Friday, November 22, 2013

John Boehner Enrolled in Obamacare

Yes, that's right.  Speaker of the House John Boehner, who personally and single-handedly shut down the government (by refusing to bring a clean CR up for a vote) in an effort to sabotage the Obamacare has now signed up for ... Obamacare.

Apparently, Boehner -- who actually has a government health plan, and didn't really need to take up any bandwidth on this -- went shopping for on the DC exchange in order to demonstrate that it would be a difficult and frustrating experience.  (Speaking of which, let's talk about switching plans with Portico recently, a difficult and frustrating experience in its own way.)

He thought that he had succeeded in, um, failing to enroll, and blogged about it.

And then he discovered that he had in fact enrolled.  Meaning that he failed to fail, which seems about like the way Boehner's year is going.

Per the guy at Salon, Boehner probably got a pretty good deal, too.  Probably not as good as his government plan, but still pretty good for private insurance.

This is Why Reid Pushed the Button

Let's be serious.  A Senate filibuster is no longer the heroic personal campaign of Mr Smith having come to Washington.  It has become a mere bureaucratic exercise, requiring no all-night speechmaking, no special nutrition or wariness of bathroom needs.  Since the 1990s, as the Atlantic's Garrett Epps says, "either debate or a final vote can be prevented by one senator filing a piece of paper on the way to lunch at the Monocle."

And it has been used with an historically unprecendented frequency by Senate Republicans in the Obama era, not merely to block the appointment of federal judges but simply as a form of protest against other matters, often unrelated to the appointment under review.  It has become absurd, and the smooth function of our national judiciary has been impaired by it.

Not Just Kennedy

Today marks the 50th anniversary not only of John Kennedy's assassination, but also of the more peaceful deaths of two other well-known figures:  C.S. Lewis and Aldous Huxley.

The Guardian has bookend articles on both.  The one on Lewis includes something very nice -- snippets from old reviews, including early ones that didn't seem very impressed by Narnia, and Philip Pullman's later diatribe against what had become a cultural phenomenon.

We at the Egg must confess that C.S. Lewis has never quite done it for us.  At various points in our life, we have read the Narnia books and the Screwtape Letters and the Silent Planet trilogy; we expect to read them all again sooner or later.  But each leaves us a little cold.  Narnia is, for lack of a better word, too syncretistic.  Those little fauns running around in a Northern European fairyland seem so out of place.  Screwtape is clever but a little trite; it lacks the vitriol that a master ironist, a Mark Twain or an Ambrose Bierce, might have injected into its veins.  The space books -- our favorite by a good margin -- are delightfully creepy reimaginings of salvation history, but they also abuse the tropes of science fiction for an altogether unscientific purpose.

Somewhere, we believe we own or once owned a copy of his textbook on English literature -- his day job, remember -- and that it is pretty good.  Not great, but good.

As for his "theology," well, we haven't read much.  We're sure it's very good, something we must say lest his defenders flame us unto eternity.  Maybe after we finally wade through the City of God and the Loci Communes.

Turning to Aldous Huxley, the Guardian does propose that he is "the prophet of our brave new digital dystopia."  They then go on to make a far stronger case for George Orwell as claimant to the title; we would add William Gibson as a rival.  Worse yet, one might get the idea that Huxley had never written another book.  The Guardian is more excited about his pedigree -- grandson of Darwin's Bulldog, grandnephew of Matthew Arnold, went to Eton with Orwell -- than his remarkable number of novels, short stories, essays and screenplays.  No mention is made of his interest in Hinduism or, outside of Brave New World, psychedelic drugs.

Fair enough.  After fifty years, most of us will be lucky to be remembered for any one work of our hands or of our minds.  Lewis gets the fairy tales, Huxley gets the dystopia.  To be brutally honest, either of these seems better, to our minds, than Kennedy's signature achievement, provoking and then bargaining his way out of the greatly-misrepresented Cuban Missile Crisis.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Did Sartre Kill JFK?

The answer, alas, is no.

But because the French philosopher sat on a committee, in his own land, which questioned the lone-gunman theory -- and because J. Edgar Hoover was deeply committed to that theory -- it appears that the FBI spent a bit of time investigating a writer whose works its agents could not actually read in their original language.

We picked this up from a wonderful short essay by Andy Martin, published at Prospect.  Martin has looked at the FBI's still-redacted files on both Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus (whom Hoover instructed his agents to investigate under the name of "Canus," presumably a homonym for our favorite watercraft).

