Many-colored Sepulchres

I will cut to the chase: this post is on the engagement of a Christian with what passes for art in contemporary culture.

Much ink has been spilled, or pixels arranged, over the Harry Potter books, to begin with. I admit that I read all of them, and enjoyed them, although progressively less as the series continued to develop. By the end, it was merely a matter of reading to “find out what happens.” Throughout their publication, aside from the general worldwide mania, the scores of translations, the betting on plot developments, the development into motion pictures, and all manner of merchandising, there have been consistent voices among Christians, either praising the books for their Christian subtext, or denouncing them for their superficial secularism and making witchcraft “cool” to kids. Both approaches were quite misguided, I believe.

To begin with the pro-Potter Christian perspective, one can only say that the efforts seemed rather desparate. Though Ms Rowling may be a Christian–quite the progressive one, it seems–her books are certainly not Christian. No one really argues with that. It is in the manner of certain thematic or narrative devices that the pro-Potter Christians center their praise for the books. Yet, I will be blunt. The appropriation of Christian themes of sacrifice and redemption, very, very real things to a Christian, are appropriated by an author as devices to be utilized in a plot narrative in an entirely fictional world. This in itself is a cheapening, a gutter-slumming of the great work of God for the world, which appropriates rather blatantly those themes. Yet there is a greater wretchedness at work in this.

What happens when your children no longer are able to recognize that sacrifice, redemption, and selfless love belong outside the pages of fiction? When they open their Bibles, and read of the work of God throughout the ages in history, real work in the lives of many real people of real nations, will they not be subconsciously reading fiction? “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” It works both ways, you know, that training. If you train up your child to think that redemption is a fictional plot device, well, then, there you go–time to be fitted for a necktie in the pattern “millstone.” In that sense, the anti-Potter side wasn’t attentive enough, as it only decried the superficial inanities, while leaving the misappropriations of salvation history alone.

Now we are confronted with the motion picture serialization of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series of books, a motion picture which appears to be beautifully well-done, with some very well-known actors and fantastic special effects. This is a man who bears a visceral hatred for Christianity, and kills God in the third of his books. Granted, so as to ensure the movie will be viewed by more than Pullman’s fellow-travellers on the militant atheistic road, the name of the big, bad organization is changed from “The Church” to “The Magisterium.” Hollywood, clueless as ever in matters of fact, thought that would make things more palatable to the American public, ignorant (or are they?) of the fact that “magisterium” is the name given to the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church. They are completely within their rights to boycott. As would Jews be had they chosen “Rabbinate” or Muslims had they chosen “Ummah.” Of course, Roman Catholics calling for a boycott of the movie have earned the label “nitwits” from Pullman for their efforts. How progressive of him! How concerned for the welfare of the world, roughly 1/3 of which is Christian, and the vast majority of those Roman Catholic!

WIth these books, and this move, the mask is off. Hatred for God, for Christ, for the Christian Way, live with a burning passion in the author’s heart. There is no good that can come from any Christian poisoning their heart and mind with such things. Oh, you may think you’re immune to the dangers, and can discuss the misappropriation of Christian themes with the kids after they’ve seen the flying witches and the talking bears. But you fail in your Christian responsibility as a citizen of the Kingdom of God by allowing yourself and your children to partake of the ideas of and simultaneously enrich and encourage an antichrist, which this Pullman creature self-admittedly is.

Yes, yes, many will say, “Well, that’s a bit over the top. It’s just a book, just a movie.” No. It’s a symptom. It’s a symptom of a culture’s abandonment of its Christian roots, bit by bit, piece by piece, book by book, movie by movie, “art”work by “art”work. It is apostasy by half-turns and half-steps, a shy shuffle off the narrow and difficult Way onto the wide and well-paved road leading not to the Kingdom of God, but…elsewhere. “It’s easier walking, you know, and look how beautiful it is. Really well done. Everyone’s doing it…walking on this road…reading this book…seeing this movie.”

These things are not just whited sepulchres filled with putrefaction, but beatifully painted many-colored sepulchres, using the highest quality artistic talent the world has ever seen, and filled not just with putrefaction, but annihilation. And so the world slips inch by inch into an ever more chic darkness, with the cold and clear hatred and satisfaction of the prince thereof as its only company.

Κυριε ελεησον

Come, our Lord, come!

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24 Responses to Many-colored Sepulchres

  1. Iyov says:

    Wait a minute — Pullman often used the term Magisterium (and even referred to Pope John Calvin, if I recall correctly) in his first book.

    But more seriously, I’ll counter your Pullman with C. S. Lewis (who as you know, also recently got a big-budget special-effect-laden Hollywood spectacular.) I’ll counter your J. K. Rowling with Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins. I think popular culture moves in random ways — and does not reflect a clear anti-religious (or anti-secular) trend. And, if you want a period when anti-religious themes did dominate the leading books of the period, I’ll give you the Enlightenment — Hume and Gibbon and even anti-Church deists such as Voltaire or Jefferson.

    Indeed, we are, according to some, in the midst of the Third Great Awakening (one prominent exponent is no less than President Bush, who claims that his favorite philosopher is Jesus.)

    I do not disagree that Pullman’s work is anti-religious and offensive, but I find it hard to place as part of a trend of anti-religious popular culture. What I do see is an increasing divide between the faithful and the secular — indicated in part by the move towards more fundamental expressions of religion among Jews, Catholics, Protestants, and Muslims — as opposed to an increasingly strident secular culture.

  2. Quickdraw Iyov! I just posted that, and BLAM!!!

    Call it what you will, an increasing divide or a tamping down. But it’s certainly an anti-religious culture that’s taking hold, and I’d say one that’s trying to get as close to the old pre-Judeo-Christian pagan social morality as it can get, wanting a world of no sins, no guilt, no problems. The only religions that such will suffer to exist (for a time) are pastel depictions thereof, with the counter-cultural resistance of overcooked capelli d’angeli!

    On your examples, yes, Lewis is similar, but many have enjoyed the Narnia books with no inkling that there was any religious allegory at all, however transparent it may be. Nor, I think, has it ever been considered “art” to the degree that Pullman’s has. Lewis is cute. Pullman is seeeeerious. At least in the squawking circles. Whatever. The LaHaye garbage is beneath contempt. Bush’s Great Awakening will come when he wakes up, smells the coffee and realizes that some of his “partners in peace” would prefer his head on a platter and the heads of several million others as garnish. The Enlightenment atheists and deists did not have the backing of mega-millionaire movie studios and were not read or loved by children other than their own, I suppose. Modern mass media is capable of speading the fertilizer not only further, but thicker too.

    Anyhow, this was an unhinged rant. You’re looking too much for hinge. There is none. This is just me worrying at a cultural hangnail.

  3. Justin Anthony Knapp says:

    Let me just see your Biblicalia and raise you one Metacatholic: http://www.metacatholic.co.uk/2007/11/put-this-boot-on-the-other-foot/

    Now I’ll stand back and see some sparks fly?

    -JAK

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  5. JohnFH says:

    This is a delightful topic, not least because the author in question is an interesting duck.

    I encourage people to check out Sam Norton’s take over at Elizaphanian, and to click through the interview he links to. Amazing stuff. Pullman turns out to be a materialist who also believes in panpsychism. “Believe” is definitely the right word, in the popular sense, not the biblical one.

  6. mike says:

    Kevin,
    I haven’t read the Potter books. I did see one of the movies and was deeply moved by the chessboard scene, where Harry lays down his life for his friends. So I’m trying to understand part of what you call your “unhinged rant.” You condemn the “appropriation of Christian themes of sacrifice and redemption … as devices … in a plot narrative in an entirely fictional world.” Further, you say, “This in itself is a cheapening, a gutter-slumming of the great work of God for the world, which appropriates rather blatantly those themes.” I’m really puzzled by this, as it seems to fly in the face of so much Christian literature. Can a Christian author help but show how the pattern of sacrifice and redemption plays out in ordinary life? It seems that God is the author who has gone “gutter-slumming” through His condescension, His incarnation. I don’t know that we can produce great literature without discerning the types and following the pattern. I don’t know that we can produce decent lives without discerning the types and following the pattern! Help me to understand the point I’m obviously missing.

  7. Pingback: Beauty, truth and the Golden Compass » Metacatholic

  8. Doug Chaplin says:

    Kevin, I’m afraid I continue to disagree with all but the last two sentences of your post. I have added a detailed response to my blog.

