The 50 Most Loathesome People in America

The 50 Most Loathesome People in America

This list isn’t for the easily offended, but for those who appreciate simple truth. I don’t know why I’m laughing, however, since “I” place at #4.

The commentary for George Bush (#3) is precise.

“Simply put, the stupidest man ever to lead this country… Often responds to questions by attempting to define the word he finds the most challenging in them. Thinks press reports of his various crimes are responsible for his waning popularity, rather than the deeds themselves. Interprets the constitution like a Unitarian interprets the bible; for maximum convenience and with no regard to the actual text. Foreign policy vision is less serious and more simplistic than an issue of Captain America.”

True: most Unitarians do share interpretive techniques of our fearless leader.

Others who find a home on this list are Bruce Chapman (#46), George Lucas (#44), Hilary Clinton (#30), spammers (#26), Karl Rove (#15), me (#4), Dick Cheney (#2), and Pat Robertson (#1). Putting God at #13 was lame (person in America?), if amusing to the irreverent.

Perelandra (I): Ransom and the Lady

green lady(Prologue to this series here.)

When Ransom meets the Green Lady (the Eve analogue) on Venus, they hardly understand each other. There are things which an unfallen mind, in its Edenic innocence, either cannot conceive or wouldn’t conceive on its own. Ransom is able to show her, or teach her, the following:

• It is possible to “step out of life into the Alongside and look at oneself living as if one were not alive.” (52)

In other words, the Lady realizes that she can think about herself in different ways and from different perspectives. This happens when she tells Ransom she is “old” today, compared to yesterday, and Ransom points out that tomorrow she will think differently about herself today — that she was “young” today and “old” tomorrow. She realizes, furthermore, that she can speculate about different possibilities in general. “What would have happened if X?” “What could happen if Y?” Up to this point she has lived by thinking and acting spontaneously, purely in the here-and-now.

• Not all events are pleasing or welcome. (58)

Ransom is talking about certain things on Earth (like death). The Lady cannot grasp this idea at all, for in paradise she has never experienced anything unpleasant or unwelcome. There’s no death in Perelandra, no getting hurt at all (she can’t even scrape herself climbing rocks). Indeed, she asks, how can anything not be pleasant or welcome? “How can one wish any of God’s waves rolling towards us not to reach us?” (58)

But Ransom points out that even she is guilty of this to a very small extent: When she first encountered him, she had been expecting to find her husband and — for just a moment — wished he had been her husband. She thus begins to realize that

• It is possible to refuse something offered for the sake of something expected. (59)

This is the crucial lesson of the novel, around which everything that follows revolves. We must cite the Lady’s discovery at some length:

“‘What you have made me see,’ answered the Lady, ‘is as plain as the sky, but I never saw it before. Yet it has happened every day. One goes into the forest to pick food and already the thought of one fruit rather than another has grown up in one’s mind. Then, it may be, one finds a different fruit and not the fruit one thought of. One joy was expected and another is given. But this I had never noticed before — that the very moment of the finding there is in the mind a kind of thrusting back, or setting aside. The picture of the fruit you have not found is still, for a moment, before you. And if you wished — if it were possible to wish — you could keep it there. You could send your soul after the good you had expected, instead of turning it to the good you had got. You could refuse the real good; you could make the real fruit taste insipid by thinking of the other.” (59)

Again, the Lady experiences such desires only fleetingly, by virtue of expectations themselves. But she now realizes it would be possible to cling to such expectations, to refuse new things or new ideas — though she cannot fathom why anyone would want to do such a thing. It would be unnatural in the extreme. Indeed, this would be the definition of “evil” (if the word existed) from an unfallen perspective:

• “You have made me see that it is I, I myself, who turn from the good expected to the given good. Out of my own heart I do it. One can conceive a heart which did not: which clung to the good it had first thought of and turned the good which was given it into no good.” (60)

The idea of clinging to something old in the face of something new is almost inconceivable (“evil”) in an unfallen world, where every thing and every idea is good and pleasing no matter what you expect. But this is a paradox, because it will become the very logic exploited by the devil as he tries persuading her to dwell on the Fixed Land.

In the next post we will see how he does it.

RBL: Crossley’s Early Dating of Mark

Two RBL reviews worth noting for biblioblogger James Crossley.

