death, families torn apart, whole lives lived in alienation from what is best in humanity.  It is beautiful, I suggest, when a voice tears through all that, determined to do at least one thing that is definitely good, and to reject futility; it is fitting that such a voice should become identified with the word “hope.”  But consider those Christian villagers, well portrayed in Silence, who were forced to find whatever ways they could to maintain a partially-taught Christian faith over not just a generation, but over centuries of official persecution and separation from the teaching office of the Church.  How could we not, like Jesus, be “moved to compassion” when we see them?  How can we not long for their descendants to know the fulness of the faith they lived and died desiring?  How can we not choose Garrpe’s way, and dive into the ocean, swimming as long as we can, to bolster their faith?

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From the cutting-room floor: taking Endo’s theology seriously

I’ve been working on a popular article about Silence and, true to form, I wrote about twice as much as we could use.  I find I pretty much have to “write long, edit short” to get anything done (which is also why so few projects reach completion–that first step takes time, and half the material isn’t useful).  Anyway, if the final product ends up being useful (I have well-founded hopes that it will), I’ll be sure to announce it.

[Update:  Here it is!  “Interpret Carefully” at Christ and Pop Culture.]

Here, then, a couple “deleted scenes” paragraphs that I’m not sorry I wrote, and not sorry we cut, either:

I hope I don’t have to work very hard to convince readers…that it is patently ridiculous to take works like Silence or The Shack or The End of the Affair or Brideshead Revisited or Crime and Punishment or The Da Vinci Code as “mere fiction” that should not be evaluated on its theological content.  To take an obvious example, Dan Brown included a clear statement that The Da Vinci Code was based on fact in the front of his novel (it takes only reading both books to know those “facts” were ripped clumsily from the pages of Holy Blood, Holy Grail–so blatantly, in fact, that its authors, themselves no strangers to breathless hyping of easily-exposed hoaxes, unsuccessfully sued Brown for copyright infringement).  Graham Greene thought the struggles of malformed conscience and institutional fecklessness that he dramatized in stories like The End of the Affair were serious enough, in real life, to keep him out of communion with the Church he entered dramatically as an adult.  In Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh specifically modelled elements of Sebastian Flyte’s life on the conversion story of Oscar Wilde.  It would be easy to multiply examples, but I trust the principle is clear.

More specifically, scholars and readers of Endo’s best-known novel have certainly not found that it is “mere fiction” without theological significance.  Scholars like Mark Williams, John Netland, Van Gessel, Darren Middleton, Mark Dennis, and many others have analyzed and evaluated Endo’s work not only for its compelling fictionalization of history but for the significance they see in Endo’s interaction with Christianity, traditional Japanese culture, Buddhist-Christian dialogue, and a whole host of other issues.  Of course, some readers think that the theological significance of Silence lies in a repudiation of organized religion in favor of a wholly individualized practice of charity; others think it lies in a subtle depiction of fidelity under almost impossible conditions; still others see a substitution of a “motherly” Jesus for the traditional portrayal of the “Son of the Father.”  Some focus on the climactic scene of apparent apostasy, others on the epilogue, others on the “silence” invoked by Endo’s second choice of title.  Many regard it favorably as an important moment on Endo’s trek into radical pluralism, not least because it anticipates the views Endo would more ardently promote after he encountered the works of the man we might call his guru, John Hick; others deplore exactly this character of Endo’s work.  If we don’t choose to simply ignore the features of Silence that provoke all these comments, or to consider one characteristic (for example “pluralism” or a subjectivization of moral or religious judgment) as proper to “mere fiction” but unrelated to theology, then we will simply have to agree that our varying evaluations of the theological significance of the novel are essential to our grasp of its significance.

Don’t Play Catch-22 Against Truth

This post is lightly connected to an earlier discussion of how swapping intensive and extensive statements illegitimately can undermine a conversation and make plain truths seem obscure.  The similarity is that, in both cases, responses that are in some sense true are organized into a one-two punch that leaves many people who want to affirm the truth feeling that they are being irrational or stubborn, perhaps missing the point.

When used as a strategy for derailing arguments, of course, these are perverse. It also happens, though, that people see what truth there is in each “step” of the argument and, applying them separately but without adequate reflection, find themselves unable to defend truths that they have learned. For both of these reasons, it is important that we actually learn to think more clearly than that.

The challenge I want to point to, today, deals specifically with authoritative moral teachings and the need to have them expressed with clarity.

The setup for this Catch-22 goes like this:

First, those who affirm an inconvenient truth are offered hard cases and unusual situations, usually with no acknowledgement of the relative frequency of such situations or of any factors that distinguish them from the rule. Attempts to distinguish cases, to show how a sensible application of the teaching or rule improves situations, are consistently treated as evidence the truth is “too complicated” and those who explain the rule are “legalistic.”  To insist on such teaching is called “arrogant” or “selfish,” signs of people who are more interested in defending their own status or attainments than in loving service to others; to adhere to it is treated as the privilege of those who find it easy, or who have been given support that they are denying to others.

As a response to this, many of us try to remind others that we adhere to such teachings precisely for the reasons that generations of Christians have handed them down to us–that they promise to make us whole, to make us available to the grace that transforms us.  We hold on to these truths, that is, not only because we believe they are necessary for the good of others, but because we need them ourselves.  We are not asking for teaching to be clear, laws just, disciplines lovingly but firmly maintained, because we think that helps us control others; we know that without the help of others, and especially without instructions and patterns of living together that push us in the right direction, we ourselves will wander in confusion.  Sometimes through excess, sometimes through defect, sometimes through blind spots we don’t notice, sometimes by sheer failure of will with regard to the good that we are called to embrace–but we recognize ourselves in that old hymn lyric that says, “Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it / Prone to leave the God I love; / Here’s my heart, O take and seal it, / Seal it for thy courts above.”  We trust in the mercy and the grace of God, and we do not want to be told that what we can live up to now is all we’re meant for; we know it is not.

