Monday, June 6, 2011

the delusional heretic

Oh, the joy of used book stores. They are one way to purchase at a bargain price books one would simply not want to pay full price for. One must be patient, but patience is a good thing.

Anyway, at one of said such stores recently, I found a copy of Peter Rollin's "The Orthodox Heretic". Reading through a part of it, what it seems to be is little more than a bunch of his clever little stories, with a bit of commentary. It may be better to wait for the movie.

Rollins likes to think he's clever. His intro, for example, is called "Dis-courses", with the clever little dash right there, and subtitled "The Sacred Art of (Mis)communication". Ah, yes, those clever little parentheses are really there.

And what is "Dis-courses" about? Well...

Parables subvert this desire to make faith simple and understandable. They do not offer the reader clarity, for they refuse to be captured in the net of a single interpretation and instead demand our eternal return to their words, our wrestling with them, and our puzzling over them.
p xi

Parables. Oh, no, he's not linking his little stories to those of Jesus, is he? Oh, of course not. More on that later.

But, really, does his little characterization above describe Jesus' parables?

What's notable about some of Jesus' parables is that sometimes He did give their meaning. For example, the one we call the parable of the types of soils, in Matthew 13. In that same chapter, His explanation is also given for parable of the wheat and weeds. In Matthew 21, we have the account of Jesus telling a parable about tenants of a vineyard, who beat the servants of the vineyard owner and then killed his son. We are told that the chief priests and the Pharisess knew very well that Jesus was talking about them, saying they were like the tenants in the parable, and that it was one reason that they wanted to have Him arrested

We don't have such interpretations for all of Jesus' parables, of course, but this is enough to put paid to the notion of Rollins' that parables do not have a single interpretation.

In contrast, parables represent a mode of communication that cannot be heard without being heeded, in which the only evidence of having "heard" its message is in the fleshly incarnation of the message. The parable is only heard when it changes one's social standing to the current reality, not one's mere reflection of it...Rather, the parable facilitates genuine change at the level of action itself.
pp xii-xiii

Yet, we have the distinct statement in Matthew 21 that the chief priests and Pharisees knew what and whom Jesus was talking about. They heard Him very clearly, and hated Him all the more.

And what does "changes one's social standing to the current reality" mean? Or where are we told that parables "facilitate genuine change at the level of action itself"?

Well, let's take Jesus' parable of the talents. Let's consider, for example, that one wanted to take that parable, and use it to "facilitate genuine change at the level of action itself". Perhaps one would find those who were producers, those who worked hard and created wealth for themselves and others, and then rounded up the lazy and unprofitable, took everything from those loafer and deadbeats, kicked them to the curb, and gave all they had to the workers and creators and wealth-producers.

That is certainly a viable interpretation, don't you think? If not, why? Is that not what the parable could be said to be about, rewarding the hard-working and profitable and getting rid of those too lazy even to invest what they had been given?

But do you think this is an interpretation Rollins would approve of? Of one that he would like to see people act upon?

What about the parable of the missing coin? It's about money, and the money certainly looked hard enough to find it. Would that not be about making sure you keep track of all you have? The same could be said about the parable of the lost sheep.

Because of this, I hesitate to call what I have written within these pages 'parables' at all and have thus, in the title, opted for the safer word 'tales'. It is not for me to christen these short stories with the name 'parables', for who am I to say that they will do the job that I have called them into being to perform? For some they may be parables, while for other they may be nothing but a string of inconsequential stories. For just as one person's idol is another icons, so one person's fable is another's parable.
p xiii

So, no, Rollins is just far too humble to call his stories 'parables' his own self, but of course if you want to, or if they are parables to you, well, who is he to say otherwise.

And, really, he says about these stories that he "called them into being"? Really? Well, arrogant much, Mr. Rollins?

Finally, but, sorry, an idol is an idol. It is always an idol. For a Christian to bow before a Buddha is to bow to an idol, and thus to sin.

No comments: