Art


Many Christians are unsure of what to think of philosophy.  Some believe that it is a volatile mixture of mysticism, humanist psychology, and pagan religion, while yet others believe it to be a discipline that is exclusively practiced by the intellectually elite.  None of these ideas are true, however, and the people who hold them would be surprised to know that they practice philosophy, in some sense, every day.     
       For example, when two men are talking about the moral implications of our nation going to war they are, in fact, philosophizing.  When woman dialogues with another concerning the issue of abortion, and seeks to demonstrate that an unborn child has the same right to life as any other individual, then philosophy is being utilized.  In fact, many of the topics that we ponder and discuss every day fall into the realm of philosophy.

 What is Philosophy?
      Giving a clear, concise definition of philosophy is difficult.  This is not because that there have been no attempts to define it, but because there have been so many different definitions.  So where do we go to find a definition?  The meaning of the word itself may give us a clue. 
      The word “philosophy” is derived from the combination of two Greek words.  The word philos means “love” and the word sophia means “wisdom”; when you combine the two, you have the phrase “the love of wisdom”, which is the meaning of the word “philosophy”.  So philosophy, at least in the ancient sense, is the love and pursuit of wisdom.
      Based upon the etymology of the word and the practice of philosophy – at least from a classical or Christian perspective – we can come to this formal definition: Philosophy is the pursuit of truth and understanding through sound reason.  This is, admittedly, a somewhat biased definition; but all definitions of philosophy are ultimately biased in some form or another.

The Value of Philosophy
      You may still be wondering what value the study of philosophy holds for the CHristian.  Allow me to point out a few benefits that the study of philosophy grants:

(1) It Cultivates Good Judgment
      Individuals who are familiar with philosophical argument are less likely to be deceived by rhetoric or propaganda.  They will look beyond ad hominem attacks and empty emotional appeals and be able to see to the crux of the argument.    This is crucial for the modern day Christian in that it allows us to reason with individuals instead of falling for every rhetorical smokescreen that is set before us.

(2) It Aids in Our Understanding of Culture and Society
      Philosophical principles help us to understand the intellectual forces that are driving our culture.  Rather than seeing the ‘fruit’ of fads and trends, we will see the ‘root’ of a worldview that is giving credence to the culture.  The study of philosophy will teach us that ideas do, indeed, have far reaching consequences.

(3) It Aids in the Systemization of Knowledge
      Another benefit of philosophy is that it allows us to organize and systematize our beliefs.  Philosophical analysis gives us the tools necessary to formulate rational arguments for what we believe.  Also, it is impossible to do a Systematic Theology without employing philosophy.
      Without any doubt, philosophy can be an extremely useful tool for the Christian, and is necessary for apologetics.  It is important to remember that all truth is God’s truth.  He is the Author of truth, and truth is an essential property of His Being.  Since philosophy is the pursuit of truth, the Christian philosopher is in the best position to philosophize, for he knows the one who claimed himself as “the way, the truth, and the life”.

The Three Levels of Philosophy

      Philosophy can be practiced and communicated on three levels:

  • (1) Theoretical Level
  • (2) Existential Level
  • (3) Prescriptive Level

 Level One- Analytic Level
      This level of philosophy deals with rigorous logical analysis, and is concerned with constructing analytic arguments that follow from strict logical inference.  The classical proofs of God’s existence are set forth in this level of philosophy, as well as such issues as the nature of truth and morality. 
      The key word to remember in in regards to this level is “logic”; that is, beliefs and opinions are examined in light of the rules of reason.  If an idea breaks down on this fundamental level and proves itself to be illogical or incoherent, then there is no more need for discussion on the matter: the idea is erroneous.
      The benefits of philosophy on this level come from the fact in that it deals with solid and objective rules of thinking.  It appeals to fact and not emotion or opinion.  Every theory, belief, or idea should be able to stand on this first level of philosophy. 
      However, there are negative aspects to this level when it is employed exclusively.  A debate on the theoretical level often becomes a contest of intellect, pitting one mind against another.  Sometimes the facts are blurred because of the ability of some brilliant intellect or charismatic communicator to manipulate the debate in his own favor.  To put it frankly, there have been intellectual giants who were and are Christians, and there have been intellectual giants who were and are non-Christians.  If an idea or belief is only treated on level one, then everything boils down to a battle of the brains and a satisfactory conclusion may never be reached.

 Level Two- Existential Level
      The second level of philosophy is not communicated by theorems and proofs, but is carried out in the avenue of the Arts.  Novels, poetry, painting, music, and many other methods of artistic expression can communicate ideas in an incredibly powerful manner.  This level is concerned with illustrating philosophical ideas in the artistic expression of the existential struggles and questions that all men must deal with.
      The Scottish politician, Andrew Fletcher, once said, “Let me write the songs of a nation; I do not care who writes its laws.”  This statement by Fletcher shows enormous insight!  The most influential philosophers of our day are not just the distinguished professors of great universities, but the individuals who maintain the print, television, and music industry.  Although these individuals may not be giving lectures on hard philosophical facts, they are carrying their philosophies through the medium of the arts.  The worldview of an individual will always be communicated in the art which they produce, whether it is fiction, drama, music, or any other creative work.  C. S. Lewis realized the implications of this fact when he said: 

We can make people (often) attend to the Christian point of view for half an hour or so; but the moment they have gone away from our lecture or laid down our article, they are plunged back into a world where the opposite is taken for granted…We must attack the enemy’s line of communication.  What we want is not more little books about Christianity, but more little books by Christians on other subjects – with their Christianity latent.[i]

      An evaluation of the existential level demonstrates that is a highly effective means of communicating ideas.  Whereas many individuals will never pick up a work by Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, or Alvin Plantinga, nearly everyone reads novels, goes to the movies, or listens to some type of music. 
      On the other hand, if one uses the existential level alone, he is bound to fall into error.  The danger of isolating the existential level from the other levels of philosophy is that it leads to subjectivism (the idea that truth is whatever you believe it to be).  The existential level must be grounded upon the analytical level to prevent this slide into subjectivism. 

Level Three- Prescriptive Level
      The third and final level of philosophy that we will deal with is the Prescriptive Level of philosophy.  This level deals with the applicative nature of a certain philosophical system.  This is the level that says, “How does this affect my life?”
      This level deals with how we should live.  It takes the information of the previous two levels and translates into reality.  It is demonstrated in the parent instructing the child on what he should or should not do, or in the minister who sets forth moral standards for his congregation.  We are constantly engaged in the prescriptive level day in conversations on the sidewalk or in our own living rooms concerning the far-reaching moral and ethical issues that we encounter each and every day.
      This level of philosophy is important because any idea is meaningless if it can’t be applied to reality.   It is on this level that the seemingly abstract arguments of the first level and the personal expression of the second level touch reality.
      Again, there are dangers in using this level alone as well.  If the child comes to her father and says, “Dad, we were taught in school today that there are no moral absolutes.  What do you think about that?”  If the father is not careful he will simply jump straight to the prescriptive level and began spouting Scriptural proof texts against the error.  The problem, however, is that the teacher does not believe the Bible and the classroom milieu does not regard it as authoritative.  In essence, the child is not asking her father what he believes about the issue, but why he believes what he does about the issue.  If you forego the first two levels, then you are only left with application, which is very subjective and weak without a foundation.
      It is important that we learn to operate on every level if we really want to communicate our worldview. Christian apologist, Ravi Zacharias, has wonderfully set forth the meaning and function of these levels of philosophy in this portion of his article, “Living an Apologetic Life”.

 Level one concerns logic, level two is based on feeling, and level three is where all is applied to reality. To put it another way, level one states why we believe what we believe, level two indicates why we live the way we live, and level three states why we legislate for others the way we do. For every life that is lived at a reasonable level, these three questions must be answered. First, can I defend what I believe in keeping with the laws of logic? That is, is it tenable? Second, if everyone gave himself or herself the prerogatives of my philosophy, could there be harmony in existence? That is, is it livable? Third, do I have a right to make moral judgments in the matters of daily living? That is, is it transferable?[ii]

 An important principle to keep in mind concerning these three levels is that we argue on level one (Analytical), we illustrate on level two (Existential), and we apply on level three (Prescriptive).  


