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Sundays With The Christianists: Shakespeare Was A Pagan, Maybe A Homo
Brush off your iambic pentameter, ye Wonklings, because this week, homeschooling advocate, radio preacher, and culture warrior Kevin Swanson is taking on that arch-apostate, the Immortal Bard Of Avon.
We've been reading Swanson's not-quite-bestselling e-book Apostate: The Men Who Destroyed the Christian West, which makes a persuasive case that no period of history has ever been Christian enough for Kevin Swanson. This week, we're ready to switch from Swanson's Heresy Day Tour of famous philosophers* to his attacks on the Western literary canon, which of course is full of malcontents, humanists, and people doing Satan's work by writing things that are more interesting than the Bible.
Kevin Swanson may not know much about science -- or maybe, given his claim that the Pill leaves hundreds of tiny baby corpses all over ladies' insides, he just knows more about it than we are able to understand. And for his angerbear attacks on philosophy, he relies a whole heck of a lot on the Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy. But he's on much firmer ground in his critiques of literature, because we get the feeling that he may have actually read some of it, not that he'd recommend innocent young people get mixed up with that crazy stuff, warning that there's a lot of humanist thinking infecting the "great" works of literature:
Young, impressionable minds can “cut themselves” on the “great books,” and sometimes the wounds get infected. This is usually how we lose our best and brightest young students to the other side, generation after generation.
Swanson is especially upset that a lot of this trash -- Shakespeare, Hawthorne, Twain and the like -- even gets taught approvingly in Christian colleges, many of which he worries have already fallen to secularism anyway since their biology departments aren't 100 percent creationist. He is not optimistic that even Christian colleges are up to the job of fighting the spiritual pollution of Western literature:
Christian academics who cannot make out the trajectories of apostasy in the great literary works of the last 500 years will fail to understand history or read literature rightly. If they cannot discern the literary trajectories, they will only contribute to the continuing decline of the Christian faith in the West. As they fail to engage the antithesis in the war of the worldviews, Christian professors and teachers undermine their own faith. They sit in their classrooms and wonder why 21st century Christian churches in London are selling off church properties to the Muslims.
And so Swanson takes up that battle, starting with that great old soap opera writer, William Shakespeare. What we really need to know about Shakespeare is quite simple, Swanson explains:
If authors like John Bunyan and John Milton retained a strong God-centered view of reality in their writings in the 17th century, did William Shakespeare hold to a similar religious commitment representing a robust Christian orthodoxy? Or did he waver on key elements of a Christian world and life view?
We're not sure why Milton gets a pass, what with his Satan preferring to rule in Hell than serve in Heaven. Maybe because the Good Guy wins, as the script requires. Shakespeare, on the other hand, is a much more difficult case for Swanson, who's certainly not the first to have difficulty pinning the playwright down to a single worldview. Hilariously, the lack of biographical detail that we have on Shakespeare isn't too much of a problem for Swanson, who feels fee to speculate the worst. At the very least, says Swanson, Shakespeare was part of the London theater scene in the Elizabethan/Jacobean age, and that was one nasty bunch of apostates! After noting -- in case we hadn't noticed -- that "homosexuality seems to accompany the rejection of the Christian order and the rise of humanism," Swanson explains that London's theater world was just full of nasty pervs:
[The] London theatrical fraternity was sympathetic to these sorts of sins. While at Cambridge University, Christopher Marlowe revived the controversial works of the Roman poet, Ovid by translating Amores into English. For his poetry that glorified adultery and homosexuality, Ovid was banished from Rome by the Emperor Augustus in AD 8, but the Christian apostates of the 16th century were more than happy to revive the works [...]
From all accounts, Christopher Marlowe was a foul character. He was known for his public blasphemy against the Holy Ghost, 7 and one of his contemporaries claimed of him: “Almost into every company he cometh he persuades men to Atheism.” He was accused of homosexuality, and he might have been prosecuted for it had it not been for his untimely murder (or faked death) in 1593.
Not only that, but Shakespeare definitely was a friend of Marlowe -- Swanson is very sympathetic to the ideas that Marlowe might have been Shakespeare, but ultimately edges away from the "who wrote Shakespeare?" game, because he's far more interested in the documented fact that we have no evidence that Shakespeare ever publicly condemned Marlowe and his maybe-homotude. Worse, we all know that the theater is full of Teh Ghey:
Since Shakespeare’s day, the theater and the fine arts have become seedbeds for homosexual themes and homosexual behavior. In the early 17th century, it would have been a huge risk to publicly admit to homosexual inclinations. Thus, it is difficult to determine with any degree of certitude the sexual proclivities of men like Christopher Marlowe and William Shakespeare. We do know that Shakespeare lived apart from his wife during most of his professional career, and he is famous for leaving her his “second best bed” in his will.
That has to be the most creative innuendo we've ever seen for that "second best bed" bequest -- hey, maybe his best bed was for his boyfriend! Worse, of course, are those sonnets that are dedicated to a dude, but talk about love and stuff, ick!
