Thursday, March 02, 2017

Vigils 'n' Sigils: The Magisterium Vs. The Protestant Pantry

Five-hundred years ago, the Protestant Reformation began as an argument and has conducted and regenerated itself on those terms ever since.
"You're not here because you're right; you're here because you're wrong!"
The reflexive impulse toward narrative won't be denied, of course, but among Protestants the structures it adopts are reliably utilitarian (allegory! morality tale! a story that settles the argument!) and readily identifiable as such.

Returning to Mennonites, specifically, my friend's taunts obviously strike a nerve -- he gets to the truth of the matter, I think, but accidentally.

"Community" is not the Mennonite's primary concern (though brute survival nearly pushed it there, initially and for quite some time thereafter). Getting Scripture right is our first concern -- winning the argument! -- and it is a responsibility that falls to the shoulders of every individual reader, no matter their age or inexperience, in each of our manifold congregations. Which is what leads to manifold congregations.

In this intellectual environment, the first argument a potential writer of fiction needs to decisively "win" is the questioned need for any fiction whatsoever. "The Bible says to be people of Truth," etc. Throw in issues of pride (one of the Seven Deadlies, although we don't go for that errant Katolikje business of numerical assignation), and the arguments very quickly become labyrinthine and emotionally fraught.

From the moment a child learns to talk all intellectual life is reduced to argument, all the time. So, yes, there is a Protestant Literature and it is the literature of apostasy -- the entirely natural endpoint of the Protestant either/or impulse. "I have had enough -- you are all full of shit."
"And here are 95 reasons why this is so."
The list of authors contributing to this genre is enormous, and includes Melville, early Joyce, DeVries, our own Toewstje, etc. Apostasy Made Explicable is quite possibly North America's most reliable Lit-Fic default setting -- and very much the go-to template for our burgeoning Mennonite Literati.

As a genre it provides more compelling and accomplished story-telling than does bald religious allegory -- how best to win an "either/or" argument, except by nuanced story that hints at "all/none of the above"? Countering these currents, however, requires a more primally direct, yet subtle capacity for layered narrative.

I certainly don't blame our current authors for their limits of imagination -- after all, they were handed a Magisterium cussedly built from scratch less than 500 years ago, one that eschewed all prior myth and folklore as Devilish heresy. When all you've got left is rancorous dualistic either/or debate, your Magisterium is quickly reduced to a nearly-empty pantry. We're good at sermons, though, as our fiction makes quite plain. Give us another century or two and maybe we can aspire to SF, Magical Realism, or even Fantasy.

For the sublime imaginative feats of consciousness-altering Comic Books, however, we may have to wait another 500 years.

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