And that is what triggers the second half of this Catch-22, this perverse and unjust equivocation.

Second, admitting that we need external assistance, that we are called together in a body because I need others to maintain expectations and discipline, to cooperate with me in cooperating with grace, is interpreted as a weakness that invalidates my adherence to truth.

Sometimes this is just another iteration of hand-waving.  Sometimes this is akin to the long-exploded Freudian slander that an excess of repression of sexual drives accounts for insistence on moral norms, and that denying this confirms it.

Sometimes this abuse of honest conversation comes in the form of an unutterably offensive claim of “hypocrisy” that turns the meaning of the term on its head.  Where a hypocrite would pretend to be better than he is in order to seem credible, most of us who are called “hypocrites” are just being honest about who we are:  sinners being saved by grace, not perfectly-formed Christians trying to prevent others from joining us.  In fact, people who discredit fallible witnesses in order to avoid their responsibility to infallible truth are pushing all of us to actually be hypocrites.

If the only way to be taken seriously in speaking for truth is to have miraculous perfection in that truth already, then we are all incapable of learning from each other; and if anyone who claims to have learned something is to be dismissed for “not struggling” enough, then we will never be able to listen to each other.

When you see this one-two punch, then, be sure you are witnessing an effort of Satan to conceal the truth and shame those who bear fallible witness to that truth.  When you see those who speak reasonably about truth called “unsympathetic” or “rigid,” while at the same time those who admit they need the help of sound teaching and concrete discipline to achieve personal holiness are dismissed as weak or hypocritical, you may be sure that you are witnessing a perversion of discourse, the very “smoke of Satan” rising in what ought to be the Temple of God.

So don’t do this.  Pray harder.  Be holier, but do not act holier than you are.  And do not confuse the worth of the witness with the worth of the truth.

After all, the Truth Himself relied on the claims of one of whom it was said, “He was not the Light, but was come to bear witness to the Light.”

May we be counted worthy to bear witness, and may we not cloud that witness with the gobbledygook of our Enemy and Accuser.

Humility or “epistemic humility”

There is great virtue in being able to say, “I did not know that.  Thanks for telling me.”

Also, “I do not understand.  Will you teach me?”

Likewise, a teacher simply must be comfortable saying “I don’t know, but I’ll ask” and “I don’t know how to explain it, but we do know at least this much about it.”

And no one should grow to adulthood without a strong “Look it up!” habit.

Being willing to admit ignorance is part of being teachable.  There is, then, a place for “epistemic humility” properly understood:  learning that a proper estimate of my understanding involves recognizing the boundary between what I know and what I do not.

But that recognition has two components, not one.

It is not humility, but arrogance and folly, to think that if I am uncertain about it presently, there must be no one who could teach me to understand the matter more precisely and confidently.  It makes my present knowledge, or really my feelings about my present knowledge, the criterion of all possible knowledge.

It is bigotry to object when I am told that others have learned, and that if I intend to honor my obligation to truth I ought to listen to what they have learned.

Humility means knowing that some things can be learned, and some of those things can be taught, and therefore that I can learn some of them when I am teachable (and prudent about my choice of teachers).

That means that it is humble to stand on what you have learned, friend.  It is admitting that neither you nor I are, in our momentary wishes and feelings of assurance, the absolute limit and criterion of all possible understanding.

It is acknowledging that the young, the old, the living, the dead, the very holy, the rather profane, the erudite, the crude, the refined, the simple–all may well have something to teach, just as all assuredly have something to learn.

So when you have learned something, do not let the latest wave of uncertainty hatched by someone’s attempt to shame you deceive you.  Do not let bigots drive you away from what others have, in better spirit, taught you.

Have the humility of your convictions.

Rodrigues, Kichijiro, Judas–a 2012 conference paper (Part Two)

Here’s the final part of that SWCCL paper from 2012:

————–

What we may miss when reading Silence, and what may lead students astray when we teach it, is how sharply dependent certain elements of its portrayal of Christian truth are on Rodrigues’ own imaginings.  Of course, we must debate the “Trample!” instruction which, whether as command or permission, echoes Rodrigues’ own verbal or mental cries for those who are about to be martyred to apostasize instead (for the village martyrs, see 83; for Garrpe, see 204).  However, in more subtle ways the role of Kichijiro is colored by the fact that from the first Rodrigues has treated him with contempt and suspicion, and glosses over alternative possibilities for responding to him.  For example, Kichijiro offers Rodrigues some salted fish, and chews grass instead himself, when they are fleeing (113).  Rodrigues himself says that he “snatched greedily” and “ate ravenously,” yet when he begins to be thirsty, he accuses Kichijiro of giving him the salted fish to weaken him (116-7).  Kichijiro only comments that Rodrigues ate too much; Kichijiro also manages to secure Rodrigues some water, which Rodrigues also consumes “greedily and shamelessly” (118).  We have only Rodrigues’ literally fevered imaginings to help us decide whether Kichijiro used this as a stratagem, or whether Kichijiro offered Rodrigues all the food he had, and secured him water, while avoiding confrontation with Rodrigues over the latter’s poor manners.  Many similar examples are available, but for now let us move on to the Biblical portrait of Judas.

We can roughly find seven relevant elements in the portayals of Judas Iscariot in the Gospels and Acts; one of them will be especially worthy of exploration in this context.

 

1) all four Evangelists carefully identify Judas Iscariot well before the Passion narrative.

