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November 30, 2003

The initial explosion made audible
Posted by Teresa at 03:44 PM *

Jonathan Edwards’ great sermon, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, was first preached in Enfield, CT in 1741. It’s a classic piece of early American literature. Starting with a single line from Deuteronomy 32:35, Their foot shall slide in due time, Edwards addressed the question of why his listeners weren’t already in hell at that very moment. The effect was tremendous. He had the congregation rolling in the aisles before he was done—no small feat, considering that he was never much of an orator. Afterward, the sermon was rushed into print as Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. It’s widely credited with having touched off The Great Awakening.

What’s my interest in it? Just that it’s way cool. I’ve always liked Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God for its own sake. My mother used to start off her high school American Literature classes by having them read it.

What the above link will get you is not the text of the sermon, which is available in dozens of versions on the web. It’s something better: a link to an audio version, recorded at a Baptist church, where the minister read the whole thing aloud to his congregation in memory of Jonathan Edwards. It’s great. The sermon was written to be read aloud, and the Baptist minister is a good reader. And if that’s not your idea of entertainment, I can only point out that you already knew you weren’t me.

If you want to skip the minister’s prefatory remarks, slide forward to 9:15, where the reading starts.

Thanks to Jim Macdonald for sending me the link.

Comments on The initial explosion made audible:
#1 ::: ben ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2003, 04:47 PM:

This reference quite utterly rawks.

Had someone suggested to me, when we studied this sermon in my Honors American Lit. class (for its implications of Colonial attitudes towards faith) thirteen years ago to the month, that I'd be listening to it again...

Thanks, anyhow. ::grin::

#2 ::: Yonmei ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2003, 05:19 PM:

I found the text text here for those who, like me, had never heard of Jonathan Edwards or any of his sermons and who don't have speakers on their computer.

I'd forgotten how abhorrent I find that particular moral attitude: that only by being "saved" can you prevent yourself from going to hell and burning forever. Excellently delivered - I can tell just by reading it - but even when I get my speakers, I doubt that I'll listen to the recording.

#3 ::: ben ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2003, 05:31 PM:

Those wishing to garner historical context may find this summary of the Great Awakening to be of use.

I personally see a direct connection between Sinners and the litany of George II's malice published in the Declaration of Independence... notwithstanding the fact that so many of the Founding Fathers were Deist rather than outwardly Christian.

#4 ::: ben ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2003, 05:31 PM:

...George III's malice, 'scuse me.

#5 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2003, 05:54 PM:

Quite so. The mind-expanding message of Edwards' sermon was that people could do something about their condition.

Hard though it is to see this through centuries of shifted context, at the time this was radical, and radicalizing, stuff.

#6 ::: Leslie Turek ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2003, 06:27 PM:

I studied this in high school too. So I really loved the parody in Stella Gibbon's Cold Comfort Farm, when Amos Starkadder preaches to the brethren that they're all damned and will burn in hell.

"Ye know, doan't ye, what it feels like when ye burn yer hand in takin' a cake out of the oven or wi' a match when ye're lightin' one of they godless cigarettes? Aye. It stings wi' a fearful pain, doan't it? And ye run away to clap a bit o' butter on it to take the pain away. Ah, but' (an impressive pause) 'there'll be no butter in hell!"

Ian McKellan performed this role very nicely in the 1995 movie version.

#7 ::: Lenny Bailes ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2003, 06:27 PM:

When I saw the title of this blog entry, my first thought was that it was going to be a reference to John Cramer's simulation of the sound of the Big Bang. I imagined dedicated seekers listening to it, carefully, for digital signifiers of Eve, the Apple, and Original Sin.

I suppose there may be more traces of that in the recording of the Edwards sermon.

#8 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2003, 06:28 PM:

Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God is also the ur-text of American horror literature. The same moral landscape lies outside the windows of King and Straub.

#9 ::: Yonmei ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2003, 06:59 PM:

Hard though it is to see this through centuries of shifted context, at the time this was radical, and radicalizing, stuff.

I guess I'm just parochial enough to prefer George Fox, speaking fifty years before Edwards: "I exhorted the people to come off from all these things, directing them to the Spirit and grace of God in themselves, and to the light of Jesus in their own hearts; that they might come to know Christ, their free teacher, to bring them salvation, and to open the scriptures to them." (Fox at Pickering, 1651.)

#10 ::: ben ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2003, 07:40 PM:

Guh.

This post of yours - and its comments - is begging from me a regurgitation of thoughts WRT fear-based vs. love-based attitudes...

#11 ::: Kristine ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2003, 08:48 PM:

I think I'm with Yonmei in preferring George Fox, but just by a bit, and probably only out of snobbishly not wanting to love the one sermon of Edwards that everyone knows. But for sheer rhetorical gorgeousness (and excess), there's no preacher like John Donne. When I was in college, a friend of mine borrowed my choir robe to deliver Donne's sermon from Christmas day, 1624, FROM MEMORY. It was astonishing.

#13 ::: Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2003, 10:13 PM:

I don't have to go listen. I was raised Baptist. I heard it all and then some. Of course, we also studied it in American Lit in HS.

MKK

#14 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2003, 11:46 PM:

"I guess I'm just parochial enough to prefer George Fox"

I prefer Fox to Edwards, too. "Truth is more important than the Book, said he."

I also like Robert Louis Stevenson better than Louis Zukofsky. Perhaps this means that if Teresa posted about Zukofsky, I would be required to pre-emptively defend my Stevenson preference. I get so confused about the rules.

I guess what it comes down to is that there's a variety of blog comment that reduces, in effect, to "Eeuw. You're interested in that. I'm not. Not not not!" I don't get this kind of comment, or why otherwise pleasant people post it.

Elsewhere, I'm baffled by MKK's contention that she doesn't need to look at Edwards because, having been "raised Baptist," she's "heard it all." Which is kind of like explaining that you don't need to read Dante because you were brought up Methodist. I mean, it's fine to be totally uninterested in Edwards or Dante, but really, you should consider that not every ecclesiastical ranter in the last 2000 years was necessarily up to the same things. Either history matters in its context and specificity or it doesn't. My vote: it does.

#15 ::: Yonmei ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2003, 12:30 AM:

Patrick, you claimed of Jonathan Edwards preaching "at the time this was radical, and radicalizing, stuff". My cite from George Fox was intended subtly to point out that while you might think Edwards was radical, in fact there was another preacher who was urging that "people could do something about their condition", in finer style (IMO) and fifty years before Edwards. Isn't this a legitimate point to make? Or should I just have been less subtle about making it?

#16 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2003, 01:06 AM:

"While you may think that Zukofsky was radical, in fact there was another poet who was being even more radical, in finer style, fifty years before Zukofsky."

Most of us would consider someone who waded into a discussion of Zukofsky like that to be, well, rude. Literature isn't a zero-sum game. It's generally understood that it's okay to be interested in particular writers and poets even if they aren't the definitive all-time be-all end-all hot-shit definitive exemplars of their form.

Then again, the real issue is that I'm getting really tired of the Yonmei specialty in subtle undercutting, gainsaying, lefty superiority dance, and general belittling. Not what you meant to convey? Right, then. Deal.

#17 ::: kest ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2003, 02:06 AM:

Oh! Emerson... 'Fear not, then, thou child infirm/There's no God dare wrong a worm.'... A response to this?

#18 ::: Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2003, 02:09 AM:

Err. No I said I don't need to go listen. Baptist preachers are infamous for their pulpit-pounding full-throated threats about what's going to happen to you if you don't reform. Been there done that. Note I said I have also studied the particular sermon under discussion. Having studied it and having had Baptist preachers rant at me for 16 years, I felt neither need nor desire to listen to that.

Of course you are right my post didn't have a point. Shrug.

MKK

#19 ::: Robert L ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2003, 02:31 AM:

Whoa! This discussion is crankier than I would've expected. Perhaps because it ties very much into today. I certainly prefer Fox as a thinker to Edwards, and Edwards does not gibe with my own beliefs such as they are (neither does Fox entirely, though he's closer). Nor, I would venture to say, though I haven't had any religious discussions with them lately, do either of them exactly express P and T's views either. I think what Teresa is looking for is an appreciation of Edwards in his literary and historical context, rather than per se for his beliefs. Since i was fortunate enough to be brought up a freethinker (they tried to give me catechism classes, but by 5th grade I'd had enough of that), I don't have a lot of bitterness toward organized religion, though I don't subscribe to it, even if I've occasionally been the target of its wrath. So I can read Edwards pretty disinterestedy, even if I hear faint strains of him in George W. However, I can see how I might feel differently if I'd been hammered with this sort of thing on a regular basis.

#20 ::: Yonmei ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2003, 05:01 AM:

Guh. Okay, Patrick. I guess your answer is, no, it's not legitimate to compare a preacher under discussion with other preachers who were doing the same kind of thing in a different timezone. Or, if I get your meaning, it's not permissable to do that with a writer under discussion, either. No comparisons should be permitted.

Then again, the real issue is that I'm getting really tired of the Yonmei specialty in subtle undercutting, gainsaying, lefty superiority dance, and general belittling.

Okay... I don't disagree with all that, I'm just wondering whether you included the word "lefty" with malice aforethought - that is, if you would be happier if I were coming at it as a "righty" - or if it were just a random adjective.

#21 ::: Debra Doyle ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2003, 08:45 AM:

I don't have to go listen. I was raised Baptist. I heard it all and then some.

