2014年4月18日 星期五

A Scriptural Exegesis of Longman 8*


In my school we use the Longman English textbooks for fifth and sixth grade.  The fifth graders study Longman 5 and 6, and the sixth graders study Longman 7 and 8.  I've been constructing lessons around these textbooks for nearly five years, so I have them just about memorized.

In the Longman 8 textbook** there is a weird little comic strip/conversation centered around the days of the week.  In this conversation the character Nett meets with "Dr. Good," and the two talk about Dr. Good's weekly schedule.  Dr. Good is portrayed as a godlike figure, sitting at a desk in the clouds.  Their conversation is as follows:

Nett: This is PET News.  Hello, Dr. Good!
[Nett is speaking to Dr. Good from a screen]
Dr. Good: Good morning, young man.  What's your name?
[Nett emerges from the screen]
Nett: I'm Nett.  Nice to meet you!
Dr. Good: Nice to meet you, too.
Nett: Dr. Good, what do you do on Monday?
Dr. Good: I go to see the sun and the moon on Monday.
[Dr. Good and the sun exchange greetings]
Dr. Good: How are you?
Sun: I'm fine, Dr. Good!
Nett: Cool!  What do you do on Tuesday?
Dr. Good: I exercise on Tuesday.
[Dr. Good is standing upon the Earth, lifting a weight in one hand and a storm cloud in the other]
Nett: Great!  What do you do on Wednesday?
Dr. Good: I buy food at the supermarket.
[Dr. Good is holding a basket of produce, and he is reaching for an apple]
Nett: How about Thursday?
Dr. Good: I have math class on Thursday.
[Dr. Good is wearing glasses and holds a book.  He is standing in front of a class]
Students: WE LOVE MATH!!
Nett: I don't like math!  I like PE class.  Do you have PE class?
Dr. Good: Yes, I do.  I play baseball on Friday.
[Dr. Good is the pitcher in a baseball game, and he hands the batter a home run]
Nett: That's fun!  I like baseball, too.  What do you do on Saturday?
Dr. Good: I make snacks on Saturday.
[Dr. Good is shown pulling several cookies from the oven, all of which look like Nett]
Nett: What do you do on Sunday?
Dr. Good: I don't go out on Sunday!  I'm too tired!
[Dr. Good reclines on a chair]
Nett: Me, too.  Thank you for your time, Dr. Good.  See you!

Now of course after reading this conversation I start to wonder what this exchange might mean if "Dr. Good" was really "Dr. God."  If some future race of humanoids*** unearth the Longman 8 textbook from the archaelogical treasures that will come to represent our time period, what lessons will they draw from this text?  What ideas will they formulate about our species?

Let us say, for example, that the future humanoids unearth a very tattered, almost unidentifiable copy of Longman 8, with only Unit 2 in a readable condition.  If they are able to read its contents, won't they tend to view it as some kind of religious primer, some kind of introduction to a lost faith?

It is with such a possibility in mind that I now proceed to an exegesis of Nett's conversation with "Dr. Good."  I am writing this exegesis in the hope that these future humanoids will also have access to a few websites, or my laptop computer.  Perhaps they will even thank me, a voice speaking from several centuries or several millennia before the future present age, for my attempt to make their distant past much clearer.

[Future humanoids, you are welcome.]

Verse 1:
Nett: This is PET News.  Hello, Dr. Good!

[Nett is speaking to Dr. Good from a screen]
Dr. Good: Good morning, young man.  What's your name?

Theological Import: Nett is able to communicate with the godhead directly, perhaps with the aid of a quantum computer, or through the use of a hallucinogenic substance which triggers this vision.    Nett wishes to spread God's message (the "News") to the people of the world, and Nett wishes to impart the news that God is benevolent (polite).  

God appears to Nett as an older Caucasian male sitting at a desk.  But God could have just as easily appeared as a pillar of fire, as a boy like himself, or as any other referent drawn from Nett's consciousness.  God's appearance in this instance may only be a reflection of Nett's continued search for a father figure.

