Saturday, October 29, 2005
Baseball, Where Art Thou?
For the first time in about twenty-five years, I did not watch a single second of the World Series of 2005. For years, I have been watching less and less of them. While baseball is a commendable form of sport (unlike football, which is intrinsically violent and ugly, despite its egregious popularity—or perhaps because of it), putting baseball on television now essentially ruins the game. Advertisements crow in everywhere like a hungry fungus, even between batters. Digital adds are placed behind the batters and changed every inning (or more). The camera work cuts back and forth far too often, which makes one dizzy and disoriented (especially if one never watches television any other time). And the commercials—need one say anything here? Thus the medium cuts against and deface the ontological nature of baseball itself, which is slow, deliberate, and focused. One cannot even attend a major league game in the flesh without being beaten down and overwhelmed by the monstrous video screen in the outfield.
Besides these pollutions by the medium of television, the players themselves have been polluting themselves and the game by illicit drug use. The greats of days past—Ruth, DiMaggio, Mays, Aaron—did no such thing. They relied on pure talent and hard work. Moreover, most of today’s players jump from team to team in order to make increasingly more money—more money per game than most American will make a year. By and large, there is no loyalty to a city, a place, a tradition. Money-making is the only tradition recognized. The sense of Place is once again trumped by postmodern conditions, as Wendell Berry has taught us.
It has been said—and this may be contested—that America will be remembered for contributing three seminal realities to civilization: (1) the Constitution, (2) jazz, and (3) baseball. The original intention of the Constitution has nearly been abandoned in recent years by revolutionary judges who, as aspiring godlets, create law ex nihilo and ignore the original document. Jazz now constitutes about 4% the music market (and that might include the hollowed out, shabby, pseudo-jazz of Kenny G). And then there is baseball. Thank God baseball exists in other forms that what is televised. Yet given the cultural domination of television, what is viewed on the abominable tube is bound to affect the sensibilities of other baseball players as well—and their fans.
Let us now lament these terrible losses.
Thursday, October 27, 2005
I haven't been posting much of substance recently because I am very weighed down with job responsibilities and other matters. It is hard to know when (or if) that will change. However, I hope to post soon an article on the Christian understanding of mystery and how it relates to the gender debate. This was written years ago, but only recently unearthed by me and edited by my wife.
Wednesday, October 26, 2005
Dr. Gordon Lewis's Talk at Denver Seminary
Sunday, October 23, 2005
Dr. Gordon Lewis to Speak at Denver Seminary
Dr. Gordon Lewis on "How My Mind Has Changed and Stayed the Same" Join us for the 2nd of a four part series sponsored by The Division of Christian Thought. Come hear from and interact with long-time faculty members. The next session will be held with Dr. Gordon Lewis, on October 25, 12:00-12:50pm, in the Executive Board Room (2nd floor, Graber Administration Building).
Saturday, October 22, 2005
Pelikan on Jesus
Regardless of what anyone may personally think or believe about him, Jesus of Nazareth has been the dominant figure in the history of Western culture for almost twenty centuries. If it were possible, with some sort of super magnet, to pull out of that history every scrap of metal bearing at least a trace of his name, how much would be left?[i]
[i] Jaroslav Pelikan, Jesus through the Centuries: His Place in the History of Culture (New York: Harper and Row, 1985), 1.
Wednesday, October 19, 2005
This means that our attention is divided into two, three or more sections. As a result, since our powers of consciousness are limited, we put less effort into any one activity while we do many things at once. So, we live life in fragments. See that driver swerving a bit? Yes, she is on the cell phone. See that other driver meandering at a ridiculously slow speed? Yes, he is on a cell phone—and even gesticulating into the air as he meanders.
We are divided and further subdivided by simultaneously doing all these things. Consequently, we are less present in our environments. Some write of the phenomenon, increasingly common, of “absent presence.” A man utters sounds into the air as he walks through the mall. He is using his handless cell phone. He is somewhere else, while here (at least physically). We are in cyberspace—and in our study and in a conversation (so called) with our spouse.