I wasn't raised Baptist, but I was brought up in the American South and heard enough Baptist sermons in my time to become familiar with the genre. And I have to say that Jonathan Edwards' sermon is worth listening to anyway. First, because that was how it was originally meant to be presented, and reading the text version of a sermon isn't going to get you the full experience of the sermon any more than reading the text version of Hamlet is going to get you the full experience of the play. Second, because Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God is, as Jim Macdonald points out and as I've been maintaining for years, one of the base texts underlying the whole American horror genre, not to mention the strain of horror that runs through the American literary mainstream as well, and anybody who wants to be fully conversant with either American horror or the American mainstream ought to know it. And thirdly, because there's a world of difference between a hellfire-and-damnation sermon written by a common or garden variety Baptist preacher and a hellfire-and-damnation sermon that has achieved Best of Breed status in the category, not to mention making it into the archives of world literature.

And none of these reasons require that the reader agree with, or even appreciate, the theology involved.

#22 ::: Kellie ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2003, 10:29 AM:

I wish my AP English Language & Comp teacher had provided the entire text of the sermon instead of just a snippet of the application section (the bit with "the bow of God's wrath" and the spider over a fire business). On second thought, reading the whold thing might've made me appreciate the sermon even less. We had to analyze each line of the snippet for word choice and such - an exercise which, quite frankly, pissed me off. Because how the hell could we know what was in the centuries deceased speaker's head when he chose the word "abhors" instead of "detests" or something? The concept of rhetoric and intentional language manipulation took quite some time to settle into my skull. Obviously.

Now, however, I find it fascinating. The dissection of the Deuteronomy reference keeps begging to be read by John Cleese for some reason. In fact, it feels like the beginning of a Python sketch. I guess I do need to hear the speech, just to get the image of the Python boys inflicting their particular brand of sacrilege out of my head. Must make a note to listen to it at home when a floor of cube inhabitants won't be around to object to a little pulpit pounding.

#23 ::: LNHammer ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2003, 10:36 AM:

Except that Edwards underlies very little of Poe, as far as I can tell; his transmission to modern American horror would be through Hawthorne—which is an interesting realization. Unless the writers are getting it straight, but given Hawthorne's ubiquity, he seems the likelier vector. Does anyone know of studies demonstrating this one way or another?

That I follow Fox because I find Edwards et alia morally vile would partially explain why I'm basically uninterested in horror.

---L.

#24 ::: novalis ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2003, 10:56 AM:

Fox/Edwards fusion:

I went to a Quaker school in Philadelphia. In seventh grade, we had an actor come in and read, dramatically, this very sermon. And I can say that as an impressionable twelve-year-old, it scared the shit out of me. It was great!

I had planned to read (or, more likely, ask a particularly dramatic friend [1] to read) the sermon at Milk and Cookies, a gathering of friends who read stories and essays out loud.


[1] I believe Bryn of the unspellable last name reads this blog. Hi, Bryn. I'm thinking Warren would be make a perfect Edwards.

#25 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2003, 11:42 AM:

"I guess your answer is, no, it's not legitimate to compare a preacher under discussion with other preachers who were doing the same kind of thing in a different timezone. Or, if I get your meaning, it's not permissable to do that with a writer under discussion, either. No comparisons should be permitted."

Of course that's not "my answer," as you know perfectly well.

#26 ::: Debra Doyle ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2003, 12:12 PM:

Except that Edwards underlies very little of Poe, as far as I can tell; his transmission to modern American horror would be through Hawthorne?which is an interesting realization.

Hawthorne, definitely -- things like "Young Goodman Brown" and "My Kinsman, Major Molineux" are part of the canonical mainstream, but also recognizable as horror. And from Hawthorne to Melville, and the whiteness of the whale, and the idea that "though in many of its aspects this visible world seems formed in love, the invisible spheres were formed in fright." And onward from there to Henry James and The Turn of the Screw and so on into the present and across media. (You could probably work the music of Warren Zevon and Nick Cave into it eventually, if you tried.)

I suspect that the American Literature and Popular Culture academic journals are full of this sort of thing, in fact. If they aren't, then there are a lot of desperate-for-publication grad students and untenured faculty who are missing out on a good thing.

#27 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2003, 12:27 PM:

My favorite aspect of Jonathan Edwards is when he plays piano while his wife Darlene sings "It's Magic." They don't make them like that any more.

#28 ::: Andrew Willett ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2003, 12:51 PM:

And don't forget, he's also an Olympic triple-jumper. Talk about your renaissance guys.

#29 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2003, 03:40 PM:

There is indeed no butter in hell.

They have that non-trans-fatty-acid stuff that doesn't melt on toast. And it's really salty.

#30 ::: Stuart ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2003, 08:06 PM:

For those who would like to read a truly excellent work that traces the development of religious thought in American society from the time of Cotton Mather and Jonathan Edwards to the civil war see: America's God: From Jonathan Edwards to Abraham Lincoln by Mark Noll.

Noll teaches history at Wheaton College and this work is his masterpiece. There is much in it to help us understand how our nation got to the state it is in now.

#31 ::: Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2003, 08:36 PM:

Debra: I take your point. Unfortunately, my reaction is an emotional visceral one develped from many years of having people shrieking at me about going to hell. (It suddenly occurs to me to wonder if subjecting young children to stuff like that isn't a form of child abuse.) I don't think it's susceptible to reason. Even reason as well done as yours.

MKK

#32 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2003, 12:48 AM:

Ben, thanks for the general link on The Great Awakening. I'd wanted to put one into my original post, but for some reason -- you know how it is; just when you need giant pastel marshmallows, the store doesn't have them in stock -- I couldn't find one that satisfied me. I've added your link to the main post.

Leslie, I do love that scene in Cold Comfort Farm. You just know that if Amos Starkadder preached some pleasant comfortable everyday doctrine, they'd all go home disappointed.

Jim: Ur-text, yes, by way of Young Goodman Brown.

Lately I've been catching up on several years' worth of Buffy, and have been appreciating such theological s*bt*xts as the loss of Faith. American literature is as hard on Faith as Scottish ballads are on Burd Janet.

Peace, Yonmei. I just figured you reacted that way because you knew a little bit about George Fox but nothing about Jonathan Edwards.

Kristine, I went looking for that sermon of Donne's, and found only a little excerpt from it, but that was indeed wonderful. Why have I never read his sermons before? I should have known I'd like them.

I'm convinced that most people who say they don't like sermons mean they don't like bad ones.

Kest, are you asking whether Emerson was responding to this? I'd say that in one sense he was. Whether a writer of that period agreed or disagreed with it, it was part of the intellectual background of New England thought.

Mary Kay, as with many other observancees of religion, I think it's easier to appreciate fire-and-brimstone preaching if you didn't grow up being forced to listen to bad versions of it. It's as offputting as being forced to read a book for high school English.

Robert: Yes, and thank you. Historically interesting. Rhetorically way over the top. It works. It works even better when read aloud. Very cool. But if anyone thinks I subscribe to his theology ... ye gods and little fishes!

I believe he wrote that sermon because he was worried about Creeping Arminianism. Just thought I'd mention it.

Doyle, thank you too. Exactly so. And you and himself are IMO dead right about the sermon's ancestral position in American literature.

Kellie, if you haven't already listened to John Cleese's reading of The Screwtape Letters, you should. It's available on tape, or was a while back.

Overall, let me just say that I'm puzzled by some aspects of this discussion. As I said at the start, I92ve always liked Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God for its own sake. I also said that if it's not your idea of entertainment, well, you already knew you weren92t me.

Furthermore, I know for sure that you guys are capable of enjoying novels written by monarchists and poetry written by Zen Buddhists or wild-eyed anarchists. If having God in the subject matter makes your negative capability evaporate, that's interesting -- but you might want to figure out why that happens to you.

#33 ::: Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2003, 01:45 AM:

If having God in the subject matter makes your negative capability evaporate, that's interesting -- but you might want to figure out why that happens to you.

Uh. A hit, a palpable hit. And the last time I attended a mainstream Christian service (Marion's memorial service) I had an anxiety attack. Perhaps TMI. Think yes.

MKK

#34 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2003, 01:49 AM:

Was that the pagan one or the Episcopalian one? Just asking.

#35 ::: Ms. Jen ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2003, 01:54 AM:

Link to the John Donne sermon? Or a recommendation on a book?

#36 ::: Jeffrey Kramer ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2003, 01:57 AM:

Teresa, I might indeed find it easier to appreciate a novel by a monarchist than a sermon by a hellfire Calvinist; but I also might find it easier to appreciate a novel by a hellfire Calvinist than a tract by a monarchist, assuming the novel was something more than a sermon or tract for hellfire Calvinism. (Isn't that one of the veriest commonplaces when talking about novels? that we should *not* try to read them in the way we read sermons or tracts?)

#37 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2003, 01:59 AM:

I wish I'd had as good a America and World history high school experience as some folks appear to have had. We had a 'new' combined learning "experience" which had the net result of me having to learn those bits of history over again because it was antithetical to my ability to learn stuff. It was too scatter gun and we didn't have a 'let's learn this one thing well" kind of experience. Maybe they did that in AP History, but not in my 'combined learning experience'.

I was fortunate enough to have the AP teacher for my regular English class, she held our toes to the rigors of the AP class. She made a standard of that for ALL her students, even if they weren't considered AP materials. (At the point of High school, I'd given up caring about grades because I was totally bored. In fact my guidance counselor said, "you're not college material."

I got a B- average through college and have always managed to have a good job, even though every place I've worked, I've done something that's about a 180 degree switch from the previous job. I'd like to ram that down that counselor's throat, but it's probably a wasted effort. He probably discouraged a lot of kids...

#38 ::: Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2003, 03:42 AM:

Teresa: The Episcopalian one. I was out of town for the other one.

MKK

#39 ::: Yonmei ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2003, 04:30 AM:

Peace, Teresa. wrt George Fox: something like that.

#40 ::: Alison ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2003, 05:21 AM:

This is the type of theology that poisoned and hurt my innocent childhood. For me there was no single awakening, but only a gradual realisation that Christianity was not true, and that I was safe from the god that it portrayed. Those of you who have not had this experience can talk in urbane and light hearted terms about it, but I think you should be more understanding of the strong emotional counter-reaction experienced by those who can't find such distanced amusement in the revisiting of childhood abuse.