In the funniest bit of historical journalism we have read since ... well, ever, Martin discovers in these files the traces of an emerging inter-service rivalry, between the FBI and its more worldly competitor, the CIA.  While Hoover's men were suspicious of anyone who had been in the Resistance, on the grounds that they might be Communists, the ex-OSS guys actually knew some Frenchmen and Reds.

But Martin's best bits come from his conclusion that the agents investigating the philosophers were forced, in the end, to philosophize themselves:
The FBI emerge from these files as neo-existentialists in the classic early Sartrian mould. ...  They don’t like meaning—they are on the look-out for it, especially secret coded meanings, but they don’t like it. They certainly subscribe to the “hell is other people” school of thought. And Hoover, in particular, would be greatly relieved if only everyone across the whole of the USA was an angst-ridden, anomic, introverted loner. In short, an Outsider. What they fear and object to is meaning, and finally, the plot—or narrative. They are anti-narrativists.
Of course!

We look forward to Thanksgiving, when we share some turkey with our favorite current  G-Men.  We plan to ask them whether it is still Bureau policy to refute teleological narrative.

Sunday of Doom

"Dr Doom Loves You" by ChibiCelina
Christ the King is coming up, with its annual rehearsal of the same familiar themes:  a king, but not the kind they expected; his throne is the Cross; rule not merely of Israel nor of the earth, but of the cosmos; a rule that, although we wait for its complete expression, has already begun.  For inclusive-language buffs, there is the wrestling with language -- "Reign of Christ"?  "Together with Christ"?  And so on.

Don't let this sound like complaining.  These are swell themes, especially as a lead-in to Advent, and Father A. looks forward to preaching on them.  Nor does he mind a little language-wrestling, so long as it does not overwhelm the central points.

But he just learned that the Church of Sweden never followed the suggestion of Pope Pius XI, in 1925, and instituted the feast of Christ the King.  Instead, since 1921 the Swedes have called the final Sunday of the church year Domssoendagen, or "The Sunday of Doom."  (Here are the propers.)

Say it again:  "The Sunday of Doom."

Of course, we savor the forbidding sound of it -- so forbidding that it is almost campy.  Think "Indiana Jones and the Sunday of Doom."  Or a holiday devoted to the greatest of all Fantastic Four villains.  But we also like the Germanic-ness of it; "doom" is a word that owes nothing to Latin.  Indeed, neither fatum nor iudicium, the most obvious translations, quite gets at the English sense.  In English, of course, "doom" also reminds us of a great historical treasure, the Domesday Book, a detailed census of England undertaken by its then-new Norman overlords.  It is as near as we can imagine to an earthly image of the Lamb's Book of Life.

"Doom" is a word that combines fate, destiny and judgment -- four letters that sum up, at least for English speakers, a bundle of related ideas.  By itself, it is a disturbing, even frightening word.  (That's why a supervillain uses it as his name, right?)  But when we add to it the name of the Lord's Day, the celebration of Christ's Resurrection which contains within it the promise of our own, then the scariness of doom is softened, even mooted, in the minds of the faithful.  Just as Easter turns death to life, so it turns doom from a curse to a blessing.

So maybe, as we preach on the threefold office of Our Lord, or on the radical redefinition of messianic expectation, or on the fulfillment of the Torah and the New Commandment -- whichever theme comes out of our mouth -- we will stop now and then to remind our friends that they are living in the last days, the last hours of a broken world -- and the first moments of a world which has been restored.  The good news is that, for us, Doomsday is the Lord's Day.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Women of the Ekklesia

We meant to post this tidbit last week, but time permits us very little these days.  Still, while preparing our exegetical notes for Sunday's sermon, we spent some profitable hours with one of the Lord's many annoying injunctions.

Speaking of what his followers will be called to endure as the end draws closer, Jesus offers them the dubious solace that this will be their chance to offer "testimony," a word that is of course cognate with "martyrdom."  And of this testimony, he says:
So make up your minds not to prepare beforehand to defend yourselves. (St. Luke 21: 14)
This is, as we said, annoying, not least to those of us who spend much of our week preparing our own testimony of sorts, a "defense" or "apology" in the classical sense, not of ourselves but of Christ himself.  Is Jesus really demanding that we just wing it, week in and week out?  Some preachers think so, and perhaps they are correct.