Reality demands an attentiveness that multi-tasking does not allow. Human beings especially tend to be opaque and mysterious beings, whose inner recesses are not easily discerned. We can push a key and make the computer or cell phone do something. We cannot push a key and understand or help change a human being. That kind of being requires more attention, more patience, more suffering. This is because we are made in God’s image and likeness, yet we are fallen and disoriented by sin’s manifold manifestations. We are sinners in need or reorientation according to truth (that which describes reality). Some of the most important truths about ourselves and others and about God himself are not easily fathomed—or when fathomed, they are not easily remembered. The discerning of these truths requires attentiveness, patience, and studiousness. These truths demand, as Pascal noted, being quiet in our own room without distractions or diversions. Conversations concerned about truth and virtue require the engagement of two people who are attending, respecting, and responding to one another without mediation.
If all this is true and important, several things follow. We need to slow down and become less efficient and effective, at least as these terms are defined by popular culture. We need to unplug more often, endeavoring do just one thing at a time and to do one thing at a time well. Perhaps we should simply listen to music in order to discern its nature, structure, and aesthetic value. This requires a one-pointed immersion into its sonic reality. Just listen and think. Maybe we should simply listen to another person, laboring to exegete his or her soul and bring our soul to bear on another’s pain, yearnings, and boredom. Perhaps we should read the Bible in book form and not jump from text to text to image to image as we do while “reading” it in cyberspace. (Is that really reading or merely retinizing?) Maybe we need to talk to someone on the phone and not listen to music while talking, not type an email while listening, not exercise while listening. Maybe much should change—within and without. Much should change if we think truth is being lost, relationships are being cheapened, and virtues are being soiled by our incessant dividedness, fragmentation, and alienation known as “multi-tasking.”
Sunday, October 16, 2005
"In Defense of Natural Theology"
After the Introduction, written by Sennett and Groothuis, the book is divided into two parts.
Part One Hume on Natural Theology
2. “Hume’s Criticisms of Natural Theology” by Terrence Penelhum.
3. “In Praise of Hume” by Todd Furman. This is the lone chapter that defends Hume.
4. “David Hume on Meaning, Verification, and Natural Theology” by Keith Yandell.
5. “Hume’s Stopper and the Natural Theology Project” by James Sennett.
Part Two: Hume and the Arguments:
6. “Metaphysical Implications of Cosmological Arguments: Exorcising the Ghost of Hume,” by Douglas Groothuis.
7. “Hume and the Kalam Cosmological Argument,” by Garrett DeWeese and Joshua Rasmussen.
8. “Giving the Devil His Due,” by James Madden.
9. “Hume, Fine-Tuning, and the ‘Who Designed God’ Objection,” by Robin Collins.
10. “Hume and the Moral Argument,” by Paul Copan.
11. “David Hume, Experiential Evidence and Belief in God” by Keith Yandell.
12. “The Argument from Reason and Hume’s Legacy,” by Victor Reppert.
13. “Hume and the Argument from Consciousness,” by J.P. Moreland.
13. “David Hume and a Cumulative Case Argument,” by R. Douglas Geivett.
James and I hope that this volume will significantly advance the cause of natural theology in the world of ideas. It is suitable for classes in philosophy of religion, theology, and apologetics--or for light bedtime reading.
Seeing Invisable Disabilities
Jesus had a way of seeing what others missed and ministering to those who were forgotten, shunned, or misunderstood. He touched and healed lepers when everyone else scurried away. He cared for those with chronic afflictions - such as congenital blindness and incurable hemorrhage - while others gave up. He bestowed hope where others scattered the ashes of despair. He was love Incarnate (John 1:14; 1 John 4:16). We need that character of divine love if we’re to see and minister to the hurts of others.
America has made strides in recognizing and assisting people with disabilities. Most public facilities are now accessible to the handicapped. The pool where I swim has a lift for the disabled. The law rightly forbids discriminating against the handicapped (see Lev. 19:14, Deut. 27:18, Matt. 25:40).
In the Christian community, Joni Eareckson Tada has raised people’s awareness of the needs of those who suffer from severe disabilities. She has encouraged the afflicted not to despair, but to trust God to use their broken lives for the glory of God and the good of others.
Still, many disabled people continue to suffer both chronic physical distress and misunderstanding. Their suffering is masked by a healthy appearance. They are not in wheelchairs and do not use canes. Yet their pain and debility is real and chronic. They have "invisible disabilities."