#41 ::: Sam Dodsworth ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2003, 07:18 AM:

I know it's tangential at best, but I still say Cicero's "For Sextus Roscius" is unbeatable for sheer melodrama:

if any pretence for the accusation--if any suspicion of this act--if, in short, any, the least thing be found,--so that in bringing forward this accusation they shall seem to have had some real object,--if you find any cause whatever for it, except that plunder which I have mentioned, I will not object to the life of Sextus Roscius being abandoned to [his accusors'] pleasure.

#42 ::: Debra Doyle ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2003, 08:39 AM:

Those of you who have not had this experience can talk in urbane and light hearted terms about it, but I think you should be more understanding of the strong emotional counter-reaction experienced by those who can't find such distanced amusement in the revisiting of childhood abuse.

Nobody, after all, has been forced to enter this discussion, or dragged kicking and screaming to click on the link and listen to the audio.

Nor do I understand why those of us who are trying to discuss the literary and historical aspects of what is, like it or not, an important part of American culture, both popular and high, should be subjected to attempts at making us feel guilty of emotional abuse for doing so.

#43 ::: Simon ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2003, 09:12 AM:

A certain person's heavily snippy and chip-on-the-shoulder attitude in this thread is a perfect illustration of why I am considering ceasing to read, let alone post in, his blog.

And I'm writing in this vague and allusive way in the probably vain hope that it will prevent a wearisomely cutting reply.

I'm prepared to be disemvoweled for this, if necessary. But I don't think that Yonmei and I are the only people around here who need to look to our attitudes.


#44 ::: Alison ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2003, 09:29 AM:

Debra Doyle

should be subjected to attempts at making us feel guilty of emotional abuse for doing so.

I didn't say that you or anyone else on this list was guilty of emotional abuse. I just asked people in general to be understanding of other people who might not be as emotionally cool in discussion as themselves.

Of course nobody is forced to participate. But people will participate in different ways, and there seemed to be an intolerance of all but a particular, what I might characterise as urbane or ironical, mode of participation.

There's nothing wrong with being urbane, but it made me feel sad to see the condemnation of those who were not able to be so.

#45 ::: Lydia Nickerson ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2003, 09:46 AM:

I have to admit, I'm not the least bit surprised at how this comment thread developed. I agree with Debra that people who are upset by Edwards' philosophy are having their fun spoiled by people who've had abusive Christian experiences. The history, hermeneutics, influence, and literary merit of the work are all interesting subjects. The fact that many of us don't have the ability to distinguish between our personal experiences of the impact of that philosophy on our personal lives, and the piece as a work of literature, is just one more of those things that damaged people lose.

I really do feel for Mary Kay and the others whose first reaction was horror and fury. I'm the daughter of a minister of a small, dour, Calvinist sect. Twenty-plus years out of the church, and I can still be taken unawares and hurt by random bits of Christianity flying about in the culture.

Here's the thing, though: I live in a country which is rife with Christian metaphors. I don't particularly like it, but I have leared to deal with it. I have very close friends who are Christians of one variety or another. The thing that abused and hurt me as a kid is not the same thing as either those random slings and arrows, nor the devout faith of my friends. At some point, you just have to grow a skin.

Here's the other point: growing skin takes a while. People heal at different rates, and it can be very hard to know where they are in the healing process. However, I've no patience with people who choose to whine rather than learn to deal. It's a real world out there, let's all go play.

#46 ::: Dan Layman-Kennedy ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2003, 10:28 AM:

I'm not too surprised that Sinners gets a visceral reaction; I know it got one from me when I first encountered it as a bright high-schooler, and my response to it was that it was awful and abhorrent on every level I could think of at the time. (I certainly didn't have an English teacher who was prepared to put it in context as precursor to Hawthorne and King, but then, not many do.) Now I'm better prepared to look at it as literature, but there's still a certain amount of getting over myself that's necessary to do that, akin to being able to laugh at Three Men in a Boat even though it has the n-word in it.

And this discussion has underlined for me that, though I am interested in horror, I'm much less inclined to be interested in the Stephen King variety of the-bad-are-punished-and-the-good-are-victims. The moral landscape just doesn't quite resonate for me. I much prefer the nihilistic ambiguities of Poe, Lovecraft, Ligotti, but then I've always preferred ambiguity to any of the alternatives. :)

One question this seems to raise, though: How much distance is necessary to be able to appreciate the literary value of something whose ideas the reader finds morally abhorrent? I recall my high-school teacher being vaguely upset that I was so put off by Sinners, without ever explaining to me a good reason I shouldn't be; she thought I was being judgmental and closed-minded, which at the time I thought was pretty funny. But I saw the direct line from that philosophy to the nasty small-minded moralizing I encountered every day from people who I suspected would nod admiringly at Edwards' sentiments, and it didn't stir me to anything but nervousness. I didn't have, I think, sufficient distance to see it as something other than a shining example of the same dangerous way of thinking that made my life that much harder living in small-town Appalachia.

I'm sure that there's a kind of weird poetry in, say, the Constitution of the Confederacy, but it's wrapped around ideas that are so morally repugnant to most sensible people that it's hard to see it just as literature of its period - maybe in part because so many people are still being affected by the fallout of those unpleasant philosophies. Is Sinners different? If it is, why?

#47 ::: Paul ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2003, 10:53 AM:

I recommend American Sermons for anyone interested in this important American genre. And it is an important American genre, maybe, like Jazz, the important American rhetorical mode. Because for better or worse--and usually for better and worse--Americans tend to be a nation of sermonizers. Even criticisms of the sermon "This is the type of theology that poisoned and hurt my innocent childhood." are cast in biblical metaphors. (That said, there's something very Blakian that I love about Alison's remark.)

(You could probably work the music of Warren Zevon and Nick Cave into it eventually, if you tried.)

Certainly Will Oldham.


#48 ::: Debra Doyle ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2003, 10:58 AM:

Tracing the footsteps of Jonathan Edwards further into the wilderness of American literature: the 20th-century poet Robert Lowell had something of a Jonathan Edwards obsession, writing at least two poems ("Mr. Edwards and the Spider" and "After the Surprising Conversions") that directly reference the works of Edwards.

And moving on:

I'm sure that there's a kind of weird poetry in, say, the Constitution of the Confederacy, but it's wrapped around ideas that are so morally repugnant to most sensible people that it's hard to see it just as literature of its period - maybe in part because so many people are still being affected by the fallout of those unpleasant philosophies. Is Sinners different? If it is, why?

Of all the miscellaneous knacks picked up during the course of getting a degree in literature, I never expected the ability to comprehend the existence of the category "well-written example of something I don't agree with/don't particularly like" to turn out to be the controversial one.

Of course, it's always possible that the fact that I was able to listen to the recording of Edwards' sermon and admire its control of rhetorical pace and its use of rhythm and alliteration to reinforce the emotional effect means that I'm not one of the sensible people referenced above.

#49 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2003, 11:16 AM:

Um. You should all feel free to talk about your religiously difficult childhoods; but is anyone here laboring under the impression that I didn't have one?

Religion is a very big subject in human history; likewise in American history and literature. You have to ask yourself whether you're really prepared to cede it to exactly those people you disagree with most. It seems to me that that's at least as big an error as the habit certain lefties have of rejecting anything having to do with war, weapons, or military history. It leaves the other side in uncontested possession of the field.

Let us suppose that you are prepared to do just that with religion. It's your choice; you're free to do so. Perhaps I don't fully appreciate your painful history. Perhaps you were raised in a more all-encompassing, headtripping, teleologically and eschatologically straitjacketed, 24/7/365 religion than I was. I acknowledge the possibility. But I know for sure that three or four of the regulars here had religious upbringings I wouldn't hesitate to classify as "downright scary," and none of them are chewing on me for being interested in Jonathan Edwards.

I like to believe that I've put a lot of work into distinguishing between the bad preaching and worse Sunday-school lessons that alienated me as a child, and the subject of religion itself. I also like to believe that even if I'd come out on the other end of that process as an agnostic or atheist, I'd still be able to recognize how much of human history and culture are tied up in religion, one way or another.

Some years back, we were touristing around NYC with an out-of-town friend. When we got to the Cathedral of St. John the Unfinished (a good last stop; you can get pizza at V&T's afterward), he balked on the front steps and wouldn't go in.

"These aren't my guys," he said.

"These aren't my guys either," I told him, "but this stuff is the common inheritance of Western civilization."

I'm still of that opinion.

Meanwhile: Simon, you're of course free to stay or go, but I'll regret it if you go.

#50 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2003, 11:22 AM:

Or, to put it another way: why didn't this happen when the subject of Lolita came up?

#51 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2003, 11:48 AM:

A different thought: perhaps what we're seeing here is that Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God still hits people like a ton of bricks. The modern reaction may not be the same as that of Edwards' contemporaries, but the reaction is still there.

Sam, the oration for Sextus Roscius is a goody. I had to go through it a couple of times and read the annotations, but once you get past the strangeness it's wonderfully dramatic. Do we have any idea of the style in which he delivered it?

#52 ::: Sam Dodsworth ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2003, 12:05 PM:

Theresa, my Latin's only just good enough to handle facing-text-and-translation (if you see what I mean) but the Perseus translation seems to be very literal, if a little archaic in the choice of words.

As for delivery... I don't really know, but I find it hard to imagine anything other than a really bombastic style with a lot of dramatic gestures. (Part of the pleasure for me is the image of a very young Cicero standing up in court and launching into this incredibly over the top speech that _begins_ by accusing the prosecutors of the murder his client is on trial for.) I think it would have been considered over the top at the time, too - his later speeches read more smoothly but are a lot less fun, in my opinion.

