Adventus

"The central doctrine of Christianity, then, is not that God is a bastard. It is, in the words of the late Dominican theologian Herbert McCabe, that if you don’t love you’re dead, and if you do, they’ll kill you."--Terry Eagleton

"It is impossible for me to say in my book one word about all that music has meant in my life. How then can I hope to be understood?--Ludwig Wittgenstein

“The opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice."--Bryan Stevenson

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Here, you take it....

I started this some time ago, and still don't know what to do with it, so....[back to the title, then down to the first paragraph...]
So, I'm driving through parts of town I don't normally drive through, seeing lots of signs in rapidly developing "exurbs" (except everything around here is exurb to someplace; it's all one giant exurb) about churches.

Now, I'm used to the mega-churches putting up very expensive billboards (price those things sometime; they run into the high five figures, last I checked).  At least, I got used to it.  These were more modest productions, signs tacked up between two posts; still large enough to read from a car, but not looming several stories overhead.  And they advised that this church was not my Momma's church; as if that is an inducement to come to church.

And, well, maybe it is, come to think of it.

That prompted me to think of a story I heard recently on some NPR program, listening in the evening, about a woman who grew up among the Pentecostals and the fundamentalists and also tried to make a living selling Mary Kay Cosmetics, and her epiphany talking to her pastor about how his discussion of evangelism (i.e., increasing church membership) sounded exactly like the marketing discussions she had with her Mary Kay supervisors.  Not kind of like; exactly like.

And I was back to wondering what church is for, and how much of the future this portends, where church is just another consumer item, another competitor for attention and time, another service offering you something you need (a place to be on Sunday morning; a place for lectures about family life or happiness or how much stuff is enough; a place to be entertained.  Funny, even old fashioned salvation isn't emphasized in the ads I see on signs or even on TeeVee).  And this linked in to hearing, once again, about the Pentecostal preacher who became an atheist when he realized the KJV of the Bible couldn't possibly be inerrant, or even a very good translation (or, maybe more accurately, to hear him tell it, he realized it WAS a translation).  His story was interesting, but it also sounded very familiar.  Familiar enough I don't need to retread the ground, except to point out this ex-pastor's particular story came from equal mixtures of ignorance and nonsense.  He had been preaching since he was 17, and while I've known and admired pastor's without seminary training, the ones I've known also had a fair share of common sense about their theology.  From this pastor's story, I think he rather lacked that.  I mention that because this pastor spoke of his Pietism (he didn't call it that; he probably didn't know the term), and how his emotions were proof of his faith; or so he was taught and believed.

A brief word in defense of Pietism:  it began in Germany, not among the holy rollers of the American South or West, and it began in reaction to the overweening scholasticism of German theology and the pastors their seminaries churned out (I mean, have you read Kant?  Now imagine that as German theology!).  It was an attempt, following the Romantic movement, to establish the validity of the faith of non-scholarly individuals, people who wanted to feel the presence of God more than understand the metaphysical arguments for God's sein.  Just as the excesses of scholastic thought can become as dessicated as a mummy, of course, pietistic thought can lead to excesses, too.  This, this unfortunate pastor found out.

Interestingly, the crucial problem for him was the doctrine of salvation.  As he put it, he was preaching against people doing things ordinary people do all the time (he was no more specific), and was supposed to condemn them to hell for such behavior.  He did that without reconciling it with his heart for a long time; and when he finally couldn't do that anymore, he abandoned the God of the theists, and took up with the god of the atheists.

There really is no other way to put it.  I've seen extremists do this all my life.  They don't stop being extremists (and simplistic, to boot), they just change their allegiance midstream.   Texas, for example, has been a one-party state since Reconstruction.  It just shifted allegiance from Democrats (who were conservative) to Republicans (who were conservative), and never missed a beat.  So, it sounded to me like, did this former preacher, who abandoned one enthusiasm, taken up without much critical examination, for another, also taken up without any critical examination.  And did he stop being religious?  No, I don't think so.  He just took up with a new religion, and a new god.

