Monday, February 11, 2013

Ancient of Days

Just a couple of brief notes today.

Am I the only one who finds it utterly cool that we just lived through something that has only happened four times in recorded history (that we're sure of, anyway) and only once before in the past 600 years?

I should add, however, that the sede vacante left by the latest incumbent is a siege made perilous by the still-unresolved problem of clerical misbehavior.

As one who flirted with Catholicism in my adulthood as much as I appreciated the pageant-history and magical traditions when it came to the sticking point I couldn't stomach the authoritarianism. It seemed to me then and still does that if a faith or a religion (and I do not consider the two the same or often even very similar) is to do more human good than harm it must allow for its adherents the freedom of their own morals. Especially Christianity, which is probably the most difficult and complex religion to practice.

Pace the other great faiths but in their essence they seem to me fairly coherent for the believers. Islam and Judaism are fierce, totemic tribal faiths based on loyalty to a patriarch-deity partial to His partisans and implacable to outsiders. Buddhism is as much a tradition and a philosophy as faith and one based firmly on a peaceful, meditative tradition and renunciatory philosophy. Hinduism...well, I haven't figured out quite what the hell Hinduism is.

It doesn't seem terribly complex to me to be Shinto, Jain, Animist, Sikh, or Zoroastrian.

But Christianity? Christianity is fucking impossible.

You have to reconcile the tribal-God of the Old Testament with the Father-God of the New and try and figure out how to live by the strictures of a Savior who only demands six impossible things of you before breakfast. No wonder many people of faith, and almost all the major Christian religions, have either abandoned, or never even attempted, to live as Jesus commanded. Because, as a better writer than I put it:
"No, you just don't understand. Let's all put our brunch plans on hold, because if you really heard what I said, you'd be absolutely terrified. You'd want to run or give up your faith, or kill me right now, because what I said was impossible. What I said is absolutely going to break you. If you're lucky."
And you all probably know how I feel about what happened when Jesus met Rome. The result wasn't just rendering unto Caesar that which was Caesar's. It was becoming Caesar.

IMO the clerical child-and-pretty-much-anything-else-moving-with-a-hole-in-it-abuse-scandal isn't about who put whose totem pole in whose donut hole.

It's about the fact that when confronted with the most clear-cut choice between humility and contrition, and power, the Holy See chose power.

The reigns of the last two Popes have, at bottom, been about buttressing the power of the Church rather than its humanity. Regardless of how you feel about the Levitican rules, you'd have to agree that if you choose in favor of an ancient text over kindness toward living humans you aren't exactly choosing in favor of the things your Savior talked up like brotherhood, compassion and love. That tends to work better for things like dietary rules about shellfish or owls than deciding who should or can love whom and what should place a man or woman outside the bounds of your God's care.

It seems rather dreary that an institution like the Papacy - which, whatever you feel about it, carries such a glittering and complex tradition of scholars, schemers, poets, madmen, villains, and saints - has been filled in my late lifetime by little men who seem to be obsessed with rules, authority, and chastening any trace of individual conscience in both laity and the lower clergy rather than trying to expand the horizons of the faith and the love their founder preached.

Their legacy is a curia crammed to bursting with other pettifoggingly narrow and stern little men who would rather wag their fingers at a couple of homosexuals embracing than leap with the joy of the Good News and give all their riches to the poor. And from this precious lot the Church will be blessed with its next pontiff.

Ma nisrat lech bamoch!? as Jesus himself might have said.

Speaking of old things, this early Kodacolor/Kodachrome test film is kind of fascinating:

The fascinating thing is not so much the film itself, which shows that the Kodacolor process still had a long way to go in 1922, but the motions of the actresses in the film.

As the Slate website says: "Their open expressions of feeling and the particular way they move their hands and tilt their heads...are so unfamiliar now, they seem like a foreign language." It's that, combined with the peculiar intimacy granted by the color film.

Black and white film emphasizes difference. The images look removed t us, unlike anything we're used to seeing either in film or our lives. The monochromatic pictures increase the distance between us and the people we're seeing on film.

But the women (and the child) in this little film look very familiar, less the Twenties fashions. Especially the last subject, the blonde woman in the shiny robe that smoulders and pouts, not all that much different than some 2013 starlet vamping for the camera.

And I mention as an aside that we tend to forget that the Twenties and early Thirties were, in fact, a very "modern" period in films. A lot of pre-Code films of the time have an almost 21st Century license around sex and sexuality; so it's no surprise that a screen test actress might throw in something spicy for the boys in the editing room.

Except that...go back and watch her. The actress' face and her body just...well, they just don't look and move like a modern woman.

You've seen modern screen actresses smoulder and they don't smoulder like that.

I think we often don't realize how we are shaped by our arts as we shape them. The gestures and expressions in the 1922 film are the exaggerated ones of the old melodrama and Victorian stage by way of the silent film era, where the actors had to "talk" using stylized movement and larger-than-normal facial gestures.

To us in 2013, raised on the naturalistic style we see around us, and on television and film they appear ritualistic and bizarre.

