In a Dec. 27 column, religion writer Paul Prather reckoned that he’s a train wreck and his readers probably worse. He then quoted Frederick Buechner, to explain that the Christian gospel is part tragedy, comedy and fairy tale, pessimistic about human nature and optimistic about God’s nature.
“Train wreck” used as metaphor indicates a total catastrophe. I’ve worked as a railroad call-boy, clerk, switchman, brakeman, conductor but mostly as a locomotive engineer and have observed, participated in and labored to clean up many train wrecks and can claim that they come in all sizes — not all just total calamities.
There’s the derailing of a few axles, for instance, just a slight derailment. Or, there’s maybe 14 or 15 cars overturned, a serious derailment. Then there’s the real thing, a wreck of some 40 or 50 cars turned upside down, maybe on fire and all the rest. My uncle was conductor on a freight train back in the 1960s when 95 of 167 cars in his train literally flew off the track just north of the old depot in Somerset. And I was engineering a train in the early 1970s through which a tornado passed in Moreland, blowing away trailers and some 18 cars of my train. Now that was scary.
Prather is probably a slight derailment and I’m probably a serious derailment but I don't think he’s a train wreck. Prather described a friend who lost it all and occupies a prison cell, so he probably would give the general population a better shake than train wreck. I think God would, too, though we’re all susceptible to going off the rails occasionally.
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The Christian gospel is far from pessimistic about human nature; otherwise, God would have concluded mankind to be essentially unable to accept it and thus would not have bothered with it. God created people, not animals, in his image, according to scripture, meaning that he gave them the ability to think rather than act on instinct alone, and therefore choose to accept the gospel, as Prather obviously has.
The gospel is far from optimistic about God’s nature. Optimism is defined as “an inclination to put the most favorable construction upon actions and events or to anticipate the best possible outcome.” The best possible outcome (ask any fourth-grader) in any situation is the least possible amount of pain. The scriptures are replete with instances in which God dealt unbelievably harshly with people when “they had it coming” because they chose to do wrong.
Optimism about God’s nature gives license to political correctness, among other things. Correctness (as well as law), for instance, demands that men may marry each other but scripture condemns that, so one can expect the nation that permits this perversion of God’s plan to not look optimistically at God’s nature.
Far from being tragic, the Christian gospel is “good news,” though Christ and others experienced tragedy in implementing it. It is not comedy since God’s business is serious business, not fun stuff. It certainly involves no fairy tales, though many of the elite theologians consider it mostly, if not all, myth.
Prather equated tragedy with sinfulness, comedy (strangely) with redemption, and fairy tales with blessings.
The real tragedy lies with a culture caught on the horns of its own dilemma (perversion glorified); the real comedy with an institution (like the church) ridiculing hilariously its own faith, and the real fairy tale with the notion that there will not be a day of reckoning.
The real scripture says that God will not be mocked, Prather’s notions of political correctness notwithstanding.
James L. Clark of Lexington is a retired railroad engineer.
At issue: Dec. 27 column by Paul Prather, “Christian message: tragedy, comedy, fairy tale