Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Christmas Exceptionalism

Away from a manger. Nicolas Poussin, La Nourriture de Jupiter (1636-37). Wikimedia Commons.
"Biblical theologian" Scott Hahn, author of Joy to the World: How Christ's Coming Changed Everything (and Still Does) (2014), doing a book tour interview with Kathryn Jean Lopez at NRO in that curious style of hers, where she always seems to be working backwards, taking a prepared text and interpolating questions into it:
LOPEZ: Why is it important to notice that Jesus “doesn’t behave like a conventional hero”?
HAHN: Jesus’ story is so much a part of us that we no longer notice its strangeness. I hope, with this book, to help people to forget the intervening millennia for a few moments and see the first Noel as it was. Jesus was power made perfect through weakness, as Saint Paul said. He learned obedience through suffering. And that was true from the first instant of his incarnation. His way was not the way of the gods and epic heroes of antiquity. We need to recover a sense of amazement at the humility of God, who allowed himself to be swaddled and diapered, hunted like an animal, and hidden like contraband.
Well, though, just one of the all-time biggest gods of antiquity was Zeus, whose babyhood ought to be fairly familiar to some of our older readers. He was born in a cave on Mount Ida in Crete, where his mother immediately abandoned him, not because she didn't love him but to prevent his father from eating him (a careless feeder, Cronos swallowed the baby-sized stone in swaddling clothes she gave him instead without realizing he'd been tricked). Instead of his own mother he was suckled in the cave by a she-goat, while a troupe of Dactyls, dancing shamans, banged their drums and clashed their cymbals so that Cronos would not hear his cries, which must have played hell with the infant's sleep schedule. If that's not hunted like an animal and hidden like contraband I don't know what is.

Even more impressive is the story of the epic hero Heracles, conceived in Thebes when Zeus seduced Alcmene, king's daughter of Mycenae, by disguising himself as her husband Amphitryon, who was off at a war. Even before his birth he had to share a womb with his twin, Amphitryon's son Iphicles, and as soon as he was born Alcmene took him to a field outside the city and left him there, exposed to the elements, not out of fear of her husband, who, like Joseph, was relatively easy about sharing his wife with God, but God's wife Hera, who would have killed him if she knew where he was. (Athena found him there and cleverly presented him to Hera, like, "Look at this cute baby I found!" Hera immediately started nursing him; he sucked so violently that she had to push him away—her milk splashing through the sky created the Milky Way—but he was already bound to her forever in spite of her hatred.)

Heracles is also noteworthy for having died in inconceivable torture (wearing a shirt poisoned with the Hydra's blood, which burned his torso down to the bone before it killed him) and then rising from his funeral pyre to the heavens, where he sat at the right hand of the god his father, a god himself.

Just saying, Kathryn Jean. There is really not one word in the Gospel accounts of Jesus that is not prefigured somewhere in the Old Testament and Greek and Roman and Near Eastern myth. The power of the story comes from its universality—he's really the most convention-bound hero there is. Educated Christians used to know about this too, it didn't even bother them particularly.

What we have today is American Christian Exceptionalism, idiots like General Boykin and Justice Moore who believe Muslims worship idols and themselves make graven images of the Ten Commandments. I'm not one of those New Atheists who believe that all religion is stupid, but I do think if you want to argue you ought to know something first.

Cross-posted at The Rectification of Names.


Never Ben Better said...

Too bad these exceptionalists seem also oblivious to the perils of hubris.

Roger said...

Do we need to recover a sense of amazement at the humility of David Vitter too?

Victor said...

Decades ago, I gave up trying to explain how Christ and the myth(s) about him, were not original.

'American Christian exceptionalism,' indeed.

Ken_L said...

How's Lopez bearing up under the trauma of a libtard pope?

Yastreblyansky said...

@Ken--Denial. Since the message of the Church is eternally changeless, all Popes are alike no matter what they say. She thinks he's a lovable conservative. She looks beyond Francisco's socialist words to his smile and sees a great big sweet teddy bear like old Mr. Buckley who totally agrees with Wojtyla and Ratzinger in every respect even if he sounds different.

Ken_L said...

@Yastreblyansky - let me guess, the media keeps taking his words out of context, right? And all he did in the Cuba thing was give out Castro's email address.

Yastreblyansky said...

Takes her cue from Cardinal Dolan on Cuba. LIterally just quotes him to establish the party line. If she has to choose between church and the boys at NRO she chooses the church, which makes her in a funny way admirable--she'll be as dishonest as Dolan demands, but no further.