[Milton-L] Fwd: human dignity

Jason Kerr aelfric at gmail.com
Thu Jul 27 19:32:10 EDT 2006

A few points:

Thank you for Diane McColley for the correction about "men." I can't believe
I hadn't noticed that in all the times I've read those lines. Always more to

It seems that the point I was trying to make in my earlier post needs to be
reiterated (thank you Jim for slogging through it; hopefully this one is
less garbled, at least physically). Without going to the same length: if
Milton's theodicy is to be successful, PL must account for the justice of
divine behaviors some will perceive as mendacious, cruel, etc. Without
debating these perceptions, might not divine punishment ( e.g., sorrow in
childbearing and labor by the sweat of the brow) *potentially* work to
produce humility and meekness in human beings (see the last line of Book
10), which virtues then put humans in a position to accept proffered
forgiveness? Of course, these same behaviors could prompt feelings of
resentment. We were all teenagers once...

Perhaps whether or not one sees Milton's Father as a tyrant depends more on
perception and interpretation than on the characteristics and attributes the
poem assigns him. Forgive me if this is obvious, but I think that the same
question of hermeneutics arises within PL. After all, Satan and his crew
interpret the elevation of the Son rather differently than the other
two-thirds of the angels. The question then becomes one of upon what
principles to base an assessment of the Father in PL.

On that note, I respect and understand Michael Bryson's frustration with the
apparent hegemony of the "pro-God" view, though I seem not to have
experienced it quite as starkly as he did. And I think his point about what
we do to our students when we oversell our own readings is valid and
suggests the need for continued vigilance on our parts. At least in the US,
though certainly elsewhere as well, Christianity has a powerful—and
polarizing—cultural force, as several posts have attested. In some way, I
think everyone in the US has to come to some terms with Christianity, just
as a matter of negotiating the culture we live in. Naturally, these terms
can be very diverse. But they invariably color our readings of texts like PL
that deal explicitly with Christian mythology (in the technical, not the
pejorative sense). I'm not suggesting that listmembers are not critically
able to separate personal belief from an attempt to understand Milton's poem
in its own terms, but I think that the task is very difficult, requiring its
own dose of humility and meekness, and that this, too, requires continued
vigilance. As always, my immediate audience is myself.

Jason A. Kerr

"Den som vover mister Fodfæste et Øieblick;
den som ikke vover mister Livet."
                                    -Søren Kierkegaard
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