In lists of the Twelve, Matthew has “Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed him”; Mark has “Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him”; and Luke has “Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor.”

In John 6:71, John explains one of Jesus’ predictions of His Passion as follows:  “He was speaking of Judas son of Simon Iscariot, for he, though one of the twelve, was going to betray him.”  And in John 12, we read that “Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples” was “about to betray him.”

 

2) Judas manifests behaviors and attitudes indicative of unbelief well before the betrayal.

(see discussion of John 6 & 12; short version is just John 12)

 

3) Judas receives money in advance and begins plotting.

“Then one of the twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, ‘What will you give me if I betray him to you?’ They paid him thirty pieces of silver.  And from that moment he began to look for an opportunity to betray him.”  (Matthew 26:14-16)

see also Mark 14:10-11; Luke 22:3-7; John 13:2

 

4) Judas is described as possessed by the devil (Luke 22 & John 13).

 

5) Judas definitely takes the initiative in arranging signals and revealing Jesus’ whereabouts.

(in addition to some of the texts above about Judas’ unbelief,) see Mark 14:43-52, which gives the most extensive account of Judas’s use of the kiss as a sign, his acting as a scout for the guards, etc.

also John 18:2-5; Luke 22:47-48

 

6) Judas is confronted with his treachery in advance, but continues.

When it was evening, he took his place with the twelve; and while they were eating, he said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me.”

And they became greatly distressed and began to say to him one after another, “Surely not I, Lord?”

He answered, “The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me.  The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that one by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that one not to have been born.”

Judas, who betrayed him, said, “Surely not I, Rabbi?” He replied, “You have said so.” (Matthew 26:20-25)

also John 13:21-30.  Note that these texts make it quite impossible to take the “Jesus gave Judas permission to betray Him” theme seriously.

 

7) Judas is remorseful but impenitent.

When morning came, all the chief priests and the elders of the people conferred together against Jesus in order to bring about his death.  They bound him, led him away, and handed him over to Pilate the governor.

When Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he repented and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders.  He said, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.”

But they said, “What is that to us? See to it yourself.”  Throwing down the pieces of silver in the temple, he departed; and he went and hanged himself.

But the chief priests, taking the pieces of silver, said, “It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, since they are blood money.”  After conferring together, they used them to buy the potter’s field as a place to bury foreigners.  For this reason that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day.  Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah, “And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of the one on whom a price had been set, on whom some of the people of Israel had set a price, and they gave them for the potter’s field, as the Lord commanded me.”  (Matthew 27:1-10)

 

8) Judas is considered a deposed apostate by the Church and his office given to another.

The first act of the assembled Church after Christ’s Ascension is led by Peter, who speaks of “Judas, who became a guide for those who arrested Jesus” as they seek a replacement twelfth Apostle, someone “chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.”  (Acts 1:12-26)

 

John’s remarks in chapters 6 and 12 of his Gospel are of special interest, as these two passages also typify the manner in which the reception or rejection of the Incarnate Word is portrayed throughout John’s writings.  Judas is characterized by what he does and does not receive of Jesus, and the nature of God’s self-revelation in Christ is characterized by the infamous treason that crowns the career of one whose acceptance of some of Jesus’ words masked a deeper rejection of the Person of the Son of God.

In John 6, there are actually two mentions of the betrayer embedded in a twofold interplay of belief and disbelief.  Speaking to the Jewish audience in a series of synagogue discussions following the miracle of the feeding of the multitude, Jesus has just caused significant consternation by insisting that all and only those who are “taught by God” follow Jesus, and in fact insisting that following Jesus and having “heard and learned from the Father” are strictly identical for those faced with the presence of the Incarnate Word, the Christ “who is from God,” who is the only one who “has seen the Father” in the relevant sense.  When Jesus says “whoever believes has eternal life,” then, the saying is not received as a universal call to earnestness or sincerity or openness or wonder, but appears repugnant to the hearers.  Jesus warns them, “Do not complain among yourselves,” and John tells us that “The Jews then disputed among themselves.”  This first controversy takes place among the mostly Jewish audience comprising both followers of Jesus and His most passionate opponents, as well as many still unsure where they stand.

What Jesus’ Jewish interlocutors find so offensive, here, is the concrete historical form of truth that Jesus sets out for those who are “taught of God” and follow Him.  Jesus said, “The bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”  Eating the multiplied loaves and fishes, or debating the significance of Jesus’ teachings, or following a portion of divine revelation, is of limited value; those who “ate the manna in the wilderness” undoubtedly followed the Father’s teachings up to a point, but “they died.”  Only when the unique “bread of life” has been provided can the one “drawn by the Father” and “taught by God” come to “eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood,” so that Jesus can promise repeatedly, “I will raise that person up on the last day.”  The question “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” expresses the perplexity of those who have not yet come to terms with the fullness of the Incarnate Word, as well as the challenge of those who set themselves in opposition.

This perplexity, though, divides even those accepted among Jesus’ followers.  Even those identified as “disciples” up to this point are heard “complaining” that “This teaching is difficult” and asking “who can accept it?”  As He does frequently throughout His career, Jesus does not alleviate their perplexity, but exacerbates it, in order to expose unbelief and clarify belief.  Jesus’ words “What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before?” work in at least three ways at once:  they argue a fortiori from the greater material difficulty of the Incarnation to the lesser difficulty of the Real Presence; they underscore the moral hazard of abstractly affirming the Incarnation while denying its concrete historical form; and they directly foreshadow Jesus’ later Ascension.  (In the unfolding of John’s Gospel, of course, this passage also closely echoes Jesus’ words to Nicodemus in chapter 3.)  Building on that multiplicity of sense, Jesus’ declaration that “It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless” indicates that followers of Jesus must understand and order material realities according to their spiritual relations.  They must finally evaluate Jesus’ claims in the full light of revelation, rather than by the limited light of unaided natural reason.  This meaning is anchored when Jesus tells His followers that “among you there are some who do not believe” and John informs us that “Jesus knew from the first who were the ones that did not believe, and who was the one that would betray him.”

