Between Saturday’s sunshine and today’s patches of green grass, I’ve enjoyed this weekend. For the most part.
I picked up a bottle from the first of this year’s holy water last Sunday, following up with blessing the house on Tuesday. I hadn’t done that for quite some time.
About holy water: it’s a sacramental, a reminder of baptism. Sacramentals aren’t sacraments, they’re “sacred signs which bear a resemblance to the sacraments,” and those are topics I’ll save for another day. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1667–1676)
Early Friday evening, my wife told me that she was taking our son to the emergency room. And then they were out the door. A few hours later, I’d picked him up and driven him home.
The incident wasn’t exactly good news. But it wasn’t all bad news either. Thanks to tests they ran at the hospital, he’s got data that says something was going wrong. Given time, we may figure out what’s been causing the issue(s).
So, on the whole, I’d say this has been a good week.
One more thing. Two, actually.
Eligible and Willing to Wait
For one thing, I checked the hospital’s ‘your medical information’ online service. Seems that I’ve been eligible for COVID-19 vaccine since late February. I figure that’s due to my age, and maybe health issues.
Maybe I’ll get the shot at my next scheduled appointment, next month.
I’m in no hurry, at least partly because I don’t get out much, and am careful when I do. The odds of my catching the disease are non-zero, but slim.
Storytellers have been weaving yarns about space aliens at least since Lucian wrote “A True Story.”
Some follow Lucian’s lead, imagining extraterrestrials as reflections of ourselves. (July 20, 2019)
And sometimes as caricatures, humanity viewed in fun house mirrors.
Or as personifications of our bad habits
That arguably helps explain films like “Invaders from Mars” and “Plan 9 From Outer Space.”
Another explanation for the ‘alien invaders’ film genre is that the menacing Martians and/or monsters are abstractions of the era’s fears. And I’m drifting off-topic again.
Or maybe not so much.
Space aliens have been presented as stand-ins for humanity as a whole, or personifications of our vices and virtues are allegorical figures of a sort.
So are those whose main, or only, character trait is invading Earth.
I don’t have a problem with allegory or allegorical figures.
They’ve been in many memorable tales. Bunyan’s “The Pilgrim’s Progress,” for example, is still in print: Lord Hate-Good, Apollyon and all.
“…So he went on, and Apollyon met him. Now, the monster was hideous to behold: he was clothed with scales like a fish, and they are his pride; he had wings like a dragon….”
(“The Pilgrim’s Progress,” Chapter IV, John Bunyan (1678) Edited by Rev. Jesse Lyman Hurlbut (1909))
Apollyon’s name means “the Destroyer” in Greek, more or less. I figure Bunyan added that “hideous to behold” description, just in case his readers didn’t know Greek.
But Bunyan’s allegorical figures weren’t all bad guys. There’s Christian, of course, the main character. Goodwill and Watchful, too. And these folks:
“…Now, as he stood looking and weeping, behold, three Shining Ones came to him, and saluted him with ‘Peace be to thee.’…”
(“The Pilgrim’s Progress,” Chapter III, John Bunyan (1678)…)
More than four centuries later, publishers are still reprinting “The Pilgrim’s Progress.” I’d be very surprised if such recent cinematic works as “Earth vs. the Flying Saucers” and “The Thing from Another World” are as well-remembered.1
But I’ll talk about a couple films anyway.
One of which featured Bunyan’s “Shining Ones.” Sort of.
Angels, Demons —
Movies often provide answers to life’s big questions.
Not particularly profound answers, but answers nonetheless.
“…It’s become a cliché of science fiction that we can look to the stars for deliverance from our base impulses. The more enlightened beings that live there will give us a leg up and free us from ourselves. Roddenberry, Spielberg, and Sagan looked at outer space and found hope in the guise of figurative angels.
“Quatermass did so and literally found the Devil.”
(“Quatermass & the Pit,” David S Zondy’s Tales of Future Past)
Zondy’s “…literally found the Devil” is more like hyperbole. Or maybe metaphor. Simile, maybe; then again, maybe not.
