Vis-à-Vis Vizzini

Ah, Vizzini.  The Princess Bride would not be the classic film it is without the squat Sicilian with the “dizzying intellect” portrayed by Wallace Shawn.  Ever heard of Plato? Aristotle? Socrates? Morons.

Of course, like all classic characters, Vizzini endures because he is more than a character on the screen. He is a reflection of we who watch: a caricature of our aspirations, foibles, and flaws–especially in the information age in which we currently live.

The Internet was little more than a cyber zygote in 1987 when The Princess Bride was released, but I wonder if one of the reasons why Vizzini remains indelible (and the film remains popular)  is that he embodies knowledge in our present era, an era in which  everyone has a degree from Google. Information is profuse; substance is not. The rapid pace of the on-line world and the 24-hour news cycle does not leave time to actually process, analyze, and think through the headlines, tweets, wall posts, and e-mail blasts that constantly bombard us.   We receive, skim, and then forward, re-tweet, re-post, and move on in dizzying succession.  As a result, Vizzini can now be seen everywhere: in business, on talk shows, on YouTube, and especially in politics: spinning tidbits of information into sophisticated-sounding nonsense.

And of course, Vizzini can also be found in the Church. Sadly, Vizzini logic began affecting biblical interpretation long before The Princess Bride and the Internet came along.  For whatever reason, even the most well-meaning among us read the Bible in ways that we would not read any other text: pulling passages out of context and stitching random sentences (i.e. verses) together to form patchwork proof texts to substantiate…well, usually whatever we wish them to substantiate.  Certainly we should  revere Scripture as Holy and in that sense treat the Bible differently and study it more intentionally and seriously than any other book we possess.  But that doesn’t mean we should read it uncritically.

Case and point: Harold Camping. By now, you’ve probably heard (mostly likely through an e-mail blast, wall post, or on-line editorial) that the world is going to end on May 21, 2011. Harold Camping’s prediction has gone viral and the 90-year-old radio preacher has become a national sensation.   Here’s how he explained to Kimberly Winston of the Religion News Service how he arrived at the date. (You can read Kimberly’s full article here.)

[H]e opened his Bible to Genesis and said Noah loaded animals into the ark in 4990 B.C., a number he said he arrived at years ago after looking at carbon dating, tree rings and other data. Paging forward to 2 Peter 3, he read aloud, “one day is with the Lord as a thousand years and a thousand years is one day.”

Now watch this:

Leafing back to Genesis, he said that the seven days Noah spent loading the ark were really 7,000 years. He then added 7,000 to 4990 B.C to arrive at 2010. He added one more year, he said, because there is no year one in the Bible.

As for the exact date of May 21, he pointed again to Genesis, which says the flood began on the “17th day of the second month.” According to the Jewish calendar, which he believes God uses, that is May 21.

“Now I am telling you, that gets pretty heavy when you see this coming right out of the Bible,” he said.

Truly, Mr. Camping, you have a dizzying intellect.  Or perhaps you, like many of us, are just dizzy.

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