IMAGINATIO ET RATIO
A Journal of Theology and the Arts In this issue: “God and Meaning in Music: Messiaen, Deleuze, and the Musico-Theological Critique of Modernism and Postmodernism” by Catherine Pickstock “The Beauty of the Metaphysical Imagination” by John R. Betz “The Ink is Flowing: A Study of Religious Meaning in Tattoo Culture” by Andrew McCarthy “Lost in Ghent” by Jim Hale Art by Martin French “The Hardest Part” by Leigh Hickman Poetry by Lauren K. Alleyne An Interview with Deidox Film co-creator Dave Mahanes Reviews: Girlchild: A Novel by Tupelo Hassman, Reviewed by Michial Farmer; Good News for Anxious Christians: 10 Practical Things You Don’t Have to Do by Phillip Cary, Reviewed by Nathan Gilmour; World on a Wire, Criterion Collection Blu-ray, Reviewed by Jeff Sellars; The Predicament of Belief: Science, Philosophy, Faith by Philip Clayton and Steven Knapp, Reviewed by Austin J. Roberts
Volume 1 Issue 1 2012
IMAGINATIO ET RATIO
A Journal of Theology and the Arts
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Imaginatio et Ratio is a peer reviewed journal primarily focusing on the intersection between the arts and theology, hoping to allow imagination and reason to be seen as intimately intertwined–as different expressions of the same divine truth. Imaginatio et Ratio was started in the hopes that it could serve a growing community of artists and thinkers and strives to present accessible but high quality art, literary fiction, creative non-fiction, and theology/philosophy–as well as interviews and book, film, art and music reviews. The journal is published twice a year and is available in print and a digital format. Editors: Leigh Hickman Kevin C. Neece Austin Roberts Senior Editor: Jeff Sellars, PhD Editorial Advisory Board: Kathrin Burleson (Artist) Dr. Oleg Bychkov (Professor of Theology, Saint Bonaventure University) Dr. Dominic Colonna (Professor and Chair, Theology, Lewis University) Rev. Dr. Jason Fout (Assistant Professor of Anglican Theology, Bexley Hall Episcopal Seminary) Dr. Robin Jensen (Luce Chancellor’s Professor of the History of Christian Art and Worship, Vanderbilt University, Current President of SARTS) Dr. Robert K. Johnston (Professor of Theology and Culture, Fuller Theological Seminary and Faculty, Brehm Center) Dr. Wesley A. Kort (Professor, Department of Religion and the Graduate Faculty of Religion, Duke University) Fr. Peter Malone, MSC (SIGNIS-World Catholic Association for Communication, Associate of the Australian Catholic Film Office) David McNutt (Visiting Assistant Professor of Theology, Wheaton College) Dr. David K. Naugle, PhD, ThD (Distinguished University Professor and Chair of Philosophy, Dallas Baptist University) Dr. Maggie Roux (Associate Principal Lecturer, Leeds Trinity University College) Dr. Deborah Sokolove (Associate Professor, Visual Art, Director, Henry Luce III Center for the Arts and Religion, Wesley Theological Seminary) Dr. Michael Hector Storck (Assistant Professor of Philosophy, Ohio Dominican University) Fr. Richard R. Viladesau (Professor, Theology, Fordham University)
In general, we welcome the submission of essays, interviews, reviews (book, film, music, art), creative writing, and art that attempts to engage–implicitly or explicitly–Christian theology. The journal is published twice a year. Submissions are ongoing, so, depending on the time of submission, work will be considered for the appropriate issue. Style and Format: *Unsolicited submissions should be ready for blind peer review: no name on or in the attachment, just in the body of the email… *Submissions should be accompanied by two separate documents: 1. a CV/Resume and 2. a brief bio (the brief bio will be included in the journal)… *No previously published material… *When appropriate, submissions should be sent in .doc format, 12 point Times New Roman font, no page numbers, single spaced… *Total word count includes footnotes… *Essays/Interviews: Chicago Manual of Style (Footnotes), 1,000-6,000 words *Reviews: Chicago Manual of Style (Footnotes), 1,000-3,000 words *Creative Writing: Literary fiction and creative nonfiction, 1,000-6,000 words *Art: Submit art as JPEG images, with an explanatory paragraph describing the work (approximately 100-500 words) *News/Events: If you would like us to post your news/event/conference/etc. on the site, please send it along through the contact form at our website… *Please allow up to ten weeks for decisions on submitted material… *If your submission is accepted, a contract will be sent to you to sign and return: any other editing or formatting issues will be resolved at this time through e-mail. A proof will be sent to the author for her/his approval… *Authors will retain the copyright of their work, while granting the journal right of first publication. Authors may use their contributions for other works as long as acknowledgement of the initial publication in this journal is noted… *Unfortunately, the journal cannot offer compensation for published works… *The editors make every effort to ensure accuracy, but the contributors are ultimately responsible for the accuracy of their work… *The contributions in Imaginatio et Ratio do not necessarily reflect the views of the editors, the advisory board or Wipf and Stock Publishers… *Send submissions to email@example.com…
Acknowledgements: Catherine Pickstock’s article, “God and Meaning in Music: Messiaen, Deleuze, and the MusicoTheological Critique of Modernism and Postmodernism,” was previously published in Sacred Music, Winter 2007,Volume 134, Number 4, pp. 40-62 and is reprinted here with permission by Sacred Music. John Betz’ Artcile, “The Beauty of the Metaphysical Imagination,” was previously published in Veritas: Belief and Metaphysics. John R Betz, "The Beauty of the Metaphysical Imagination," by John R Betz, taken from Veritas: Belief and Metaphysics, Peter M. Candler and Conor Cunningham eds. SCM, 2007 © SCM Press. Reprinted by permission of Hymns Ancient and Modern Ltd. Ghent Altarpiece images provided by Pol Mayer (Paul M.R. Maeyaert) © PMR Maeyaert. Special thanks are also in order to Pol Mayer for his additional efforts in preparing these photos of Adam specifically for our use.
Table of Contents Editorial “God and Meaning in Music: Messiaen, Deleuze, and the Musico-Theological Critique of Modernism and Postmodernism” Catherine Pickstock “The Beauty of the Metaphysical Imagination” John R. Betz “The Ink is Flowing: A Study of Religious Meaning in Tattoo Culture” Andrew McCarthy “Lost in Ghent” Jim Hale “Wrestling with God” Martin French “The Hardest Part” Leigh Hickman Poetry by Lauren K. Alleyne Interview with Dave Mahanes Reviews: Girlchild: A Novel by Tupelo Hassman Reviewed by Michial Farmer Good News for Anxious Christians: 10 Practical Things You Don’t Have to Do by Phillip Cary Reviewed by Nathan Gilmour World on a Wire, Criterion Collection Blu-ray Reviewed by Jeff Sellars The Predicament of Belief: Science, Philosophy, Faith By Philip Clayton and Steven Knapp Reviewed by Austin J. Roberts Notes on Contributors
E D I T O R I A L
Jeff Sellars In Andrei Tarkovsky’s beautiful and haunting film, Stalker, three men enter into an area known as the Zone. These three men (Stalker, Writer and Professor) have each travelled into the Zone for their own reasons: a child, inspiration, fame. The Zone is a mysterious place that may have been created by a falling meteorite, or maybe aliens—we are not given a definitive answer on this question—that is now quarantined off by armed patrols. Apparently, the area is now a place with special properties, and it houses the Room—a place within the Zone that can grant the wishes of those who enter into it. In order to pass through the Zone to the Room, however, one needs a stalker—a guide who can navigate the unpredictable Zone, who knows how to reach the room and direct the travelers through the many pitfalls and traps that await those who try to approach it. The Stalker’s methods are strange—he throws nuts tied with cloth ahead of his steps to test the path. He asks the travelers to follow in his footsteps as they walk. There is no direct approach to the Room, due to the apparent distortion of space and time within the Zone. While the men travel through the Zone, Stalker tells them that the Room does not just simply grant wishes, but grants the inmost desires of those who enter it. Professor is a man of reason looking for fame, Writer is a poet searching for inspiration, and Stalker is looking to heal his child. It soon becomes evident that Writer and Professor have much deeper secrets and desires than what appeared at first glance. The outer journey through the Zone then signifies the inner journey of the soul, and, from a certain narrative interpretation, the three men start to resemble the pieces of one soul, divided yet seeking union. This film then develops as a metaphor for the modern human soul: in particular, the divided natures of the Professor, Writer and Stalker then start to reflect the serious struggle between reason and imagination, the wedge that appears to be insurmountable and inevitable. Of course, we need not go to these dramatic lengths, however, to show this struggle in our everyday lives—even if the struggle itself be no less important. In many circles, imagination and reason are two diametrically opposed faculties—one dealing with hard ‘truth,’ ‘fact,’ ‘evidence’; the other with mere ‘fancy,’ ‘falsehood,’ or ‘play.’ We can see this reflected in general conversations quite clearly. All too often, when people see a student who is particularly adept at, say, math or science the designation ‘intelligent’ is freely used. However, when people see a student who is particularly adept at painting or music the designation ‘talented’ is used. There can be seen here a common bifurcation of imagination and reason—one is rational, intellectual and the other is mere talent, the implication being that reason in a proper sense has little or nothing to do with such ‘talents.’ This can be seen as a reflection of a deeply held philosophical position that often goes unchallenged and one that might even seem necessary in ‘secular’ spheres. As Charles Taylor notes, in A Secular Age, one understanding of secularity. . . is in terms of public spaces. These have been allegedly emptied of God, or of any reference to ultimate reality. Or taken from another side, as we function within various spheres of activity—economic, political, cultural, educational, professional, recreational—the norms and principles we follow, the deliberations we engage in, generally don’t refer us to God or to any religious beliefs; the considerations we act on are internal to the "rationality" of each sphere—maximum gain within the economy, the greatest benefit to the greatest number in the political area, and so on. . . In [a] second meaning, secularity consists in the falling off of religious belief and practice, 1
in people turning away from God, and no longer going to Church. In this sense, the countries of western Europe have mainly become secular even those who retain the vestigial public reference to God in public space. Now I believe that an examination of this age as secular is worth taking up in a  third sense, closely related to the second, and not without connection to the first. This would focus on the conditions of belief. The shift to secularity in this sense consists, among other things, of a move from a society where belief in God is unchallenged and indeed, unproblematic, to one in which it is understood to be one option among others, and frequently not the easiest to embrace.1 While an account of why and how such a thing occurred is certainly beyond the scope of us here, we can briefly look at some alternatives to this common viewing of imagination and reason as separate. Might we see them as both/and, not either/or—as imagination and reason, not imagination or reason? In other words, might we, instead, see reason and imagination as involved in an intimate interplay, a back-and-forth, that informs, unites and strengthens both. As Diane Cates notes, Aquinas observed that our second interior sense—the interior senses being common sense (sensum communem), the imagination (imaginationem), and the estimative and memorative powers (aestimativam and memorativam)—the imagination, is the “power that makes it possible for an animal. . . to retain and make use of the sensible forms of objects. . . More specifically, the imagination includes the power to create ‘a storehouse of forms received through the [exterior] senses.’”2 So, we seek to understand the world by applying the power of one’s intellect to the investigation of particular material things (informed by first principles that are ‘known without any investigation on the part of reason,’ as soon as one encounters them). . . By the power of the intellect one can apprehend multiple ‘universals’. . . A principle act of the intellect, in this view, is that of ‘abstracting’ universals from particulars. Aquinas holds that in apprehending what an object is, one first forms a sensory image or impression of the object, which he calls a ‘phantasm’ (phantasma). A phantasm is formed via the exercise of the sensory powers, including the imagination (phantasia), the cognitive power, and the power of memory. . . Aquinas agrees with Aristotle that ‘in the present state of life in which the [intellectual] soul is untied to a passible body’ as the form of the human body, ‘it is impossible for our intellect to understand anything actually, except by turning to the phantasms.’3 Commonly, notions of truth in the modern world revolve around that which can be empirically verified (“Truth is that which can be seen”). In the Summa Theologiae, Aquinas (following Augustine) challenged this notion of truth. He noted that this conception, on the surface, is clearly false because “it would follow that stones hidden in the bosom of the earth would not be true stones, as they are not seen.”4 Aquinas also challenged the idea that truth is that “which is as it appears to the knower who is willing and able to know” on the grounds that “it would follow
Charles Taylor, A Secular Age (Cambridge, Massachusetts, and London: Harvard University Press, 2007), 2-3. Diane Fritz Cates, Aquinas on the Emotions: A Religious-Ethical Inquiry (Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 2009), 112-13. 3 Ibid., 167-69. 4 Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, Vol. 1: The Existence of God, Part One: Questions 1–13, Edited by Thomas Gilby, OP (New York: Image, 1969), 207. 2
that nothing would be true, unless someone could know it.”5 Instead, Aquinas posits the following, “‘That is true which is.’”6 Aquinas goes on to write that As the good denotes that towards which the appetite tends, so the true denotes that towards which the intellect tends. Now there is a difference between the appetite and the intellect, or any knowledge whatsoever, that knowledge is according as the thing known is in the knower, whilst appetite is according as the desirer tends towards the thing desired. Thus, the term appetite, namely good, is in the object desirable, and the term of the intellect, namely true, is in the intellect itself. Now as a good exists in a thing so far as that thing is related to the appetite—and hence the aspect of goodness passes on from the desirable thing to the appetite, in so far as the appetite is called good if its object is good; so, since the true is in the intellect in so far as it is conformed to the object understood, the aspect of the true must needs pass from the intellect to the object understood, so that also the thing understood is said to be true in so far as it has some relation to the intellect.7 There is here a metaphysical union occurring, so that the thing known and the knower are united in our intellect in such a way that they become one. The implications of this, if true, become such that the process of cognition becomes a process of participation. In this process the knower and the known become united and the spirit passes between them (and all things). If every knowing event has at its core this oneness, there is present, then, a preconceptual logic, a rationality that resides beyond what is normally conceived of as reason. The spirit then leads the intellect. Our common modern notions of this, however, tend to cut off the spirit—as mere fiction or falsehood. But when we cut off the spirit, what are we left with? We are left with the appetitive lead. This appetitive lead will only take us where our desires will (not where the spirit will). We see, here, a corruption of Plato’s charioteer metaphor in the Phaedrus. It is no longer the case, then, that we have any control—though the modern notion of rationality would often like to assume that reason heads off desire (as well as false spirit). Instead, we have lost the spirit and gained a new (unknown to us) leader. On the other hand, when viewing the spirit as real and involved in the process of our cognition something different might be seen. If, as Aquinas noted, “for the intellect to understand actually its proper object, it must of necessity turn to the phantasms in order to perceive the universal nature existing in the individual,”8 then, as Diane Cates notes, “One must return to the phantasms repeatedly if one wishes to arrive at a reasonably complete understanding of what an object is…Aquinas holds that even after one arrives at a decent grasp of an object’s essence and its properties, one must continue to turn to the phantasms if one wishes to extend one’s investigations and apply what one has learned.”9 Behind a merely phenomenal account of imagination and reason, then, one finds a mystery. Imagination is fashioned from the phantasmata and it is also, in its mystery, a ‘more than.’ It is here that we see the mystery of the phantasms that then leads us to the unexpected aspects of thought. Additionally, as Austin Farrer noted, this intertwining of imagination and reason can be seen not least in scripture. This (what Farrer terms “supernatural action in the mind”) is a special Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, 207. Ibid., 207. 7 Ibid., 208. 8 Aquinas, The Summa Theologiae of Saint Thomas Aquinas, Latin-English Edition, Volume II, Prima Pars, Q. 65-119 (Ypsilanti, Michigan: NovAntiqua, 2009), I, q. 84, a. 7, ad 2, 245. 9 Cates, Aquinas on the Emotions, 169. 5 6
kind of knowledge and, “Such knowledge bestows an apprehension of divine mysteries, inaccessible to natural reason, reflection, intuition or wit. Christians suppose such mysteries to be communicated to them through the scriptures. In particular, we believe that in the New Testament we can as it were overhear . . . supernatural thinking of a privileged order.”10 Something might also be said about Augustine’s connection between memory, reasoning and imagination. If, as Augustine noted, memoria is the location of “fields and vast palaces . . . where are the treasuries of innumerable images of all kinds of objects brought in by senseperception,” then, memoria contains whatever we think about, “a process which may increase or diminish or in some way alter the deliverance of the senses and whatever else has been deposited and placed on reserve and has not been swallowed up and buried in oblivion.”11 There is the sense, then, that in order to think at all we must have these spaces opened up—that there is an imagination present upon which reason works. The link here with Aquinas is clear—as seen in Aquinas’ insistence that phatasy (phantasia) or imagination (imaginatio) “is as it were a storehouse of forms received through the senses. Furthermore, for the apprehension of intentions which are not received through the senses, the ‘estimative’ power is appointed: and for the preservation thereof, the ‘memorative’ power, which is a storehouse of such-like intentions.”12 The link with Plato and anamnesis is clear also. For Augustine, we cannot love that which is unknown, and, yet, in our search for the unknown we see love. So it is that the “student…already knows the value of…knowledge in general: his love is directed to an ideal present to his mind. He seeks to know the unknown for the sake of something that he already knows.”13 In other words, for Augustine, if there is no love for what is unknown, we cannot search for knowledge, unless, in some sense, the divine has made itself known before it is known. One might also note, along with Richard Kearney, that it is only “with Kant and the German Idealists [that] western philosophy officially and explicitly [proclaims] the existence of an imagination prior to, and independent of, both sensation and reason. For Aristotle, phantasia remains an intermediary faculty residing, as it were, between primary and pre-existing faculties of sensation and reason.”14 It is in the first edition of his Critique of Pure Reason . . .[that Kant] startled his contemporaries by announcing that imagination was the common ‘unknown root’ of the two stems of human cognition—understanding and sensation . . . declaring it to be the primary and indispensible precondition of all knowledge . . . [However] he quickly became aware that such a declaration of independence on behalf of imagination meant nothing less than dismantling the traditional edifice of metaphysics and, by implication, the ultimate basis of philosophical rationalism. Indeed, so alarmed was Kant by his own arguments that he went to considerable lengths in the second edition of the Critique of Pure Reason . . . to take most of the harm out of his initial claims . . .”15 Furthermore, as Kearney goes on to note, Heidegger’s assessment of Kant’s ‘discovery’ leads us to question Kant’s ‘drawing back’ from his ‘discovery’:
Austin Farrer, The Glass of Vision (Dacre Press Westminster, 1958), 35. Augustine, Confessions, Trans. Henry Chadwick (Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), 103-104. 12 Aquinas, The Summa Theologiae of Saint Thomas Aquinas, Q. 78, Artcile 4, p. 163. 13 Augustine, Confessions, 72. 14 Richard Kearney, The Wake of Imagination: Toward a Postmodern Culture (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1988), 111-112. 15 Ibid., 156-57. 10 11
‘Does not everything fall into confusion if the lower is put in place of the higher? What is to happen to the honorable tradition according to which, in the long history of metaphysics, ratio and logos have laid claim to the central role? Can the primacy of logic disappear? Can the architectonic of the laying of the foundation of metaphysics, i.e., its division into transcendental aesthetic and logic, be preserved if the theme of the latter is basically the transcendental imagination? Does not the Critique of Pure Reason deprive itself of its own theme if pure reason is transformed into transcendental imagination? Does not this laying of the foundation lead to an abyss? By his radical interrogation, Kant brought the ‘possibility’ of metaphysics before the abyss. He saw the unknown; he had to draw back.’16 While these aforementioned lines of thought are merely preliminary notes, I hope that we can, in some sense, ‘draw forward’ to see reason and imagination as closely coupled. Suffice it to say, this journal was created to allow for the viewing of imaginative works and reasoned works as deeply intertwined: to see that imagination and reason are intimately connected and not so easily separated; to see that imagination and reason are different expressions of the same divine truth. I hope we can open up space for the reasoned work of the imagination and the imaginative work of reason. With this in mind, the journal will strive to present high quality art, creative writing, philosophy and theology, to allow these two typically separated realms to interact in a way that might reflect their interconnectedness. This is certainly not to say, however, that the journal will not entertain opposing views: I hope we can create a distinctive place for Christians and non-Christians to explore ideas freely— and our editorial and advisory boards also reflect a variety of theological positions. In this sense, for me, there is no particular ax to grind here. Stated simply, at the very least I want a place where art and theology can exist side by side between the same covers. And, certainly, the works that will appear in the journal do not necessarily deal with these issues explicitly or exclusively. I hope to have room to explore all kinds of topics and issues, to have guest editors from time to time, and to have special themed issues. I hope to have room for pieces long and short, pieces ‘popular’ and ‘academic.’ This journal has been in the works for some time, and I am thankful to all who have helped bring it to fruition—especially the editorial staff and our esteemed advisory board. I want to thank all of you for your willingness to help get this project off the ground and for your invaluable advice. I would also especially like to thank the staff at Wipf and Stock for their help and their willingness to sponsor this journal. This is an exciting adventure, and I hope we all can learn and grow together through this journey. Lastly, I would like to thank our contributors for their fine work. I believe we have an exciting and diverse issue, and I certainly hope you enjoy it.
Kearney, Wake of Imagination, 195.
Essays and Creative Non-Fiction Catherine Pickstock God and Meaning in Music: Messiaen, Deleuze, and the Musico-Theological Critique of Modernism and Postmodernism1
The following article is an attempt to explore a seeming anomaly of modern music. In ways which will be described below, it has remained more obviously close to religious sensibility, practice, and even belief than other modern art forms or cultural tendencies. To fully understand this phenomenon, it will be argued, it is not sufficient to see musical composition, performance, and reflection as simply reflecting wider cultural and philosophical tendencies, nor as contributing to them in its own idiom. Instead, we need to see musical composition and theory as itself, at least in the modern era, a prime mode of philosophical reflection which possesses resources which allow it both to take to an extreme and yet to criticize the most fundamental intellectual tendencies of our times. This criticism tends to take the form of a religious transcendence of the secular, despite the fact that it is in no way shielded from the most avantgarde influences. This is exhibited, I shall argue, in the Catholicism of Olivier Messiaen and his legacy, since Messiaen was arguably the central com- poser of the previous century and the one who has perhaps most directly influenced philosophical understanding. I shall begin four “movements” by stating the theme of the relationship between music and modernity. Then, in a first “development,” I shall describe Messiaen’s musical and religious modernism. In a second development I shall consider and criticize Gilles Deleuze’s appropriation of Messiaen, which is surprisingly central to his thought. In the fourth section I will conclude with a problematic recapitulation which will discuss the way in which Messiaen’s theological critique of musical modernisms demands elements of the postmodern which themselves, however, stand in need of a religious critique which certain recent composers may have already realized. 1. Initial Statement of Theme One can detect an ambivalence concerning the relationship of music to the process of secularization.2 Amongst the arts, music appears to be perhaps especially related to religion; many of its forms are liturgical in nature, and its ordered expression of joy has been connected with the offering of praise. While music is also associated with the work of mourning, the very conversion of sorrow into song can seem to tilt away from the tragic towards resignation, consolation, and eschatological hope. It would seem that the inherent bias of at least western music is towards synchronic harmony and diachronic resolution. Nevertheless, the wordless 1
The following article was previously published in Sacred Music, Winter 2007,Volume 134, Number 4, pp. 40-62 and is reprinted here with permission by Sacred Music. 2 Music has often been regarded ambivalently by theologians. Augustine, Aquinas, and many others have indicated that while music is a suitable vehicle for the worship of God, because it reflects a divine order and harmony, it should remain subordinate to word and doctrine which articulate this order with greater exactitude. For example, see Thomas Aquinas Summa theologiae, II-II, q. 91, art. 2, ad 3; Edward Booth, “Thomas Aquinas,” in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, ed. Stanley Sadie (London: Macmillan, 1980), I: 512.
character of music and its relative freedom from representation can suggest also a certain urging towards a mystical, non-dogmatic religion, or even a cult of music that would substitute for a cult of faith. It can be argued that the historical periods that have seen a gradual decline in the importance of church attendance have also seen the emergence of the public concert, opera, and ballet as quasi- sacral rites which are neither sacral liturgical music nor occasional music, such as Tafelmusik and music for dancing, nor music for private performance. Music in the twentieth century seems to sustain this double-facing. Modernism in music stems in part from the later romanticism of Richard Wagner who had already distanced himself from the structures of fixed keys, and with the invention of the leitmotif which allowed romantic expressivism to drift further away from the dominance of harmonic relation and melodic development. In Wagner’s operas, the inter-communication of the internal discourses of the leitmotifs constitutes a non-dramatic subplot which is the esoteric aspect of these works. Closely allied with this esoteric aspect is Wagner’s deliberate attempt to create a new secular sacrality; a celebration of the possibility of absolute sacrificial self-commitment in erotic love: this enterprise reaches its consummation in his opera Tristan and Isolde.3 In general, Wagner’s music tends to reflect Schopenhauer’s notion of a pure unteleological fated process undergirding reality, and this allows a liberation of modulation from the constraints of proportionate concordance and repeatable tune. But the leitmotif superimposes upon this the use of a super-essential intermezzo in the form of ritornelli, little melodic and rhythmic folds which are then placed in juxtaposition with one another. This seems to anticipate the modernist literary interest in the “stream of consciousness” and a world made up not simply of a shared daytime plot, but also of multiple and only obscurely intercommunicating nights of inchoate desire and dreaming. As Roger Scruton has argued, artistic modernism as a whole continued and radicalized the Wagnerian enterprise.4 On the whole, formal religion was eschewed; yet equally disdained was the modern totalized and desacralized world. The desire was to make of art a refuge and enclave for the hyper-specific symbol, form, or expression, whose secrecy and difficulty ensured that it could not be made banal or functional by an all-devouring marketplace. In the case of music, this process has perhaps been carried to its furthest extent; music especially permits an extreme degree of abstraction and formalization. But the result of this, particularly with the rise of total serialism after the Second World War, has been to give the world of classical music the ethos of a small, diminishing sect, claiming to be able to hear beauties to which the public ear has remained tone-deaf. In modern times, one could argue, music has tended to become a substitute for religion. If, on hearing music, one is bound in some sense to intimate cosmic harmonies, then it seems nonetheless possible to halt at a certain mystical agnosticism which will not countenance doctrinal formulae or metaphysical explanations. In accordance with this, many modern composers, perhaps especially British composers, have remained close to religious practices and attitudes without espousing formal belief: Vaughan Williams, Howells, Britten, Tippett, Maxwell Davies all spring to mind. Yet, at the same time, music remains a vehicle for the persistence of explicit belief and of organized religion. This is not surprising because, to the reflective person, as the composer James MacMillan has pointed out, music presents a mystery: how is it that mathematically 3
Roger Scruton, Death-Devoted Heart: Sex and the Sacred in Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde (New York: O.U.P., 2004); Nick Nesbitt, “Deleuze, Adorno and the Composition of Musical Multiplicity,” Deleuze and Music, Ian Buchanan and Marcel Swiboda, eds. (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2004), pp. 54–76. 4 Scruton, Death-Devoted Heart, passim.
organized patterns of sound are capable of inspiring such great emotion, and also, as Hungarian education has tended to prove, of stimulating intellectual inquiry?5 We are still confronted with the Pythagorean truth that music seems to link soul and body, reason and the passions, the individual with society and the cosmos.6 Moreover, any given musical tradition contains implicitly certain views about time, space, and eternity, or the emotional and the rational, and the individual and the general. Although music is without words and indeed verbis defectis, musica incipit, according to the Renaissance tag, it is itself an organized language capable of a degree of translation into other aesthetic idioms and other discourses. Asked whether he was a “mystical composer,” Olivier Messiaen denied this and replied that, no, he was a theological composer. This comment is elucidated by Messiaen’s other statement that for him, music provides a more rather than less exacting means of saying things than the words of language.7 For these reasons, many musicians, including many popular musicians, have asked what the ground of the possibility for music is, and their answer is often an explicitly religious one. I have already cited British composers whom one might describe as “mystical agnostics,” yet it is striking that these (with the arguable exceptions of Vaughan Williams and Benjamin Britten) are scarcely to be counted amongst the major innovators in twentieth century music. By contrast, it is still more striking that amongst the major innovators one finds perhaps a greater instance of continued adherence to some mode of Christianity or Judaism than in the case of any of the other arts: one can think here of Stravinsky, Schoenberg, Messiaen, Schnittke, and Ustvolskaya, and of Arvo Pärt. Perhaps this is because the more self-conscious innovators (who are not necessarily of course thereby the best composers) are also those likely to enquire after the “ground of possibility” of music. But this observation immediately raises the question of the relation between musical modernism and religion. As I have suggested, the former is a secular movement, or rather one which is, in the long-term wake of Wagner, seeking to discover an immanent musical cult which will substitute for formal religion. So how can the composer of The Rite of Spring, so replete with the use of rhythm to establish “personality,” also be a loyal communicant of the Russian Orthodox Church? There is surely no easy answer to that question, but the example immediately indicates two sites for rendering the question a more general one: and these are sacrifice and tempo. To a wild, frenzied beat, the peasant girl dances herself to death. After Wagner, modernism was concerned with sacrifice: with sacrifice as the primitive essence of religion in the wake of modern anthropological discoveries, and with the possibility of a purified, immanent sacrifice towards the human other, or the human community, or even to the void. These thematics could be re-integrated quite easily into the framework of Christian typology, looking toward Christ’s passion. The ecstasy of music can convey the going beyond oneself that such a notion requires, including its strange fusion of the ethical demand with an extra-ethical obsession. To lose oneself in the absolute is to lose oneself in that which exceeds the ethical, especially if the absolute is an immanent law, or totality or process. The lure of eros is for the modern artist just a given, as is the succession of time or the social totality. To lose oneself in these things is to surrender to an extra-human rhythm, which pulses through the 5
James MacMillan has made this point in several unpublished and broadcast talks. See Catherine Pickstock, “Music: Soul, City and Cosmos after Augustine,” in Radical Orthodoxy, John Milbank, Catherine Pickstock, and Graham Ward, eds. (London: Routledge, 1999), pp. 243–277. 7 Ian Darbyshire, “Messiaen and the Representation of the Theological Illusion of Time,” Messiaen’s Language of Mystical Love, Siglind Bruhn, ed. (New York: Garland, 1998), pp. 33–55; see also Roberto Fabbi, “Theological Implications of Restrictions in Messiaen’s Compositional Processes,” Messiaen’s Language, 55–84, and Theo Hirschbaum, “Magic and Enchantment in Messiaen’s Catalogue d’Oiseaux,” Messiaen’s Language, 195–224. 6
subconscious but expresses the natural in an aleatory mode which is more fundamental than anything that can be explored by natural science. With respect to both sacrifice and tempo, music reveals itself to be perhaps the most central modernist art. It is best able to express self-abandonment to immanent mystery, and to a time that is more fundamental than the time which we can measure. Most of modernism was in one way or another influenced by Henri Bergson’s philosophy which hinged upon this distinction. For Bergson, a creative and spontaneous élan vital sustains nature at a level prior to the emergence of the regular and spatialized processes which science can formulate as law. For the human being, this more fundamental process rises to the surface of full consciousness and allows a super-rational experience of time as properly durée, in which past, present, and future are intensively fused, with a bias towards future creative action, rather than laid out as externally separate moments, according to a spatial model.8 It is obvious that music would seem to be the art which can most naturally express pure “duration.” And something like the attempt to do just that was present in musical modernism after Schoenberg, Berg, and others. Traditional diatonic music was seen as “spatialized” music; musical flow was subordinate to vertical harmonies, to fixed harmonic ratios, static scalar relations, and formal regular metric patternings and predictable continua of speed and dynamic. Beyond Wagner, the modernist revolutionaries undertook to set free a process of “continuous variation” for which there are no fixed tones and no fixed relations, but instead a pure becoming that is never for a single instant self-identical. With explicit reference or not, this was seen as akin to the absolute heterogeneity of Bergson’s durée and Husserl’s expression of ecstatic temporality, radicalized by Heidegger (probably in Bergson’s wake) into an identity with being as such. In the latter case, one is removed both from punctuality and from relation; a singular but self-differentiating process. The radical subjectivity of this process indicates also a development of romanticism, but in the direction of subjective forces which exceed us from within. This lineage is relevant to the musical world also. One can observe two paradoxes. Despite the Bergsonist aim to liberate music from spatialization, time as narrative here disappears. In the first place, continuous variation, for which the variation of the original is in the condition of “always already,” is a kind of simultaneity, and so seemingly “spatial” after all. Secondly, time as memory also disappears, as Pierre Boulez indicates: in a piece without development of a theme but only ceaseless juxtaposition and surprise, both the composer and the listener must continuously forget what has come before.9 Yet both are strictly impossible: one has to hear music in laid-out measured time, and indeed music is, as Messiaen put it, a kind of “geometry of time.” The most extreme modernist experimenters after the Second World War, such as Iannis Xenakis, sought to deploy the glissando in place of isolatable notes, yet even here one has to hear to some degree a “first” and then “what succeeds it.” The glissando has a narrative aspect. What comes later may be in some sense the same as what came earlier, yet for our hearing, it is also different and so is “in relation” to a precedent.10 Pure self-differentiation is simply not hearable, just as pure 8
See especially Henri Bergson, Creative Evolution, Arthur Mitchell, tr. (New York: University Press of America, 1983), pp. 186–272. 9 Pierre Boulez, “Style ou ídée? Éloge de l’amnésie,” Musique en Jeu, no. 4 (1974), 5–14 and “J’ai horreur de souvenir,” in Roger Desormière et son temps, D. Mayer and P. Souvtchinsky, eds. (Monaco: Editions du Rocher, 1966), pp. 134–58. 10 For Xenakis’ use of glissando, Iannis Xenakis, Metastasis, etc., CD: Ensemble Instrumental de Musique Contemporain de Paris, Konstantin Simonovic; Orchestre National de l’O. R. T. F., Maurice le Roux (Paris: Le Chant du Monde, 2001) and Anastenaria, etc., CD: Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks, Christoph Adty; Symphonie
juxtaposition would be merely noise and not music. In this way, the endeavor to remove theme, development, measurable meter, and harmony is an impossible one. The modernist enterprise was often self-consciously stochastic: gesturing negatively towards the sublimity of durée beyond the bounds of musical reason. The twelve-tone scale was in this respect like the boundary of musical finitude; although it held out the prospect of release from the diatonic octave, it also bound one back within it, since it is the abstraction of the purest degree of chromaticism which the octave pre-contains. For this reason, an in some ways “postmodern” philosopher such as Gilles Deleuze argued that tonic experimenters such as Béla Bartók were more successful in creating something drastically new which genuinely broke with the bounds of previous convention.11 Does this mean that musical modernism was inherently secular and immanentist? Not necessarily. Schoenberg came to see the tone-row in a neo-Pythagorean or Cabbalistic way, as the natural, divinely ordained grammar of music and the cosmos. Nevertheless, one could see this as a characteristically modern Jewish embrace of a “Kantian” position, following my interpretation of the tone-row just enunciated. The supposed finally identified bounds of finitude are identified with the laws of God. They gesture, negatively, to the unrepresentable infinite and even intimate it as a glimpsed chasm, yet they are unable to mediate this infinite to us. Nevertheless, the example of Schoenberg, like that of Stravinsky (whose innovations were more percussive in character), shows that the modernist re-invention of the sacred in art as secret, subjective, temporal, and sacrificial could readily be deployed as a new means to safeguard and convey more traditional religious belief: examples of this in the literary field would include T. S. Eliot, W.H. Auden, and David Jones. For the latter, one finds a fusion of modernism with elements of Thomism. And a similar fusion applies also in the case of the composer Olivier Messiaen. Messiaen is central to the topic of musical modernism, because it was his compositional and theoretical work which foreshadowed the “total serialism” of the post-war period, when the serial principle of de-hierarchization was applied not just to pitch, but to the other elements of musical composition: rhythm, dynamic, color, intensity, attack, duration, polytonality, and so forth. And yet, Messiaen himself developed a musical theology which was by no means “Kantian” in character, and arguably dealt with the stochastic yearning in a different fashion, just as his music was never predominantly atonal. Moreover, while he helped to found the “Darmstadt” group along with Stockhausen and his own pupils Boulez and Xenakis in the 1950s, he eventually broke with its total serialism, in a way that perhaps has some connection with musical “postmodernism.”12 If Messiaen is the pivotal figure in twentieth century music and also the most explicitly theological, then his work merits some examination, before we ask: what is musical postmodernism, and how does it relate to modernism and to religion?