It may be the soul-sapping fatigue, environmental sensitivity, and chronic pain of fibromyalgia, or lupus, or Lyme disease, or multiple sclerosis. These souls suffer not only from their diseases, but also often from the uninformed and hurtful reactions of others.
Those suffering from fibromyalgia, such as my wife, often ricochet from one physician to another, repeatedly encountering the impatience and defeatism that often characterize the medical community's attitude toward those whose ailments are intractable, invisible, and (usually) non-terminal. Insurance routinely refuses to cover needed treatments.
Worse yet, loved ones frequently do not understand the nature of their invisible disability and respond wrongly.When someone looks healthy, we are tempted to tell them to "just buck up" and do what we think they should do. Those with invisible disabilities are often expected to do what is beyond them. We would never tell someone who uses a cane to run a marathon, but just going to the store may be a marathon for someone with lupus.
A seminary student of mine looks healthy, yet he suffers from such chronic and extreme back pain that he lost his medical practice. He also lost a friend who could not accept the limitations that chronic illness put on their relationship.
What can Christians do to discern people’s invisible disabilities and display the love of Christ?
First, we can empathize with them, instead of lecturing or ignoring them. The Book of Hebrews tells us to remember those in prison as though we were shackled with them (13:3). Similarly, we must try to put ourselves into the prison of the chronically ill person’s life. This is difficult, and almost nothing in our hedonistic culture encourages it. Nevertheless, we need empathy to be agents of love and encouragement. Jesus wept; so should we (John 11:35).
Second, we should listen to and believe what the afflicted tell us. My wife looks so healthy and fit that someone in the locker room where we swim thought she was a woman who’d been swimming at top speed for an hour. But if you listen to Rebecca’s story — one of pain and frustration mixed with faith and determination — you’ll find things quite different from how they appear.
Third, we can look for ways to minister to those we know with such conditions. Sherri Connell’s web site, The Invisible Disabilities Advocate, (www.InvisibleDisabilities.com) offers a wealth of materials. Sherri, who suffers from an invisible disability, has a big heart, an indomitable spirit, and much practical and spiritual advice.
Let us seek to have the eyes of Jesus, so we may look beyond appearances and gaze deeply into the lives of those who are suffering. Then we can offer them our love, understanding, and encouragement.
Saturday, October 15, 2005
Friday, October 14, 2005
Against Harriet Miers for the High Court
Conservatives have long argued that political liberalism, having largely failed to win the electorate, has used the courts to implement its leftwing ideology. Liberals have placed activist judges in position of power to make law instead of faithfully interpreting it according to the intent of the Constitution. John Whitehead forcefully made this argument over twenty years ago in The Second American Revolution, and it is taken for granted in most thoughtful conservative circles. The way to turn back this agenda is to appoint judges with a conservative legal philosophy. Charles Krauthammer forcefully makes this point in his October 7, 2005 column:
"For half a century, liberals have corrupted the courts by turning them into an instrument of radical social change on questions -- school prayer, abortion, busing, the death penalty -- that properly belong to the elected branches of government. Conservatives have opposed this arrogation of the legislative role and called for restoration of the purely interpretive role of the court. To nominate someone whose adult life reveals no record of even participation in debates about constitutional interpretation is an insult to the institution and to that vision of the institution."
The nominee’s legal philosophy means everything given this situation. One may be “personally opposed” to abortion, for instance, but support the supposed “right to privacy” invented by the activist jurists in the notorious Roe vs. Wade decision in 1973. This was the case with Judge Kennedy now on the high court. Or, one may personally not think abortion is morally wrong, but consider Roe vs. Wade a legal embarrassment because it is terrible law. This is true for someone like Charles Krauthammer.
Given this perspective, what is needed on the Supreme Court are great legal minds that can defend and implement an originalist philosophy of law. One’s political or even religious convictions are secondary to this fact. An evangelical Christian (and I am one) may make for a terrible jurist. The evidence is that Harriet Miers shows no evidence of legal brilliance, whatever her theology. She has written next to nothing on law, let alone on the sophisticated issues of Constitutional law. Excerpts from a column she wrote for The Texas Bar Journal are abysmal, as David Brooks pointed out in recent a column, which ran in the October 14 edition of The Rocky Mountain News. The language is weak, vague, and platitudinous—much like the language abominated in Don Watson’s acerbic critique of weasel and wimpy language, Death Sentences. She gives us no evidence of an incisive mind or pen. Brooks doesn’t pull any punches when he writes that “the quality of thought and writing doesn’t even rise to the level of the pedestrian.” George Will, in his October 4, 2005 column, makes a similar point while rebutting the idea that we should simply trust President Bush on this issue:
"It is not important that she be confirmed because there is no evidence that she is among the leading lights of American jurisprudence, or that she possesses talents commensurate with the Supreme Court's tasks. The president's "argument'' for her amounts to: Trust me. There is no reason to, for several reasons.
