Hannah and Papa J

Hannah and Papa J

Monday, May 29, 2017

Augustine

Dear Son,

Before I knew anything about Augustine I read City of God.  I'd heard that it was written by someone called a father in a religion where we were commanded by the Founder not to call anyone a father except our Father in Heaven; and although I hadn't any knowledge about Augustine as a person, I was told that it was written because Rome had fallen to the barbarians.  I picked it up and read all thousand pages.


Three hundred pages of this book are nonsense about angels and demons; and thus like Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion the book builds your virtue less by teaching you how to be good than by testing your patience.  The last third is completely schizophrenic, and an attempt to turn every detail of the Bible allegorical -- right down to the colors used.  Isn't it obvious that the bronze used by priesthood really means X?  is the format here; and the fact that Augustine thinks it's obvious makes Augustine more of a mystery.  I personally wonder if he was unhinged.

The first third is where the action is.  Where Augustine describes the sack of Rome in terrifying detail; and we find that Romans were a lot more like us than we thought and that God had come to judge the Romans.  The difference between us is that Christians were trying to make Rome better because the Romans had killed it. In America the Christians are dying and the only people with winning moral conviction are psychotic.  Christians were said by Tacitus (and the Romans) to hate humanity, and Christianity survived the destruction of the Romans.  Americans are telling us that Christians hate humanity again.  But who is going to survive the Christians?

The great benefit of having read The City of God is that I can tell you this and that's about it; and it's amazing that from this point I went on to read his Confessions.  The Confessions follow a similar pattern in which part of the book is exciting because it's about history and the other part is boring because Augustine is "explaining" the universe.  The reason the history is fun is because Augustine was a scoundrel and a rake.   There is even a point when Augustine becomes convinced he's supposed to do the honorable thing for his fiancee and finally works up the courage to do it -- by kicking out his other live-in girlfriend and letting her leave behind their bastard.  This seems to be a model pattern of comedians, in which they describe some horribly personal action of theirs such as masturbation or pooping and then follow it with then I got off of the bus.

Except with Augustine the joke wasn't a joke.  I don't remember any jokes in The Confessions despite the fact that they're ripe with material.  Christians are very bad at jokes because the greatest things they have to joke about are very serious.  The Fall of Man and everything that happened because of it is a tragedy to Christians.  To normal humans the stuff is good for a laugh.  To a comedian the stuff is a career.  Augustine was boring as babysitting an ugly baby.  He was incapable of laughing at himself despite being the funniest of the Fathers.  He could only cry.

But this essay isn't about Augustine the Father.  It's about Augustine the paint-huffing shoe salesman, a 25-year-old Asian-ish man I met in college and went on to drink under the table.  We met maybe in philosophy class, and I'm not entirely sure because during this period of my life I wasn't entirely sober.  What I do know about Augustine is that he was one of the first put-together men I had ever spent any time partying with, married to what I remember as a sensible Filipina; living in a clean home with a steady but humble job, with stories about doing drugs and a monotone voice and steady, half-sleepy eyes which indicated that he feared and was excited for nothing.

By his request we called him Augie, which I found hilarious only until learned it was short for Augustine, which I found even funnier.  At this point I knew nothing about Father Augustine and I'm sad that I didn't because it would have been more hilarious than that.  Whoever this man's mother is she had high and apparently religious hopes, much like my mother did when she very knowingly and purposely named me after the weeping prophet Jeremiah, and like my mother meant it when she said in the midst of my debauchery that I was a second Augustine.  These things have a funny way of fulfilling themselves wrongly.  I may never end up an Augustine but my mother is already Augustine's worrying and constantly-praying mother St. Monica*. 


But I am not like Jeremiah (except for the fact that nobody listens to me) and he was not like Augustine and neither of us had read the book of Jeremiah or the Confessions and we were getting trashed in a San Diego apartment.  I remember this meeting because the subject (invariably at this point of my life) turned to drugs, and he explained to me that huffing paint was the way you should go.  Now I had never huffed paint in my life, but I had done everything else and I needed an explanation, so he proceeded to tell me about how he was sitting on a dock in the middle of a sunny day with a paper bag around his face and a vision in his head.  At the top of the cosmos he saw a chute, circling around like a screw from top to bottom, the top being wide and the bottom ending in a point, and a marble of indefinite size winding its way to the end of it.  As the marble coursed through the heavens it wound closer and closer and began nearing the end and the moment it hit the end something else happened -- his friend immediately tapped him on the shoulder.

In his mind the entire passing of the universe had been building up to that point; and the hand of his friend had become like the hand of The Almighty.  He took it as a message.  The Stoic by a process of thinking had come to the conclusion that the world was ordered by a Mind and everything was working towards a purpose and our job was to work with it.  Augustine came to the same conclusion while huffing a bag full of paint.  A time-tested philosophy may come to you because you are brilliant.  It may come to you because you have done too many things that are stupid.  It may finally come because you lack enough self-respect to do a real drug such as acid.  The old Augustine believed God ordered everything because of the Bible.  The new Augustine believed God ordered everything because he was wasted.

Your father,
-J

*Trailed closely by being effeminate, the greatest disappointment you can give a devout Hispanic mother is being a heathen.  At the time this story took place I was both.  Now I am only a heathen.  I believe in light of my soul she would have rather have had me effeminate.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting, Jeremy, but it raises a question: who/what started the "Big Bang"?

    ReplyDelete