  9. Hi Mike,
    The chessboard scene was his friend Ron offering himself, but he wasn’t killed.

    I’ll try to articulate. Firstly, none of the above-mentioned stuff qualifies as great literature, and I’m sure the authors would agree. They’re writing books for children in order to give them pleasure and make money for themselves. That falls in the realm of entertainment.

    My issue is with taking those themes and introducing them into an entirely fictional world (not just fictional situations set in the reality we live in) which entirely and explicitly excludes salvation history. At no point do the Potter books do anything more than perhaps allude to the existence of anything more than what the characters themselves see and experience as real. Even in death, Harry doesn’t encounter anything remotely Divine. Pullman, of course, goes in a completely different direction, and kills God (in the third volume, tediously written by all accounts, but just the kind of ammo that some want).

    You ask, “Can a Christian author help but show how the pattern of sacrifice and redemption plays out in ordinary life?” Well, of course, but the lives depicted in the Potter and Dark Materials books are by no stretch of the imagination “ordinary life.” They’re absurdly unreal, and frankly ridiculous. It’s this kind of mix of the most important aspects of life being used in utterly fictional and ultimately foolish contexts that bugs me, particularly when such self-sacrifice is so clearly seen there as opposed to being common to more normal fiction. So, children without appropriate guidance (read “catechesis” there) are going to read these things in which the great themes of Divine things only appear, and subconsciously at least, if not consciously, come to think of them as solely fictional devices. So, they grow up, realize those books were rather stupid, and jettison not only the fictional worls that they depict, but the themes of redemption, self-sacrificing love, and all the rest, in a classic “baby with the bathwater” dumping. It’s a danger, at the very least, but I fear a common occurrence. Note how many scholars, people to whom many go for their answers on these matters, these days themselves depict the Gospels as fiction! How is a child, or even an adult, to resist, when all the world tells them that their salvation is merely a literary plot device?

    Admittedly, this is a subtle point, but if the Enemy were blatant he wouldn’t be so successful.

  10. Michael says:

    Whew!

    Leaving the case of Pullman aside . . .

    I don’t know, Kevin–might a more generous reading of Rowling be prepared to regard the few redemptive/sacrificial elements as faint echos of the truth in fiction, rather than deliberate or careless or pernicious attempts to “dumb down” our (non-fictional) metanarrative?

    I’d be curious to hear your take on J. R. R. Tolkien’s essay “On Fairy Stories,” and his ideas on eucatastrophe.

    To paraphrase Tertullian: What do Faerie and Jerusalem have in common? Quite a lot, I’d say :)

  11. mike says:

    Thanks, Kevin. That’s a bit clearer, though I don’t think I agree with you.

    Even in Fairytopia it would, I think, be hard for an author to create a beautiful, heroic, sympathetic, and good character without giving him something of the likeness of Christ. (I think even a nominally Christian author would do this unconsciously.) I hope my children will see the virtues of the pagans, and the virtues of the occasional wizard, as shadows cast by Christ, who is the “abyss of all virtues.”

  12. Hi guys,
    There is certainly something to finding gems in pagan works, especially exemplified by Eusebius in his Preparation for the Gospel and Lactantius in his Divine Institutes, but also by Paul’s quotation of Aratus, Epimenides and Menander. But these works mined for such gems originated in societies effectively untouched by Judeo-Christian morality and beliefs, and the Apostolic/Patristic discernment found reinforced in these the idea that the various authors were inspired if not by God by the fallen angels acting as their national gods, and who obscurely hinted at the future of salvation history as far as these forces understood them.

    The case of the modern fiction under discussion is entirely different, quite obviously. These are fantasy books, flatly, works of elaborate imagination in fairly pedestrian style. But they share in common, with much other such writing, a deliberate turning of the back on reality, as though it’s not good enough, implicitly stating that their particular imagined worlds are therefore better. In contrast to this, there is a worldview in the Bible which should be shared by Jews and Christians, indeed by everyone but especially by those two groups and these are their Scriptures. I’ve recommended it before and I will recommend it again, Luke Timothy Johnson’s article “Imagining the World Scripture Imagines” (Modern Theology 14.2 [April 1998]: 165-180). If people are well-grounded in that worldview, then they are certainly capable of defending themselves against the subtle darts of opposing worldviews, but this in itself is an unnecessary activity, putting oneself in such a hail of barbs, one also of accomodation to the world and direct participation in its anti-Judeo-Christian program through the purchase of these things. I’m guilty of it myself, of course, but I have no qualms about recognizing it as a guilty occasional pleasure, but more often find it a guilty mistake, and lately something even closer to a sin. But that’s just me. And when I, not one of the duller knives in the drawer and fully aware of the dangers, nonetheless find myself to have been affected by these things, I can only conclude that others are just as capable of being influenced, particularly children, teens, and young adults who’ve yet to acquire an adequate intellectual and (dare I say it?) spiritual defense against such things.

    But then again, as I noted with Iyov above, I’ve categorized this as an “unhinged rant.” This is a somewhat nebulously-discerned issue on my part, and obviously not one that is easily expressed, or at least certainly is not being adequately expressed on my part.

    Now I’ll have to track down all the recommended reading that’s come my way as a result of this tossed-off post!

  13. Father Jonathan Tobias, Orthodox priest and pensive proprietor of Second Terrace, and I appear to be on the same page on this matter, with another page, and another. His articulate expression of the issue, and his perspective with which I wholeheartedly agree, are of benefit to this discussion. Fr Tobias is a fine writer in any case, and his blog is a breath of fresh air bearing the inimitable, evocative scent of belles lettres.

  14. Michael McDonough says:

    Hi Kevin,

    I wanted to share my thoughts on this topic.

    The “world”, especially in the West, is trying to run away from God, as a American politician runs away from an unpopular president at election time. God is the ground of our being, and he defines reality ontologically. So, the world is running away from ontological reality; and any resultant “reality” must perforce be a mere “virtual reality”.

    The contemporary “art world” participates in “the world”, and though it thinks of itself as “creative”, Aristotle’s view that “art imitates reality” is more precise than the opinion of the modern art world. The art world produces “virtual realities”, when it produces anything of substance at all; and yet a virtual reality is part of reality itself, just an imitated version of it.

    J.R.R. Tolkien, as a very young man, wished to “create” a “mythology for England” which he acknowledged much later to have been: “madness”, I think is the word he used. Nonetheless, long after he recognized how mad that youthful desire was he continued to hone and refine his poems, tales, and narratives of Middle-earth: a “virtual reality”. He, being a practicing Christian, “indeed a Roman Catholic”, as he wrote, sensed that if he allowed his mythology to take place in the real world, i.e., if it were to take place in historical times, there would be a big problem: the Judaeo-Christian revelation is that of God, the foundation of reality and the Creator, who enters into the history of his creatures, not only speaking to them, but actually intervening on occasion, and especially in the life of the Son of God, the God-Man Jesus Christ.

    So the solution Tolkien determined upon, was to place the events of his narratives into the long distant past, the time before any (known) history was written, and to leave little markers about, especially in the lore of the Wise of the Elves. He spend a good deal of time thinking about what markers needed to be acknowledged. One of them involved what Genesis reveals: the Fall of Man. This became “a darkness in the origin of Men”, about which the Elves were never able to learn the full facts. That men must die, however, was understood as the consequence of this darkness; and the Wise called it “the Gift of Iluvatar to Men”, seeing it from their point of view as an escape from the “long defeat” and tears of Middle-Earth, into a better reality, which the Elves had no certain knowledge they themselves would share.

    Having fenced off those ancient markers, putting them “out of bounds” for his stories, he could indulge the full force of his awesome “sub-creativity”, evident not only in the works which he published, but also in many of the unpublished, often unfinished works. The “willing suspension of disbelief” is enhanced by the fences.

    It strikes me that in the question of contemporary fictional works, or virtual reality devices (be they novels, video games or films), when the “artists” either fail to set such boundaries, or, worse, when they deliberately try to interweave their “fantasies” with the real world, thus falsifying that real world, we ourselves must erect the fences. For ourselves, and also for our children.

    For ourselves, by a more serious discipleship, a daily more faithful and humble following of the Lord of History. For our children, by talking about all this with them.

    The modern “art world” is a world of manipulation. If it generates money, it’s art. The sign of a “good artist” is the size of his bank account. Hollywood and the other media just take the stuff and sell it.

    Is it not providential that in a time when the world is fleeing reality, and erecting a “liturgy” of virtually-realistic art to celebrate (even covenant) that flight, we have the example of a Tolkien to show us how to quarantine the bad effects?

