Thursday, August 30, 2012

How to Know and Do God's Will

“I want to do God’s will”—the Christian who makes this statement tacitly admits that God’s will remains in the future as something possibly unknown but certainly undone. After all, if we truly want to do God’s will, why hesitate? Why not just do God’s will and not talk about it? If we were more thoughtful and candid, perhaps we would state the case a little differently, such as “I don’t know God’s will,” or “I know God’s will but I am afraid to do it,” or “I know God’s will but I do not like it.” Those more honest statements provide three valuable insights as to why we hesitate when confronted with choices about God’s will for our lives. The first statement, “I don’t know God’s will,” indicates unawareness or, dare we say, an ignorance of God’s will; the second statement, “I know God’s will but I am afraid to do it,” implies fear of God’s will; the third statement, “I know God’s will but I do not like it,” signifies rebellion against God’s will.

While fear of God’s will or rebellion against God’s will demand inquiry and remedy, we must leave these topics to another day; we aim to encourage the willing Christian who says, “I do not know God’s will, but I want to do God’s will.” Hence, Paul’s maxim to the Thessalonians becomes our mandate–“understanding what the will of the Lord is.” Of course, humility inquires, “How can we, whose own wills are fallible, feeble, and fickle at best, discover, much less do, God’s will?” But if Paul exhorts us to understand God’s will, we must therefore conclude that, not only is it possible to know God’s will, but also that we must know God’s will and do God’s will as well. Therefore, based upon the Pauline premise that we can both know and do God’s will, we set forth seven principles or “steps” by which God’s will may be known and done.

Step I:    Flick the Switch

Had the Psalmist David lived in the 21st century, he might have written, “Your Word is a light-switch in a dark room,” “Your Word is a flashlight on my dim path,” “Your Word is a halogen headlight for the dark highway,” or “Your Word is a laser beam through the black night.” Of course David did not know about a light switch, flashlight, halogen headlight, or laser beam, so he described the illuminating power of God’s Word with imagery familiar to his own experience. Envision David the Shepherd walking at night through a green pasture or up a rocky slope, holding a lamp to light his way to his flock; David the Warrior standing in a pre-dawn battlefield holding a torch to inspect his soldiers; or David the King walking through the midnight streets of Jerusalem with a candle to light his path. No doubt on one such occasion, as David watched the dancing flicker and shadows cast by his path-light, this memorable idea came to his mind, “God’s word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.” No matter how we describe it–flashlight, headlight, laser beam, torch, lamp, or candle, when we read God’s Word, it shines, and its radiance lights our pathway.

Step II: Stare at the Star

During the Civil War, runaway slaves traveled at night to avoid detection and thus evade their captors. Through the darkness, the North Star shown down upon them, guiding them to freedomland. How liberating for them, not just to flee their bondage, but to look heavenward and fix their eyes upon the North Star. Scientists tell us that our bodies are comprised of the same matter and energy as the North Star–we are star-stuff. So as the slaves stared at the North Star, in a way they became one with the star, and that oneness kept them on the right path to freedom. We, too, are runaway slaves, and God’s Word is our Northern Star. On our journey, we raise our eyes heavenward and look to that Star whose silver beams penetrate our minds, illuminate our bodies, and shine down into our very souls. Jesus tells us something even more important than scientists, “If your eye is single, your whole body will be full of light.” By “single” Jesus means that our eyes must be sharply focused upon one thing–God’s Word–and by that singular focus our entire being becomes “full of light.” And how is it that we focus upon God’s Word–meditation. When the runaway slave fled for freedom, he did not fixate on the bloodhounds pursuing him; the darkness all around him; or the stones, briars, and thorns that impeded his steps; he kept his eye upon the guiding star. In the same way, if we would find our way through the darkness, around obstacles, and over impediments, we too must fix our eye upon a guiding star, that is, we must meditate upon God’s Word. To meditate upon God’s word means that we clear our minds of every fear and worry and concentrate fully upon God’s Word. We must stare at the Star. When we do that, our whole being–body, soul and spirit–becomes “full of light.” We become Star-stuff, one with God. His thoughts become our thoughts, and His ways our ways–we depend, not upon what we think, but upon what God says; we find, not our way, but His way, His way out of bondage, His way through the dark night, and His way to the sweet land of liberty. Dear Friend, if you want to know God’s way, then look to the Northern Star of His Word. Make your eye “single.” Focus upon God’s Word, meditate upon God’s Word. Stare at the Star.

