Friday, September 5, 2008

As promised, I'm beginning this week's entry by rewinding to last week. In a flahsback that shows us a formative moment from Aggie's childhood, Penny and Aggie broaches the question of theodicy--how a just God can allow suffering. As I noted on Monday, serious religious questions are not exactly a common topic for webcomics. That's one thing I like about P&A, though: it doesn't ignore religion or act like it's a non-issue. Among its cast are people whose faith is a big part of their life; some of these characters are better examples of faith than others, and even Katy-Ann, the strip's "good face" of Christianity, grapples with doing the right thing and sometimes makes mistakes. P&A generally gives a balanced treatment, which is one reason I enjoy reading it.

So, it should be no surprise to us that when Aggie's mom offers an answer to the theodicy question, she posits it tentatively. "I won't say I know the answer," she says, "but...I'll tell you what I think." This strikes me as a brave way to approach it, especially with a child looking up to you who will likely take to heart whatever you say. I'm no agnostic, I don't believe for a second that religious questions are fundamentally unanswerable, but real solid answers are notoriously hard to come by. What little I know about God, man, and the universe is vastly outweighed by what I don't. So, kudos to Aggie's mom for her honesty.

Her answer itself is an interesting one, and the notion of a "learning God" has some appeal, but I was a little disappointed. As common a notion as the "Old Testament God of wrath vs. New Testament God of love" idea is, it's a false dichotomy. Don't get me wrong: it's not as if God in the OT doesn't open up a can of wrath on more than one occasion, and it's not as if the central event of the NT isn't the sacrifice of Jesus Christ to save all mankind. But it's not the case that we have two Gods going on here, or that God "mellowed out" between testaments. God shows more than his share of mercy and love in the OT (for instance, love motivates God to rescue his people from slavery in Egypt, and in the book of Jonah, he gives a second chance to both the people of Ninevah and his own reluctant prophet); furthermore, God in the NT is no marshmallow, and even Jesus, known for his compassion, ransacks the merchants' booths at the temple out of rage at their religious hypocrisy. Which returns us to the theodicy question: why does God bother with the wrath at all? How can God's love and God's wrath coexist?

That's a question to which there are no easy answers, and Aggie's mom knows it. In any event, Aggie takes home the lesson: we may not have all the answers, we may still be learning, but we need to make a concentrated effort to overcome hatred through love. And though I may not agree with every fine point of Mrs. d'Amour's theology, I'm good for the bigger lesson here. We need to keep asking big questions, and we need to strive to do well with what we've learned.

I dunno what P&A writer T Campbell's religious convictions are, but he's writing a comic that deals seriously with religion and stays true to its characters, and I give a thumbs-up to that. Good comics get people talking about important things, and as long as we talk respectfully, without any of that acerbic vitriol that's all too common to the internet, that can only be a good thing. In any event, today's P&A comic reveals that Duane, the civic-minded word nerd with a thing for Penny, has been grappling internally and trying to figure out his own faith, Islam. I expect future story arcs in P&A will continue to give us plenty to talk about when it comes to religious matters.

So, we have Serious Business in ample measure, but those of you who came for a rundown of the funny are probably starving. Not to worry, folks: these being webcomics that we talk about here, there's also plenty of humor-news to share.

First off, Calamities of Nature has undergone a format change: Tony Piro has remodeled the site (not terribly different, but a nice and slightly more inviting design), and he's swapped out doing full-page comics for horizontally-oriented newspaper-style strips. This week he's delivered a comic every weekday, and subsequently it will update three times a week, in color. And dang if today's comic doesn't bring up Catholicism! There is no escape, my friends.

Well, maybe there is at Shortpacked. This marks the second week that Shortpacked has gone from being an at-least-MWF comic to being a full-time five-days-a-week comic. Frankly, even if cartoonistry is David Willis' full-time job, I'm impressed! It's no small feat to bring out five page-long color comics a week, and for some strips Willis even gives the artwork a little extra. Check out Robin's new house in the first panel here. A suitably awe-inspiring shot! Man that's a sweet house.

Finally, the current theme at The Book of Biff is "Magic Week." The resulting comics have been hilariously weird. Thus, I leave you with an exhortation to go check out Biff's antics! They're good stuff.

This is Jackson P. Ferrell, signing off.

1 comment:

Sebatinsky said...

Sweet! I had completely forgotten about Penny and Aggie! They randomly fell of my 'regular reads' - I guess I'll have to throw it right back on.