I cherish the vision of what could have been a great moment in American poetry. One day my American literature professor told our class about Emily Dickinson, the quiet and reclusive woman who was satisfied to live in a circumscribed world in Amherst, Massachusetts.
In his book Abel’s Island William Steig tells the story of a mouse (Abel) who is marooned on an island for an entire year. In the first part of the book, Abel is all alone on the island. Unlike the participants in the Survivor TV series, he has no one around to help him survive—or to vote him off the island and thereby return him to his home.
Whenever the text turns apocalyptic, as it does this week, there would seem to be only two choices: either take it literally and join the lucrative doomsday machine of late-night, splendidly coifed Christian psychics, or begin your best apologetic backpedaling—cheered on by Bishop John Spong.
My favorite Kierkegaardian parable is called “The Man Who Walked Backwards.” The Danish philosopher was particularly hard on religious professionals, and claimed that inconsistent behaviors most often accompany exorbitant professions of good intentions: