Today, I went to go see Dr. Cathleen Kaveny’s lecture, Prophecy, Civility, & Truth. This lecture was very interesting and discussed both modern day prophets and prophets from biblical times. Even though the lecture had many themes and covered many topics, the biggest thing that I took out of what Dr. Kaveny was saying is that while prophets aim to help cure a problem, they also risk being detrimental to society. This idea that Dr. Kaveny discussed about prophets was interesting and definitely showed striking similarities to Aylmer in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Birthmark.
In The Birthmark, Aylmer is so concerned with getting rid of the birthmark on his wife’s cheek that he puts her life on the line and in the end, kills her. This is crazy to think about because a birthmark, in the long run, is absolutely not worth risking one’s life for. At the same time, however, this story and how Aylmer felt about this birthmark can be directly compared to what Dr. Kaveny had said about prophets. In her lecture, Dr. Kaveny explained that prophets act like chemotherapy. She explained that they aim to correct an issue in society, but can be intense and dangerous. When a patient goes through chemotherapy, he or she will suffer from some intense side effects and, in some cases, the patient may even die. Dr. Kaveny said this is what a prophet is like because even though a prophet aims to fix a problem, they will not always be able to fix that problem and will often end up being harmful to the people of the community. When looking at a prophet from this perspective, it can be said that Alymer is just like a prophet. He, like any prophet, aims to correct a problem and takes extreme measures in order to do so. In the end, although he does fix the problem that he aimed to fix, his measures are so extreme that he ended up killing his own wife.
Another story that could be related to Dr. Kaveny’s lecture is Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper. In this story, the narrator is suffering from a disease and so her husband, who is also her doctor, must take care of her. Throughout the story, her husband does many things that make the reader question whether or not he is being civil. The question of civility is brought up in Dr. Kaveny’s lecture, specifically with her juxtaposition of prophetic rhetoric and the Just War Theory. Dr. Kaveny explained that, overall, a prophet can be deemed civil or uncivil by looking at the Just War Theory. The Just War Theory is a religious theory that can be used to determine whether or not it would be ethical to go to war. According to this theory, it would be ethical as long as there is a just cause, competent authority, competitive justice, right intention, it is the last resort, there is a probability of success, and there is proportionality. Dr. Kaveny said that this same criteria can be applied to what a prophet is saying and doing to determine if he or she is in fact being civil. Being that Dr. Kaveny felt that the Just War Theory could be applied to both biblical and modern day prophets, it is not unreasonable to say that, likewise, the theory could be applied to John’s actions in The Yellow Wallpaper.
Dr. Cathleen Kaveny’s lecture was very interesting and brought up many valid points. Many excellent analogies were made in the lecture like how prophets are like radicals and how prophetic rhetoric is like chemotherapy. Dr. Kaveny also tied in the Just War Theory and today’s government. In many ways, it can be said that the lecture resembled a few different literary works and had many of the same themes. Two of these works are Hawthorne’s The Birthmark and Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper.