[Milton-L] Milton as challenger?

Butler, Todd Wayne butlert at wsu.edu
Mon Oct 5 04:23:53 EDT 2009


To be fair to Hannibal, I think his focus was on how one's teaching of Paradise Lost might be challenging to the beliefs of *our students*:

"I'm still inclined to think that a careful reading of, say , Paradise Lost, is likely to challenge the orthodoxies or received religious beliefs of our students. Sex before the fall, angelic sex, the charismatic appeal (at times seemingly logical --  highable contestable I know) of Satan, the two-dimensionality of the Father (how does one dramatize omniscience?), and so forth."

Though I've had some theologically sophisticated students, more often than not my students operate with some relatively basic assumptions about Christianity that are as much cultural as theological. Few of them (if any) have read papal encyclicals or other "authoritative documents" of commentary. The matter of angelic sex might not be as deeply unsettling as Milton's views on the Trinity, but at least for many of my students the former is at once more immediately accessible and challenging to what might be better termed their theological "sensibilities."

Given that, I'm inclined to agree with Hamlin that a simply presenting careful reading of Milton can complicate our students' beliefs without capriciously attacking them. In this respect students are like little Adams (whoa...angels have sex? really? what might it be like?). Highlighting even small details from the poem can work a similarly impressive effect. That Eve might have been tempted around, say, lunchtime, can radically reorient--in a paradoxically gentle way--how a student looks at the Genesis story. Fixing a moment in time adds the dimension of narrative, while the fact that Eve might have been hungry adds a whole new factor into equations of responsibility. Having lived with these moments for years I suspect we can forget what it means to ask such questions for the first time (which is part of the joy I get out of teaching the poem--I get to participate in that process vicariously).

I suspect it's for reasons like those that, as one student in Tennessee told me, her pastor told her to avoid Paradise Lost. His reason? She might end up thinking "that's how it really happened."

Todd

Todd Butler
Associate Professor and Buchanan Scholar
Vice Chair, Department of English
Washington State University
Pullman, WA  99164-5020
(509) 335-2639



-----Original Message-----
From: milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu on behalf of James Rovira
Sent: Sat 10/3/2009 4:18 PM
To: John Milton Discussion List
Subject: Re: [Milton-L] Milton as challenger?
 
Most of what you list, Hannibal, isn't necessarily contrary to
Christian orthodoxy, though it'd be better if you didn't think of
Christian orthodoxy as a single, unified thing.  How uniformly are the
ideas of sex before the fall or Satan's charisma condemned in
authoritative documents?  I've seen both affirmed at different times
and to serve different purposes.  Bede's record of the correspondence
between the Pope and the English churches sets careful boundaries
around treating sex as anything other than good and created by God,
even while it clearly attempts to encourage the readers to exercise
restraint.  Satan's attractiveness tends to be emphasized in sermons
describing him as an "angel of light."

I think the notion of angelic sex would be rejected, but it doesn't
show up in any of the creeds to my knowledge -- any papal encyclicals
on it -- so do you think this is really a big issue?  The two
dimensionality of God the Father in PL is an aesthetic judgment that
varies by time and place.  It's hardly a point of doctrine.  It's
conceivable that readers could interpret the stasis of God the Father
as majesty, and the movement and mutability of Satan as a clear sign
of his fall from eternity.

I'm not saying Milton was entirely orthodox, and what's odd to me is
that you don't mention his views on the trinity or on Christology,
which would be far more important, controversial, and questionable to
those concerned than anything else you mention.  I think you picture a
very narrowly conceived, barely educated Puritan as standing in for an
orthodox Christian reader, but that's not faithful to history or the
history of Christian belief.  I could see Medieval monks being
fascinated by PL.

Jim R

On Sat, Oct 3, 2009 at 2:10 PM, Hannibal Hamlin
<hamlin.hannibal at gmail.com> wrote:
> Hmmm. Well, I should probably qualify or complicate this I suppose. I'm
> still inclined to think that a careful reading of, say , Paradise Lost, is
> likely to challenge the orthodoxies or received religious beliefs of our
> students. Sex before the fall, angelic sex, the charismatic appeal (at times
> seemingly logical --  highable contestable I know) of Satan, the
> two-dimensionality of the Father (how does one dramatize omniscience?), and
> so forth.

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