Which brings me back to churches which advertise for members and think of evangelism the way a Mary Kay salesperson thinks of marketing cosmetics.   What happens when this well runs dry?  That pastor I described didn't really have a crisis of faith; he had a crisis of understanding.  He understood faith to be "believin' what you know ain't so," until he finally accepted that as the true definition of faith, and so he confessed his trust in atheism.  Which is to say, he confessed his faith in atheism.  Now, of course, he believes in something he thinks is so; which is really no different from the belief he had that the KJV was not only not a translation but the inerrant word of God, but that the KJV was also the literal word of God, without contradiction or conflict in all its parts.  Once he decided it wasn't, his faith world fell apart; sadly, it could well happen to him again.

Of course what he believed before is just as much nonsense as anything Richard Dawkins ever had to say on the subject of religion (I mention Dawkins because the pastor attributed his decision to embrace atheism to his attendance at a conference in Houston where Dawkins and Hitchens both spoke about Christianity and religion in general.)  From what I could tell, this man had basically shifted his faith to the ignorant and poorly reasoned arguments of Dawkins and the late Mr. Hitchens from the ignorant and poorly reasoned arguments of his former church.  Sic transit gloria.  And yet he made me realize atheism is as much a faith as any religious confession.

The truly committed religious among us are not concerned with justifying their faith or defending particular precepts of their doctrine.  Monks and nuns and the just quietly faithful who live Christian lives to the best of their abilities, don't talk much about salvation or ecclesiology or even Christology:  they are too busy living what they believe, they have too much of the world to engage in to spend time speculating on how it should be properly engaged.  The truly disinterested in religion reflect the same indifference to doctrine and religious debate as the religious do.  It's the middle ground where the squabble breaks out: those so concerned about their own identities they can only identify themselves against their counterpart:  and so fundamentalists and evangelicals in America, especially those who get engaged in politics, tend to see the world as a struggle with evil, evil being those who don't agree with them on every issue (or who don't belong to their church AND behave as they approve of).  Or atheists see all "believers" as people believing what they can't possible accept as true, and making claims for the ultimate so ridiculous a child wouldn't countenance them.  The two factions not only need each other; they are each other.

The former Pentecostal preacher had invented, or accepted, a very thin version of Christianity:  one based on a constantly charged emotional state (proof one was in the presence of the Holy Spirit) and an unthinking acceptance of the prevailing interpretation of what the KJV version of the Scriptures said (even the act of reading is an act of interpretation, but don't tell that to most people).  Atheists, on the other hand, by and large profess all believers to be emotionally charged people unthinkingly accepting a doctrine of foolish statements which can't withstand any scrutiny (or alternate interpretation) at all.  One statement of faith is the mirror image of the other.  Atheists don't refuse to believe in God; they refuse to accept the God they imagine some Christians believe in; and that refusal is, for them, an article of faith.  It is their raison d'etre, their proof of their existence, their standard of identity.  It is as important to them as to the person who believes the KJV is the inerrant word of God and is the only acceptable version of the word of God.  For both groups, that kind of absolute fealty to an idea is what they think religion means.

And religion also means forming groups of like-minded people in order to reassure themselves that they are right, and the other, opposed group, is wrong.  Lack of belief should lead you to simply do what you want with your life, and most people who consider themselves Christians are as uninterested in how they live or what others think, as are most non-believers in any religion.  Atheists, however, proclaim their antipathy to belief so loudly and firmly, it is so much a part of their public (and apparently personal) identity, that it is an article of faith for them.  They are a religion, as much as any group of fundamentalist Christians who band together insisting their absolute doctrines (inerrancy of scripture, literalism of scripture, damnation of unbelievers and sinners, etc.) are absolute truth.  Atheists band together to publicly insist what they believe (and their opinions about religion are just as much based on believing what ain't so as any Christian doctrine they denounce) is true.  If that isn't a description of religion as at least atheists define it, what is?

Which is kind of sad, really.

So far this has been a very harsh assessment of one man; but I don't apologize for it.  I don't even remember the man's name; his story sounded so familiar I thought I'd heard it all years before; on that, I could well be wrong.  That he lost his faith in his simplistic religion didn't surprise me; he's Marjoe without the desire to keep fleecing the suckers, so his story is not at all new and unknown in the world.  I have nothing against him.  I just use him as an object lesson for all the churches springing up desperately advertising their services so lots of people will flock to them and their pastors will likewise become famous and powerful (whatever happened to Joel Osteen, after all?  Or John Hagee, for that matter?), or at least keep their huge church happy that they hired the right cheerleader for their congregation.  The latter example at least have the culture on their side.  Large quasi-independent churches (i.e., Baptist congregations) have a special place in certain parts of American culture.  But large wholly independent (i.e., non-denominational, or nearly so) churches (or those which reflect very little connection to their denomination, which amounts to the same thing), have to find a reason to go on being a church, or their only purpose is to constantly increase membership.

And sooner or later that stops working, and life slaps you in the face, and slaps you hard, and you need some resources to fall back on.  A friend of mine, a pastor of longstanding and venerable worth, tells the story of a man who came to him once, complaining that this person could get all he needed of God and worship from TeeVee Preachers.  Fine, my friend replied; call one of them when you need a funeral.  It is, of course, easier to summarize what those resources are not, than what they are.  One thing they cannot be, is simplistic.

And why the worship of the KJV?  Well, we never escape culture.  The vocabulary of the KJV is no longer relevant to our lives, yet we still consider that language the appropriate language of religion, where "religion" = "Christianity."  Try, for example, to get a group of Christians to recite Psalm 23 without saying "He leadeth me beside the still waters...He restoreth my soul."  Who says "leadeth" and "restoreth" anymore?  Or try reciting the Pater Noster without saying "Who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name."  What does "Hallow" mean anymore?  Do we even know?  And "hallowed be"?  If it weren't so familiar, we'd swear that was street slang or the language of the uneducated; our syntax doesn't work that way anymore.  And the old joke about "Art" being God's name when God is in heaven underlines the archaic form of the to be verb that no one even understands today; but it sounds right and proper to use that language.  We can't seem to shake it.  Are we really that removed from the churches that all but worship the KJV?  It seems to be by degree, more than by true distinction.

The odd thing is, of course, that Christianity started out as being radically counter-cultural.   What's more, that it was is not a new idea; it's now well over 100 years old.  But the weight of the millenia since Constantine is upon us, and that's a dead weight of history indeed.  In the beginning Paul, like Jesus, was an itinerant.  He gave up the security of a job and a steady income.  He wandered the Mediterranean world, picking up work stitching canvas and nets together, the better to have time to talk to people.  And what he told them was explicitly meant to challenge the status quo:

 ... Paul believes absolutely that "Jesus" or the "Messiah/Christ" or the "Lord" all refer to the same person. Paul can speak of the Lord Jesus Christ or of the Lord Jesus or, most simply, of the Lord. On the one hand, "lord" was a polite term usable by slave to master or disciple to teacher. On the other, "the Lord" meant the emperor himself. What we see here is what Gustav Adolf Deissmann described, almost a hundred years ago, as "the early establishment of a polemical parallelism between the cult of Christ and the cult of Caesar in the application of the term kyrios, 'lord.'" Or, if you prefer, polemical parallelism as high treason.

 (In Search of Paul, John Dominic Crossan and Jonathan L. Reed, (New York: HarperCollins 2004, p. 166.).

You don't really challenge the status quo if you are looking to establish a church.

Now, "Lord" is a term you will find in the KJV; but it is today almost exclusively a religious term.  American culture especially has almost no other use for the word "Lord."  But even that usage, straight from the Early Modern English of the KJV (which is, in fact, another language from the Modern English we speak), is an interpretation of the Greek kyrios.  And, especially as we simply consider it another word for "God," it's an incorrect interpretation. But the key here is that what Paul set up was in no way meant to resemble the churches we know today.  So if you want to gimme that "ol' time religion," we first have to decide how many millenia back we have to go before we get beyond "ol' time."

