Obtuse Angels

[Obtuse] 'Tis the season, as they say. Specifically, 'tis the season for viewing letters (with multiple signatories), distributed en masse, lecturing us on our alleged moral failings.

'Tis also the season for Pun Salad to mean-spiritedly mock and deride such communications. We all have our roles to play, I suppose.

We looked at one from a group of UNH administrators the other day. And recently, to what did my wondering eyes should appear, but another such letter in my local newspaper, Foster's Daily Democrat.

It's from fifteen or so local preachers (hereinafter: the Revs). And this automatically cuts them some slack. After all, it is more or less in their job description to point out the misbehavior of the unenlightened. Stepping out from behind the lectern and chiding a wider audience than their own congregations is probably an unavoidable temptation.

I was going to do the fisking thing, interspersing my comments into the original, but let me just reproduce the entire thing here and criticize it holistically.

Dec. 10 — To the Editor:

We are writing to express our dismay at the rhetoric of hate which has become common currency in the political sphere. The racial and religious intolerance that is being spoken so carelessly is abhorrent, and contrary to the very principles of freedom and tolerance upon which our nation is built.

The briefest glance at history reminds us that hatred cannot give rise to anything except hatred; that violence can only beget violence. The angry, fearful and intolerant words which are so casually spoken are already doing violence to the fabric of our society, forcing many Americans to live in the very real, daily fear that such words will incite physical violence as well. The responsibility for those acts will be upon all those who have spoken in anger, fear and violence; but it will be as well upon those who did not speak out against it. We choose to do so now. We reject the way of violence, both spiritual and physical. We reject the fear-mongering and violence of current political rhetoric. We reject the silence that would render us complicit.

The rhetoric of hatred and violence is particularly repulsive to us as Christians. Pope Francis said recently that "The fearful Christian is one who has not understood the message of Jesus Christ." The Gospels tell us, over and over again, that we should not fear, for fear is an idol which would turn us from God. Our scriptures remind us that the very people whom our culture tells us to hate are the ones in whom God may be made manifest; that the ones whom we reject are beloved by the God who created us all.

We, as Christians, choose to follow on the path of the one who refused violence even as He was repeatedly subjected to it. We, as Christians, choose the way of our God, who took on frail human flesh, and showed us the power of infant vulnerability.

We, as Christians, stand with our kindred in faith in the Muslim community. We stand with those who are battered by fear and hatred. We stand with those who are victims of spiritual and physical violence. We, as Christians, stand on the side of love.

In peace,

[signatories elided]

  • Quickly you will note the self-congratulatory sanctimony; how good and brave the Revs are for being against… well, hatred and violence are pretty easy targets, aren't they? Are there people out there who approve of hatred and violence? Well, if so, the Revs have their number. They "stand on the side of love", right alongside God and Jesus and the American flag and (selected portions of) the Bible. So neener-neener.

  • There's also the simplistic theology, and the sentiment that makes your typical Hallmark card look cynically profound. "Hatred cannot give rise to anything except hatred" and "violence can only beget violence"? Aquinas wept. These assertions are too silly to bother refuting here, failing on both evidential and logical grounds. I encourage the Revs to take more than "the slightest look at history" or spare a few seconds to, "in the Bowels of Christ," think it possible that they may be mistaken.

  • And repetitive. The word "violence" appears 10 times; "fear" shows up 6 times; "hatred" and "hate" combine for 6. Obsessed? Sounds like it.

  • But note that the "violence" that puts the Revs into such a tizzy is not actual violence. It's hypothetical violence they think might be just around the corner, or the "violence" of "current political rhetoric".

    Which is, well, odd. Damned odd, and I mean that literally. The letter is dated December 10, a mere 8 days after 14 murders in San Bernardino, and less than a month after 130 deaths in Paris.

    Note: actual violence, not just the sort the Revs imagine to be hiding in American political rhetoric, or might jump out and say "boo" someday.

    Just on recent body count alone, you might think the Revs' dismay might also extend to radical Islamism. Just maybe mention how that rhetoric triggers (again) actual violence.

    But no. The Revs' moral vision is selective and obtuse.

  • There is a strong component of the strawman fallacy in the Revs' letter. Who, specifically, are the occupants of the "political sphere" spewing "hate" and "intolerance"? Names? Dates? Context? Naah.

    Why should you name actual people making actual arguments, when those you can imagine are so much easier to invidiously caricature and refute?

  • Which brings us to the final point: To the extent the Revs are talking about actual (albeit unnamed) people, their letter is remarkably lacking in charity and sympathy. They have looked into the hearts of the politicians in question and—even at long distance—detect therein only a twisted black mass of hatred, violence, and fear. There can be no other explanation: those politicians are bad, bad people. No doubt the Revs thank God that they are not like…

    Oops. Doesn't anyone in the Rev biz read Luke 18:9-14 any more?

The 5-Minute Iliad

[Amazon Link]

Another deep dive into the non-fiction TBR pile. (I'm really making inroads! Only 15 books on there now!) The copyright on this book is 2000, and I think I got it for a Christmas present sometime after that. Thanks much, to whoever gave it to me.

It is a collection of 15 brief parodies of literary works, starting with—guess what—the Iliad. Each is written (sort of) in the style of the parodied work. I had previously read 7 of the target texts, but this didn't seem to affect how much I was amused by Nagan's takes, one way or the other.

I found the results uneven, but I wouldn't be surprised if other readers were amused (or not) by pieces that left me cold (or found me chuckling). Humor is funny that way. In addition to humor being funny in the "ha ha" way.

For example, I liked this from the 1984 chapter:

WAR IS PEACE
FREEDOM IS SLAVERY
IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH
BUT DIAMONDS ARE A GIRL'S BEST FRIEND

… but I got all the way through the Sense and Sensibility chapter without cracking a grin.

Also good: The Divine Comedy written in limericks. The inscription on the gate of Hell:

COME THROUGH ME TO THE SORROWFUL CITY.
COME THROUGH ME AND FORGET ABOUT PITY.
    EVERY LAST DOPE
    MUST ABANDON ALL HOPE
WHEN THEY PASS ON INTO ETERNITY.

This made me wonder if Nagan had written anything else. Nothing I can find. Maybe he's living off the royalties of this book; it's still in print. He has a long-defunct website justmorons.com, and seems to have moved to Denmark. (Maybe he's researching a parody of Hamlet.)