[percy-l] the slow read of The Second Coming

RHONDA MCDONNELL rhonda_mcdonnell at msn.com
Fri Sep 9 18:38:55 EDT 2016

Janet, Jim, and Nancy,

I've so appreciated your comments on Second Coming. I don't know about the rest of the list, but I have been utterly buried in work. The good news is that two of the projects that have me buried are Percy related. More news on those if/ when appropriate. Thanks for soldiering on.

Best wishes for good healing, Nancy!


PS -- Janet, I agree and would add that religious belief is often manipulated to lead to killing, whether by Christians, Muslims, or others of any stripe. I've read perceptive analysis on ISIS, for instance, that indicates that the leaders are not believers so much as they recognize that faith can become a powerful weapon when wielded by leaders, and that weapon can be used for evil as well as righteousness. Certainly it's a lesson history has shown us time and again.

Sent from my iPhone

On Sep 9, 2016, at 12:24 PM, honeyjbc1 . <honeyjbc at gmail.com<mailto:honeyjbc at gmail.com>> wrote:

I hope Nancy's arm heals well and quickly and doesn't hold her back too much.

You quote Percy saying that Christians have killed more people in recent centuries that all others put together.This is a fallacy and a pet peeve of mine. True Christians have done a lot of killing. But if you count all of the killing throughout time since Christians have killed infidels of all stripes, it doesn't make a dent in the tens of millions who have died at the hands of G-dless Nazis or Communists. If you want to see deaths calculated in tens of millions and certainly well over a hundred million, you have to go to the real champions, those people who decide they are G-d and who make it illegal to worship anyone, let alone any G-d before them. It is why I try to tell people that atheism is not acceptable. We need G-d for conscience.

But pet peeve aside, welcome aboard and I do wish we could be less lonely here.


On Sep 6, 2016 9:04 AM, "Jim Forest" <jhforest at gmail.com<mailto:jhforest at gmail.com>> wrote:
Thanks, Janet, for the last two contributions to the Second Coming discussion -- very thorough summaries and great quotes from the book. I had intended to respond to the first one sooner but domestic life has been disrupted by Nancy breaking her right arm; she was knocked down by an exuberant dog -- a Newfoundland of Viking descent -- while we were on vacation in Norway.

Re section V of The Second Coming (pages 122-199):

I am struck by how passive Will Barrett tends to be -- he says "the only time I knew what to do was when something bad happened to somebody. Disaster gave me leave to act." (122) Then on the next page: "Something had given [Will] leave to live in the present ... in the quiet center of himself.... Not once had he been present for his life." (Later on -- p 153 -- we learn that he married Marion "because he pleased her so much.") Janet quoted the haunting sentence that follows: "Is it possible for people to miss their lives in the same way one misses a plane?"

Then comes the great segment on funerals followed by this question: "Why is it that without death one misses one's life?" (124) And on the next page: "How can it be that only with death and dying does the sharp quick sense of life return?"

There is an Eden-like aspect to Second Coming -- the paradise greenhouse -- but it's Eden after the Fall. Eden with death. Eden -- but with the possibility of suicide. (How vividly Will's Luger is described on p 131!)

There is Will's realization is anger having been, up to now, the mainspring of his life. (133) "You were possessed by anger ... which in the end you turned on yourself." Later -- 171 -- Will asks the question: "Where does such rage come from? From the discovery that in the end the world yields only to violence, that only the violent bear it away, that short of violence all is in the end impotence?" These are thoughts that make suicide attractive.

As I read it, the book's pivotal question is: "Do you believe in God?" (136) Percy tucks this into a comic exchange with Episcopal priest Jack Curl, who finds it embarrassing: "How's that?" "You know, God."

It really is a life-or-death question for Will as it was for Percy. Then 45 pages later (181) we find Will has come up with a way (his cave quest, but as yet unrevealed to the reader) to force God's hand -- to draw God out from behind the curtain or not show up, in which case demonstrating that there is nothing/noone behind the curtain. It's nothing less than "one of the strangest schemes ever hit upon by the mind of man." Will decides that his father's suicide was wasted -- it failed to answer or even attempt to answer the "are You there?" question. Either Will will pry a yes out of the darkness of heaven or he will die of heaven's silence. It's "the ultimate scientific experiment.... I aim to settle the question of God once and for all." (186)

Sadly Christians themselves, who "have killed off more people in recent centuries than all other people put together" (188), fail to prove anything for Will. (Great paragraphs follow on which are worse, the believers or the unbelievers. They are "two classes of maniacs." 190)

"So it was that Will Barrett went mad." (197)

It is a madness, however, that leads to the greenhouse rather than the madhouse...

I hope to carry on about pages 199 to 250 tomorrow or the next day.

Janet, I know you're there. Anybody else?

Jim Forest

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