Step III: Stop Trying to Figure Out Things by Yourself

Perhaps this is the most difficult step in knowing and doing God’s will. Our natural tendency is to try to figure out things for ourselves, to assess our situation, analyze our problems, weigh the pros and cons of doing this or that, and then map out a doubtful strategy in some uncertain direction. But the Bible commands us to do something quite contrary to our nature: “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not to your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your paths.” We learn four important things from that wonderful verse of scripture. First, we learn that, if we really want to know and do God’s will, then we must “trust” God. The Hebrew word for trust, bawtakh, connotes a trust so complete and dynamic as to inspire both confidence and boldness. After all, when we truly and fully trust God, we do not trust in other people or in the uncertain possibilities of the unknown future, much less in ourselves and our own devices; we trust in the LORD, God Almighty, and thus we have both confidence and courage, faith and boldness. Secondly, we learn that to trust God is not a matter of the head but of the heart”–“Trust in the LORD with all your heart,” Solomon says, “and do not lean upon your own understanding.” In other words, knowing and doing God’s will is not merely a rational process but rather a spiritual experience. Third, we learn that “in all our ways” we must “acknowledge Him.” “All our ways” means just that. Nothing is too big for God, and nothing too little for Him either. Stated another way, “No matter what your circumstance, small or big, easy or hard, don’t put yourself first; don’t even put others first. Put God first. Do not think about what you want to do, or what others think you should do; focus upon what God wants you to do. As Jesus said, “Seek first the kingdom of God” and then everything else will take care of itself or, more correctly, “seek first the kingdom of God” and then God will take care of everything else. Finally, we learn that God “will direct your path.” Isn’t that exactly what we want when we seek to know and do God’s will, for God to “direct” our path? God says He will do precisely that–if we trust God with our hearts and not our heads, and acknowledge God first in every circumstance–God promises us that He will “direct” our paths.

Step IV: Talk to your Father

A good father never gives his child anything that hurts him but always what is best for the child. Jesus illustrates this principle in a parable, “If a son shall ask bread of any of you that is a father, will he give him a stone? or if he ask a fish, will he for a fish give him a serpent? Or if he shall ask for an egg, will he offer him a scorpion?” Of course Jesus’ hearers understood that a loving father or mother would never give a child a stone for bread, a serpent for a fish, or a scorpion for an egg. The same holds true for our Heavenly Father. When we ask something from Him, He always gives us what is best for us. How comforting to know that, when we call out to God in prayer, He promises that “I will answer thee, and show thee great and mighty things which thou knowest not.”

That last phrase, “things which thou knowest not,” aptly describes our situation when we face seemingly insurmountable problems for which we can see no easy solution. Even though an infant cannot speak a single syllable, a loving parent can still interpret the child’s inarticulate cry. The same holds true in our relationship to our Heavenly Father; if we do not know how we should pray about a problem, or perhaps we do not even know what to pray, the Holy Spirit “makes intercession for us with groanings which we cannot utter.” To our great comfort, that powerful promise, “the Spirit makes intercession for us,” directly precedes these precious words, “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His promise.” We know that all things, even the bad things, will work together for our good and God’s glory because the Holy Spirit makes intercession for us, and because we believe our Father’s promise that He will do “exceedingly and abundantly above all that we ask or think.”

Another way prayer helps us find our way through life’s difficulties is by changing our desires. David wrote, “Delight yourself also in the LORD, and he will give thee the desires of your heart.” If we interpret that verse superficially and materially, we will wrongly conclude that God will give us whatever we desire: “Lord, I want a new car; a new job; a new house; more money; greater influence and power, a better education, or perhaps a spouse,” and then God says, “OK, you can have whatever you desire.” But we know that interpretation is false; God never gives us everything we desire, not that He could not give us everything we desire; He could, but our desires are too often not God’s desires, and, besides, God knows that what we desire is not necessarily what we need. What we need is not every desire fulfilled but every desire transformed. That is the true meaning of David’s words, “Delight yourself also in the LORD, and He will give you the desires of your heart.” When we “delight” ourselves in the Lord, He gives us, not the things we desire but the “desires” themselves. The Hebrew word for “delight” infers delicate softness and therefore pliability; He who delights himself in the LORD is delicate and soft towards God’s will, and therefore pliable and moldable to God’s desires. Prayer makes us pliable in such a way that God changes our desires, and by that change of desires, God transforms our affections that we might love the things He loves, and desire those things He desires. That includes life’s pathways as we seek to know and do God’s will. Thus, we should pray, “Lord; I delight myself in you; I am soft and pliable to be molded like clay in your hands; change my heart’s desires that I may desire what you desire and walk the path you want me to walk; change my desires that I may know and do your will.”