God is certainly an elevated being, but His ignorance of Nett's name is telling.  Or does the divinity already know Nett's name?  Perhaps He is only asking for the sake of conversation.  It is possible that God has known the substance of this conversation since the beginning of the cosmos - or even earlier - and that He is only "playing along,"  or finds it necessary to imitate human ignorance in order to facilitate communication.

The words that comprise God's honorific, "Dr." and "Good" are also significant.  "Dr." in this case refers to the exalted nature of the divine, and "Good" implies the beneficial nature of this knowledge.

Verse 2:
[Nett emerges from the screen]
Nett: I'm Nett.  Nice to meet you!
Dr. Good: Nice to meet you, too.

Theological Import: Nett is either able to transcend the original boundaries of his vision, or he is able to transport himself into higher dimensional space during the course of this interaction.  God affirms His benevolence by stating His appreciation of Nett's presence/existence.  From this we may determine that God takes joy in His creations.

Verse 3:
Nett: Dr. Good, what do you do on Monday?
Dr. Good: I go to see the sun and the moon on Monday.

Theological Import: God is in some sense bounded by time, or else he chooses to participate in the flow of chronological events.  God is moreover able to "witness" the sun and the moon as discrete objects, bounded by the same chronological flow that is one of the defining characteristics of Nett's existence.  And what are we to make of the verb used, "to see"?  I will leave future theologians to decide whether the verb used refers simply to the act of perception, or to the use of physical organs of sight.

"Verse" 4:
[Dr. Good and the sun exchange greetings]

Theological Import: The sun, imbued with consciousness, is able to communicate with the godhead.  Their method of communication is portrayed as a verbal exchange, though the artist may have engaged in a kind of iconography here.  As the sun is in a sense defined as a consciousness apart from humanity, one may theorize as to the existence of multiple deities, or of individuals operating at higher and lower levels of consciousness.

Verse 5:
Dr. Good: How are you?
Sun: I'm fine, Dr. Good!

Theological Import: Defining what the sun means by "fine" is tricky.  I am inclined to the position that the sun means "content," meaning that the sun is at peace with its presence and function in the scheme of things.  Again, one wonders whether Dr. Good's question implicates an imperfect knowledge of the universe, or a desire to engage in polite conversation.  If the former is true, Dr. Good may represent a lesser order of reality, set apart from the true source of creation.  If the latter is true, this might go some way to illuminating the nature of evil and Man's ability to "sin," or to transgress the bounds placed upon mankind by God.

Verse 6:
Nett: Cool!  What do you do on Tuesday?
Dr. Good: I exercise on Tuesday.
[Dr. Good is standing upon the Earth, lifting a weight in one hand and a storm cloud in the other] 

Theological Import: I believe the "exercise" referred to in this passage extends from the origin point of the creation to the end of days.  This is unless the universe is timeless, or if we are confronted by an endless succession of universes, each limited by a specific chronology.  God "exercises" or acts not only on Tuesday but on every day, right back to the beginning of the world.  The artist's rendering may represent a symbolic interpretation of Nett's transcendental experience, thus revealing the limitations of verbal or pictorial accounts of such experiences.

Verse 7:
Nett: Great!  What do you do on Wednesday?
Dr. Good: I buy food at the supermarket.
[Dr. Good is holding a basket of produce, and he is reaching for an apple] 

Theological Import: Nett rejoices in God's ceaseless activity.  God moreover reveals his ability to take human form and to engage in human activities.  The apple used is meaningful, and certainly points toward the fruit described in Genesis.  God, in taking the apple, advances into a knowledge of both good and evil, yet in so doing He limits Himself to the sphere of human events.

Verse 8:
Nett: How about Thursday?
Dr. Good: I have math class on Thursday.
[Dr. Good is wearing glasses and holds a book.  He is standing in front of a class]
Students: WE LOVE MATH!!

Theological Import: This might be the most important message to be found in this text.  In teaching His disciples to embrace a mathematical understanding of the world, God reveals that the universe also operates on such principles.  The students, in turn, celebrate God's revelation and seek to cultivate a better understanding of the subject.  A universe that proceeds along mathematical principles can be apprehended by human reason, though this apprehension must begin with the initial revelation provided by God.