This portrait is rather different from the one in Silence; Jesus is quite clear on who will betray Him, and considers that person an unbeliever.  It is at precisely this point, when the betrayer has just been mentioned in association with the unbelievers still numbered among the disciples, that we hear that “many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him,” which leads Jesus to turn and directly ask the Twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?”  This question, of course, would be as close to the “permission” to apostasize as Judas would be likely to get.  What follows is one of Peter’s two famous confessions:  “Lord, to whom can we go?  You have the words of eternal life.”  However imperfectly, Peter and the faithful together recognized that the Incarnate Word had offered not just teaching but body and blood, and that this was their sole source of salvation.  Jesus’ reply, however, demands of them a further understanding than this temporal followership, though not less than that:  “Did I not choose you, the twelve?  Yet one of you is a devil.”  John specifically indicates that Jesus was speaking of Judas, “for he, though one of the twelve, was going to betray him.”  Judas’s betrayal, then, was an indication of a deeper fault; an unbelief which persisted even under the guise of religious vocation, which must eventually betray itself by betraying Christ.  John’s arrangement of the account underscores the particularity of Judas’s unbelief:  Judas refused to accept the unity and unicity of Christ’s salvific message with His saving Person so concretely stated in Jesus’ teaching about His Body and Blood.

With this background in mind, the scene at Lazarus’ home in Bethany becomes much clearer.  In John 12, the account of Mary, sister of Martha, using expensive ointment to treat Jesus’ feet—an apparent waste to which Judas objected—is not left to stand alone.  In fact, the very next occurrence after this is Judas going to the Jewish leaders to conspire against Jesus.  This story is framed with pointed references to Lazarus as “Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead” and ends with the Jewish leaders expanding their plot to include Lazarus, because his resurrection led to a situation in which “many of the Jews were deserting and were believing in Jesus.”  In this environment, and against the backdrop of John 6, it is clear that whether Judas was actively interested in stealing money or wasn’t, his unbelief was the issue.  Judas treats Mary’s response to Jesus’ death and resurrection as indifferent, measuring it solely by secular measures.  He fails to consider that the ongoing responsibility of caring for the poor, as taught by Jesus, cannot eclipse the response to the Person of Jesus called for by the Incarnation itself, which is inseparable from the words by which the Incarnate Word teaches those who hear Him.

Mary’s act of devotion, by which she chooses to “cash out” her secular worth in terms explicitly responsive to the Person of Jesus, cannot be evaluated in merely secular terms without becoming the occasion of fresh unbelief.  John underscores this by introducing Judas, immediately before he speaks, as “the one who was about to betray [Jesus].”  And, indeed, it is as those who evaluate the resurrection of Lazarus in terms of its effects on their following begin to plot against Lazarus that Judas joins their plot against Jesus.

It is in precisely these respects that Rodrigues resembles Judas a great deal more than Kichijiro.  Kichijiro is a stumbling follower of Jesus, but like Peter or John Mark, he repents—and even, if we are to believe the appendix, becomes in his faltering way evangelically useful—after his many failures.  He seeks absolution and shows signs of real contrition, though his manifest weakness does make a struggle against sin, rather than freedom from sin, the reasonable pastoral goal.  Rodrigues, by comparison, comes not to understand Judas—and barely to understand Kichijiro—but to become Judas.  Rodrigues becomes a betrayer who, however remorseful, does not repent; indeed, he justifies himself over against the Church whose laws, like those of Peter in the days immediately following the Ascension, inform him clearly of his state.  Whatever of clarity or confusion we may find when we read Silence, we are at least well served if we see Rodrigues’ imaginations of Judas for the dangerous delusions they become to him.

 

————–

 

Endo, Shusaku.  Silence.  Trans. William Johnston.  New York:  Taplinger, 1980.

Quotations from NRSV Bible.

 

Rodrigues, Kichijiro, Judas–a 2012 conference paper (Part One)

As the Scorsese movie comes out, it’s interesting to see many fresh commentators return to ground I last started to work when a good friend opened a discussion that led us to planning a panel at the Southwest Conference on Christianity and Literature together in 2012.  This is the paper I gave at that conference (I’m going to make more than one post of it).  I have notes for a larger article based on this, and plans for how this can fit into a book with my existing article, another I have planned on the character Garrpe, and some other points I think worth examining.

One result of the discussions I had with my friend and others after this conference was that I’m now quite a bit more open to the possibility that Silence depicts Rodrigues moving from bad faith to better faith; I still maintain that this requires our finding evidence that the narrative pushes Rodrigues away from the delusions and self-justifications that he wants to cling to all the way to the end of his last reported conversation with Inoue.  This is the territory I’d like to explore more once I’ve worked out these notes, assuming the discussion remains interesting that long.

Enjoy, critique, respond.  Please don’t hand-wave away the serious problems Endo makes his characters pose for living faith!  Whether you think Silence is ultimately a net benefit to faith or a net danger, you must decide having taken the full measure of those challenges.

Here, then, Part One of the article:

Summary Judgment:  Kichijiro’s Identification as Judas Tested Against Other Biblical Betrayers

Peter G. Epps, Oklahoma State University

From shockingly early in their acquaintance, Endo’s priestly protagonist Rodrigues reads Kichijiro as a potential and actual Judas.  Unlike the Judas described by the Evangelists, however, Kichijiro displays real penitence; he is therefore very far from the embodiment of despair that the suicidal Judas was to become.  It is, in fact, Rodrigues who appears to take counsel of despair, like his former mentor Ferreira; and it is Rodrigues whose accusations and inability to forgive most resemble the Judas role he attributes to Kichijiro.