At any rate, construction of a fictional subway line under London’s Hobb’s lane stops when workers find a skull. That’s intact, as a result of having been inside — something.
“Quatermass and the Pit” (or) Beware the Demonic Martian Nazis!
(From Hammer Film Productions, via IMDB.com, used w/o permission.)
(Two snippets from “Quatermass and the Pit”/”Five Million Years to Earth.” (1967))
My hat’s off to Hammer Film’s version of “Quatermass and the Pit,” a BBC 1958-1959 television drama.
It reflected a good-faith effort to make the story’s science seem scientific.
The space aliens looked alien, and the film offered a clever take on original sin. Which isn’t science. I’ll get back to that.
In the Quatermass universe, Mars was a dying world.
That wasn’t “scientific” in 1967, two years after Mariner 4 sent back pictures of a cratered and desolate Mars.
But when Nigel Kneale wrote the original “Pit” serial, in the late 1950s, a marginally-habitable Mars was (barely) plausible.
Besides, a Lowellian “…Abode of Life” scenario has become an accepted science fiction tradition. Or cliche.
Meanwhile, in the ‘Pit’ universe — Martians couldn’t save their planet or themselves. So they turned at least a quorum of early humans into folks who would carry on Martian culture. Not a bad idea, from the Martian viewpoint.
Problem was, the Martians were heavily into ethnic cleansing and suchlike pursuits.
So they programmed their values into these enhanced humans.
Along with, if my memory serves, a destructive and irrational respect for authority. Let’s remember that the movie was released in 1967.
In the film, authoritarian oppressor Martians corrupted our nice ancestors with their nasty values. that’s why some humans do bad stuff. Like purging Lebensunwertes Leben, life unworthy of life, from the population.
And why a London street over a buried Martian spaceship got called Hobbs Lane.2
Historical Context: The British Empire
(“The Flags of a Free Empire,” Arthur Mees. (1910); from Cornell University Library, via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.)
(The British Empire in 1910, from a British viewpoint.)
“Quatermass and the Pit” had a Message: following in the footsteps of “Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon” and “Confessions of a Nazi Spy.”
Which I suspect explains some favorable reviews of both the serial and the film.
Work on the BBC television serial began in 1957.
The 1958 Notting Hill race riots hadn’t happened yet, but trouble was obviously brewing.
Folks who had lived in British imperial territories were moving to England.
Some, not all, ethnic English weren’t at all happy about their new neighbors.3 Today’s news media would probably call them white supremacists and/or racists. I’ll get back to that, and the Quatermass Martians.
More Historical Context: the Darien Disaster
(From Herman Moll, via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.)
(“Isthmus of Darien.” Bay of Caledonia was south of “I. of pines.” (1697))
Backing up a bit, European warlords started building empires around five centuries back. England and Scotland were two distinct kingdoms then.
The Darien scheme, building a colony on the Isthmus of Darien, looked like a good idea to many Scots investors.
English investors saw it as a threat. So did Spain’s movers and shakers. That’s partly because Mercantilism was in vogue: an economic theory that said if Scotsmen do more trade with the natives, then Englishmen or Spaniards will do less.
Thinking that trade can and should benefit everyone still seems to be a hard sell, and that’s another topic.
Meanwhile, back in 1698, 1,200 people reached a bay they called Caledonia and began building New Edinburgh.
Establishing their city on a harbor that ate ships was, in retrospect, a mistake.
So was building a fort with 50 cannon and no fresh water supply. On a site near Spanish shipping routes.
Crop failures and at-best-inept leadership didn’t help.
Locals hadn’t been interested in combs and trinkets offered as trade goods. But as settlers started dying in lots of 10 daily, they gave the immigrants fruit and a sort of banana.
Even so, all but 300 settlers died.
One of two resupply ships reaching Caledonia in August of 1699 caught fire. Then a ship with more settlers arrived, and after that Spanish forces attacked.
The Darien scheme collapsed, taking maybe 20% of Scots currency with it.
That, and English succession issues, gave us the Kingdom of Great Britain. It’s what we call the United Kingdom these days, basically.