Verse 9:
Nett: I don't like math!  I like PE class.  Do you have PE class?
Dr. Good: Yes, I do.  I play baseball on Friday.
[Dr. Good is the pitcher in a baseball game, and he throws the batter a home run] 

Theological Import: Nett, overcome by the intensity of his experience, rejects the knowledge offered by God.  In this context Nett becomes an apostate figure, or perhaps even a kind of fallen angel.  Even though God and Nett can share in the joy of physical activity (in this case baseball), Nett rejects a deeper understanding of God's plan.  

God, in allowing the batter a home run, demonstrates his compassion.

Verse 10:
Nett: That's fun!  I like baseball, too.  What do you do on Saturday?
Dr. Good: I make snacks on Saturday.
[Dr. Good is shown pulling several cookies from the oven, all of which look like Nett]

Theological Import: This section offers a powerful alternative to the creation myth seen in other faiths throughout history, though the implications are a bit unsettling.  In revealing His "cookies," God also reveals that He is Nett's creator and the author of other individuals like Nett.  Yet to whom is God offering the "cookies"?  Will God himself consume these "cookies"?  Is God drawing sustenance from his creation in this manner?  Such a scenario may explain the mortality of God's creations, in that He must reabsorb their spiritual energies in a continual act of (re)generation.  God, in this instance, is either not omnipotent or he has placed limits on his own omnipotence, and thus the size of the physical universe.

Verse 11:
Nett: What do you do on Sunday?
Dr. Good: I don't go out on Sunday!  I'm too tired!
[Dr. Good reclines on a chair]
Nett: Me, too.  Thank you for your time, Dr. Good.  See you!

Theological Import: God must "rest" on Sunday.  This use of "rest" in the text, like the use of the verb "to see" is problematic.  We might interpret "rest" as meaning either "taking time to replenish one's energies" or "to retire from the world."  I am inclined toward the second definition, given that it is in keeping with the apple presented in Verse 7.  God, in allowing his creatures a measure of free will, must remove Himself from either a certain percentage of physical space or a certain span of time.  In this He allows for the existence of evil, and the choice between righteousness and error.

Nett's phrase, "Thank you for your time" is also significant, again indicating God's identity as the source of time itself.  It may also indicate God's willingness to compromise Himself by existing in a temporal state.  The final phrase of the conversation, "See you later," might refer to future visions or conversations, Nett's mortality and ultimate re-absorption into the godhead, or an apocalyptic event removed from the present discussion.

...and lest you think I'm making mountains out of molehills, let us remember that in the very small we find the likenesses of the very large, and that God's own imprint can be found in the tiniest particle, or the most recent English textbook by Longman, whatever the case may be.  It is indeed a world without end.

Amen.


Related Entries:

There are no related entries for this one, because my mental collapse occurred only yesterday.  Mixing the sane and the insane is a dangerous business, and is apt to jeopardize your own well being. For this reason I will not refer you to anything written before this point, and I instead encourage you to go somewhere scenic, perhaps enjoy a coffee, and to erase from your mind the infectious musings of an unbalanced person.

End Notes:

* This is the abbreviated version.  The expanded version will appear in my 10-volume "Longman's Path to Salvation," to be released shortly before my death in a freak accident involving a hot air balloon and a busload of gerbils, sometime in 2094.

** Pages 18-20 in the newest version.

*** No disrespect to other lifeforms.  These future archaeologists and/or theologians might more closely resemble insects, or their chemistry might not be based around carbon at all.  They might instead work on an entirely different set of principles, and be viewing our universe from a higher dimension or an alternate spacetime.

**** By the way, science fiction author Philip K. Dick did a similar sort of exegesis after his "VALIS" experience.  The main difference being that Dick was, arguably, mentally disturbed at the time.  He wasn't seeing God in English textbooks, but he did at one point believe that an extraterrestrial intelligence was beaming signals into his brain.  Check out the books "VALIS," "Radio Free Albemuth," and "The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick" if you're interested.

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