For the full edition, go to www.wipfandstock.com/journals. Orchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks, Charles Zacharie Bornstein (Munich: Musica Viva, Bayerischen Rundfunk, 2001). 11 Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaux, Brian Massumi, tr. (London: Athlone, 1987), pp. 349–50. 12 See Siglind Bruhn, Messiaen’s Language; also Iain G. Matheson, ed., The Messiaen Companion (London: Faber and Faber, 1995).
John R. Betz The Beauty of the Metaphysical Imagination1 [I would like to dedicate the following to John Milbank] It seems de rigueur today to say that we live in a post-metaphysical age, or so we have been told, and that any discussion of metaphysics, even among theologians, will likely be received as an anachronism. Indeed, scepticism of metaphysics is almost as standard a feature of academic theology today as it is of the dominant trends of post-modern philosophy. This circumstance may be attributed, on the one hand, to the inevitable influence of modern philosophy: from the dubious thought-experiment of Descartes, to the anti-metaphysical scepticism of Hume, to Kant's 'island of illusion' and doctrine of the unknowability of the Ding an sich, to Nietzsche's doctrine of the will to power, to the Verwindung (though not Ăœberwindung) of metaphysics in Heidegger, to the logical positivism of the Vienna circle, to American pragmatism and Anglo-American analytic philosophy, to the linguistic turn of the late Wittgenstein, not to mention the surd of crass materialism, divorced from any notions of formal and final causation, that still informs so much of modern natural science. On the other hand, there have been significant contributing factors within the theological tradition itself: from the Reformation's suspicion of natural theology (Luther more so than Calvin), to Karl Barth's rejection of the analogia entis in favour of a narrative-based dogmatic theology, to the culturallinguistic model of Christianity proposed by George Lindbeck and popularized (with an admixture of Barthianism) by the Yale school.2 In the following, however, I wish to argue (however anachronistically) for the indispensability of metaphysics to theology - at the very least, as Nicholas Lash has argued, as having a regulative function that keeps Christian discourse (first and foremost of the incarnate Logos) from degenerating into mere mythology or, what amounts to the same thing, simply the 'language game' of this or that community.3 This is true, for example, not only of the doctrine of the incarnation, but also of the doctrine of creation, which in the absence of an objective metaphysics and proper distinctions between act and potency, being and becoming similarly threatens to be taken for mere mythology. This is not to say that a theologically neutral metaphysics has pre-eminence over Christian discourse; for a Christian metaphysics will be decidedly determined by Christian revelation, which retains its due priority. Rather, it is to say that without a theological metaphysics, the transcendent perspective, which metaphysics holds open, threatens to collapse into the 'way of speaking' of this or that 'faith community' - and with it the reverence apart from which the worship of the one, true God all too readily degenerates into idolatry. Indeed, in this respect, metaphysics (without which there would have been no apophatic tradition of the Areopagite) serves precisely to safeguard the transcendence of the God who 'dwells in unapproachable light' (1 Tim. 6.16). "The Beauty of the Metaphysical Imagination," by John R Betz, taken from Veritas: Belief and Metaphysics, Peter M. Candler and Conor Cunningham eds. SCM, 2007 ÂŠ SCM Press. Reprinted by permission of Hymns Ancient and Modern Ltd. 2 See George A. Lindbeck, The Nature of Doctrine: Religion and Theology in a Postliberal Age (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1984). For a discussion of the fate of metaphysics in light of these influences, especially Barth and Heidegger, and for a fuller treatment of the concerns addressed here, see John R. Betz, `Beyond the Sublime: The Aesthetics of the Analogy of Being (Part One)', Modern Theology 21.3 (July 2005), pp. 367-411; `Beyond the Sublime: The Aesthetics of the Analogy of Being (Part Two)', Modern Theology 22.1 (January zoo6), pp. 1-50. 3 See, for example, Nicholas Lash, `Ideology, Metaphor, and Analogy', in Stanley Hauerwas and Gregory Jones (eds), Why Narrative?: Readings in Narrative Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1989), pp. 113-37. 1
Of course, one might conceivably claim that metaphysics adds nothing to what Scripture itself already reveals. For here too we are informed of God's eternity, transcendence, goodness, and beauty—what is more, of something new and metaphysically unforeseen: his indwelling Shekinah glory [ d]. Yet one must admit that, for all that Scripture contains and reveals, one's understanding of these concepts has been informed by the metaphysical tradition in ways that we need not disparage or regret. One must admit, furthermore, that certain aspects of Scripture are explicitly metaphysical in content (it would be impossible, for example, to separate out the metaphysical implications of the Logos metaphysics of the prologue of John, and one could make a similar case for the matter of Stoicism in Paul).4 But not only is metaphysics in Scripture, and inextricably woven into its fabric. As Matthew Levering has recently argued, for the Church fathers (e.g. from Origen to Gregory of Nyssa to Augustine to that quintessentially metaphysical theologian, Maximus) and Aquinas, the appropriation of sacred teaching has always demanded metaphysical questioning, which in turn serves heuristically to illuminate scriptural revelation.5 A strong case can thus be made for the importance of metaphysics to theology: on the one hand, as having a regulative function vis-a-vis Christian discourse; on the other hand, as a heuristic aid to illuminating Scripture's inherent metaphysical depth. In any case, it would seem that the role of metaphysics in theology is not only legitimate, but at some level indispensable; that, contra Tertullian, there must be a connection between Athens and Jerusalem, between the wisdom of the philosophers and the incarnate wisdom revealed in Christ6—and not least of all because without metaphysics theology tends to become boring, unimaginative, and ultimately uninspiring. As Stephen R. L. Clark aptly puts it, “Once religion is reduced to the level of sentimental moralism on the one hand, and equally sentimental ritualism on the other, it is hardly surprising that a lot of people lose interest. When it is understood that there is something to be said for a hard metaphysical theism we can at least get a sensible discussion going.”7 That is to say that without a metaphysical vision something of the aesthetics of Christian truth is also lost, and with it something of the beauty of the God who would draw or attract all things to himself. My ultimate aim in the following, therefore, in the interest of an undiminished Christian aesthetic, is to explicate the relevance of a specifically Christian metaphysics to the project of a Christian aesthetics. In other words, I wish to argue that metaphysics (an analogical metaphysics, in particular) is indispensable to an articulation of the beauty of the God that Christianity proclaims. To some, admittedly, this might seem far-fetched. One might dispute, for example, that there is any necessary connection between metaphysics and aesthetics. One might even consider it obligatory, as a matter of aesthetic appreciation, precisely to avoid metaphysical abstractions when speaking of something as ineffable as divine beauty or as concrete as the presence of God in Christ. And yet, it is no accident that Hans Urs von Balthasar devotes two 4
See, for example, Troels Engberg-Pedersen, Paul and the Stoics (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2000). Of course, from the eighteenth century (e.g., Matthew Tindal, J. D. Michaelis, H. S. Reimarus, and Thomas Jefferson) to the nineteenth (e.g., D. F. Strauss and A. von Harnack) to the Jesus Seminar and not a small number of theologians of the twentieth, it has been characteristic of the liberal Protestant tradition to weed out what its various representatives have deemed accidental and therefore dispensable accretions to Scripture (whether this be the 'mythological' accounts of miracles or the apathy axiom of Greek metaphysics). 5 Matthew Levering, Scripture and Metaphysics: Aquinas and the Renewal of Trinitarian Theology (Oxford: Blackwell, 2004), pp. 8-9. 6 To be sure, philosophy will be transformed by this encounter; it will initially be baffled, stupefied, as the apostle says of the Word of the Cross(I Cor. 1.18ff.). But if it should receive the novelty of revelation (cf. John 1.12), such reception is not unto its abrogation (according to the modern model of philosophy as autonomy), but unto its fulfilment in cognitive union with the divine to which it naturally aspires. Which goes to say that philosophy is not true philosophy apart from the loving admission of something beyond its native grasp. 7 Stephen R. L. Clark, The Mysteries of Religion (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1986), p. 247.
volumes of The Glory of the Lord, without question the most important work of theological aesthetics in our time, to the topic and history of metaphysics. And surely it is also of note that from its historical inception the metaphysical imagination, in Plato and Aristotle especially, has been concerned, almost preoccupied, with the question of beauty. By contrast, one could characterize the inception of modern philosophy (and modernity in general) precisely in terms of the loss of the metaphysical imagination and a corresponding boorish failure to appreciate beauty's transcendent significance. Metaphysics and Aesthetics in Historical Perspective When Plato and Aristotle spoke of beauty, it is notable that they did so in explicitly metaphysical terms. Indeed, for them, the very pursuit of philosophy itself, which commences with wonder, could be described, quite simply, as a response to an aesthetic experience. As Plato says in the Theaetetus, 'For truly, this experience of wonder is the mark of the philosopher. Indeed, philosophy has no other origin' (ma/la ga\r filo/sofon tou=to to\ pa\qoj, to\ qauma/zein. Ou0 ga\r a1llh a0rxh\ filosofi/aj h9 auth/).8 And as Aristotle similarly says in the Metaphysics: 'It is on account of wonder that now and from the beginning human beings began to philosophize' (dia\ ga/r to\ qauma/zein oi9 a2nqrwpoi kai\ nu8n kai\ to\ prw=ton h2rcanto filosofei=n).9 Along the same lines, therefore, Aristotle affirms against the Pythagoreans and Speusippus that a 'supreme beauty' was present (in the order of being) from the beginning. 10 For Plato and Aristotle, however, beauty stands not only at the theoretical beginning of philosophy, but also at its theoretical and practical end. Thus Plato has Diotima say to Socrates in the Symposium, `the quest for the universal beauty must find him ever mounting the heavenly ladder . . . until at last he comes to know what beauty is' (211c); thus in the Metaphysics, Aristotle's prime mover moves all things by being loved, as that which is beautiful and desirable in itself (1072a); thus in the Republic, Plato, the Pythagorean, conceives of the moral life ultimately in terms of a beautiful harmony of the soul; and thus in the Nicomachean Ethicsâ€”though this is something often mistranslated and therefore overlookedâ€”Aristotle conceives of the end (telos) of virtue, remarkably enough, in terms of beauty (to\ ka/lon) as the very thing at which the moral life consistently aims.11 By the time Alexander Gottlieb Baumgarten coined the term 'aesthetics' in the middle of the eighteenth century, however, beauty no longer had so immediate a metaphysical or practical import, notwithstanding his avowedly metaphysical philosophy. Nor, increasingly, did it enjoy its former rapport with the other transcendentals, but was gradually sequestered from its sisters, relegated to the domain of mere sense perception, as the term aesthesis (from a2isqesij) would suggest. At some level, certainly, this development was the inevitable result of the anthropological turn at the beginning of modern philosophy in Descartes, and of the same scepticism regarding the phenomenal world that proved so inimical and fateful to metaphysics. At the same time, once the phenomenal world had been depersonalized and reduced to non- or sub-rational status (as opposed to the classical vision of the phenomenal world's participation in and expression of the eternal Logos), it can be seen precisely as the result of the various mechanistic and neo-Epicurean materialist cosmologies of the Enlightenment, for which the 8
Theaetetus, 155 d. Metaphysics, 982 b. 10 Metaphysics, 1072b. 11 Nicomachean Ethics, 1115b. 9
realm of the senses no longer constituted, in any necessary sense, a revelation of transcendent significance. And, finally, with Kant's transcendental gutting of the theoretical realm in the first Critique, the transcendentals had been so radically sundered that a monumental but arguably unsuccessful effort was required (in his second and third Critiques) to put them back together again. From a theological perspective, however, which cannot fail to see that 'the heavens declare the glory of God' (Ps. 19.1)—not even for the sake of a methodological epoché or a phenomenological reduction to consciousness—the history of modern philosophy cannot help but appear as the history of a mistake, one that could not be corrected without going back to its proton pseudos, that is, its founding separation of the sensible and the metaphysical (or, in Descartes' case, the sensible and the certain). Accordingly, the task of restoring philosophy, healing it from its self-incurred wounds, and salvaging it from the service of purely immanent, technological ends, would seem to depend upon the discovery of the 'clear and distinct' within the sensible, of the ideal in the real—however much 'through a glass darkly'. In short, it would seem to require a rethinking of the metaphysical implications of the aesthetic realm, of beauty itself, not as merely one subject among the philosophical disciplines, but as the principium and finis of philosophy's investigations. To be sure, one cannot undo the history of philosophy; one cannot simply return to Plato and Aristotle. One can, however, validate their philosophical intuition (and certain intuitions of German idealism, those of Schelling, in particular) with the credibility of revelation. Indeed, following a certain reading of the Thomistic maxim, fides non destruit sed supponit et perficit rationem, theology can lend support to philosophy, which, left to its own devices, inevitably succumbs to scepticism and—as history bears out—nihilism.12 Specifically, in confirmation of philosophy, theology can say that the reason why Plato and Aristotle began with wonder is that the sensible world is a revelation. This is why one can begin with the senses, and why one can— and should—begin with the experience of wonder. Moreover, one can say that Christianity fulfils philosophy by enabling one to see the unseen in the seen, the metaphysical in the sensible (John 1.18; 14.7f.). Admittedly, the novelty of revelation exceeds rational comprehension—just as the incarnation eclipses the wonder of Greek philosophy, and just as the Word of the Cross is 'foolishness' to the Greeks (1 Cor. 1.18). And yet, in some sense, the revelation of the invisible God in Christ (Col. 1.15) also confirms the Greek philosophical intuition of a connection between metaphysics and aesthetics, even as it radically transforms this connection into an hitherto inconceivable Christological commingling and saturation of the one with the other.
For the full edition, go to www.wipfandstock.com/journals.
Cf. De Veritate, q. 14, a. 10 ad 9; Summa Theologiae 1, q. 1, a. 8 ad 2; ibid., 1, q. 2, a. 2 ad 1. I am reading supponit here not as it is usually translated, as `supposes' (in the sense that faith `supposes' reason, just as grace `supposes' nature), but more tendentiously, in an etymologically legitimate sense of `supports'. The upshot of this ambiguity is that the maxim can be taken to contain both a warning and a promise to reason. The warning is that apart from faith, autonomous reason can secure for itself no foundation (as the history of philosophy's failures in this regard amply demonstrate), and thus collapses either into nihilism or the service of the purely immanent ends of technology. The promise, on the other hand, according to the traditional reading, is that reason is perfected by faith, and is thus able to see more and understand more than was hitherto possible.
