Yes, I know that today is George Brett's birthday and that the Hall of Famer whose career I was privileged to watch (some of it in person) turns 60. But mostly I don't write about sports here, so happy birthday, George, but I'm moving on to another birthday today.
Dante Alighieri (depicted here), the Italian poet who wrote The Divine Comedy, was born on this date in 1265 in Florence (Italy, not Alabama), and as far as I know never played third base.
That work of Dante, considered the first great Christian poem, has been in my life off and on since childhood. My parents had a huge illustrated copy of The Divine Comedy, and I spent lots of time over the years reading and thumbing through it, paying special attention to the sensationally graphic drawings of the various levels of hell and all the poor suffering souls there.
In the end, I think I understood the work as metaphor, but the accompanying art made it seem so real. It was like a train wreck from which it was impossible to avert one's eyes.
Now there's a copy of the work on one of our bookshelves as part of the Harvard Classics that my bride inherited from her ancestors. And I've dragged it out to read parts of now and then, though I must say that without the gory illustrations it seems not as exciting.
Still, metaphor is metaphor (religious languages is especially metaphorical), and if this is an allegorical or metaphorical description of one's journey toward God, then there are plenty of entry points and plenty of levels of meaning to explore.
Some day I'd sit still for a one-hour really engaging walk through Dante's work by someone who understood its depth and yet didn't put an audience to sleep. Perhaps the pictures in the book of my childhood could be brought to animated life. That would be cool -- unless I ran screaming from the venue.
Hey, about about Dante Night at the ball park when the first 20,000 attendees would get Dante bobbleheads?
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LAWS AGAINST INSULTING ISLAM
Two more recent examples of people being arrested for insulting Islam once again raise the question of why religious leaders in some countries are so defensive and frightened that their religion isn't strong enough to handle public criticism. There's this case in Egypt and this one in Qatar. Surely one of the world's great religions doesn't need such laws to protect it. If I could be arrested for insulting my own faith, Christianity, I'd have been in jail long ago. Well, at least for insulting some Christians, me included, for failing to live out our values.
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P.S.: My latest National Catholic Reporter column now is online. To read it, click here.