In any case, this passage bears a little more attention.  In Greek, it reads:

The key words here -- promeletan apologethenai -- are, so a commentary told us, a technical expression from Athenian forensics, meaning specifically to memorize the speech with which one will defend a person in court or a proposition in debate.

Historically, memorization has been the mark of a skilled orator.  Cicero, we are told, spent many hours memorizing his speeches.  So have preachers through much of history, right up to the present.  (This was, for example, the custom of our own mentor Walter Kortrey).  For that matter, how many church members have been encouraged, in recent years, to memorize "an elevator speech," some sort of capsule account of their faith or the mission of their church.  (Nondenom here, Episcopal here, Orthodox here.  Oh, and atheist here). That Jesus recommends doing otherwise is noteworthy, but takes us into waters deeper than we choose to navigate just now.

Looking for an extra-Biblical use of this term, we were directed by our lexicon to a play we have not previously encountered, by a playwright we thought we knew better.  Aristophanes' Women of the Assembly appears to be a bookend to his more famous Lysistrata.  Both are about women taking charge and upsetting the social order.  In Lysistrata, they withhold sex until their menfolk end an onerous war.  In Women of the Assembly, they go further, and take over the government itself.  They wear false beards, make pompous speeches, and eventually institute a regime of equal distribution and more-or-less-free love, in which men are free to sleep around, provided they sleep with ugly women before pretty ones.  It is all, apparently, a satire upon the excesses of this then-still-new Athenian idea called "democracy."

The phrase in question occurs at line 117, rendered freely here by G. Theodoridis:
Praxagora:  We can make excellent speeches exactly because we are women!  Better than any man can.  They say that buggered youths make splendid orators, don’t they? Now, do we women know about fucking or don’t we?  We’re naturals, right? 
First Woman:  Oh, I don’t know, really.  Lack of experience is a dreadful thing, you know.  I mean about speeches. 
Praxagora: But that’s precisely why we’re here, darling; to get ourselves all prepared with what we’re going to say in there. [προμελετήσωμεν ἁκεῖ δεῖ λέγειν.]  Now, put your beards on quickly and, those of you who are ready to speak go ahead and speak!
First Woman:  Ha!  We’re all ready Praxagora! Who among us is not an absolute specialist in the art of talking, ey? Fucking and talking! We’re brilliant!
Well.  That's ... politically incorrect.

Anyway, here are the women "getting themselves all prepared" as orators do.  Not to mention crossdressing and talking about sex, all of it funnier then than it might be now -- but it would still be pretty funny, if you played it right.  Aristophanes isn't especially nice to women, but then he isn't nice to men, either.  Or to Socrates.

One thing about this play that will resonate with readers now in a way it could not have with its original audience is the title.  In Greek it is Έκκλησιάζουσαι -- "Ekklesiazusae."  The word ekklesia, assembly, has been so taken over by the Christian community that it is a challenge for us now to read it any other way.  If we did not know that this was a play about women in government, we would translate its title as "The Church Ladies."

This, in turn, adds an interesting element to the scene in which the women practice their speeches.  When one of them swears "by Demeter and Persephone," the ringleader berates her for using the names of goddesses, which will give away their identities.  She corrects herself, and swears by Apollo instead.  The implication is that men default to a masculine image of the divine, women to a feminine one.

Is this true?  Probably not, in our time any more than in ancient Greece.  Yet it is not entirely untrue, either.  From the 1970s through the 1990s, there was a lively discussion within American Christianity about how we would speak of God.  This went far beyond merely changing a few pronouns and saying "Lord" less often.  Although it is hard to believe in retrospect, there were serious voices advocating, with some success, a radical restatement of the Trinitarian name -- formulations like "Mother, Lover and Friend" were thrown around freely.  Perhaps we lead a sheltered life, but it seems to us that the dust has largely settled.  If the textual editing of hymnals like ELW and The New Century Hymnal seems heavy-handed, it is worth reflecting that things might well have gone much further.

Not coincidentally, the decades during which God's gender was put up for grabs in the theological community were also the decades during which ordained women came to take a larger role in Protestant church life, and the pressure to ordain women in Roman Catholicism began to mount (at least in America).

We're not sure where to go with all this, except to point out that an ancient pagan playwright neatly predicted a curious development in modern Christianity.  We aren't sure how, if at all, we might bring this insight to bear on the passage from Luke 21.  On the other hand, three years will pass before that one comes around again on the guitar, so we have plenty of time.  Let us know if you think of anything.