Step V: Connect with the Holy Spirit 

Actually, we don’t have to “connect with the Holy Spirit”; He connects with us. Scripture plainly teaches that the Holy Spirit indwells Christians the same way He indwelt the Tabernacle and Temple. The Shekinah glory has come down from heaven and actually resides in our bodies. “Your bodies,” Paul says, “are the temple of the Holy Spirit.” Sometimes we forget that, like Aaron and Levi in the Tabernacle and Temple, the Holy Spirit is also a Person and therefore has a personality. Every personality has traits, and the traits of the Holy Spirit are “love, joy, peace, gentleness, goodness, patience, faith, humility, and self-control.” As residences of the Holy Spirit, and through the process of sanctification, each of us gradually and progressively look more and more like our Father, become more and more conformed to the image of His Son, and more and more we think and behave like the Holy Spirit. Through His presence God’s love is shed abundantly in our hearts, God’s unspeakable joy effervesces within us like a bubbling fountain, God’s peace guards our minds and hearts as a royal solder would guard the king’s own son; we become gentler, goodness spurs our motives and redefines our goals, patience calms our anxieties and slows our clock, faith enables us to move mountains, humility teaches us to bow our heads to God and open our hearts to men, and self-control disciplines our passions and appetites. These nine aspects of the Spirit fruit–love, joy, peace, gentleness, goodness, patience, faith, meekness, and self-control–play a vital role as we seek to know and do God’s will.

The formula is simple–when we desire to know and do God’s will, we should never do anything that disturbs the Holy Spirit. Paul refers to such a disturbance as grieving or quenching the Holy Spirit, and Stephen called it resisting the Holy Spirit. When I make a decision and choose a pathway, I must ask myself, “Is this decision rooted in love; is this path a pathway of love. Does this decision enhance my joy in God, or does it cloud heaven’s skies? Does this decision bring me peace that surpasses my understanding, or does it trouble the Spirit within me? Is this decision gentle toward others? Is this decision morally and spiritually good? Is this decision made in patience, or is it made in haste? Is this decision a decision based on faith in God’s Word, or premised upon self-trust or trust in others? Is this decision made in humility and meekness, or in pride and arrogance? Is this decision made with self-control, or am I out of control just doing what I want to do?” Any major decision that does not meet that ninefold test is a bad decision, perhaps even a dangerous decision, one that will resist, quench, and grieve the Holy Spirit.

Step VI: Look Around with New Eyes

Solomon tells us, “A wise man’s eyes are in his head.” Solomon’s proverb includes three important aspects of knowing and doing God’s will–the eyes, the head, and wisdom. The eyes connote sight, and thus the ability to see things clearly. A blind person always walks a dangerous path, but keen eyes make every path plain and every footstep sure. Anatomically and neurologically, the eyes connect to the head, so that not only do we see but we also possess the ability to analyze and interpret what we see. In other words, we rationalize what we visualize, and this eye-to-head dynamic enables us both to see and think about the circumstances around them and the paths before them. But the most important element of Solomon’s proverb is neither the eyes nor the head but wisdom. In biblical terms, wisdom is more than visual accuracy and intellectual acumen that enable us to analyze problems and find solutions. Wisdom involves rationality but sanctifies it with spirituality. Wisdom includes the rational ability to use our eyes to see circumstances and our heads to analyze situations, but wisdom transcends physical sight and rational thought and reaches into a supernatural dimension of discernment, a miraculous ability to see things as God sees them, and to think about things as God thinks about them. Wisdom is a tangible, God-given ability to look at the circumstances of Providence, interpret those circumstances, and then make a decision that accords with God’s will. This phenomenal ability to think wisely and do wisely lies within the grasp of every single Christian. “If any man lack wisdom,” James exhorts us, “let him ask of God who gives liberally to all.”