So I thought that this little clip at once brings to young life people who must be dead or very, very old while at the same time emphasizes how far removed from them and their time we have grown.

Surely, while "everything old is new again", many things are irrevocably changed into the weird and marvelous with the long passing of the days.


Leon said...

As one of my profs mentioned, history is interesting because of the difference between ourselves and the subject period. If it's there's too much difference we can't relate and if there's no difference, then why bother studying history?

That screen test definitely captures that early transition to a more "naturalist" style we're used to. The colour must have blown people's minds at the time.

FDChief said...

That's one of the fun things ABOUT history, tho; the trying to decypher what those people were thinking and why.

I remember really scratching my head this spring when I was researching Milvian Bridge. There just didn't seem like a sensible reason for putting his troops where Maxentius put his troops. I figure it had to be one of those things that seemed sensible to the people there at the time, but...

The thing is, I suspect that the people at the time "got" that the black and white pictures lost something in translation. They enjoyed them for what they were, but just like the transition from silent to sound, when the color arrived black and white was on the way out; color was just more natural and better.

So I suspect that the reaction wasn't as much "WOW! COOL! AWESOME!" as it was "OK, now that's more like it..."

Leon said...

Waitasec Chief. You telling me that the world was actually in COLOUR back then?

My life has been a lie.

Lisa said...

Oh, Chief, when you say religion (Christianity) "must allow for its adherents the freedom of their own morals", and the leaders should "give all their riches to the poor", you clearly aren't talking Christianity as practiced by the Catholic church (or most of them). Prosperity gospel, now there's the thing :(

I can't bear to look at Ratz, there's just something ... not right, there.

FDChief said...

Lisa: Can't remember who said it (Chesterton?) but the quote I always think of is "It's not that Christianity has been tried and found wanting; it's been found difficult and not tried."

But it IS a damn difficult faith; it asks for things that are almost opposite of the sorts of things that people usually do. So to live a Christ-like existence you almost HAVE to be either a saint, or a madman.

Lisa said...

Chesterton was right, much like Gandhi said when asked if he liked Western Culture, and he replied that it would be a good idea.

ISTM any faith is difficult, if practiced with no dispensations, Hail Mary's and all the other Get Out of Jail Free cards. Hitch called the hypocrites out.

We don't want it, but like children, we want to know the parameters, the edges. As St. Anselm said, God is the greatest thing I can imagine, and if I can imagine greater, then HE is God. We can feel a little good when we aspire to piosity, a little bad when we fail (but hey, the lord loves a sinner.)

We are mostly madmen anyway, but we don't want to take the title like a Mother Theresa (and maybe even she wasn't exactly a saint.) We want stuff, basically, and we want to believe (against the Gospels) that god wants us to have that stuff.

To me, religion is freakish, but a most necessary freak.

FDChief said...

And I'm the opposite; I find religion endlessly fascinating but don't "need" it or even particularly want it. It seems to offer a wonderful opportunity for serenity but, in practice, seems to yield mostly anger, disputation, and ferocity.

The thing that, I think, makes Christianity SO difficult amongst the other major faiths is how it (or He) refused to cut itself off from Judaism.

Judaism - like Islam, tho most of my Jewish friends hate this comparison - is pretty straightforward. God is God, and if you're jake with God you're a made guy (or gal). And the Others? Fuck 'em. Treat 'em nice if they're nice to you (and to be fair both faiths enjoin their adherents to be as "nice" as possible) but if they're not? Gott mit uns and not mit you - it's game on, muthfucka, and the Lord is gonna smite some heathern ass.

And y'know what? I'm fine with that. That's VERY human, and entirely consistent with a human God.

Religions like Buddhism and Hinduism (largely) enjoin nonviolence, period. The humans who claim to follow those faiths and still indulge their human love for violence are just fucking up, period.

But Christianity is hopelessly conflicted. Jesus tells you to turn the other cheek yet brings not peace but a sword? Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's but unto God that which is God's? You have to love unreservedly, everyone, heatherns, Gentiles, slaves, prostitutes and pimps...and have to keep ALL the old Levitican rules? The old desert-patriarch stuff, too?

That's freaking impossible, and I don't understand how Christians - real Christians - manage. I DO understand how most "Christians" do, but that's how Bibeau described it; they quibble and prevaricate, and lawyer up, and bullshit.

THAT's very human, too, but not in a good way...

Lisa said...

Oh, I don't "need" it, either. I am glad we all have access to faith traditions, and that I was raised in a household which explored many of them.

Religion is horrible in that, by virtue of "cleaving to" a church, one cleaves oneself from all of the rest of one's fellows. It's a doomed proposition from the start. Love they brother -- yes -- but do not think he's going to hell if he doesn't sit near you on Sunday. It's a big joke, actually, no?

Humans seem to need a little humbling. Beyond that -- once we grow up -- religion is not necessary. My parents told me I may choose whichever suits me when I grew up, if indeed I chose one.

Religion is a Band Aid or a crutch, and when you get better, you no longer need it.