|Children at Bible Camp, Wisconsin|
Following up from my last column, I'm looking into gods, and how the freest souls treat them playfully. A sample:
All the gods, argues author and publisher Roberto Calasso, were once a primal kind of play. His epic The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony makes this point brilliantly. "But how did it all begin?" he keeps asking in the first pages. For Calasso, there is no one beginning. Endless becoming is the rule: transformations, births and deaths, deaths and rebirths. Calasso's book tells Greek stories, but perhaps the Norse god Loki stands in for all deities here: becoming salmon, mare, fly and swapping sexes like suits, as he waits to destroy the world; the tragic, laughing prankster.
Put less esoterically, the gods are not one single, eternal and universal truth. They are, to pluck that dubious word from Heathers, myriad. This is the basic nature of myth. Any one myth "is always a tree with many branches," Calasso said recently in the Paris Review. "Unless you take into account all the possible variants, you don't truly understand it."
But in churches, variants of scripture and teaching have another name: heresy. Aquinas described it as "a species of infidelity in men who, having professed the faith of Christ, corrupt its dogmas". This Abrahamic ideal, and perhaps all institutional ideals, are antithetical to Calasso's play. The Abrahamic religions are often frightened of mythic "infidelity", and confessedly jealous: the God of Exodus, for example, but also of Paul's second letter to the Corinthians. Paul is worried about Calasso's 'variants': "Someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the Spirit you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted." He wants, he says, to give "virgin" souls to God.
These are metaphors, but telling ones: fear of other myths and fables, and their seductions. As a Jew, and apostle of Christ, Paul warns his acolytes about playing around, so to speak.(Photo: Paul M. Walsh)