Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Rambling - Why is the divine always so human?

I'm still reading American Jesus and finding it very interesting. One of the things that's struck me, as I'm sure it's meant to since it's a large part of the point of the book, is the different ways that people see Jesus. Every era seems to see him differently. At one point he's viewed as having gentler characteristics, love and patience in abundance. Kindness. Charity.

Then in the next era, when the culture has shifted, suddenly the focus is all on his martial attributes. Strength. Courage. Muscles...

Susanne did a couple of posts on the book over here, if you're interested. Anyway. Reading this book led me to thinking about other religious/historical/mythical personalities. It's telling, I think, how this pattern of the changing perception of these larger than life figures is the same across the board. Not that they go through the exact same permutations, but that with every shift in the priorities and drive of a specific culture the attributes of the religious figures change to match.

Which makes perfect sense if you view them as reflections of humanity. And that's what they are, whether or not they started out their existence as real human beings or not. Once a person hits the level of a religious figure to the degree where they are considered a prophet or a divine being, they have become mythological. Their lives are lifted up and examined as a path to emulate. And, because they were human, there are many facets to their personalities. So it's easy enough for each individual or culture to latch onto the aspects that they understand best or find most appealing and elevate them to the exclusion of any other characteristics. A very obvious problem with that is that it is not the entire picture of the person being focused on, leaving people with a very unbalanced personality to emulate.

Even when you take a figure that is not claimed to have been a human, say Odin, Loki, Isis or Bastet, their characteristics are many and varied and it's easy enough to focus on the ones that appeal to you to the near exclusion of others. And I don't think that there's anything necessarily *wrong* with that. It's human nature - we're not able to encompass *everything* at once and so we focus on the things that click with us. However I think it's important to keep an eye on the fact that what we find easiest to relate to is not the entirety of the being we're emulating or worshiping.

Anyway. My point, such as it is, is that all of our deities are rather human in the end. Because we're the ones doing the examining and the looking, our gods will reflect us to one degree or another. Even looking at the Christian god who is theoretically utterly inhuman (except for the part that is totally, perfectly human - the Incarnation, okay?), there are very human characteristics described into him. Part of that can be written as human limitation - we have only ourselves and the world around us to turn to for description and understanding and so of course the divine will be interpreted through that lens.

Does that mean that any of them are *actually* possessed of these human drives and characteristics? No. Probably not. It'd be terrible if the things controlling the continued existence of reality were just like us. Sometimes I wonder if the universe isn't more like a shark than a human. Meaning, it possesses a consciousness and a drive. It does what it does because that's what it does. Not out of affection or malice or belief. Just because that's what it does.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

We have baby!

YAY! *does crazy Kermit the frog run around the building*

So, Evesdottir arrived yesterday at 7 lbs, 11 ozs and from all accounts very healthy. :)

*proceeds to spoil honorary niece rotten*

Friday, March 16, 2012

Book: The Tribune by Patrick Larkin

This is another one of those books that I picked up a *million* years ago and just got around to reading. Seriously, I actually remember buying this book and I bought it from the bookstore in our mall, a Waldens Books. And they've been out of the area for probably five years. So I've had the book for a bit.

I have a *thing* for ancient Rome. I know, I know. I have 'things' about a lot of things. What can I say, my obsessions are many and varied. :) Anyway. That's why I picked this book up.

Right then.

So The Tribune centers around and is told from the point of view of legionnaire Lucius Aurelius Valens. We start off at a point where he is on duty in Syria, investigating a series of bloody raids. There is a band of marauders riding through the area, demanding protection money from the people living on the outlying farms. If they refuse or are unable to pay, the bandits return within a few nights and slaughter everyone in the house.

Lucius, being a veteran of the German frontier and an educated man from a military family, detects a pattern in the raids and suggests a plan that would hopefully capture these men before they can strike again. His commanding officer scoffs and shoots down the idea, his attitude and general incompetency giving Lucius suspicions that there is something more going on.

To punish Lucius for daring to think that he knows better than his seniors, he is sent to a remote outpost. Rather than go, Lucius sends a detachment of his men to man the outpost and takes the rest of them back to the area that is being preyed upon.

Of course, his gamble pays off and he encounters and defeats the bandits. Who, to the surprise of absolutely no one, turn out to be legionnaires under the command of the senior centurion. Driven by a sense of honor that apparently precludes being clever about the political situations around him, Lucius marches the centurion and the surviving members of the criminal band to the capital, thereby getting in the middle of a political pissing match between Germanicus (Lucius' friend and political sponsor) and a man named Piso who is a smaller power in the area.

He subsequently is marched off to Judea to keep him out of the grasp of the men that he's angered. It all becomes rather terribly predictable just as soon as Lucius is saddled with a random Jewish-Roman citizen boy named Paullus who insists on being called Saul. By which I mean, Larkin takes an interesting premise of a historical novel - that of an honorable man surrounded by corruption in the military ranks - and starts shoe horning New Testament characters into it.