He has neither the inclination nor the ability to make sophisticated judgments about competing approaches to construing the Constitution. Few presidents acquire such abilities in the course of their prepresidential careers, and this president, particularly, is not disposed to such reflections."
This nomination could well determine the course of the Supreme Court for decades to come. What America needs is a well-qualified, road-tested, and sharp legal mind that adheres to a conservative Constitutional philosophy. Such a nominee would provoke a battle royal in the Senate. So be it. This truth is worth fighting for.
Thursday, October 13, 2005
Suffering Well With Others
First, we ought to pray for wisdom before speaking or communicating in any form with one under the pressures of loss. Ask God to give you the heart and tongue that heals—or at least doesn’t multiply the pain. Consider a few egregious examples. Someone loses a spouse only to hear someone ask within a few weeks of the spouse’s death, “Are you grieving well?” Is this some kind of test? One should grieve with the sorrowful heart, not ask it for an internal audit. Or consider this. Someone is diagnosed with cancer and is trying to reorient their life to handle this. A member of the person’s church says, “Oh, if I had to have chemotherapy—just shoot me.” Perhaps the shooting should come before that… The dear person who received this body blow is now preparing for chemotherapy with courage and hope. Remember what The Book of James says about the power of the tongue (James 3:1-12).
Second, one should not over-interpret the dire situations of a fallen world by trying to read God’s mind. This only makes for hollow comfort. Yes, God will bring good out of evil for his people (Romans 8:28), but we don’t quite now how he will do this. As Os Guinness writes in his superb new book, Unspeakable, the silver lining of a dark cloud—if we can even find it—does not explain the full meaning of the suffering. In light of this, we must learn to silently stew in our ignorance instead of spewing forth our pious pronouncements on the specifics of divine providence. Job’s friends went wrong only when they broke their silence in his presence and began to speak without knowledge.
Third, learn to lament with people. Study the Psalms of lamentation and the many laments in Scripture, such as those uttered by King David, Paul, and supremely Jesus himself, “My God, my God. Why have you forsaken me?” (You can find a link to my sermon, “Learning to Lament” on this web log.) A lament is the cry of the anguished soul before God, which displays puzzlement as well as anger. It expresses disorientation in search of reorientation. However, a lament is directed to God and before the audience of God, “the audit of Eternity,” as Kierkegaard put it. Listen to the stories of the suffering and identify with them. Say un-profound, but appropriate, things like, “I am so sorry” and “That is terrible.” The American South has expression that captures this perfectly: “I hate it for you.” I hate the fact that two marriages are being ripped apart and are may be dying. I hate the fact that my friend’s spouse is going through chemotherapy. I hate it for all of them, and I should show them that I hate it. I hate it because I love them.
We should never try to tell people that losing a spouse or having cancer or facing a divorce isn’t really so bad. It is bad, very bad. This is a fallen world, a world that is still groaning in anticipation of its final redemption (Romans 8:18-26). As Nicholas Wolterstorff writes in his moving and profound meditation, Lament for a Son, we must sit on the mourner’s bench with the suffering and lament with them. This in itself provides a kind of comfort.
I am but babe in this healing skill—suffering well with others. Will you join me in the school of lament? Will you learn to sit on the mourner’s bench before God and with those whom you love?
Wednesday, October 12, 2005
Dr. Gordon Lewis Lecture at Denver Seminary
Please note this. I am hosting the event to honor and learn from Dr. Lewis, long-time professor at Denver Seminary and the author of many books and articles.
Christian Thought Colloquia Dr. Gordon Lewis on "How My Mind Has Changed and Stayed the Same" Join us for the 2nd of a four part series sponsored by The Division of Christian Thought. Come hear from and interact with long-time faculty members. The next session will be held with Dr. Gordon Lewis, on October 25, 12:00-12:50pm, in the Executive Board Room (2nd floor, Graber Administration Building).
