Futility Closet book ad

Patron Ain’t

Franz Bibfeldt is unusual among theologians — he doesn’t exist. In 1947, divinity student Robert Clausen invented the name for a fictitious footnote in a term paper at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, and his classmate Martin Marty then wrote a review of Bibfeldt’s book The Relieved Paradox in the seminary magazine. The book was imaginary, but the conspirators arranged for it to be cataloged at the school library and always checked out.

When the hoax was discovered, the perpetrators were reprimanded and Marty was sent to Chicago, where he eventually rose to become a dean at the University of Chicago divinity school. So, Marty said, “Bibfeldt had more influence on me than any other theologian.”

Under Marty’s influence, Bibfeldt grew into an invisible mainstay at the school. A display case in the entry hall was filled with signed photographs of mayor Richard Daley, Spiro Agnew, Illinois senator Charles Percy, former Georgia governor Lester Maddox, and the 1971 Playmate of the Year, all inscribed to Bibfeldt, and an annual symposium featuring bratwurst and beer was held each year on the Wednesday closest to April Fool’s Day. Graduates eventually spread Bibfeldt’s gospel elsewhere — he’s noted in the Oxford Encyclopedia of the Reformation; a session at the American Association of Religions meeting in 1988 was devoted to Bibfeldt; and in 1994 the evangelical satire magazine The Wittenberg Door named him theologian of the year.

Bibfeldt himself is characteristically modest — reportedly he has given only one interview, and that to Howard Hughes — but his acts are famous:

  • He adapted the Sermon on the Mount for American audiences, writing, “Blessed are the happy who have everything, because they won’t need to be comforted” and “Blessed are the impeccably dressed, because they will look nice when they see God.”
  • He responded sharply to Kierkegaard’s Either/Or with a treatise titled Both/And, followed by the conciliatory Either/Or and/or Both/And.
  • Other publications include A Pragmatist’s Paraphrase of Selected Sayings of Jesus, The Boys of Sumer: Akkadian Origins of the National Pastime, I Hear What You’re Saying, But I Just Don’t Care: Thoughts on Pastoral Counseling, Luther on Vacation: From Worms to Cancun, and The Wealth of King Solomon: A Hebrew Scripture Prefigurement of Sports Contracts.
  • “It is more difficult for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven than for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle,” he wrote. “Yet, with genetic engineering, we can now breed very small camels.”

“We use him very mildly, gently, to satirize the whole theological system,” Marty said. “There’s really no malice in it.”

Black and White

deutsche schachzeitung chess problem

From Deutsche Schachzeitung, 1890. White to mate in two moves.

Click for Answer

First Things First

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:White_chicken_egg_square.jpg

Oh who that ever lived and loved
Can look upon an egg unmoved?
The egg it is the source of all,
‘Tis everyone’s ancestral hall.
The bravest chief that ever fought,
The lowest thief that e’er was caught,
The harlot’s lip, the maiden’s leg,
They each and all come from an egg.

The rocks that once by ocean’s surge
Beheld the first of eggs emerge –
Obscure, defenseless, small and cold –
They little knew what egg could hold.
The gifts the reverent Magi gave,
Pandora’s box, Aladdin’s cave,
Wars, loves, and kingdoms, heaven and hell
All lay within that tiny shell.

Oh, join me gentlemen, I beg,
In honoring our friend, the egg.

– Clarence Day, Scenes From the Mesozoic, 1935

Critic Fatigue

http://www.sxc.hu/photo/474970

Abie’s Irish Rose became a fixture on Broadway in the 1920s, running for more than five years. That was bad news for Robert Benchley, who had to think up a new capsule review of the play each week for Life magazine:

  • “People laugh at this every night, which explains why democracy can never be a success.”
  • “In another two or three years, we’ll have this play driven out of town.”
  • “Where do people come from who keep this going? You don’t see them out in the daytime.”
  • “A-ha-ha-ha-ha! Oh, well, all right.”
  • “All right if you never went beyond the fourth grade.”
  • “The Phoenicians were among the earliest settlers of Britain.”
  • “There is no letter ‘w’ in the French language.”
  • “Flying fish are sometimes seen at as great a height as fifteen feet.”

In despair he finally wrote, “See Hebrews 13:8.”

That verse reads “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today, and for ever.”

In a Word

impervestigable

adj. incapable of being fully investigated

Eye and Ear

http://www.sxc.hu/photo/778197

Paul McCartney never learned to read music. “I don’t have any desire to learn,” he said. “I feel it’s like a voodoo, that it would spoil things if I actually learnt how things are done.”

Round Trip

http://www.google.com/patents/US3933115

Looking for a nimble way to transport large amounts of cargo across bodies of water, Alessandro Dandini invented this “spherical rolling hull marine vessel” in 1974. The sphere contains a motor that trundles along a continuous track, which sets the hull rolling across the water. Cargo can be stored inside the sphere, in the two cabins mounted on the sides, or suspended beneath them. (The detachable cabins can also serve as life craft.) Because the sphere has a relatively low draft, it can move through the water with less drag than a conventional vessel. “It provides for a fast turnaround when loading and unloading cargo, which results in a highly efficient water transportation vessel.”

Text Hexes

http://www.sxc.hu/photo/451312

Books were so precious in the Middle Ages that monks invoked curses against any who might steal them:

This book belongs to S. Maximin at his monastery of Micy, which abbat Peter caused to be written, and with his own labour corrected and punctuated, and on Holy Thursday dedicated to God and S. Maximin on the altar of S. Stephen, with this imprecation that he who should take it away from thence by what device soever, with the intention of not restoring it, should incur damnation with the traitor Judas, with Annas, Caiaphas, and Pilate. Amen.