Lucius, dragging Paullus/Saul and his conveniently incredibly loyal Greek doctor with him, as well as his cohort of legionnaires, becomes enmeshed in the murder of a Roman senator near the small town of Nazarra. The senator, Silanus, had been sent to Judea to find out the truth of the visions that Tiberius Caesar's seers have been having about a threat growing in the area. We also encounter a man named Nahum, a mother and son duo named Miryam and Yeshua, a kind of bipolar seeming woman named Marah in Magdalah and two random fishermen, one of whom is named Simon.

Look, I wanted to like this book. I really did. Rome! It should be hard to screw that up! But. It kind of felt like Larkin couldn't decide what kind of a novel he wanted this to be, or he didn't bother to take the time to really fill in the story to make it interesting. It is *absolutely* possible to write Biblical fiction and make it vibrant and interesting. This was not that book.

My major problem, though, is with Lucius. Really. He's unreal. He is an unbelievable character. He's kind of perfect. Lucius is approaching Marty Sue territory. His 'one flaw' is that he's so honorable that he's stupid with it. This *entire* book is based on that fact. Luckily for him, he seems to have come by it honestly. We're given a little anecdote of his grandfather to explain where this idiothonorable streak comes from. Lucius' grandfather fought under Augustus when he was battling for control of Rome with Mark Antony. In one of the battles, things weren't going very well. The standard bearer, the man carrying the Roman Eagle, falls and Augustus himself grabs it and uses it as a rallying point. Well, Lucius' grandfather fights off hoards of Antony's troops and is wounded in the process. When Augustus comes to visit him in the medical tent and commend him for his loyalty and bravery, grandpa tells Augustus that he wasn't defending Augustus, he was defending the Eagle.

Which...okay. I get that the Eagle is important. As a much better book (and the movie) says:

'The eagle is lost, honor is lost, and if honor is lost, all is lost.' The Eagle is Rome. BUT. When the guy who is one of the rulers of Rome (at that point) and your commanding officer, thanks you personally for being a badass, you TAKE THE COMPLIMENT AND SHUT UP. Of course, Grandpa gets rewarded for this with a gold ring which he passes on down to Lucius. Lucius also inherits his grandpa's idiocy.

As for the rest of it. It could have been good. I kept thinking that it would get better. I mean after all, it has the potential to be really interesting, if it's well done. But it wasn't. It just wasn't.

If you want to read good Biblical fiction, I point you to The Red Tent by Anita Diamant.

If you want to read good fiction set in ancient Rome, let me direct you to The Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff. It's a YA book, actually, but it's a fun, engaging book. There's also a movie based on it which I enjoyed immensely. *sighs at Channing Tatum as Marcus*

Or, if you enjoy mysteries, the Marcus Didius Falco series is one of my absolute favorites. Steven Saylor's Roma Sub Rosa series is another delightful mystery series set in ancient Rome.

Or, if you like to mix your Rome with some high fantasy, the Codex Alera series by Jim Butcher. It's a very clearly Roman based society, the reasons for which become clear throughout the series, but set in another world where the Romans have gained the ability to commune with and use creatures known as furies. There's also the giant-wolf creatures (Canim!), the Marat (Vikings!), and the BorgVord. All this with political intrigue and machinations thrown in. *cuddles books*

My tastes, they are random.


The Tribune = no stars. Not worth it, don't bother. Every other book I mentioned = go forth and read.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

General Post of Generalness

Just a quick little post. Been busy around here lately, sorry. :) Nothing special, just busy which happens sometimes.


I had an 'interesting' conversation with a co-worker the other day. We were discussing religion for some reason...I think she'd asked me about some televangelist and I expressed my distaste for the entire breed. Anyway.  The whole conversation wound up boiling down to the fact that she a) could not believe that I was not a Christian any longer (in the sense that, she insists that I *must* still be a Christian. Secretly or something. So secretly that my conscious mind is unaware of it...) b) if I wasn't a Christian any longer (though how that works with her assertion that I simply *must* still be a super secret squirrel Christian) then that meant that I had never read the Bible/attended the 'right' Bible studies/churches/whatever and c) since I insisted on being not a Christian (again, there's a failure of logic with her other opinions) then my opinion couldn't be trusted because I didn't understand anything about Christianity.

*side-eyes people* Leaving aside all the other things that are wrong and annoying with this conversation, how does it make sense to just reject someones understanding and opinion based on the fact that they're not a member of the group you're discussing? I understand plenty about Christianity and several other religions. Not everything, no, but I've never made that claim. That doesn't mean that I can't hold a reasonably intelligent conversation on the topic. 


Then again, this is a woman who finds jokes about going to hell to be *terribly* inappropriate and offensive, so she's possibly a little uptight in general.


Moving on...

I was doing my morning rune reading and while I was shuffling the deck three cards fell out. So here's the spread as they fell:

Sowulo (Sun)

Letter: S

Victory; Success or other favourable circumstances.

Perthro (Lot-cup)

Letter: P
Concealed; Something unknown, or not yet revealed; a mystery in the same sense that an unborn child is a mystery.

Gebo (Gift)

Letter: G
Generosity; All matters relating to exchanges, including contracts and sacrifice.

I think that these cards apply to several situations in my life, all of which are going really well. I wish I had deep thoughts to lay out here but I really don't. It's just nice. :)

Oh! And Evesdottir is due to be born March 20th, the first day of Spring. :)
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