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"Prodigal Son" & other biblical phrases

One of my main go-to guys on the issue of global warming is James Delingpole of The London Sunday Telegraph. In a recent piece,  Why being Green means never having to say you're sorry, he compares environmentalists Steward Brand and Mark Lynas to the prodigal son in the New Testament parable. Apparently Brand & Lynas have second thoughts about some of the wilder claims of environmentalism, and Delingpole believes they are getting a little too much credit for their late reversal. He seems to feel like the other son in the parable, who was always responsible and never had a fatted calf killed for him. It's an understandable reaction.

At the end of the piece, he admonishes "vexacious idiots" not to chastise him for missing the point of the parable, and states he was merely making an allusion, not trying to do biblical exegesis.

That's fair enough. He actually could have carried the allusion further than he did. At one point he says "What sticks in my craw still further is that neither Brand nor Lynas actually HAS seen the light ". He could have pointed out that at least the prodigal son was fully repentant.

My original purpose in making this entry was neither theological nor political. It's about my own peeve with the prodigal son story. I heard it in Sunday school when I was young, and went away thinking that prodigal meant "wayward" since the protagonists main sin seemed to be straying from his roots and engaging in riotous living. It doesn't mean that, as most people know. It means excessive spending, such as blowing your entire inheritance on riotous living (as well as licentiousness and debauchery...that will always drive up costs.)

I can't believe I am unique in this regard. Since this is NaBloPoMo, I probably  have more people reading this blog than usual, and that may include some people who teach Sunday school. If you are a Sunday school teacher reading this, be sure that you make clear what the word "prodigal" means if you ever teach this story. Even better, don't use the word "prodigal" at all.  It's not in the biblical text.

None of your pupils would lose their faith over that one error ( didn't). But one of them could anyway, and if they then become one of those annoying evangelical atheists, you can be sure they will use their early misunderstanding of the word "prodigal" as ammunition.

This is as good a place as any to address the misuse of the phrase "mark of Cain". Since Cain is well known as a biblical bad guy, people tend to think of it as a mark of shame, interchangeable with "scarlet letter". If you read the original story, it's a mark God put on Cain warning people not to harm him. The mark of Cain is actually a good thing.

I don't blame Sunday school teachers for this one. No one who has heard or read the story has this misunderstanding. The moral here is to know  the biblical text before you use biblical allusions. In general, don't use allusions if you don't know the original text. That's a principal that atheists and people of every faith* can all get behind.

*ok, maybe not discordianists