1st Annual "Pontius Pilot" Awards for Unintentional Theological Comedy

It's been getting pretty serious around here these days. No doubt the issues under consideration demand gravitas, but there's always room for levitas too. As Shakespeare knew so well, some comic relief can serve to sharpen perception of the serious matters. And so, like Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, or Macbeth's drunken porter, I am stumbling onto this stage for a moment. I hereby open a thread and inaugurate the 1st annual "Pontius Pilot" Awards for Unintentional Theological Comedy.Let me explain. Year in and year out, those of us laboring in the fields of theological education in grade schools, CCD classes, high schools, colleges, or catechetical programs attempt to guide students in the faithful quest for understanding. On this quest there are many moments of grace, to be sure. But there are also tragic failures of comprehension. "How could they get that wrong?" we ask ourselves. Paul did not lead the Israelites out of Egypt! Sometimes students are fantastically, exquisitely wrong: The 95 Theses were certainly not posted by Hans Urs von Balthasar.Our tragic experiences of marking exams, quizzes, and papers are lightened, though, by precious gems of unintentional comedy. No, the word "canon" does not refer to "the weapon used by Titus to destroy the Jerusalem Temple." But thank you, Rosencrantz, for guessing that! You have no idea how much that laugh helped me get through this stack of final exams!Up until now, we teachers have shared such one-liners over lunch, email, or Facebook. But why not compile them over the academic year, and have an open thread in late May each year to honor the best of the best?The categories are not going to be set from the beginning -- we will have to see how this develops organically. By the beginning of fall semester, I'll try to have some kind of portal in place so that teachers and catechists can update throughout the year and provide consistent comic relief. For this year, here are some guidelines:

- All entries should be from real students, but please preserve the anonymity of our award nominees. If you want to preserve your own anonymity, you may submit your entry to me at [email protected] and I will post it for you.- Keep it short, but provide a little context if necessary for understanding. (For example, grade level and/or topic of assignment.)- If your entry causes you to think of a clever award category, by all means include that too.- More guidelines may develop as we go, but for now, I'll get us rolling with some entries. (Note: I've been compiling a list over several years, so not all of these are from my current teaching position.)In the category "Jesus":

Jesus' life was not extraordinary. ... a man who grew up just like everybody else, besides being born from a virgin mother.

Jesus' arrival as the savior of mankind essentially created a mess of how to identify groups of people in the New Testament.

In the category "Paul":

Paul ruthlessly preaches to Gentiles.

I think that some of them would have agreed with this summary.

The thing is, Paul never met Jesus. Ever.

Isn't that precisely the issue in the debate over Paul's apostolic authority? To be honest, it's a rather pithy way of summarizing the issue.In the category "Typos and Neologisms":

Pontius Pilot

Either a great Roman ship captain, or a handheld device (pictured above) for the 1st-century Roman procurator on the go. (Warning: Device must be put down before you wash your hands.)

Jesus was not trying to pubicize (sic) his spiritual identity.

Mark the Evangelist will be pleased that his characterization came across so clearly.In the category "Heresy":

No matter what religion you are, you can be one with God and join his tree.

I swear my lecture on Romans 9-11 and Nostra Aetate is completely orthodox, but that is what one student got out of it.In the category "Interreligious or Ecumenical Misunderstanding":

Justification by faith is a doctrine which divides Christianity from other Protestine religions.

Now there's a Catholic for you! First, Protestants aren't even Christians. Second, they're Protestine.In the category "You Fail History":

Thecla was an area in New Testament Asia.

No respect in the canonical tradition. Now she's a landmass -- and not even a province.

On an exam's map portion, Rome was labeled "Pompey."

The Roman general Pompey would be so glad to know that after he was assassinated, Caesar also renamed the city after him!In the category "Wow, That's Like So Deep, Man":

Man look at life from start to finish: God is the time that life moves along.

I have been pondering that one for 3 years, like a Zen koan.In the category "Profound, or Just Plain Wrong?":

Jesus wrote a book called Christianity, and he needed an editor and chose Paul.

OK, you get the idea. Teachers, make this go viral! And remember, if you want to preserve anonymity, you can email me at [email protected].UPDATE: I was notified right away that Tom Beaudoin had also posted a compiled list a few years ago at America's blog. His list has some real gems, and I think the concept of a "deeper, perjuring truth" is a great nominee for the "Wow, That's Like So Deep, Man" category.

Michael Peppard is associate professor of theology at Fordham University and on the staff of its Curran Center for American Catholic Studies. He is the author of The World's Oldest Church and The Son of God in the Roman World, and on Twitter @MichaelPeppard. He is a contributing editor to Commonweal.

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