    Reality trumps virtual-reality in the End.

  15. Christians don’t have a monopoly on altruistic love and self-sacrifice.

  16. Which is a completely separate issue, Chris.

    Reality is not fiction, and we’re, at least I am, discussing the fictionalization of those particularly Christian realities (we’re not after all, looking at works from a Hindu context, but those produced in a post- or anti-Christian context) and most particularly Phillip Pullman’s explicitly avowed (and floor-rollingly laughable) desire to destroy the foundations of Christianity.

    I see the opportunistic usage of such themes as cheapening them, when they are separated from their catechetical purpose. Others disagree. Of course, I spend my reading time mostly on Patristics, and my occasional dabbling in fiction these days requires more than appearance on a bestseller list. Some stuff is simply crap, no matter what the garnish is.

  17. mike says:

    Maybe that’s where I differ with you, Kevin. Pullman’s a separate case, I’m sure. But I can’t believe that most pop authors who produce heroes (or victims) with Christ-qualities are doing it opportunistically or even consciously. They assume Christian categories. Their imagination has a Christian shape, and they can’t help it. They took it in with mother’s milk and TV and all those popular songs that yammered about heaven, and angels, and God. Even anti-Christian authors usually rely on Christian principles to condemn Christian institutions. I suspect they’d find true paganism unbearable.

    Again, I think most dime-novel authors don’t think about this enough to exploit it. And those with genuine attitude correspond to a recognizable type: the anti-bourgeois bourgeois; the anti-intellectual good-ol-boy intellectual … the anti-Christian with a guilty addiction to Christian ideas of justice, equality, rights and duties, and the human person.

  18. Hi Mike! Yes, all this is so, but that doesn’t make it good or acceptable. A Christian knows that he is held to a higher standard than that. The Body of Christ is not to be polluted. I think that’s what it comes down to. This popular culture is the new Roman games, with the blood and guts so much more tastefully imitated rather than truly spilled. And the Fathers, as I know you know, had no kind words for the games. I think they would be particularly irate as well at the kind of misappropriation of Christian themes that I’ve been complaining about. We don’t need to see these movies in order to be closer to God, and no, we don’t need to have a personal interest or interaction with that popular culture for that either. It comes down to a matter of priorities, really. Also, I refuse to enrich anyone who’s explicitly stated that what he’s doing with his books is, “I’m trying to undermine the basis of Christian belief.” It’s a laughable attempt, and it’s pathetic, really, that he thinks he’s that capable, but Philip Pullman, pontificating purveyor of pusillanimous poppycock, will nonetheless receive no penny from me.

  19. Maureen says:

    First off, let’s have no more of this “turning their back on the world because it’s not good enough for them” silliness. C.S. Lewis has dealt with that charge; and Sir Philip Sidney made an even stronger argument in The Defense of Poesy which dovetails neatly to Tolkien’s argument for sub-creation. (Hint: “poet” means “maker”, not “newsreader” or “camera”.)

    Also, I don’t think “misappropriation” is a fair charge. The fact of the matter is that, just as the spoils of the Egyptians belong to Christians and all of Creation is ours to explore, it’s entirely fair that non-Christians should use all of Creation as well. And since “Christian themes” are part of the world… well, it’s not as if they don’t have a perfect right to use whatever they want. Picking, choosing, appropriating and making stuff from seemingly incompatible fragments is an essential to the artist, as indeed to any thinker.

    The real artistic and logical crime is to introduce a theme (say, sacrifice) and then not use it to best effect or let it work on you to its logical extension. A fictional work without literary pretensions can still treat deep themes. Fairy tales and nursery rhymes touch on these things, after all, and so do jokes and riddles.

    All this is not to say that I don’t deplore Pullman, or wish that Rowling would quit doing odd things outside her books. But you’re wrong about the whys and wherefores.

    I suggest that you ought to find and read The Mind of the Maker, Dorothy L. Sayer’s book on Trinitarian theology and the creative process. She has a brisk way with artistic sins, and you’ll feel a great deal better after she’s sorted things out for you. :)

  20. Thanks, Maureen! Sayer’s certainly won’t make me feel any better about it, though. It’s the issue of creatures exactly like Pullman who are the problem. And I’d say most writing these days would qualify as “crime.”

