Friday, October 19, 2018

XTC's Daydream (Non)Believer, More

Welcome readers just now joining my commentary on XTC's 1986 hit "Dear God." The initial installment provides a brief introduction to this not altogether serious essay and covers just under half the poem. So we'll now pick up where we left off.

(For the song's lyrics, go here.  To hear the song and see the Vimeo video, go here.

(8) Here's one more bit of poetry that provides an answer to the narrator's question, "Did you make disease and the diamond blue?" Dylan's "Father of Night" (1970)  praises a God responsible for what we need and/or desire, as well as what we dread. He is "Father of night, Father of Day, / . . . / Father of loneliness and pain, / Father of love and Father of rain." And the rest of it is here. (This was eight years before Dylan's conversion and swimming pool baptism which produced such tripe as "You Gotta Serve Somebody.")

(9) Did you make mankind after we made you? / And the devil too! Dear God indeed! Here the narrator blindsides his careful listeners with a postmodern, nonlinear, achronological time machine that, upon reflection, gives them severe headaches. "Did you make mankind?" is a simple enough yes-or-no question, but the implied "did we make you first?" is a slice of non digestible logic.

The narrator is probably saying that humans needed an origin story, so they told stories about a creator god and then came to believe their story to be both true and factual, leading them to regard themselves as the literal products of their own metaphor. (That gives me a headache, too.)

But there are other views on the "who created (or is creating) whom" question, for example, in Rainer Maria Rilke's Letters to a Young PoetHenry Nelson Weiman's The Source of Human Good, Alfred North Whitehead and his gang of "process" theologians, and even in Tennyson's In Memoriam

In a passage I cannot find from Rilke's Letters, he theorizes that God is the cumulative effect of human goodness, i.e., the sum of human kindness. Every sacrifice for the greater good, every act of charity, compassion and love is just another brick in the Temple of God, of Its eternal being. Rilke, then, would say to God, "Yes, we made you and are still making you."

In Human Good, Weiman says, "The only creative God we recognize is the creative event itself"; Partridge's composing "Dear God" is a creative event and this act is therefore the creative God who can create us now that our creative events have made him. 

And I am making him now, this very eternal moment, because this piece did not exist until my aging, anemic imagination brought it forth. I said, "Let there be 'XTC's Daydream (Non)Believer,' and there was 'XTC's Daydream (Non)Believer'." And I saw that it was not bad.

Whitehead says, "It is as true to say that God creates the World, as that the World creates God." His answer to "Did you make mankind after we made you?" then is "Yes, and vice versa."

Tennyson's claim is a little different. As consolation for the death of his best friend Arthur Hallam, he argues that over time, humans will shed their animal nature, their greed and cruelty, and will eventually become Christlike ("The Christ that is to be") -- a state Hallam had already achieved when he died at 22. Here again, we are creating God.

Am I guilty here of the intentional fallacy? Was Partridge even aware of process theology? It doesn't matter. The poem is ours now, not his. In all fairness to me, I've reached out to Partridge numerous times during my research, but he has yet to respond. As far as I know, he could be dead -- or pretending to be, for tax purposes.

(10) The exclamatory "And the devil too" is in a syntactically ambiguous position. Does it complete the question beginning "Did you make"? Did you make mankind and the devil too?

Or does it go with "after we made you"? After we made you and the devil too? I lean toward the latter. 

The Christian myth too obviously answers "yes" to the first half of the question if by "devil" the narrator means "Lucifer." Later the husband of Lucretia MacEvil, Lucifer was originally the light-bearer and morning star, the "fallen angel" who pays dearly for his reluctance to be God's second banana: According to John Milton, it took the Evil One nine days to fall from heaven to hell, and he was hauling ass! This give us some idea of just how far apart these two eschatological properties are. 
Dore's version of Lucifer's long fall
He also goes by Satan, but in the infernal roll call, there are some distinctions between Satan and the devil. In the Book of Job, for example, the former is the accuser who slaughters Job's livestock, servants and family only after he gets the Divine Green Light from God. 

Yes, we made "the devil too" so we had someone to blame for our countless shortcomings. But, hey, we're only human.

(11) Dear God, don't know if you noticed / But your name is on a lot of quotes in this book / Us crazy humans wrote it. The narrator's shocker, I suspect, is supposed to be that last line with its refusal to credit God for being the best-selling author of the bible. 

Not much of a shocker anymore. I would guess that 98 percent of Christians who grew up to be bible scholars, linguists, textual critics, archaeologists, philosophers, etc., or to have a mere modicum of skepticism can see far too many intrusive fingerprints and layers of text separated by decades in a single story to believe the Almighty literally wrote that sprawling, cobbled tome.

Did he inspire its composition? If so, he sure inspired a lot of editing, redacting, revision, and tacked-on endings.

To save myself from giving you huge chunks of supporting evidence, I refer you -- just as starters -- to Marvin H. Pope's Anchor Bible retranslations of and commentaries on the Book of Job and Song of Songs. If that doesn't support Partridge's biblical divine authorship skepticism, try Father Louis F. Hartman and Father Alexander A. Di Lella's translation, introduction to and commentary on the Anchor Bible Book of Daniel.

Want something easier with a focused thesis? Try Elaine Pagel's Beyond Belief.

Maybe "us crazy humans wrote it" in the sense that as writers we are hopelessly subjective and sick with motives secret even to ourselves, even if our topic is "People's Alleged Encounters with God." We describe encounters not with accuracy as our goal, but to persuade others to see what we see and to derive similar themes, morals or lessons.

Before we boldly advance to the poem's next line, let's sum up our premature conclusion based on the poem so far: The narrator's disbelief rests on his insistence that a real God would intervene on our behalf every minute and hour for all the days of our lives, so perhaps his song would be more accurately titled, "Dear God, I'm a Believer that You're an Underachiever," then this postscript from the process theology point of view, "We're not through with you yet. The best is yet to come!"

Just like this essay! Dear God willing, of course.

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