Amateur theology

Recent bus news highlights the common representation of the God of the world’s major monotheistic religions as having an excessive and prurient interest in the sexual antics of His children (for so we, mere humans, tend to be portrayed).  In polytheistic religions this seems to be less of an issue – perhaps because the gods have a practical outlet for their carnal needs (either with each other or with their worshippers – yes, I’m looking at you almighty Zeus) and have less need to obtain their “jollies” vicariously.

Actually, I am probably doing the one true God™ a disservice: I suspect He is as uninterested in the gland games of the human race as I am.  No, it seems more probable that this obsession in matters of erotic practice is down to the more vehement of his self-proclaimed followers.  It has always puzzled me why an entity who can list omniscience, omnipresence and omnipotence on his CV should need a bunch of overly noisy, intolerant and, all too often, violent hangers-on to look after His interests here on earth.  I understand as a single deity there is a risk of being seen to micromanage one’s creation, but His attempts at delegation do appear to involve some rather puzzling, not to say, contradictory choices.  Perhaps He is hoping that this (apparent) use of competition will bring down costs and improve efficiency in His creation?  If so, was Adam Smith a prophet (and not just of profit) with his talk of the invisible hand of the market? (Now revealed as an allusion to the Almighty.)

Many deities also seem to have an unnatural interest in our hair and food.  Rules on millinery (or at least head coverings) and the cutting and styling or not of one’s barnet and facial fuzz seem common themes across a whole range of religions.  I suppose deities are generally supposed to live somewhere above us, so their main view of the human race will be of the tops of our heads, which probably isn’t our most edifying aspect, and could explain the strictures.

To the amateur theology student, all these rules, strictures and obsessions do tend to portray our Maker(s) as a sex-obsessed hairdresser on a rather faddy diet.  Surely, this can’t have been the intent?  Though it might give new, more spiritual meaning to the phrase “Anything for the weekend, sir?”.

Theology for today’s world

As many will know, I am quite the amateur theologian: boasting as I do a decent pass at “O” Level Religious Studies (and with some upcoming RS content in my OU course).  The “O” level focused on the gospel according to St Luke – and we were, of course, a good 1.5% closer to the events described back then.  It also covered sex and marriage – but as I have little practical interest in either exercise, I fear this knowledge may have somewhat withered over the years (I do have a vague recollection that the sequencing of the two activities was considered quite important).

Anyway, to return to the stories of the well-known first century (AD or CE, as you prefer) conjurer and raconteur.  I seem to recall that he instructed his top followers to become “fishers of men” – and earlier today, I did find myself wondering how well this would play to a modern-day, European audience.  Would they expect the disciples to be required to adhere to strict quotas?  Worse, would they have to throw the small ones back?  And, as a fan of both the albatross and dolphin, what about the bycatch?

I think modern translations should either avoid the fishing metaphor altogether, or be very clear about the importance of “line and pole” sustainable techniques in the harvesting of humanity.

Barry who?

Not a new time-travel TV show set on a peninsular in South Wales, but an allusion to my trip to the cinema yesterday afternoon.

Cambridge is fortunate to have three cinemas (and three theatres – more, under some definitions) as well as venues for classical and more allegedly popular music – and this flowering of the arts was one of the reasons I chose to make it my home.

My film-going preference is for the art house cinema, primarily because it offers a better quality of food and drink to consume around or during the film itself but also, as previously discussed, I do like to think of myself as a bit “arty” despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary.  The Arts Picturehouse also offers a much more “Waitrose” audience than the big chains: we cinema-goers are free, but everywhere in chains (to paraphrase Rousseau).  Indeed, on my previous visit, upon emerging from the auditorium I found the public areas of the cinema full of elderly, rather well-dressed patrons which did cause me to wonder if I had inadvertently strayed into a parallel universe (as such folk are rarely seen at the cinema, and never en masse).  A modest degree of reflection provided a more prosaic explanation for the audience than one involving the many-universes interpretation of quantum theory: the cinema shows live broadcasts of opera from the Met in New York de temps en temps, and so I was seeing an opera crowd.

Yesterday, I saw a flick called Kaboom: the reason for whose title does ultimately become apparent.  This was quite enjoyable and decidedly odd (but I like an odd film – I think it’s how I recognise that it was “art”) and did involve its young participants exchanging frequent dry and witty barbs.  I always feel real life needs greater use of witty rejoinders – but I fear most of us are unable to afford the teams of scriptwriters this would entail, nonetheless it is a source of continuing disappointment (that and the lack of proper romance).  However, the film will probably be most remembered by me for the quite extraordinary amount of sex (involving almost every combination of 3 or fewer human participants) that was portrayed.  It also included proper swearing, but was still only a 15 despite being a huge step-up from the PG animation I watched last weekend (which had no sex and only mild language) – this is clearly a very quantised (perhaps even logarithmic) scale of measurement.

I think the only film I had previously seen which attempted to get close to this volume of on-screen sex was Caligula (starring Malcolm McDowell, as I recall) which I was subjected to in the mid-eighties.  I think this was supposed to be shocking and/or erotic (certainly I think it had garnered an X certificate – though would now probably be PG) but I’m afraid I found it to be exceedingly tedious with short interludes where it achieved the dizzying heights of merely laughable.  Having recently read Suetonius’ “Twelve Caesers” (in translation once again I’m afraid) and so now knowing something about Caligula, I am amazed anyone could produce such an uninteresting film from his life.

However, perhaps it’s me – I am fairly sure that my interest in sex is significantly more modest than that shared by most of the rest of humanity (which I suppose is a good thing when it comes to continuing the species as I am currently – and fully plan on remaining – an evolutionary dead-end).  I fear my interest in the procreative arts falls below my level of interest in ironing – something which I assume that most people do, but which I have no interest in watching or reading about.  Talking of which, all my recent business travel means I have a stack of shirts awaiting my attention, so it’s time to get hot and steamy with something hard in the bedroom…