"One Last Hour of Serenity"

Unsurprisingly, JFK was a member of the Mile-High Club.  Also unsurprisingly, it appears very likely that he and Jackie exercised their membership during his ill-starred flight to Dallas.

So, yes, John Kennedy had sex on a plane the day before he died.

We're not quite sure why, amidst all the reflection which accompanies the fiftieth anniversary of the president's assassination, this particular fact has garnered so much attention.  Perhaps because the biographer William Manchester felt a need to report it through a gauze lens in his 1967 book The Death of a President, because you didn't talk about those things back then the way we do now.

Except, of course, that you did:  it was 1967, for pity's sake.  The Summer of Love, and "Love" is a euphemism here.  LSD, Janis Joplin and Allan Ginsburg at the Avalon Ballroom, Loving v. Virginia.  The National Organization for Women was a year old.  If you weren't talking about drugs or Viet Nam that year, you were talking about sex.

Plus, we've seen Mad Men.  So we know what it was really like.

The real reason that Manchester soft-pedaled this, as well as various other tidbits about Kennedy's sex life, is that Jackie had sued him before the book was published.  She sat for ten hours of interviews, revealing inter alia what Manchester would obliquely call "one last hour of serenity" onboard Air Force One, and then cried foul.  Manchester was ordered by the court to throw a fig leaf over his research, which cannot be removed legally until 2067.  We only know about this little incident because Manchester, now dead, spilled the beans to another biographer, Philip Nobile -- who chose this month to publish it in an appropriate venue, the New York Post.

To be honest, we aren't trying to criticize Jacqueline Kennedy for clutching at any last bit of privacy, but whatever means were available to her.  Nor do we judge Manchester, either for trying to include the racy tidbit or for passing it on to somebody else.  Anybody who has ever done serious research knows how natural it is to fall in love with your own facts, and how eager you are to show them off.

We just think it's a weird reflection both on the lasting Kennedy mystique and on American society's love-hate relationship with sex.  Is it, after all, in any way surprising that a young married couple had intimate relations?  Or that they did it on a plane, when they had the chance?  Of course not.  It would have been surprising if they hadn't.  The only surprise is that, fifty years later, there is still a hint of scandal attached to the fact.

Friday, November 08, 2013


Marvel Comics has introduced a new superheroine, and the interwebs are all a-buzz. But about the wrong thing, as usual.

The new character is an angsty teen-ager who wakes up with a superpower, and uses it to fight bad guys.  This is the formula that worked magically for Marvel 50+ years back, with Spiderman, and which they have tried sporadically to reproduce ever since.  But where Spidey was a lonely outsider because he was a skinny science nerd in a school dominated by jocks, the new Ms. Marvel (whose name is borrowed from an older character) is an outsider because she is a Muslim.

That's where the news comes from:  she's a Muslim.  And some people, at least, find the very thought of a Muslim superhero unbearable.  We just skimmed the reader comments to a [surprisingly not-hateful] story at Breitbart, and came away with these not-at-all-bigoted pearls of wisdom:

Kevin Vetrone 

And she will be fighting republicans and their war on women.

  • While not driving or leaving the house alone, and while wearing a burka?

    • Mikeyh0  NoCommieCrats 

      And then having her father try an honor beheading if she wants to date as happened in Phoenix. Two daughters were killed by their Muslim father in the name of their faith. Makes me puke

    • m2  NoCommieCrats 

      and while always walking at least ten feet behind the stinky male in a dirty nightshirt with a second grade education, a camel, and maybe an AK-47?
Chill, white Christian dudes.  This is bad, all right, but not for the reasons that you may be thinking.

There are a couple of things about this story which may not be instantly apparent to non-comics people, so we'll try to run them down quickly.  Then we'll get to the real outrage.

First, the industry has spent decades trying to interest people in characters who weren't WASP ubermesnschen (or thinly-disguised Jews passing as WASP ubermenschen).  From guys with prep-school names like Clark Kent, Jay Garrick and Reed Richards, the superhero world has gradually broadened to include a significant number of popular black characters (Luke Cage is getting his own show on Netflix!), as well as Asians and Latinos.  The most successful effort was probably the "New X-Men" of the 1970s, a group which included angsty teens from Africa, Russia and Japan.  (Although the most popular member, by far, proved to be a Canadian).  In recent years, the pace has stepped up; the old Blue Beetle, a generic WASP millionaire inventor, was killed off and replaced by an angsty Mexican-American teen; the old white Nick Fury has been replaced by his own African-American son.