Such revolutionary language introduces dangerous gender confusion into the minds of men. It is the discontentment concerning what God has done, and lust for that which God forbids, that constitutes what the Bible calls “evil desires” (Col. 3: 5).
Swanson also notes that Shakespeare -- or at least his publishers -- got in trouble with Puritan censors who criminalized profanity, making it a crime “for any person in an interlude, pageant, or stage play to use jestingly or profanely the name of God, or of Christ Jesus, or the Holy Ghost or the Trinity.” Several of the plays had to be revised between their cheap quarto and later folio editions to get rid of such blasphemies. Swanson notes that if anything seems silly about that, it's only because we're the creeps: "All of this may sound a little 'puritanical' to the present society, which knows no limits in the rampant violation of the third commandment." (He then goes on fro a full paragraph about so-called Christians who tolerate the abuse of God's name in media and even in their own homes, and yes, he quotes the commandment too, just to be sure.)
Swanson adds, approvingly, that for "at least sixty years, the Puritans opposed the work of the Globe Theater until it was demolished in 1644," and cites a summary of everything the Puritans disliked about the Jacobean theater:
1. It provided a poor form of recreation (it was exhausting, dissipating, and rendered the spectators ‘effete and effeminate’).
2. It was foreign and degenerate.
3. It was a non-productive form of labor especially for the actors.
4. It attracted homosexuals and prostitutes.
5. Its subject matter often addressed adultery and fornication that inspired imitation.
6. It promoted hypocrisy and deceit.
7. It competed with the true church.
8. It brought the saved into the company of the damned.
9. It would stir up the emotions and cloud the reason.
Ah, but are such concerns truly outdated? Swanson wonders: "Could some of this be said of the mainstream theater and motion picture industry in our day?" And then for good measure, he quotes Ephesians 5:11, warning that Christians must "have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them." If you're a Christian who still has HBO, shame on you!
As every lit professor will write in the margin of any paper claiming to have Shakespeare all figured out, the guy's true opinion on any given topic is difficult to pin down (just ask about regicide). This ambiguity is really all the proof Swanson needs that Shakespeare is actually very dangerous for the young folks, who could easily be led astray:
The mere fact that Christians and non-Christians argue vigorously for radically differing positions regarding Shakespeare’s religious beliefs reveals that his true, fundamental worldview was not openly and obviously Christian.
Since Shakespeare's plays didn't directly proselytize, then obviously they were full of dangerous humanism. Heck, the conspirators in Julius Caesar don't even pray to Jesus for their salvation.
Swanson does direct his critical eye to one play, Macbeth, and finds in it a dangerous, dangerous message: Macbeth and all the other characters are playthings of Fate, and that means that Shakespeare is reinforcing pagan ideas that go wholly against Christian doctrine. Specifically, they go against a doctrine that might sound similar to the notion of Fate, but is totally different:
In the Christian view, a personal, righteous God is in absolute sovereign control of all of reality. He does not coerce the moral actions of men. They act upon their own free will and according to the desires of their own heart, yet God holds them morally responsible for the choices they make. For example, Acts 2: 23 speaks of God predetermining the crucifixion of His Son, which may have been the worst crime ever wrought by human hands in the history of the world. According to the same passage, God holds these men responsible for their wicked deed despite the fact that He predetermined that this event would happen from the beginning of the world.
Now, you see, a very narrow-minded person who doesn't understand the difference might think that predestined actions that you're held eternally responsible for are actually a worse deal than standard-issue fate, where your actions are predestined but at least you get to shout, "I am Fortune's fool!" But no, they're different and the Christian version is perfectly fair and consistent with the idea of free will, so shut up:
To give in to the Greek idea of the “fates” is a deadly compromise with the biblical idea of a personal God who sovereignly ordains the free actions of men. Yet many seek this compromise because there is something incomprehensible about the biblical explanation. However, there is much we do not understand about God, His nature, and His works. For example, we have no idea how He creates a universe out of nothing, and we have not a clue concerning how He ordains the free actions of men.
It's a Mystery! Anyhoo, eventually we get to a brief summary of the Scottish play, which boils down to Shakespeare's letting Macbeth off the hook for his crimes because they were fated, and this is bad. Also, Shakespeare totally missed the opportunity to turn the play into an awesome Bible tract:
There is no question that guilt is an overriding theme in the play. In the familiar scene, Lady Macbeth attempts to wash away the bloodguilt with water, but to no avail. No mention is made of the blood of Christ. Not surprisingly, the central position of Jesus Christ as Redeemer and King of history is completely ignored.
Dumb old Shakespeare. Wouldn't Macbeth have been a much better play if Lady Macbeth had gotten right with God? For that matter, maybe all the tragedies could have been improved if they'd just ended with everyone on their knees in church, rather than dead all over the stage.
*We hope you'll forgive us for skipping his chapters on Nietzsche, Sartre, and John Dewey -- there's not much there that he hasn't said elsewhere. Then again, that also describes the whole book.
Next Week: Nathaniel Hawthorne's crimes against Jesus; or, The Scarlet D-Minus