Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Is God In Denial?

I have mentioned that art is legitimized in some sense simply by the fact that it is there.

Externals are utterly faithful representations of internals. Actions are manifetations of the mind, which is the product of choices. Societies faithfully show us choices that a body of people make. Trends represent choices based on what the mind declares to be necessary. Art is the touchable(or these days not-so-touchable, but sensable) picture of an invisible source.

If my body/intellect is contingent on my spirit, my art is contingent on my body/intellect. The same way, my spirit is contingent on God, who is spirit. As are all things. God inhabits the universe as the spirit inhabits the body, it has been said.

Thus my art is not ultimate reality, but it is a window into ultimate reality, into irreducible existence. All it must do, then, is represent a something that is more inward then itself. Gee that's a pretty broad definition of art.

Must it represent God then, the ultimate, irreducible reality? Well, it seems that it does whether it intends to or not. If the artist is taking a shot at something invisible, perhaps "farther down" than the, say, sculpture, she is only shooting at something less visible than the sculpture, which is in turn contingent upon, and more visible than God. Or you may add as many steps in between as you prefer.

So what do I do with art and music that is lascivious, offensive, harmful, degrading, immoral, pagan, Nazi, neo-liberal, Republican, gay, absurd, unreedemable, establishmentist, sophomoric, novice, cold, libertine, abstract, idealistic?

The twentieth century saw a blurring of the lines between art and audience, art and entertainment, art and work, art and personal conversation, art and life. Do we need a line between "good/moral/spiritual art" and "bad/immoral/unspiritual" art? Perhaps to acknowledge our personal taste, govern what is allowed access to our selfhood, save time when it comes to judging what we will listen to and look at, and what we will not. But do I need to go into attack(defense?) mode over the downhill slide of modern culture? Or is this just the inner jury, the manager complex, the bug-eyed anxious grab at the video game controller someone has just beaten us to? "People get angry when they are defending something they believe because they don't actually believe it. Or else because they are actually defending their self-esteem." (paraphrase TM)

Let's say I have discovered that bluegrass music is, irreducibly, the best form of music there is. I have seen that it is the best representation of artistic righteousness in music, technically, morally, and spiritually. I naturally go home and discard, perhaps ritually burn, all my non-bluegrass CDs. I poster my walls with bluegrass artists. I attend festivals that are devoted strictly to the purest form of bluegrass, untainted by the waves of musical miscegenating libertines and their electric instruments, their long hair, their rock 'n' roll beats, and their minor seventh chords.

Have I then denied a real world fact of non-bluegrass. Not to mention the invisible reality that supports the existence of the music- namely people's like of other idioms? Perhaps even ignorance that the bluegrass idiom exists?

Is God in denial? (of anything, not just bluegrass...)


Leopold said...

Nate the great,

Wonderful thoughts.
;so important to know that we are whole, and that the parts of us which are raw or unsightly are no less parts of us. For a second I thought of making a list of things that "god" (i.e. people's idea of God) is in denial of. What you wrote makes me think of the Simpsons episode where a group of angry soccer moms tries to ban Michaelangelo's David from coming to Springfield because, they say, "It depicts parts of the masculine anatomy, which while they may be useful for some practical purposes, are EVIL!!!!"

People I know often say things like "I got really upset the other night, but I'm not really like that." The fact is that we really have to accept all of ourselves. For some part, being in denial of those parts of ourselves, really questions God's ability to Love us completely, and therefor questions whether God is really worth spending our time with. Perhaps if we could really, even little by little, begin to be open to those parts of ourselves which we dislike, we might feel God's love in a tangible way, more and more, because we would realize that we were still loved in spite of those things. Perhaps that is the only way to really ever come close to understanding and receiving such an infinite love, and in turn, being able to give it as well.

Nate said...

"The fact is that we really have to accept all of ourselves. For some part, being in denial of those parts of ourselves, really questions God's ability to Love us completely, and therefor questions whether God is really worth spending our time with."

Could not have said it better. This is my attitude about the almost universally practiced rule in Christian communities, especially under 30ish people, of "no swearing." While there may be value in holding the tongue around your grandmother out of respect, am I really supposed to repress an "oh shit!" when I drop the pizza, if that's what happens to come out?

We do not love ourselves as we are if we pretend that we are what we are not.

pkuritz said...

It seems to me that art can manifest either the Present Evil Age or the Age to Come as revealed in the Kinghdom of God, or parts of each. As a Christian, I try to reject the parts coming from the Evil One while embracing the parts proclaiming to arrival of the Kingdom of God. I seek the Holy Spirit's guidance in discerning artistic wheat from chaff. In any case, I think we need to "bind the strong man" and his art, not embrace it. And not feel guilty about it either.

Nate said...


I agree, mainly. And my latest post has more to do with making those judgements, which I intend to address it in more detail. It's important to reject, maybe publicly, that which is in opposition to the kingdom. But I want my judgements to be squarely in the context of the sovereignty of God, the knowledge that God is working in evil even as it destroys. If in no other way than to reveal to us what kind of destruction stalks among us. To paraphrase C.S Lewis: evil not only fails to be good. Evil does not even succeed in being evil as well as good succeeds at being good."

Leopold said...

As much as I know about evil and as much as I know about good - I don't really know what they are. They seem to be some sort of pure distillation of certain aspects of reality. Rarely do we see them exist separately. If we say that God is purely good, and the "Evil One," is purely evil, then we might be able to recognize and understand our own actions based on theirs. God Created everything. As a painter, I often find myself unexpectedly praying, when I walk into the woods, or see an especially remarkable sunset, "Oh, that's the best. The most incredible creation. Nothing can ever match it." Beauty and creation seem, as far as I can tell, to stem entirely from good. One might make the distinction of 'a-moral' for things that don't seem to be either, but I don't think that anything is. Things, in and of themselves, objects, living creatures, are, unto themselves, all good, though certainly corruptible.

It is hard to apply this to art, since none of us has mentioned a particular work of art as an example of either good or evil. I do not really know that it is possible: as I said, I think that in humans, the two are rarely separate. I do know that whatever does not stem from good, has never been able to create anything.