 [i] Lewis, C. S., God in the Dock (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1970), taken from chapter 10, “Christian Apologetics”, pg. 93

[ii] Zacharias, Ravi. “Living an Apologetic Life”, (Just Thinking, Fall 2003), p. 8

 

 

 

Top Ten Posts for February, 2008 

Very little was posted this month (the team has been busy!), but here are the Top Ten most visited posts for the month of May:

  1. The Battle for the Mind: German and British Propaganda In the First World War: A post examing the beginnings of modern war propaganda and how it is used to direct the populace.
  2. Doormat Christianity: How much personal offense should a Christian put up with?
  3. The Nature of Truth: A two part essay that examines the meaning of truth and its underlying principles. Part 1, Part 2.
  4. What is Christian Art?: Is there such a thing as “Christian” art and how does one recognize it?
  5. Eschatology Poll Update and Fun with Christian Kitsch:  A post that examines the results of our eschatology poll while having some fun with kitschy Christian art.
  6. Faith and Reason: A two part essay dealing with a proper definition of faith as well as its relationship to reason. Part 1, Part 2.
  7. Much Ado About Nothing: Nihilism and Modernist Literature: A four part essay that examines nihilistic themes in the works of three Modernist authors.  Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.
  8. Is Fantasy Escapism?:Is fantasy literature (LOTR, Narnia, etc.) an attempt to escape reality, or does it communicate reality better than any other genre?
  9. Monty Python’s Parody of Knighthood (Part 1): How Monty Python and the Holy Grail humorously skewers the ideals of Arthurian chivalry.
  10. The Ethical Quagmire of Designer Babies: A post that investigates the murky waters of bioethics.

Top Ten Posts for February, 2008 

Here are the Top Ten April posts on Quadrivium:

  1. Faith and Reason: A two part essay dealing with a proper definition of faith as well as its relationship to reason. Part 1, Part 2.
  2. An Evaluation of the Bundle Theory of Substance: An analysis of a popular theory of substance advocated by the famous skeptic/empiricist David Hume
  3. The Ethical Quagmire of Designer Babies: A post that investigates the murky waters of bioethics.
  4. An Evaluation of Descartes’ Claim that the Mind is More Easily Known Than the Body: A post that examines the contents of its formidable title.  (Note: this is not an argument against substance dualism, just an evalution of one of Descartes’ arguments for it).
  5. The Battle for the Mind: German and British Propaganda In the First World War: A post examing the beginnings of modern war propaganda and how it is used to direct the populace.
  6. What is Christian Art?: Is there such a thing as “Christian” art and how does one recognize it?
  7. Much Ado About Nothing: Nihilism and Modernist Literature: A four part essay that examines nihilistic themes in the works of three Modernist authors.  Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.
  8. The Nature of Truth: A two part essay that examines the meaning of truth and its underlying principles. Part 1, Part 2.
  9. There’s Hope For Porn Stars! (sort of): This post analyzes the controversial techniques of a ministry to porn stars along with the misleading statement, “Jesus Loves Porn Stars”.
  10. Two-Way Tie for Tenth: The Suffocating Soul: A two-part book review and commentary on the various ‘corsets’ and ‘tight slippers’ that suffocate our souls.  Part 1, Part 2. And Is Fantasy Escapism?:Is fantasy literature (LOTR, Narnia, etc.) an attempt to escape reality, or does it communicate reality better than any other genre?

Top Ten Posts for March, 2008

Here are the Top Ten posts on Quadrivium for March, 2008:

  1. Faith and Reason: A two part essay dealing with a proper definition of faith as well as its relationship to reason. Part 1, Part 2.
  2. Much Ado About Nothing: Nihilism and Modernist Literature: A four part essay that examines nihilistic themes in the works of three Modernist authors.  Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.
  3. The Ethical Quagmire of Designer Babies: A post that investigates the murky waters of bioethics.
  4. An Evaluation of Descartes’ Claim that the Mind is More Easily Known Than the Body: A post that examines the contents of its formidable title.  (Note: this is not an argument against substance dualism, just an evalution of one of Descartes’ arguments for it).
  5. What is Christian Art?: Is there such a thing as “Christian” art and how does one recognize it?
  6. A Review of Expelled: A preview commentary on Ben Stein’s upcoming ID flick as well as some interesting discussion in the comments.
  7. Handling Money God’s Way: A practical post that gives Scripturally based principles and tips on how to manage your money.
  8. The Suffocating Soul: A two-part book review and commentary on the various ‘corsets’ and ‘tight slippers’ that suffocate our souls.  Part 1, Part 2.
  9. The Conflict of Christianity and Culture: A post that examines the underlying causes of modern Christianity’s estrangement from culture.
  10. The Biggest Loser- A Commentary on Pop TV: Examining the delights and dangers implicit in a popular reality television show.

Top Ten Posts for February, 2008 

Here are the Top Ten February posts on Quadrivium:

  1. What is Christian Art?: Is there such a thing as “Christian” art and how does one recognize it?
  2. The Results of Poor Hermeneutics and KJV Extremism: A wacky preacher explains why God is interested in bodily functions.
  3. The Suffocating Soul, Part 1: A book review and commentary on the various ‘corsets’ that suffocate our souls.
  4. An Evaluation of the Formal Cause Argument for the Existence of Universals: An analytical post (with a formidable title) that rebutts the the formal cause argument for the the existence of abstract universals.
  5. Much Ado About Nothing: Nihilism and Modernist Literature: A four part essay that examines nihilistic themes in the works of three Modernist authors.  Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.
  6. Eschatology Poll Update and Fun With Christian Kitsch: Results from our eschatology poll as well as a small gallery of kitschy Christian art.
  7. The Conflict of Christianity and Culture: A post that examines the underlying causes of modern Christianity’s estrangement from culture.
  8. Stephen Pinker and the Morality of a Meat Machine: Admiring Stephen Pinker’s awesome ‘do, and examining his not-so-awesome materialistic foundation for ethics.
  9. Is Fantasy Escapism?:Is fantasy literature (LOTR, Narnia, etc.) an attempt to escape reality, or does it communicate reality better than any other genre?
  10. Three-Way Tie for Tenth: We actually have three posts which tied for the tenth spot.  The Economics of Art is a rejoinder to post 1 that takes a different approach to the idea of “Christian” art and the concept of ‘art’ altogether.  Rebutting Ancient Skepticism: provides an analysis and rebuttal of ancient Pyrrhonian skepticism.  And Handling Money God’s Way is a practical post that gives Scripturally based principles and tips on how to manage your money.
writing-2.jpg

Writing.  It is strange that I can both love and hate something so intensely at the same time.  I love to think about writing.  I love to concoct storylines and essay ideas in my head.  I even love to relate said ideas to others.  But when the time comes to actually write, and I am faced with the blank page, a crisis takes place.  I fumble, I fume, I fuss; I come quite near to pulling my hair out, as I watch the marvelous work of literary genius that has been safely pent up in my head collapse upon the paper like a house of cards in a hurricane.

And yet sometimes it is not this way at all.  Indeed, at times it seems as though I am almost a passive observer watching the story write itself.  Words, sentences, and paragraphs flow suddenly and swiftly as though some mental sluice gate has been lifted.  Everything comes out right, exactly how I intend it to, and I smile to myself – the sweet smile of satisfaction – as I see my story materialize on the paper before me.

These occasions are rare, unfortunately, and I have been surprised many times – my smile of satisfaction turning to a grimace – as I realize that what I had written so effortlessly has turned out to be complete tripe.  It’s so easy to write tripe.  I have also been surprised on several occasions to find that some of the works that have proved to be the most difficult have turned out to be some of my most favorite.  Thus writing and I continue this love/hate relationship.

The ancient Greeks knew something of this.  Their poets would never think of conducting a work without first beseeching the Muses for assistance and inspiration.  Indeed, the Greeks held the poet in as high esteem as the prophet: both were sparked by divine inspiration.       

Yet the Muses were known to be fickle.  At once lavishing a poet with literary inspiration, and then leaving him to languish in stunted creativity. 

I had a wonderful idea for a post today.  Thoroughly imagined and structured in my mind.  I sat down at my desk this evening brimming with excitement.  I wrote two sentences and the Muses decided go on vacation.  I started three other posts – all of which are conveniently open on my computer as I write – yet the Muses staunchly refused to assist me.  I sweated, I gritted my teeth, I listened to classical music; I even got up from my desk and walked around, took a shower, and unloaded all my writing sorrows onto my confused but patient wife.  Yet the Muses had abandoned me and I was lost.

I came back to my desk and brainstormed furiously.  Retrieving a notebook of essay ideas, I willed myself to write.  Yet every point of punctuation pierced my confidence like a dagger.

Why, oh why dear Muses have you abandoned me?  I want to post on this blog and you have left me to flounder in the wilting wasteland of writer’s block.  What’s that you say?  Oh, yes, this will do nicely.  Thank you.

We’ve had a great response to our eschatology poll thus far!  A total of 12 votes have been counted.  Only 12?  Well, you have to remember that it is an eschatology poll of all things.  I would’ve considered five votes a success!  So here’s the breakdown thus far (if you need definitions for the following terms then click here to read an earlier post on the subject):

  • Dispensational Premillenialism: 1 vote
  • Classical Premillenialism: 2 votes
  • Amillenialism: 4 votes
  • Postmillenialism: 1 vote
  • “Whatever the Left Behind Novels Say”: 0 votes (thankfully)
  • Undecided: 2 votes
  • Other: 1 vote (although the voter basically said that they’re undecided about the first three choices)

Thanks to everyone who has participated thus far.

I have a couple of observations: First off, I’m surprised at the number of Amill votes, since Dispensationalism still appears to be the reigning eschatology in the evangelical church today.  I have noted a resurgence in Amillenialism in the past few years, but the results still seem odd (of course we have only gotten 12 votes so far, so things may change).  Anyone have any thoughts about this?  Secondly, while we certainly appreciate people casting their votes, we would love it if a few of you would comment on your choice (which position you subscribe to and why).

 Finally, while surfing the web for a pic for this post, I noticed that the majority of artwork concerning the Second Coming is just downright kitschy!  Why?  I’m not sure, but be sure to have fun with the sample of Christian kitsch below!

2ndcoming2.jpg

The not-so-secret Rapture

thiefjesus.jpg

Talk about literal interpretation!

morerapture.jpg

I’m not sure if this is supposed to be the rapture or just a ‘bad trip’.

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Groovy eschatology (I wonder if Jack Chick did this one???)

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It’s the pièce de résistance of eschatology kitsch (nifty robes)!

Top Ten Posts for January, 2008

Here are the Top Ten most visited posts on Quadrivium for January, 2008:

  1. Monty Python’s Parody of Knighthood (Part 1): How Monty Python and the Holy Grail humorously skewers the ideals of Arthurian chivalry.
  2. Observation: A funny essay on the art of people watching.
  3. What is Christian Art?: Is there such a thing as “Christian” art and how does one recognize it?
  4. Is Fantasy Escapism?: Is fantasy literature (LOTR, Narnia, etc.) an attempt to escape reality, or does it communicate reality better than any other genre?
  5. Stephen Pinker and the Morality of a Meat Machine: Admiring Stephen Pinker’s awesome ‘do, and examining his not-so-awesome materialistic foundation for ethics.
  6. The Economics of Art: A rejoinder to post 3 that takes a different approach to the idea of “Christian” art and the concept of ‘art’ altogether.
  7. Pinball Brain: A post that ponders the perpetually preoccupied mind and what to do about it.
  8. America the Dim-Witted: A collection of stupid warning labels…need I say more?
  9. The Conflict of Christianity and Culture: A post that examines the underlying causes of modern Christianity’s estrangement from culture.
  10. April 22: Pregnancy and childbirth…from the dad’s perspective.

 T. S. Eliot 

(Read Part 1, Part 2, or Part 3)

“The Wasteland”, by T. S. Eliot, is considered by many to be the most famous modernist work ever published.  Within the chaotic lines of this poem Eliot seeks to portray the sense of decadence, decline, and despair that characterizes the post-war West.  This work was highly influential, and it injected its nihilistic themes into the cultural bloodstream.  “The Wasteland” would come to influence many subsequent works of literature; including the two novels which have already been addressed.

With his description of London as the “unreal city” (Line 60) whose population has been undone by death, Eliot clearly portrays the despair experienced by the British after the war.  The city is not only inhabited by the clotted river of sighing masses which flows through its fog-covered streets, but by the ghostly memories of soldiers like “Stetson” who lost their lives during the war.  What happened to the corpse planted in Stetson’s garden (the millions who died in the war)?  What ghastly fruit will come of it?  From his vantage point, Eliot saw Western culture crumbling into “a heap of broken images” (Line 22), yet within the fractured and fragmented lines of The Waste Land, Eliot at times seems to hint at an answer.

Similar to The Sound and the Fury, “The Wasteland” attempts to convey the nihilism of its day through its very form and style.  By its disjointed lines and multiple obscure references, the poem presents an age in which spiritual and existential certainty has been replaced by “a handful of dust” (Line 30).  I must confess that the first time I read this “The Wasteland” I was quite baffled and a bit annoyed by the sheer amount of references.  However, each time I read the poem the more I discovered that the references themselves convey one of this work’s most powerful messages.  

The Wasteland

Nearly all of the quotes and allusions are derived from renowned Western literature.  Shakespeare, Dante, St. Augustine, and the Bible all make appearances, along with many other famous works.  It is as though Eliot was seeking to gather the ruins of Western civilization and piece them back together again (however disfigured the finished product may be).  The numerous references of “The Wasteland” reinforce Eliot’s message that the modern age has lost its soul, and that the only redemption for it will be found in a return to the eternal truths to which these references adhere.

