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This review is taken from PN Review 74, Volume 16 Number 6, July - August 1990.

THE GIFT OF TEARS Christ, Ethics and Tragedy - Essays in Honour of Donald MacKinnon edited by Kenneth Surin (Cambridge University Press) £25

Once, to end a lecture to a lay audience on Victorian unbelief, Donald MacKinnon summarized it: 'In simple terms, I have been saying that the Victorian materialists were the victims of a paradigm of homogenieity.' Some of the essays here are similarly obscure. But most are not. And MacKinnon could communicate; he hails the contribution of literature to philosophy, and often uses drama and the novel - he shares Freud's 'the poets knew it already'. Knew what? Well, let us limit the themes, all about man and God, to two, both concerns of the creative writer.

First, the parables of Jesus. Roger White in a fascinating chapter shows how MacKinnon presents them as 'a series of protests' against current interpretations. To turn, e.g., 'The Good Samaritan' into a moral allegory - 'Love's demand knows no limits' - is, says White, 'to reduce a subtle and complex test to something banal and false'. The rich life and vivid detail of the Parables is thus ignored. To this day they remain 'perverse, offensive, even blasphemous in their suggestion.' Not merely were they disconcerting to their hearers; they can still shock, with their grim humour. God is compared to a judge who should be struck from the Register; a hard man who reaps without sowing; a man in bed, too lazy to be disturbed; an absentee landlord; a fussy woman looking for a coin. Especially in Mark, they seem 'instruments of conversion'. MacKinnon says of all of them: they are ...


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