Crossley, James G.
The Date of Mark’s Gospel: Insight from the Law in Earliest
Christianity

Reviews by David du Toit and John Painter

See James’ reaction here. Like the reviewers, I doubt I’ll be persuaded by an early dating of Mark, but I do want to read this book for certain assumptions it evidently calls into question.

UPDATE: See Stephen Carlson’s review. Stephen thinks the book’s strongest contribution is its background treatment of the sabbath, handwashing, and divorce controversies.

UPDATE (II): Mark Goodacre thinks we should reconsider traditional readings of Mk 7:18-19.

Perelandra

Perelandra-1I will be analyzing Perelandra in a series of posts over the next two weeks.

The novel serves an evangelical purpose like anything else Lewis wrote, but it can work for the secular reader too. It’s a mythological examination of how a person from an unfallen world processes thought, and what she is capable of doing as she struggles to think for herself. Try imagining a world where everything is good — there aren’t even words for “bad” or “evil” — its (two) people so in touch with their deity that stepping outside his will is impossible to conceive, at least on their own.

The paradise is planet Venus, a world populated by floating islands surrounding a Fixed Land from which the man and woman are banned: they may visit the Fixed Land, but not sleep on it, nor dwell there for too long. The devil arrives on Venus in human form, his task to achieve what he did millennia ago on Earth as a snake: persuade the woman to break the ban, and make humanity fall a second time.

But there’s a difference between what’s happening now on Perelandra (Venus) and what happened before on Eden (Earth). A human agent from Earth in the 1940s, Elwin Ransom, has been sent by an angel to combat the devil and prevent him from succeeding a second time. The stakes are higher this time, for apparently the devil has a more difficult time wrecking God’s creation with each successive attempt. Correspondingly, if he does succeed, God’s redemptive measures become increasingly drastic. Late in the story, Ransom reflects:

“If he now failed, this world [like Earth] would hereafter be redeemed… [But] not a second crucifixion: perhaps — who knows — not even a second Incarnation… some act of even more appalling love, some glory of yet deeper humility. For he had seen already how the pattern grows and how from each world it sprouts into the next through some other dimension. The small external evil which Satan had done [on Mars] was only a line: the deeper evil he had done on Earth a square: if Venus fell, her evil would be a cube — her Redemption beyond conceiving.” (126)

The story of Mars is related in the trilogy’s first book, Out of the Silent Planet, an adventure story that in some ways inverts the premise of H.G. Wells’ classic. Satan’s damage on Mars was minimal (there wasn’t a fall requiring redemption), and for all practical purposes the planet never had much to worry about, unlike Earth and Venus. But if Venus’ redemptive measures would require a “cube” over Earth’s “square”… that’s like asking us to contemplate The Passion of the Christ times ten.

In the next post we will begin going through the story of Perelandra and see what happens when Ransom first encounters the Lady on Venus, before the devil arrives. It’s a clash of psyches between the fallen and unfallen as they try to understand each other.

The Vatican and I.D.

Ben Myers mentions the Vatican’s re-endorsement of evolution. Piux XII had tipped his hat to evolution in 1950, and John Paul II embraced it with open arms in 1996. Now Benedict XVI’s regime gives another thumbs up in panning Intelligent Design. John Thavis reports here.

“The problem with intelligent design is that it turns to a ‘superior cause’ — understood though not necessarily named as God — to explain supposed shortcomings of evolutionary science. But that’s not how science should work, the [Vatican newspaper] article said…

” ‘Intelligent design does not belong to science and there is no justification for the pretext that it be taught as a scientific theory alongside the Darwinian explanation,’ it said.

“From the church’s point of view, Catholic teaching says God created all things from nothing, but doesn’t say how, the article said. That leaves open the possibilities of evolutionary mechanisms like random mutation and natural selection.

” ‘God’s project of creation can be carried out through secondary causes in the natural course of events, without having to think of miraculous interventions that point in this or that direction,’ it said.”

For whatever reason, Catholics have remained consistently sane on the subject of evolution. I went to Catholic high schools, junior and senior, in the 80s (though I was never Catholic), and was taught evolution as biologically factual. Aside from one silly nun, I never had any teachers who expressed hostility or reservations about the theory. And this was before John Paul II’s definitive pronouncement in the 90s.

Catholics aren’t bad when they’re on top of things.