Standing in the background of this poem is the Fisher King, a mythical figure from Arthurian legend.  His impotence (see Jake above) represents the sterility of the age, and his only hope is that someone will ask him what it is that ails him.  In “The Wasteland”, Eliot is emphasizing the fact that the problem for modern man is not to be found in the lack of abundant answers, but in the lack of the proper questions.  The age that produced World War I could not fix its own problems; only a return to the wisdom that had preceded it offered any hope.

All of these works communicate a powerful truth: that in his rise to power and scientific prowess, mankind lost his way.  Confusion reigns and his tower is left to crumbleThis is nihilism: the disintegration of all value; the fatal mistake of forgetting that the most precious things that a man possesses are not those things which can be stuffed in a pantry, stored in a bank account, or measured in a test tube.  Yet, as Eliot perceived, there is hope: escape from the maze of meaninglessness is not found by pressing forward into the darkness, but by following the breadcrumbs of antiquity back to the entrance…and to escape.

William Faulkner(Continued from Part 1 and Part 2.  Read more in Part 4)

The Sound and the Fury also foreshadows its theme by means of a literary reference it its title; in this case, Macbeth’s desperate testimony to the futility of life.  Within this novel, William Faulkner expresses the dissolution of value for modern man and his descent into existential nihilism.  By adopting the unique (and sometimes confusing) perspective of the mentally-handicapped Benjy, Faulkner explores life as “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

Time is a key motif within The Sound and the Fury.  Benjy has no sense of it, Quentin is obsessed with it, and Mr. Compson seeks to explain it out of existence.  Indeed, the nature and perception of time is probably the most important key to understanding the nihilistic concepts that permeate the book.  Until the twentieth century (which brought Einstein’s relativity theory), Newtonian time was the great constant: linear, immutable, and persistent as it flowed like a river from past, present, to future.

Mr. Compson is the perfect representation of the modern undermining of traditional thought.  At the start of “Quentin’s Section” of the book, we are presented with Quentin’s memory of his father glibly explaining “the position of mechanical hands on an arbitrary dial.” (Faulkner 77)  In essence, Mr. Compson is stating that what we call “time” is nothing but human convention, a thing that we ourselves have invented measurement for and in which we anchor our daily existence.  One can hear in his words the echo of the Logical Positivist’s of the day, as they dismiss God, morality, and all metaphysical inquiry as nothing more than ludicrous linguistics.

Quentin, the recipient of Mr. Compson’s doleful pontifications, stands in sharp contrast to his father.  He represents the traditional values which have crumbled due to the influence of modern ideology.  Quentin is quite obviously obsessed with time; he is a traditional moralist and must have an absolute standard to sustain his reality.  However, he perceives that the world in which he lives does not conform to his ideals and (to his horror) neither does he, himself.  In the end, Quentin smashes his watch in the morning and drowns himself in the afternoon.  He believes that his view of reality is not feasible, but chooses to die rather than face a world that has failed to conform to his wishes.

Benjy’s character represents a chaotic fusion of the two aforementioned characters.  He is the modern man who must face reality after the traditional views of it have been destroyed (Quentin’s suicide) and the modern views of it have been found wanting (Mr. Compson’s drinking himself to death).  Benjy is neither obsessed with time, nor does he attempt to explain it away; he is simply oblivious to it.  His section is a confused string of random memories and experiences without any consistent order or logical coherence.  What does Benjy do?  He moans.  He moans in “utter horror; shock; agony eyeless, tongueless; just sound.” (320)  He is a man drowning in the despair of nihilism, unable to assign any transcendent meaning to his suffering but feeling the harsh and visceral reality of it nonetheless.

Faulkner’s answers are elusive.  Indeed, the only hint at a resolution is found in the final section of the book when Dilsey takes Benjy and Luster to church.  There, while listening to the passionate Easter sermon of a visiting minister, Dilsey has a somewhat mystical experience and finds comfort in her troubles.  Faulkner, by his reference to the Resurrection of Christ, is telling that a jettisoning of the past age and its truths is not the answer, but rather a realization of something worth keeping: namely, hope in redemption and new life.

All quotations taken from:  Faulkner, William. The Sound and the Fury. New York: Vintage. 1990

Ernest Hemingway(Continued from an Part 1.  Read more in Part 3, and Part 4)

The Sun Also Rises is a novel about those most impacted by the Great War: the individuals who made up the aptly named “lost generation”.  World War I took nearly 9 million lives, but it ruined the lives of many more who survived.  Hemingway’s story of Jake and his post-war companions presents more than just an interesting account of Parisian social life and Spanish bull fighting; it demonstrates the incredible toll that the war took upon those who were most intimately involved in it.  For them, the effects of the war never ended.