Andrew McCarthy The Ink is Flowing: A Study of Religious Meaning in a Tattoo Culture The ink is flowing! According to a Pew Survey released in 2007, 36% of Generation Next (born between 1981 and 1988) and 40% of Generation X (born between 1966 and 1980) have one or more tattoos.1 Is this a new development or is it a nostalgic retrieval and what can we make of it? In a recent Smithsonian article, Abigail Tucker writes of the photographic pilgrimage taken by Chris Rainier to capture tattooed imagery from around the world. Rainier is pictorially chronicling a resurgence in ancient practices now being used in an effort to express individuality.2 While Christian and Eurocentric endeavors to impress a more homogenized identity on new world people can account for much of the decline of these ancient arts, the postpostmodern effort to stake out individual identities that are paradoxically dependent upon social relatedness has caused the ink to flow once again. Young people and not so young people are expressing themselves through a common medium that allows for the conveyance of uncommon and very personal meaning. Since religion has traditionally been a source for the mediation of meaning, this complex cultural movement raises the question: Is any of this personal meaning religious in nature? The portrait offered by the Pew survey would suggest that this is an empty avenue. Beyond describing the GenNexters as the “Look at me” generation, the study found that they are less likely to acknowledge a religious affiliation or to engage in formal religious practice than generations that came before them.3 This does not bode well for mainstream religions, but does it mean that these young people have lost contact with the spiritual side of life? This abiding question has given way to a focused study on the relationship between body art and spirituality. The initial findings point out that there are indeed connections between the artwork collected on young bodies and a series of spiritual themes and motifs, but the motifs which were least and most represented are both surprising and indicative of the need for further research in this area. The presuppositions giving shape to this initial study of body art and spirituality will be presented, then the methodological process of the study will be laid out, followed by a description of several of the primary findings, as well as indications of where this study owes itself to additional exploration. The Presuppositions The study, conducted in the Fall of 2010 on the connection between body art and spirituality, is guided by two disciplines that necessarily overlap. One is culture studies and the other is religious studies. Kathryn Tanner notes that culture is not to be understood as an event, but as a process.4 This becomes particularly clear to anyone who has ever tried to define the boundaries of a given culture. We quickly strip culture of its efficacious capacity when we demarcate it. This capacity is well expressed by a religious figure, Pope John Paul II, when he points out that the “sphere of culture” includes the stance one “takes towards the fundamental The Pew Research Center, “How Young People View Their Lives, Futures and Politics: A Portrait of ‘Generation Next,’” Released January 9, 2007: 21. [online], available from http://people-press.org/report/300/a-portrait-of-generation-next, 15 February 2010. 2 Abigail Tucker, “Body of Work,” Smithsonian, October 2010:56-63. 3 The Pew Research Center, 2, 23. 4 Kathryn Tanner, Theories of Culture: A New Agenda for Theology (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress Press, 1997), 4. 1
events of life.”5 The variety of life events each person encounters and the various responses available to us necessitate the process approach. In this study, culture is seen as something that one simultaneously enters into and contributes to. The subjects of the study chose the cultural expressions that appealed to them, sometimes selecting commonly recognizable images that take on new meaning in the personalized context of their bodies. Religion depends on culture for the expression of its deepest insights and, as a process to mediate the events of life, culture draws on religious understandings to contextualize many of the most deeply impacting life experiences. The two are often inter-related, but the informality of religious behavior among GenNexters might make this difficult to discern. In fact, the area of religion that I am most interested in, spirituality, is never the subject of direct study. According to Sandra Schneiders, the academic discipline of Spirituality attends to “religious experience as such.”6 The issue she raises is that religious or spiritual experience, when it occurs at some depth, remains essentially an interior element. All that is available to the outside observer is the externalization of that experience manifested in some way. Since there is a limited effort among the GenNexters to verbally articulate spirituality, they are either not having spiritual experiences or they are manifesting it in an other-than-verbal manner. While I suspect the latter, the less structured religious development among GenNexters makes identifying spiritual-religious experiences a challenge. One would expect scholarly theological discourse with all study participants to be unlikely. Instead, I relied on a notion, put forward by Martin Albl, that religiosity can be understood in terms of openness to the transcendent.7 For the purposes of the study, verbal expressions of an awareness of that which transcends the person, or simply unarticulated responses to something which transcends the person’s life context, were looked to as external indicators of interior spiritual-religious processing. Unarticulated response, in the form of bodily adornment, is the primary avenue of expression observed by this study. Meaning which is not satisfied with interior processing but calls for engagement with the external world falls into this open view of religiosity. Such a view includes many more spiritually meaningful conceptions than would be included in a strict definition of religiosity. The foregoing combination of cultural and religious theories validates the study of body art as a spiritual activity, but it does not explain where this study found its impetus. I taught a young man whose collection of body images was extensive and mostly in the form of portraiture. It appeared that everyone who was dear to him had a permanent place on his body. Then one day, after a period of absence for a family crisis, he returned with the most beautiful collection of roses applied beneath the image of a maternal figure. He didn’t speak about any of the events he had endured, but he shared the meaning of them on his body. What ensued was the shaping of a project whose goal was to collect images of body art that told stories and place those images in a context of meaning through their verbally articulated story lines. The Process Although I knew many young people were interested in talking about their body art when they were not put in a position of defensiveness, I suspected that few would take the time to sit down for an hour to do so. Through a grant application to The Anna Maria College Center for Teaching Excellence, in conjunction with the Davis Foundation, both funds and study guidelines 5
John Paul II, Centessimus Annus, 24. Sandra M. Schneiders, “Theology and Spirituality: Strangers, Rivals, or Partners?,” Horizons 13, no. 2 (1986): 268. 7 Martin C. Albl, Reason, Faith, and Tradition: Explorations in Catholic Theology (Winona, MN: Anselm Academic, 2009), 6-8. 6
were brought together. A Human Subjects of Research review process set the lower age limit of 18 and required witnessed participant consent, as well as data and photographic material usage and storage protocols. Since digital images would be taken of subject bodies, there were also strict guidelines to establish the appropriate locations of body art that would be digitally chronicled. These guidelines were published in the study informational sheet, which each participant was required to read and sign in the presence of a third party witness. There was never any need to discuss this further and no subject ever pushed the carefully defined boundaries. In addition to setting study guidelines, the most important part of this initial process was to develop the interview script. The interview script included 23 open-ended questions designed to probe different facets of the study objective. Initially, the subjects were asked to identify the piece of body art that was most important and tell the story behind it. They were then requested to describe all other items they felt comfortable talking about and they were queried for any stories behind these. A sudden shift in questioning required the participants to define spirituality. Many were caught off guard by this question and struggled with it at first. In the end they seemed pleased to have been able to self-define this topic. They were also requested to explain where they saw spiritual connections with their body art. It was apparent that there would have been much less spiritual awareness of body art had the participants not been engaged in this short dialogue. Two questions were posed about changes in the significance of any body art. In a limited number of cases, this allowed for further spiritual connections to be made. But in many situations, this was not a profitable portion of the questionnaire. A clearly more valuable series of three questions asked the participants to make connections between body art and people, both living and deceased, culminating with an inquiry about the reasons for making these connections permanent on their body. Four questions were dedicated to discerning whether the body was becoming a direct and intentional instrument of spirituality. The participants were queried about changes in their, or anyone elseâ€™s, perception of their bodies. An additional wave of story line was obtained by asking participants to share the most interesting or intriguing question anyone had put to them about their body art. An area of inquiry that I thought would be most fruitful was to inquire about the role of physical pain in applying body art and in oneâ€™s spirituality. This proved not to be particularly valuable. A large majority of participants did not show an affinity or need for pain. The last primary piece of story line came from asking whether anyone had a piece of body art that complemented the study participantâ€™s body art. This often revealed an overlooked spiritual connection. Among the remaining questions, the subjects were asked about altering pieces of body art, tattoos in particular. This might have been telling if it had occurred for anything but aesthetic reasons amongst the study population. The subjects were then given a final opportunity to include any information they thought pertinent about their art and were asked demographic questions, first about their racial, national, or cultural group and then about their religious or spiritual tradition. The important angle of these questions is that they are open ended and dependent upon self-identification. Strangely enough, very little direct information was gathered from the demographic questions, but an important tentative conclusion about selfidentification was garnered from them and will be discussed below. Organizing the study data was a challenge. After several annotated readings of the completed questionnaires, a number of trends became apparent, suggesting ten categories in which to place story lines. There is always a danger of trapping an idea in a category, so the decision was made to cross-categorize the story lines by means of an alphanumeric coding
system. Some story elements clearly fell into more than one category, while others did not. The categories containing the most data and thus showing the strongest correlations between spirituality and body art were 1) The Body/Spirit Connection, 2) Objectifying a Bond with Another, 3) Commemorating a Loved One, 4) Objectifying Suffering, 5) Expression of Self Identity and 6) Transcending Oneâ€™s Abilities and Challenges. Some of the less well-represented categories include 7) Rite of Passage (not initiation), 8) Overt Religious Expressions, 9) Heritage and Spiritual Connectedness and 10) Connection with Lifeâ€™s Passions. The identification of these categories, and the volume of data in each, helped give shape to some of the initial findings in the study.
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Jim Hale Lost in Ghent A wonder am I, and all your works are wonders. —Psalm 1391 Christ, before my eyes there shimmered such a golden peace that only a neurotic could dream of turning his head away. —Henry Miller, Tropic of Cancer2
I arrived in Ghent late on a Saturday afternoon. I had started the day in Paris, putting my wife into a cab for the airport in the dark before dawn, both of us uncertain what would come next for us. I went back to the apartment and packed my bags for my own trip, first to Belgium and then back to Alaska. In the two weeks we had spent in Paris, we had somehow never taken the time to see the Arc de Triomphe, and I was intent on at least glimpsing it before I left Paris. So I headed for the Metro and took the train to the Place de la Concorde at the head of the Champs-Elysees. Emerging from the Metro station just as dawn was breaking, I came up into the traffic circle at the end of the Tuileries and could see down the long boulevard to the Arc de Triomphe. The night sky was turning to rose in the east, and the illuminated Arc and Paris’s street lights adorned the Paris morning like jewels. I had not found time for a number of things I planned to do on this first visit to Europe. I had planned to ascend Mount Ventoux when we were in southern France and had even brought along my handy pocket copy of Augustine’s Confessions for the climb. But circumstances got in the way, and I had to put off Mount Ventoux for another trip. Now, the last thing on my list was Ghent. I wanted to go to Ghent. And I wasn’t going to let this one get away. I walked around the Tuileries a bit, taking in late October’s cold morning air before descending again into the netherworld of the Metro to catch a train to Gare du Nord and from there the train for Belgium. I expected that it was going to be a long day. Earlier that week the upper house of the French Parliament had passed President Sarkozy’s proposal to raise the retirement age from 60 to 62, and strikes had crippled transportation all over northern Europe. Protesters were blockading France’s twelve oil refineries, and the shortages had closed down petrol stations all over France and had shaken up public transportation as well. The BBC was reporting that only about half of the Metro trains were running, and the SNCF, the French national railway company, had cancelled three-quarters of its trains across France and northern Europe. Many French workers who were not actually striking were engaged in a massive slowdown and reported for work intent on not doing any. When I got down to the gates in the Tuileries Metro, a digital sign announced some kind of problem with subway lines running to Gare du Nord. My meager French fought with the sign trying to figure out what it wanted to say—whether the trains were running late or were out-andout cancelled. I approached the man at the information window: "Est-ce que le train à la Gare du Nord est arrivée en retard?" 1 2
The New Jerusalem Bible (New York: Doubleday and Company, 1985), 954. Henry Miller, Tropic of Cancer (New York: Grove Press, 1961), 318.
The information man looked up from his newspaper, pointed at the electronic sign, and said, "Information automatique," and returned to his newspaper. I replied that I wasn't sure what the sign said: “Excusez-moi. Je ne comprends pas le signe.” Looking up again, he gesticulated impatiently at the sign and repeated: "Information automatique! Information automatique!" “Mais je ne sais pas ce que le signe veut dire!” He shrugged his shoulders in resignation, repeated his mantra, “Information automatique,” and returned to his newspaper. “Asshole.” I flipped him some information automatique of my own, and stomped up the steps out of the Metro and onto the Rue de Rivoli, where I hailed a cab to take me to Gare du Nord. Inside the station, frenetic managers in blue shirts and short neckties were weaving frantically in and out of the confused crowds and consulting revised train schedules on the disheveled sheaves of paper in their hands. I stood in a long line to get a ticket for the train to Ghent, only to be told that that particular train was cancelled and I would have to wait in yet another long line at the Information booth—which I did, only to be told that they didn’t know which trains to Ghent were running and that I would have to see one of the men in the blue shirts and short neckties—which I did, only to be told that I should just get on the train and buy a ticket from the conductor. But which train? He consulted his rumpled sheaves without success. But he told me that if I could get on the train to Lille in northeastern France near the Belgian border, I would have a much easier time catching a train from there to Ghent. He gestured in the direction of the track for the train to Lille. So I found my way miraculously onto the train bound for Lille. But I never saw a conductor. At Lille, I changed trains for Ghent and still never saw a conductor and rode the entire way from Paris to Ghent without paying a fare. By the time I got to Belgium, the sky had grown overcast, and in Ghent it was raining. I checked into a hotel, dropped my bags off, and made my way directly to St. Bavo's cathedral in the center of the old town and to the reason for my visit. I had come to see Hubert and Jan van Eyck’s fifteenth-century masterpiece, the Adoration of the Lamb retable, known more familiarly as the Ghent Altarpiece. It was raining heavily by this time. The streets all around the cathedral were torn up with construction, and mud had encroached on the planks laid down for pedestrians. The way I felt, wet and muddy, I must have looked like some giant river rat stepping into St. Bavo’s. It had been a long day, but I was finally here and about to see, for the first time, a work I've been in love with for twenty years. It was late Saturday afternoon, and the cathedral was empty except for me and the man taking fares to see the cathedral’s artwork. I enthusiastically paid my 25 euros, and the man took my money and guided me to a side chapel, where they had on display a life-sized photographic replica of the Ghent altarpiece. I took one look and turned to him, gesturing dolefully toward the print and protesting in borrowed rhythms: “Reproduction photographique! Reproduction photographique!”
Like the streets outside the cathedral, the altarpiece too was undergoing restoration, and for the time being, this photographic reproduction was put on view. I whined to the official that I had not paid 25 euros simply to view a photograph of van Eyck’s masterpiece. Drenched and dismayed, I must have looked pathetic because the official suddenly turned sympathetic toward me and offered to let me have the "audio-tour" for free. I shrugged my shoulders and let him know I wasn't interested in the audio-tour. I asked to have my euros back. Then he glances to his left and right to assure himself that we are the only two in the place and, after a moment of reticence, motions with his head for me to follow him back toward the front of the cathedral. “Vous venez. Vous venez, si vous plait.” Leading me behind some temporary plywood walls set up inside the western portal, he takes me to the closed-up workroom where the restoration was taking place. He unlocks the door, opens it, and, putting his arm across the doorway to bar any entry, lets me stand there in the doorway and look around. The altarpiece had been dismantled, and all 24 panels lie hidden under canvas shrouds—except for one. There at the back of the small workroom, positioned upright on a workbench, is Jan van Eyck’s Adam—Adam, standing there like the real McCoy, but out of context, gazing into the empty space at his left; Adam, the first man, the new man, there in the fifteenth century suddenly new again and present, warts and all—an individual, hairy and alive and perplexed. Perplexed: that’s the biggest wart of all. What’s most shocking about this painting, and must have seemed even more shocking to those who first saw him, is not the stark realism with which van Eyck painted Adam and Eve—something quite different from the “realism” borrowed from Classical idealism and flourishing at the same time in Italy. What’s really shocking is that look on Adam’s face. It’s a look of deep—I don’t even know what to call it: confusion maybe, but not really confusion; and it’s not ignorance either. It’s more like a deep unknowing, which is different from ignorance, which always has an object, a something that you’re ignorant of. In the look van Eyck has put in Adam's eyes, the question isn't "what is it?" but some question that comes even before that, before objectification. Adam isn’t wondering what it is, but that it is at all. It is as if his having eaten from the tree of knowledge has left him dumbfounded.
Image provided by Pol Mayer (Paul M.R. Maeyaert) © PMR Maeyaert.
