We’re born again, there’s new grass on the field

We’re born again, there’s new grass on the field March 2, 2021

This post is a bit weedy and academic and theory-ish, but also true and necessary, both for academic/theory-ish reasons and for practical reasons that apply to those of us interested in the political implications of theology and the theological implications of politics if not in the particular discipline of “political theology” per se:

“Political theology” is not a distinctive species of the genus theology. All theology is intrinsically political. All theology bears on our shared life together: it lays down norms of conduct, defines communities in terms of insiders and outsiders, and puts forward certain claims of legitimacy and authority. It is only the cultural idiosyncracies of post-Westphalia European secularism that prevents us from seeing that by setting up “religion” as this separate thing that must be kept as far from “politics” as possible. This is not to say that I advocate or support any particular avowedly “theological” form of politics — the vast majority seem to me to be hugely destructive. But I oppose them not for the formalistic reason that they are “theological” and thus don’t belong in politics, but for the reason that they are destructive.

John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight addresses police raids. This is worth your time:

Just to focus on one small infuriating detail here: In most of America, when the police raid the wrong house, knocking down the wrong front door and damaging the wrong home for absolutely no reason, they have no obligation to clean up their mess, fix what they’ve broken, or replace the innocent family’s now-useless front door.

And police do this all the time.

Here in our township, if the municipal snowplows damage anyone’s mailbox, the township quickly replaces it. For free, with their compliments and apologies. My next-door neighbor got one of these a few years ago, set up before all the snow had even melted.

So as a tiny, tiny, tiny first step in addressing the authoritarian absurdity of reckless and ridiculously disproportionate police raids, let me suggest a bit of local legislation — reproducible in every municipality and jurisdiction. Introduce and pass laws mandating that when police knock down the wrong door, they’re required to replace it and to compensate families for any other damage inflicted by their negligently misdirected raid.

That won’t fix all the many problems highlighted in Oliver’s piece, but it’d be a good first step. And I’d love to see anyone anywhere try to oppose such a law.

• We don’t have any original audio recordings of the Apostle Paul. Of course, we don’t have audio recordings of anyone from the first century, but I think we’re especially missing out in Paul’s case because I’m pretty sure he did funny voices.

Specifically, I think he did a sarcastic-dumb-guy voice. You know the “Durrrrr-uh-I’m-a-big-doofus-uh-dur-dur-durrrr” voice, or at least whatever the first-century Mediterranean equivalent of that was. I’m pretty sure Paul did a funny voice like that because he wrote in that voice all the time. It was one of his favorite ways of presenting an argument: What? Are we supposed to think this, [insert dumb-guy-voice Bad Argument No. 1]? Or this, [DGV Bad Argument No. 2]? No, don’t be stupid! It’s this, [Paul’s actual conclusion].

But because we don’t have the audio — or even a text with punctuation — this device often gets misread, mistranslated, or misinterpreted in such a way that the ideas Paul mocked in sarcastic-dumb-guy-voice are taken as Apostolic Edicts with the force of holy scripture. The ideas he tells us to dismiss get embraced and his actual conclusions get ignored.

This happens a lot and it’s a big problem.

• Speaking of original biblical manuscripts … Here’s a fascinating Twitter thread by Nick Falacci about the (failed) attempt to produce a pristine copy of Citizen Kane for the 50th anniversary of the classic film. This is a 20th-century story involving a mass-produced text that was both revered and commercially valuable. But the original is gone and the best version we now have is a flawed, damaged, mix-and-match creation pieced together from fragments of copies.

Now think about the far greater challenge of remastering a pristine copy of, say, the Gospel of Mark. OK, then.

• “The Dragon of Wantley.”

Photo by Dave Pickersgill via Atlas Obscura (click for more photos)

I’m fascinated by the way popular culture preserves and encodes true stories and the meanings of those stories. Like, for example, our local ghost story which — more than a century later — led to the discovery of a very real mass grave.

The legend of the Dragon of Wantley never required a great deal of decoding. Everybody always knew what that story was really about, as Andres Schiffino writes for Atlas Obscura:

According to legends, a bat-winged, scaly dragon terrorized the villagers who lived near the region of Wantley (modern-day Wharncliffe Crags). The beast was massive and could swallow trees and buildings. The dragon was nearly invincible to any weapons, save for one rather sensitive spot.

A knight by the name of Moore took time off from his usual drinking and womanizing to end the dragon’s reign of terror. Wearing a specially designed suit of armor covered with spikes, Moore battled the dragon. The fight ended when Moore delivered a fatal blow by kicking the monster right in, what the original English ballad declares as, the “arse-gut.”

The true story behind this unusual legend, according to historians, involved a legal dispute in 1573. A lawsuit was taken against the Lord of the Manor of Sheffield, George Talbot, the sixth Earl of Shrewsbury. The lord was accused of misappropriating funds meant to pay for civic works, church upkeep, and helping the poor. The crusading lawyer who took the case on behalf of the people of Sheffield was named George More.

The legend and the ballad were the people’s way of indirectly mocking the corrupt, greedy landlord. Such artful indirection was wise because corrupt, greedy landlords are notoriously thin-skinned and, when mocked directly, they sometimes respond by running for president out of spite.

• It’s finally March and baseball is being played. It’s exhibition baseball, down in Florida, and the fields around here are still covered in snow. But it’s starting.

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