Wednesday, March 31, 2010

GKC: God is censored (but not Judas or Satan)

Sooner or later in every story (except for some very curious ones like GKC's Manalive or "The Surprise") we encounter the Villain: the Bad Guy: the Wicked Witch of the West; Simon Legree; Sauron; Voldemort; Professor Moriarty; Arnold Zeck; the Demons of the Mountains of Ignorance... Some (who have not read very much) seem to think the presence of this character is essential for the hero to be authentic - indeed (they would insist) for any story to BE a Story-writ-large. Well, of course that is silly, and goes to show how little technology these liter'y folks know (or how little ontology, if you prefer) but it is unfortunately a common view, and a wrong view. But as interesting as it may be, we have no time to study the theory of Story - or of villains - today.

After all: sooner or later we must remember we live in the real world (no matter what John Mayer sings about it, hee hee). And in the real world we need things like the police - since there really are criminals, and firefighters - since there really are fires. We need EMTs and physicians - since there really are illnesses. We need automotive mechanics - since there really are flat tires and worse. Yes, we need the real world heroes in all their many forms, just as we need all the many forms of cells within our bodies. St. Paul's writing on this (1 Cor 12) reveals him to be the First Mystical Histologist... But again we have no time to study such things today.

Rather, let us consider the greatest villains of history, as this morning's Gospel considers him - and hear GKC give a few comments about Judas - and about Satan.

--Dr. Thursday.

PS: I wanted to quote something from The Poet and the Lunatics but the weave is too tight to excerpt nicely, so I suggest you read (or re-read) it carefully with attention to its relevance to this holy time.

There is a sort of phrase or joke about such "whitewashing" of the villains of history; but, to be quite just, there ought to be some phrase such as "blackwashing" also. For the truth is that such rehabilitations are of two very different kinds. One is a mere anarchist itch to upset a traditional and universal verdict. The other is a reasonable petition to appeal against a very hasty and sectarian verdict. In other words, we may appeal for whitewashing if we can prove that there has been blackwashing. Excusing Judas Iscariot is a literary amusement. By all human tradition he is the same, whatever we think of the story in which he figures. He is the same whether he was a legend or a living traitor. He is the same whether he is a liar or a lie. The story is a plain story. The apologia is a fancy.
[GKC ILN May 10 1913 CW29:490]

...the rules of the Censorship encourage anarchy, and that the worst sort of anarchy, which is anarchy in the mind. There is an obvious example, which I mentioned long ago, when this debate was more topical. By the old rule of Censorship, we must not put Jesus on the stage. It would be much easier to put Judas on the stage. It would be perfectly easy to justify Judas on the stage. There is now no form of blasphemy or bad morals that anybody is really forbidden to justify on the stage. A modern drama may be one wild dance of all the devils and all the swine. It may contain anything or anybody, except anybody who can cast out devils or destroy swine. Generally speaking, in the whole spirit of the thing, the one thing that the Censor can really cut out is God. He has no particular reason to cut out Satan; and no reason at all to cut out Satanism. No doubt the actual wielders of such powers try to soften their insane regulations by behaving as sanely as they can. But I am not talking about the Censor, but about the rules of the Censorship. And though they are by this time an old example, they are still perhaps the most distinct and disputable example of a certain moral muddle into which this country has managed to stumble during the last half-century.
[GKC "About the Censor" in As I Was Saying, emphasis added]

The journalists (that pious and prayerful class of men) seem very much annoyed with Mr. Shaw for being flippant about the Early Christians. I think it is precisely when he is flippant that he is right; I might almost say he is never right unless he is flippant. The jesting of the Christians about the lion's dinner is as true as death and the details of history. Such jests are recorded of innumerable martyrs in all ages. They begin with the somewhat broad and farcical jest of one Early Christian martyr who spat suddenly in the magistrate's face. They range on to the more delicate jest of the great Renaissance martyr, Sir Thomas More, when he carefully removed his beard from the swing of the axe; because a beard cannot be a traitor.

No; it is not the irreverence of the unbeliever that we cannot tolerate. The thing we cannot tolerate is his reverence. When he comes into the temple he has an irritating habit of always bowing at the wrong moment to the wrong thing. Thus Mr. Shaw seems to think that an Early Christian would have felt a profound horror about drawing a sword and hitting a man. I doubt it; now I come to think of it, I deny it. St. Peter certainly did draw a sword in the Garden of Gethsemane, and was rebuked for it. [Jn 18:10-11] But I seriously think it was because that august irony would not weaken with a hopeless scuffle the greatest scene in the whole history of man. But there was another apostle present, who achieved his ends in the most peaceful and humane manner; by a kiss and not a scar. If the spirit of early Christianity had really been what Mr. Shaw suggests, Judas and not Peter would have been the rock on which religion was built. It is only in these serious passages that I ever think Mr. Shaw is fallacious. In the farcical passages, I really think he is infallible.
[GKC ILN Sept 27 1913 CW29:561]

Every attempt to amplify that story has diminished it. The task has been attempted by many men of real genius and eloquence as well as by only too many vulgar sentimentalists and self-conscious rhetoricians. The tale has been retold with patronising pathos by elegant sceptics and with fluent enthusiasm by boisterous best-sellers. It will not be retold here. The grinding power of the plain words of the Gospel story is like the power of mill-stones; and those who can read them simply enough will feel as if rocks had been rolled upon them. Criticism is only words about words; and of what use are words about such words as these? What is the use of word painting about the dark garden filled suddenly with torchlight and furious faces? "Are you come out with swords and staves as against a robber? All day I sat in your temple teaching, and you took me not." Can anything be added to the massive and gathered restraint of that irony, like a great wave lifted to the sky and refusing to fall?
[GKC The Everlasting Man CW2:340-1]

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