I will tell you, even as I describe this, that I don't think it's all that important.  It is important to understand; but it not important to act directly on it.  I'm not advocating a "house church" like Paul established.  Our society is not Paul's Roman one, "house" itself means something radically different to us than it did to him, just as "family" means something very different now.  No, we aren't going to go backwards, even if I think going forward as some trends carry on is not the way to go, either.  I'm also not wild about these churches advertising how hip and aware they are, how they aren't "your momma's church," or aren't even a "church" at all.  Such places are selling something, and I'm not even sure what they are selling.  Salvation?  Membership?  Free Wednesdays? Potluck suppers?

No, can't be that last one; that's my momma's church.

So, I dunno.  Could be they are selling community, but seems to me they are selling it awful cheap.  The disruption in modern life that Eliot identified almost a century ago goes on, and nothing seems inclined to check it.  The awful rumbling of the Industrial Revolution that uprooted whole human communities and scattered them to the four winds is still trembling the ground around us; we are still living in the middle of the revolution the Romantics feared would destroy all that makes us human. And while I don't think they were right, I think they were closer to right than we are today.

And that worries me.

13 Comments:

Blogger rick allen said...

"Now, "Lord" is a term you will find in the KJV; but it is today almost exclusively a religious term. American culture especially has almost no other use for the word "Lord.""

I don't know. Popular culture seems to love a "lord." Think of Lord Vadar in Star Wars, or Lord Voldemort in the Harry Potter books, or the Lord of the Rings. The word still has a lot of purchase.

"But even that usage, straight from the Early Modern English of the KJV (which is, in fact, another language from the Modern English we speak), is an interpretation of the Greek kyrios. And, especially as we simply consider it another word for "God," it's an incorrect interpretation."

I would have thought that it's just right. Second Temple usage substituted "adonai," "my lord," for the Divine Name in audible reading from the scriptures. The Septuagint followed that practice by putting the word into Greek. Kyrios, then, has lots of meanings in Greek, but God is certainly one of them, and, for Jews at the time of Jesus, I would have thought that it would have had a stronger association with the Septuagint than the newly-ascendant Romans.

In English we do mean "God" by "Lord." But we also recognize other meanings, since we have landlords, and lord it over one another, and the English have a whole house of them.

And I would certainly hestitate to call seventeenth century English a different language. I know as a teacher you probably find students' comprehension of older texts discouraging. But it surely is Modern English, and I think most people know exactly what they mean when they hear familiar passages from the 1611 AV, or familiar short pieces like the Lord's Prayer or the Hail Mary. What I find interesting is how resistant the Lord's Prayer has been to the universal "modernization" we subject almost everything else to.

11:14 AM  
Blogger Rmj said...

And I would certainly hesitate to call seventeenth century English a different language.

It is, actually. There are four distinct languages in English: Old English, Middle English, Early Modern English (Shakespeare's, just to place it) and Modern English.

I can read Chaucer in the original, but my students don't even try to. Most would be better off with a translation of Shakespeare, and we'll soon be to the point where that's necessary.

In English we do mean "God" by "Lord." But we also recognize other meanings, since we have landlords, and lord it over one another, and the English have a whole house of them.

Those of us raised in Xian churches do. I teach high school kids with no background in Xianity (some of them), and "Lord" is as empty a term as "Zounds." Nor do they connect it to "landlord", or would they know how to "lord it over" someone. Not to be unkind, but your age is showing; and your generation. If it weren't for the KJV, the term would have vanished from American English generations ago. (And does anybody in America really know what makes a "Lord" in England? I think I could count them on one hand....)

I don't know. Popular culture seems to love a "lord." Think of Lord Vadar in Star Wars, or Lord Voldemort in the Harry Potter books, or the Lord of the Rings. The word still has a lot of purchase.

Well, as an archaic term that sounds villainous, I suppose you're right. Not sure that's the purchase it has in the KJV, though.

I would have thought that it's just right. Second Temple usage substituted "adonai," "my lord," for the Divine Name in audible reading from the scriptures. The Septuagint followed that practice by putting the word into Greek. Kyrios, then, has lots of meanings in Greek, but God is certainly one of them, and, for Jews at the time of Jesus, I would have thought that it would have had a stronger association with the Septuagint than the newly-ascendant Romans.