That deep puzzlement in Adam’s eyes sets him apart from all the other characters peopling the panels of Van Eyck’s masterpiece. The angels of the angelic choir are all beautiful, but they all look exactly alike, their faces idealized and soulless. The look on the face of the Divine Father—I’m certain this is some artistic legerdemain that van Eyck works with the eyes—seems perfectly inscrutable. Mary is demure, looking down in the presence of the Father, on whom John the Baptist gazes adoringly. On the closed panels of the retable, the painting’s patron, Joos Vijdt, prays with a devout countenance, as does his wife, Lysbette Borlutt. Everyone seems to be with the program, except Adam. The look on his face sets him apart even from Eve. They both look alone and in their nakedness stand acutely apart from the rest of the figures in the altarpiece, but van Eyck has something else going on behind Eve’s eyes. She is more focused. In her right hand she holds up a small fruit— not the apple of western tradition, but what looks like a citron. Scholars debate the exact species of fruit, but whatever it is, it clearly is not an apple and suggests the care that van Eyck took in developing his iconography.3 Adam and Eve stand physically apart from each other also; their portraits form bookends separated by five larger panels. But if you could book-match them side by side, Eve would be looking directly at Adam. But he’s not looking at her. He’s looking past her, staring into space, deep inside himself at the moment and feeling lost even there. That’s the word I’m looking for—lost. Adam looks lost. Here he is, part of this grand and glorious cosmos created by a good and gracious God, and van Eyck portrays him as if he were the only one who doesn’t seem to know where he is. His right foot even seems to be stepping outside the frame, stepping beyond the context of the whole Christian cosmos depicted in the open retable, as if he were about to walk out on the entire scene. That Christian cosmos and man’s place in it are the subject of the opening lines of the book that stands at the beginning of the Middle Ages, Saint Augustine’s Confessions. In the opening paragraph, Augustine begins shaping his 3
Image provided by Pol Mayer (Paul M.R. Maeyaert) © PMR Maeyaert.
Peter Schmidt, The Adoration of the Lamb (Leuven: Davidsfonds, 1995), 38-39; James Snyder, “Jan van Eyck and Adam’s Apple,” Art Bulletin 1976, 511-515; Evyatar Marienberg and David Carpenter, “The Stealing of the ‘Apple of Eve’ from the 13th century Synagogue of Winchester,” Fine of the Month Dec. 2011, Henry III Fine Rolls Project, paragraphs 11-14. http://www.finerollshenry3.org.uk/content/month/fm-12-2011.html
anthropology and theology by situating man in God’s universe. Man, he writes, comes bearing sin and death into the world: circumferens mortalitatum suam, circumferens testimonium peccati....(1.1.1) bearing about him his mortality, bearing about him testimony of his sin. 4 At the same time that he defines man in terms of sin and death, however, Augustine arranges his prose to literally surround this creature of sin and death with a greater truth: that man is a creature of God’s making and therefore good. Directing his words to God, Augustine frames the above sentences by repeating before and after them a single phrase that emphasizes man’s ultimate reality and context: homo aliqua portio creaturae tuae— “man who is part of your creation.” Et laudare te vult homo aliqua portio creaturae tuae, et homo circumferens mortalitatum suam, circumferens testimonium peccati sui et testimonium quia superbia resistis, et tamen laudare te vult homo aliqua portio creaturae tuae. (1.1.1) And desiring to praise you, man, who is part of your creation, even man bearing about him his mortality, bearing about him testimony of his sin and testimony that you resist the proud, yet desiring to praise you, man who is part of your creation. Augustine will return to this point again and again in the Confessions, most notably in Book Ten, in a passage made famous by Petrarch in his letter on ascending Mount Ventoux. After an arduous climb up the mountain with his brother, Petrarch reaches the top and gains the desired vista. Sitting down, he pulls out his handy pocket copy of the Confessions and turns to a random page and begins reading: Men go forth to admire the wondrous heights of the mountains, the mighty billows of the sea, the broad tides of the rivers, the compass of the oceans, and the circuit of the stars, and pass themselves by. (Confessions 10.8.15)5 Petrarch takes this passage as a stern reminder from Augustine—no stranger to introspection—to look inside himself. As psychologist James Hillman observes, in climbing Mount Ventoux Petrarch was exploring the outer world; but on reaching the top and reading Augustine, he was reminded of the more pressing need to explore the inner world of his own mind.6 Introspection is, of course, something Augustine rarely fails to recommend, and indeed the need to look honestly at oneself and one’s sins is a prominent theme in Book Ten. But in the immediate context of this passage, Augustine asks us instead to step back from ourselves, to stand off from the awful awareness we have of our own sins and look on ourselves from a
Latin text from The Confessions of Augustine: An Electronic Edition, ed. John J. O’Donnell, 1992. http://www.stoa.org/hippo/. English translations are my own, based loosely on Outler’s translation (Augustine: Confessions, ed. and trans., Albert C. Outler. 1955. Electronic text online at http://www9.georgetown.edu/faculty/jod/augustine/conf.pdf.) 5 Petrarch, “Letter to Dionigi da Borgo San Sepolcro” (Familiares 4.1), ed. and trans., Peter Hainsworth, The Essential Petrarch (Cambridge: Hackett Publishing Co., 2010), 225. 6 James Hillman, Revisioning Pyschology (New York: Harper & Row, 1992), 197.
perspective where we can see that, like the other creations of God—the mountains, the sea, the rivers, the oceans, and the stars—we too are beautiful and no less worthy of amazement and admiration. Augustine prefaces the quotation above with a paean to the wonders of memory and to the mind itself: Great is this power of memory, exceedingly great, O my God, a large and boundless chamber! Who has sounded its depths? But this is a power of my mind and belongs to my nature. But I do not comprehend all that I am. The mind is too narrow to contain itself. But where can that part of it be that it does not contain? Is it outside rather than inside itself? How can it be that the mind does not comprehend itself? A wonderful admiration surprises me, amazement seizes me upon this. (10.8.15) For a master of style such as Augustine, it’s hardly an accident that his words in praise of the mind in this passage, “The mind is too narrow to contain itself” (animus ad habendum se ipsum angusta est), use the same metaphor he uses to bring to an emphatic close the rapid-fire questions about God that inform the first five chapters of Book One: “The house of my mind is too narrow to contain thee” (Angusta est domus animae meae) (1.5.2). God is too great to comprehend, but so is the human mind. In Book Ten Augustine explores memory explicitly and at great length as one of the specific, God-given wonders of being human. In the opening of Confessions, however, he lets his prose simply hint at this general idea that man, in spite of his sins and in the face of death, is good too; is in fact wonderful because he is a part of God’s wonderful creation. It is crucial to Augustine’s theology that we grasp our essential goodness and appreciate the beauty and wonders of the universe—including our own minds—so we know exactly what it is we turn our backs on when we sin. Indeed, in Augustine’s theology that’s precisely what sin is. Later in the Confessions, in his discussion of free will, he will argue that, notwithstanding the goodness that we share with the rest of creation, we differ in one respect: we have been given a free will that makes it entirely our own choice whether we surrender our will to the will of God or, as Dante says, lose the good of intellect by turning away from God’s beauty and goodness and separating ourselves from Grace.7 Van Eyck portrays Adam in the act of stepping outside that Grace. He is lost. By painting Adam and Eve from our perspective, van Eyck lets us see that Adam is part of our world, but he is walking toward perdition. The one hopeful part of this beautiful but disturbing portrait lies at Adam’s left hand. Van Eyck has Adam reaching across his torso and covering a spot on the lower right side of his chest: a gesture toward the place from which God took the rib to create Eve, perhaps, but also, and more significantly—and in keeping with the Medieval typology that identified Christ as the “new Adam”—a gesture toward the area of the torso where artists typically depict Christ as having received the wound from the soldier who “with a spear pierced his side” to make sure he was dead (John 19:34). Altogether, these elements of the portrait of Adam strike me as the most remarkable achievement of the Ghent Altarpiece. A shockingly real and bewildered Adam, placed amid a beautiful cosmos both natural and divine, is about to turn his back on it all. And by showing Adam willfully separating himself from that beauty, van Eyck creates an image that we can read 7
In Canto 3 of the Inferno, as they approach the gates of Hell, Virgil informs Dante: “We have come to the place where I told you you will see the grieving peoples who have lost the good of intellect.” Dante, Inferno, ed. and trans., Robert M. Durling (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996), 55.
as a powerful visual expression of the Augustinian definition of sin. And yet, the simple gesture of Adam’s left hand sweeps us forward across history and points the way to redemption.
I stood there for five or ten minutes before the official motioned me out of the doorway, closed and locked the door, and guided me back to the chapel where the reproduction was on display. He offered me the headset of the audio-tour once again, but again I declined the offer. I'd just looked into the face of a fifteenth-century Adam. I didn't need somebody telling me what I'd just seen. I don’t know that anybody could—except, of course, Saint Augustine.
Art Martin French – Wrestling with God MARTIN FRENCH STUDIO | MARTINFRENCH.COM | GRAPHICWORSHIP.TUMBLR.COM | PNCAILLUSTRATION.TUMBLR.COM
Wrestling with God 2011 18x24 inches / Mixed Media
Creative Writing Leigh Hickman The Hardest Part The hardest part isn’t what anyone else would call hard, but it’s killing me. I just found you, and now you tell me to “Go, and sin no more.” How come that last part doesn’t seem as challenging as the order to go from you? What a difference one moment makes. A minute ago all I saw and thought about were my “sins,” many ugly, perverted sins. The man I married neglected me. I tried everything to make him happy, but I could never please him. So I ran after other men for intimacy. My husband hated me so much that he ran away from me and disappeared without writing me a certificate of divorce. So he left me what the Jews call an “agunah,” an “unanchored woman.” This meant that I’d always be considered married to the man who had abandoned me in a rage. Any and all intimacy I sought out would be considered an act of adultery. I don’t blame my husband for hating me. I hated myself. Neglect spoke to my heart and told me that purity laws no longer applied to me. When one has tried to do things the pure and right way, and has been neglected, a demonic whisper says she’s ruined now, that there is no redemption left because her best wasn’t good enough for the one she married. So now anything goes. There was no indignity that I wouldn’t embrace because neglect and selfabuse told me that there was no value in me left to protect. No one would ever let me live if they knew what I’d done, what I’d thought about doing. I’d disgust even someone who thought they’d lived wild, and the religious people wouldn’t breathe my air. I went to them once in private to get help. They told me that I needed to make a sacrifice for my sin. So I did, and I’ll never forget the splashing sound as the sheep’s blood poured on the ground. There was so much blood. It made me sick, the white wool acting like a gory sponge. And it ran everywhere and wet my feet in the violent muck. And when it was all done, I didn’t feel any better. If anything, I was only more dirty and guilty because the sheep just wasn’t enough. I tried to be good the next day, but one of the men who told me he loved me after my husband left came back to get me, and I thought, “Who am I kidding? At least there’s one man who will have me if only as his mistress. He’s the best I’ll ever be able to have, and he provides for me, which is more than some girls can say. So what if he doesn’t love me? That’s not the point. That stopped being the point a long time ago. Love isn’t for someone like me. I’ll have to settle for his lust. And I guess that’s enough because it feels good for about five seconds before the hollow emptiness of nothing beyond climax hits me. And then I realize: it’s nothing. It means absolutely nothing.” And as he grunts out his conclusion and rolls off of me to leave me there, my hands spastically begin to open and close, rhythmically grasping for someone who isn’t there and who has never been there. It’s weird to say that in those moments of the most acute loneliness, I feel like my hands are about to grasp someone, someone who I don’t yet know, but I want to know so badly. So when they finally caught me in the act of satisfying him again, I was almost glad. I remember that moment as if it is happening now. I’m so tired of hiding, so tired of pretending to be good when I know I’m not. And I know the awful sheep’s blood can’t cover me, can’t make me ok. They grab me roughly by my hair and start dragging me to a place I have no choice but to go. And my lover didn’t defend me
because he was afraid for himself. He only shoved me into the hands of the men who came to get me. They don’t even let me put on my clothes, so my lewd nakedness can be the target of their collective rage. They are dragging me through wet mud now, and I think it’s only appropriate that I’m going to die like this, as dirty and naked on the outside as I am on the inside. It’s God’s judgment on me. It’s what I deserve. And all I hear in their loud voices is what I already know about my identity. I know I’m a whore, slut, and adulteress. They seem so proud of telling me what’s so painfully obvious. Then I’m falling. They are throwing me forward, and I’m going to fall on my face. Instinctively my hands splay out again to grasp for the one who never catches me. But this time I feel big, warm hands catch me at the same moment when my clutching hands grasp someone. Stupidly, I’m so relieved in that moment because I was falling, and now this someone has stopped my fall completely. The second I’m caught, I hear his voice say in a whisper, “I’ve got you now. I won’t let you fall.” His voice…his voice is so untranslatably gentle, and it’s so tender that for one brief moment I feel like he must know me. Maybe he is one of my former lovers. He has to be my lover. That’s the only way to explain his voice. But no man has ever spoken gently to me before now. And then the horror hits again. It’s a man that’s speaking to me, and a man, if he’s not using me, is judging me. Worse still, I know that he must be angry because, in catching me, he’s made himself unclean. He’s touched me so he now bears my uncleanness on himself. Because of this knowledge that I’ve marred my rescuer, I’ve never been more ashamed of my nakedness. I don’t want this man lifting me up. He’ll hate what he sees, and somehow I sense that his opinion matters most. So I’ll keep my eyes closed because, if I don’t see him, I won’t have to see him seeing me, see the disgust with which every “good man” always looks at me. Then, as I whimper my first protest, I feel absolutely enveloped in warmth as this man covers my nakedness completely with his cloak. It’s so big that for a second I sense that I’m being swallowed by something, completely hidden in the smell of his clothes. And for one moment, I’m not ashamed or afraid anymore. Even though his cloak smells like sweat and is dusty with travel, in it, in the scent of him, I actually feel clean as he gently lowers me down to sit at his feet. I hear who I am again as everyone around us tells the man whose cloak hides me that I’m a whore and adulterous. All the shame comes back more intensely this time…It’s more intense because I don’t want this man to hate me, and I’m afraid that, when he learns about what I’ve done, he’ll do the righteous thing and strip me of his warm clothes. And I don’t want to lose the warmth of his body retained in his cloak. I want to stay under his covering. In desperation, I lower my eyes to the ground and look only at his feet as I instinctively crawl behind his legs like a frightened child hides behind her parent. I can hear them picking up the sharp stones that will kill me, but something tells me that being close to this man means safety, and, if I get behind him, I’ll somehow be ok, even untouchable. I already don’t have any dignity to protect, so I don’t hesitate to clasp his feet as I continue to hide in the huge shadow his body casts over me. It’s then that my hands feel the wetness. In his weariness, he must have stumbled over sharp rocks because he has an ugly looking scratch on the top of his right foot, the part without the benefit of a thick, protective callous and sandal. It’s strange because I have the thought that I must have hurt him, that it was me and not the rocks that caused him to bleed, and I feel oddly responsible for his blood. It’s pitiful. I’m the woman who is about to be stoned to death, and it’s
the fact that this man is bleeding that most upsets me. This man shouldn’t be hurt. He shouldn’t be wounded. And the blood staining my hands reminds me of the blood of the sheep I sacrificed that stained my feet. But this man is not that sheep. He‘ll heal soon. I don’t know why I do it, but immediately I feel compelled to kiss his feet in an absurd desire to make him feel better. I know I have his blood on my face, but I don’t care. My blood will be all over the place in a moment, so it doesn’t matter if his blood becomes gory rouge on this harlot’s cheeks. It’s new makeup that oddly makes me feel so beautiful. I hear it. They are asking him what they should do with me, and the hate in their voices makes me cringe as I cling even closer to him. There’s a pause, and then I feel him reaching down. I know he’s going to grab me by the hair and hurt me like the other men, but instead I feel his hand gently caress my head that is resting on his bleeding feet. It’s a touch so staggeringly sweet and overwhelming that, despite his gentleness, he breaks my heart, and I begin to wretchedly sob. My many lovers have trained me out of showing anything like genuine response and emotion. They want me to moan or cry or laugh or say their names in bliss I have to fake in order to validate their pride, but in the end, it’s all part of the sex script they’ve written for me. I couldn’t afford to be less than sexy because, if they didn’t think I was sexy, they would only hurt me more. But with one caress, this man whose hand is still on my head has elicited the first real and broken response I’ve had since I came out of my mother’s womb and instantly knew that something was wrong, that I was separated from the source of my life. And then I realize that this is the very first time I’ve ever been touched for no other reason than the absolute fact that I’m loved. This touch isn’t demanding anything else from me because this man is not interested in using me. This man just loves me. In that one moment, his wonderful touch transcends affection, paternal care, or erotic bliss, and I purely know that I’m now alive, that I’m back with the source of my life. Can a person be born again? Can she enter her mother’s womb a second time? I only know that with his hand on me now I’m in the womb again, the place where I don’t need anything outside of him in order to survive. This sensual and spiritual renewal of my whole life is so intense that I only vaguely realize that he is using his other hand to draw something in the sand, using his blood and my tears for ink, using his brokenness and mine to create. I’m curious to see what he’s writing, but then I feel his hand caress my face again, and my eyes close in genuine pleasure as I lean into his big palm. The men around me stop calling me a whore and seem upset about something quite different now. Now they sound terrified. I recognize the fear because I was that afraid just a few minutes ago, and it’s weird because I want to tell these frightened men that they should come hide behind this man just like I’m doing because then, like me, they too will no longer be afraid. Instead, I hear the clatter of stones hitting the ground as the sounds of the crowd around us rapidly mute. It’s so quiet now, so peaceful, and I’m exactly where I want to be: resting on this man who has stopped my fall, who has hidden my nakedness with his own clothes, who makes me feel beautiful because I’m wearing his blood, who will keep me safe with him forever. That’s when I hear his voice again, and it’s so kind that it terrifies me. He’s asking me a question: “Woman, where are your accusers? Is there anyone here who condemns you?” A few moments ago, I could have answered those questions more specifically. I could have identified my accusers and explained in carnal detail why their accusations were well founded. But, in order to look for my now silent condemners, I’ve had to look up, and, in so doing, I see this man’s face for the first time. I want to obey his order to look for men who might kill me, but I just can’t do it. I can’t look anywhere but at his face, and it just doesn’t matter if all of my
accusers are still standing there because this man is with me, and seeing him is enough. Anyway, the judgments of all the rest are nothing now. Only what he says about me is significant. So, without looking around me at all, I find myself answering his question, “No one, Lord.” Am I speaking blasphemy in suddenly calling this bleeding man the Great I Am? God doesn’t bleed, or does He? God doesn’t get tired as this man clearly is. I’ve already committed a host of unforgivable sins, so calling this man Lord will be my crowning offense. But unlike all the other times I’ve sinned, I don’t feel any shame about calling him Lord…so maybe it’s not a sin. Maybe it’s the truth. I don’t have time to process this mystery before he lowers his face closer to mine and whispers, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and sin no more.” His ferocious forgiveness breaks me apart. It’s so outlandishly great; it must come from the king of another land all together. No stone they have will hurt me because I’m with this man who is also Lord. God is with me in the person of the only man I’ve ever loved. How do I explain it? This once-adulterous woman now wants to be the wife of the man kneeling in front of her. Somehow I think he’s the husband who never leaves his wife. He’s the only anchor for the unanchored woman. I’ve never wanted to submit to and please a man more in my whole life. I’ve never wanted to worship God more fervently than right now. Can these two desires meet and find their completion in the love of the same person? It’s a bittersweet redemption story. Somehow I can “sin no more.” I’m not defined as a sinner now because I’m redefined simply as “His.” That’s my new identity, and, because of this new name, no one can make me guilty again. I’ll sin again, but I won’t be a sinner. I’ll be his pure wife. The bleeding man can do what the bleeding sheep never could. Yes, despite everything that I’ve just done, I’m pure because you, dear Sir, don’t condemn me. And one day, I’ll be yours, and you’ll be mine, and I’ll return to your feet and kiss you forever because I could never get tired of being affectionate to the only man who so perfectly loves me. And that’s what makes the hardest part. The hardest command is the first order to “Go.” I just came home, and now I have to go. Order me to worship you. Order me to sin no more. Command me to tend to your wounded feet. Just don’t tell me to go from you. I can’t bear it. I’ll miss you so much. No matter who shows me love from this moment on, I’ll be lonely for you, and I won’t be ok until I’m with you. I’ll ache to feel your hands touching me every second from this second. I’ll remember your voice forever and will never be fully satisfied by the voice of anyone else. I’ll yearn for the man who caught me, the man who became unclean with my sin that he never committed and who took away my guilt . . . the man who stopped my fall. Leaving, still dressed in your cloak, people look at me differently. I look at myself differently. I’m now anchored to someone, anchored to you. And though there will be distance between us for a while, you will never leave me. I look sort of like you even as the size of the material I’m wearing proves that you are so much bigger than me. My weakness is lost in your much stronger form. As long as I’m lost in you, I’m found. Still, to go is the hardest part. It’s so impossibly hard.