#53 ::: Sam Dodsworth ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2003, 12:09 PM:

Oh, and I just noticed - "assassins and gladiators" (on the page that I link to) is best read as "assassins and gangsters" in this context. Literal translation over idiomatic again.

#54 ::: Dan Layman-Kennedy ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2003, 12:17 PM:

Of all the miscellaneous knacks picked up during the course of getting a degree in literature, I never expected the ability to comprehend the existence of the category "well-written example of something I don't agree with/don't particularly like" to turn out to be the controversial one.

Not controversial to me. I was mostly just musing on my own obstacles to appreciate, as art, something whose philosophy I have such a strong aversive reaction to, and I don't think I made that terribly clear. Anyone who is able to do that gets my respect and admiration. It's one of the reasons I'm a much lousier academic than I like to think. As another example (if I may compare great things with small), some part of me can stand back and accept that "The Well-Tempered Plot Device" is an exquisitely crafted piece of work, but I still can't get halfway through it without wanting to reach for my Beating Stick.

Religion is a very big subject in human history; likewise in American history and literature. You have to ask yourself whether you're really prepared to cede it to exactly those people you disagree with most.

Indeed. Again, my hat's off to anyone who's better prepared than I am to do just that. I know that I probably ought to be more willing than I am to make that leap if I want to have a real appreciation of history, literature and a great many other things besides. (It just isn't easy knowing that the difference between me and the average Baptist preacher is that I don't give a damn what religion he is. But I acknowledge that that hangup is entirely my own.)

Or, to put it another way: why didn't this happen when the subject of Lolita came up?

Because plaid skirts beat Puritan blacks hands-down any day of the week? Your mileage, naturally, may vary.

#55 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2003, 12:29 PM:

A long time ago, I was involved in the edges of a university bulletin board discussion where someone answered the question about 'why are there no people who have shrieking fits about pagan education in quite the same way as about Catholic education?' with (something like) 'because many more people have had personal interactions with Sister Mary Discipline than with Priestess Margret Thou-dost-grieve-the- Goddess-child'.

There's a difference in people's ability to unwind childhood trauma, and a difference in the traumas; I haven't gone to look at that sermon because I was beaten as a child over (among other things) conduct taken as indicating disagreement with points of theology of which I was completely ignorant. (Complaints of ignorance being taken as evidence of willful wrongdoing, I learned not to make them.) The language of the King James Bible is one of the foundations of English literature; that's one of the reasons I don't have an English degree, because I can't unwind the events from the things associated with the events far enough to enjoy them.

I lose pieces of music and poems like that, too, though nothing like so thoroughly in adulthood.

So for me, this is entirely a meta-discussion, because I don't care to give myself the shakes by dealing, not with the sermon, but with the ghosts out of memory that are glued to the fashion of language.

That's a loss, and in a number of ways I regret it, but it isn't anyone else's loss, and these days I mostly manage to remember that.

#56 ::: Alan Bostick ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2003, 01:13 PM:

In my college American Lit class we read both "Sinners" and "A Personal Narrative". The latter is Edwards's account of his religious development, and it includes a beautiful description of youthful religious epiphany.

The contrast between the essay and the sermon is remarkable. The essay made me feel that Edwards was someone with whom I could have a meaningful conversation. My reaction to the sermon, on the other hand, is that I would spit in the street if I met its author. That's one evil sermon.

Dan Layman-Kennedy: And this discussion has underlined for me that, though I am interested in horror, I'm much less inclined to be interested in the Stephen King variety of the-bad-are-punished-and-the-good-are-victims. The moral landscape just doesn't quite resonate for me. I much prefer the nihilistic ambiguities of Poe, Lovecraft, Ligotti, but then I've always preferred ambiguity to any of the alternatives. :)

I recently reread some of Lovecraft's stories; and I was left with the strong conviction that HPL was engaging in conversation with Nathaniel Hawthorne at least as much as Hawthorne was with Edwards.

I am not yet convinced that "Sinners" is the 'ur-text of American horror'. But if "literary influence" decodes to "Author X read the writings of Author Y, which had a significant impact on her", then Edwards influenced Hawthorne, Hawthorne influenced Lovecraft, and Lovecraft influenced, well, everybody (Stephen King included).

And as an aside, in the Great Chain of Being Influenced, I would put Shirley Jackson solidly between Henry James and Stephen King.

#57 ::: Rachel Brown ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2003, 01:20 PM:

I am the only person I know who managed to have a childhood which was religiously traumatic in not one, but two different religions.

I was raised on an ashram in India devoted to Meher Baba (best known as Pete Townshend's guru, one of the inspirations for "Baba O'Riley," for keeping silence for 44 years, and for his slogan "Don't worry be happy.)

But since the ashram was located in a complete backwater, the only school in town was a convent run by stereotypical abusive nuns who tried to convert the mostly Hindu students by beating us with rulers and sticks.

So I am very fond of Teresa's essay on her Mormon childhood. Teresa, why don't you post a link to it here? It seems very relevant to the discussion, and I can't find it here.

Regarding "Sinners," I'm sure I would react to it the way I do to much Baba philosophy and stories of martyred women who chose death rather than rape and went to heaven to play with Jesus and the little angels, had similar sermons been preached at me with such regularity and enthusiasm when I was a kid.

Since they weren't, and since I know little about the history of Christianity in the US, I can only say, "What a great use of rhythm and metaphor. I last read the thing in high school, and as soon as I heard the title, I could recall all that stuff about spiders over a bonfire. Now that's writing."

Which no doubt would make the author shudder in his grave.

#58 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2003, 01:50 PM:

To return to a remark by Lenny Bailes, which, I see, has inspired Teresa to create a Particle:

"When I saw the title of this blog entry, my first thought was that it was going to be a reference to John Cramer's simulation of the sound of the Big Bang."

I am reminded of a story. I have written this before, elsewhere, but the guy behind this joke has been dead many years, and it's a good way to remember him....

Years ago there was a Silly Science Fair held as part of our local science fiction convention. Entrants were encouraged to create bogus or parody science projects.

Dan Cohn entered one whose centerpiece was a recording of the "cosmic background radiation--" the microwave hiss of three-degree-Kelvin blackbody photons left over from the early moments of the hot universe. It sounded like this:

"Sssssssssssssss...."

Dan claimed to have applied advanced forms of signal processing to this (apparent) noise, and after all his fancy algorithms and equipment had worked on the background radiation, the tape sounded like this:

[faint voice over background hiss]

"The time...

at the bang...

will be Zero....

exactly."

#59 ::: Kellie ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2003, 01:51 PM:

It's funny. Having seen this sermon in a rhetoric class, I never read it in any other context but how it was written. Sure, we learned a bit about it's historical background because that was necessary to realize the motive behind the rhetoric and to understand the rhetoric better. Edwards' sermon was presented to me in a fashion that allowed me to disassociate my religion and faith from it. I don't think it would've mattered if it had presented in another way, though. I was raised Catholic - minus Sister Mary Discipline (she appeared in college in the form of my dorm rectress). And the tenet I took from that education was that God wasn't angry (thus negating much of Edwards' sermon for me) but I was most certainly a sinner. An entirely different matched luggage set.

Teresa, thanks for the suggestion about The Screwtape Letters. I haven't heard Cleese's reading, nor have I read the book, not having enjoyed The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe enough to seek out more work by CS Lewis. I will have to remedy this.

#60 ::: Kristine ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2003, 02:07 PM:

Like Teresa, I grew up Mormon, and I think that may actually confer some small advantage in the appreciation of the sermon as an artistic form. Mormons have no professional clergy, which means that members of the congregation take turns delivering more or less (mostly less) coherent "talks." There's little exposition of theology, appealing or otherwise, and almost no appreciation of rhetorical forms or of metaphor. It's all personal testimonials and repeated bits of doggerel and sentimental stories. So for me, at least, running into a sermon that deploys effective and well-chosen metaphors and demonstrates some literary skill seems so breathtakingly wonderful that it takes a while to even register the underlying theology through my sense of aesthetic relief. (Not saying that's a responsible position, necessarily, just explaining why it's easy for me to disconnect sermons from their sometimes distasteful religious underpinnings to appreciate them as cultural artifacts)

#61 ::: Kate Nepveu ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2003, 03:02 PM:

Mormons have no professional clergy, which means that members of the congregation take turns delivering more or less (mostly less) coherent "talks."

Does one ever get de facto clergy? People whose turn seems to come up more often on the rota? Alternatively, does absenteeism rise when someone known to be longwinded is up?

Curiously,

#62 ::: nerdycellist ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2003, 04:03 PM:

The mormon sacrament meeting is pretty much straight out of Roberts Rules of Order, with the addition of a few hymns, and the passing around of trays full of bread and water.

The Bishop (sort of like a Catholic Priest)and his counsellors don't neccesarily deliver the "talks". Members of the congregation are called to do so, regardless of ecclesiastical authority (such as it is in that church). Most of the talks go something like:

"Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary, 3rd edition, copyright 1992, defines 'faith' as.... drone drone BofM Scripture Reference Chapter and Verse listing wheeze drone KJV Bible Chapter and Verse blah blah Ensign Article Including All Bibliographic Information woof woof bark bark Faith Promoting Personal Story Isaythesethingsinthenameofjesuschristamen."

Oddly enough, as a young woman, (between 14-18) I was called on more than once to give talks, simply because I had theatrical experience and enough good sense to understand literary form, structure and pacing - I gave a short talk that put no one to sleep. If I couldn't weasel out of giving the talk by doing a musical number, that is.

I'm right there with Kristine though - because of the utter lack of ritual in my religious background, I really enjoy the "trappings" of other faiths, including a well written sermon, at least from a literary point of view. (for inspiring, I'm with Kristine again; John Donne is my boyfriend.) My cold atheist heart was also very moved every time I attended services St. John The Un-Finished. Vaughan-Williams blasting out of that organ sends shivers up my spine.