Audio of Groothuis sermon, "Learning to Lament"
Tuesday, October 11, 2005
"Against the Crowd," Soren Kierkegaard, selection from "Provocations," edited by Charles Moore
Even though every individual possesses the truth, when he gets together in a crowd, untruth will be present at once, for the crowd is untruth. It either produces impenitence and irresponsibility or it weakens the individual’s sense of responsibility by placing it in a fractional category. For instance, imagine an individual walking up to Christ and spitting on him. No human being would ever have the courage or the audacity to do that. But as part of a crowd, well then they somehow have the “courage” to do it – dreadful untruth!
The crowd is indeed untruth. Christ was crucified because he would have nothing to do with the crowd (even though he addressed himself to all). He did not want to form a party, an interest group, a mass movement, but wanted to be what he was, the truth, which is related to the single individual. Therefore everyone who will genuinely serve the truth is by that very fact a martyr. To win a crowd is no art; for that only untruth is needed, nonsense, and a little knowledge of human passions. But no witness to the truth dares to get involved with the crowd. His work is to be involved with all people, if possible, but always individually, speaking with each and every person on the sidewalk and on the streets – in order to split apart. He avoids the crowd, especially when it is treated as authoritative in matters of the truth or when its applause, or hissing, or balloting are regarded as judges. He avoids the crowd with its herd mentality more than a decent young girl avoids the bars on the harbor. Those who speak to the crowd, coveting its approval, those who deferentially bow and scrape before it must be regarded as being worse than prostitutes. They are instruments of untruth.
For this reason, I could weep, even want to die, when I think about how the public, with its daily press and anonymity, make things so crazy. That an anonymous person, by means of the press, day in and day out can say whatever he wants to say, what he perhaps would never have the courage to say face-to-face as an individual to another individual, and can get thousands to repeat it, is nothing less than a crime – and no one has responsibility! What untruth! Such is the way of the crowd.
Monday, October 10, 2005
More Coltrane from the Vault
Sunday, October 09, 2005
Crucifixion is the act of public execution by nailing someone to a stake (or cross), which is planted into the ground. This was widely practiced as a form of capital punishment in the Roman Empire at the time of Christ. It was the most painful, slow, and cruel form of punishment imaginable. “The crucifixion” refers to the death of Jesus Christ in approximately 30 AD at Golgotha (the pace of the Skull) outside of Jerusalem. He was crucified between two criminals and before a large crowd of onlookers, both hostile and grieving. Jesus warned his disciples that he would be betrayed, killed, and would rise from the dead (Matthew 16:21; Mark 8:31; Luke 9:22).
The Gospel accounts devote considerable space on the events leading to the crucifixion because of the unparalleled importance of this historical event. After his mock trail, Jesus was severely beaten, then forced to carry his own cross to the place of execution. When his strength failed, Simon carried it the rest of the way (Matthew 27:32; Mark 15:21; Luke 23:26). The Gospel accounts of the crucifixion itself are brief and without detail: “They crucified him” (Matthew 27:35; Mark 15:24; Luke 23:33; John 19:18).
On the cross, Jesus uttered several memorable statements. He committed his mother to the care of his disciple John (John 19:25-27). To the repentant criminal crucified next him, Jesus promised, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). He cried out to the Father, “My God, My God. Why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34) and “Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). Lastly, Jesus prayed to the Father, “Into your hands, I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46). From the sixth to the ninth hour before Jesus’ death, darkness descended on the scene (Matthew 27:45; Mark 15:33; Luke 23:44). After his death, one of the Roman guards thrust a spear into Jesus' side, producing the flow of blood and water, a verification of death (John 19:31-37). The curtain of the temple was also torn in half from top to bottom (Matthew 27:51; Mark 15:38).
The crucifixion is the once-and-for-all event in which Jesus, the Suffering Servant, in love bore the sins of the world, so that his followers would not have to pay the eternal penalty for their sin against an absolutely holy God (John 3:16; Philippians 2:5-11; Hebrews 10). The crucifixion confirmed the Old Testament prophesy that “by his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5). Through the cross of Christ, Christians are reconciled to God (2 Corinthians 5:17-18), their sin is canceled (Colossians 2:14), they are justified and forgiven (Romans 3:26), and declared righteous (Romans 4). Christians are called to take up their crosses and follow Christ (Matthew 10:38; Mark 8:34; Luke 14:27), which includes crucifying sinful tendencies (Galatians 5:24; Ephesians 5:1-18).