Actually "elohim" is usually rendered "Lord" in English translations of the Hebrew Scriptures. And the problem is still the same: looking for a parallel term in another language. "Lord" may have had meaning as a substitute for "kyrios" in Elizabethan or Jacobean times in England, but I'm quite sure no one uses the term that way today in Modern English. We translate it from Early Modern English and think we mean the same thing, but I'm quite sure Shakespeare's relationship to his rulers (from the Queen, then King, down) was radically different from ours today. And in that difference there is a complete shift in meaning between "my Lord" for Willie, and "my lord!" for me.

Because one is a title, the other nothing more than an expostulation. Which, as I think of it, is about the only common usage of the term in Modern English I can come up with.

11:56 AM  
Blogger rick allen said...

"Most would be better off with a translation of Shakespeare."

God help us, then.

12:03 PM  
Blogger Rmj said...

Well, just to be fair about it:

For when my outward action doth demonstrate
The native act and figure of my heart
In compliment extern, 'tis not long after
But I will wear my heart upon my sleeve
For daws to peck at: I am not what I am.


There are at least two archaic verb forms there: "doth" and "extern." "Compliment" would take more than a bit of explanation to a modern audience, because no one uses the word that way anymore. "Extern" flat out takes translation, since it isn't in common usage anymore. Daws? How many people know what those are? And if you think "to wear your heart upon your sleeve" is in common usage, try asking any class of college students at a community college whether: a) they've ever heard the phrase (and not the way Willie said it), or b) what it means.

You'll get a lot of blank looks.

And this lovely speech, from the same scene:

'Zounds, sir, you are one of those that will not serve God, if the devil bid you. Because we come to do you service and you think we are ruffians, you'll have your daughter covered with a Barbary horse; you'll have your nephews neigh to you; you'll have coursers for cousins and gennets for germans.

“Germans” doesn’t refer to nationality, “coursers” would need definition, “ruffians” is flat out archaic, and “zounds”?

I’ve even had to explain what the “beast with two backs” means.

And this:

Put money in thy purse;

You’re gonna have to explain that’s not a lady’s handbag Iago is referring to.

Just sayin’; this ain’t the English we speak anymore.

1:10 PM  
Blogger rick allen said...

Nor is this, randomly taken from Dickens:

LONDON. Michaelmas Term lately over, and the Lord Chancellor sitting in Lincoln’s Inn Hall. Implacable November weather. As much mud in the streets as if the waters had but newly retired from the face of the earth, and it would not be wonderful to meet a Megalosaurus, forty feet long or so, waddling like an elephantine lizard up Holborn Hill. Smoke lowering down from chimney-pots, making a soft black drizzle, with flakes of soot in it as big as full-grown snow-flakes — gone into mourning, one might imagine, for the death of the sun. Dogs, undistinguishable in mire. Horses, scarcely better; splashed to their very blinkers.

But surely it's not another language.

I do remember first reading Shakespeare in Jr. High--"Romeo and Juliet," with most kids of our generation. It was very, very hard, with many a passage needing a judicious skip. I suspect my familiarity with the bible made the familiar forms easier (even the fifties' Revised Standard Version retained them, as you undoubtedly recall).

{Another example, that I realized, after my first comment, I was actually reading a passage from this morning at breakfast: "Lord Jim."}

2:21 PM  
Blogger Rmj said...

Shakespeare's English is classified by linguists as a language as separate from Modern English as Chaucer's language or the Old English of "Beowulf." The distinctions are based on more than vocabulary; the very syntax of Shakespeare's tongue, though similar to ours (and I don't mean just in Shakespeare's plays, but the works and records of his contemporaries, including the KJV), are not ours.

You could also say "Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote" is just slightly different from our English; but not many people can properly translate that into English. I can make sense of it but I get some words (verb forms, especially) wrong.

Dickens represents more a style difference in literary language, than an actual language difference. The same "literary language" was used by translators until recently, making many a non-English work dull and tedious instead of lively. Tolkien commits the same sin in his trilogy; where The Hobbit is wry and sparkly, the trilogy is so "literary" it's almost ponderous, and sometimes a very dull read, indeed.