Although I will freely admit to not being able to discuss Lolita rationally. I actually had to leave a room the last time it was brought up. No good reason for it, but there it is.

#63 ::: Kristine ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2003, 04:04 PM:

Kate asks:

Does one ever get de facto clergy? People whose turn seems to come up more often on the rota? Alternatively, does absenteeism rise when someone known to be longwinded is up?

No, not for the main meeting, but there are often semi-permanent Sunday School teachers (invariably awful ones, in my experience), even though that job is also supposed to be regularly rotated. As for skipping the most boring talks, most Mormons are thoroughly conditioned to believe that if they are bored by a speaker, the fault is their own, rather than the speaker's--they believe that boredom is the result of "not being in tune with the spirit." Quite neatly solves the potential problem of selective attendance.

#64 ::: Elizabeth ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2003, 04:38 PM:

Teresa, I can't speak for anyone else, but I will say YES to your comment:
"perhaps what we're seeing here is that Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God still hits people like a ton of bricks."

I am twitchy about Christianity due to my Catholic upbringing. It is hard for me to read religious texts about Christianity without sweating a bit (although it was easier for me to do this when JUST studying the language of them, like the New Testament for classics).

Since I live in the Bible Belt, I still get exposed to lots of Christian religious texts, from random comments to badly produced comic book tracts. It is much much much easier to distance myself from badly written, silly stuff than it is from the really well written stuff (like Edwards).

I think the brand of religion I was raised in is also a factor. The guys in church faced the altar, not the congregation (I have no idea if this is still true today). I think that contributed to my inability to listen/read as easily--participation and choice weren't encouraged. Religion was given to me, not something I could *do*.

Anyway, I get your interest in this sermon--I also adore reading about religion (as long as it's not my childhood religion). The language is often fabulous. I've always thought people get most eloquent when they're most passionate. I also enjoy other people's philosphies and moral discussions. But this sermon is one you can enjoy and I can't (I've read it and heard it). I think that's a shame, and if I could change that, I would.

-E

#65 ::: Debra Doyle ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2003, 05:13 PM:

But if "literary influence" decodes to "Author X read the writings of Author Y, which had a significant impact on her", then Edwards influenced Hawthorne, Hawthorne influenced Lovecraft, and Lovecraft influenced, well, everybody (Stephen King included.)

That's pretty much the concept of literary influence in a nutshell, yep.

#66 ::: Brooks Moses ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2003, 06:20 PM:

I'll preface this by saying that it's not really something that fits in the pattern of the discussion, so much as an encapsulation of some thoughts I had while reading it.

I notice that virtually all of the people who have an emotional difficulty in appreciating the sermon for its oratorial art are explaining it with having a Christian upbringing that they've left behind but still have emotional scars from. I have a similar difficulty with it, but it's a rather different basis -- which I report on, in hopes that someone else might find it interesting....

I was raised as a Christian, and -- with the examining of faith that comes with growing up -- I now choose to believe in essentially the same version of that faith that my parents had. This sermon was preached by a Christian preacher to a Christian congregation; it was preached with an assumption that those it was being preached to would agree with its theology. And in it I see the same expectation of me; it is a language not of telling me of some other faith, but a language that is purporting to tell me of my own faith, and a there is an inarguable belief on the part of the author that he is indeed doing so.

And this, then, is the problem I have with it: insofar as it purports to tell me of my own faith, it is wrong. Worse, it is insidiously wrong; it starts out being right, and gets to things that are horribly wrong without appearing to be anywhere different. And it is powerful: I cannot read it in a detached manner, see it as this thing under glass that can be dissected and talked about with disinterest -- it compels me to react to it, to settle concretely in my mind the fact that it is wrong, and to protest it.

So, no, I can't easily look at it merely as a work of oratory, and see its literary merits, or as a piece of history, and see the Awakening that came after it; to look it in the face I must first embrace it on theological merits, and argue the points with it, and determine why it is flawed and where. I have not fought it to submission, to where I know the weaknesses are without needing to battle its logic to find them; nor do I have the option of dismissing it with "that's not talking about anything I believe in." And so for me to look at it in seriousness is to fight with it, and to appreciate it requires that I win (on at least my terms; I harbor no illusions of being able to win on its terms) rather than retreat. It is powerfully well written; it would, I am sure, repay the effort were I to do so. But, in being powerfully well written, it is also a formidable adversary.

#67 ::: Ms. Jen ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2003, 07:12 PM:

I did a search for John Donne and found several sites with complete sermons available. I would like to join the John Donne as my literary boyfriend club. ;oP

John Donne -Sermon XXVII

This site has a large listing of Donne works and there are seven sermons near the bottom.

#68 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2003, 10:41 PM:

Thank you very much for this -- reading the text has always been a crashing bore, but hearing it preached is different. I can see the effect that this must have had. It is important and worth posting and listening too. I may link to this myself.

And that is what I found truly striking about this recording -- this was not a performance, this was a pastor who, once things had been framed properly, thought this would be truly the Word of God, the Good News proclaimed in the midst of the faithful. I believe that Pastor Dever seems to, at some level, agree with Edwards that there is value in trying to quite literally scare the Hell out his listeners: He assumed that motivating his hearers by fear was legitimate, if the fears were well-founded, and the motivation charitable. If Dever intended anything else that this be taken at some level as a real sermon that day, he would be violating his responsiblity as a pastor -- some other time would be more appropriate for a simple historical lesson.

I can also see that Edwards really had a charitable aim -- to call lukewarm and conventional Christians to a renewed and burning faith. Admonitory literature is not unusual, both in the Bible and throughout the history of Christianity. There is quite a bit of it in the New Testament, and as C.S.Lewis pointed out, the really tough sayings come straight from Jesus. Another example closer to home is the The Rule of St. Benedict. Chapter 7, On Humility, which includes the 'ladder of humility', makes repeated references to Hell. (Even AA has it's stories in the Big Book about "hitting bottom".) There is a use for such literature in the spiritual life.

But even when I read with genuine appreciation other works by Edwards, such as A Farewell Sermon, I can't warm to the man himself or what I can perceive of his spirituality. I can admire his writings as documents, but they really do not touch me. Edwards preaches about a God that is not transcendent but detached, angry, and capricious, leaving us adrift in a hostile world. Even when preaching on charity or love, he seems to spend much of his time denouncing what he sees as imperfect application of some principle. And unfortunately there seem to be many people like him around today.

I find this, at best, an incomplete view of the Christian faith (at least as I understand and try to practice it), and can easily see why it will cause discomfort for those who have been injured in some way by Christians or those calling themselves Christians.

#69 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2003, 10:42 PM:

Dang -- even with preview I managed to screw up too and to again.

#70 ::: Kate Nepveu ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2003, 10:27 AM:

Kristine: most Mormons are thoroughly conditioned to believe that if they are bored by a speaker, the fault is their own, rather than the speaker's--they believe that boredom is the result of "not being in tune with the spirit." Quite neatly solves the potential problem of selective attendance.

My first reaction is, "why couldn't it be the *speaker* that's not in tune with the spirit?", but then I'm not religious.

Anyway, to the extent I've encountered religious services, they've mostly been Catholic, so how things work with lay clergy is interesting to me. Thanks for the information.

#71 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2003, 02:46 PM:

Teresa's 1980 essay about her experiences with (and excommunication from) Mormonism is online here.

#72 ::: Alan Bostick ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2003, 03:39 PM:

Me: But if "literary influence" decodes to "Author X read the writings of Author Y, which had a significant impact on her", then Edwards influenced Hawthorne, Hawthorne influenced Lovecraft, and Lovecraft influenced, well, everybody (Stephen King included.)

Debra Doyle That's pretty much the concept of literary influence in a nutshell, yep.

Okay, I think I get it. I first read The Lord of the Rings when I was ten years old, and cannot count the number of times I've reread it in the years since. The trilogy has had an enormous impact on me.

So, by this notion of "influence", J.R.R. Tolkien has influenced all the Texas hold'em hand analyses I've posted to rec.gambling.poker, right?

#73 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2003, 04:09 PM:

Alan --

If your prose style in writing a poker hand analysis derives in some part from that influence, yes, of course.

Literary influence isn't as mechanically testable as something like biological descent, it's a question of what is visibile in your writing to other messy and erratic human pattern recognizing machines.

#74 ::: Dan Layman-Kennedy ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2003, 04:47 PM:

I recently reread some of Lovecraft's stories; and I was left with the strong conviction that HPL was engaging in conversation with Nathaniel Hawthorne at least as much as Hawthorne was with Edwards.

I'm sure you're right. It's been too long since I read Hawthorne (and, for that matter, Supernatural Horror in Literature, in which I'd wager he's at least mentioned) to make the connection myself.

And the influence of Puritan New England is abundantly clear in HPL's work, ambiguous nihilism or no, which certainly contributes to the notion that Edwards at his pulpit is standing behind the heritage of American horror since before there was such a thing.

#75 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2003, 05:22 PM:

Alan, are you trifling with Doyle? I wouldn't.

Graydon, it's not just the higher incidence of Catholics than pagans. There's the second-order effect of knowing that there are people listening who'll understand. I didn't have that assurance back in the days of mimeographed fanzines, but now I do, and O! the difference to me.

I can't agree that your understandable aversion to religious language "isn't anyone else's loss." I grieve that it happened to you, but I also regret that I'll never get to hear what you might have done with the language of the KJV and the Book of Common Prayer.

How are you on Middle English?

Rachel, I do believe you take the prize for the weirdest religious upbringing I've ever heard of: Meher Baba plus the sort of narrow-minded authoritarian Catholicism that mixes corporal punishment with tales of ahistorical virgin martyrs. Did you ever find yourself thinking, "I'll bet there are people out there who are a lot saner than this"?

