Saturday, January 31, 2015

January 30: Guardian Angels, Christian Faith, Godless Fairy Tale

Determined to show Robert [his son] the same kindness that his father had shown him, Ives would teach his son about religion, for which the boy truly seemed to have a talent.  They would go off to church together, and the boy learned how to put his hands together in prayer, to kneel, to bow his head, and to make the Sign of the Cross.  And Ives would tell him, "All this may seem confusing to you now, but when you're a little older, it will become clear."  He told him about how tongues of fire and soaring doves symbolized the spirit.  He told him about the notion of a soul and guardian angels, and about the Holy Trinity.

Mr. Ives' Christmas is a book about a lot of things.  Depression.  Sorrow.  Forgiveness.  It's also about religion and faith.  In fact, I would say that it is one of the best religious books I've ever read, and it's disguised as a novel about a good man who has to endure great tragedies in his life and, in the end, retains his faith in God.  No, I'm not talking about Job, although Job and Ives would have a lot to talk about over a cup of coffee.  Ives' faith is deep, and he passes on this faith to his son at a very young age.

I have been in academia for a long time.  I've been a working college instructor for going on 25 years.  In my experience, there is a lot of eye rolling in the halls of a university whenever the subject of Christianity comes up.  It's as if most "well educated" professionals think of the Christian faith as an intellectual weakness.  If you believe in Jesus Christ and the narrative of His passion and resurrection, you are automatically lumped together with fanatics and zealots and Twilight fans.  Well-intentioned, but hopelessly misguided and, in many ways, not very enlightened.

I have been battling this attitude for most of my adult life. In classes I took as a graduate student, in conversations at English Department parties, in the classroom when I teach, jokes about Christian religions (and especially about Catholicism) are litmus tests.  If you ridicule and/or laugh at Catholic dogma, you are part of the in crowd.  Smart.  Savvy.  Intellectually cool.

Don't get me wrong.  I like a good Catholic joke as much as the next former parochial school student.  However, there is a difference between a joke about Catholics told by a Catholic and a joke about Catholics told by an English professor in order to demean.  Nothing brings a conversation to a halt in the English Department hallway after a Catholic joke has been told than saying, "You know, I find that really offensive."  Suddenly, the joke teller is cast into the role of insensitive, possibly bigoted, bully.

I am a Christian.  I am a Catholic.  I am also an English professor.  A poet.  An intellectual.  These things are not mutually exclusive.  They are complementary.  A Christian intellectual is a person who integrates the mind and spirit.  A Christian intellectual is more whole, in my opinion.  The same can be said of Jewish intellectuals.  Hindu.  Buddhist.  Muslim.  All of the faith traditions provide a wider understanding of the human condition.  And that's what being enlightened is all about.

Which reminds me of a little story.

Once upon a time, an inventor named Ben decided to build a machine that would prove that God did not exist.

Ben worked day and night on his machine.  He built a telescope so powerful it could see beyond the smallest star in the heavens.  The telescope proved that infinity existed, but it didn't prove that God did not exist.  Ben then built a microscope so powerful it made electrons look like planets.  The microscope proved that everything was made of fractals, but it didn't prove that God did not exist.

Finally, Ben built a speaker so sensitive it could hear a butterfly flap its wings on the other side of the world.  As Ben listened, he could hear a voice.  He leaned in closer to the speaker.

"Ben," the voice said, "why don't you believe Me?"

"God," Ben said, "is that You?"

"Ben," the voice said, louder, "why don't you believe Me?"

"God," Ben said again, "is that You?"

"Ben," the voice said, even louder than before, "why don't you believe Me?"

"God," Ben said, "do You exist?"

There was silence in the speaker for a few moments.  Then, the voice said, "Ben, why don't you just Google Me and stop fucking around?"

Moral of the story:  Even God uses Google.

And Saint Marty lived happily ever after.

On the eighth day, God made Google

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