On one hand, a lot of this is crass marketing, as a faltering industry tries to widen its readership.  There are only so many 40sh white guys with no girlfriend running around at any one time.  On the other hand, that's what a popular medium is supposed to do:  change with the times.

Second, religion has historically played a marginal role in comics.  This is a good thing.  The religions most frequently encountered are either defunct (Norse and Greek paganism) or invented (the Vishanti, or any of a hundred evil cults dedicated to racial supremacy, government overthrow, or ushering in the End Times).  Religion, in this sense, is a plot device, largely interchangeable with the high tech that confers powers or psychopathology that creates villains.

Even "real" religions function this way.  The Spectre is a ghost, sent back to earth by God; but he could just as easily have been sent back by Rama Kushna, the Himalayan spirit responsible for Deadman, another ghostly hero.  And this is why it is just as well that mainstream superhero comics have not spent much time on the widely-practiced religions dear to the hearts of millions.  They don't exactly explore the unique nuances or the deep spirituality of these subjects.

There certainly have been characters who participate, at least to some degree, in the world's major faith communities. has an exhaustive list, but you shouldn't take it too seriously; a lot of these "affiliations" are pretty speculative.  Still, the Huntress is not only Catholic, but wears a big old cross as part of her costume.  And the Punisher is a seminary drop-out.  (Like Al Gore, but with bigger guns).  Kitty Pryde is Jewish, as is the Thing, although in the latter case this was a late-in-the-day addition to the story of a familiar character.

For a few comics characters, though, religion has been a major part of their storyline.  During Frank Miller's run, Daredevil spent quite a bit of time wrestling with his Catholicism.  So does the X-Men's Nightcrawler.  Both DC and Marvel have done series about the Golem.  The DC version, called Monolith, was superb; created by a rabbi in the 1930s to protect a Jewish ghetto, the revivified creature attaches himself to the rabbi's great-granddaughter, an angsty teenage girl, and her Asian roommate.

Independent comics, meaning broadly the ones not published by Marvel or DC, have produced a number of heroes who are overtly religious:  Areala the Warrior Nun, Battle Pope, and so forth.

Third, there are plenty of superheroes whose religion isn't fake or defunct, but isn't Christianity or Judaism, either.  One of our personal favorites is Shang-Chi, the Master of Kung Fu.  Like most martial-arts characters in comics, he's at least nominally a Taoist.  Green Arrow's adult son, Connor Hawke, was a Buddhist monk.

All of which brings us to:

Fourth, Muslim superheroes aren't entirely new.  As early as 1991, Marvel experimented with an all-Muslim super-team based in Iraq, called, Desert Sword.  DC has done the same sort of thing, with the same lack of success.  But for a few years now, an independent publisher called Teshkeel Comics has run the adventures of a Muslim super-team called The 99 (as in the number of names ascribed to Allah).  They're not completely obscure, either; The 99 have actually teamed up with the Justice League.

So ... what's really new about Kamala Khan, the Pakistani-American Ms. Marvel?  No single thing.  But she does bring together into one easily-publicized package a lot of the things happening in the comics world.  Unless we are mistaken, she is the first Muslim superhero from a major company to get a major marketing push -- and a major "name."

For some of us, the name is the most controversial thing going on here.  The original Captain Marvel, an utterly unangsty orphan named Billy Batson, was published by Fawcett Comics in the 1940s and 50s; he was taken off the stands after a lawsuit, and then reintroduced by DC in the 70s.  But during the 60s, when Timely/Atlas rebranded itself as Marvel, the publishers introduced their own Captain Marvel, a completely different guy.  Today, the first Captain Marvel has been officially renamed"Shazam," the second one is dead, and the character named Linda Danvers, who since the 70s has called herself Ms Marvel, has taken over the captaincy.

And that's why we side with the Breitbart boys.

Stubborn old conservatives like Father A. are outraged -- outraged, we tell you! -- that little Billy Batson has been deprived of his name.  Carol should give it back to him, at which time birds would sing and all would be right with the world.

Still, Marvel has legal rights to a valuable and historic name, which they have bestowed on this new character.  We hope the stories are good and the character thrives.

As for the religious angle, well, all we can say is that we hope comics treat Islam with a little more respect for detail and history than they have typically accorded Christianity, Judaism, Taoism, Buddhism, paganism, and most of their own made-up religions.