Especially after you've seen the films. They kept the adventure without (especially) some of the truly awful (and stilted) dialogue.

I find myself wanting to translate Tolkien, sometimes....(the newer translations of Beowulf are much more interesting than those of Tolkien's day, for example.)

2:38 PM  
Blogger Rmj said...

And I can only hope I reproduced Chaucer's line correctly. I was too lazy to look it up...

;-)

2:39 PM  
Blogger The Thought Criminal said...

You can always claim you were quoting a variant reading.

7:02 AM  
Blogger rick allen said...

"Shakespeare's English is classified by linguists as a language as separate from Modern English as Chaucer's language or the Old English of "Beowulf.""

I don't doubt what you say about linguists. You certainly know better than I. But my sense of its being another language just isn't there.

Shakespeare's syntax is sometimes convoluted, granted, but surely part of that comes with writing in poetic form. It's not uncommon, having to write in a given meter, and occasionally rhyming, that grammar is pretzelfied. I'm curious to see whether Shakespeare's prose passages present the same degree of complexity.

Here is the opening sentence from Roper's Life of More, mid-16th century. With its spelling and punctuation modernized it seems quite intelligible, even if its syntax is quite convoluted (you can guess that its author was a lawyer, and familiar with Latin):

"Forasmuch as Sir Thomas More, Knight sometime Lord Chancellor of England, a man of singular virtue and of a clear unspotted conscience, (as witnesseth Erasmus), more pure and white than the whitest snow, and of such an angelical wit, as England, he saith, never had the like before, nor never shall again, universally, as well in the laws of our Realm (a study in effect able to occupy the whole life of a man) as in all other sciences, right well studied, was in his days accounted a man worthy famous memory; I William Roper (though most unworthy) his son-in-law by marriage of his eldest daughter, knowing no one man that of him and of his doings understood so much as myself for that I was continually resident in his house by the space of sixteen years and more, thought it therefore my part to set forth such matters touching his life as I could at this present call to remembrance."

That's a mouthful, but I'd be loathe to say its not Modern English. (Not 21st century American, obviously, but closer to us, in my sense of it, than it is to Chaucer, or the Gawain poet).

I agree, by the way, that "The Lord of the Rings" falls short as great literature. But I think it far superior to the films, which I enjoyed, and ran out to buy on DVD when available. But now they seem much more tedious than Tolkien's prose could ever be.

(I think I mentioned, once, that I read "The Fellowship of the Ring" to my kids around 2000, and though it was often slow and ponderous, I appreciated the the detail and the humane values underlying his focus on the littlest and the weakest. The films now seem to me like overwrought video games.)

We recently rented the first of the new "Hobbit" movies, and I couldn't make it through the first half-hour. It was just dull. I even went upstairs to our old, tattered copy of "The Hobbit," and I re-read the first chapter, and I found it charming, as remembered.

11:09 AM  
Blogger Rmj said...

There are aspects of TLOR that I prefer in print, over the movies; but I also find some of it so stilted I can't read it.

So it goes. Still, I take your point. In some ways, I think the movies improve on Tolkien; but I agree Tolkien is far more humane. He just tries too hard to sound “lofty,” a habit we acquired from the KJV and have had a hard time getting over. But anyway….

As for your prose example: you know as well as I, you have to "train" yourself to read such things. I remember getting completely lost in Dickens in 7th grade, and yet I finally found him readable sometime after college. I've tried teaching the "Declaration of Independence" as a fine example of argument, but I have to overcome Jefferson's prose to do it. It was normal for the late 18th century, but it is almost impenetrable to many college students.

"Language" doesn't mean as indecipherable as Greek. I took Katie to a high school production of "Midsummer Night's Dream" when she was in elementary school, and she thoroughly enjoyed it. Shakespeare is still English, after all. But it's as distinct as Chaucer's Middle English (which I can read, as I say; but I'm not sure I'd make it through the original of Julian of Norwich's "Shewings," or "The Pearl," or "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.").