Fast-forward about 108 years, and the British Empire is a world power.4
Racist Martians and Pax Britannica
I could wax rhapsodic on those halcyon days between 1815 and 1914.
For in those days Pax Britannica bestowed peace and prosperity upon a baseborn world. From a British viewpoint.
British rulers abolished slavery and apprenticeship within their domain.
I see that as good news. The slavery part, certainly; apprenticeship because it had arguably become a sort of short-term slavery. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2409, 2414)
England ruled the waves. And, with help from France during the second Opium War, forced China’s Qing dynasty to allow opium imports.
That last wasn’t good news.
And so, although I could wax rhapsodic, I won’t.
But I see no point in either demonizing or idolizing England’s empire.
Remembering what went right, and what didn’t? I think that’s a good idea.
One of the things going right, my opinion, was that the United Kingdom allowed and still allows folks from former colonies to relocate in England. Even if they lacked English ancestors.
One of the things not going right was intolerance. It’s still a problem in the UK. And elsewhere. How much of a problem, and how many folks are responsible, depends on who’s talking.
Which gets me back to “Quatermass and the Pit” and BBC television’s racist Martians.
Non-English folks immigrating from the Caribbean were giving some Brits fits in the 1950s. The BBC television bunch apparently figured that presenting ethnic intolerance as something alien to humanity made sense.5
“Quatermass and the Pit” wasn’t the first story about alien influence on human evolution and civilization.
I read two such tales in my youth.
I can’t remember the titles or the authors. Frustrating. Given time, maybe I could ferret out those details. Lots of time. Instead, I’ll work from memory. And hope that you’ll bear with me.
One tale was a straight-up rewrite of the second Genesis creation story. Parts of it. (Genesis 2:7–9, 15–25, 3:1–24)
The author recast God as an alien scientist. Eden was the scientist’s research facility and the tree was a tree-shaped symbol on one of the doors.
His science project included making two humans. He told them to not open the ‘tree’ door. Which the humans, being human, did. And got expelled from the facility.
Backwater Babylon and the Ancient Astronauts
The other story was an early, honestly-fictional and comparatively probable, version of later ‘ancient astronaut’ claims.
In the story, a two-alien spaceship landed on some backwater planet.
They were considerably less ‘alien’ than Frank R. Paul’s “man from Venus.”
Think Michael Rennie or Chris Hemsworth. (“The Day the Earth Stood Still” (1951), “Thor” (2011))
Anyway, the aliens did their job. Which in this case included learning how to talk with the locals.
Then they got a message from home. Something had gone horribly wrong. A war had started, and they were being recalled.
The aliens were unwilling to completely abandon their job.
They gave the local they’ve been talking with a highly condensed version of what they’d intended to share. And, lending verisimilitude to their narrative, a flashlight. Or something like that.
Then they left. The local walked back to his village, ‘which would become Babylon.’
I’d probably enjoy reading the story again.
I’m not sure about the ‘Eden as a laboratory’ tale. And I’ve drifted off-topic.
The Martians Made Me Do It?
I said that “Quatermass and the Pit” had a clever take on original sin.
The story assumes that there’s something wrong with humanity.
And tells us that we’re a mess because Martians meddled with our nice, natural ancestors.
That sounds a bit like original sin from a Catholic viewpoint. Or the noble savage and Rousseau’s natural man — the notion that if we chucked society’s corrupting influence, then our problems would go away. Which is a massive oversimplification.
Maybe the Quatermass writer and directors had the Catholic version of original sin in mind, with their Martians as Satan’s stand-in.
Or maybe not. Given England’s history and post-Enlightenment ‘enlightened’ attitudes towards religion, it seems unlikely.
When I fail to love God and neighbor, that’s sin. (Catechism, 1849–1851)
So, if all I need to do is love God and my neighbor, then how come I don’t always act as if I believe that?
And how come so many folks act as if they see their neighbors as annoyances, obstacles or worse? Explanations for why folks behave badly abound.
This isn’t even close to a comprehensive list.
