Tuesday, March 16, 2010

A Break for Laziness

I. "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God"

Working on the Netherlands, I was reminded why I have always had such a visceral reaction against the gospel of Hard Work:
my grandmother--the one who didn't like me because I had no ambition-- prided herself on having some Dutch blood,
which for her came with a sense of moral superiority for belonging to a race that invented capitalism.

But the underside of this pride is the Calvinist belief that we are "born depraved"--a view of original sin stripped of any of Augustine's Mediterranean charm, at least in my grandmother's "cultural Calvinist version--
and must push ourselves always so we don't slip into a vat of filth and sin.

No wonder I go around collecting quotes championing...

II. Laziness

You find the most surprising people on the subject.
Here, Willliam Faulkner:
"By temperament I’m a vagabond and a tramp. I don’t want money badly enough to work for it.

"In my opinion it’s a shame that there is so much work in the world. One of the saddest things
is that the only thing a man can do for eight hours a day, day after day, is work.

"You can’t eat eight hours a day nor drink for eight hours a day
nor make love for eight hours—all you can do for eight hours is work.

"Which is the reason why man makes himself and everybody else so miserable and unhappy."
I don't agree with everything he says--I can find other things to do all day long besides work-- but I do relish his puncturing the idea that work is salvific or inherently a moral good.

And here's his delightful bit of advice on the art of reading his work too.

INTERVIEWER: Some people say they can’t understand your writing, even after they read it two or three times. What approach would you suggest for them?

William FAULKNER: Read it four times.
From The Paris Review - The Art of Fiction No. 12
Via Jeff at This Public Address

And now I must get to work--
liberated by realizing I don't object to hard work,
I just object to the idea that we are damned if we don't do it.


Marz said...

Here, here! To Laziness!

How breezy Mr. Faulkner looks in that photo!

I'm not sure why our species is so uncomfortable with not working. I was brought up to believe there is nothing good in me, so I must "deny self" in order to lead a "fruitful" life. Somewhere along the line, this must have backfired.

ooooooooooooooooooooooooooo said...

Cras Fortasse Laborabimus...

Fresca said...

MAGARET: Hm. A fruitful life out of self-denial?
Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow. They do not work, neither do they spin.

MANFRED: considerate lilia agri quomodo crescunt non laborant nec nent.

I wonder what Calvinists made out of these words of Jesus...

Marz said...

I believe when they talk about that passage, they interpret it thus: if God takes care of flowers, he will most certainly take care of humans....(but only those who believe he exists?) At least, this is the spin on it I heard during my Sunday school days. Your interpretation makes infinite more sense.

deanna said...

So interesting...I've studied and discussed Edwards' speech in a college class I audited, and there were many points. I don't recall (and the Wikipedia article didn't say) there being anything about work (as in manual labor) as a prerequisite for, I guess Edwards would frame it, salvation from hell.

The truth I get from the bible involves a whole lot about God caring for the lilies - that's such a good bit to quote - and it's regarding our need not to fret but to be who we are. And, as Margaret mentioned, to believe - but God is "good" (as in taking care of, like with the lilies) to everyone, whether they're believing or not. I don't think the real idea is that only those who do these certain worky-type things get these certain rewards. That idea prevails in Christianity, yes, but I think it's from people, not God (or even Jonathan Edwards, for that matter, though maybe he was thinking that, too).

Fresca said...

Well, you're ahead of me here!
All I really know about Edwards himself is his terrific (as in "terror-carrying") phrase.

Thanks for raising the question about work and salvation: I love this kind of theological knot.

As I understand it, work--or any other human endeavor--isn't a "prerequisite" for salvation in Calvinism because this kind of Protestantism believes in predestination without free will:
i.e., there's nothing we can DO to gain salvation.

(That's what I meant by saying Calvinism lacked "Augustine's Mediterranean charm":
Augustine tied himself in knots trying to figure out how to get predestination AND free will into the same religious belief--which makes me like him.)

But Calvin considered work to be one of the SIGNS that a person was one of the elect God chose for salvation.