I did post a link to "God and I", but I was being excessively reticent, and only linked to a single letter in one of my earlier comments. That wasn't as useful as it might have been.

Kristine: Thank you. It hadn't occurred to me to connect my love of good preaching with the wholesale lots of bad preaching I had to listen to in my youth. That's how I first made the acquaintance of the KJV. It saved me from an untimely death by cumulative boredom.

You should see what Catholics think qualifies as a long, turgid sermon. It's nothing by Mormon standards. A mere twenty or thirty minutes of incomprehensible blather? Hah! I could do that standing on my head. On the other hand, their hymn-singing tends to be a little spiritless, but that may be because they're not desperately trying to stay awake.

Nerdy: Dictionary definitions? Footnotes? You mean talks have gotten worse? I'm appalled. In my day, you didn't have to deal with anything worse than pointless and irrelevant anecdotes from the New Era or Ensign, and they authorities were a lot less disapproving about Faith-Promoting Rumors. I assume that burying one's testimony is still felt to be an obligation.

Hey, that reminds me: There's the other big difference between Mormon and gentile services. They don't bear their testimonies at every opportunity. In fact, they hardly do it at all. This frees them up to talk about lots of other worthy and useful things.

I was once trying to explain the whole testimony-bearing thing to Patrick. He asked whether there were any occasions where it wouldn't be appropriate. I had to think about that. Obviously, you ought not do it while someone else is giving a talk, especially if they're bearing their own testimony. While it might at most be considered an excess of pious enthusiasm to do it in the middle of your own wedding, it would definitely be a gaffe to do it in the middle of someone else's wedding. Finally, bearing your testimony while running away from a four-alarm fire would only be inappropriate if (1.) it caused any brethren within earshot to slow down so they could hear you, or (2.) you didn't have enough wind to talk and run away at the same time.

If you ever want to shock Catholics, tell them about videotaping and replaying standard segments of rituals to save on labor. Their hair doesn't quite stand on end, but it comes close.

Lolita is brilliant, but it bothers me too.

Until now, I'd completely forgotten about the principle that boredom is the hearer's fault; but now that you mention it, it all comes back to me. I cherished a secret resentment about that one. If boredom is the hearer's fault, so is interest and instructive content; and at that rate we could all stay home and do it ourselves.

More anon.

#76 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2003, 05:42 PM:

I was raised by a fairly rabid atheist (well, he claimed he was an agnostic, in the common (as opposed to theological-technical) sense; atheism was where his heart was, but it wasn't scientific (or scientistic) enough).

He had been raised a Baptist, of the hellfire variety. He'd been the sort of person who went around on Tuesdays (that was his night) and rang doorbells to ask people if they were saved.

I don't know what happened, but it left him with spiritual scars. Any form of spirituality was derided and belittled in our home. Particularly when I went through the period I call "dabbling in Christianity" (hey, I was a teenager...when I became a man, I put aside childish things). I didn't meet any non-icky Christians until I was in college (as far as I knew...'icky' meant that they went around proclaiming it, and saying "in Christ" way too much; there might have been non-icky Christians around me the whole time, but I never noticed them).

So this sermon was kind of creepy for me. Also it was an embarrassing moment in high school; I was picked (naturally) to give a dramatic reading of it to my English class. No time to prepare; just "get up and read." I could sense the rhetorical rhythm of it, even without having read it before, so I was just working up a good head of elocutionary steam when...I turned the page to discover that we had only an excerpt, and it came to an abrupt end, without time for a winddown or explosion or anything. I brought it down the best I could, but I was mortified.

I'm not sure anyone else noticed.

Actually, while I remember the event as embarrassing, the memory itself is kind of pleasant. The text itself doesn't bother me that much; the spiritual abuse I suffered took a very different form. But I know lots of people who were abused by this sort of rhetoric; I can understand how they'd find its literary merit difficult to perceive.

WRT the horror connection: Stephen King doesn't have any power to scare me. For most of his books, you have to believe in Hell, the Devil, and the Antichrist, or it's pretty well ho-hum stuff. I find his writing not at all to my liking, so reading him isn't worth it FOR ME. Does that mean he's not worth reading? No. Does it mean no King reader gets away with critting me for reading Ellis or Elizabeth Peters? Yep. But none have, and I'll do them the same courtesy.

#77 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2003, 05:53 PM:

Graydon, I agree with Teresa. When a person is cut off by trauma from something of value, it deprives all of us of the interesting things s/he might have done with it.

#78 ::: Yonmei ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2003, 05:57 PM:

Bearing your testimony, Teresa, is language that was part of my religious childhood too - though with a different slant on the words. Quakers don't do professional ministry either. Friends speak in Meeting "as the Spirit moves them" - "bearing your testimony" is action or words outside Meeting, to those not already convinced. (From the minutes of the London Yearly Meeting in 1725, quoted in my copy of Christian Faith and Practice: "Let us watch diligently over our own spirits, that we are conformable to the spirit of truth, whereby our behaviour and conversation may be such as becomes godliness, and may adorn the doctrine of Christ Jesus our Lord, who mercifully hath called us to be a people faithful in bearing testimony to the great truths of the Christian religion, which he hath revealed, and against every appearance of antichrist and wickedness.")

I was brought up a Quaker, went to Meeting weekly, and then left home and stopped going to Meeting - and then for various reasons started going back to Meeting on a semi-regular basis for over a year.

Quakers speak in Meeting as the spirit moves them. However, it's notable that members and regular attenders have what appears to be an unconscious but quite meticulous sense of when the spirit may move.

One must wait for an undefined period of time after one Friend has spoken before another Friend may get up and speak: and although this period of time is undefined, it is nonetheless so precise that at a large and lively Meeting I found I could tell to within half a minute when the next person was going to get up and speak.

One must not speak for too long. Although there is no set minimum or maximum period, it's remarkable how Friends tend to confine themselves to speaking for two minutes. (No, I never actually timed it. I'm just saying that when a Friend went on for longer than two minutes it was noticeable.)

One should not rehearse what one is going to say before Meeting begins. And you can tell when someone gets up to say something that occurred to them to say on the way to Meeting - even when they don't preface their remarks with "As I was coming to Meeting this morning..."

I have no idea how many times I have listened to the Spirit move someone to speak, but it's got to be in the high hundreds, even if I only count the fifty-odd Meetings I've been to as an adult. It's true that individual contributions to a Meeting for Worship have rarely stuck in my mind.

And Quakers don't sing hymns. Well, not in Meeting. We do sing for fun outside Meeting, and hymns and carols and secular songs may all be sung - but it's probably significant that one of the most popular songs at Quaker Youth groups is "One Friend and the Clerk went to sleep in Meeting" to the tune of One man and his dog went to mow a meadow.

Also, Meetings for Worship last for one hour. At most. (Though Friends Meetings for Worship for Business can, so I am told, go on for what may feel like an eternity, due to Quaker rules about never making a decision about anything until everyone present at the meeting agrees to it. No consensus, no majority vote.) Fortunately, as I've never been a Member, I've never been required to attend one...

#79 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2003, 06:05 PM:

Yonmei, I once gave a workshop on types of Silence to a lot of Pagans. What I called "Quaker silence" was that waiting until it's time to speak that you describe. I'm convinced it's not some little clock running, but a sense of the readiness of the other people in the room to hear more. But I've never been to a real Quaker Meeting; that's how it works in Pagan circles.

One question: I always understood consensus to mean "everyone present agrees to it." What distinction are you making? The consensuses (ow) that I've been part of have sometimes included someone formally "standing aside," or agreeing to agree without agreeing, so to speak; thus everyone agrees to the course of action, even though some may not believe it to be best. Is that the sort of thing that is disallowed in Quaker Business Meetings?

#80 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2003, 06:11 PM:

I'm not shocked by how much sudden ire this topic raised.

I had a Fine Arts Professor remark that, in her experience both as a working artist and as a teacher, these were the four "Big" topics - Sex, love, death, and god. In that order from the easiest to the most difficult to deal with well as an artist, from least to most likely to offend someone, and from least to most likely to be a memorable experience when it is done with sincerity and thought.

I'm still not sure I entirely agree (Although time and experience are bringing me to believe that yes, love is a harder topic for most people than sex - which is why so much fictional romance is mere lustful passion) and like all generalizations, the best exploration of one subject may outstrip the mediocre in another. But even at the time, I was pretty sure she was right about where religion sits on the scale.

Everyone gets offended by something religious. or sacreligious.

#81 ::: Kellie ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2003, 06:11 PM:

Teresa wrote: If you ever want to shock Catholics, tell them about videotaping and replaying standard segments of rituals to save on labor. Their hair doesn't quite stand on end, but it comes close.

*feeling the hairs lift from her scalp* Before this gets any worse and I start looking like I just put my hand on a Van de Graaf generator.... Are you saying that they'll tape parts of a service, for example, and then replay the tape for the congregation during the relevant portions of subsequent services? And, as the hairs inch up higher, would such a process be used for such important things along the lines of the Liturgy of the Eucharist? Wow. Although it does have a certain appeal. Perhaps the powers that be in LDS could hire Madden to commentate on the execution of the Breaking of the Bread play.

All this talk of long sermons (homilies?) reminds me of the Seven Minute Priest. The man had Mass down to a streamlined process. No puttering around in silly theological concerns for him. He had a tee time to keep! I was in a choir at the time and remember being disappointed when he said Mass because it meant we'd never get past the first verse in our songs.

#82 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2003, 06:14 PM:

Videotaping leads inevitably to fast-forwarding.

Also, by now I bet they're streamed on the Internet.

#83 ::: Yonmei ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2003, 06:25 PM:

Xopher asked: Is that the sort of thing that is disallowed in Quaker Business Meetings?