Step VII: Obey

Knowing God’s will requires reading and meditating upon His Word; not trying to figure out things on our won; sensitivity to Spirit’s personality; fervent, effectual prayer; and God-given wisdom. But if we possess all those spiritual graces and do not act, we may know God’s will but we have not done God’s will. Then we would fall into those categories of the spiritual coward who says, “I know God’s will but I fear to do it,” or the spiritual rebel who says, “I know God’s will but I don’t like it.” These are sins of which every Christian must repent. Paul’s maxim to the Thessalonians, “understanding what the will of the Lord is,” necessarily implies that, not only must we know God’s will but also that we must do it. This is where grace comes in. Left to ourselves, none of us would ever do God’s will; but by His grace, all of us can, yea, all of us, must, yea, all of us will do God’s will. Otherwise, we cannot call Jesus Lord and thereby enter into the kingdom of heaven.

Jesus once asked His disciples, “Why do you call Lord if you do not do the things I command you?” Jesus’ words imply an hypocrisy–we cannot say that Jesus is our Lord unless He really is our Lord, unless we are submitted and surrendered to His will. On another occasion Jesus said, “Not everyone who says unto me, ‘Lord, Lord’ shall enter into the kingdom of heaven but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” It is not as if Jesus Himself was never tempted with fear of God’s will, or rebellion against God’s will. He was. In the Garden of Gethsemane, facing desertion by His disciples and the brutal and cruel cross, Jesus prayed, “Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me.” Though no mortal or angel dare charge the Son of God with sin, we know nonetheless that He was tested in all points as we are tested, including the test of whether or not He would do God’s will. That is truly “the last temptation of Christ,” and the lesson of Gethsemane. While we cannot possibly imagine the terrible prospect that lay before the Son of God, the stinging whip, the cruel mockery, the ignoble cross, the heavy hammer, the sharp nail, the merciless spear, and alienation from His heavenly Father, all of us have our lesser Gethsemanes and our lighter crosses, but Gethsemanes and crosses nonetheless. May God’s mercy embolden us to follow the example of our dear Savior, who both knew and did God’s will. May God’s grace enable us to pray as He prayed, “Father, not my will, but thine.”

In conclusion, let us flick the switch of God’s Word and stare at that star; let us cease from trying to figure things out by and for ourselves, and instead ask our Heavenly Father for wisdom; in the face of difficult or puzzling circumstances, may we neither quench nor grieve God the Holy Spirit, but always subject our decisions and pathways to His graces; let us look around with new eyes, and interpret what we see with a new head. Above all, let us obey. By God’s grace and mercy, may we both know and do God’s will.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Adultery as Art, Part II

Who will deny that much “art” today is both corrupt and corrupting? And yet the Christian community subsidizes corrupt modern art in numerous ways, not the least of which is at the box office. Sometimes I watch movies as well, but I am not the average movie-watcher. As an academic, I tend to look down upon commercial "art"that has broad popular appeal, convicted that, if the savage herd grazes upon it, then surely it must be fodder. However, every few years I come down out of my ivory tower to attend the theater or watch a rented movie. A few years ago, I found myself in a Blockbuster video store staring at the carton of The English Patient. I must admit that I was interested in this movie since its advertisements showed some beautiful scenery, and critics at large, including the Academy, heralded The English Patient an epic success. So I took the movie from the shelf and walked toward the cashier. However, on my way to check out, I noticed that the movie was rated "R," which prompted me to put it back on the shelf. I seldom watch R-rated movies, and never when nudity or vulgarity permeate or even infiltrate a film. So as I stood there in my brief moral dilemma, deciding whether or not to take or leave the film, my artistic sentiments won out over my moral sensitivities. "Besides," I reasoned with myself, "I can fast-forward any objectionable scenes." So I checked the movie out. Upon returning home, I popped the popcorn, poured the coke, and pressed "play." And I was not disappointed (But I was seduced, in a way!).

The English Patient
is certainly one of the most complex, intriguing motion pictures I have ever watched. The plot is a stream-of-consciousness psychodrama in which a burn patient slips in and out of consciousness. This psychic action provides the viewer with two plots, an interior journey into the patient's past in which he narrates his passionate affair with another man's wife, and an exterior journey into the present of two other sub-plots; one, the burn patient's demise and eventual death, and the other, a second torrid affair between the English patient's nurse and an Indio-English soldier who is expert in disarming explosives.

The English Patient grips its viewer at multiple levels - intellectually, aesthetically, and psychologically. At an intellectual level, the movie appeals even to the staid academic with unusually substantive dialogue and plot, interweaving within its fast-paced verbiage such attractive academic motifs as ancient hieroglyphics, Herodotus's historical narratives, and Platonic philosophy.

