Fear Of Whales

Archive for February, 2016

Canon and Myth (Or “Why Phantom Menace Doesn’t Count”)

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From an early age I have been attracted to the iconic stories of our culture. King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, Hercules and the 12 Olympians, Fairy Tales and Legends.

Disappointingly, I was not able to find an authoritative copy of most of those stories. I saw adaptation after adaptation in movies and comics and retellings, but there was no way for me to read “Hercules” the original story, nor really to read the definitive story of King Arthur. All the stories contradicted each other, and all of the versions I found to read were written hundreds of years after the stories were first told. I hated this about them, and it wasn’t until later that I came to realize this was not a flaw, but a great feature of mythology.

I shied away from Robin Hood and dug into Tolkien at first, thinking he had some internal consistency. But I soon learned that almost all modern High fantasy was Tolkien-Based, and it was far from consistent. Plus once the movies were made, and were undeniably awesome, a lot of the “canon” began to be debated.

2904704-bat-family skin pacSuperheroes did the same thing. I began to realize that there were innumerable Batmans with innumerable variations on the same backstory. Some with a Robin, some where Robin had died, some who never had a Robin. and fans were cobbling together a coherent story out of just the best of those plotlines. What’s more, so were the comics themselves as new authors happily ignored bad storylines while building on great ones.

This is how mythology works. someone tells a great story, then someone else tells a followup, then someone retells the first story in a different way, and on and on and we keep what’s good and we forget what sucks. How do we decide what really happened to Arthur? Whatever story everybody liked the best.

That’s why Star Wars fans care what happened in The Clone Wars animated series, but try to avoid and subvert what happened in The Clone Wars movie. Because the movie was stupid. And ignoring and rewriting things that are stupid is a time honored tradition of mythological storytelling. That’s why the X-Men universe recently made a sequel that acknowledges what happened in X-Men 1&2 but goes back in time to prevent X-Men 3 and Wolverine Origins from affecting the timeline. That’s why Deadpool has a mouth now.

In many ways the Biblical canon works the same way. Sometimes people outside the faith like to imagine it was a shady meeting somewhere when we censored a bunch of stuff.  In reality both the New Testament and the Old Testament were selected by the scribes listening to the fans. We kept the stuff that continued to ring true, we ignored or got rid of the other stuff.

A lot of us still do that with the Bible. If we are honest we probably spend more time reading impactful contemporary writers than we read the biblical text, and then it is only our favorite books. I’ll leave whether that’s right or not as an exercise for the reader, for Now I just wanted to introduce this idea.

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February 18th, 2016 at 7:29 pm

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Ideas and Their (mis)Uses

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villageThere is a critique often leveled at my seminary, which I find often has a lot to do with why I disagree with the community opinion about a given idea. That is to condemn the idea, on the basis of it’s historical use.

In other words, for many of us, if an evil person in the past has used an idea to accomplish something bad, then it’s a bad idea, or it is at least very suspect. I find this critique ridiculous.

Examples:

  • Plain reading of the scriptures has been used to justify slavery
  • Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, has encouraged women to suffer under abusive spouses as a “sacrifice”
  • International Mission has been a vehicle of cultural destruction and colonialism

And it’s used on the right as well as the left.

  • Evolution was used by Hitler to justify ethnic cleansing
  • Columbine Shooters played violent videogames

Because it is used so commonly and explicitly here where I live, it has helped me become aware of how often this sort of thinking is used generally. How often have you heard a religion condemned on the basis of religious fanatics? Or seen a political idea made into an “-ism” with the implicit understanding that the -ism is bad because of how it was used before. How often have you seen any idea anyone held compared to Hitler? (Vegitariansm? For shame!)

Almost never is it considered whether the idea itself necessarily leads to these conditions, or if the idea is being misused. It is just condemned and (usually) rejected wholesale.

This whole thing falls apart as soon as you begin to pull examples from uncontroversial issues instead of emotional ones.freeparking-200x150

  • Knives have been historically used to stab people. Don’t have them in your house
  • Many musicians have turned to addictive drugs, keep your kids away!
  • Stargazing has been the inspiration for the Zodiac and Astrology. It’s both Unscientific, and Satanic

So clearly the position is not reasonable or consistent.

Let me not demonize the people who express this sort of thinking however. I suspect that while what they say may not be rational in the strictest sense, (or even true) it may yet be valid. Suppose what they actually mean to say is “I have felt hurt, either personally or empathetically, by people who hold this idea, and as such I dislike it on an emotional level”

Well that’s a fair thing to say!

I daresay if I met someone who had been stabbed over and over again, and I learned he kept no knives in his house I would respect his decision. I would just hope he doesn’t come to my house and judge me for my knives.

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February 8th, 2016 at 10:09 pm

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