Jesus’ crucifixion cannot be separated from his resurrection; both were historical and essential for salvation (1 Corinthians 15:1-8). Christians worship and serve a crucified and risen Lord of the universe (John 11:25-26; Revelation 1:8).
Friday, October 07, 2005
A Definition for Curmudgeonhood
1. archaic: a crusty, ill-tempered, churlish old man.
2. modern: anyone who hates hypocrisy and pretense and has the temerity to say so; anyone with the habit of pointing out unpleasant facts in an engaging and humorous manner.
Taken from Jon Winokur, The Portable Curmudgeon (New York: NAL Books, 1987).
Comment: (1) should be avoided; (2) should be embraced by those who can withstand it.
Thursday, October 06, 2005
George Will on Preemptive War
More Blaise Pascal
Wednesday, October 05, 2005
Bible Verses for Times of Stress
Tuesday, October 04, 2005
Ken Myers on Popular Culture: A Review of A Modern Classic
All God's Children and Blue Suede Shoes: Christians and Popular Culture. Westchester, IL: Crossway Books, 1989. xvi + 213 pp., including index. ISBN 0-89107-538-0. Reviewed by Douglas Groothuis.
This book does not fit easily into any set category, and therein lies much of its significance and strength. It concerns at once, theological, aesthetic, historical, and sociological issues relevant to a Christian critique of modernity. Myers, formerly editor of This World and Genesis, and presently host of Mars Hill Audio (www.marshillaudio.com), breaks new ground by developing a Christian perspective on American popular culture. The genius of the book is its analysis of popular culture, not primarily according to its content (what is presented), but according to its style or form (how it is presented).
Any non-comatose Christian can discern that the lyrics of popular rock music or the "plots" of situation comedies don't exude Christian principles. Myers' concern is that popular culture shapes not only our cognition but, more subtly and insidiously, our sensibilities. As Robert Coles notes in his Harvard Diary: "The constraints of culture are often invisible; they coerce us, but we don't think of them in connection with our ideas, our values, our inclinations, our likes and dislikes."
Myers takes his task seriously. He says, "I believe that the challenge of living with popular culture may well be as serious for modern Christians as persecution and plagues were for Christians of earlier centuries." The sobriety lies in our predilection for idolatry: "Idols and myths can take the form of moods and sensibilities as well as stone and creed, and there are many disturbing signs that many contemporary Christians have made the limited and limiting sensibility of popular culture their own." Adopting neither an ascetic nor libertine perspective toward modern popular culture, Myers analyzes what is distinctive about popular culture, assesses its displacement of high culture, argues for a deeper awareness of its pervasive effects, and advocates greater appreciation for traditional high culture.
Before the cultural assaults of the 1960s, Myers argues, popular culture honored and imitated high culture. Thus Walt Disney's "Fantasia" was set to classical--not pop or folk--music. Since the 1960s, popular culture has dominated our sensibilities, usually covertly. The essence of popular culture is instant gratification, intellectual impatience, ahistorical immediacy, and the incessant pursuit of novelty. The gimmick prevails over the artistic as enduring aesthetic norms are set aside in favor of immediate sensations and pleasurable stimulation.
High culture, on the contrary, has traditionally been marked by abiding aesthetic norms. The art of high culture, whether in literature, music, or elsewhere, demands careful attention and the cultivation of certain sensibilities for its enjoyment. Whereas one is immediately gripped by the booming bass and pulsating beat of rock and roll music, the appreciation of an organ piece by Bach is more of an acquired taste, and one that is ultimately--though not immediately--more rewarding and even ennobling. He writes, "Great art reveals something about human nature because it is forced to conform to created reality." In this way, high culture is better suited to communicate the profundities of both biblical and general revelation. Because it can delve no deeper than instantaneous titillation, popular culture is ill equipped to bear the message of transcendence or holiness.