The English Patient also has fascinating aesthetic qualities. The airborne scenes over the Sahara's golden sands are breathtaking and, from the pilot's point of view over the shining desert, moving swiftly and silently, the visual imagery takes on a surreal, otherworldly, and hypnotic quality as the planes fly silently without the sound of roaring engines or propellers. Numerous allusions to literature also enhance the aesthetic value of the film. Several of the main characters are intellectuals who are widely read and lead exciting lives. The English patient himself, and his illicit lover, seem mystically united by a common intellectual interest in the Greek historian Herodotus, and his mistress cites Platonic philosophy as if it were her major.

The two exterior plots also beg aesthetic appreciation. The English patient spends his last days in a burned out monastery, which gives the setting a hallowed tone including several eye-catching shots of the cross upon the monastery dome against a cloudless blue sky. The other exterior subplot focuses upon the English patient's nurse and her illicit lover. Even though the English patient's nurse is an uncultured technocrat caught up in the war-related necessity of nursing his horrific injuries, her illicit lover, the explosives expert, is a cultured Muslim who seduces her by an imaginative journey into the world of art. From her window to his boudoir, he lights for her a candled path, and then leads her to a bombed out church where beautiful art works hang high on the church walls. Inaccessible to her because of the height at which the art hangs, he creates a rope pulley by which he raises her eye-level to the paintings. With lighted flare in hand, she flies Peter-Pan like through the monastery and surveys the art works, while her sexual accomplice manipulates the pulley and enables her to gaze upon these precious works of art.

The English Patient also grips its viewer psychologically. The movie mesmerizes the mind, moving one's imagination through a complex labyrinth of interesting characters, thoughtful dialogue, and a triple plot. True to Aristotle's formula for a good tragedy, the tragic pathos of the characters evokes an empathetic response from the viewer as we witness their suffering through several cycles of tragic circumstances. But Aristotle not only said that a good tragedy must only arouse in the theater-goer a sympathetic pity for tragic characters, he also said that a good tragedy must arouse fear in the viewer from having viewed such tragic action, and by this fear the viewer should have a cathartic experience through which he might avoid such tragedy himself. But I dare say that such a moral purpose, inherent to classical Greek tragedy, is woefully lacking in The English Patient. The movie knows nothing of anything moral, admitting no right or wrong, demonstrating no cause-effect relationship between immorality and tragedy; the chief protagonist categorically declares at one point in the movie, "There is no God," and no character does anything to diminish the nihilism of that declaration.

The movie ends, having narrated the adulterous lives and tragic deaths of its two main characters, leaving the uncritical viewer with the grandiose delusion that he has witnessed a glorious spectacle of star-crossed lovers caught in adverse time and circumstances that destroy them. "Ah," says the viewer, "theirs indeed was a love to be envied." But this is a deception, subtly and probably unconsciously conceived by artistic minds who have not a clue about how their talents and works of art contribute to the moral demise of an already downward spiraling society such as ours.

The tension between art and morality, as well as art's seductive power to demoralize culture, is one of which many philosophers and artists have been aware. James Joyce, perhaps the greatest English novelist, advocates the essential incompatibility between “art” and morality in his work A Portrait of the Artist as Young Man. In this novel, the main character's name, Stephen Dedalus, symbolically represents Stephen, the first Christian martyr, and Dedalus the artisan. The plot is abstract; if Dedalus, the artistic side of Joyce's main character, is to cultivate his artistic talents, then Stephen, the Christian side of the character, must be martyred; more simply stated, Christianity must fall if art is to rise on waxen wings. Another brilliant English writer, Oscar Wilde, affirmed that an artist cannot have "ethical sympathies"; for Wilde, one of England's first public homosexuals, art must express beauty apart from any consideration of moral absolutes. In his novel The Picture of Dorian Gray, Wilde illustrates his philosophy of art by showing that beautiful art necessarily destroys one's soul, for art requires the soul's careless indulgence into “beauty.”

The next day after I watched The English Patient, I took a country drive. As I meditated upon what I had viewed the previous evening, I was bombarded with movie titles that all did the same thing--transformed adultery into art, such as The Bridges of Madison County and Fatal Attraction (I've seen neither), and television programs, novels, country songs, and other examples too numerous to mention. As I mused upon these art forms, it struck me that adultery is and always has been a favorite subject of art, and that one of the paramount purposes of art is to disguise the moral ugliness and bitter consequences of adultery and make it something beautiful, just as The English Patient had done. Such a purpose in art should make us recoil from it and examine, not only how artists and their audiences celebrate those transgressions God condemns, but also what our response should be as Christian to any art forms that glorify and beautify evil.

