The Passing Parade: Cheap Shots from a Drive By Mind

"...difficile est saturam non scribere. Nam quis iniquae tam patiens urbis, tam ferreus, ut teneat se..." " is hard not to write Satire. For who is so tolerant of the unjust City, so steeled, that he can restrain himself... Juvenal, The Satires (1.30-32)

Saturday, November 14, 2015

The End is Near, and other things you don't care to read about.

I suppose this should not bother me—I’m a big boy now, after all, and on a scale of one to ten of life’s little annoyances this should not even register as a blip—but I am not sure when Christian eschatology became an appropriate subject for men’s room graffiti. I am a firm advocate of the First Amendment’s guarantees of freedom of speech and religion, but I also believe that there is a time and a place for everything, and reading that ‘THE END IS NEAR’ while I am standing in front of a urinal relieving myself is, to my mind, neither the time nor the place for such a message. At such a time, I do not want to think deep thoughts about the Day of Judgment nor do I wish to pass the time it takes to pass water contemplating my sins; I simply want to finish the business at hand and get out of the men’s room, especially the men’s room that is the star of this particular screed, which is unnecessarily noisome, even by the very low standards that most people judge rest rooms by.  If I didn’t absolutely positively no—two—ways—about—it did not need to use this rest room, I wouldn’t, but nature has its own purposes, as it is wont to do, and while I am attending to those purposes I do not wish to think about eschatology or the soteriological train of thought that inevitably arises from it.

This was not always the case, of course. In the history of Christianity, there are any number of great theologians who have thought their greatest thoughts while attending to the necessary. The great fourth century heresiarch Arius, unless he was the great fifth century heresiarch Arius—I’m not sure if I’ve got the right dates here—first thought that Jesus was not consubstantial with the Father while sitting in the men’s room, and no, I don’t have any idea what Arius was talking about, either. Understanding the details of his theology was apparently not a requirement, as Arianism became wildly popular without anyone really knowing what Arius was going on about. Arius was sort of like the Stephen Hawking of the fourth (or fifth) century; everyone bought his books but no one really read them. But fashion rules all, as someone much smarter than me once said, and back in the day everyone who was anyone wanted to be an Arian, and so Arius started spending a lot of time in the men’s room trying to think of the next big theological thing.  This was unfortunate, because one day while Arius sat doing his business and thinking deep thoughts about the nature of the Trinity, some non-Arian Christian—I have not ascertained whether this person was Orthodox, Catholic, miaphysite, or Nestorian in his theological orientation—ventilated Arius’ guts from below with a sword. Besides being an extremely painful and more than a little embarrassing way to die, one cannot help but wonder how the assassin knew which of the rumps above his head belonged to Arius. All human faces are different, but everyone’s backside looks pretty much the same. There are differences in size and shape, of course, but the basics don’t really vary that much. Butts are butts.

Martin Luther was another habitué of the theological outhouse, a man who suffered from such severe chronic constipation that he tore Western Christendom apart trying to relieve the gastrointestinal pressure on his body and soul.  Why Luther suffered from such chronic constipation is lost now to medical science: as an Augustinian friar he may have suffered from the poor monastic diet—bread, water, and wine do not a balanced diet make, no matter how positively biblical this trinity might otherwise appear—and so it is not difficult to imagine that Luther’s guts revolted when confronted with the occasional bratwurst.  Indeed, given the vehemence of Luther’s denunciations, it is not difficult to imagine that Luther found Johann Tetzel’s selling papal get out of purgatory bubble gum cards less objectionable than Tetzel’s lack of laxatives in his peddler’s sack. Getting out of purgatory is all well and good, but it is sometimes difficult to contemplate the mysteries of the divine when your guts are in a knot. Something had to give, and in 1517, something finally did; Luther posted the 95 Theses, beginning the Protestant Reformation. Whether the Reformation did anything for Luther’s need to relieve himself is unknown.