Should anyone by craft or any device whatever abstract this book from this place may his soul suffer, in retribution for what he has done, and may his name be erased from the book of the living and not be recorded among the Blessed.

This book belongs to S. Alban. May whosoever steals it from him or destroys its title be anathema. Amen.

May whoever destroys this title, or by gift or sale or loan or exchange or theft or by any other device knowingly alienates this book from the aforesaid Christ Church, incur in this life the malediction of Jesus Christ and of the most glorious Virgin His Mother, and of Blessed Thomas, Martyr. Should however it please Christ, who is patron of Christ Church, may his soul be saved in the Day of Judgment.

These are from The Care of Books, by John Willis Clark, 1901. Happily, in 1212 a council met at Paris to decree that “We forbid those who belong to a religious Order, to formulate any vow against lending their books to those who are in need of them; seeing that to lend is enumerated among the principal works of mercy. … From the present date no book is to be retained under pain of incurring a curse, and we declare all such curses to be of no effect.”

Holy War

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Inocenc_IV.jpg

A letter from Pope Innocent IV to Güyük Khan, king of the Mongols, March 13, 1245:

Seeing that not only men but even irrational animals, nay, the very elements which go to make up the world machine, are united by a certain innate law after the manner of the celestial spirits, all of which God the Creator has divided into choirs in the enduring stability of peaceful order, it is not without cause that we are driven to express in strong terms our amazement that you, as we have heard, have invaded many countries belonging both to Christians and to others and are laying them waste in a horrible desolation, and with a fury still unabated you do not cease from stretching out your destroying hand to more distant lands, but, breaking the bond of natural ties, sparing neither sex nor age, you rage against all indiscriminately with the sword of chastisement.

We, therefore, following the example of the King of Peace, and desiring that all men should live united in concord in the fear of God, do admonish, beg and earnestly beseech all of you that for the future you desist entirely from assaults of this kind and especially from the persecution of Christians, and that after so many and such grievous offences you conciliate by a fitting penance the wrath of Divine Majesty, which without doubt you have seriously aroused by such provocation; nor should you be emboldened to commit further savagery by the fact that when the sword of your might has raged against other men Almighty God has up to the present allowed various nations to fall before your face; for sometimes He refrains from chastising the proud in this world for the moment, for this reason, that if they neglect to humble themselves of their own accord He may not only no longer put off the punishment of their wickedness in this life but may also take greater vengeance in the world to come.

On this account we have thought fit to send to you our beloved son and his companions the bearers of this letter, men remarkable for their religious spirit, comely in their virtue and gifted with a knowledge of Holy Scripture; receive them kindly and treat them with honour out of reverence for God, indeed as if receiving us in their persons, and deal honestly with them in those matters of which they will speak to you on our behalf, and when you have had profitable discussions with them concerning the aforesaid affairs, especially those pertaining to peace, make fully known to us through these same Friars what moved you to destroy other nations and what your intentions are for the future, furnishing them with a safe-conduct and other necessities on both their outward and return journey, so that they can safely make their way back to our presence when they wish.

Güyük wrote back:

By the power of the Eternal Heaven, we are the all-embracing Khan of all the Great Nations. It is our command:

This is a decree, sent to the great Pope that he may know and pay heed.

After holding counsel with the monarchs under your suzerainty, you have sent us an offer of subordination which we have accepted from the hands of your envoy.

If you should act up to your word, then you, the great Pope, should come in person with the monarchs to pay us homage and we should thereupon instruct you concerning the commands of the Yasak.

Furthermore, you have said it would be well for us to become Christians. You write to me in person about this matter, and have addressed to me a request. This, your request, we cannot understand.

Furthermore, you have written me these words: ‘You have attacked all the territories of the Magyars and other Christians, at which I am astonished. Tell me, what was their crime?’ These, your words, we likewise cannot understand. Chinggis Khan and Ogatai Khakan revealed the commands of Heaven. But those whom you name would not believe the commands of Heaven. Those of whom you speak showed themselves highly presumptuous and slew our envoys. Therefore, in accordance with the commands of the Eternal Heaven, the inhabitants of the aforesaid countries have been slain and annihilated. If not by the command of Heaven, how can anyone slay or conquer out of his own strength?

And when you say: ‘I am a Christian. I pray to God. I arraign and despise others,’ how do you know who is pleasing to God and to whom He allots His grace? How can you know it, that you speak such words?

Thanks to the power of the Eternal Heaven, all lands have been given to us from sunrise to sunset. How could anyone act other than in accordance with the commands of Heaven? Now your own upright heart must tell you: ‘We will become subject to you, and will place our powers at your disposal.’ You in person, at the head of the monarchs, all of you, without exception, must come to tender us service and pay us homage; then only will we recognize your submission. But if you do not obey the commands of Heaven, and run counter to our orders, we shall know that you are our foe.

That is what we have to tell you. If you fail to act in accordance therewith, how can we forsee what will happen to you? Heaven alone knows.

The two never met on the field of battle, so God was unable to make his wishes clearer.

(Thanks, Julian.)

Animal Behavior

Martian snakes are elastic. If you take the tail of a Martian snake, and I take the head, and we pull in opposite directions, will there always be a part of the snake that doesn’t move?

Click for Answer