Monday, November 04, 2013

Spooky Time Has Begun

The Four Horsemen, probably by Boris Vallejo
November is a peculiar time for churches that use the Revised Common Lectionary.  From All Saints forward, the lessons take an ominous tone, as they dwell on the completion of God's promise and -- depending upon one's perspective -- the coming of the Messiah, or his return in glory, perhaps even the end of history and of the world as we know it.

In the next few weeks we will be asked to meditate upon Paul's eschatology, as it is worked out in 2 Thessalonians and the magnificent "Cosmic Christ" passage of Colossians 1:15-20; upon Malachi's promise that "the day is coming like a burning oven" when the Sun of Righteousness shall arise to heal the world; upon Jesus himself talking about the Day of Resurrection, about the destruction of the Temple and a time when his followers are called to endure terrible things as they await their final salvation.  It is tempting to say that these themes reach a climax with the observance of Christ the King, but in fact they continue into Advent, both with the Messianic promises of Isaiah and John the Baptist, and with the Lord's own reminder that he will return "at an unexpected hour." (The old lectionary likewise drew on the "little apocalypse" of Matthew 24-25).

We called it "ominous." To many listeners, these lessons will sound grim and even frightening.  They shouldn't, of course; but it is human nature that they will.

This pre-Advent season has no name, at least so far as we are aware.  In our hearts, we call it Spooky Time, but that probably would not fly with the masses.  So we just just call it "November."

That November, in particular, should be the time when these lessons are read seems to reflect the northern-hemisphere bias that shapes so much of the church calendar.  This is the month -- in northern climates -- when trees burst out in a final blaze of glory, then drop their leaves and stand like gray skeletons against the gray horizon.  By the end of November, the world seems cold and even dead.

Among the little-remarked treasures of the ELCA's liturgical corpus (yes, there are such treasures) is the Eucharistic Prayer appointed for November in With One Voice.  Like all the WOV prayers, it is brief; also like them it displays a sort of prosodic tone-deafness.  Still, we find the opening apt and moving:
Holy God, holy and mighty, holy and immortal:     surrounded by evil and bordered by death     we appeal to you,     our Sovereign, our Wisdom, and our Judge.
We praise you for Christ, who proclaimed your reign of peace     and promised an end to injustice and harm.
The word "death," it should be observed, occurs rarely in the liturgy.  This is strange, considering how much of Christian theology -- indeed, how much not only of religion in general but of all human endeavor -- is shaped by our awareness, and typically dread, of death.  Law?  Medicine?  Politics?  Theater?  Death permeates them all, and drives them to their greatest degrees of intensity.

But, perhaps because of a crippled popular deeply committed to denying the reality of death, our liturgy makes little of it.  So we wonder whether, when the November prayer is prayed, whether that word does not drop into the nave like a stone, breaking through the silent complacency of the assembly, rousing them from their revery either of boredom or confusion and shaking them awake with a reminder that all this is about something real.

We look forward to this spooky time each year.  Maybe we've just spent too much time in Gothic churches, looking at the morbid little displays one finds tucked away at side altars, the mutilated corpses of beloved saints and graphic statues of flagellants.  Or maybe it is that the same reason that so many pastors enjoy preaching at funerals:  because the frank acknowledgment of death's presence in the world throws the Gospel promise of new life into sharper relief.

Anyway, Spooky Time has arrived.  Don't waste a moment of it.

Saturday, November 02, 2013

In Paradisum Deducant

Today, lest anyone forget, is the Feast of All Souls.  Dia de los Muertos.  Commemoration of the Faithful Departed.

It is the day on which we remember all the faithful who have died -- including especially those who were not, at the time of their death, distinguished by any particular holiness of life.  If yesterday we thanked God for those saints whose lives serve as a witness and inspiration to our faith, then today we thank God for the abundant grace which offers eternal life even to those whose time on earth was (ahem) less than inspirational.

At which point, some readers may respond, like Tonto to the Lone Ranger, "What you mean we, white man?"

Sad to say, we Evangelicals do not much observe All Souls.  One does not find it on our church calendars, nor indexed in our hymnals. (Hymn suggestions here, if you need some.)  Our tendency, so far as Fr. A. can tell, is to merge the two days, and remember all the Christian dead on All Saints (or, more usually, the Sunday following).  This is entirely sensible for people whose theology makes much of the simul iustus idea, and which grounds salvation in baptismal grace rather than works.  We are all saints and we are all sinners; dividing the two is redundant at best and actively misleading at worst.  Indeed, it requires us to make a judgment -- saint of sinner?  sheep or goat? -- which must properly be reserved for God alone.