On a Satanic level, moral corruption seeks to cloak its dark ugliness and robe itself in a majestic but deceptive radiance that lures our souls to hell as moths to flame. When Lucifer fell, he fell as one perfect in beauty, but his internal corruption did not distort his external radiance. Though a morally and spiritually evil angel, Lucifer transforms himself into an angel of light whose radiance shines with multi-colored beauty irresistible to the natural eye. Every precious stone is his covering: the blue topaz, the shining diamond, the black onyx, the fiery opal; but no stone upon his deceitful breast pulsates with greater lucidity and warmth than the dark, scarlet ruby - adultery. Satan is the father, not only of murder and lies, but also of adultery, for adultery diverts affection and adoration from love's proper object and perversely bestows "love" upon an undeserving and indecent recipient. Lucifer fell because his love for the LORD God was adulterated toward himself and other creatures, and since his fall, Lucifer's business has been to pervert the true image of God and divert the affections of angels and men from the LORD God to adulterated images of deity. The first and greatest commandment is that we should Love the LORD our God with all our hearts, all our minds, and all our souls, and thus the greatest sin is to pervert love by diverting it from its proper object to some other object to be worshiped or adored. Except for false religion, what better device could Lucifer craft to misdirect the souls of men and angels than art? And Satan does misguide us merely through art but through any creature-centered attraction that redirects our affections away from God towards an object of worship. With Lucifer's help we have created gods after our own image, from movie stars to musicians, athletic icons to corrupt politicians and princesses. Our culture is so absorbed in this idolatry and adultery that even we Christians do not realize the extent to which our souls have been seduced.

Weak and pitiful beings we are, whose souls can be stolen away from God by what men's minds have conceived and their hands have created. Like hideous Zombies under a warlock's spell, our culture has been enchanted by an old witch's brew mixed sweetly anew with modern poisons - popular music, the drug culture, Hollywood, television, athletic icons, and, yes, intellectualism, relativism, and art both high and low. Low art-forms such as rock and roll and country music, television, romance novels, and movies, have not only diminished our ability to appreciate higher art-forms, but have also vulgarized our morals, for the subject matter of these lower art-forms is often blatant immorality. By watching and listening to such vulgarity, not only to we desensitize ourselves morally but we also actually unconsciously participate in the evil these art-forms express. High art-forms, such as master painters and composers, can also be the means whereby Satan deceives both the artist and his devotees. No one was ever more evil than the atheist Wagner, and Picasso warped our perspective of the human figure, especially woman, more than any European since the Marquis de Sade.

Plato asserts that art holds a superior sway over its subject matter; that is, the artist is sovereign over his canvas, the musician over his instrument. But art can also hold a superior power over its observer. By spending an hour watching television, two hours at the movie, or a day listening to music, one willfully submits himself to the authority of the artist behind the thing observed or heard, whether music or image. What movie-watcher or music listener can truly watch or listen with complete moral guard, showing no chink in his intellectual, emotional, psychological, or moral armor? Hardly anyone. We cannot take fire into our bosoms without being burned.

The art to which we give our eyes and ears also proves that we have some kind of affinity for what we see and hear, and even more dangerous, art provides us with the opportunity to participate vicariously in what we see and hear. Can mortal men and women, in whose flesh are the motions of sin, deny that our sinful nature cannot be attracted to, excited by and, to some extent, satisfied with watching and listening to that which is evil? Can our fallen emotions, corrupt minds, and lustful flesh concentrate upon art forms which deny moral absolutes, rationalize evil, and subtly invite us to participate in the same folly? To the high-minded and self-righteous who say, "Not I! I can watch or listen without being affected," hear the words of Jesus: "You are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father you will do." He who thinks he can stand strong in the face of artistic evil should take heed lest he fall into its quagmire.

Mightier men and more virtuous women than we have been dragged into the pit by lesser powers than those which seek to seduce us. The electronic demons of music, film, and technology fill our ears and eyes with their seductive chants and images. Add to this the dark, spinning vortex of our corrupt society that is spiraling downward to destruction at light speed, the vacuum-like power of evil can suck us into hell's gaping jaws and swallow us up like a fly on a snake's tongue. In view of art's seductive and destructive power, perhaps we would be wise to remember the words of a children's hymn:

O be careful little hands what you do . . .
O be careful feet where you go . . .
O be careful little ears what you hear . . .
O be careful little eyes what you see . . .