Kind of a hard teaching:
you can't DO anything to be saved, but if you DON'T do these things, it's a sign you aren't saved.

Just cause something's hard doesn't mean it's false, of course, but I never connected with this rather terrifying form of Protestantism at all.

I haven't studied Calvinism closely--I just have the example of my grandmother (not a real Calvinist, but close) and a passing acquaintance with Max Weber's The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism:

From Wikipedia's entry on Max Weber:

Weber began his studies of rationalisation in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism,
in which he argued that the redefinition of the connection between work and piety in Protestantism,
and especially in ascetic Protestant denominations, particularly Calvinism,
shifted human effort towards rational efforts
*aimed at achieving economic gain.*

"In Calvinism in particular, but also in Lutheranism, Christian piety towards God was expressed through or in one's secular vocation.
Calvin, in particular, viewed the expression of the work ethic as a sign of 'election'."
You wrote:
"That idea [about work & rewards] prevails in Christianity, yes, but I think it's from people, not God..."

But how do you disentangle God from people's words and teachings?
I mean, what ideas in Christianity are NOT from other people?

Well, you sure don't have to answer that rather big question here (or elsewhere) Deanna!
But I am interested.

Fresca said...

P.S. Yes, I did say in my post that my grandmother's pov was that work is salvific--
she wasn't, as I say, a true Calvinist, and I gather from someone who grew up in Calvinism that the modern Reformed church is no longer that strict either.

Sorry, I was trying to make a point about my personal history and was a bit sloppy about theology.

Certainly my grandmother was very worried and morally disapproving of what she considered my laziness,
and her religious views supported her condemnation of me.
And I know she shuddered that my mother had married a Roman Catholic---even a non-practicing one.

bink said...

I remember learning in my religious studies class on comparative Christianity that Calvinist (at least early ones) did equate worldly success (in terms of money) as a sign that God was favoring those people with salvation. I suppose that idea was only meant to be applied to prosperous Calvinists vs. non-prosperous Calvinists, because surely they weren't looking at those rich, corrupt Catholic popes, kings, princes and thinking they were saved.

Protestant work ethic--one big yuck! That's why I had to become Catholic--to have some fun!

Fresca said...

BINK: I'm pretty sure being Catholic was a sure-fire sign you were NOT one of the elect, so go ahead and have your fun! : )

I was thinking how LUCKY we are to feel free to choose a religion that suits us, without fear of God or State.

The minister I quote in this post was obviously terrified that the Mohawks would convert his children to the "popish" religion (these Mohawks were Catholic, from contact with the French).

It's hard for me to try to enter into how real his fears for his children's spiritual lives were--more acute even, it seems, than fear for their physical lives.

This kind of brain stretch is part of the fun of doing history.

deanna said...

Hi again, Fresca. As usual, your comments section provides even more food for thought and many points it would be fun to discuss, but I'll go for the question you asked me: "...how do you disentangle God from people's words and teachings?
I mean, what ideas in Christianity are NOT from other people?"

My ideas (and of course I'm people, not God, so I could be wrong) come from the stories of Jesus in the bible. Throughout the four gospels, he's asking people, "Have you not read...", "Don't you understand..." and even, "How does it read to you?" regarding the writings they, as Jews, had had handed down. The scrolls had been written and compiled by Jews, who believed those actions were "inspired" by God. I take this to mean they (including Jesus) thought the writings contained what God wanted them to know, and that all of what he wanted them to know was true stuff. But, as Jesus pointed out continually, the gist of the stuff from God had been distorted, forgotten, etc. in the minds of most people. Humans forget and embellish. No surprise to God, who, I believe, made us that way, partly, at least, so he could show us grace in action. And so Jesus, representing God, was instructing people in the original intent of those words and passages they'd memorized and elaborated on for centuries. I think the same thing has happened with our (meaning Christians') scriptures.

Does that make any sense?

Fresca said...

Thanks, DEANNA!

