Friday, July 02, 2010

Hanna-Barbera Theology

I’d like to share a serendipitous slip of the tongue vouchsafed unto me via the testimony of a five-year-old concerning an image many might recognize, a definitive image within the Hanna-Barbera tradition. Having spied a certain pattern from tale to tale, the child described the standard operating procedure whereby the figures of Scooby and Shaggy would respond to duress (a man in a monster costume, for instance) by leaping into one another’s arms and quivering together. They hold each other, we might say, but the child put it better: “They hold their ‘chothers.” And with the enunciation of this concept, that of the ‘chother, I believe we’re sitting squarely within the glow of a religious insight. Drawing on the Buddhist principle of anatta (no-self), Harold Oliver once proffered the following paradox: “There is no-self, and it is the relational self.” According to this wisdom, the idea that any of us can have meaning alone or be the authors of our own significance or have joy for which we only have ourselves to thank is a death-dealing delusion, a psycho covenant that implies that a strong, successful few of us might somehow gain our lives without losing them. But if we hold to the ‘chother principle, our sustenance comes to us via the fact of relatedness or not at all. I am because we are. Whatever self I can be said to have is the gift of self I receive from my relation to others, the groundless ground (think of the way Shag and Scoob almost levitate) of the ‘chother. When we’re confronted with crisis, when we join together in song, or when we experience (or receive) a vision of soul, the question of where one person starts and another stops begins to dissolve; individualism takes on an unreal and unseemly quality. In such moments, we’re summoned not so much to act as if the road to life, loveliness, salvation and—possibly--sanity can only be entered into where two or more are gathered but rather to proceed in recognition of this sweet, scandalous, embarrassing fact. We have to find, hold on, and let go within the circle of our ‘chothers. It’s the only life available. Within it, we live.