Friday, August 24, 2012

Adultery as Art (Part I)


No, I have not turned my title around backwards. I did not mean to say "art as adultery" but rather "adultery as art." Art as adultery is, indeed, a common and longstanding idea. Plato asserts that art adulterates reality because it is twice removed from ultimate reality: 

Ultimate Reality- The idea of a chair - The World of Forms

Immediate Reality - The chair - The Material World

Artistic "Reality" - Artistic rendition of a chair, the Aesthetic World

As we know, Plato thought the material world only shadowed a higher, spiritual world, the "world of forms." Therefore, to Plato, not only was the material world one step removed from ultimate reality, but the artist's representation of anything material, such as a paining of a tree, a musical composition, or a poem, was an even vaguer shadow, two steps removed from reality. For Plato, moreover, art inherently posed a double danger. First, Plato considered art a natural deceiver that misled its viewer or listener to focus upon something less than real and perhaps even accept this unreality as reality. We certainly see this malady of art-delusion throughout our culture with its inordinate fascination upon fictitious books, television programs, and movies. We read and view fiction as if it were real. And not only do we often mistake fiction for reality, our fascination with fiction probably indicates that we are a people not happy with reality, not happy with our own jobs, marriages, and lives and therefore endeavor to escape our mundane existence by living vicariously through some fictitious character or situation. Art, for Plato, also held a second danger in that the character of the artist was necessarily and always behind and within his art work, and therefore the viewer of, or listener to, art was momentarily brought under the artist's control, necessarily exposed to, and usually influenced by, the artist's character. If the artist's character was not temperate, just, compassionate, and generally good, but rather intemperate, evil, crass, and lecherous, his art would have an evil influence upon his admirers whether they knew it or not. St. Peter implies the same artist-admirer dynamic when he says, "whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved."

Art as an adulteration of reality has even more profound implications today than in ancient Greece. According to Aristotle, art should be mimetic; that is, art should faithfully imitate reality. This is what we call realism, and realism's highest achievement was perhaps in the paintings of artists such as Raphael, whose portraits and landscapes faithfully and beautifully look like life itself. But since the impressionists, such as Manet, Monet, and Renoir, art has diverted from the path of realism. Indeed, something fascinating attends Monet's canvas of opaque lights, diffuse forms, and pastel colors. But impressionism ultimately does not represent reality but rather distorts it. Obviously, impressionism alters the fine lines that define form and also obscures the natural patterns and images of humans, flowers, water, trees, etc. Whether impressionism is a "beautiful distortion" or not shall be left to another discussion., but impressionism is not, as Aristotle said art should be, an imitation of life but rather an interpretation of life. Now perhaps someone could argue that impressionism imitates life in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. In the historical and philosophical context of Darwinism, Biblical criticism, Marxism, existentialism, and nihilism, perhaps impressionism faithfully represented its zeitgeist. But even if we admit that impressionism faithfully depicts the relativism of its day, are we ready to admit that 19th-century relativism is truth, or do we not rather say that 19th-century relativism is a lie that impressionist painters attempt to "beautify"? Whatever the case, impressionism marks the starting point from which art departed from absolute form and has now led us into the unreality of Picasso's mutilation of the human form, particularly woman; Thomas Kincaid's melodrama; and Serrano's Piss Christ. Who will deny that much of what we call "art" today is both corrupt and corrupting? 

In conclusion, we remind our reader that, although the above discussion focuses upon "art as adultery" from a Platonic-Aristotelian perspective, those remarks are only prefatory to our main topic, "adultery as art," which we shall discuss tomorrow in Part II, God willing.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Classical and Periodic Reading List

A friend of mine inquired about a reading list. I compiled this about three years ago, and I am sure one can improve the list; nonetheless, for anyone interested, here it is:

Eclectic and Interdisciplinary Reading List

               The Holy Bible
               The Epic of Gilgamesh
               The Heart of Hebrew History, Hester
               The Sayings of Confucius
               Bhagva Gita
               The Art of War, Sun Tzu
               The Koran
               The Arabs in History, Barnard Lewis
               The Crisis of Islam: Holy War and Unholy Terror, Lewis

               The Aeneid, Virgil
               The Iliad, Homer
               The Odyssey, Homer
               Oedipus Rex, Sophocles
               Nichomachean Ethics, Aristotle
               Physics, Aristotle
               Politics, Aristotle
               Poetics, Aristotle
               Aristotle for Everybody, Adler
               The Republic, Plato
               The Symposium, Plato
               Deruram Natura (“On the Nature of Things”), Lucretius

