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  1. (originally posted June 2006; my replies indented)

    Couple thoughts:

    – I seriously doubt Anthony of Padua was actually the patron saint of the human ass. Since he’s also the patron saint of animals, I’m suspecting they meant the animal ‘ass’. After all, there’s no patron saint of arms or heads, or noses, or even the appendix. :}

    Umm… I don’t think anyone thought he was? The word “ass” to denote human buttocks, after all, is of relatively recent vintage, to my knowledge? Conversely, I did once read of a particular saint (which of course I now no longer remember the name of, darnit) to which one prayed for relief of intestinal trauma. I wonder now if appendicitis was lumped into that category.

    – I don’t know about many of the other things, but it doesn’t surprise me at all there was more than one patron saint of sexual temptation. Seems to me that that loomed large on the minds of most Catholics, and they’d want the blessings of the saints to help them overcome it.

    – In answer to your question on why so many saints, I’m cynical enough to say that while the Catholics very likely did want their heroes, that it’s not at all impossible that the Church (or at least, certain representatives of it) might have padded the rolls a little.

    Well, I did try to give the medieval church the benefit of the doubt there. ;)

    – As I told you before, I too noticed the ‘poor obfuscation’ towards the end, and I’m not near as perceptive as you…

    – In regards to Sophie’s violent response to the ritual she stumbles in on: it seems to me that that was not an entirely unreasonable reaction. If she’d just stumbled in on him having sex, that would be one thing. But with all the pomp and ceremony, it would seem to have some darker meaning, hmm? Sex as part of ritual tends to be associated with the devil rather than the divine. (I don’t know how religious the French are, but I suspect that kind of social indoctrination is still present regardless.)

    I could understand fleeing in shock and horror, and even refusing to have anything to do with the person involved for a while. But I’ve tried repeatedly to imagine what it would be like: someone you love and trust as a parent, unwittingly discovered doing something you believe reprehensible — and in every form of the scenario I’ve been able to think up, there is at some point an explosive discussion.

    That’s what I find odd — that for ten long years she should absolutely and categorically refuse to even talk to her former beloved parent! Surely there should have been (at some point) angry denouncement? Recriminations? Even just a phone call, for heavens’ sake, if she was afraid he’d try something with her?

    When there is the possibility of communication, there’s the possibility of explanation and understanding, or at very least a polite decision to agree to disagree. I get the feeling the author used the character and the scene as I described above, rather than “playing out” the most likely scenario for the character’s personality type — at least as she appeared later in the book.

    Had she been reactionary and inflexible everywhere else as well, it would have made more sense to me — but she wasn’t. There was just this one single issue on which she behaved in what I thought was an anomalous fashion. To me, that’s bad story-telling.

    – In regards to why others might have been shocked and appalled at the idea of Jesus being married…I suspect that once again, it comes down to sex. At least, in part. Jesus as the Son of God would have no need of a wife, being above such desires as mortal love, lust, or the desire to create progeny. To even suggest that he might have had one hints at motives that people don’t want to ascribe to Jesus. At the very least, it would throw the smallest bit of doubt as to his divinity. And doubt is what the religious avoid like the plague, if they can help it.

    Yeah, I’ve pretty much resigned myself to that. I think it’s sad, but it’s their life-choice to make, not mine.

    Excellent synopsis and analysis, and an enjoyable learning experience, as your writing always is.

    Thank you very much! I’m glad to hear you enjoyed yourself. Have you had a chance to read the Firestarter titled Were Jesus and Mary Magdalene really married? or “Is the premise of ‘The DaVinci Code’ really true?” yet? I’d be interested in your opinion on that one as well. Cheers!