The gods are bored, yanking our chains for amusement
We’re living with consequences of a bad decision
Humans and humanity are depraved: bad to the bone
Society’s rules make us crazy
I’m a Catholic, so number three won’t wash. Neither will numbers one or four.
About number three, I don’t think humanity is the proverbial dunghill with an optional coat of snow. Luther may not have said that justification is like putting snow on a dunghill. But the quote started somewhere, and reflects an all-too-common opinion of humanity.7
Original Sin, Catholic Style
I think that God creates a world, including us, that’s “very good.” The visible world is not, from God’s viewpoint, icky. (Genesis 1:26–31; Catechism, 337–385)
And neither are we.
But we live in a world where allegedly-civilized nations supported drug pushers, and calumny oozes from election-year politics.
Our problems started when the first of us put ‘what I want’ ahead of what God said. Then we got caught. After that, the man blamed his wife, and God. The interview did not end well. We’re still dealing with consequences of that choice. (Genesis 3:1–20; Catechism, 385–412)
That’s original sin, Catholic style.
But we’re still human. We’re made in God’s image. Each of us is a someone, not a something: able to decide how we get along with each other and with God. And we’ve still got our old job: taking care of this world. (Genesis 2:15; Catechism, 307, 355–373, 2415–2418)
Recognizing humanity’s transcendent dignity, and doing our job, is much harder than it could have been. (Catechism, 374–378, 1929)
I’m not personally responsible for a decision made by the first of us. (Catechism, 405)
But I inherited humanity’s legacy: dignity, responsibilities and all.
It’s good or bad news, depending on which bits I look at, and how I deal with what I’ve got. And that’s yet another topic.
Close Encounters of the Shining Kind
Spielberg’s “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” made a lot more sense when I realized it was a religious film. Of sorts.
Complete with a contemporary analog of Bunyan’s Shining Ones: space aliens using really bright lights.
“Close Encounters” won assorted awards, was put on America’s National Film Registry and gave film critics something to talk about.
Apparently it’s rife with Judaeo-Christian analogies and spiritual yearnings. I’ll agree with the yearnings part.
Equating the film’s Devils Tower with Mount Sinai seems like a stretch.
I think it’s more likely Spielberg picked Devils Tower/Bear Lodge Butte because it looks cool. And because humanity has a habit of associating mountains with mythology and the sacred: Mounts Athos, Damavand, Kailash and Miwa, for example.8
So maybe Devils Tower in “Close Encounters” is like Mount Sinai, in a generic sense.
Spiritual Yearnings and Kidnapping on an Epic Scale
(From Science Examiner, used w/o permission.)
(The big alien in “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” (1977))
Then again, maybe Spielberg didn’t have spiritual yearnings and UFO religions in mind when he made “Close Encounters.”
Which seems unlikely, given how much of the film is dedicated to signs in the heavens. And the big alien’s ‘bless you, my children’ gesture. Granted, that’s how I saw it. Folks with different backgrounds and personalities probably have their own ideas.
One of my interpretations of the alien’s arms-out gesture involves pretending that “Close Encounters” is a documentary, not a movie: that incidents in the film really happened.
Think about it. Scientists and officials learn that folks from somewhere else have committed crimes including grand theft bulk carrier (Emergency Fleet Corporation’s SS Cotopaxi) and kidnapping on an epic scale.9
The aliens arrange a meeting. In a remote spot. Their ship is bigger than the landmark they specified. And they start negotiations by having dozens and dozens of folks they’ve kidnapped walk out of the ship.
Walk? That’s not quite right.
Like I said, it’s been a while since I’ve seen the film. But I think “shambled out” of the ship might be a better description.
Maybe the alleged abductees had been sitting in the space-alien equivalent of economy class all those decades.
Or maybe they weren’t — or weren’t quite — what they looked like. Which might explain why they didn’t talk.
And none of the scientists or officials saw anything odd about shambling non-talking maybe-abductees.
Or, apparently, wondered why the aliens wanted a fresh supply of humans.
Small wonder that I never felt like joining a UFO religion.
