by Clarence Brown
American Reporter Correspondent
May 12, 2004
OF TREES AND THE TREE
SEATTLE, Wash. -- I had every intention, as the intentionless always say, of writing a column full of fury against the conditions in the prison where we have finally shown Saddam Hussein who is who, when I was saved by timely echoes from Princeton.
Here is one of them:
"Well, lightening [sic] struck and set the High School on fire. If you were still living on Moore Street you would have had a front row seat!
"Next Saturday the new library opens. If you were still living on Moore Street you would have just a short walk to the event.
"If you were still living on Moore Street you would have another short walk to the Annex where you could have a sliced turkey sandwich. The Annex, in your honor, has bought a new turkey!
"Well, you are, sadly, no longer living on Moore Street. But then I'm no longer living on Dodds Lane, Mike is no longer living on the Princeton-Kingston Road, Arnie is no longer living on Moore Street, Saul is no longer living on Cold Soil Road, Big Marvin is no longer living in Hopewell and, alas, Harry is no longer living.
"Give my regards to Mercer Island." This communication from a dear friend followed closely on the report in the NYT about the discovery in Princeton of the great granddaddy of all the trees in the country that are resistant to Dutch Elm Disease. I know that tree!
I used always to tip my hat to it as I walked past on my way from Moore Street to the Mathey Health Club in the YMCA (Hi, guys! Forget it. No charge for a mention.)
Speaking of gyms, yesterday I smuggled home from the gym the Time magazine for 12 April. The large headline is: Why Did Jesus Have to Die? The cover story is another bit of media piggybacking on the film by Mel Gibson. But it has prompted these thoughts in an idle mind: The question on the cover is one of those (like, "When did you stop beating your wife?") that assume the shape of the answer. Petitio principi. Given space, the question would have continued: "...in such a horrible way?"
The answer to the short question is this: Jesus was for a time a human, and it is the fate of every human to die. Case closed.
The larger implied question is of course: why in agony, nailed to a cross? Beneath this is the larger, more fundamental assumption, viz., that everything that happens is due to God: the Holocaust, the assassination of Kennedy, and so on. A large evangelical church near where I live has a theater marquee outside. When Gibson's film opened, the sign read: "The crucifixion was God's idea."
It is the assumption at the basis of the so-called Problem of Evil: why is there evil in the world of an all-good, all-powerful God?
But it is an assumption that denies the reality of human freedom - freedom to commit acts painful to God.
Jesus, temporarily human, had freedom, but so did the powerful leaders of the Temple, and so did Pontius Pilate.
Jesus used his freedom to be himself: to outrage authority while comforting the afflicted and preaching the most radical doctrine of all time.
The leaders of the Temple, still smarting over the offense to the money-changers, used their freedom to rid themselves of an intolerable pest. Pilate used his freedom to placate a troublesome province by crucifying their pest for them.
How, people ask, did the death of Jesus serve to save us all from sin? But it is not his death that saves us. It is his life. Clarence Brown is a cartoonist, writer, and Professor Emeritus of Comparative Literature at Princeton University.