Godspell and Max Havelaar

Another movie (besides Citizen Kane) that I will always watch if it’s on is Godspell (1973). It’s just so gosh darn joyous. Admittedly I’ve never yet found anyone who loves it as much as I do; it definitely helps to know the Gospels already, and to be favorably inclined toward the circus arts, and to be moderately steeped in the conventions of vaudeville.

JESUS (jocularly). Now. How can you take a speck of sawdust out of your brother’s eye, when all the time there’s this great plank in your own?

JOHN (playing the straight man). I don’t know, how can you take the speck of sawdust out of your brother’s eye when all the time there’s this great plank in your own?

JESUS (rounding on him). Yewww hypocrite! First you take the plank out of your own eye, so you can see clearly to take the speck of sawdust out of your brother’s!

  JOHN ponders.

JOHN. Waaaait a minute. That’s no answer to the question.

JESUS (coyly). Did I promise you an answer to the question?

Speaking of the Bible, I finished reading Max Havelaar (1860) the other day (this being the book often described as “the Dutch Uncle Tom’s Cabin”). I highly recommend the first few chapters and the last few chapters — especially Chapter 17 — but I did feel that it got very dry and bureaucratic in the middle portion. Likely because in the middle portion we don’t get as many interruptions from the book’s narrator, Mr. Drystubble the coffee-broker (Last & Co., No. 37 Laurier Canal), who is so amusingly and ironically characterized and yet so squirmishly familiar:

Could any one take pleasure in hearing stories about buffaloes and the Javanese with such grievances of his own? What is a buffalo to the salvation of my son Fred? What do I care about the affairs of those people away there when I have to fear that Fred will spoil my business by his unbelief and that he will never become a good broker? For [the Rev. Wawelaar] has said, that God so directs all things that orthodoxy leads to wealth. “Look only,” he said, “is there not much wealth in Holland? That is because of the Faith. Is there not in France every day murder and homicide? That is because there are Roman Catholics there. Are not the Javanese poor? They are Pagans. The more the Dutch have to do with the Javanese, the more wealth will be here, and the more poverty there.”

I am astonished at Wawelaar’s penetration. For it is the truth that I, who am exact in religion, see that my business increases every year; and Busselinck and Waterman, who do not care about God or the Commandments, will remain bunglers as long as they live. […] The more I reflect, the further I advance in tracing the unsearchable ways of God. Lately it appeared that thirty millions had been gained on the sale of products furnished by the Pagans, and in this is not included what I have gained thereby, and others who live by this business. Is not that as if the Lord said— “Here you have thirty millions as a reward for your faith”? Is not that the finger of God, who causes the wicked one to labour to preserve the righteous one?

Oh, how truly Wawelaar speaks when he calls the yoke of God light! How easy the burden is to every one who believes! I am only a few years past forty, and can retire when I please to Driebergen, and see how it ends with others who forsake the Lord. Yesterday I saw Shawlman with his wife and their little boy; they looked like ghosts. He is pale as death; his eyes protrude and his cheeks look hollow. His attitude is bent, though he is younger than I am. She too was dressed very poorly, and she seemed to have been weeping again: I perceived immediately that she is of a discontented temper. I need only see a person once to form an opinion — that comes from my experience. She had on a thin cloak of black silk, and yet it was very cold. There was no trace of a crinoline; her thin dress hung loose round the knees, and a fringe hung from the edge. He had not even his shawl, and looked as if it were summer. Yet he seems to possess a kind of pride, for he gave something to a poor woman sitting on a bridge. He who has himself so little sins if he gives anything to another. Moreover, I never give in the streets — that is a principle of mine — for I always say, when I see such poor people, Perhaps it is their own fault, and I must not encourage them in their wickedness. Every Sunday I give twice: once for the poor, and once for the church. So it is right.

I am reminded of a joke:

A Sunday school teacher stood before her class and read the following bit of scripture.

A Pharisee and a tax-collector went up to the temple to pray. The pompous Pharisee prayed like this: ‘God, I thank Thee that I am not like the rest of men — lying, cheating, unrighteous sinners, like that tax-collector over there.’ The tax-collector prayed like this: ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner.’ And Jesus tells us it was the humble tax-collector, not the Pharisee, whom God exalted.

“Now, children, let’s all stand up and thank the Lord that we are not like that horrid Pharisee!”

The joke being, of course, that by putting down the Pharisee, the Sunday school teacher is doing exactly what the Pharisee was doing!

Aren’t you glad we’re not like that silly schoolteacher?

Posted 2018-07-23