In a word, yes. Friends Meetings for Worship for Business are meetings for worship, as much as meetings for business: if you feel an objection to a decision, that is the spirit moving you to object: and since the spirit cannot possibly be moving the Meeting in two different directions, it must be that the Meeting has failed to see what the correct decision ought to be. Under those circumstances it would be morally wrong to stand aside and agree to disagree: the decision may have to be set aside for prayer and thought, but it can't be made over someone's objections.

But I speak in this matter only from what I have read and from what I have been told (by family participants) about such Meetings - attenders don't go, and members don't speak in any detail about what was discussed. All I've gathered is that the process can go on forever. (I have waited, as a child, for such Meetings to end, and they can go on for quite a while after the allotted time.)

#84 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2003, 07:52 PM:

There are several different versions of consensus out there (and having lived in a cohousing group that made decisions by consensus, and been on the national CoHousing Board which did the same, I've got a bit of experience here). Here's a definition that one of the people I've been working with on massage licensure in CA recently quoted:

Consensus:

A group decision (which some may not feel is the best
decision, but which they can all live with, support, and
commit themselves to not undermine). It is arrived at
...though a process whereby the issues are fully aired; all
feel that they have been adequately heard, in which
everyone has equal power and responsibility. Different
degrees of influence, by virtue of individual stubbornness or
charisma, are avoided so that all are satisfied with the
process. This process requires the members to be
emotionally present and engaged, frank in a loving, mutually
respectful manner, sensitive to each other; to be selfless,
dispassionate, and capable of emptying themselves and
possessing a paradoxical awareness of the preciousness of
both people and time, (including knowing when the solution
is satisfactory, and that it is time to stop and not reopen the
discussion until such time as the group determines a need
for revision).

Copyright - Valley Diagnostic Clinic and the Foundation
for Community Encouragement, 1988).

And that's a pretty useful definition. And it takes a great deal of time to get there (and if you don't take the time, you get false consensus -- people actually end up undermining the agreed decision, because it's closer to democratic centralism based on who's got the most _sitzfleisch_, to use the chess term). But the time spent getting there, in general, takes time off the other end -- when we all know we're going in a particular direction, we spend less time second-guessing which path to take. Marci Malinowycz called this "front-loading the decision", which seems very accurate. In any group I'm working with, I'll look for consensus -- if I can't get it, I'll look for a good decisiont that almost everyone can support.

"Standing aside" is not "agreeing to disagree" in a simple sense, when done properly. Standing aside is saying, in effect, this isn't the direction I'd choose if I were alone, but I think the group will find this an effective direction and we'll actually move forward -- and I don't think it will harm the group, or the goals we've agreed upon. If one thinks it's the wrong decision _for the group under the agreed rules_, one has a moral obligation to block the decision. And under consensus rules, any individual has the right to block. And this can be very difficult, both for the individual and the group.

Consensus is difficult, but I've found it very rewarding (especially when I've learned enough to change my mind on an issue).

And I'm listening to the Albion Band's new Christmas album, which segues from two Sydney Carter songs ("Julian of Norwich" and "Come Love Carolling") to Jackson Browne's "Rebel Jesus" -- Ashley Hutchings is an Interesting Man, says I. May the season and the solstice bring new thoughts to your life.

Cheers,
Tom

#85 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2003, 07:53 PM:

If you ever want to shock Catholics, tell them about videotaping and replaying standard segments of rituals to save on labor. Their hair doesn't quite stand on end, but it comes close.

Too true Teresa -- a high-church Anglican, though, would be reduced to a quivering state, staring blankly into space while quietly muttering "decency and order" over and over . . .

#86 ::: nerdycellist ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2003, 08:01 PM:

Teresa -

As of about 13 years ago in the suburbs of Chicago, that's how most of the talks went, with bibliograpical references and dictionary citations. This always came off very much like an attempt to impress the congregation with the trappings of Great Knowledge, and also, to fill time up (I seem to remember references to a 7-minute Talk).

The last time I went to a Mormon related service it was to my grandmother's funeral about 4 years ago, and I remember noting how business-meeting-like the Bishop's words were; all Plan-of-Salvation crap. I half expected a power-point presentation involving a pie-chart of the three kingdoms of heaven. It was cold and almost passive-agressively fire-and-brimstone: I would expect words at a funeral to reflect the deceased, her life and the like, but instead, it was just re-iterating what 98.7% of the congregation already believed, with vague, smiling threats about Outer Darkness (the other 1.3% of the congregation being represented by my apostate sibs and myself. Fun fact: according to Mormon theology, Hitler does not qualify for Outer Darkness. But I do.)

I think that's what impresses me about Jonathan Edwards and his sermon: There's a point to it. He doesn't shy away from what he perceives as the facts. I don't find him any more theologically suspect than a great many belief systems, but neither to I subscribe to that theology. That I can read it in an historical context allows me to appreciate it strictly as literature.

There was no passion when I went to church. Not in the music, not in the sermons. I got my share of harmful, psychologically damaging messages (ask me about the object lessons regarding chastity. shudder) but not in any kind of emotionally immediate way. If that makes any sense.

And as for the videotaping services, I believe the Big mormon temple ceremonies involve a video/film of a dramatic bible story. But as I never got that far in the church, I can't say for certain.

#87 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2003, 08:49 PM:

ask me about the object lessons regarding chastity.

Okay, what about the object lessons regarding chastity?

#88 ::: nerdycellist ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2003, 09:41 PM:

OK, picture a group of 6 or 7 14 year-old girls, all wearing tea-legnth dresses, most with puff sleeves, chintz, floral print, lace collars butt bows, or all of the above. (Plus one in floor legnth black with no frou frou and doc martens.)

A middle-aged lady comes in (in essentially the same dress as the former) smiling brightly, and carrying a small piece of plywood, a nail, a hammer and some putty. The middle aged lady greets us all, lets us know how we are all such Sweet Spirits, and tells us we will be talking about Celestial Worthiness. (the previous sunday, the Sunday School lesson covered the importance of being the kind of girl who could attract a righteous priesthood holder to marry. Serious stuff, as the priesthood allows one to get into the highest kingdom of heaven.)

She announces that the plywood represents our Virtue, and speaks vaguely about the nature of sin - nothing specific that might wipe the sickening sweet smile off her face - and forgiveness. You see, God is a loving and kind Heavenly Father, who wants nothing more than to meet us again in the Celestial Kingdom. He can forgive any sin. It's part of why Jesus died for us, nailed to the cross, of course. But some sins are like nails, she explains through clenched smile, as she begins to hammer the nail into the board. After the wood splinters, she turns around the board and brings it up to us individually.

Forgiveness, she says, it like the wood putty. It can repair the board so that it looks just as good as before. And now she gets a little serious, her toothy smile transforming into a smug, pursed-lip grin; But the hole will always be there. The sins which can't be undone Heavenly Father can forgive, but he will never forget. (murder is the other Sin Which Can't Be Undone.)

Knees move almost imperceptibly closer together as everyone in the room nods knowingly.

No, it doesn't quite measure up to a lot of other horrible spiritual abuse I've seen/read about, but give me Spiders Over Fire any day.

#89 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2003, 11:05 PM:

Teresa saith:
You should see what Catholics think qualifies as a long, turgid sermon. It's nothing by Mormon standards. A mere twenty or thirty minutes of incomprehensible blather? Hah! I could do that standing on my head. On the other hand, their hymn-singing tends to be a little spiritless, but that may be because they're not desperately trying to stay awake.

The Boston Globe recently had a long article on the lack of musical tradition in the Catholic church. For an organization with an obvious central authority there certainly are some interesting regional variations ... but it averred that in most regions the hymns just weren't as good as in most Protestant denominations. I recall the author's summary being that Catholic services were less ]participatory[/]involving[ than Protestant, so quality hymns (as opposed to service music from the choir) was less important. (But don't assume that's a good summary. The article was probably in Ideas on 6 Oct, but I can't get the Globe's site to disgorge.)

#90 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2003, 11:25 PM:

Teresa -

I wrote an SCA aware scroll poem (Henry of Linlithgow's Pelican) as a Middle English poem.

My ME vocabulary is dreadful, though.

I often think I give the impression of much greater language skill than I actually have because the way I talk seems like something which must be a conscious construction. (It isn't; I can't talk any other way.)

The language of the KJV and the Book of Common Prayer is certainly familiar, but even if I could deal with it comfortably I'm not sure I'd use it; I don't want to contribute to the belief in a created, rather than a contingent, world.

#91 ::: Madeline ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2003, 12:22 AM:

CHip: it's the time of the year that I start thinking of Quality Christmas Music, and I've gotta say, the stuff I hear in Catholic Churches OwnZ all the rest. But that could be solely due to my deep love of "Once in Royal David's City". When the organ with the pipes large enough to sleep in kicks in...! It's like the moment when the airplane's engines engage, starting it hurtling down the runway. Makes me joyous to be a member of the species that designed such things.

#92 ::: Rachel Brown ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2003, 03:13 AM:

Omigod, I had a very similar experience to the plywood lecture. Except it was about sex and it took place at a public high school in Santa Barbara in the mid-eighties.

A troupe of anti-sex crusaders showed us films of people dying of syphilis, then did a skit in which they taped themselves together to represent unwed sex. Then they ripped off the tape and explained that even if we didn't die of AIDS or get pregnant, having unwed sex would still ruin our lives and be something that we could never get over... just like tape that's been used can never be put back on the roll.

Then they added, "Condoms have been scientifically proven to fail forty percent of the time... and how would you like to be in that forty percent who get AIDS and die?!"

Teresa, coming from the author of "God and I," that's high praise. Because your excommunication struck me as just as weird and funny as any of my own religious experiences. But that's probably because, even though I know my life was weird, I still have difficulty grasping just how MUCH weirder it seems to every other non-Baba-lover I've ever mentioned it to. (Yes, that's what they call themselves.)