Middle Ages
               The Cloud of Unknowing
               The Consolation of Philosophy
               The Imitation of Christ, Thomas a’Kempis
               King Arthur, Malory
               The Song of Roland
               Murder in the Cathedral, Eliot

               Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets (read in historical context)
               How to Achieve True Greatness, Castiglione
               The Divine Comedy, Dante
               Don Quixote, Cervantes
               Utopia, More
               The Prince, Machiavelli
               Dr. Faustus, Marlowe

               The Praise of Folly, Erasmus
               Paradise Lost, John Milton
               The Bondage of the Will, Luther
               Pilgrim’s Progress, Bunyan
               Robinson Crusoe, Defoe
               “A Divine and Supernatural Light,” Edwards
               “Freedom of the Will,” Edwards
               “Of Original Sin,” Edwards
               “A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections,” Edwards
               “Charity and its Fruits,” Edwards

               Candide, Voltaire
               Theodicy, Leibniz
               Of Miracles, David Hume
               An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, Hume
               Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, Hume
               A Treatise of Human Nature, Hume
               An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, Locke
               Two Treatises of Government, Locke
               Emile, Rousseau
               The Social Contract, Rousseau
               De l'esprit des lois ((On) The Spirit of the Laws), Montesquieu
               La défense de «L'Esprit des lois» (In Defence of "The Spirit of the Laws"), Montesquieu
               A Critique of Pure Reason, Kant
               Religion within the Limits of Reason Alone, Kant
               “A Universal History on a Cosmopolitical Plan,” Kant
               “What is Enlightenment,” Kant
               Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Gibbon
               The Age of Reason, Paine
               The Declaration of Independence, Jefferson
               “Letter to the Danbury Baptists,” Jefferson
               Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom, Jefferson
               The United States Constitution
               “The Bloody Tenet,” Williams
               The Wealth of Nations, Smith
               Democracy in America, de Tocqueville
               “Theodicy,” Leibniz
               “Essay on Man,” Pope

               “Nature,” Emerson
               Walden, Thoreau
               “Civil Disobedience,” Thoreau
               Any work by Byron, Shelly, Keats (especially) or Wordsworth

               “Stanzas from the Grand Chartreuse,” Arnold
               “Dover Beach,” Arnold
               “Hebraism and Hellenism,” Arnold
               “Sweetness and Light,” Arnold
               “The Idea of a University,” Newman
               “Liberty,” Mill
               “Utilitarianism,” Mill
               Hard Times, Dickens
               A Tale of Two Cities, Dickens
               The Idylls of the King, Tennyson
               Poetry of Browning, Dickinson, et. al.
               Essays by Carlisle, Arnold, Ruskin, Newman, et. al.
               Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, C. H. Spurgeon
               The Picture of Dorian Grey, Wilde

Literature, 18th century to present
               The Last of the Mohicans, Cooper
               The Scarlet Letter, Hawthorne
               Moby Dick, Melville
               Huckleberry Finn, Twain
               The Red Badge of Courage, Crane
               All Quiet on the Western Front,  Remarque
               Heart of Darkness, Conrad
               Dr. Faustus, Mann
               Farewell to Arms, Hemingway
               The Old Man and the Sea, Hemingway
               The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald
               A Portrait of the Artist as Young Man, Joyce
               Murder in the Cathedral, Eliot
               The Wasteland, Eliot
               “Metamorphosis,” Kafka
               Thus Spake Zarathustra, Nietzsche
               Beyond Good and Evil, Nietzsche
               On the Origin of Species and The Descent of Man, Darwin (Norton Edition)
               Autobiography, Darwin
               Voyage of the Beagle, Darwin
               Ideas and Opinions, Einstein
               The World as I See it, Einstein
               Out of My Life and Thought, Schweitzer
               The Fall, Camus
               The Plague, Camus
               The Stranger, Camus
               Death of a Salesman, Miller
               The Skin of Our Teeth, Wilder
               A Brief History of Time, Hawking
               The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Kuhn
               The Weight of Glory, C. S. Lewis
               The Great Divorce, C. S. Lewis
               The Abolition of Man, C. S. Lewis
               The Closing of the American Mind, Bloom
               Physics and Philosophy: The Revolution in Modern Physics, Heisenberg
               Philosophical Problems of Quantum Physics, Heisenberg
               Night, Elie Wiesel
For a more detailed list of “great books,” see