    This is what gets to me: people making excuses for crap. “Oh, well he obviously doesn’t understand real Christianity…. This is an opportunity to discuss…. It’s part of the creative process.” No, no, and no. There is absolutely no way that removing the sacrifice of God from history, false history or supposedly true, is acceptable, tenable, or realistic. When you plant the thought within the weak human mind that a world without God is possible, with repeated emphasis, watering if you will, that thought will grow. Appropriating the themes of Divine justice, beauty, sacrifice and ultimate love for tawdry children’s tales is disgusting.

    None of the Church Fathers would’ve approved, whatever Lewis might’ve imagined. They fulminated about viewing classical Greek plays, for heaven’s sake, something that is considered the highest culture these days. They were not accomodationist at all, and neither am I.

    It’s the dual rejection of God and twisting of minds away from Him that I deplore here. It’s going on, and people are making excuses for it. I’ve seen it and mentioned it, and my mind will not change. There’s no reason for a Christian to expose him or herself to any of this. It’s insidious and entirely detrimental to spiritual progress.

  21. Maureen says:

    I was thinking about this when I woke up this morning. Not saying God’s name is not the same as rejecting God, or there’d be a lot of pious Jews who were actually atheists. Also, Hannah’s silent prayer would never count as prayer at all. :)

    I love the Greek Fathers and I respect them, but I don’t live in their world and they don’t live in mine. We all have to use normal prudence in these matters. There are a good many things that the Greek Fathers would have disapproved which I do every day: walking around with my head and parts of my arms and legs bared, for instance. We also have gyms — but not the same naked gyms. We go to Greek plays — but not with the same associations of pagan worship. Principles don’t change, but applications do.

    Now, it is true that Jerusalem no longer has Athens safely at her feet. One might therefore argue that it’s time for Christians to draw back from Athens. (I don’t agree, but it’s a valid position.)

    However, one’s judgment of the tactics of a certain time and place
    hardly invalidates the “spoils of the Egyptians” strategy of more than a thousand years. Since that strategy made Ireland a center of learning, eventually jumpstarted the continent of Europe, founded the universities, and generally created the beauties of Christendom, me for the spoils of the Egyptians and the Western Fathers. I will gladly stand with Cassiodorus and the saints of the libraries. (Although they’d probably want me to work on reshelving instead of standing still.)

    I also would hardly describe following the scriptural counsel in re: “the good, the true, and the beautiful” as accommodationist or detrimental to spiritual progress. It requires discernment for its application to daily life, as does pretty much all scripture. (As Origen found out.) But it’s still inspired counsel.

    Given that I’m currently podcasting both Origen and The Worm Ouroboros, you knew I’d say that. :)

    All this does not mean that you are doing wrongly in your own life to restrict your reading. You should absolutely do whatever God is calling you to do, and your spiritual practices should be those which work best for your body and soul, including your brain. But I think it’s good for one’s charity to keep in mind that there are other valid ways to live a truly Christian life beside the one which works for me or for you. There’s a reason the saints, and all the rest of us, are each so different from each other; and it’s not a bug but a feature.

    Now, it sounds to me as if you want a more overtly Christian culture, which is certainly a good position to take. (Although it’s obvious that Christianity simply being overt was not a cure for all spiritual ills back in the day — they just tended to different spiritual ills.) I am very sympathetic to you on this count, because certainly our current culture is very unwelcoming to such expressions of Christianity. It’s the giant blind spot of mainstream art.

    But there are a lot of us who were raised in the school of silent piety: “not to let the left hand know what the right hand is doing”, not to make a big show of acting holy as too many of the Victorians did, but still doing all that one can. I think that what you interpret in some writers as being ashamed of God or hiding Christianity is an expression of this silent piety. You are free to criticize this as bad tactics or even bad spirituality, but not as bad faith.

    Simultaneously, it sounds to me as if you are growing impatient with kindergarten images and the like. Also, you are growing more zealous for the Lord’s honor. These two things often come together, but that doesn’t mean that the normal artists and the artists trying to fight the Lord are the same thing.

    It does mean that you really do need to comb out the tangles in your mind and heart about this stuff, because confusion can do you very serious hurt. (I speak from experience here; it twisted me into writer’s block and a serious spiritual crisis all at the same time. And it lasted several years. Not pleasant.) After all, you are a writer and scholar; and reading or writing nonfiction prose is still only dealing with images, as St. John of Damascus pointed out.

