The Malicious Mangling of the Virgin Mary

November 16, 2012 - 5:01 AM
A Christian can be crushed gazing at the picture of Mary standing at the foot of the cross, watching her beloved son suffocate and die. But in that vision, she stands there for hours, patiently enduring her suffering. For two millennia, she has been a role model for Christians, a woman who practiced obedience in the most difficult of human circumstances, with fervent hope for what this sacrifice will offer all mankind as it struggles with sin.

This is why it seems so hard to reflect that vision of patience when black-hearted "artists" practice character assassination on the Blessed Virgin Mary to strip her of every virtue: her patience, her obedience, her courageous love and her prayerful faith in God. On Nov. 13, Simon and Schuster launched a vicious little 96-page novella titled "The Testament of Mary."

The author, an Irish ex-Catholic named Colm Toibin, presents us instead with a Bible-burning "reimagination" of an alienated Mary who fled the scene of her son's death in fear for her own life. Two decades after the Resurrection — or was there one? — this anti-Mary is filled with bitterness and rage. She describes herself as "unhinged" and bubbling with contempt for her son's demented followers, to the extreme that she threatens the Gospel writers with a knife. She lives as a bandit, stealing to survive.

Her son's followers must be stopped from making Jesus a god, "or else everything that happened will become a sweet story that will grow poisonous as bright berries that hang low on trees." Toibin describes the scene of the crucifixion in mercenary terms: "It was like a marketplace, but more intense somehow, the act that was about to take place was going to make a profit for both seller and buyer."

Christ's disciples are "fools, twitchers, malcontents, stammerers," while her son's preaching sounded to her "false, and his tone all stilted, and I could not bear to hear him, it was like something grinding and it set my teeth on edge."

There is no God in her father or her son. She proclaims of the death of Jesus only: "when you say that he redeemed the world, I will say that it was not worth it. It was not worth it."

Toibin's last book of literary criticism was titled "New Ways to Kill Your Mother." In this book, he murders the mother of God.

In a positive critique in The New York Times, reviewer Mary Gordon explained "The making of the Gospels is portrayed not as an act of sacred remembrance but as an invasion and a theft. The Evangelists — which are they? Luke, perhaps, or John? — are portrayed as menacing intruders, with the lurking shadowy presence of Stalin's secret police."

In our nation's most prestigious newspaper, an author and his feminist reviewer can conjure up the apostles of Christ as Stalinist torturers. But when a Danish newspaper published cartoons mocking the prophet Muhammad as a freedom-of-speech test in 2005, the Times would not show them as "a reasonable choice for news organizations that usually refrain from gratuitous assaults on religious symbols."

This is what Toibin's book is: a gratuitous assault on Christianity and its central drama of salvation. The Times reviewer recognized that and enjoyed it.

"Mary, the mother of Jesus, has given Christianity a good name. None of the negatives that have made Christianity a byword for tyranny, cruelty and licensed hatred have attached to her," Gordon began. "The problem with all this is that it has led to centuries of sentimentality — blue and white Madonnas with folded hands and upturned eyes, a stick with which to beat independent women."

Washington Post book reviewer Ron Charles was less laudatory: "If you'd enjoy a tale predicated on the idea that Christian faith is a toxic collection of 'foolish anecdotes' based on a 'fierce catastrophe,' Merry Christmas!"

Charles found it refreshing this garbage bag of words "hasn't sparked outrage or boycotts — a reassuring testament to the West's tolerance for such artistic license and Toibin's prominence. Some of us are a lot calmer nowadays about creative re-imaginings of sacred figures."

He somehow left Catholics out of the picture as he expressed relief that "Evangelicals in this country may finally have caught on to the fact that fiery condemnation plays right into the marketing plans of books that would otherwise ascend into oblivion." He notes Toibin's tome has been "widely praised in England, but Toibin is a larger presence there, and churchgoing isn't."

Somehow, he's not making the obvious connection: Toibin and other God-hating authors are consciously conspiring to empty out the churches, and Christian believers cannot always refuse to condemn them. Speaking up for Christ and his mother (and ours) is a solemn duty, not an option.