Yes, I see what you mean. Your answer is something like what I'd say too:
Jesus' teachings are the spiritual core (God stuff) of the religion.

Of course his words were recorded by *people*,
so there's always that human element---and compared to a picture of Earth from space, that starts to feel very limited--
but since we are people, that's what we have to work with!

Funny how simple the teachings are--love your neighbor--and how HARD they are to do.
(Can I get a waiver? You should meet my neighbor!)

No wonder we twist and distort them.

I really like the bit from Micah:
What does God ask of you? to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.

Feels almost impossible!
But at least we can try, eh?

Fresca said...

P.S. DEANNA: You write, "Jesus, representing God"

So, do you believe Jesus is not God but instead a divinely-inspired human?

(That's a person question, so I understand if you'd rather not discuss it here.)

deanna said...

I don't mind furthering the discussion here, if you don't get bugged by me sticking mainly to this piece of this post - you've gone on to say more interesting stuff this week, but I'm slowly digesting, as always...

Anyway, you're right, Jesus' teachings are simple and hard (though I'm blessed with nice neighbors, mostly). Just like that quote from Micah, which I looked up today, spreading different bible versions and concordances across my bed. I thought one translation used "mercy" rather than "kindness," and I was right, it is mercy in the King James. The Hebrew word, chesed (it needs little marks around the letters to be accurate), is a favorite I've learned about from a bible scholar friend. It's a very rich word with complex possibilities for meaning, that this friend doesn't translate when reading, because he says there really isn't an English equivalent. (Your thoughts on history are relevant, also, to the big differences we face when translating ancient languages people used.) But chesed is the word King David used many times, referring to God's promises to and treatment of him. There's another whole post I should attempt some day...justice, good, so do it; mercy, better, so love it...

All I really meant to do was answer your question. At this point, my understanding is that Jesus was God incarnate in the sense of his absolutely accurate representation of him ("If you've seen me, you've seen the Father"). In this sense he was divine, while being a created human being. I've come to see God as completely outside of our reality, yet having the ability to enter it. He's like an author writing a book, but one who writes himself in as a character every so often (therefore we have Yahweh, the angel of the Lord, and Jesus, among others, but Jesus is the central character of the whole story, or series, as I see it). John's gospel says no one has seen God at any time, but the Son has made him known. He has illuminated God for us (or, in sci fi terms, maybe, he's the interface).

I didn't come up with these word images on my own, but for ten years I've been in this obscure group of scholars, where ideas flow freely and imaginings about faith aren't condemned, and I've been enjoying the flow.

Thanks for asking!

Fresca said...

Thanks so much for your thoughtful comments, Deanna:
Of course I don't mind--I'm thrilled!--if you stick with the topic.

Without looking it up, I'm guessing the Hebrew "chesed" might be like the Latin "caritas"? Do you know?
A very stretchy word, translated as everything from "love" to "charity."
(Maybe "love" is a good translation, as what in the world does THAT mean anyway?!)

At any rate, it is NOT "justice" which is something else.

I see some people (and some religions) are more interested in God's justice, while others emphasize God's mercy.
Which, of course, says a whole lot about how we see ourselves, and how we should live in society.

I generally lean toward mercy, myself, and maybe my favorite story is the one about Jesus and the woman taken in adultery: "Let you who is without sin cast the first stone."

(Remember the funny bit in Monty Python when Mary runs forward with a huge rock? Always nice to add a little levity in the mix, I think.)

Speaking of God as an author, have you read Dorothy Sayers on the Trinity?

As an author herself --(she wrote the Peter Whimsey mysteries, as you probably know)--she has a really in-depth and lively take on God as being like a writer--and also how we are most "in the image of God" when we are creating.

Condemnation is the enemy of thought.
We must feel free to be wrong!
And to keep trying.

Fresca said...

P.S. Just looked it up': the Sayers' book on the Trinity and creativity is
"The Mind of the Maker" (1941).

It's been a long time, but I recall she said something like God (the father) is the author, the Holy Spirit is the Idea, Jesus is the Word:
can't separate them without breaking them.