Thursday, September 22, 2005

[191.1] INTERPRETING GOD'S LAUGHTER

The news that a retired school headmaster has reduced the Bible into a booklet which can be read in around a hundred minutes may be an abridgement too far, according to James Sturcke, summarising blog reaction for the new 'Berliner'-style Guardian. Maggi Dawn has the issues sensibly and briefly weighed up. Even more of a storm greeted As Good as New: A Radical Re-telling of the Scriptures, because of its controversial interpretative stance towards passages concerning sex - always something guaranteed to, er, get Christians' knickers in a twist. Meanwhile the Graun (as it is lovingly known by sub-editors the world over) is encouraging bloggers to summarise other 'great books' in just 100 words.

I don't imagine that we'll be seeing a 100 minute version of the Qur'an too soon, not unless someone really wants to stir the pot. But Giles Fraser, undoubtedly the best theologically-equipped columnist in any UK paper at the moment, has some very sensible things to say about the debate on the reformation of Islam galvanised by Salman Rushdie and others. In Rushdie should swap his crusading for novel writing (a crude headline, which he didn't write and doesn't do justice to the piece) Fraser follows his earlier article on The idolatry of Holy Books by reflecting on the role of fiction in helping narrative traditions to meet, exchange and find a better way of engaging both themselves and 'the enemy' - whatever and whoever that is perceived to be.

He says: In these pages I had a go at Rushdie's appeal to the Reformation as simplistic, arguing that reforming zeal often leads to the sort of bad religion of which he rightly complains. Taking the point, he has now changed tack: "Not so much a reformation, as several people said in response to my first piece, as an Enlightenment. Very well then: let there be light." But this won't do either. Certainly Enlightenment thought offers a challenge to the moral poison that often oozes from superstition. Even so, secular rationality is no fail-safe prophylactic against murderous ideology. The 20th century offered up enough genocidal "isms" to make that point. Hatred has the capacity to nestle within the most enlightened breast. So far, so obvious. But what's apparently not so obvious to Rushdie is that the most effective answer to bad religion is under his very nose: the novel itself...

Picking up an old Jewish proverb, "Man thinks, God laughs", [Milan] Kundera proposes that the novel was born out of the laughter of God. What's God laughing at? At the hubris of human attempts to deliver a single knockdown answer to the problems of the world. The novel can never be a cheerleader for Islam or Christianity or Modernist or Enlightenment. Those who believe that the exclusive truth of any of these is obvious and self-evident can never have heard the laughter of God. [My emphases]

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1 comment:

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