Literature


Are we always free to change?  It was argued in my Existentialism class today that no matter our past, we can always reinvent ourselves and pursue a different life.  I disagreed, however, and I have the famous Irish playwright Oscar Wilde in my corner.

Wilde was blessed with an extraordinary story telling ability.  The characters from his plays and novels leap from the page in vivid plot and description.  Oscar Wilde was known for his gits to be sure, but he was also known for his lecherous behavior which eventually led to imprisonment and disgrace before his death.

Wilde gave both personal and literary testimoy to his destructive behavior.  Shortly before his death he wrote the following words:

I let myself be lured into long spells of senseless and sensual ease…Tired of being on the heights, I deliberately went to the depths in search for new sensation.  I grew careless of the lives of others. I took pleasure where it pleased me, and passed on. I forgot that every little action of the common day makes or unmakes character, and that therefore what one has done in the secret chamber, one has some day to cry aloud from the housetop. I ceased to be lord over myself. I was no longer the captain of my soul, and did not know it. I allowed pleasure to dominate me. I ended in horrible disgrace.

Wilde witnesses the effect that behavior has on character here.  The choices that we make today will determine what options we have in the future.  If I make bad choices, I damage my soul and distort my character.  If I continue down the wrong path long enough, I rob myself of the very freedom that I had once treasured; I will indeed cease to be the captain of my soul.  Wilde wasn’t the first to discover this truth, of course; Aristotle stated much the same thing and the principle of moral sowing and reaping is clearly taught in Scripture (Galatians 6:7).  Every decision we may effectively limits our future decisions: for good or evil.

Wilde’s literary autobiography is contained in the novella, The Picture of Dorian Gray which relates the story of an innocent young man’s descent into debauchery and self-destruction.  Throughout the story, Gray learns that he is able to take part in the vilest of behavior, yet suffer no consequences to his body or appearance; the eponymous picture suffers all of the damage.  However, Dorian eventually discovers that the picture is a representation of his own twisted soul, and at the climax of the narrative when he reveals the ruined painting to the artist who created it (just before murdering him):

“It is the face of my soul.”

“Christ! what a thing I must have worshipped! It has the eyes of a devil.”

“Each of us has heaven and hell in him, Basil,” cried Dorian
with a wild gesture of despair.

Hallward turned again to the portrait and gazed at it.
“My God! If it is true,” he exclaimed, “and this is
what you have done with your life, why, you must be worse
even than those who talk against you fancy you to be!”
He held the light up again to the canvas and examined it.
The surface seemed to be quite undisturbed and as he had left it.
It was from within, apparently, that the foulness and horror
had come. Through some strange quickening of inner life
the leprosies of sin were slowly eating the thing away.
The rotting of a corpse in a watery grave was not
so fearful.

His hand shook, and the candle fell from its socket on the floor
and lay there sputtering. He placed his foot on it and put it out.
Then he flung himself into the rickety chair that was standing by
the table and buried his face in his hands.

“Good God, Dorian, what a lesson! What an awful lesson!”
There was no answer, but he could hear the young man
sobbing at the window. “Pray, Dorian, pray,” he murmured.
“What is it that one was taught to say in one’s boyhood?
‘Lead us not into temptation. Forgive us our sins.
Wash away our iniquities.’ Let us say that together.
The prayer of your pride has been answered. The prayer of your
repentance will be answered also. I worshipped you too much.
I am punished for it. You worshipped yourself too much. We are
both punished.”

Dorian Gray turned slowly around and looked at him with tear-dimmed eyes.
“It is too late, Basil,” he faltered.

“It is never too late, Dorian. Let us kneel down and try if we
cannot remember a prayer. Isn’t there a verse somewhere,
‘Though your sins be as scarlet, yet I will make them as white
as snow’?”

“Those words mean nothing to me now.”

For they have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind. (Hosea 8:7)

 

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.

611ldbwioml_aa240_1.jpgI am in the process of reading Ruby Slippers by Jonalyn Grace Fincher.  The book so far is insightful and intriguing.  I was most fascinated by the introductory chapter, which delves into the dilemma of the “corsets” that we wear.

We all wear corsets. We often layer them, multiplying their effect, tightening the cords around our soul, until we look culturally appealing, Christianly appropriate, and feel wretchedly uncomfortable.

As I read this, I had to meditate on my own life. Jonalyn lists corsets that women may wear: the single corset, the sexy corset, the mother corset, the Christian wife corset, the working wife corset, and the list goes on. There are certain roles that others expect me to fulfill…the submissive wife, the doting mother, the office woman, the academic, etc.  These areas are not wrong, actually quite the opposite. The Bible commands me to be a loving and submissive wife and a good mother. Where we have seemed to miss it, is that we put on the “corset” to fit the given role because it is expected of us. We act a certain way and even speak in the tone that is expected in that role. We reduce ourselves to “act the part”. What we are actually doing is suffocating our souls.