Nevertheless, Myers' finds that modern Christians thoughtlessly adopt popular culture as a bearer of the gospel without considering whether the medium is worthy of the message. Television, which Myers' rightly regards as popular culture's dominating medium, is unblinkingly esteemed as a ready means to Christian ends. Yet the very nature of the medium itself, whatever its content might be, "encourages the aversion to abstraction, analysis, and reflection" because of its dependency on fleeting visual images over written words. Here Myers makes good use of the penetrating criticisms of television--and image-oriented culture in general--made by Jacques Ellul and Neil Postman.
But Myers is not arguing for cultural snobbery or aesthetic moralism. Although he argues for the virtues of high culture, he distinguishes moral goodness from aesthetic goodness and realizes that the moral landscape is populated by both uncultured saints and cultured pagans. Still, Myers maintains that the disciplined attending to reality required by high culture may spill over into the moral virtues. The proclivities of popular culture, while sometimes harmless, have no such potential. However, Myers doesn't praise high culture in toto. He cites the decline and even nihilism of much of contemporary high culture as one reason for the ascendency of popular culture. As modernism made high culture increasingly esoteric, enigmatic, and irritating to the uninitiated, it became less accessible and appealing, thus giving opportunity for the domination of popular culture.
Because of its interdisciplinary range, thorough documentation, engaging style, and sophisticated analysis, All God's Children and Blue Suede Shoes is a needed antidote to worldliness, especially in its less detectable and socially acceptable forms. It would make a fine text for sociology, aesthetics, and evangelism courses at the college and graduate levels.
Sonny Rollins is no less than a living legend of jazz, with over fifty years of jazz artistry to his credit. Born in 1930 in New York, Rollins was a prodigy on the tenor saxophone, beginning his recording career at the age of 18. He quickly established himself by playing with the luminaries such as Bud Powell, Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis, J. J. Johnson, and Charlie Parker. Rollins is known for his rich tone, rhythmic sense, and brilliant improvisations—often inflected with humor. As a serious and self-critical artist, Rollins has never settled into cliches or allowed himself to be boxed in by his music. He is also an accomplished composer of works for small jazz groups, many of which have become jazz standards, such as “Oleo,” “St. Thomas,” and “Sonnymoon for Two.” While he prefers live settings to the studio, Rollins has recorded classic jazz albums such as “Saxophone Colossus” (1956) and “The Freedom Suite” (1958). He continues to record and tour, delighting audiences with his flights into the saxophonic stratosphere.
· Douglas Groothuis, philosopher, jazz fan, and patron of Koelbel Library (Centennial,
Sunday, October 02, 2005
Important Books About Television (and not TV shows about books)
1. Baudrillard, Jean. The Transparency of Evil: Essays on Extreme Phenomena. Trans. James Benedict. New York: Verso, 1993. One needs patience to read Baudrillard, at least in translation. Perhaps he is more intelligible in French. Nevertheless, this often enigmatic book is studded with arresting observations on the effects of media technologies on culture. Some have taken Baudrillard to be a kind of French McLuhan, although Baudrillard (unlike McLuhan) is an atheist with nihilistic tendencies (especially evident in Impossible Exchange. Trans. Chris Turner. New York: Verso, 2002).
2. Birkerts, Swen. The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age. Boston: Faber and Faber, 1994. A wise analysis of how reading and a literary approach to life have been marginalized by electronic media in general. Birkerts is not a Christian, but appears “close to the kingdom” in much of his analysis.
3. Ellul, Jacques. The Humiliation of the Word. Trans. Joyce Main Hanks. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1985. A historical, sociological, and theological critique of the dominance of images over words in culture and religion. There is one chapter specifically about television. Ellul offers both a lamentation and a summons to change. A uniquely profound treatment of the subject.
4. Hibbs, Thomas S. Shows About Nothing: Nihilism in Popular Culture From The Exorcist to Seinfield. Dallas, TX: Spence Publishing Company, 1999. Hibbs discusses the content, or philosophy, of recent popular movies and television programs that reveal a nihilistic, “demonic anti-providence” worldview.