Poetry Lauren K. Alleyne
Last Supper If you can’t e fed, e read. Rumi
In the dining room tapestry, sad-eyed with foretelling, He looms, this Jesus, sees the betrayal rising mercurial, the test, the failing, the demand of proof He’s destined to deliver yet again. The long hours until. God, weren’t you tired? She imagines His voice, gruff, quieting the anxiety, the petty struggles for favor, calling on the one power certain to keep hold on this weak human flesh: hungry, the heart will always follow the promise of bread. Here, You lift it up, answer our greed, say take all of me, feed. As we devour you, bless our need.
Holy Thursday: The Passion I have lost my passion. Why should I keep it since what is kept must be adulterated? – T.S. Eliot, Gerontion
Today, the keenness of red makes her weep; to smile takes strength to move any mountain. It begins: On the night He was betrayed… she knows the story: Eat. Drink. Remember. Always the body. Broken. Like failed fast. Between devout and deserter a kiss, coin, a taste for –, bittersweet surrender. And two thousand years. Too late to anoint His feet with oil or tears, to baptize them with sorrow and her worthless hands. She knows shame: the cock’s three-time crow mocking her heart; its yearning despite. Her faith an old shoe, a false note, a key -- It will not fit true.
A Ghazal for the Body To reinvent: tiny feet, brooms of lash, dimples, bones like air, a new skin and smile. To be wholly, a different body. At mass this morning, the miracle: ceremony, belief, the exquisite transformation, Amen. Bread becomes body. Corpse, cadaver, carcass. Husk, shell. So many words for the dead, you say. There is no synonym for this: the living body. The man who lives upstairs has been vomiting all this morning; through the vent we hear the blunt heaves, the anguish of his body. Outside, the exfoliated trees; leaves scattered like skin cells, or loose hair. How thoughtlessly we discard, O patient body! Four pounds of breast tissue removed after surgery and you are a new woman; wear like new clothes, your rectified body. Nights: the dream of flying. A freefall unchecked by gravityâ€™s deadlock desire. Then Morning. Land. Earth holds fast this body. Kizi means stay put, but I am yearn: full of drift, of leaving; there is no voyage called return,1 I take only the body.
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This is a phrase from the poet Adonis.
An Interview with David Mahanes David Mahanes is co-creator (along with Brent Gudgel) of Deidox Films. Deidox is a company that specializes in short documentaries focusing on the everyday lives of Christians. It was created primarily with pastors and churches in mind, but because of its high quality and captivating stories it has since reached a much wider audience. Deidox films are produced by Chronicle Project. This company was founded in 2003 and produced the awarded winning documentary Dear Friends, about an AIDS prevention campaign in Swaziland. The documentary aired on Showtime and The Movie Channel. David Mahanes is a producer and filmmaker with experience in commercial production. He previously worked for I-40 Films and oversaw awardwinning spots for Ford and the Carolina Hurricanes. David has also overseen the production of numerous documentaries, promotional videos, and short films and has produced and filmed projects in countries such as Rwanda, Kenya, Mexico, Turkey, Thailand, and Morocco. He obtained his B.A. in history and political science from Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama. He now lives in California. One can find more information about David and Deidox (as well as view their films) at www.deidox.com. In this interview, David discusses Deidox’s work, mission, artistic approach, and the theology behind their process. IR: For our readers, could you give an explanation of what Deidox is? Its mission? David Mahanes: In a nutshell, Deidox is really comprised of short documentary films that are exploring the faith of everyday people. And really what was the impetus behind this and how it was started was Brent and I had the opportunity to do a lot of travelling with different clients we had around the world and just really started to see kind of how God was working around the world through everyday people. And we felt like, particularly in America, our examples of people who are doing great things for God are usually pastors, rock stars, athletes—the, kind of, untouchable things. And then just thinking, well of course God is using everyday people. And then just feeling like there was a need to show examples of the reality—that God is using people to do some pretty incredible things for His Kingdom. And we just felt like those stories weren’t being told. They are not being highlighted often enough. So, on the one hand was the desire to want to tell these stories, but then there was this evolving distribution outlet. You know, technology was getting cheaper, online distribution was starting to happen. But even within the churches there were several online distribution sites, like Sermonspice, Worship House Media, and others like this, that were really tailoring media to pastors, to worship leaders. And we began to think, wow, churches are using video now. There’s a way to get it to them that’s inexpensive, so maybe we can kind of combine that and tell the types of stories that we want to tell. And target it towards that audience and see if there’s not some sort of system that could be put together. So that was sort of behind the idea of why we wanted to do it. But really our mission, and our desire, is to inspire and challenge believers to live out their faith on a daily basis. And, you know, on Sunday mornings, we go and we hear the message, we hear the Gospel, we get the teaching, but really there’s not a ton of practical sense of what does this look like from Monday to Saturday. And so the types of stories we wanted to tell were just those people that throughout the rest of the week this is what faith looked like to be lived now.
IR: What would you say is your theological approach with this project? Do you see yourself as coming from or out of a particular tradition? And how does your theology inform your choice of subject and filming aesthetic? David Mahanes: Brent and I are both preachers’ kids, so we kind of come from, I guess you could call it, an ‘Evangelical Protestantism’ theological background. So, we’ve grown up in the church, and I think Brent would agree with me, that a lot of times that probably plays into the types of stories we’ve wanted to tell because our faith is important to us, and , I think, when it comes into film—when you’re dealing with issues of Christianity, faith and God—where I think it’s difficult for Christians to do scripted, narrative films is it verges on being very cheesy, and kind of an expectation to wrap everything up. And, so, really why we chose documentaries was because they allowed us to deal with issues of our faith, issues of Christianity, of God, in a way that wasn’t cheesy because documentaries are just dealing with real people’s stories. And so documentaries really allow us to take these issues and explore them in ways that other forms of film, I don’t think, allow us to do. I think that if you take our faith and how it plays into what we bring into Deidox, it comes in the idea that I do believe that God’s ultimate desire is to reconcile Man to God, and He’s chosen to do that through His people. And so I think that plays out in the films—in our minds, the Hero of the stories is God working through His people. That’s where our theology comes from. I guess you would call it a practical theology. I don’t know if I’m using the term correctly, but this idea of taking what we believe and putting it into practice I think plays into the themes of Deidox. We are taking a different approach than the typical testimony approach—where you are not a believer, then you come to Christ and become a believer. What we are doing in these films is taking the fact that these are believers and what does that mean in their life? And what can we learn from that? Because I think that is kind of a misconception as I was growing up, that the big deal was becoming a Christian. But then it’s like, okay…now what? Now what do I do? IR: In a broad sense, what do you see as the connection between theology and film? What is your general view of film as an art form? David Mahanes: When I think about it, theology is obviously trying to provide some sort of meaning to faith, to God, these big issues. And film is also trying to provide some kind of meaning, usually from inspiration or creativity, meaning to life, I guess. So I see that intersection, when I think about it, that film kind of provides us with visual examples of theological truths. So, where a preacher can get up and expound upon Scripture and big issues of theology, what film does is it allows us to kind of get a visual picture of that, a demonstration of that. So, when you take Deidox for example, if you take the theological truth of unconditional love—the reality is there is no better picture of unconditional love than Christ; you’re not going to get a better visual representation of that—but our pictures might help people to try to understand unconditional love. So, in the story of Lindsay the school teacher, she makes the statement that, “Look, I tell my kids I’m going to love you no matter if you get a D or an A in this class—I’m going to love you.” And you truly get to visually see what it is for someone to love another without conditions, without notions of where they come from, what race they are— she truly, authentically loves her kids. And what’s great about documentary film is it’s real. I mean, we get to look for a moment and immediately make a decision if she’s faking it, if she’s just reading a line, if she’s saying something that somebody wrote as beautiful—or if she’s just
living it out because that’s what she believes. So that’s what I think, with theology and films, that we can really put a picture to it. And the other thing about film that I think people don’t usually grasp or understand is that film speaks to the heart. At its best, it speaks to the heart. And so, often our theology just sticks in the head. And what film hopefully does—and not that they can’t do both—but, in general, the benefit of film is that it reaches people at the heart level. You know, another example of that is Alyssa’s story. She’s the girl who was born blind. Really, her story, I think, is a great picture of faith. And so sometimes we can hear about faith and we can try to understand it, but what film does is, now, you take Alyssa, you actually get to see someone who has to live a life of faith because she’s totally dependent on everyone else around her—and she even makes that correlation in her story, that she can’t see her mom, but she knows her mom is there. What a great visual illustration of seeing her mom leading her when it comes to who God is—and this idea that at some point we just have to take faith that there is a God that we cannot see. I think that’s how I’ve always seen the connection between my theology and films. IR: And documentary film in particular? Are there any influences that inform the Deidox films? David Mahanes: We are big fans of This American Life, the PRI radio program they’ve had forever, but then they also did two seasons of it for Showtime. I’ve just always been fascinated with the way they choose to tell stories. So, we were heavily influenced by This American Life. And as far as documentarians, there’s Steve James. He did a documentary called Hoop Dreams, and it’s been probably fifteen years now, then he did another one called Stevie. The style of that is really just, set up the camera—it’s kind of a the cinema verite style—and just observe; you’re an observer and kind of watching life as it’s unfolding. So, what we tried to do with Deidox is that same sort of thing—it’s like, we want to interrupt someone in the middle of their life and see how it’s impacting them. So, every one of the stories we spend usually a week, at most, with our subjects and really just try to observe how they live out their lives. And, of course, every story you need some kind of through-line. But as far as influences, I would say those were the two biggest influencers on Deidox—I also like Errol Morris. Because Errol Morris has done just a fantastic job of finding interesting characters and allowing them to tell their story. That’s the other thing that I think we’ve tried to do with Deidox. There’re different types of documentaries, but in Deidox what we’re trying to do is allow them to tell their story. So we don’t have a narrator, you don’t have graphics, you don’t have text stuff to help illustrate points, you just really have them telling their story. And the other thing is, just a moment of their story. That’s another thing we tried to stay away from with Deidox is everything we were seeing was the typically testimonial plot points: you know, I was a drug addict, I’ve found Christ, etc. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but those are the kind of expected stories in our culture. And so we took a risk and said, 'We think it’s interesting what people are doing now, after they are believers.’ IR: The films are beautifully made. They look wonderful. They also have a distinct style. How would you describe the aesthetic approach of Deidox? David Mahanes: There are two distinct things about our approach. One is following the character, which is going to be a little bit more raw, a little bit more real. You know, if Deon’s driving his car we’re going to be in the car with him. And so it may not be technically the most beautiful thing, but then what we try to do, once we know what the story is, is to go in and really
allow our cinematographer to try to capture some essence of what I like to call lock-down shots or B-roll—to kind of help to illustrate things. So, at the end of Lindsay, there’s a shot at the end of her day where she’s taking off her shoes. The beauty of being able to—you know, you’re on your feet the entire day doing this work—to be able to take your shoes off at the end of the day and just reflect. There is a little bit of that too that helps to add a little bit to the total package of the piece. When we started this, one of our values was that we wanted to honor and respect artists. So, we hire cinematographers—and all the music is composed specifically for each piece—and color correction, so we have a colorist who comes in and helps make it all beautiful. So, every aspect of it we try to find people that are talented in those areas and say, here, we’re going to pay you for your time. And I think that’s what ultimately makes them as beautiful as they are. To be blunt, I think that’s where my faith plays out in these films. It’s easy sometimes for us—and I say this humbly—as believers to say, ‘Well, I’m doing it for God, so God’s going to bless it however it turns out.’ And, you know, that’s fine, but that doesn’t settle well in my soul. If this is a gift or talent that’s given to us by God, then we need to do it with excellence. These are things that I’ve been able to show my non-believing friends within the industry and they are able to see the quality of it, and the artistry. And I think it makes God look good and I hope it makes Christendom look good—that they don’t just settle, that they are trying to do beautiful work. It’s important for churches to hear. You know, that’s been one of the saddest things for me in dealing with the kind of ‘Christian sub-culture.’ In churches, for some reason, they value the pastor, they value the music minister, they even value the custodian, you know, but when it comes to artists there is just this sense that there’s not a value to it, and they can get it for free, and so it’s a struggle.
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Girlchild: A Novel By Tupelo Hassman 277 pp. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. $24. In her debut novel, Girlchild, the improbably named Tupelo Hassman tells the story of Rory Dawn Hendrix, a girl in her early teens who lives with her mother in a trailer park in Reno, Nevada. The Hendrixes exist near the bottom of the social order, living their lives between a Nobility trailer, a truck stop, and one of the myriad casinos that pepper Reno. Their lives are focused almost entirely on survival, and the conditions under which they live are bleak. The Hendrixes and their neighbors are, in other words, a group that most of the civilized world has given up on. Even their neighborhood, which Rory refers to as “the Calle” throughout the novel, holds in its history a promise and a betrayal: At the first curve off the I-395 a promise was erected of what was to come, bold white letters against a gold background, calle de las flores—come home to the new west. But soon after the first sewer lines were laid down and the first power lines were run up, the investors backed out because the Biggest Little City in the World was found to be exactly that, too little. With its dry, harsh climate and harsher reputation, Reno could not support suburbs of a middle-class kind, and the new home buyers needed to make the Calle’s property values thrive never arrived. Once the big money figured that out, the big money said adios and Calle de las Flores ended before it’d begun.1
Tupelo Hassman, Girlchild: A Novel (New York: Knopf, 2012), 6.
