Yesterdayʼs post* ended with a bitter pill: “the restʼs just sin.”** However, some reflection, inspired by coincidence and dueling theologies, has made me think twice about the idea of life as merely utter error and inescapable sin. Perhaps I have been overly programmed by my culture to misperceive reality too darkly.
I have mentioned that with the new job and its eleven-hour days***, I have fallen depressingly behind on reading the periodicals to which I subscribe. I try to skim through the weekly Science News, Time and Newsweek as they arrive (or at least within the next week), but the TLS (also weekly), The London Review of Books and The New York Review of Books (along with Discover, Smithsonian, National Geographic, The Atlantic Monthly, Scientific American and others not leaping to mind right away) have become a horrible stack of journalistic information and insights unsounded and unread. So, having awakened an hour after Janet on Sunday morning, I sat with a cup of (caffeinated) coffee to try to read a few book reviews, pulling from the top of the stack the London Review for April 14, 2011 [Volume 33, Number 8] and beginning with the first review, “Whatʼs next?” by James Wood, examining After Lives: A Guide to Heaven, Hell and Purgatory by John Casey.
The book sounds intriguing, and the review was stimulating. The point it raised that made me reconsider the end of my sonnet is what Wood, expanding and reflecting on Caseyʼs arguments, said about the Pauline/Augustinian invention/interpretation of Original Sin as indicating the utter depravity of human nature, redeemed only by belief in the sacrificial and beneficial nature of Christʼs suffering on the cross (that is, Faith). Furthermore, according to the classical reading of St. Paulʼs sour views, Salvation is available only by Grace, and God has mysteriously reserved that gift merely to an elect few (known, [super-]naturally only to God since before creation). From Paul through Augustine through Luther and Calvin, the eerie doom of humanity to hell is reinforced.
Without our loving Godʼs (capricious?) boon of Grace, even multitudes of the Faithful are destined for hell. Period. No further discussion permitted. No arbitration possible. (Gee, thanks for that, among so many other miserly-sphinctered rulings, Saul of Tarsus.)
Nothing one can do on oneʼs own can redeem one.
That dour theology is essentially at the heart of my grim little poem, which is what gives me second thoughts. What both the reviewer and the original author perceive, however, is that such a dire worldview has only slowly evolved historically (and temporarily, too, as current popular theology, outside the vile extremes of fundamentalism****, has more or less discarded that Pauline dark destiny in favor of a kinder, liberal, more Pelagian perception). Without the tightassed theologians of salvation-by-grace-alone, we humans have generally held a more generous and forgiving view of frailty and error. (Hey, weʼre all only human, after all.)
Maybe my emphasis on maternal love as the only redemption in the face of such patriarchal parsimony isnʼt off the mark…
However, I meant originally, as I began to type, to explicate my own little Jesusʼs-age-old poem, and I havenʼt done so. Maybe, work permitting, tomorrow. But for now, having never quite finished Woodʼs book review, perhaps I should read on to the end.
* (a sonnet, by the way, rhymed very tightly but oddly as ABCAABCADAEEAD — with C and B being nearly identical, except for a final consonant)
** (incompletely, as it turned out, when The Lovely One summoned me to depart for the Wal and some necessary purchases, including potting soil for those plants she had bought the day before)
*** (days which are now, with me having a half-hour commute at the beginning and end of each, perhaps going to extend more toward twelve hours, I fear)
**** Ironically/coincidentally/interestingly, Time made a cover story, the same week as my London Review issue, out of an evangelical (presumably, therefore, fundie) minister writing a popular book on the (possible) nonexistence of hell — utterly upsetting the fundamentalist applecart (because without hell, thereʼs no stick for the Appointed Authorities† to beat the sheeple† into the party line) and earning the author the brickbats and outrage of the Dextreme SelfRightous.
† My brother-in-law, Brian the minister, once observed, “Itʼs a fine and splendid thing to get called ‘pastor’ by the congregation, but that title doesnʼt say much for the flock…”