Tuesday, November 14, 2006

From Atheism to Baptism

Okay, I'm a Militant Darwinist and an atheist. But my children get baptized, so I am not, I guess, a true full-scale militant Atheist. Andrea wants them to get baptized, and I like the ritual.

So Sara is being baptized on Sunday, one day before she turns six months old. In Switzerland (as in Germany where Miles was baptized), the parents are asked to choose a verse from the Bible as a Taufspruch (baptismal motto, or something like that). For Sara, we chose this:

Meine Kindlein, laßt uns nicht lieben mit Worten noch mit der Zunge, sondern
mit der Tat und mit der Wahrheit. (1. Johannes 3:18)

That's how Luther put it. King James's team put it like this:

My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed
and in truth.

I like the way this seems to undermine Luther's emphasis on faith, as opposed to works, by keeping the focus on what one does ("in deed") as well as on what one believes ("in truth").

We also considered this beautiful verse from Proverbs (31:25), in Luther's words:

Kraft und Schöne sind ihr Gewand, und sie lacht des kommenden Tages.

The KJ team put it like this:

Strength and honour are her clothing; and she shall rejoice in time to come.

We like the German version, with its beautiful echo of the way Sara (also known as "the rooster" in our household) often wakes up at around 5 a.m. and begins to laugh and coo and enjoy the very fact of being alive. (I also like the lovely genitive of "lacht des kommenden Tages," but I'm funny that way.)


mrjumbo said...

I suspect my catchphrase must have been from Ecclesiastes, the nihilist sheep in the Bible's family: "A fool's mouth is full with words."

(Not sure how Luther put that.)

Andrew Shields said...

"For a dream cometh through the multitude of business; and a fool's voice is known by multitude of words." (Ecclesiastes 5:3)

That's the King James. (No, I don't have bible verses on the tip of my tongue; I used the concordance at Bible Gateway.)

Luther puts it quite differently:

"Denn wo viel Sorgen ist, da kommen Träume; und wo viel Worte sind, da hört man den Narren."

Something like "where there are many words is where one hears fools."

mrjumbo said...

That's Blogspot's motto, isn't it?

I like Ecclesiastes. Out of all the books in the Bible, more than any other it asks, "Why are we concerned about all this?" It takes a very dour worldview: All we do is vanity. All we say is vanity. Rich men die; poor men die. There's no way we can achieve meaning in the world. The writer is very jaded. It's where we first find "There is nothing new under the sun." And he hadn't even had to flip through 500 channels of cable to find that out.

And then the writer rescues himself, saying "except then I remembered God is the answer." But clip a few references to God, and it could just about have been written by Beckett. Linguistically, and I think philosophically, it's one of the later books in the Old Testament. But the funny thing is, tradition has Solomon writing it (Solomon is "the Preacher," which is what Ecclesiastes means), and its position is square in the middle of the Hebrew Bible, side by side with Proverbs and Song of Solomon and so on.

Maybe the stranger thing is that the rabbis who finally set the canon decided to include it at all. It seems to undermine the rest of the body of works they collected. They had a lot to distill, and had to pick very carefully what to include and what old favorites to cut out. This was no Norton Anthology, after all: This was the word of God, and they had to decide what was definitively in, for all the ages. And they did include Ecclesiastes. I'm glad they did.

It's also a very funny read. Whoever wrote it was pretty sick of fools.