Rant Number 479 28 February 2012
Holocausts, genocides, massacres, hecatombs, nuclear Armageddon’s...it pains the priest to say it but: all fiddlesticks! Compared with what the Creator did once: the Flood. Nearly the whole of humanity drowned out at one stroke. The enormity of all enormities. Huh! It makes you think. Professor Dawkins, are you sucking this up?
History however repeats itself. Karl Marx said so, almost infallibly. First as tragedy and then as a comedy. True. But Marx fell short of the prophetic. Sometimes history plays a further trick. The repeat proves a lower genre than comedy. Worse, it becomes a farce. A comedy is merely comical – a farce is crude, sheer buffoonery, a burlesque, something utterly ridiculous, grotesque, a mockery. The Church of England naturally is past master at that. Now she has done it again.
Old Noah is the hero of the Flood tragedy. The Creator, having willed universal genocide, instructs the patriarch how to escape. Noah must build a vessel big enough to house his family, animals and plenty of food to stick it out till the waters subside. And it works!
The Deluge is not a joke. Theo-drama, theologian Hans Urs Von Balthazar might call it. A planetary theological calamity. For what reason? God looks down on his creation and see that the earth had become ‘full of wickedness’. Men’s thoughts, men’s hearts are filled with evil – continually. Every person is a Tony Blair, a Gaddafi, a Hillary Clinton, aaargh! Why should a holy, righteous God put up with that? I repent I have created man, this evil, evil monster, God says. ‘I will make an end of all flesh’. And he does. Only Noah and his family are saved. So, the plot has a kind of happy ending. The human race gets a second start.
Theo-drama over, now for the theo-farce. Last week, on Ash Wednesday, the day of penitence opening the holy season of Lent, UK religious leaders launched the Operation Noah declaration. Climate change, fossil fuels, threats to the planet – the inane document teems with corny, overdone clichés like that. The signatories are a rag-bag of Anglicans, Methodists and Baptists – a rainbow of the sad, dying, ex-Christian clowns today disfiguring Christ’s Church, with a Scottish Cardinal thrown in to spice it up – farces and buffooneries have a certain Catholic appeal, eh? Only Sentamu of York, that expert stunt-puller and unfunny cabaret artist seems absent. Funny.
But why a theo-farce? Isn’t stewardship of the earth, custody of God’s creation a religious duty, part of man’s responsibility? Yes, it is. Roger Scruton’s admirable Green Philosophy shows how ecology is both a Christian and a Conservative cause. Nonetheless, the Flood punishment is not about real or presumed greenhouse effects. The God of Genesis is no eco-maniac. The mountebanks of Operation Noah – the Chartres, the Williams, the clapped-out Bishop Tutu-Frutu from South Africa - have forgotten their Bibles.
Genesis speaks of ‘corruption’. ‘The earth was filled with violence.’ The Hebrew word, hamas, implies lawlessness, unholy transgression. ‘God looked upon the earth and behold, it was corrupt: all flesh had corrupted his way upon the earth.’ (Genesis 6, passim). Theo-drama all right. But real ugly. Like hard porn. What was going on?
The preamble to chapter 6 in Genesis is baffling, obscure. It alludes to some ghastly primeval misdeed. An unlawful, unnatural, lust-driven coupling between ‘the sons of God’ - semi-divine beings of a kind, angels perhaps - and ‘the daughters of men’, human females. Giants came into existence. The Nephilim, a pre-historic race of gigantic beings, an abnormal breed, appear. God decreed the offspring of those unions should not become prosper. Holy Scripture wanted to convey a message, a warning, a summons to erring, foolish mankind – probably it used a pre-existing legend about impure mixing to do so. Fabulous theo-dramatics.
Lunatics and heretics of all kinds have speculated about the exact nature of the Nephilim. Visitors from outer space? Cross-breeds of the gods? Rubbish, of course. More soberly, St Augustine allowed that of old some people had larger bodies than in his own time. In The City of God he tells he once saw a human tooth in Tunisia that could only have belonged to a giant. Some of Augustine’s contemporaries believed that, as centuries go by, physical bodies grow not bigger but smaller. Empirical truth is beside the point here. The spiritual message is that evolution could degenerate into involution. Lawlessness, violence and wickedness, man’s estrangement from the Creator, entail disastrous, moral and intellectual shrinking or corruption. So our theo-farce today is played out by pathetic pigmies, like the ex-Christian jesters who misuse sacred biblical heroes and categories to pursue their own fads and obsessions.
It is all, as Bernhard Anderson writes, about ‘the temptations of culture’. The pre-Flood society was infected by evil. The sexual abandon, the social and moral disorder preceding the Deluge came about through an identification of man with a lawless, corrupt culture. From Heaven, chastisement followed. Never mind whether or not the deluge in actual fact was some local Mesopotamian inundation. The message is clear and dramatically topical. The Church, the Ark of Salvation, should not buy into an evil culture, yesterday and today. Beware, o apostate clowns! God is not mocked. Tragedy will follow.
Farce, yes, but also tragedy. The Christian writer Kierkegaard once, at the end of his life, penned a ferocious ‘Attack on Christendom’. His target was the bland, established XIX century Lutheran Church of Denmark. Run by fat, safe, comfortable clerics. A travesty of the apostolic Church’s saints and martyrs. Kierkegaard’s invective is searing. One point, in particular. The greatest crime that phoney Christendom had committed was ‘to make it impossible for good people to distinguish true from false Christianity.’ By peddling a reassuring, bourgeois pabulum instead of Christ’s revolutionary Gospel, the Danish Church perpetrated the greatest, most dangerous betrayal. Huh! Great Dane indeed! Church of England, pay attention.
Theo-drama, yes. God of love is also God of holocausts. The Bible says so. Sinful humanity and apostate clergymen, shake in your boots! The Creator is also the Destroyer. The farce could soon come to an abrupt end...
Revd Frank Julian Gelli