At least that's the idea.  Personally, we at the Egg are not convinced.  The division of the two days may serve valuable purposes, both psychological and pedagogical.   We Christians know in our heads that God makes no distinction between Mother Teresa and, let us say, that nasty old Uncle Harry who died last week, the one who never had a kind word for anybody and cursed the nurses on his deathbed.  To God, both are equally sinful and equally beloved.  But in our hearts, we feel them to be quite different from each other.  Dividing the days allows us to acknowledge our own very different experience of the lives these two people have led -- while still proclaiming clearly, still teaching, that God has saved them both.

Frankly, it may be useful to some people -- those whose memories of Uncle Harry are tainted by a keen awareness of just how loathesome the old coot was in life -- if we set aside a day for saying, clearly, "It isn't just virgins and martyrs; loathesome old coots are God's people too."

This brings us, naturally, to the overweight gorilla in the room:  Purgatory.  The medieval piety surrounding All Souls was very much concerned with Purgatory, and specifically with figuring out how we on earth could move ourselves and others out of the place as fast as possible.  This led first to prayers for the dead, then to paying other people to pray, and thence by an ugly road to the traffic in indulgences, the sale of Masses, and all the other terrible things that prompted the 95 Theses.  The worst of this was superstition rather than formal doctrine, but still, there it was.  And no sane person, Protestant or Papist, wants to go back there.

Protestant theology deals with Purgatory much as it once dealt with the Canon of the Mass -- effectively saying "This thing is so messed up that we cannot fix it.  Therefore, let's throw it out altogether."  Never mind the old axiom that abusus non tollit usum.  We despise the bath-water more than we love the baby.

Luther provides a ready example.  Melanchthon, in the Apology, was careful not to throw out Purgatory, even amid his sustained and forceful attack on the abuses it had occasioned.  Luther, in the Smalcald Articles, is less careful.  He writes:
[P]urgatory, and every solemnity, rite, and commerce connected with it, is to be regarded as nothing but a specter of the devil. 
This seems amply clear.  But in context, Luther is really raging against the attempt to define doctrine solely upon human opinion -- in this case, St Augustine -- apart from the Scripture.  If the Papists were to stop making that particular error in theological method, he says, then we might discuss these things with them.  To this, theologians of a later and less controverisal era might well respond that negotiations are often freer when entered into without conditions.

And of course, we should remember that there is Purgatory and then there is Purgatory.  Jacque LeGoff has brilliantly traced the history of the idea, from its roots in antiquity to its blossoming in Scholastic Paris, and demonstrated that not all conceptions of Purgatory are identical.*  Simply put, one can believe that God has means to purify impure souls after death without necessarily signing on to the whole Dantean cosmography.  As Newman said in Tract 90, recognizing (with the 39 Articles) that the Popish Purgatory is "a fond thing vainly invented" does not prevent us recognizing some other, non-Popish, version.

Tertullian's casual reference to a "refrigerium interim," a place of temporary refreshment for those who are not yet prepared for the Beatific Vision, could be one starting place for an Evangelical account of Purgatory.  Call it Heaven's Narthex, or Confirmation Class for the Dead.

In a sense, one might even argue that simul iustus depends upon the assumption that God has some means to strip from the newly dead their sin and leave only the holiness of Christ.  That there are tools appointed on earth for this is clear:  baptism and absolution.  But it seems natural that there are also tools in heaven, to be used upon those who die impenitent, the nasty old Uncle Harrys of the world.  To believe otherwise is to weaken either God's omnipotence or, as the Calvinists sometimes do, God's mercy.

And "Purgatory" is simply the name that we give, as  a matter of convenience, to these tools.

At least it could be.  The Orthodox, so we are told, believe that God deals mercifully with the dead, but shy away from giving this merciful dealing a Latin name or attaching to it the trappings of either indulgences or "purgatorial fire."  We Evangelicals, being also Latins, might be able to take a middle position here, and call Purgatory by its customary name, while making clear at the same time that its inner workings are God's business, hidden deliberately from our eyes and certainly from our power to alter or affect.

* For those who care, Father A. has explored some of the implications of LeGoff's research in the light of anthropological theory, in an article published in Pro Ecclesia (13:4, Fall 2004, pp. 494ff.)