    But the good news is that, if this is a good chunk of what you’re thinking and feeling, it’s a symptom that you’re advancing in your spirituality beyond the kindergarten images and training wheels. In this case, it’s probably a good idea to read The Ascent of Mount Carmel and The Dark Night of the Soul by St. John of the Cross. (Before you twist yourself up inside, like I did.)

    Sorry to maunder on like this. But I too am zealous for the Lord’s honor; and the honor of His servants, the sub-creators. :)

  22. Maureen says:

    I guess what I’m trying to say is that, sure, at the end, all kinds of works are straw and will burn up. St. Thomas Aquinas thought that about all his stuff. But, until the end of time comes and the burning, straw is very useful. Critters can eat on it and bed in it, and you can even make music on it.

    The medieval Irish couldn’t keep hay or straw because their climate was too damp and moldy. Very bad for their economy, very bad for their capability to plan ahead, and disastrous for both livestock and humans in cold winters.

  23. Thank you very much for such thoughtful interaction, Maureen.

    I do agree with you wholeheartedly. Aside from all the non-fiction reading I do, which is the majority, I do read plenty of fiction and poetry. In fact, in order to become a better writer, I spent a period of several years reading as much fiction, including lots of science fiction, that I could squeeze into a day, which was about a book a day at that time, before the internets started to impinge. So, I’m very familiar with many kinds of fiction, and am dismayed by the tragic slump in quality of modern fiction these days. Mainstream publishing has become much more a business, with less passion for edification than it seems it bore several decades ago. But that’s another issue.

    My problem is not with all fiction, really, but specific kinds. I’m sure, as another avid reader, you might have noticed the same peculiarity that I have. Even in science fiction and fantasy, there’s some indefinable character about them that I notice, that they’re either compatible with the reality of salvation, or they’re not. Now, with someone like Pullman, it’s definitely not, as he’s made explicitly clear in interviews. But there are others, which even though they may seem superficially to be unsupportive of what we know as God’s work among us, like Frank Herbert’s Dune books, there’s a barely tangible something that still maintains that connection to reality, and hope, and faith, and love. Yet there are other books that are somehow quite plainly antagonistic while they may deal not at all with any such issues directly, books that prove themselves sourced in despair and hopelessness, selfishness and hatred. Those books aren’t helpful or even useful, but insidious.

    That said, I want to bring this back to the role of literature in catechesis. In a Christian’s formation (and this should include the life of one’s children primarily, but should be even one’s own concern if a convert) it’s important to establish a solid foundation of orthodoxy and a truly free will that is not blown this way and that by the winds of popular culture. This is becoming more and more difficult, as the media have drifted further and further away from sharing a compatible worldview with those goals. It’s especially important that in this formative stage, confusing elements be drastically curtailed for a time, until the faith’s foundation is secure. And for many of us, that takes a greater length of time and more effort. We aren’t all built the same. So it’s crucial to avoid the works that can lead astray, especially during that period of development, but they’re good to avoid thereafter, as well. This is the idea behind the Roman Catholic practice of the imprimatur and nihil obstat, sourced primarily in the catechetical realm for the inculcation of only the good, as opposed to the confusing or detrimental ideas incompatible with an ideal life of faith.

    And yes, these are ideals I’m dealing with. Ideals are a good thing, after all, and when the particular ideal is to be actively participating in theosis, in divinization, then nothing should be permitted to interfere with that process. So, while me and thee may have the established foundation to recognize and dismiss all unhelpfulness, I end up asking myself the question: why bother? It’s inefficient, a waste of mental resources. There’s more good, solid Christian and Jewish stuff out there than any of us will ever be able to finish reading in a single lifetime, reading all of which is directly inculcating a love of God and His ways, and continually strengthening us. That’s a much better way to spend our energy and limited time, I think. And while I do still, and will continue to read literature and poetry, it’s gotta be good, in every sense of the word, holding wickedness at bay, wickedness of thought as well as action, at the very least compatible with the world God created, even if not directly shining with the uncreated light.

    But again, thank you very much for your beautiful comment. I treasure it.

  24. Idetrorce says:

    very interesting, but I don’t agree with you
    Idetrorce

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