In order to evaluate which of Rodrigues and Kichijiro most resembles Judas Iscariot, though, we need a clearer picture of Judas and the ways in which each character comes to be comparable to him.  Let us begin by assembling the portrait of Judas in the text of Silence, a portrait that resembles Rodrigues at least as much as Kichijiro

Several key scenes paint this portrait.  There is a hint, though not very explicit, in Rodrigues’ comments about Kichijiro when he and Garrpe are preparing to leave for Japan (33).  Rodrigues claims to be moved to laughter by the notion that “I have entrusted my future to a fellow like Kichijiro,” reflecting that “Our Lord himself entrusted his destiny to unworthy people.”  That Rodrigues can recognize Kichijiro as “unworthy” simply by noting Kichijiro’s alcoholism and lack of physical courage foreshadows the development of both characters, but it also suggests what will become a major theme of Silence:  the betrayer’s intrinsic weakness.

A much more significant mention of Judas comes right when Rodrigues and Garrpe reach Japan.  Kichijiro, whom they have engaged as their guide, immediately runs off to scout out the area, as they are not even sure they have landed in the right country (41).  Garrpe leaps to the conclusion that Kichijiro has just fled, but Rodrigues says, “I was thinking of a more terrible fate.  He had not fled. Like Judas he had gone to betray us.  Soon he would appear again, and with him would be the guards” (42).  Both of the priests are far gone in imagining themselves betrayed when Kichijiro returns with some Christians from a nearby village.  The portrait of Judas in Silence, then is not only of a weak betrayer, but of one who actively arranges the capture of a passive and trusting victim.

Of course, some of the difficulty in drawing any conclusions from Silence derives from its extremely subjective I-novel conventions.  Nowhere is this more evident than in Rodrigues’ description of his capture and the events leading up to it.  Rodrigues keeps trying to outpace Kichijiro, who begs him to slow down, telling him that “the magistrate says that the man who finds a father will get three hundred pieces of silver” (112).  Rodrigues then says his “first words to Kichijiro,” accompanied by a “bitter laugh”; he says, “So my price is three hundred pieces of silver” while inwardly noting the that “Judas had sold Our Lord for thirty pieces of silver; I was worth ten times as much.”  While the passage tells us more about Rodrigues’ spiritual exhaustion and fearfulness than about Judas, it does suggest that pecuniary advantage—or perhaps just a weakness for money, or for addictive consumables like alcohol—was the motive behind Judas’ betrayal.

These three elements—the intrinsic weakness of the betrayer, his active betrayal of a passive victim, and his specifically economic motives—are all overshadowed by the portrait that emerges from the two most central reflections on Judas in the plot of Silence.  In a reverie on Christ’s last words to Judas, Rodrigues admits that he has never been satisfied with the explanations offered for Christ’s instructions to “do quickly” what Judas was “going to do” (115).  Rodrigues struggles to imagine the tone of that instruction, and what that would tell him about Judas.  “If it was anger, then at this instant Christ excluded from salvation this man alone of all the men in the world,” he reflects, before rapidly drawing a series of unorthodox conclusions from his imaginary scenario:  “It could not be so.  Christ wanted to save even Judas.  If not, he would never have made him one of his disciples.”  From this conclusion that Judas was not the subject of Christ’s anger, and that Judas’ being among the disciples implied Christ’s belief that Judas could be salvaged, Rodrigues proceeds to wonder, “Why did Christ not stop him when he began to slip from the path of righteousness?”  Having gone thus far, Rodrigues proceeds to recapitulate a Gnostic interpretation of Judas’s relationship to Jesus:  “I have the feeling that Judas was no more than the unfortunate puppet for the glory of that drama which was the life and death of Christ.”  This necessitarian view of Judas’ acts is not only incoherent with regard to Rodrigues’ prior speculation that “Christ wanted to save even Judas,” but introduces an element of fatalism which impugns Divine Providence, treating God as either impotent or callous.  In any case, the portrait of Judas now receives several touches:  in addition to being intrinsically weak, though active in betraying a passive victim, and motivated by money, Judas is now to be seen as someone Jesus thought he could save, but who was not rescued because his actions were fatalistically necessary.

The incoherence in Rodrigues’ speculations at this point is addressed by the gradual breaking of Rodrigues described in the rest of the novel (his capture takes place just past halfway through the book).  When confronted in the denouement by Kichijiro, who again begs to confess and receive absolution for his sins, Rodrigues revisists his last reverie on Jesus’ words to Judas (285).  This time, Rodrigues casts himself as Judas, while speaking to that imaginary inward voice of Jesus which has replaced the imaginary inward face of Jesus that Rodrigues idolizes.  Rodrigues, trying to decide how to respond to Kichijiro’s betrayal and apostasy now that Rodrigues has become an apostate and betrayed his coreligionists as well as the faith entrusted to him, says to his personal Jesus, “You told Judas to go away.”  The voice in his head then answers that he intended no such thing, but that “just as I told you to step on the plaque, so I told Judas to do what he was going to do.  For Judas was in anguish as you are now.”  Not only does this tend to suggest that Rodrigues has realized that he is a closer fit to Judas than to Jesus in the scenario, but it confirms the portrayal of Judas as fated to betray Jesus—so much so that Jesus is now represented as complicit in this betrayal.  (Those familiar with the Gospel of Judas described by Irenaeus and periodically rediscovered by Gnostic sympathizers will recognize elements of this depiction.)  It also curiously conflates the anguish Rodrigues feels after committing apostasy and sacrilege, giving scandal to the faithful, and becoming complicit in their persecution, with an anguish Judas felt before actually betraying Jesus; the suggestion is that Judas was torn between his desires and his fate, and in choosing his fated betrayal did so with Jesus’ permission.