Still, the most interesting of the plumbing theologians was, to my mind, St. Edwin of Nobbish, an English saint who wanted to be a desert hermit like Simeon Stylites, an Egyptian saint who lived on top of a pillar for forty years. This posed a bit of a problem for St. Edwin, given the lack of suitable pillars, posts, and deserts in his native England, but not one to give up easily, Edwin compensated by standing on top of a chamber pot on one foot while he contemplated the nature of free will.  St. Edwin, an otherwise orthodox Catholic theologian, held the view that God must exist simultaneously at all levels of possibility, in what happened and what did not happen, reconciling, he thought, the question of free will with the omniscience of God. The Church found his theory more than vaguely heretical, but could not come out and say so without denying the omnipotence of God, which is not vaguely heretical at all; it’s the real thing. People who know about such things tell me that while St. Edwin of Nobbish’s theory may not be entirely orthodox theology, it is fairly good string theory, and that the story that he died because he turned an ankle and fell off the chamber pot he’d stood on for fifty-two years and cracked his skull is exactly that, a story. St. Edwin died in the late 1340's, yet another victim of the Black Death that killed nearly half of the population of Europe.

It also occurs to me that the graffito ‘The End is Near’—remember ‘The End is Near’, it’s what I was complaining about before I wandered off into the tangles of Christian theological history, for which digression, I must beg your pardon; I know I shouldn’t go off-topic but sometimes I can’t help myself—that this might mean that the user’s end is near the urinal, in which case they are standing in the wrong stall. They should be sitting on the commode in the stall next to the urinal. This, though, sounds as farfetched as St. Edwin of Nobbish’s theory of simultaneous ubiquity. Why would someone who knows what a urinal is for attempt to use it while facing away from it? Even a woman compelled by necessity to use the men’s room would know better than to use a urinal in this fashion. So, whose end is near and why is this end in this particular urinal? I don’t know. What I do know is that there is a reason why tradition limits the subjects on men’s room walls to scatology, obscenity, profanity, slander, and sports, and this is it. No one wants to think about ultimate things while they are attending to the necessary. We just want to go.

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  • At 5:36 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    That was a typo! He (and I think with regard to these premises I'm justified to presume the gender of the wall artist) - he attempted to write 'The End is Nero'. It pleases my atheistic heart to think the Unknown Artist was inclined historically and not theologically. Rome remains, but Nero is no more!

    Or smthg.

  • At 10:11 AM, Blogger SnoopyTheGoon said…

    Thanks for another exemplary essay, Akaky Akakievich. I shall do my best to disseminate it. Now - not to nitpick, rather to add another dimension to a specific passage, where you read ‘THE END IS NEAR’, while standing in front of a urinal. You see, the word "end", translated to Russian as "конец", has (at least) two meanings in that language: one is the end and the other means that same appendage that a male holds while standing in front of a urinal.

    Oh well, make what you will out of this coincidence.


  • At 1:01 PM, Blogger Akaky said…

    Thanks, Snoop, but given that the language of choice in that particular hole in the wall is English, I suspect that the end being referred to is not the end you are talking about.

    Tat, even with the orthographically challenged English language, I think the end is Nero is a bit of a stretch, even if National Geographic did a cover story about him about a year and a half ago.

  • At 7:26 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Not such a big stretch to me! [in my ideolect, as you very kindly allowed long time ago]

    And yeah, my perception of the "end" is the same as Snoopy's here...was a bit puzzled with all the bodily directional arrangements in the middle of the story.

    Now, srsly, what I returned to say, actually, that you tried something different in this post - and I like it.

  • At 3:44 PM, Blogger Akaky said…

    Thank you, Tat, although to be honest, I am not conscious of trying anything new on this one. I thought the premise posed by The End is Near at eye level while I was trying to use the restroom was interesting and I just tried to go with the flow.

  • At 5:43 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    "to go with the flow"...ahaha


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