April 05, 2005


I'm eventually going to get back to blogging on a more regular schedule -- sorry, I just haven't felt like I've had the energy to do this, although there's a few things I've been meaning to get around to, and that will probably get me back in the habit of daily or semi-daily updates. But today, I came across something that sort of astonished me, so I decided to stir long enough to point it out.

The Washington Post ran this editorial cartoon today, apparently trying to make some sort of statement -- well, let's look at the cartoon:


In case you have trouble making it out, it shows a couple watching coverage of the Pope's death -- I think he's supposed to be lying in state -- on their wide screen television. The announcer says, "We will return to our regularly scheduled festival of materialism in a moment." The couple, who have an oversized SUV in their garage, say "It looks larger than life on our new big screen."

Where does one begin? Does Tom Toles, the cartoonist, think wide screen televisions are somehow more sinful than, say, small black and white televisions with 12 inch screens? Isn't the content of some cable stations far more pernicious than merely a big picture? How about newspapers, like the Post, that wasted tens of millions of dollars converting their perfectly good printing presses from black and white to ones that print color photographs on section fronts? Isn't that a horrid waste, a great sin of materialism, a crime against the spirit?

Then there's the whole notion of laughter itself -- the Gospels, after all, do not say that Christ laughed, yet Toles spends his time making (well, trying to make) people laugh. And he's paid enough money to afford a widescreen television, no doubt, for his troubles.

It's a shame Toles is merely a cartoonist -- if only he were a poet of epic grandeur, he could compose clever verses describing the various circles to Hell to which one is condemned for the ownership of the wide screen television, the SUV, the large house, perhaps the 40 gig iPod.

What is interesting, of course, is that the charge of materialism--or more properly that the Church has been corrupted by worldly things--has long been levelled at Catholic pontiffs. While it was a staple of Protestant complaints, its history is more antique than that. The Manichaean notion that all matter is evil was one of the first heretical challenges faced by the Church, after all.

What fascinates me is that some of the things that the Pope wouldn't want celebrated -- the festival he would prefer we not get back to -- have far less to do with widescreen televisions and far more to do with elements of the culture to which he objected, and which Toles...well, I don't know -- perhaps he is ardently pro-life, ardently against women in the clergy or married priests, ardently opposed to gay marriage, a fervent believer in Christ and the teachings of the Catholic Church. Somehow, though, I doubt it...

Posted by Ideofact at April 5, 2005 11:59 PM

Big-screen Television? SUV's? iPod's?

And the great issues of the age?

"But to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their playmates,

'We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;
we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.'

For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, 'He has a demon.' The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, 'Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!' Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds. "

(Matthew 11.16-19)

Perhaps Jesus chuckled as he finished this saying. Perhaps not.

Would the Pope say something similar to Toles?
I don't know, and I wouldn't want to hazard a guess.

Posted by: talon karrde at April 6, 2005 09:30 AM

Jesus didn't laugh? He never made a joyful noise?

Posted by: praktike at April 6, 2005 12:22 PM

The Gospels don't say he didn't laugh, but neither is there a verse which says, "And the Son of Man laughed uproariously until his wine shot out of his nose" or some such.

There was an idea prevalent among some Catholic theologians in the Middle Ages (Umberto Eco mentions it in the Name of the Rose) that because the Bible never mentions Christ laughing, then laughter is a sin.

You can read about it here.

Posted by: Bill at April 6, 2005 01:50 PM

There's Luke 6:21-

6:21 Blessed are ye that hunger now: for ye shall be filled. Blessed are ye that weep now: for ye shall laugh.

Posted by: praktike at April 7, 2005 11:20 AM

Well, what does it say in Greek, and what does the Greek translation of the Aramaic say?

For that matter, what does William Tyndale say relative to King James?

And that still doesn't say that Christ laughed, by the way...

From my reading of the Gospels, incidentally, I'd say it's almost certain he did laugh, and he certainly employed humor. I'm not arguing this, I'm only pointing out that there were theologians who held laughter to be sinful. Since Toles doesn't really make people laugh, it was probably not a point worth making...

Posted by: Bill at April 7, 2005 11:46 AM

Perhaps we should have a good laugh at people who think that every possible detail of Christ's life and ministry can be inferred flawlessly from available texts.

The question of whether Toles wanted people to guffaw with pleasure, chortle with derision, or snort in contempt is kind of curious. And your point appeared to be that he didn't know anything about the Church's actual teachings, whether on laughter or anything else.

At any rate, the quote I pulled from the Gospels was one that I thought most relevant to the situation. That is, it points out how the purposes and motives of Christ were misunderstood and maligned by contemporaries.

Similar points can be made about the purposes and motives of Pope John Paul II. People like Toles either condemn him for being too archaic, or praise him for being modern. No one seems to notice that he didn't care whether he was archaic or modern; he measured himself by the standards of the Church.

Posted by: talon karrde at April 11, 2005 09:26 AM