A Dark Beginning
My soul is troubled by this link. You should know that before you click on it, as fascinating as it is. Hannah Arendt’s claims about the banality of evil are sustained when we discover that before the Civil Rights Movement, black citizens of Louisiana needed to pass a test before they could vote. The test, however, is truly evil. Participants had to complete it in 10 minutes, without any error. Racism seems evidentially stupid to us, but the delight in cunning meanness evident in this exam is deeply worrying.
There is a very funny Reddit threat at the moment listing people’s favourite intellectual jokes. Well, I found them funny at least.
Since I am sharing links from Reddit, here is a classic from Something Awful, about what it would be like if films were reviewed the way computer games are.
Irish Society Remains Savage In The Margins
Less amusing, but more essential, is this report on the conditions that Ireland offers its asylum seekers. There is nothing I can predict more confidently than that the society that today bemoans the savagery of our church-provided institutional care in the past will be the subject of the same wrath at the hands of future generations who will not comprehend how we let this happen. At least the church’s “profit” was mediated to ends other than profit (I realise as I write this that it could be something I want to revoke when I think about it more seriously). This direct provision system is run entirely for greed.
We visited Millstreet on Thursday June 27th, walked the further mile outside of the town to the entrance of the Drishane Castle grounds, and the ten minutes further in from the main road to the castle itself and the former convent where the residents are housed. Our bus ticket from Cork to Millstreet return was €23 – asylum seekers receive €19.10 a week from the state. Having struck up a conversation with one of the residents, Thomas Duggan soon approached us, insisted on separating us from the man we were speaking to and informed us that it really would have been better if we’d phoned ahead to arrange an appointment to meet with anyone at the centre as otherwise we were technically trespassing.
Modern Art and the Christian
Consider this: there are few positive movements of the 20th Century more commonly misunderstood and misrepresented than evangelical Christianity and modern art (I realise both find their source and origin before 1901 but bear with my flippancy). Dan Siedell is an evangelical Christian and art historian who specialises in modern art. He wrote a lovely book a few years ago called God in the Gallery and this morning I listened to this talk he gave at an Anglican church a few months ago.
It is interesting on many levels. Firstly, here is an intellectual of the first class, who comes to give an account of his life’s work, which is a subject matter considered the province of the elite and refined. Yet it comes to us in the form of testimony. Just like an early Wesleyan, he stands up and describes how God has been at work in his life through modern art. It is exhilarating to listen in on how his heart was captured by the complexity of contemporary art.
Secondly, it is a fascinating glimpse at the potency of Reformed Christianity. Siedell was raised in a dispensationalist, non-denominational church in Nebraska. His background is the least likely place to give rise to the emergence of a world class art critic. But the Reformed faith that he grew into, informed by Kuyper and Calvin, feels no need to repudiate the simplistic, the anti-intellectual, the rural and provincial primeval (from the view of the sophisticate) swamp of confusion he arose out of. If Christ declares his Lordship over every square inch of Creation then that means modern art is a field for Christians to play in. This excites us. But it also means that uncool, unsophisticated mega-churches in the suburbs are places where the Kingdom can resound.
Thirdly, modern art deserves our attention (and in the form of folk like Siedell, we might say evangelicalism deserves our attention too):
Modern art contradicts our desires and I think that is a very good thing, given our fallen human tendency to make ourselves and our beliefs about ourselves and the world the centre of the Cosmos. To make ourselves the subject of our existential sentences. To be as, David Foster Wallace said, “Lords of our tiny, skull-sized kingdoms.” And we want our visual imagery to feed our Old Adam’s desire to shape the world around our beliefs and desires, to make art fit into our worldview. But modern art lives in discontinuities, it contradicts our belief that artistic value is found in technical virtuosity, that its meaning should declare itself immediately, that looking is easy and art is about making us feel good. It’s a stick shoved into the relentlessly spinning spokes of our incessantly spinning desire for emotional, intellectual and aesthetic efficiency. In other words, modern art undermines our desire to make art serve our theologies of glory.
Pope Francis and The Light of Faith
Yesterday, Francis I published his first encyclical, Lumen Fidei. It was largely written by BXVI and then Frank tinkered with it before setting it free. There are the recurring themes of Benedict running through the document, including a heavy reliance on natural law, a sense that there is an urgent moral crisis facing culture today and a desire to show that “Hellenistic” thought is not in competition with “Hebrew” thought. There are plenty of citations of Lumen Gentium and Dei Verbum and it continues the recent tradition of referencing practically everything that is argued against the Scriptures. It also surprised me with its quotation from TS Eliot (along with John Henry Newman). The bit that lingers with me is paragraph 14:
Here mediation is not an obstacle, but an opening: through our encounter with others, our gaze rises to a truth greater than ourselves. Rousseau once lamented that he could not see God for himself: “How many people stand between God and me!” … “Is it really so simple and natural that God would have sought out Moses in order to speak to Jean Jacques Rousseau?” On the basis of an individualistic and narrow conception of conscience one cannot appreciate the significance of mediation, this capacity to participate in the vision of another, this shared knowledge which is the knowledge proper to love. Faith is God’s free gift, which calls for humility and the courage to trust and to entrust; it enables us to see the luminous path leading to the encounter of God and humanity: the history of salvation.
I love this! I might call this an epistemology of community. What he is doing here is asking a question many of us have asked in one form another, which is, why does God reveal himself through Moses and the patriarchs? Why doesn’t he come to me directly? Francis decides to use the words Rousseau, one of the fathers of the modern imagination, chose to craft that question. And then he answers it. Rousseau’s problem and our problem is forged in the first place because we imagine ourselves as rugged individuals. But the Biblical model, whereby we receive revelation through the Other, which Francis deems mediation, means that we can only access the most fundamental knowledge we need to understand ourselves and our world by sharing the perspective of others. This is Trinitarian thought. This is why we see God through the experience of Moses and the Israelites, through the experience of Paul and the Apostles and through the wisdom of the saints (or as Siedell might add, through Louis Le Brocquy or Francis Bacon). That our knowledge of God is mediated is not a problem, but a proof (or something towards it). God who is community can only be known in community.
Now to get the other side of the coin, the way in which God directly encounters us above and beyond mediation calls for the wisdom accumulated in the Protestant traditions… but maybe Francis will get around to admitting something like that?
Your Correspondent, Knock, knock! It’s K-Rock O’Clock!