Poetry has something to do with Shakespeare's words, as does literary style. But one of the speeches I included from Iago is prose, not blank verse. And when Shakespeare says "As any she belied by false compare," he's not lapsing into "poetic speech." That's our modern view of it, because the language has changed so radically. He's speaking quite plainly, for his day; but we need to unravel every word, translate it into something we understand, and then get his meaning.

Shakespeare had to write for people to speak, and it had to be comprehensible immediately, or the groundlings would start throwing tomatoes. He also had to insert a great deal of quick wit, as well as simply invent scenes in the imagination. He was, in modern terms, writing for radio, as he had no sets, no props beyond those actors could carry (spears, swords, etc.), and yet had to make them see the characters running through woods at midnight, or on the cliffs of Dover, or a battlement, or howling in a hurricane on the open heath, or disembarking from a ship. That explains some of the complexity of Shakespearean dialogue. The rest is because we simply don’t speak that way anymore, and while we understand it, we also don’t. “Belied,” for example, doesn’t mean “lied about,” it more closely means “established by a lie.” But even to stop to explain that word is to engage in translation, not just vocabulary building; because we don’t use verbs that way anymore (except for “bewitched” or maybe “befuddled,” and we don’t really think of those as verb forms employing the “to be” verb, as “belied” does). There really is enough difference in the way we use English now (creating verb forms, for example), and the way it was used in the late 15th and early 16th centuries, to say we have to translate that language into our own.

We’re quite a ways off from Early Modern English being as indecipherable as Old English, but that’s because Modern English and Early Modern English as sufficiently close to each other, and both are closer to Middle English than Old English. But we’re also far enough away that most people don’t want to make the effort. Oddly, as I say, Shakespeare still sounds better than he reads. I think modern audiences can still understand an actor reciting Shakespeare, where they stumble over the words on the page.

Which is a really interesting issue of how we understand language….

11:40 AM  
OpenID 51e556d8-f14b-11e2-9992-000bcdcb2996 said...

I recently took a friend to see the new Joss Whedon production of 'Much Ado About Nothing'. Her background is very different - dual-national, Italian, Catholic, Dante while mine is American, Protestant, Southern, lots of KJV and some Shakespeare.

We both very much enjoyed the movie, although a lot of the language went right by her, especially the jokes. I believe the actors approached the material with great respect and enthusiasm as a chance to actually do some dramatic acting. Their craft has been neglected in favor of spectacle and special effects in contemporary Hollywood.

I usually read Shakespeare aloud, rather than silently. Somehow the meanings flow out the words that way.

As to atheists, there are multiple types just as there are multiple types of Christians. One dichotomy is between those who lack a belief in god or gods, having lost faith or never having it, and the anti-theists, who actively deny that gods exists. Applying the term 'religious' to the former is akin to calling bald a hair color. The latter do seem religious in your sense.

9:47 AM  
Blogger rick allen said...

I keep meaning to see that (haven't been out to a movie since January). I am a great fan of the Kenneth Branaugh version, but so much of that is simple enjoyment of an Italianate paradise.

I think one reason it may be easier to see Shakespeare than read him is that, in reading, if I come across a puzzling passage, I puzzle over it. Sometimes I figure it out, sometimes I don't. When watching a performance, if I don't quite get what's just been said, the play continues, and I keep following, and nine times out of ten, what I didn't get isn't going to be necessary to following the drama. Especially if one is used to watching TV with kids or pets in the house, one becomes used to missing swaths of dialogue due to shouting, barking, or breaking glass, and filling in the blind spots almost automatically.

12:34 PM  
Blogger Rmj said...

Well, and plays are meant to be heard, not read. Scenes and acts are for the actors and the director, not the audience. An actor is meant to bring the words of a play to life; not the reader's imagination.

I find that to be a crucial distinction in any written work. There is a difference in the writing when you mean the reader to make sense of it, than when you mean actors to interpret it. If I'm listening, I get the gist easier from context, than if I'm reading and trying to keep track of what's supposed to be happening (since there's no narrator to fill me in).

I've half-developed a whole theory about narrative voice, especially as related to the epistolary novel. But that's another matter.... :-)

1:15 PM  

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