‘Believing in’ Space Aliens
UFO religions started in the 1930s, after 1947, or in the 1950s. The roster of UFO religions is variable, too.
Outfits like the Aetherius Society, Raëlism and sometimes Scientology generally make the cut.
I don’t know whether members would self-identify as UFO cult members.
Many UFO religions have lasted longer than Heaven’s Gate. Hardly surprising, since that bunch committed mass suicide.
I gather that they thought they were shedding they corporeal bodies as a “…’graduation’ from the Human Evolutionary Level….”
The Heaven’s Gate website apparently said that they were “…happily prepared to leave ‘this world’….” They seem to have believed that their souls would go to a spaceship hiding behind Comet Hale-Bopp.
For their sakes, I hope that the Heaven’s Gate folks really believed that they were graduating “from the Human Evolutionary Level.”10
Death, Judgment and Doing my Job
About that the Heaven’s Gate deaths — Suicide strikes me as a really bad idea. I’ve talked about this before, but figure it’s worth repeating.
Human life is sacred. All human life. Yours, mine, everyone’s. It’s a gift from God. (Catechism, 2258)
That’s why murder is a bad idea. If I killed someone, I’d be taking that person’s God-given life. (Catechism, 2258–2317)
Killing myself would be murder, with me as perpetrator and victim. I’d have committed an extremely serious offense while giving myself no time to repent. (Catechism, 1021–1022, 2280–2283)
That kind of trouble I don’t need.
I’m also strongly disinclined to pass judgment on folks who commit suicide. Judging persons is God’s job, not mine. (July 7, 2018; February 4, 2018)
I suspect that today’s UFO religions have roots in 19th century spiritism, theosophy, Western esotericism and even older beliefs.
And some, like Church of the SubGenius, seem to be strictly for laughs.11
Priorities and Respect
Another point — obviously, or maybe not so much — I can’t be a Catholic and ‘believe in’ space alien celestial spirit guides.
Giving anyone or anything other than God first place in my priorities is a bad idea and I shouldn’t do it. (Catechism, 2112–2114)
Even less obviously, I suspect — judging from screed I occasionally see — I shouldn’t vilify folks who seriously see space aliens as analogs to folk from Faerie and Álfheimr, sent to help (or hinder) us.
I’m a Catholic and a Christian. I’m as sure as I can be that becoming a Catholic was and is a good idea.
But because I’m a Catholic, I must respect folks who are seeking truth, and have found an echo or reflection of it in, say, devotion to “Cosmic Masters.”11
I think they’re wrong. But I also think folks pursue truth within the limits of their experience. Part of my job is passing along the best news humanity’s ever had. (Catechism, 811–865)
Alien Abductions and Ufology
I think it’s possible, but extremely unlikely, that little grey men from Zeta Reticuli ambushed Barney and Betty Hill in 1961.
That’s ‘extremely unlikely’ as in winning the Irish Sweepstakes and Powerball on the same day. More than seven times running.
B & B Hill’s little grey men arguably inspired ufology’s Greys, AKA Grays. And decades of lurid tabloid cover stories.
Folks who take alien abduction stories seriously say that Greys are not alone. They’ve cataloged at least a half-dozen distinct varieties of space aliens visiting Earth.
Someone apparently sorted the perpetrators of 138 alleged abductions into six types: Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, Sigma and Omega.
My guess is that ufologists come in two basic varieties. Those who:
See UFO claims as subjects for psychological or sociological research
Believe that ‘we are not alone’
Organizing their research around that assumption
I also think sticking “logy” onto UFO doesn’t make ufology of the ‘we are not alone’ persuasion a serious science.
Interesting, sometimes fascinating, yes. Entertaining, occasionally. But as solidly grounded in physical evidence and rigorous analysis as, say, geology? No, I don’t think so.13
That said, I think using Greek letters as labels for classifying 138 alleged abductions is cool. So are the Omega energy beings. Or would be, if they were presented as fictional characters.
— and Used Spaceship Dealers
Both demonic and angelic space aliens are variations of the ‘planet of hats’ storytelling gimmick. Trope. Whatever.