Before God made me a wife or a working woman/college student, He made me a living soul, a female soul. In discovering who I am in Christ, I am made free and able to more completely fulfill the responsibilities He has given me. God created me with a personality, with certain gifts and talents.  So why am I content to simply wear the corsets that are assigned to me? Why are we all content to suffocate our souls?

I do not believe Jonalyn is advocating a woman (or man) freeing herself (or himself) of the commands that God has set forth. Rather I believe we have gotten our priorities skewed.  My primary responsibility as a child of God is to discover who He made me to be, and then I am able to filfill the secondary responsibilities. Rather than stuffing my soul into the wife corset, I am now able to be the wife God intends me to be.  Rather than tightening the cords to fit others’ expectations, I am free to live as Christ intends me to be.  Layering corsets stifles the soul, but Christ gives us the freedom to live as He designed us: as female (or male) souls.

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)    

I just finished a novel by Naomi Ragen, titled, ”The Covenant.”  I happened across this book while wandering through a local thrift store.  I was strongly compelled to pick it up and I read the dust jacket.  Then, I randomly scanned a few pages.  I have not regretted my purchase.  I believe the dedicatory says it better than I, concerning the purpose of this book and the story Ms Regan weaves so well. 

 “For all victims of terror, and those who loved them.  May God Comfort all mourners and wipe the tears from all faces”. 

This is an intensely personal representation of those whose lives have been devastated by terrorism. (Ms Regan and her family were present at the Passover Massacre in the Park Hotel in Netanya in 2002 when a suicide bomber killed twenty-nine and wounded hundreds.) The conflict “continues” as we are introduced to the characters:  A Jewish doctor, his wife (who is in the latter stages of a difficult pregnancy), and their daughter come face to face with a horror that seems too awful to bear.  It is also a story of survival that spans generations.  The young wife’s grandmother was a survivor of Auschwitz and we see in her and her three friends what it means to be a survivor, and the bond that developed between them, making them family and more.  We see how these four made a covenant, while in Auschwitz, that will affect all their lives in this crisis. 

Ms Regan does a wonderful job developing the characters, plot and conflict quickly.  The use of time, date, location stamp at the beginning of each chapter and major scene change keeps you on track with the flow and interdependence of the themes and story line.  The indomitable spirit of these characters who refuse to be mere victims of such a cowardly act of terrorism is the strength of the story.

Personally, there were passages that made my blood boil with the desire to extract vengeance on the ideologues who in their ignorance and self-deception, aid cowardly fanatics in their terrorist agendas.  There were passages of great empathy for the main characters who were dealing with a situation that I would find unbearable.  She does an outstanding job of relating the politics of lies and the international bias against Jews and how Israel and the Jewish people are portrayed in the media and on the world stage.

By the time I finished the book I felt I knew the characters and had lived through this ordeal with them, but then it struck me like a bolt of lightening:  This is the story of all those who have been attacked by terrorists.  I was stunned to research the shear number of Israelis who have been attacked by such terrorists since the intifada Arafat started after Sharon visited the Temple Mount.   I wept for all those who have suffered because a few old terror mongers realized that by perpetuating lies and keeping a population disenfranchised and oppressed (mainly through their own greed and corruption) they could maintain political control and get rich in the process.  (I digress)    I wept for Israel and I wept for Jerusalem.   Shaalu Shalom Yerushaliim.

Christ the Redeemer (of culture)

The relationship between Christianity and Culture (especially the arts) has been a topic of great interest on Quadrivium here lately.  Beginning with a post on Christianity and Culture (that linked to this blog) and continuing with posts on a North Carolinian art museum, the value of fantasy literature, and the validity of “Christian” art.  Sadly, as the last post demonstrates, modern evangelical Christianity is woefully out of touch with the art and culture of society.

Why are Christians this way?  Well, we do know that they have not always been.  For centuries, the Christian faith informed and inspired some of the greatest artistic achievments ever to be accomplished.  Yet, in the past couple of centuries, the church has endured a self-imposed isolation from culture.  There are signs of change, however, and I believe that as the church continues to understand what caused these problems, she will eventually remedy them. 

Allow me to share a few reaons why I think that Christians have ignored culture and the arts for so long.

  1. A Fundamentalist Overreaction to Liberalism-  The late 19th and early 20th centuries gave rise to a bitter battle in Western universities (especially American) between two theological factions: Liberal and Conservatives.  The latter group came to be known as fundamentalists (taken from a series of conservative theologial articles).  While liberal theologians eventually triumphed in the battle for the university, fundamentalists were tenacious defenders of orthodox Chrisitianity.  However, because fundamentalism was a reactionary movement, it unfortunately went the way of most such movments: it overreacted to the opposing ideology. Since liberal theology placed a strong emphasis on the so-called “social gospel” (that is, the responsibility of Christians to engage, improve, and create culture), by the mid-20th century, fundamentalism had almost completely isolated itself from the culture.  Christians were taught to keep themselves separated from the world, and things like art, film, literature, and the theater were considered to be “worldly”.  Evangelicalism – fundamentalism’s younger sister -was born around this time and sought to correct these problems in the church (evangelicals are sometimes known as “fundamentalists with PHDs”).  While some progress has been made, the damage done to the idea of cultural involvement within the church was severe.  We have a long way to go.
  2. An Overemphasis on the Apocalypse- The 19th and 20th centuries also saw the emergence of “rapture fever” in the church.  Prophecy conferences and “End-Times” analysis became one of the most popular forms of theological study for the church at large (to the neglect of many other theological studies).  Ministers would stand (and still do) before their congregations or tv audience with the past week’s newspaper for their text and proclaim fulfilled Bible prophecies as their sermon.  Popular authors began to set dates for Christ’s return and their was an overall sense of impending doom.  Now, while the church had her eyes on the sky, she forgot the culture at large.  Why become bogged down in cultural involvement if Jesus is going to come back in the next five minutes?  Besides, it’s so much more fun to wildly speculate about what Daniel and John were talking about, then seriously engage the culture on an academic level.
  3. The Emergence of the Christian Subculture – America is a country driven by consumerism, and the church has incredibly exploited this fact in the past fifty years.  Consequently, Christianity has been polished and packaged in a multitude of ways.  Now there are “Christian” films, books, paintings, musical groups, clothes, bumper stickers, department stores, plush toys, ad infinitum.  As a matter of fact, there is no need for the average Christian to encounter his culture because he has all that he needs within his own “safe” subculture.  Hence, we have really bad movies and books that are produced and then marketed by slapping the “Evangelical Approved” label on them.  Christians devour these products and become more culturally inept in the process. 

I’m sure that there are many more things that can be said about this matter than just the few problems that I have pointed out.  What I am interested in is if their are any good answers to these problems.  What can Christians do to change this? 

Should there be a difference in the art a Christian produces and art of the general culture? I’ll narrow the question more specifically. Should Christian artists make a conscious effort to produce art that is in a fundamental way an “answer” to culture and distinctly different from pop culture.?

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.

Making art of any form is more than just an artist being a product of his culture and producing art. Art reflects where the artist is as a person. Gauguin’s noble savage shows where he was. Gauguin believed that man was better off outside the realm of society, and that if we returned to a “savage” state we could be free from greed, murder, you name it. He tried to return to a less civilized situation himself and it failed ultimately.                  

     

If as Christians we are going to study art or try to be artists, we need to understand what is going on in our culture. In Christianity, we have made the mistake of thinking that art is in a totally separate category from the rest of life. Since the Romantic period of the 18th and 19th century, the arts have been elevated away from the normal thinking of men, so that an artist can create a really atrocious piece of work, but if they are considered great artists, the work is excused. The Romantic period had a very skewed view of the nature of art. To the Romantic man, good art was really only produced by suffering people, and art had to communicate the confusion of life. Romantic art failed because it couldn’t show the beauty and glory of the reality that existed all around them. Men in their deepest thoughts know that the world contains great beauty.  For the same reason, the Grunge movement and the Gothic movement of the 1990’s arose. They saw only emptiness and brokenness and showed only that in their music and art. Romanticism, Grunge, and Goth all developed conventions of what art should be, instead of allowing the art to come out of who they really were. In reality, art should encompass all aspects of life, good and bad, because it is a reflection of the artist and his innermost person.

 Sylvia PlathAn example of how art is separated from the artist is Sylvia Plath. The writer Sylvia Plath committed suicide. She had a fantastic ability to communicate the condition and dilemma of man, that we don’t know who we are or why we’re alive, or anything really. Critics of her writings will say that it is not necessarily bad that she killed herself, since her writing was so fantastic and that was what was really important about her. This is terrible. It would have been much better that she had been just a mediocre artist and known the answers to her questions. We’ve separated the art from the artist, and have dehumanized him or her into a production machine. The humanness of the artist has been removed from his creation.

If a Christian decides to produce art, he will often say, “I am a Christian, I am an artist, this is how I will work.” This is a misunderstanding of the nature of art. Because art really does express what we believe and where we are, (I’m not speaking of superficial art. Drawing a picture of a doggie or a kitty is not what I’m talking about.) we can’t just consciously apply Christian conventions to our art to make it look Christian. If we are Christians, then our art, be it paint, marble, film, poetry, novels, or whatever, will contain the characteristics that define us as Christian humans, not Christian robots.

We should never set out with the goal of painting a Christian picture, or writing a Christian book, or making Christian music. That is dishonest. The life that truly reflects Jesus Christ will not have to put on fake methods to force his art into Christianity. Christ lived on this earth as a genuine man. He never had to wake up in the morning and remind Himself, “Okay, today I’m going to act like a Messiah.” That’s absurd. He behaved like the Messiah because He was the Messiah. He never consciously “acted” like the Messiah. He never changed His behavior to live up to the cultural conventions of what made a good Messiah. Christian art is art that is produced by Christians, not art that looks like Christian art.

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