March 29, 2013

The Disciples on Good Friday

"Jesus - Mother". One word in Latin could have saved John from getting arrested.

I don't know that he said it, or wound up needing to say it, but I do suspect it was one reassuring contingency plan someone came up with to help John when he set out with the Marys to watch Jesus be executed. Now, I doubt seriously that John the fisherman from Capernaum knew a word of Italian. But who might have? Any one of the 120. Mary Magdalene may be the most likely, if she'd made any "business" trips to Capernaum.

This is one more area where we've overlooked the disciples' corporate decision making. Our traditional narrative about the other 10 disciples was that their courage failed. Yes, they abandoned him. But look at John. His courage obviously remained. But that may not be the difference. And John may not have decided alone to go stand with the women on Good Friday.

It's likely Mary was the one protecting John. Ostensibly, he was supporting the aggrieved mother. In reality, it's most likely nobody bothered him that day. But in the morning, when the disciples were all hiding together, it was those men - as a group - who could not have allowed those women to go out alone. It was therefore most likely those men - even if John volunteered - it was those men as a group who came up with a plan. Because that's what guys do.

Even when basically hapless together, a group of guys will still put together some kind of a plan for the day. Even when they don't need to. Again, this is universal to the gender. It's not even hard to imagine the dialogue might have gone something like this.

Okay, John. You go. But if a Roman soldier hassles you, say she's the mother. 
That should keep you from having to run.
Or fight.
Yeah, ha. John wouldn't last long in a fight!
Wait, you stupids. John doesn't know Roman.
Does anybody here know any Latin words?
"Mater" The word for Mother is "Mater".
Okay, John. If they try to arrest you, just point to Mary and say "Jeshua Mater".
And keep your arm around her, to show that you're comforting her.
And you should practice that word. What was it again?
"Mater" "Jeshua Mater" "Mater, Mater"

Although I wouldn't bet a denarius that John needed to say it, or said it, I bet that was the plan. And although I don't think it would have been hard for 120 of them to come up with "Mater", I'm not really suggesting the plan necessarily required Latin.

All I'm really suggesting is that we should not look with western eyes as individualists and imagine that John made a decision all by himself to go stand with the women that day. The disciples abandoned Jesus, but their hiding was prudent. In some sense, I suggest, John was their representative.

They weren't all cowards. Peter's two swords were gone, and they only had one shield. Jesus' mother.

(And don't you dare say it was cowardly to hide behind Mary. She probably needed to feel like she could protect somebody on that day. It probably comforted her that she and John would be helping each other. But that's a whole different story...)

Have a thoughtful Good Friday, everyone.

March 24, 2013

Fundamentalist Scientists: "Physicists Know Nothing"

Just a bit of fun: This conference report from the Scientific American yesterday is still cracking me up. Physicists Debate the Many Varieties of Nothingness. What could possibly be less falsifiable for scientific investigation than theories about, literally, nothing!? Ah, but apparently there are multiple types of "nothing". How amazing. Who knew? (I can hear Leonard Hofstadter protesting ironically, "My theory has internally consistent logic.")

My favorite part of the recounted debate is when the athiest chimes in about someone being "insufficiently enlightened". Right on! No, seriously. I'm totally with that guy. Skeptics ought to be skeptical. Scientists ought to be scientists. But how in the world anyone could discuss these outlandish theories with such dogmatic confidence and then turn around and criticize the idea of religious faith, that's a mystery to me.

Seriously, scientists. Believe what you want, for whyever you want. But admit it. You're faithers.

Full disclosure: All of this felt especially rich because I'm currently enjoying my way through Stephen Prickett's 2002 book, Narrative, Religion and Science: Fundamentalism Versus Irony, 1700-1999, in which he begins with Thomas Kuhn's Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962) and proceeds to illustrate similarities in the ways different folks go about constructing their preferred meta-narratives. It's fascinating.

By the way, Prickett's book was next on my list after I finished meticulously devouring Clare Colebrook's Irony (The New Critical Idiom). Not much to say about either right now, except I recommend them highly, if you're interested in their topics. I have really enjoyed both of them, but together they've taken up most of my free time the past couple of weeks.

And all of that is really just to explain (partly) why I haven't blogged anything yet this month.

This, too, shall pass...
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"If I have ever made any valuable discoveries, it has been owing more to patient observation than to any other reason."

-- Isaac Newton