Hemingway gives a wink and nod in his title to anyone familiar with the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes.  Within its ancient pages we find a story of existential angst as presented through the eyes of a Jewish king who was repeatedly frustrated in his attempts to find meaning in life.  Ecclesiastes’ theme “vanity of vanities” perfectly elucidates Hemingway’s novel.  The characters in his book fly from one diversion to the next, but never to anything substantial.

Jake and Brett represent the two paths down which the worldview of nihilism can lead and the diverging experiences of Europe and America after the war.  Jake’s impotence is an important symbol within The Sun Also Rises.  It represents the loss of ideological life that resulted from World War I.  In his outward appearance Jake looks perfectly healthy, but he has lost something vital: the ability to consummate passion and impart life.  This is a strong comparison to post-war Europe: it had survived the Great War, but it had come out of it vitally wounded.  No one could pretend any longer that things were alright with the world.  A society that had produced such atrocities was fundamentally broken.  “Enlightened” Europe had entered the war ideologically robust; it had emerged sterile.

Brett is the antithesis of Jake and the “Americanized” nihilist of the novel.  This may come as a surprise to some readers due to the fact that Brett seems to be the most vivacious and care-free character of the book.  However, a closer reading will reveal that this is nothing more than a veneer to cover the inward angst that she is experiencing.  “I’ve got to do something,” she tells Jake as he walks her to Romero, “I’ve got to do something I really want to do.  I’ve lost my self-respect.” (187)  A few sentences later she bemoans the fact that she “can’t stay tight all the time”. (187)  Alcohol is her panacea to a painful existence.

Brett is the quintessential nihilist-turned-hedonist.  Traditional values are shattered, nihilism ensues, and hedonism is embraced as the existential life-raft to keep from going under.  Thus Brett becomes an excellent picture of the “booming twenties”: an era of music, art, excitement, and despair. 

It is interesting to note that Hemingway does not seem to extend any hope at the end of his novel.  Brett remains a devoted pleasure seeker and Jake seems to adopt the same artificial and shallow set of values that “the Count” (67) has embraced.  However, this is consistent with the cyclical emphasis of the novel: “The sun also arises, and the sun goes down, and hastens to his place where he arose.” (Ecclesiastes 1:5)

 All quotations taken from:   Hemingway, Ernest. The Sun Also Rises. New York: Scribner, 2003

NietzscheThe Arts reflect the spirit of the age and literature is no exception.  Nihilism, a worldview that rejects ultimate meaning and purpose in life, heavily influenced the literature of the early 20th century, in which this philosophy was illustrated and addressed.  The influence of nihilism is particularly evident in The Sun Also Rises, The Sound and the Fury, and “The Wasteland”.

The early 20th century was ripe for the advent of nihilism.  Indeed, its arrival had been predicted by one of the most influential philosophers of the previous century, Friedrich Nietzsche.  “What I am now going to relate is the history of the next two centuries,” he wrote in his notes which would be published in The Will to Power, “I shall describe what will happen, what must necessarily happen: the triumph of nihilism.”  The nihilism that Nietzsche viewed upon the horizon was the inevitable consequence of the undermining of traditional Western thought that was underway in his own day.

Darwinian evolution, the psychoanalytical theories of Freud, the First World War, and the consequent decline of the Christian faith in the Western world were the primary contributors to 20th century nihilism.  Darwin’s theory left mankind bereft of his own unique status in the natural order. Freud transformed man into a psychological marionette whose invisible puppeteers were the various neuroses that he had developed from repressing (largely sexual) desires.  World War I with its incredible death toll and socio/political upheaval left the modern world wondering what had happened to the utopian vision inspired by the industrial revolution.  And looming over everything like a great, gray thundercloud was the solemn declaration of Nietzsche, “God is dead”.

Nietzsche’s declaration seems to capture the spirit of the age better than any other.  When the ultimate Absolute is stripped away, where does humanity get its existential bearings?  What remains for man when objective beauty, truth, morality, and immortality have vanished?  To quote Nietzsche once again:

“What were we doing when we unchained this earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving? Away from all suns? Are we not plunging continually? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there still any up or down? Are we not straying, as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space?” (The Parable of the Madman)

WWI Soldiers

While these questions occupied the minds of many philosophers in the early twentieth century, the First World War was the catalyst that caused their consideration outside of the ivory tower of academia.  The horrible events that took place between 1914 and 1918 shattered the illusion that the civilized world was morally progressing as millions of men were slaughtered in a mechanized massacre that proved to be more pointless with each death.  Western civilization was stripped of its ideological finery and compelled to grope its way through the “infinite nothing” that had been predicted by Nietzsche’s madman.  How could this have happened?  What will become of mankind?  These were the questions that modernist authors attempted to address in the years that followed the war.     