Eventually, “de las Flores”—“of flowers”—rots off the sign, and all that’s left is the “Calle,” suggesting that the characters who people this novel live out on the street, regardless of how warm their trailers get. Even so, Rory and her mother and grandmother are for a time able to form a sort of feminine bower out in the high desert, with most men being unnamed, absent, or ineffectual. And yet it seems that the Hendrixes have tragedy and poverty in their bloodline, making it only a matter of time until what sad and miniature blisses they can form in the Calle are blown to pieces. This description makes Girlchild sound either like poverty porn or like a vehicle for Oprah Winfrey-style uplift. Hassman flirts with the latter, and at times her novel threatens to collapse into sentimentality and melodrama. She is saved by a streak of experimentalism that runs throughout the book, which features very short chapters written in a variety of styles. The major voice is Rory’s, of course, which at its best recalls Alice Walker’s Celie in its simplicity and pathos—but other chapters are composed as dispassionate sociology, blackly humorous mathematical equations, and parodies of the language of the Girl Scout handbook. Hassman’s narration stubbornly refuses to stand still, much to its credit. The charge of poverty porn, meanwhile, shouldn’t gain much traction among people who actually read the novel. Hassman refuses either to romanticize the lives of her characters or to gawk at them. We’re invited into Rory’s world, and we see things that horrify and delight us, but Hassman loves and understands these people too well to allow us to treat them like tourist attractions. And yet, while Girlchild is an emotionally rich and moving novel, Hassman cannot quite hold onto it. She introduces elements—child molestation, girl scouts, the sad case of Vivian Buck, who was sterilized for being “feeble-minded”—in a way that suggests she intends to wrap them all together, and yet these connections never get made. Rory’s autobiography remains a bit of a jumble, not in the skillful way suggested by the changing narration, but in a way that suggests Hassman wanted to include everything she possibly could. This is not an uncommon problem among first-time novelists; one thinks of Philip Roth’s first full-length novel, Letting Go, which packs ever more plots and themes in until it almost bursts. Hassman has more restraint than Roth did in 1962, at least. In the end, Girlchild is at its most effective in its emotional fullness and in its ability to stir reader sympathy for a group that most novelists largely stay away from—the group of lowerclass whites often pejoratively called “trailer trash.” Hassman’s deep understanding of and clear affection for even the most indolent people in the Calle raises them into the subject of something approaching high art. --Michial Farmer
Good News for Anxious Christians: 10 Practical Things You Don’t Have to Do By Phillip Cary 197 pp. Brazos Press. $14.99. Phillip Cary was one of the best guests ever on the theology podcast Homebrewed Christianity1, and given the quality of the folks that the hosts bring on to that program, that's saying something. What I did not know when I listened to his episode was that the book on which his interview was based would become one of those "arm's reach" books when I'm teaching my Christian college students. But the book, which my mother gave me as a Christmas gift, has claimed a place of prominence on my bookshelf, and every time I have a student worry aloud about "finding God's will for my life" or "letting God be in control," one priority now is to be sure that this book lands in said student's paws. (I'm one of those professors who lend books to students. I might find myself regretting that at some point, but so far, so good.) What makes Cary such a good resource for a twenty-first-century college professor is that his book, as far as I can tell, relies almost entirely on arguments and elaborations upon arguments from fifth-century and sixteenth-century theological sources. Although he does not directly quote much Augustine or Luther or Calvin, those who know those good old Reformers (and their favorite theologian) will hear their echoes in every chapter, and Cary wields his learning lightly enough that they sound like they're responding to Christian college girls wondering which man God has set aside as their future spouses as much as to Pelagius or to John Tetzel. Like some other books that have been most helpful in my own college teaching career, Cary's argument draws on the resources of old books to address problems that have taken on new shapes. And as an intellectual traditionalist, that’s precisely the sort of argument that’s going to strike me as most revolutionary. Cary names his main target in the book "the new evangelical theology," and it's the sort of thing that should ring familiar with those who spend much time at all around young 1
“Teaching Company Legend Phillip Cary on Homebrewed Christianity!” Interview with Phillip Cary by Tripp Fuller. Homebrewed Christianity. 22 March 2010. http://homebrewedchristianity.com/wp-content/uploads/hbc76.mp3
evangelicals (and by young I mean Baby Boomer or younger). This is a theological phenomenon that seeks divine guidance from the inner recesses of the human heart, that calls into question even the best of human acts, wondering if they're "really" done for selfish reasons, that looks for "God's will in my life" and for the next great "mountaintop experience" to rejuvenate the soul. Its sermons are heavy on "practical application," and although its practitioners might never have read the phrase "moralistic therapeutic deism,"2 linking the two phenomena ain't hard. In short, this is the sort of mentality that too many of my own students, faced with changes of major and opportunities to study overseas, have to overcome when they drop in to my office. Cary, a philosophy professor, encounters it mainly through assigned papers, and what he has read I've certainly heard. This is a layer of guilt and anxiety overlaid onto traditional Christian confession, an obsession with the self (Cary argues this point particularly well) that renders moral responsibility and wise judgment far more difficult than they should be. Cary's goals in the book progress through stages: after he deals with those ideas that diminish the Christian's responsibility to take the talents given and make something of them (he returns to that parable quite a bit), he gives the reader permission not to be anxious about selfexamination (one should only do so after the fact, in a spirit of repentance, Cary suggests), and he finishes the book examining the structure of "the new evangelical theology," noting its parasitism on nineteenth-century German liberalism and encouraging pastors and teachers to note just how well liberal Protestantism has been doing of late. This relatively brief book, in other words, is at turns pastoral, hard-nosed, and interesting intellectually, something that's not easy to do even in a much longer book. And with his repeated (and very sixteenth-century) insistence that the Bible should be the foremost and the governing source of revelation for the Christian, Cary nicely highlights the central irony of "the new evangelical theology": although it pretends to transform the soul, in reality, because it's a function of consumerism rather than an outgrowth of a true theology of divine gift, such theology can only increase anxiety and guilt, never bringing the assurance of divine forgiveness. In short, I can recommend this book to anyone who works with young evangelicals (see previous aside) and thinks that the sixteenth century might yet say something to the twenty-first. Whether Cary sets the doctrine of Scripture over against individualism or the preached Word over against self-help sermonizing, this book is a breath of fresh air, a clearly written and compelling case against some of the more irritating developments in evangelicalism in my own lifetime. If you discern that it's God's will to pick this up, then let God be in control, and read it! (That was a joke, folks.) --Nathan Gilmour
Smith, Christian, and Melinda Lundquist Denton. Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.
World on a Wire Blu-Ray Edition 1973 212 Minutes Color Monaural In German with English Subtitles 1.33:1 Aspect Ratio Rainer Werner Fassbinder Foundation 2012 2012 The Criterion Collection $28.99 The Criterion Collection has re-issued World on a Wire, Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s classic science fiction film, on blu-ray. World on a Wire is Fassbinder’s only science fiction film. It may be, as the liner notes of the blu-ray indicate, “one of the most obscure items among the forty-odd titles that constitute his filmography.”1 The film has both elements that are common to Fassbinder films and elements that are unique to Fassbinder’s films: The film is an anomaly in Fassbinder’s work. It’s his only science fiction film. Very few people at the time made science fiction films, people of Fassbinder’s stature. And yet it is a typical Fassbinder film. We find themes that we can find in his other films—we talk about power relations, about dependencies, how characters manipulate each other, how they exert pressure. It’s a film that’s about seeing and being seen. Surveillance is an important part of this film, which you can find in all of Fassbinder’s films. It’s all about the gaze and who holds the gaze and who’s looking at whom. It has Fassbinder’s familiar 1
Ed Halter, “The Hall of Mirrors,” Liner Notes, World on a Wire, Blu-Ray Edition, 1973, Rainer Werner Fassbinder Foundation 2012, 2012 The Criterion Collection.
cast of characters and actors that he has worked with since his Action-Theatre days…And stylistically it’s a Fassbinder film. There’s an obsession with mirrors and reflections and framings that you will find in almost all of his films…And yet it is also a different film. There’s more action. There’s more suspense. There’s a more single trajectory in the narrative. It has a charismatic hero that you do not find all that often in Fassbinder films.2 In addition to all of this, Fassbinder’s legend as a personality can tend to overshadow his films at times: one has the added danger of not looking at the films themselves but merely at the personality behind them. The film originally aired on West German television as a two-part miniseries. The story is an adaptation of the Daniel F. Galouye novel, Simulacron-3. The story is, now, a recognizable one for us (with the familiarity of movies like Blade Runner, Tron and especially The Matrix). But where a movie like The Matrix plays to a certain generation’s fascination with violence, toys, games and an apparent type of fan-boy material manipulation, World on Wire invites slow meditation on the idea of reality and identity. In its broadest sense, the story centers around the proposition of three different ‘realities’: there is world 1, the real world (or is it?), a world which we are never really shown, until the very end of the movie; world 2, the world in which most of the movie takes place, a simulated computer world in which our protagonist, Professor Stiller, lives and works and takes for true reality (until he has experiences and thoughts that betray the world as a mere computer construction); and world 3, a computer simulated world, within world 2, that has been created to monitor trends for financial gains—and that we see very briefly when Professor Stiller visits for a short stint or when its images are viewed on a TV screen in the professor’s lab. The artistry of the filmmaking is readily apparent in World on a Wire—the camera moves with fluidity and certainty, betraying a spectacular film grammar that requires astute attention to decipher. There are beautiful, artful shots that permeate the entire film, for example, the panning shot running across the yellowish tile of a cafeteria or the stunning apartment shot spinning around the room until it finds Stiller, or the mesmerizing shots in the lab, the hall of mirrors. The acting is also on display—highlighted by Klaus Lowitsch’s (Professor Fred Stiller) intense, yet minimalist performance. The music by Gottfried Hungsberg complements the visual components and the narrative ingredients. There is a combination of classical elements with ‘futuristic’ soundscapes that heightens the paradoxical strangeness and familiarity of the film’s worlds. The lighting and wonderfully stylistic set design are clean and retro, and the costume design is a kind of 70’s noir. The blu-ray transfer looks and sounds beautiful (and the natural grain of the film is still present, which I enjoy). There are a couple of great special features here too—the original trailer, a documentary on the making of the film, and an interview with film scholar Gerd Gemunden. However, more about Fassbinder’s other films and his life could have been warranted, given his influence (and his part in the movement of New German Cinema)—and more extras on the film itself would have been nice, given its uniqueness in Fassbinder’s oeuvre. But these are largely just quibbles with a very good package.
Gerd Gemunden, “Interview with Gerd Gemunden,” Supplements, World on a Wire, Blu-Ray Edition, 1973, Rainer Werner Fassbinder Foundation 2012, 2012 The Criterion Collection.
The philosophical elements are also readily apparent—in the artistry of the visuals, the narrative arch and the dialogue. Certainly, the parallels with Plato’s Allegory of the Cave cannot be missed. As an example of this philosophical investigation, at one point, Stiller has this conversation with Mr. Siskins’ bodyguard: Stiller: I think…Therefore, I am. Right? Bodyguard: Yeah. Stiller: Yes, I exist. I can’t be alone in thinking that nothing really exists. Bodyguard: No. Stiller: Right. For Plato, reality exists in the realm of ideas. And Aristotle! He conceived of matter as passive non-substance that only becomes reality by thought. Got a friend? Bodyguard: What? Of course. Stiller: Good. Let’s suppose he disappears without a trace. He’s standing next to you and suddenly he’s gone. Bodyguard: But that’s… Stiller: We’re just supposing. So, you inform the police. Next day, the papers run a story on it. Suddenly everyone maintains this friend never existed. So they maintain. What would you tell them? Bodyguard: Me? I’d tell them they’re crazy. After all, even the police… Stiller: The police also say they never heard of him. Bodyguard: But it was in the papers according to you. Stiller: It’s not there anymore. There’s something different. Bodyguard: I see. Stiller: You realize that I’ve given you a hot tip how to get yourself declared crazy. In case you ever need it.3 This simple exchange over breakfast coffee and cigarettes is indicative of Fassbinder’s approach narratively: there is more here than a simple insertion of philosophy to make the dialogue ‘appear’ intelligent. Fassbinder has a way with understatement and simplicity of action here in this film that undergirds and supports the larger philosophical issues running underneath the whole arch of the narrative. Compare and contrast this with, say, the Architect scene in The Matrix Reloaded, where philosophically overwrought hyper-dialogue, that is clearly trying to be ‘intelligent’ and ‘deeply philosophical,’ falls flat and makes the story come to a screeching halt by merely ‘telling’ and not ‘showing.’ The ending of the film—a warning sounds here: if you don’t want to be spoiled do not read the rest of this paragraph—is one of Fassbinder’s only ‘apparent’ happy endings. As Gerd Gemunden tells us, the hero is saved by love, the love of Eva. She takes him ‘up’ into the ‘real’ world with her before Stiller is killed (violently, splayed out on top of a car, looking like a crucified Christ-figure). This is not the type of ending one typically gets in a Fassbinder film—[with] the religious implications, [or] the happy ending of love saves all. But if you look a little closer, of course, you see the world in which Fred Stiller wakes up. The real world now is a rather drab world. It’s a very confined world. It’s grey. He wears a grey sweater. And if this is ultimate reality then perhaps the simulated world 3
World on a Wire, Blu-Ray Edition, 1973, Rainer Werner Fassbinder Foundation 2012, 2012 The Criterion Collection.
from which he came might have been the more attractive one. Again I think this is the contrast that Fassbinder works here on a narrative level…But the world in which he now will live happily ever after…this world looks a bit like the padded cell into which he was almost deported in the ambulance a few scenes earlier. So, it does leave us with some doubts…4 Gemunden certainly has an extremely important point here. The world into which Stiller is saved is not a Platonic ultimate reality or a Christian ultimate reality—it is ‘our reality.’ So, the saved is still a ‘not quite saved.’ The search must continue, even in this new reality, for it, too, is a finite world. But the acting also gives any perceived bleakness another dimension. From Stiller’s first utterance in his new world—a quiet “I am. I am.”—we see amazement of being, of life. We also see evidence of his wonder and amazement at life through his interactions with Eva: one need only look at the soft caressing, the dancing in sheer joy, the intense gazes, the play that he and Eva share in to see that love is there. --Jeff Sellars
Gerd Gemunden, “Interview with Gerd Gemunden,” Supplements, World on a Wire, Blu-Ray Edition, 1973, Rainer Werner Fassbinder Foundation 2012, 2012 The Criterion Collection.