Science fiction abounds with such planets.
I figure it’s because painting a word-picture of plausibly complex non-human people and their societies would take a great many words.
On top of that, editors have only so much space available for each story.
And they’re probably looking engaging tales, not essays on hypothetical psycho-sociology.
Basically, isolating and dramatizing a single aspect of the human experience is arguably easier than than imagining plausible non-human people. And takes far fewer words. Or screen time.
And readers have only so much patience. Having space aliens who fit into familiar pigeonholes lets writers and readers skip essays on non-human psychology, and start enjoying the story.
Screenwriters have the additional issue of production budget.
As a result, we get Captain Burke and Science Officer Hare negotiating with a planet of hairdressers one week, saving Cobblers on Planet Boot from Flip-Flop fanatics the next: and viewers accepting actors with rubber masks as real space aliens.
Then there’s alien physiology.
I put Fred Hoyle’s “The Black Cloud” at or near the top in that category. But that story’s perception and communication issues are something I’ll save for another day.
I suspect the odds are good that if we do have neighbors, and that’s still an emphatic “if,” then we’ll learn that they’re no more monotonously monolithic than we are. So maybe that pulp science fiction’s “Stories of the Stars” reflects, however dimly, what we’ll find.
Although why Our Heroes landed in an open-pit mine — is yet again another topic. Topics.
“…Our Cousins in the Cosmos….”
A point I’m trying to make is that if we have neighbors, they will almost certainly not be just like us.
But they’ll also almost certainly be very much like us:
“…Frankly, if you think about it, any creatures on other planets, subject to the same laws of chemistry and physics as us, made of the same kinds of atoms, with an awareness and a will recognizably like ours would be at the very least our cousins in the cosmos. They would be so similar to us in all the essentials that I don’t think you’d even have the right to call them aliens.”
(“Brother Astronomer,” Chapter Three, Would You Baptize an Extraterrestrial? — Brother Guy Consolmagno (2000))
They may even have individuals specializing in transferring ownership of used spaceships.
Questions and “a Mighty Soberin’ Thought”
(From Efbrazil, via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.)
Another angle of the ‘are we alone’ question is whether we’ll find them, or they’ll find us.
Assuming, again, that ‘they’ exist.
If we have neighbors who are even remotely like us, then I figure they may find us. Unless we’re the first people in this universe.
If the ‘remotely like us’ neighbors were only a million years older than us, then odds are good that they’ve long since started exploring this galaxy. And may have at least left a probe near our star.
Which reminds me of this bit of clear thinking regarding extraterrestrial intelligence.
“I been readin’ ’bout how maybe they is planets peopled by folks with ad-vanced brains. On the other hand, maybe we got the most brains…maybe our intellects is the universe’s most ad-vanced. Either way, it’s a mighty soberin’ thought.”
(Porky Pine, in Walt Kelly’s Pogo (June 20, 1959) via Wikiquote)
I think Porky Pine’s right, and that the inspiration of “a mighty soberin’ thought” isn’t necessarily a threat.
Whether and how much we should fear “folks with ad-vanced brains” — is more than I want to talk about to day. So I’ll save that topic for another day.
Agents and Angels
The Omega energy beings in that Greek-letter list remind me of the Matthew 28 angel.
“His appearance was like lightning and his clothing was white as snow.”
But I emphatically do not think space aliens are angels.
Or that angels are “energy beings.”
Before I tie myself in semantic knots, I’d better define my terms.
“Angel” comes from a Greek word that means messenger.
The Greek word is a translation from Hebrew malʾāḵ, which also means messenger.
In a way, anyone who serves as a messenger or agent for God is an “angel.” St. Augustine of Hippo, and others, talked about that.14
But humans aren’t angels. Not the way Gabriel and Raphael are.
People, But Profoundly Different
On the other hand, angels and humans have much in common. We’re both people: creatures with intelligence and free will.
But we’re made from spirit, “created in the image of God,” and made with the stuff of this world. We live in time and space. (Genesis 1:27, 2:7; Catechism, 302, 355–373)
They’re made of pure spirit. And, although they can and do interact with us, they aren’t limited to our space-time. (Catechism, 328–336)
We’ve known about angels for millennia. Some of humanity’s best minds have studied them.