  2. (originally posted April 2004)

    Having just finished the Da Vinci Code, it was serendipitous that you reviewed it. I definitely agreed about the use of extremes (albino, blah blah blah), and it was an amusing read. General consensus is that while they make good reading, most of his revelations are really nothing of the sort (but it’s fiction, after all). I tried to find a better article that Slate had written analyzing the history that Brown makes use of, but could only find this:

    Not as good as the original one I read (I swear it was Slate, maybe Salon or somewhere else?) but figured I’d pass it along. It’s interesting to read that after having read a lot of Pagels! (Overall while I enjoyed DC, I found Pagel’s real history more fascinating, and the whole ‘oooh’ over the sex rite was just… silly. (I mean, yeah, I can imagine being traumatized by seeing your grandpa starkers, but I mean 10 years? sheesh!

  3. (originally posted April 2004; my replies indented)

    Quote from the book review: “We don’t have any divine, or even very powerful, women in Christianity”

    I would take minor exception with this. Santa Teresa de Avila and Hildegard von Bingen were 2 powerful and influential nuns (prioresses?) within the Catholic heirarchy in their time. They were both mystics.

    Whoohoo! My first feedback on a book review — I’m so pleased! ;-)

    Regarding powerful women in christianity, I should note the only reason I knew anything about Teresita of Avila and Hildegard von Bingen is because I took a Women, Religion, & Society class in Santa Cruz. Interestingly, the Hindu professor who taught the class mentioned she had trouble finding a good lay textbook (as opposed to religious texts) about strong Catholic women (you can read quick reviews of the books from the class, or just the book I’m talking about here, which is titled Enduring Grace, and consists of lovely, lyrical writing.

    Enduring Grace: Living Portraits of Seven Women Mystics

    I also randomly asked three Catholics / former Catholics I know if they’d ever heard of these two women. All three of them had the same reply, “Who?” So while these two saints (actually, technically Hildegard still isn’t a saint) might be well-known in Spain, or even perhaps all of Europe, I’m not sure they can be said to be as influential as the male Catholic saints.

    One other interesting thing — while talking to my three Catholic friends, just off the top of my head I named St. Christopher, St. Francis, the four “gospel” saints (Matthew, Mark, Luke, & John), and St. Augustine. Those were all recognized, and several other saints were named by my friends as well. Perhaps unsurprisingly, they were all male saints. ;-)

    Also, I’m not sure I’d attribute all the excitement about the book to antifeminist fervor. My feeling is that if Brown had asserted that Jesus was really an upper-class Roman in desguise, or something similar, he’d have created a comparable uproar. It’s the fundamentalist literalists that are offended, because their whole value system is based on the inerrancy of the Holy Scriptures. Proposing that Jesus was married casts doubt on their structure of beliefs.

    Having talked to several devout folks after seeing the movie “The Last Temptation of Christ,” I think it has to do not so much with anti-feminism or scriptural inerrancy, as with the concepts of religious purity and taboo. Consider: only the most perfect livestock was sacrificed to Yahweh, by the all-male priesthood. Women were ritually impure, thus could not be part of the priesthood, nor even go into certain parts of Yahweh’s temples.

    Now look at the analogy: Jesus is symbolically supposed to be the pure Lamb of God, sacrificed to the god to alleviate our sins. To imply he had (or even fantasized about) sexual relations (a carnal, non-divine act in both Judaism and Christianity) with a woman (a ritually impure object) is to deeply sully the perfection of God’s/our sacrifice — at least to some adherents of christianity.

    Also, arch-conservatives do need something to hate. They were very uncomfortable for awhile, when the Soviet Union collapsed. Now they have Muslims, so they’re much happier. Not that reaction to the DC reaches that level of emotion, but they do have a very low boiling point.

    On that I’d certainly have to agree. It does seem insecurely elitist groups are always far better at stating, frequently violently, what they are not rather than what they are. The worst examples of this I know of are the Catholic Inquisition and the Hitlerian Holocaust, where millions who were simply different were terminally and horribly punished. I keep hoping someday we’ll move past that apparent psychological need, although I don’t know how to encourage it.

    Thanks again for the feedback — cheers!

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