The Predicament of Belief: Science, Philosophy, Faith By Philip Clayton and Steven Knapp 240 pp. Oxford University Press. $29.95 In the preface to The Predicament of Belief, Philip Clayton and Steven Knapp explain that they have been collaborating for nearly twenty-five years to finally see their book published. Clayton is Ingraham Professor of Theology and Dean of Claremont School of Theology, as well as Provost of the new interreligious Claremont Lincoln University. He is an accomplished Christian philosophical theologian and author of many books, particularly engaged in the areas of constructive metaphysics, modern philosophy, and the science and religion dialogue. Knapp is the President of George Washington University as well as Professor of English, specializing in literary theory, Romanticism, and the relation of literature to philosophy and religion. The two scholars are long-time friends and persons of faith who have been engaged in theological dialogue for many years, the evidence of which is their excellent new book about the deep challenges and emerging possibilities for religious persons in the 21st century. Through hundreds of emails, many hours of phone conversations, and countless drafts, the two authors wrote much of the book while living on opposite coasts of the US. Recently published by Oxford University Press, The Predicament of Belief is a powerfully formulated theological and philosophical challenge to skeptics, conservatives, and radically liberal Christians. Clayton and Knappâ€™s primary goals in the book are essentially two-fold: first, to argue that a form of theism is the most compelling position today, even in the light of the strongest objections from atheist or agnostic philosophers and scientists; and second, to articulate a revisionist form of the Christian faith that neither shies away from traditional theological language nor any of the major sources of doubt in the contemporary world, from critical biblical scholarship to religious pluralism. Rather than a tired exercise in Christian apologetics, The Predicament of Belief is a more modest effort to show that a form of the Christian faith is at least plausible for those who find themselves compelled by that first century rabbi, Jesus of Nazareth. Throughout the book, the authors persuasively argue for an alternative to more extreme
positions on religion in general and Christianity in particular. On the one side are the so-called New Atheists who have inspired a wave of aggressive followers over the last decade, condemning all religion as delusional and even poisonous. On the other side are many conservative religious persons who seem to be comfortable with their faith as it is, often even trying to ignore or downplay contemporary philosophical and scientific challenges to religion. The authors seek to move beyond these options without ending up in an agnostic position by honestly and openly confronting the most difficult arguments against religious belief. This leads them to ask: what Christian beliefs can be maintained and what must be revised in the light of what we know today? To what degree of certainty can we affirm our religious beliefs? To some, this might already sound radical and even threatening, but Clayton and Knapp maintain a remarkably balanced approach that avoids harsh polemics against their more conservative friends. They also directly criticize popular Christian theologians on the far left end of the spectrum like John Shelby Spong and John Hick, and reject purely existential and poststructuralist theological methods. The bookâ€™s title thus refers to the great challenges that contemporary religious persons face in confrontation with a number of major sources of doubt. Clayton and Knapp frankly confess that the grounds for doubt about religion today "are deep and serious," even though they are not at all convinced that one must thereby become an atheist or agnostic.1 Theologians ought to be able to respond to such reasons for doubt â€“ and be willing to do major reconstruction of theological positions as necessary. While traditional Christian orthodoxy should serve as a guideline for such reconstruction, it will most likely need to be challenged in various ways as well. Although the authors admit that hard skeptics and conservatives probably will not be persuaded by their arguments, this is not their intended audience: "Our arguments are not aimed at those who are happy to remain at either extreme, but are offered as guidance for those who wish to go where reason and experience may lead."2 Clayton and Knapp see five main reasons for doubting Christian claims today: science, especially by calling into question supernaturalism and the need for a creator God; the problem of evil, by calling into question any meaningful form of divine action and perhaps the very existence of God; religious pluralism, by increasing our awareness of many alternative religious options along with the apparent historical relativity of traditions; biblical scholarship, by showing a more obviously human book and thus complicating the status of biblical inspiration and authority; and the central claim of Jesus' resurrection, primarily due to the ambiguity of the biblical texts, and also because it compounds the problem of evil by forcing us to ask: if God intervened for Jesus, why not at other times for the countless individuals who suffer without a miraculous intervention? Many Christian pastors and leaders will likely respond that this is indeed an accurate list of concerns facing many thoughtful Christian laypersons in the pews today. While they are not necessarily new concerns, some of them have undeniably intensified in recent years and thus require fresh responses from Christian scholars and theologians. In the light of these five serious challenges to the Christian faith, Clayton and Knapp consider the possibility that some form of agnosticism may be the most honest position after all. For some persons, there is something understandably attractive in what can seem like the humility and honesty of the agnostic position. However, the authors ultimately reject this option, alternatively advocating for what they call "Christian minimalism."3 Such a position strongly 1
Philip Clayton and Steven Knapp, The Predicament of Belief: Science, Philosophy, Faith (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), ix. 2 Ibid., x. 3 Ibid., 18.
affirms a form of theism along with revised Christian truth claims, but it also fully admits that the available evidence that tips the scale in the specifically Christian direction is only minimally more likely to be true than alternative perspectives. Even so, they do not believe that one needs to be "maximally minimalist” as in the position of someone like Robert Funk of the Jesus Seminar. But is Clayton and Knapp’s Christian minimalism still too close to sliding into a kind of Christian agnosticism? On the contrary, the authors fundamentally disagree with the basic agnostic dogma that one cannot make progress in considerations of the truth of theism or religious beliefs. They also reject the modern view that it is invalid to hold beliefs that may not convince a more supposedly neutral observer, such as someone who does not belong to any particular religious tradition. This is a refreshingly non-relativistic response to pluralism, living in the tension between the contemporary experience of religious relativity and a humble commitment to the particular claims of one’s own religious tradition. But neither are Clayton and Knapp fideists who think that we should take all or most Christian truth claims on leaps of faith. While agreeing that some Christian beliefs cannot be objectively proven to those who have not had certain experiences mediated to them by the language and practices of the tradition, they nevertheless develop a compelling series of arguments for the Christian faith that is rational and able to take account of the best scientific knowledge of our time. Indeed, one can hardly imagine a more rigorous argument for the plausibility of Christianity being written in less than the 154 pages that comprise The Predicament of Belief. The authors proceed with their constructive arguments in two major sections: the first argues in a more general way for certain metaphysical claims about Ultimate Reality without specifying a particular religious tradition; the second then argues for specific Christian claims in the light of the metaphysics developed in the first section. The first section (chapters 2-3) is an ambitious attempt to convince rational but openminded persons from a wide variety of backgrounds of a modified form of theism. While Clayton and Knapp respect those who would argue for a classical form of theism, their goal is more modest because their intended readers are "those who are uncertain that any form of distinctively Christian belief in God is still plausible in an age of science and religious pluralism."4 While pulling back from traditional arguments for the existence of God, they nevertheless manage to make a strong case for theism. Revealing the philosophical influences of Schelling and Whitehead – not to mention the great German theologian Wolfhart Pannenberg, who Clayton studied under as a graduate student – they argue for a kenotic, panentheistic, “not less than personal,” noninterventionist Ultimate Reality who is purposeful, creative, and loving.5 In wrestling with the problem of evil, they are led to argue on metaphysical and ethical grounds that a “benevolent God could not intervene even once without incurring the responsibility to intervene in every case where doing so would prevent an instance of innocent suffering.”6 But they also argue with the science of emergence for variable divine action at the level of mind through the “divine lure” without making an exception to natural laws. As they speculate, “a sense of the divine presence leads to an apprehension of axiological truths, and also fosters, perhaps, the courage to act on them.”7 As in traditional process theology, this panentheistic divine action is persuasive, primarily through the communication of values rather than divinely dictated propositions. Is this a major revision of classical theism? To be sure, but not as radical as say, Paul Tillich’s trans-theistic Ground of 4
The Predicament of Belief, 24. Ibid., 41. 6 Ibid., 49. 7 Ibid., 61. 5
Being or Gordon Kaufman’s minimalist religious naturalism. Furthermore, one must give Clayton and Knapp credit for not trying to downplay the fact that their form of theism may be disconcerting for some believers: “Revision entails a certain cost,” they confess.8 The second section (chapters 4-7) is directed more specifically at those within the Christian tradition, arguing for certain revisions of a number of central Christian beliefs. While the authors are sensitive to issues of religious pluralism, these chapters courageously deal with what is often called the Christian “scandal of particularlity” – although they may in fact scandalize both ends of the theological spectrum: liberals because of Christian particularity, and conservatives because of bold revisions of central beliefs. Even so, they seem to be somewhat sympathetic with those liberal Christians who are only able to affirm a purely metaphorical form of naturalistic Christianity. This type of belief is what Clayton and Knapp call a level 6 degree of commitment, with a level 1 being a strong commitment to an objectively true proposition that would be confirmed as such by a relevant community of experts (“RCE”). While the authors consider their form of theism to be a level 2, most of their arguments for specifically Christian beliefs are at a level 3 or 4. That is, they are based much more on individual or traditionmediated experiences and intuitions than on publicly observable evidence that would convince the RCE. While certainly not irrational – individuals are in fact justified in holding to such religious beliefs, they argue – level 3 or 4 beliefs are recognized as “irreducibly controversial” in varying degrees.9 This unique typology of religious commitment is used throughout the final chapters to great effect as they explain their revisions of core Christian beliefs. Clayton and Knapp ground their doctrinal revisions in what they call the Christian proposition: “That Jesus of Nazareth uniquely embodied, and in some sense continues to embody, the infinite grace and compassion of the ultimate reality itself.”10 Although the authors are trinitarians, they arrive at this theological position with an intriguing form of adoptionist Christology. This will surely surprise and challenge many Christians who would be correct to recognize it as a heresy (of which the authors are well aware). Even so, Clayton and Knapp argue that it is the most plausible view of Christology today, providing a strong alternative to “the complicated assertions of classical Trinitarian thought” on the one hand, and metaphorical or existentialist Christologies on the other.11 In their view, in responding perfectly to the divine lure, Jesus became “the finite subject whose will is most fully conformed to the will of God…the ‘head’ of an eschatological community” within the triune life.12 As such, they go far beyond what many liberal theologians would be willing to say here, arguing not only for a kind of subjective immortality for other finite subjects, but also for a nonphysical but realist view of Jesus’ resurrection and personal presence to the disciples after his death. A basic meaning of the central Christian belief in the resurrection for the authors is that Jesus’ “self-surrendering engagement with God became newly available, through the agency of the divine Spirit, to his followers, then and since, as the form, model, and condition of their own engagement with the divine.”13 For Clayton and Knapp, the resurrection also means that since the human subjectivity of Jesus was taken into and commingled with the divine subjectivity after his death, an aspect of Jesus himself could then be made literally present to his disciples through the Spirit. They do not mean the presence of a mere ethical principle that Christians associate 8
The Predicament of Belief, 137. Ibid., 115-17. 10 Ibid., 104. 11 Ibid., 103. 12 Ibid., 110. 13 Ibid., 90. 9
with Jesus, but “the definitive reality and authority of Jesus’ self-surrendering obedience to the ultimate reality he knew as ‘abba’…an essential aspect of Jesus himself…”14 Because of the unsurpassable human life and death of Jesus and his post-resurrection adoption into the Godhead, there was a real change in the relationship between God and the world. Divine grace became newly mediated through the Spirit of Christ to creation. As the authors envision, “it is through his perfect responsiveness to God’s self-giving love that Jesus simultaneously reveals that love and transforms it into its definitive human form.”15 Eschatological hope for finite subjects is based on the resurrection of Jesus in which his finite subjectivity was no longer mediated by a physical body but was directly sustained by the Spirit, as in the Pauline “spiritual body” in 1 Corinthians 15:44.16 As such, a nonphysical resurrection in a panentheistic perspective does not imply a disembodied consciousness, but rather a transition by divine grace into a new ‘bodily’ medium for our ongoing existence: an intensified relationship with the Spirit as the one “in whom we live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17:28) The book concludes with an important meditation on the implications that such a revisionist theology might have for churches. Because Clayton is not only the Dean of a United Methodist seminary but has also become a leading voice in the emerging church movement in the US, much of the concluding discussion about ecclesiology revolves around imagining more complex faith communities for what increasingly appears to be a post-denominational context – at least for many younger Christians. They are cautiously optimistic about the future of the American church, but they argue that there must be major shifts in how it operates in the contemporary world. In particular, they contend that churches must learn to wholeheartedly embrace a more diverse community of individuals who do not necessarily agree on theological beliefs, beyond perhaps being organized around something like Clayton and Knapp’s minimalist formulation of ‘the Christian proposition.’17 The church should welcome doubters and seekers “not just at the margins but at the center of its religious life” and it should “never fear the truth, because its very existence only matters if the truth is what it teaches.”18 Even if readers do not ultimately find themselves in agreement with all of the theological arguments put forward by Clayton and Knapp, The Predicament of Belief is a rewarding and stimulating read that will likely challenge old ideas and spark new conversations. It is apparent that the two theologians have wrestled profoundly with the underlying philosophical, historical, and scientific issues (e.g., see the book’s comprehensive and detailed endnotes), making it crucial for other contemporary Christian thinkers to seriously engage and respond to their work. While the book is a dense read at times, its relatively short page length and the author’s efforts to recapitulate their various philosophical and theological propositions in every chapter makes it much more accessible to thinking Christians, including pastors, academics, and laypersons. While far too many theologians have a tendency to write one dry academic text after another, Clayton and Knapp have managed to write a book of serious theology that often reads like a detective novel. Moving at a relatively fast pace, they succeed at drawing readers into a struggle with the most profound theological dilemmas before unraveling a series of persuasive solutions for the reconstruction of a more reasonable 21st century Christian faith. --Austin J. Roberts 14
The Predicament of Belief, 110. Ibid., 108. 16 Ibid., 131. 17 Ibid., 147. 18 Ibid., 154. 15
Notes on Contributors Lauren K. Alleyne is a native of Trinidad and Tobago. She received her Master of Fine Arts degree in Creative Writing from Cornell University, and is currently the Poet-in-Residence and Assistant Professor of English at the University of Dubuque. A Cave Canem graduate, her work has been awarded prizes such as the 2010 Small Axe Literary prize, the 2003 Atlantic Monthly Student Poetry Prize, the Robert Chasen Graduate Poetry Prize at Cornell, among others. She has been published in several journals and anthologies, including Crab Orchard Review, The Cimarron Review, Black Arts Quarterly, The Caribbean Writer, The Belleview Literary Review, Growing Up Girl and Gathering Ground. She is co-editor of From the Heart of Brooklyn and Youth Gallery. Her chapbook, Dawn In The Kaatskills, was published in 2008 by Longshore Press. John R. Betz is Associate Professor of Systematic Theology at the University of Notre Dame. In addition to articles in Modern Theology, Pro Ecclesia, and The Journal of the History of Ideas, he is the author of After Enlightenment: The Post-Secular Vision of J. G. Hamann (Wiley-Blackwell, 2009) and a forthcoming translation, in collaboration with David Bentley Hart, of Hans Urs von Balthasar’s edition of Erich Przywara’s Analogia Entis. Michial Farmer is an assistant professor of English at Crown College in St. Bonifacius, MN, and one-third of The Christian Humanist Podcast. Martin French is an illustrator, designer and educator. His distinctive style—an interplay of marks, signs, and symbols spanning a diverse media context—has been recognized internationally for its dynamic visual exploration of life and culture. His clients include Apple, The Atlantic Monthly, Columbia Pictures, The Discovery Channel, DreamWorks, ESPN, The Grammy Awards, Jazz at Lincoln Center, The NFL, The New York Times, and the Smithsonian. His images have won awards from American Illustration, Communication Arts, Graphis, Spectrum, Art Directors Club of New York, Print, and 3x3, as well as gold medals from the Society of Illustrators in New York and Los Angeles. In 2005 Martin began development of a BFA program in illustration at the Pacific Northwest College of Art, currently one of the fastest growing in the country. Martin now serves as department chair and teaches classes in professional practice, and the intersection of design & illustration. He lives and works in Portland, Oregon. Nathan Gilmour (Assistant Professor of English, Emmanuel College) double-majored in English and philosophy as an undergraduate, completed Master of Arts degrees in Old Testament and English, and completed his Ph.D. in 2012 with a dissertation on literature and theology. Somebody just recently told him that most people study one thing at a time. He serves Emmanuel College in Franklin Springs, Georgia as director of Composition Culture, a program seeking to incorporate writing and rhetoric in all of the disciplines. At Emmanuel Nathan has taught European literature from Homer to the twentieth century, advanced composition, introduction to literature, freshman composition, and senior seminar, Emmanuel's capstone theology course. He will also teach Old English language and literary theory in coming semesters and co-teach a literary publishing course. Nathan and his wife Mary live near Athens,
Georgia with their young children, and all attend Athens Christian Church, where Nathan variously teaches, preaches, and serves in whatever ways folks find helpful. Nathan is a longsuffering Chicago Cubs fan, one of the hosts of the award-winning Christian Humanist Podcast (available for free on iTunes!), and the author of Theological Dramatics: Two Christological Case Studies. Jim Hale Born and raised in New Jersey, Jim Hale is currently a writer for the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration in Juneau, Alaska, where he has lived for more than a decade with his daughters Mary and Katie and his sons Jamie, Ben, and Harry. Leigh Hickman is an accomplished Christian scholar, Harry Potter expert and adjunct professor of English at Dallas Baptist University. Her work on 19th Century British Literature, vampire fiction and popular culture, including the Twilight novels, has been presented at numerous academic conferences. Currently, she is a contributing editor for Imaginatio et Ratio and a theological consultant for The Undiscovered Country Project. Andrew T. McCarthy, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor of Humanities at Anna Maria College where he teaches courses in theology, imagination, culture, and social justice. He has authored a book entitled Francis of Assisi as Artist of the Spiritual Life: An Object Relations Theory Perspective, published in 2010 by University Press of America. Catherine Pickstock is a Reader in Philosophy and Theology, Fellow and Tutor of Emmanuel College, Cambridge. Catherine Pickstock has written, co-written and co-edited several books, and published numerous articles in the area of philosophical theology. Her current project is a book entitled Theory, Religion and Idiom in Platonic Philosophy. Her many publications include After Writing: On the Liturgical Consummation of Philosophy (Oxford: Blackwell, 1997); Radical Orthodoxy: A New Theology, edited with John Milbank & Graham Ward (London: Routledge, 1998); Truth in Aquinas, with John Milbank (London: Routledge, 2001); and â€œThe Univocalist Mode of Production,â€? in Theology and the Political, edited by John Milbank, Slavoj Zizek, and Creston Davis (Durham: Duke University Press, 2005). Austin J. Roberts is a graduate of Claremont School of Theology where he received an MA in theology and philosophy of religion, as well as of Humboldt State University where he received a BA in religious studies. His academic interests include systematic theology, process theology, political theology, and religious pluralism.
Imaginatio et Ratio A Journal of Theology and the Arts
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Volume 1 Issue 1 2012
Volume 1 Issue 1 2012