5. Hunt, Arthur. The Vanishing Word: The Veneration of Visual Imagery in the Postmodern World. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2003. A specifically Christian assessment of the domination of our culture by visual imagery. Address television specifically, but looks at the phenomena of the “vanishing word” more broadly. Reviewed in Denver Journal at: http://www.denverseminary.edu/dj/articles2004/0400/0404.php
6. Mander, Jerry. Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television. New York: Morrow Quill Paperbacks, 1978. Don’t let the extreme title throw you off the scent. Mander marshals impressive arguments against the very existence of television. This is not a Christian perspective per se, but Christians should find much of value.
7. Mander, Jerry. In the Absence of the Sacred: The Failure of Technology and the Survival of the Indian Nations. San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1991. Although not primarily about television, Mander’s insights into the dehumanizing effects of electronic media technologies are valuable. In his exposure of the injustices done to Native Americans, he may romanticize their way of life somewhat.
8. McKibben, Bill. The Age of Missing Information. New York: Plumb, 1993. McKibben’s thesis is that television keeps important information from us. He compares watching a day’s worth of television programming on all 93 cable television stations to a twenty-four hour experience atop an Adirondack mountain!
9. McLuhan, Marshall. Understanding Media: Extensions of Man. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1996; original publication, 1964. McLuhan was a seminal thinker, despite his eccentricities and inconsistencies. He is still pertinent and was prophetic about much of the digital revolution. “The medium is the message” is the rare sound bite that carries a momentous meaning.
10. Mittroff, Ian I. and Warren Bennis. The Unreality Industry: The Deliberate Manufacturing of Falsehood and What it is Doing to Our Lives. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989. On the dangerous and pervasive effects of television in general on American culture.
11. Muggerride, Malcolm. Christ and the Media. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1977. Muggerridge was a wonderful wordsmith and a veteran of British media, who converted later in life. His reflections are deep and controversial.
12. Owens, Virginia Stem. The Total Image: Or Selling Jesus in the Modern Age. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1980. Christian reflections on the nature of television (not merely its content), especially in relation to presenting the Christian message. This is well written and wise, if little known.
13. Postman, Neil, Teaching as a Conserving Activity. New York: Dell, 1979. Although not primarily about television, Postman argues that teaching should be “thermostatic” in that it counters what is dominant and taken-for-granted in culture. He finds television to be “the first curriculum” that must be challenged by education.
14. Postman, Neil. Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in an Age of Show Business. New York: Penguin, 1985. Probably the best overall assessment of television. Brilliantly analyzes the nature of the medium (“the medium is the metaphor”), its severe limitations for carrying public discourse, and its relation to the print-dominated sensibilities of earlier American life. Postman also makes incisive comments on how religion, education, politics, and news are affected by television. Highly recommended.
15. Postman, Neil. Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1992. Postman’s larger critique of the effects of technology on culture. He claims we have moved beyond a technocracy into a technopoly (his coined term) wherein technology defines every aspect of culture. Very penetrating.
16. Postman, Neil and Steve Powers. How to Watch Television News. New York: Penguin, 1993. Media-critic Postman teams up with television journalist Steve Powers to explain the inner workings of television news. Not surprisingly, things are not as they “appear”—news anchors are often not trained journalists (but highly paid celebrities), news can be manufactured instead of reported, and the pressures of time and money make accurate reporting difficult if not impossible.
17. Shachtman, Tom. The Inarticulate Society: Eloquence and Culture in America. New York: The Free Press, 1995. This thoughtfully explores the decline in eloquent speech in American culture, much of which is traced to the influence of television. A challenge to “the mumbling multitudes” (p. 260).
Saturday, October 01, 2005
Curmudgeon on Denver Radio
Letter to The NY Times about Kenneth Woodward's article, "Evolution as Zero-Sum Game" (October 1, 2005)
Kenneth Woodward is right that some Christians are Darwinists. However, he has not given any arguments that the two perspectives are compatible, except to quote the Pope (who has no authority over Protestants) and to appeal to his own beliefs. Darwinism claims that all of life can be adequately accounted for without any designing intelligence. Chance and necessity do all the "creating." Intelligent causes are ruled out. Yet the Christian Scriptures claim that God is evident in God's creation through God’s works of design. God is not undetectable or merely the object of blind faith. Further, Woodward is wrong to claim that ID theorists deny "evolutionary processes like mutation and natural selection." Rather, they claim that these mechanisms, while explaining some aspects of biology (microevolution), are scientifically insufficient for explaining the entirely of the biosphere (macroevolution).
Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D.