The picture which we form of Judas from Silence, and it must be said principally from Rodrigues’ own reflections and imaginings, is thus one of an intrinsically weak person, who nonetheless actively betrays a passive victim, doing it for money; this betrayer is someone Jesus saw as salvageable, but whose betrayal was fatalistically necessary, so that he was torn between fate and desire, with Jesus resolving this by permitting the betrayal.  And as it is a major theme of Silence to portray Rodrigues’ own transformation into an apostate and betrayer of others, it is perhaps no great accomplishment to assert that Rodrigues fits this portrayal very well.  Before moving on, though, it is well to note that Kichijiro does not always fit this portrait so well as Rodrigues thinks.

[Continue to Part Two]

“Christmas, Night”–a sonnet

“Christmas, Night”

It was not hopeless, then; great Caesar reigned,
Deputed Herod, turncoat from the Jews,
Who built another Temple, made the news
In common Greek, while Latin forces trained.
This child of Esau, called the Great, unchained
Sanhedrin lawyers, winners born to lose,
The enemies of Maccabees, who choose
Tyros, not tears, with Tyrian gold retained.
It is not hopeless, now, though bookshelves fall,
And all about me scatter envelopes
Which, torn, revealing bills, put paid to hopes
I banked in ignorance; but I have read
That wheat, that grows in winter, seeming dead,
Gives birth, when crushed, and flowers into bread.

PGE  12-24-2016

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An Exercise in Paragraphing

Get the PDF of this in-class exercise.

I think this is a pretty good example of how paragraph structure can be taught in connection with thesis focus, paragraph organization, and source integration.  This would be a late Comp One integration of previous teaching or an early Comp Two effort to gather the strands of previous teaching and translate it into a fresh vocabulary.  As executed, we would have had students read and annotate the Roth essay, and then we would be looking at an example essay that discusses Roth together in class.  This document would be generated while we talked it out together, in this case in Word on a projector (though one can use any number of media, including just plain chalkboarding, to the same effect–I have).  I might also, depending on time and need, have the students in groups attempt to mark the parts of various paragraphs in the example essay.

Note, incidentally, how the subject matter complements the liberal-arts aims, here.

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Wait, so…pets in Heaven? (Part One)

OK, actually, no.  Not in Heaven, where I have a pretty hard time making sense of them.  But most people forget that the destination of all those rescued by Jesus and fitted by Him for an eternally satisfying friendship with God is not Heaven, but the New Earth–that is, a bodily life that continues beyond the Beatific Vision (and we do mean “vision“).  We believe, that is, in the resurrection of the body and life everlasting.

So my most excellent friend and Thomistic sharpshooter Matt and I had a conversation about this, and I began in the position of objecting to the premise that animals would be in heaven at all; then Matt got me to entertain the possibility that “pets” were not really considered in typical analysis, here, and my own experience of animal behavior after years of living with Sarah’s lizards kicked in, and we spent the rest of the night working out the theory…so almost nothing here is original to me, as an idea, but this is my way of working the thought out weeks later.  If I get something wrong, blame me–unless Matt is nearer, in which case blame Matt.

We can say a little more that is interesting about this, in fact.  Let’s turn to the Ox:

Man’s perfect Happiness consists in the vision of the Divine Essence. Now it is impossible for anyone seeing the Divine Essence, to wish not to see It. Because every good that one possesses and yet wishes to be without, is either insufficient, something more sufficing being desired in its stead; or else has some inconvenience attached to it, by reason of which it becomes wearisome. But the vision of the Divine Essence fills the soul with all good things, since it unites it to the source of all goodness; hence it is written (Psalm 16:15): “I shall be satisfied when Thy glory shall appear”; and (Wisdom 7:11): “All good things came to me together with her,” i.e. with the contemplation of wisdom. In like manner neither has it any inconvenience attached to it; because it is written of the contemplation of wisdom (Wisdom 8:16): “Her conversation hath no bitterness, nor her company any tediousness.” It is thus evident that the happy man cannot forsake Happiness of his own accord. Moreover, neither can he lose Happiness, through God taking it away from him. Because, since the withdrawal of Happiness is a punishment, it cannot be enforced by God, the just Judge, except for some fault; and he that sees God cannot fall into a fault, since rectitude of the will, of necessity, results from that vision as was shown above (I-II:4:4). Nor again can it be withdrawn by any other agent. Because the mind that is united to God is raised above all other things: and consequently no other agent can sever the mind from that union. Therefore it seems unreasonable that as time goes on, man should pass from happiness to misery, and vice versa; because such like vicissitudes of time can only be for such things as are subject to time and movement.

(S.Th. II.I.5.4)

The final state, as Aquinas sees it, is most wholly summed up in the Beatific Vision, the ability to look upon God “face to face” and to be satisfied in friendship with Him as only a fully perfected human creature can–and, in fact, as only this particular human creature can; for the essence of a rational soul is to become itself precisely by its own free and morally significant responses to the Creator’s actualization of its being.  God makes me capable of choosing to become what God has created me to become only in the specific ways that His work of Creation and Redemption and my willing participation in His Being, my cooperation with grace, my “obedience of faith,” make real.  I can only be truly happy as, and insofar as, I become habituated too my creaturely relation to my Creator–something which requires the special work of a Redeemer, if it is to be perfected.

