July 26: Jesus and the cool table


For the groupies?

Unfun fact about Thomas à Kempis: he was buried alive. When they dug up his corpse (Wikipedia doesn't say why they dug up his corpse), they found splinters under his fingernails. It was just like "Monty Python and the Holy Grail," in that he was not quite dead yet. And it was for this reason that he was not canonized -- he couldn't take it like a saint.

Which is a good exercise in separating the teller from the tale, because that guy with the splinters under his nails opens his famous book with this:
It is vanity to desire a long life, and to have little care for a good life. It is vanity to take thought only for the life which now is, and not to look forward to the things which shall be hereafter. It is vanity to love that which quickly passeth away, and not to hasten where eternal joy abideth.
Of course, even faced with the inevitability of not being able to live up to your ideals, it's not a bad thing to have them, if you are so inclined (not everyone is -- I live in Hollywood, after all). Unless your ideals are crazy somehow. Are TàK's?

Well, he certainly warns against "knowledge" as such ("Therefore be not lifted up by any skill or knowledge that thou hast; but rather fear concerning the knowledge which is given to thee. If it seemeth to thee that thou knowest many things, and understandest them well, know also that there are many more things which thou knowest not."); and yet I have a feeling that he felt betrayed by the state of the medical art there at the end. On the other hand, how anti-knowledge is he, really? He wrote books, after all. It does seem like he's more worried that the smartest guys might think that they're sitting at the cool table in the monastery.

Telling you that people who think they're cool aren't really cool is a big theme in this excerpt:
The proud and the avaricious man are never at rest; while the poor and lowly of heart abide in the multitude of peace.
This I don't buy -- or, more precisely, I buy the first part, which is basically "Mo' money mo' problems," but not the part that it's peaceful to be poor. If peace and contentment were really to be found among the poor (or, in the variant version of this trope, the rural), how come everyone wants to move the other way? (We might call the rural version the "Green Acres" fallacy.) You can't get people to do even if you supply them with an ideology.

Come to think of it, that "people who think they're cool aren't really cool" is an important message, not just of teen movies, but of Christianity itself. "The worse, the better" is the paradox that supplies the energy of Christianity (and Buddhism, maybe, but I don't know enough to really say).

What makes this excerpt not like a teen movie is its emphasis on negative self-esteem:
That is the highest and most profitable lesson, when a man truly knoweth and judgeth lowly of himself. To account nothing of one’s self, and to think always kindly and highly of others, this is great and perfect wisdom.
I'm not so sure, but I guess it's just a measure of degree. To really hate oneself is a recipe for disaster (and, believe me, the comedy world is full of that); but, as TàK might have said, but did not, people with obviously high self-esteem tend to be assholes. This includes people who know they're saved. The second half of this paragraph, though, contains a good lesson for todayr:
Even shouldest thou see thy neighbour sin openly or grievously, yet thou oughtest not to reckon thyself better than he, for thou knowest not how long thou shalt keep thine integrity. All of us are weak and frail; hold thou no man more frail than thyself.
Bloggers take note!

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