And yes, I did console myself with the thought that some other people, who unfortunately didn't live in my town, didn't believe in any of that stuff. Like my Grandpa, a Communist who actually carried a card that said so back in the days when people did that, and whom I adored.

Unsurprisingly, I am now an atheist.

#93 ::: Kellie ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2003, 10:12 AM:

The Boston Globe recently had a long article on the lack of musical tradition in the Catholic church.

There's a lack? The three hour long Easter Vigils I've attended in which it seemed nothing beyond the readings and the sermon could be spoken while everything else was sung would suggest otherwise. Maybe I'm misunderstanding what is meant by "musical tradition." I'll go see about digging up the article.

#94 ::: Michelle ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2003, 10:37 AM:

Did anyone else see the article in this weeks US News on evangelicalism?
(http://www.usnews.com/usnews/issue/031208/misc/8evangelicals.htm)

It starts out: "What would Jonathan Edwards think of suburban Chicago's Willow Creek Community Church, where every weekend some 17,000 congregants arrive in their Chevy Tahoes and Toyota minivans to worship in the enormous brick-and-glass auditorium?"

#95 ::: nerdycellist ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2003, 11:33 AM:

And I'm willing to bet that 16,899 of those congregants would say that while they had seen Edwards on the Sci-Fi channel, they didn't think he could communicate with dead people.

I lived abou 5 miles away from that Willow Creek, and was one of the few girls in high school not invited to one of their Fun Teen Activity Propaganda Fests. They screwed up the traffic for miles.

#96 ::: Ken MacLeod ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2003, 12:13 PM:

The idea of an omnipotent being in a raging fury against you is liable to scare the hell out of you unless or until you try to think through what it means. Edwards certainly thought through the idea of predestination, in The Bondage of the Will, but no explanation I ever heard of it ever made sense. The idea of God flying into a rage over the actions or inactions of people whose every move and thought was the inevitable consequence of His eternal decree is very hard to understand. I admit I found it impossible to understand, which is one reason why I don't believe it.

#97 ::: Ken MacLeod ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2003, 04:44 PM:

Further on my comment above: I was raised in the theology of Edwards, not so much expressed in hellfire sermons as in a daily assumption, the catchphrases of prayer: 'We thank Thee that we meet again on mercy's ground'; 'It is of Thy mercies that we are not consumed'; and so on.

So I thought about it quite a lot. Original sin, predestination, and all that. What rankled about it was what I could only see as the injustice. Eventually I concluded that the idea of an infinite goodness that encompassed the spattering of God's robes with the spurting blood of trampled sinners made no sense whatsoever, particularly as everything these same sinners had done was predetermined by the will of the same divine sinner-stomper.

For me the most nihilistic atheism came as good news. You mean ... there is no moral order in the universe? The heavens are indifferent? We die and that's it? All the sufferings of humanity are meaningless? Nothing exists but atoms and the void?

WOW!


#98 ::: LNHammer ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2003, 05:28 PM:

The only conception of hell that has ever made remote sense I got from, of all places, Dante. Sin damages our souls, and the pure light of the divine hurts when it touches it. To avoid the pain, you have purge the damage with repentance (after death, in purgatory). Heaven and hell, IOW, are statements about spiritual state, not reward or punishment.

Where this falls down for me is, internally, why damage can't be purged in hell and, externally, the whole immortal soul thing. But the above conception is nicely consonant with Quaker theology—though it fits better within liberal Friends. Well, what little there is of Quaker theology.

---L.

#99 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2003, 05:30 PM:

Whereas I was raised on the idea that not only was there no moral order in the universe, neither was there in society, or my home. Not only were the heavens indifferent, so were my parents.

I wound up finding a spiritual path that nurtured me. I hope yours nurtures you, to the extent that you even view it as a spiritual path at all. If not, I hope you find one that does.

#100 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2003, 05:31 PM:

My comment was in reference to Ken's last post, not LNHammer's.

#101 ::: Simon ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2003, 06:54 PM:

Kellie - On the lack of a musical tradition in the Catholic Church: yes, there's a lack. I bet you that, out of every 17,000 Catholics attending an all-musical three-hour Easter Vigil, 16,899 of them won't sing. That doesn't happen in Protestant churches. As far as I know. There's even a book called Why Catholics Can't Sing.

Nerdycellist: Forgiveness, she says, it like the wood putty. It can repair the board so that it looks just as good as before.

Ah, but it doesn't, does it? I once saw a Mormon apologist demonstrate the same point with a glass of clear water, some red food coloring to illustrate sin, and some substance representing forgiveness which was supposed to turn the water clear again, but which actually turned it a sickly milky white. Kind of makes the opposite point to what was intended, doesn't it?

Teresa: Thank you. I'll stay here so long as I can avoid being snippied to death.

#102 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2003, 09:15 PM:

Kellie: Simon makes the point (which I didn't tie clearly enough to T's quote about hymns): I was speaking of music everyone sings, not the singing of the priest. The book Simon mentions was one of the bases of the article.

Madeline: but I think of "Once in Royal David's City" as Anglican, not Catholic, having heard it every year I was near a radio at 9am EST (for the Nine Lessons and Carols from Kings College (Cambridge) -- worth checking your local NPR station for). Worse, I've started to loathe it, thanks to doing it almost every year of the last 13 for a conductor who doesn't understand that if the procession ends early he should skip to the last verse instead of repeating the first verse (or just ending with the obnoxious lines
Christian children all must be
Mild, obedient, good as he.
-- I find even Lloyd Webber's Jesus more plausible than that.) And great organs are fine -- but they're shown off in every David Willcocks arrangement, such that the last verse is seriously lame if the organ isn't one of the greats. Matter of taste, I suppose (and experience -- can you believe my reaction to the chorus's calendar some years ago was "Beethoven's Ninth? Agaaaaain?)

#103 ::: Ken MacLeod ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2003, 03:54 AM:

Xopher: thank you.

#104 ::: Alter S. Reiss ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2003, 08:53 AM:

It appears that my reaction to the reading was profoundly atypical.

From where I was sitting, it wasn't particularly frightening, or evil, or even moving. It was. . . dull, really. At first, I thought that the problem was my general lack of patience for speeches or lectures as a mode of transmitting information, but trying to read the text had a similar result -- I got about halfway through, and gave up.

As a point of reference, Moby Dick is just about my favorite book. (Though I'll admit that I find the sermon in Moby Dick more interesting for what it does in the narrative than as a work of homeletics.)

I suppose my background is partially to blame -- Christianity, in any form, wasn't something that I got much of an indoctronation about, positive or negative; it was pretty much irrelevant to my lives. I did get a sense that it was wrong, and at least somewhat foolish, but all information that I've gotten on the actual Christian religion beyond that didn't come from my family, friends, or neighbors. So I don't get any sort of emotional charge from the subject matter.

And, given the importance Orthodox Judaism attaches to textual analysis, I sort of expected to be interested in that part. But I found the exegesis unconvincing, and was irritated by the way he would wander from straight exegesis to oratory that wasn't particularly close to the text. And I found that attempts at close hermaneutic analysis of English translations of the text just baffle me.

I'm not sure what to make of this; it could be nothing more than that I'm just not good at listening to speeches, which isn't something entirely unknown to me.

#105 ::: Vicki ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2003, 09:40 AM:

Ken wrote "You mean ... there is no moral order in the universe? The heavens are indifferent? We die and that's it? All the sufferings of humanity are meaningless? Nothing exists but atoms and the void?

WOW!"

That's about right from here, but without the element of surprise that you describe.

#106 ::: Kellie ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2003, 10:39 AM:

Simon and CHip: My Catholic upbringing must have been very atypical, then. I grew up attending Mass at chapels on military bases. There were often three to five Catholic services each weekend. Each service usually had a different choir (traditional, folk, etc). And even those who really couldn't sing would join in. I'm used to a lot of Catholic generalisations. And a lack of singing isn't one of them. I suppose I should count myself lucky.

Simon, those three-hour-long Easter Vigils require the congregation to sing. The priest sings, "Peace be with you." And we have to sing, "And also with you." Can't even get away with not singing "Amen" in those services. I was under the impression that whole business was a carryover from the Mass-in-latin days.

#107 ::: Simon ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2003, 11:31 AM:

Kellie - But the whole point is, that's not voluntary.

#108 ::: Kellie ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2003, 12:19 PM:

Simon, I'm sorry. I thought the whole point was that we didn't sing.

#109 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2003, 06:24 PM:

The idea of an omnipotent being in a raging fury against you is liable to scare the hell out of you unless or until you try to think through what it means. Edwards certainly thought through the idea of predestination, in The Bondage of the Will, but no explanation I ever heard of it ever made sense. The idea of God flying into a rage over the actions or inactions of people whose every move and thought was the inevitable consequence of His eternal decree is very hard to understand. I admit I found it impossible to understand, which is one reason why I don't believe it.

I've been thinking about it, and it DOES make sense, if you make one tiny assumption (or depending on how you think about it, admit one inescapable conclusion): that God is evil.

I'm not saying that "God" is evil; I don't even believe in a god whose name is 'God', if you understand me. I'm saying that strict determinists believe in a god who, in my opinion, would have to be considered evil if he were to exist. Therefore it's irrelevant whether such a god is, in fact, the sole Creator and Ruler of the Universe. Even if he were, it would be wrong (IMO) to worship him.

Determinists will not accept this, of course. They have to pay lip service to the goodness of God, just as Saddamites had to pay lip service to Saddam, even if they secretly hated him (except the omniscience of God means you have to give up even your soul to it), to show how "elect" they are.

Well, in a universe that sends any into Hell unjustly, the true place for a just soul is also Hell. So be it.

(Needless to say, that's not how I think the universe works anyway.)

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