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So this is the essence of happiness, for any human creature.  And St. Thomas does not want us to suffer on our way to this happiness by entertaining delusions that we might become attached to and grieve, even relatively harmless ones like expecting Heaven to be a bucolic scene like the “outing in the park” from Mary Poppins:

It is written (1 Corinthians 15:53): “This corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality“; and consequently the world will be renewed in such a way as to throw off all corruption and remain for ever at rest. Therefore it will be impossible for anything to be the subject of that renewal, unless it be a subject of incorruption. Now such are the heavenly bodies, the elements, and man. For the heavenly bodies are by their very nature incorruptible both as to their whole and as to their part: the elements are corruptible as to their parts but incorruptible as a whole: while men are corruptible both in whole and in part, but this is on the part of their matter not on the part of their form, the rational soul to wit, which will remain incorrupt after the corruption of man. on the other hand, dumb animals, plants, and minerals, and all mixed bodies, are corruptible both in their whole and in their parts, both on the part of their matter which loses its form, and on the part of their form which does not remain actually; and thus they are in no way subjects of incorruption. Hence they will not remain in this renewal, but those things alone which we have mentioned above.

Or more succinctly, and avoiding for the moment the obviously flawed science by which Thomas was informed that “heavenly bodies are…incorruptible” (a confusion about the scale at which physics and metaphysics interact–and it should be pointed out that what we have learned since is just that we don’t yet know that scale, thanks to lots of data from astronomy, relativity, quantum mechanics, and string/M theory), Thomas held that, when all the matter in the universe was “recycled” by ages of flux and the renewal that leads to the New Earth, there was nothing except the matter of plants and “dumb animals” that could account for “this animal’s” presence on the New Earth.

That would lead to the question whether God might create “a cow” rather than restore “this cow,” of course (and this gets into the problem of supposing the New Heavens and New Earth is a new act of Creation, which at least is beyond anything Scripture and Tradition give us any reason to suspect).  But the foundational answer to the “will any of these animals be on the New Earth” question is “well, how would you know which ‘dumb animal’ it was?”  Whatever might happen, it would not be the subsistence of “this animal” across time; the human soul does have a basis for being “this human” in the Resurrection, even if all the body’s matter is completely “recycled” (though, personally, I have a sneaking suspicion there is at least some particle of bodily matter from each human who has ever existed that will still be present in “this human’s body” in the Resurrection).  The “beasts of the field” do not.

And Thomas also thought that it didn’t make sense to imagine conditions in the Resurrection that were too much like conditions now, because his understanding of perfected humans obviated all eating, sleeping, excretion, etc.  Now, it seems to me that I can believe we won’t “need” food in the sense that would make us hungry or prone to starve, but we might be capable of “enjoying” food, and even doing so without waste.  Nonetheless, Thomas reasons that because such things are needed to carry forward the purposes of this age, but are not needed for a perfected humanity, such things will not be present in the New Earth:

those natural operations which are directed to cause or preserve the primary perfection of human nature will not be in the resurrection: such are the actions of the animal life in man, the action of the elements on one another, and the movement of the heavens; wherefore all these will cease at the resurrection. And since to eat, drink, sleep, beget, pertain to the animal life, being directed to the primary perfection of nature, it follows that they will not be in the resurrection.

[…] When Christ partook of that meal, His eating was an act, not of necessity as though human nature needed food after the resurrection, but of power, so as to prove that He had resumed the true human nature which He had in that state wherein He ate and drank with His disciples. There will be no need of such proof at the general resurrection, since it will be evident to all.

(ST III.81.4)

This would be a good time to note that most of this discussion takes place in the “Third Part” or “Supplement,” much of which is authored by students of Thomas after his death.  It attempts to complete the project by drawing conclusions from earlier works by Thomas; it is less richly informed by the developing understanding of Thomas, though, and in fact seems in places to make characteristic mistakes of later interpreters of Thomas.  Nonetheless, we’ll need to assume for the  moment that Thomas meant “this or something like this,” and perhaps we can discuss the matter with The Ox in the Resurrection, should the opportunity arise.

Thomas also offers a number of specific conclusions about the distinction between animals and humans:

  • The “image of God” is not found in animals (or other creatures without rational souls);
  • The “trace of the Trinity” does appear in Creation, including animals;
  • Animals do have something properly called “hope” (surprised me!);
  • Animals cannot properly “command” others;
  • Animals cannot properly “consent” to anything;
  • Animals cannot properly “use” other things;
  • Animals can be said to “enjoy” things imperfectly, but not in the perfect sense;
  • Animals do not properly “intend” anything, or “choose” anything, nor are their actions properly “voluntary.”
  • Animals are not properly called “persons“;
  • Animals do not have subsistent souls, as mentioned above.

And I take it as given, then, that it makes little to no sense to imagine that any “beasts of the field” now living will be present in the New Earth, as there would be no basis for asserting the identity of their being in this age and their being in the next.

OK, I’m going to have to break this, now….but with that background, can you imagine where one might find a plausible case on good Thomistic grounds for pets in the Resurrection?

Go to Confession

With perfect peace in my heart, with love of God in my soul, with deep concern for my fellow Christians, my friends, my family, and all those who surround me, I say that I have nothing to be sorry for in this mess of an Election season.

I have maintained, and will maintain, and do maintain, that there are no good faith reasons for a well-informed person to support either of the two major party candidates in this election.  The very notion that we should do so is an affront to the dignity of the electorate and a repudiation of republican virtue; it calls into further question the already dubious legitimacy of the American regime.

I see people, in life and on Twitter, in casual conversation and in soul-searching, doing two things:  recognizing the truth of their position, that neither candidate is the sort of human being one should support, that neither of them is supported by the sort of civic alliances that could justify our support.  And then, all too often, I see them trying to talk themselves out of it, shamefacedly or defiantly, not uncommonly by shouting louder at those around them and hurling calumnies.