But we know very little about them. I figure that’s partly because they’re so profoundly not like us. Those hypothetical Omega energy beings, by comparison, would be close cousins. Which gets me into mass-energy equivalence and ontology.15
And tells me that it’s time for me wrap this up.
After adding the usual links to somewhat-related stuff:
I was a Christian long before I became a Catholic Christian, and that’s another topic. Topics. The point is, I’ve been trying to follow Jesus ever since I was a child.
Somewhere along the line, I started noticing a disconnect between what I occasionally, not always, saw in religious art and the Jesus I was reading about in the Bible.
Looks like I wasn’t the only one.
“…The distance between these alarming and operative realities and the memory, say, of fat Mrs. Dimble saying her prayers, was too wide. … On the one hand, terror of dreams, … the tingling light and sound from under the Director’s door, and the great struggle against an imminent danger; on the other … horrible lithographs of the Saviour (apparently seven feet high, with the face of a consumptive girl) ….”
(“That Hideous Strength,” Chapter Eleven | Battle Begun, C. S. Lewis (1945) via fadedpage.com [emphasis mine])
The aesthetic quality of Jesus junk — I’ll save that for another day.
I don’t know when, where or why Western artists started equating ‘spiritual’ with a limply languid posture.
I’m less uncertain about why I’ve seen an incident recorded in all four Gospels (Matthew 21, Mark 11, Luke 19 and John 2) called the “temple tantrum.”
A ‘Christianity Lite’ version of Jesus is all about peace, love and passivity. Which, I’ll grant, feels better than the old-school ‘fire and brimstone’ judge of commies and hippies.
But I think both miss important aspects of our Lord’s character.
At any rate, I’ve got snapshots like these bits of Luke’s Gospel to deal with.
“When the people in the synagogue heard this, they were all filled with fury. They rose up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town had been built, to hurl him down headlong. But he passed through the midst of them and went away.”
“Then Jesus entered the temple area and proceeded to drive out those who were selling things, saying to them, ‘It is written, “My house shall be a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of thieves.”‘”
Since Nazareth was our Lord’s home town, I could imagine the close shave in Luke 4 as either showing a helpless nebbish being saved from his psychotic neighbors by a miraculous intervention — or something else. I’ll get back to “something else.”
The cleansing of the Temple account isn’t quite as ambiguous. Although I think a reader’s prior assumptions matter.
Questions and Definitions
Starting with a ‘Jesus Christ, flower child’ model, that “den of thieves” outburst sounds like a dedicated passivist’s — that’s not a typo — collision with equally-dedicated disciples of avarice.
Passivist? Pacifist? Not quite the same thing.
Oxford Dictionary on Lexico.com
“A person who believes that war and violence are unjustifiable.”
(2) “Characterized by the habit or practice of being passive, accepting, or non-resistant.”
I figure that Jesus is no fool, knows what to expect from us, and isn’t shocked when people act like humans. Which reminds me of another close shave.
“Jesus said to them, ‘Amen, amen, I say to you, before Abraham came to be, I AM.’
So they picked up stones to throw at him; but Jesus hid and went out of the temple area.”
Clarifying that “I AM” remark, Jesus was quoting Scripture and saying “I am God.”1 No wonder folks in the Temple area freaked. They knew Scripture, too; and likely knew what happened after attempted deity-level identity theft.
So — how come folks in Nazareth didn’t hurl Jesus down that hill? And what kept him alive after that “I AM” incident?
Maybe Jesus was a lucky nebbish.
Or, my opinion, Jesus of Nazareth really was and is “I AM.”
That still leaves unanswered questions.
Both close shaves could be blatant miracles. Maybe Jesus “passed through the midst of them” by becoming incorporeal, and “went out of the temple area” the same way.
Or maybe Jesus has what my culture calls “charisma” — personal charm, in this case cranked up to “God” level.
