27 January 2006

Dr Frank Defends The Honour of St Paul

I seriously doubt whether Frank will remember this particular theological debate, as it occurred some 14 years ago and was only a tangential dispute that slipped into a much further-ranging discussion as to whether Jon Von, co-founder and at the time still a member of the Mr T Experience, was or was not a space alien.

I was reminded of this only because Frank has been talking a bit about religion here and here, something I haven't heard him do for a while. Back in the early 90s he and I used to argue the subject with some vehemence, mostly egged on by me, I'm afraid, as I was still in my (very) late adolescent "Religion is evil and hateful and must be destroyed" mode, a la Richard Dawkins or Philip Pullman or innumerable teenage anarchists and Marilyn Manson fans.

Frank, on the other hand, often spoke favourably about the Catholic church, which, having been raised Catholic myself, was my particular bete noire at the time (as an example, I give you this Lookouts lyric from "Fuck Religion": "They'll cut off your balls and roast them on the altar, They'll feed you baby Jesus sauteed in holy water." Since I was convinced that no self-respecting punk rocker or intellectual (the two were not always mutually contradictory, I maintained valiantly) could see any value whatsoever in religion, I harangued Frank mercilessly about this, trying to get him to admit that he was only claiming to be a Catholic to wind people up or make some kind of point.

Despite my argumentative tendencies, I was invited along for a Mr T Experience tour through Poland and (what was then) Czechoslovakia. It was during the long, tedious drive from Bialystok to Bydgoszcz that the Jon-Von-is-an-alien-cum-the-Catholic-Church-should-be-destroyed imbroglio broke out.

I tried to soften up Frank's defence of religion getting him to admit that the Church might play a useful role in managing the behaviour of the lower classes who didn't know any better, but that it was worse than useless when it tried to interfere with the thinking of enlightened beings like ourselves. Frank professed to find this completely offensive, claiming that any doctrine worth its salt would have to be applicable to all, and if anything, should be more, not less relevant to the educated and cultured classes.

This sounded a little too much like Kant's categorical imperative, something about which I know little but like to cite a lot. I feared that if I pursued it, Frank would wipe the philosophical floor with me (this, after all, is the man who was able to condense his Berkeley thesis on the complicated history of the concept of the soul into a two and a half minute punk rock song).

So I shifted my approach, bringing up the popular hippie concept that Jesus himself was an all right dude, practically a hippie and a communist himself, but that his message had been subverted and perverted by a power-mad St Paul when he laid down some of the foundations of what would become the Catholic Church.

Frank wasn't biting. He steadfastly maintained that it was impossible to make such simplistic assertions, at which point I tried to goad him further by saying, "Come on, though, you've got to admit St Paul was kind of a wanker."

I've seldom seen Frank flustered or angry, at least not in the conventional sense, but this seemed to have done the trick. He first looked aghast, then did a very slow burn during which he seemed to be trying to gather his thoughts sufficiently. Finally he gave up and half-sputtered, half-shouted, "St Paul was NOT a wanker!" In virtually the same instant, a horse-drawn hay wagon pulled into our path, as they were wont to do on Polish "freeways" in those just-after-the-fall=of-communism days, and our van went screeching to a halt, sending us all bouncing and crashing into each other and effectively putting an end to the discussion. A few feet less braking room and we might have all died in a fiery wreck on the highway, but Frank alone among us looked completely unruffled, almost beatific, in fact. He said not a word, but he didn't have to. And it was the last time I ever talked shit about St Paul. Just to be on the safe side, you understand...


Pondering Pig said...

Hilarious post. I remember that era of my own journey well, although for me in the Sixties I would pick up the Bible sometimes and be properly amazed at Jesus' words and even go so far as to wonder if it was really true - and then forget about it because the Maharishi or somebody was in town.

I think the "St. Paul was a wanker" argument goes back at least to Andre Gide. One of his books, I forget which, makes the claim quite eloquently.

Pure wanking IMHO.

kendra said...

oh how times change...

that story always makes me smile.

i hate to admit that i'm pretty spotty on most of the really important writings of early christian thought, but i guess i did go to berkeley.

Pat said...

Was this trip also written about in one of your old Lookout zines? I feel like I've read something about it before.

Dr. Frank said...

I do indeed remember it, Larry. Good times...