I have even seen those whose causes I regard as non-negotiable top priorities adopt utterly unnatural compromises, selling their souls cheap and then escalating their rhetoric and actions to really horrifying levels–as though to shout louder would heal what is broken and unsound in their failed machinations.

Folks, bad faith leads to worse infidelities.  You cannot compromise with your conscience, and you cannot assert your own willfulness and wishful thinking in its place and call that “conscience.”  Conceding that tactical voting presents some special features, it is nonetheless absolutely plain that you cannot willfully participate in the unfruitful works of darkness and call it “good.”

And all of us find ourselves perplexed and hurting, and quite justifiably wondering what we did to leave our families and friends and fellow creatures of God in such a bad place.  What have we omitted?  What have we done?  We may not know; we may need to learn greater virtue and be made more holy before we could even know what else might be possible.

So I urge you, friends, all of you:  when you have voted, to seek the first opportunity of hearing God’s forgiveness pronounced upon the truly penitent, those who are moved by sorrow for sin to abandon it.

You can start with the Act of Contrition, if you need a model.

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You can go to Confession, if you’re baptized and willing to hear God speak to you through the lips of a validly ordained Catholic priest.

You can read the Psalms, where you’ll find just such perplexity–and just such reception of God’s grace.

You can read Jeremiah and Lamentations, where you’ll find texts appropriate to such days.

But you need to seek God’s face, and then you need to do some good.  Share his forgiveness with others.  Urge them to recognize their sin, so they can be healed–and never do so without assuring them that God is a God who forgives sinners.

Indeed, a God before whom we are sinners is the only God there could conceivably be–and a God who forgives sinners is the only kind we could conceivably serve.

All else is vanity and vexation of spirit.

Not local, but state issues, at least…. (updated)

I thought I’d share my current views on various Oklahoma ballot initiatives, for information and commentary (I’ve already had my mind changed on one of these, and my information corrected on another, so do please help).

776: No. It makes no sense to separate what has, by a strong tradition in Anglo-American law, always been closely associated: the passing of a sentence and the presence of specific means for carrying out that sentence. Nobody should be sentenced to “death by some means or other,” and no judge or jury should be able to separate “death” from the act of killing by some specific method. Reforms to the death penalty that make sense in Oklahoma include a blanket moratorium and a prohibition on methods of execution that do not require some specific person to knowingly carry out a sentence of death by means known to be ordinary, swift, and effective. 776 weakens and distorts the law in an effort to protect Oklahoma from its own incredibly bad record of botched executions and poor administration of justice. No, no, no.

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777: No. I’m for farming and ranching. This is facially ridiculous. A constitutional “right to farm”? What would such a positive right even mean in any natural law schema? What is it even meant to accomplish when viewed simply as an adjustment of burdens and scrutiny? Nope.

779: Nope. Millions for defence, but not one penny for a failing prison–er, education–system that should be disestablished and disassembled. Wow. I don’t have enough words for the amount of NO, here. Amend the Oklahoma constitution to create a slush fund to put increased taxes in (on a percentage basis) to create a one-time, flat-rate increase in pay for teachers. And of course this won’t result in decades of renegotiation, raiding, and corruption. Of course it won’t. Regulator and administration power grab disguised as “help the teachers and not the superintendents.” Corrupt balderdash. Quelle surprise! No, no, no, no, and NO.

[UPDATE:  Corrected responses to 780-81–FURTHER update to change views on 780. Removed previous strikethrough updates.]

780: Hesitant Yes. I started at a hesitant No, or Abstain.  I am convinced overcriminalization is a problem, and that these reforms are pretty much steps in the right direction, subject to a little fine-tuning.  It seems, however, that this ought to be a matter for the legislature to debate and reform, and I am tentatively persuaded that “No or abstain” is the default option for popular initiatives.  However, I have been persuaded that this is more urgent, or that the institutional barriers in the legislature are more intractable, than permits this better option, so I will vote Yes.

781: Somewhat less hesitant No.  I do not like the pathologization of crime or politics, and do not think “involuntary” and “mental health treatment” actually work together well.  I also think legislators should be required to take responsible positions on such things.  Should I be persuaded that adequate barriers to involuntary “treatment” and treatment of dissidence or criminality as pathology have been put in place, I could hesitantly move into the Yes column.

790: YES. Emphatically YES. I don’t give a rip whether a Ten Commandments monument ever graces our Capitol (and, yes, if asked I would vote for it and against Satanic, Russellite, and Donatist statues; but I’d be fine if most of you said “No” to all of the above, too). The Blaine Amendments have got to go. They are a grave injustice “baked in” to the Oklahoma regime, a legislated lie about the meaning of religious liberty.

792: YES. Buying wine for dinner should not mean going to a liquor store; I shouldn’t need to shop at two places to make a gin & tonic. Easy call.

Outcomes or Objectives, or whatever you call them this week

When I hope I’m in a stable teaching situation where I can actually make things fairly clear to my students and expect support from my administration, I really do like to work things out fairly completely for them.  Here’s an example from a past phase of my Rhet/Comp instruction.  Specifically, this was developed out of my Belhaven College experience (especially during the time I was trying to revise the Rhet/Comp approach to integrate remediation before the first Comp course, so as to avoid the race-to-the-bottom problem in Comp, and interviewing at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s College of the Liberal Arts and Houston’s College of Biblical Studies at the same time) and with an eye to establishing a uniform structure across my Belhaven and CBS teaching, with an eye to some Houston Baptist U work.

I’m increasingly uncertain those detailed rubrics work very well for grading, but they’re pretty decent for explaining the norms:

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