Canon, Cultural Studies, The Liturgical Year

Trinity Sunday [Bad Analogies with Gaiman and Pratchett]

goodomens-796755Yay! Trinity Sunday! WTF. Erm… the Trinity! The confounded and confounding Christian doctrine that seeks to explain the three Actors – wait… one Actor, oh I don’t know how to explain it. Today is the day on the calendar when the Church reminds itself that it probably would be a good day to praise God and in the midst of that, try once again to explain to (and probably convince) itself that this is a very good idea for us and our salvation that God is in three Persons. WAT.

The Trinity is not found, per se, in the biblical narrative, at least not named as such. Though, generally, a lot of blood, sweat, and tears have been shed over the damn thing. And I like what Gregory of Nazianzus said about it, though, personally, when I do think about the Trinity too much, I risk the modalism of Sabellius. There. I said it. On a blog post. You can gasp and clutch your pearls to your throat, now, if you understand what I just did there.

But, hey, we’re talking about analogies, and there are plenty of bad analogies about the Trinity. Mine is merely one of many, as you see.

Anyone who tells you they can clearly understand the doctrine of the Trinity is either a liar, a fool, or a crazy person. But it seems here an opportunity to look through particular lenses to squint at the Trinity to see if it becomes, well, not any clearer, but a bit more fleshed out. And we all know flesh is messy.

If you think too much about the Trinity, it becomes a bit silly and strange in a way at which the British have excelled. So, I have picked those rogue theologians Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, iconic (and very British) writers of strange worlds, events, and creatures. If there were ever two authors who could flesh out the Trinity in an approachable way, they could do it. However, as far as I know, they haven’t, nor would they. So I am taking it upon myself to employ the styles and fictional approaches of these authors to explore two different aspects of the Trinity. NB: this is not an attempt to “Christianize” (Ech! The word makes my tongue itch.) the authors or their work, but rather to employ their style as analogies for the purposes of explanation. These are very rough sketches that were thought before dawn. In other words, I’m using art and letter to explain something immaterial when I was sleepy. Duh.

Gaiman, author of such wonderful works as Sandman, Neverwhere, and American Gods (about which I’ve written), has thought deeply and variously about religion and has explored gods various incarnations and has, in fact, played with the idea of “trinity”. According to The New Yorker, he’s a Jewish kid who’s family was Scientologist. But we’re not saying how Gaiman makes a Trinity or how we Trinitize Gaiman.

And to live in a Gaiman story is usually to be found in a plot wherein one usually ventures from one’s own world and thrust via some variant rabbit hole into another deeply unfamiliar world. There, the individual goes through much effort to resolve these incongruent worlds and ultimately gives up/has revelation/acquires an object and just goes with it for the betterment of their being and action. Gaiman works in the realm of the uncanny (or as one of my favorite German words would render the concept, Unheimlichkeit). (Yes, this is a VERY sloppy hipshot of Gaiman’s ouvre, but I’m writing this before 7am, so just indulge.)

Gaiman’s Trinity is about encountering its identity, passing from a world of an expected and singular deity to a world where there is not multiple deities, which might be expected, but, instead, actually entering a world where that same deity has a multiplicity about it and meeting that deity. Gaiman’s Trinity is about encountering the Actors and interacting with them individually and corporately. There is the encounter with God, the Creator and Ordererer; God, the Human Suffererer and Redeemererer; and God, the Helpererer. Why the extra “-er”s? Well, because in the Trinity there is always a surplus in its totality. Duh.

And the beauty of a Gaiman story is realizing that it was strange, since the beginning and nothing has changed, other than that you know the truth, now, and have interacted with it, for better or worse. And that it is you, dear reader, who has changed and has been changed. And that’s just weird and unsettling. Gaiman Trinity Sunday is about remembering that when “God” or “Jesus” or “Holy Spirit” is mentioned, there is extra baggage lurking RIGHT BEHIND YOU! Spooky. I did not expect that.

Pratchett’s Trinity is about participating in its action, existing in a world where the laws of everything seem to be constantly bent in a very absurd and silly sort of way. But it only seems as such because you have not been participating in its world. Terry Pratchett is best known for Discworld, his universe within many of his stories occur. Discworld is a flat disc supported on the backs of four elephants on top of a giant flying turtle, of course. It sounds silly because it’s strange, but it’s not any stranger or sillier than the Spirit of God hovering over the waters and exhaling into clay, when you think of it.

Pratchett’s Trinity has a participatory motion to it. And there is no transcendence. It’s immanent. And in Pratchett’s books, there is a strangeness that is mundane. It’s expected. And the characters go with it, because that’s how the world functions. There is something organic about it, a telos, a goal, and end that Gaiman doesn’t have. Gaiman is much more radically transcendent. Pratchett Trinity is there, like “Oh, yeah. There’s the Trinity again. When it comes over for dinner, they always eat more pie when the Son isn’t feeling kenotic.” And it makes sense, because that’s the world. And we interact within and with it.

The more I think about it Gaiman’s Trinity seems Neoplatonic, Augustinian, Barthian (?!). And Pratchett’s Trinity seems Aristotelian, dare I risk Thomistic. Perhaps, but it’s important to note that he’d “rather be a rising ape than a fallen angel”, and rightly so! This is Aristotle. Enjoy his thoughts on religion:

Anyway, that’s a lot of sloppy thinking about a very difficult concept and doctrine and people will gladly shoot holes in my moth-eaten thought experiment, but it all goes to show that the Trinity, if one even believes in it, is something out of a Gaiman or Pratchett novel. And maybe that’s a good omen of things to come, or have been, or is. Whatever. It’s all very confusing.

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