Friday, August 15, 2008

Bryson's Shakespeare

I have just finished Bill Bryson's Shakespeare (2007)- witty (as you would expect) but also mightily informative. Three things particularly struck me. First, the absence of hard information about Shakespeare's life. As Bryson typically puts it: "he is a kind of literary equivalent of an electron - forever there and not there." I had no idea that so little detail exists. Second, Shakespeare's sheer genius. For example, his torrent of new words - he recorded the first use of 2,035 words! And his amazing gift of phrases, which total about one-tenth of all the quotations in the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations. But third, it was the prodigious efforts of so many later "authorities" to trash his reputation - that his work was really the work of another, or that he was too brilliant to be a single person. Deftly, Bryson undoes their "authority."

Inevitably, (as a preacher), I thought of Jesus about whom there is much more evidence of course. But he had both a unique impact on the world, (with unequalled spiritual grace and power), yet also many continuing detractors. While accepting Christ has something to say, many still reject his self-claims to be divine. I was interested in a review of Eckhardt Tolle's A New Earth, to see that Jesus is quoted more than any other. Yet, in The Power of Now, Tolle says: "Never personalize Christ. Don't make Christ into a form identity. Avatars, divine mothers, enlightened masters, the very few that are real, are not special as persons." (Christianity Today,August 2008 ) For real, for me, the person of Jesus Christ is central to everything!


Anonymous said...

Not being a christian, I think Tolle is right. He may select a few spiritual gems from the bible, but his approach is essentially that of an eastern mystic. (It is emptiness from which everything manifests, and we as people are simply part of the play of form.) The bulk of religious dogma is simply a human projection onto reality, with christianity, its male god, and confused distortion of the solstice myth into some sort of bizarre turn-or-burn salvationism being a particularly inaccurate one.

There used to be a site called where there was a very good page on christianity (or what the author termed "evangelical refugees" ,something I would identify with :)), in which he pointed out, I think very wisely, that the religion of Jesus, i.e. what Jesus believed, experienced and taught, if he indeed existed - basically an enlightenment philosophy, as the Gnostic gospels seem to confirm very strongly - has become a religion about Jesus. The bulk of Christianity has sadly become simply Bibliolatry - the adoration of a lot of stuff written in a book much of which is demonstrably false, borrowed, forged etc if one is willing to open oneself to the implications of textual criticism & religious history.

The tragedy, of course, is that the spiritual core of the teaching, which is undoubtedly there, gets lost in all this, and has the further effect of alienating literalist christians from the great tradition of world religion and spiritual practice, with their defensive clinging to a belief that they have a monpoly on truth.

Perhaps the wisdom of sufi mystic Gibrail Kham is relevant here: "Truth is like a mirror shattered by time into a hundred thousand fragments, so that each person who finds one can say: 'My religion is the true religion'".

So perhaps Tolle has something very valuable to say to christians, both literalist and liberal.

MichaelQuicke said...

Phew! I had no idea that mentioning Bryson's effective dealing with "authorities", who argued that Shakespeare wasn't the playwright etc, would bring such a broad-brush dismissal of the "historical Jesus" and "gospel evidence for Christianity." I guess mention of Tolle did it!
I know that some of us Christians can be ultra defensive and need to continue to listen to others...especially in the way we need always to treat others with respect. Sadly, that hasn't always been the case.
But, I also need to say that, as an initially sceptical researcher I have worked all my life to ask hard questions about the evidence for Jesus, and examine counter gnostic claims etc. And as Bryson makes a good case for historical Shakespeare....I have based my life, work and faith on a good case for the historical Jesus!

Anonymous said...

Hopefully, one day, I too will learn a respectful response to those who assert different aspects of the gnostic texts (or, more commonly, Dan Brown theology).

I just came back from NY where a political discussion about ethics lead this statement from my own Mother (whom I LOVE WITH ALL MY HEART), "I don't see why you are being so judgmental. Does someone need impeccable personal ethics if his/her policies are on target? NOT EVEN JESUS HIMSELF WAS PERFECT."

I am sure that you have a beautiful way to counter this sort of statement. I, on the other hand, started raising my voice at my own Mother telling her that what she said was not only impossible theologically for redemption to be possible in Christianity, but INSULTING!

Instead of the discussion leading to a clear presentation of the gospel, it ended up with awkward apologies on both sides. We had become so conditioned to debate politics (we do not fall on the same side of the 2008 election), that I ended up treating Jesus as if he were running for office.

In my "defense" of Christ, I ended up demonstrating my own sinfulness of lack of respect, lack of self-control, self-righteousness, pride, etc, etc.

I may be able to recite Lee Stroebl excerpts, but I still have tons to learn about Jesus.