If I focus on the “God” level aspect of our Lord’s charisma, then that’s a miracle.
Or I could decide that since we’ve all got charisma, Jesus is simply an extreme example. I figure it depends at least partly on which definitions are in play.
“MIRACLE: A sign or wonder, such as a healing or the control of nature, which can only be attributed to divine power. The miracles of Jesus were messianic signs of the presence of God’s kingdom (547).”
Or maybe all the times when folks didn’t notice that they were talking with the Son of God were miracles. And that’s yet another topic.
Then there’s the time Jesus cursed a fig tree for lacking figs.
“When he was going back to the city in the morning, he was hungry.
Seeing a fig tree by the road, he went over to it, but found nothing on it except leaves. And he said to it, ‘May no fruit ever come from you again.’ And immediately the fig tree withered.
When the disciples saw this, they were amazed and said, ‘How was it that the fig tree withered immediately?’
Jesus said to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, if you have faith and do not waver, not only will you do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, “Be lifted up and thrown into the sea,” it will be done.
Whatever you ask for in prayer with faith, you will receive.'”
As a child, the fig tree’s fate didn’t bother me nearly as much as the bit about unwavering faith and throwing a mountain.
Decades later, taking a line through various oddball notions, I can imagine someone saying that Christianity’s a fraud because faith-based mountain pitching is stupid.
Or, coming from another direction, I can picture some crackpot’s followers insisting that they’ve moved mountains from Elk Ridge to Pikes Peak. And nobody noticed because Monsanto put tracking cookies in our burgers and fries.
I could even try founding my own ‘First Church of the Holy Mountain Flingers.’ But I won’t.
That sort of trouble I don’t need.
Making up my own version of what the Bible ‘really’ means is an option.
But not if I’m going to be a Catholic.
Reading and understanding the Bible matters. So does accepting the authority Jesus gave Peter, and paying attention to what some of the world’s best minds have been saying for the last few millennia.
If I felt that I was smarter and wiser that Saints Catherine of Siena, Thomas Aquinas, and Augustine of Hippo, that’d be a problem. But I don’t.
I’m also okay with God being God and me being me. And that’s yet again another topic. Almost.
I’m forgetting something. Let me think. Ghastly lithographs. Perceptions and a den of thieves. A fig tree. Right.
Cursing a fig tree because it’s fig-free seems petty. Or scary. Or both.
Either way, the disciples asked Jesus about the tree’s demise. Since our Lord answered by talking about faith, prayer, trees and mountains — I’ll assume he was making a point about faith and prayer. And using trees and mountains as figures of speech.2
Human on His Mother’s Side
Remembering that Jesus is humble makes sense. As long as “humble” isn’t taken to mean “delusional” or “self-degrading.”
I have no problem with thinking that it took great humility for Jesus to become “true God and true man.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 464–478)
“Who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.
Rather, he emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
coming in human likeness;
and found human in appearance,
he humbled himself,
becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.”
“…We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
one in Being with the Father.
Through him all things were made….
…by the power of the Holy Spirit
he was born of the Virgin Mary,
and became man….”
(Catechism, Credo Chart (The Nicene Creed))
I also think Jesus really, physically, suffered and died on Golgotha.
If I thought Jesus was just some guy who’d been given a “son of God” badge, maybe I’d see him as among history’s outstanding teachers. Who was also delusional, since he said he was God; which would make him a lunatic, not an ‘outstanding teacher.’
And that’s still another topic. Topics.
But I think Jesus is human on his mother’s side.
And that Jesus was humiliated, tortured, executed and buried.
But that’s not why I’m following him. Not the whole reason, at any rate.
Many folks have been humiliated, tortured and killed. Some, like Jesus, knew what they’d be suffering; and willingly accepted their messy deaths. Admiring them may make sense. Worshiping them? Not so much.
I'm a sixty-something married guy with four kids in a small central Minnesota town. One of the kids graduated from college in December, 2008, and is helping her husband run a business and raise my granddaughter; another is a cartoonist and artist; #3 daughter is a writer; my son is developing a digital game with #3 and #1 daughters.
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