(Part 2, Part 3, Part 4)    

Catchy Title, eh? “A Movie review:”So, What fare are we serving up today?

“Because of Winn-Dixie”

I was shocked! I tell you absolutely shocked, to find out tonight that there are actually some people who have not yet seen, “Because of Winn-Dixie.”

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This movie is a Southern fried humdinger!

When I first sat down to watch a Family Night movie titled, “Because of Winn-Dixie” I thought yea, ok, I’ll endure this and then we’ll get to a good movie. I found myself eating that sentiment and walking away thoroughly satisfied. I had not read the book so I had no idea what I was about to see. We liked so much we bought it and have re-watched it on several occasions.

The story is about a preacher, his daughter Opal, her adopted dog Winn-Dixie, and the adventures, and friendships forged one summer in a small southern town. Between Opal and Winn-Dixie we see the greatest adventure of all, that of people and relationships. We see the tender heart of a child who wants to know why her momma left her and her daddy on the one hand, but who refuses to become scarred , cynical and jaded by that loss. We see how simple acts of kindness change all those who come within Opal and Winn-Dixie’s sphere of influence.

Far from being a Pollyanna, Opal is a real kid with real hurts and real questions. Her character is powerfully endearing and reminds us that people crave fellowship with others and will respond when given the opportunity. The charming innocence and childlike wonderment of Opal is contagious, and the simple honesty of child and dog quickly affects all those this dynamic-duo come into contact with.

This is real entertainment. No flash, no glitz, no glam… just a purity that speaks to the heart. This is the way movies should be. Two thumbs up!

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Seems we have established the link between art and culture, and the fact that art should be art, without labels.  Specifically, it has been argued that we should not attempt to produce “Christian” art for the sake of “Christian” art.  I think that there is a bit of dishonesty in this argument.

 

If we are comparing today’s “Christian” labeled art with art from antiquity, and other eras of world history.  We are, in fact, arguing that Art with a “Christian” label is inferior to its “secular” counterpart.  Is this an honest critique?  I believe it is.

 

Let’s define a term before we proceed.  What art are we talking about here?  Name one instance where art is art for its own sake.  I dare say that once you get beyond kindergarten, or maybe later in life drawing, composing, or painting for one’s own self gratification, you find much “true” art.  Throughout history art has always been a product of consumerism.  “Artists” of the past were commissioned to do a work, and we now stand in awe of their accomplishments.  Michelangelo’s David, the Sistine Chapel, Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, all were commissioned art and artists.  They produced “art” to fit the commission.  Of course the prevailing worldview was Christian theism and the art reflected that worldview.

 

Fast-forward to the twenty-first century.  The theistic worldview is on the decline and is now only one of many competing worldviews that the population at large can embrace.  It follows that taste and consumption of art will align with the chosen worldview.  It will follow then that a theistic, Christian worldview will produce “Christian” art.  Just as Atheistic-nihilism produces a Maplethorpe and his art.   The article, “What is Christian Art?”(see below) correctly points out, “Good art represents the artist. We don’t have to think consciously about what we’re producing to have our art represent our thought. An existentialist artist doesn’t sit down and say, ‘I’m going to make existential art.’ It is in the air he breathes, so it naturally comes out.”  Throughtout history we see art change to reflect the culture and age in which it was produced.  Today’s art may or may not be on par with the past masters.  Modern artists usually do not have patrons who commission them to produce artwork.  Therfore they turn to marketing and mass production in order to produce a product called art.  How else are they to pay the bills, put food on the table and make a life?  It is not just “Christian” art these days, it is “African” art, “Gothic” art  and a myrid of other niches that have been identified by Madison Avenue as target demographics.  I believe that much of the argument I have seen here in our blog is more about economics than the nature of art, Christian or otherwise.  Now as to the quality, or depth of the arts in “Christian” packaging… I do not have the credentials to judge.  The dime store novel of yesterday is in some cases now looked on as high art.  Is the non-Christian worldview art better than Christian worldview art?  I think not… but we do have some dollar store Christian art out there as well.

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