Thursday, April 28, 2011

Creative Fantasy vs. the "Morbid Delusion" of Post-modernism (as explained by an orthodox rebel and an Original Orthodox Rebel)

Post-modernism, in its denial of any ability to know truth, likes to languish in the ironic, absurd, and downright ludicrous. This can sometimes produce fun things (e.g., some absurdist plays can be quite humorous, and post-modern architecture is cool to look at), but more often it produces vacuous, insane, and perverse creations that leave the mind and soul empty and reeling (e.g., David Lynch's Eraserhead is exactly as he described it: "a dream of dark and terrible things"). Regardless of the result, the premise is always the same: art cannot take us to truth.

In general, post-modernists insist that art is to have no relation to truth of any kind, except for the "truth" of the artist. It is their perspective that is on display, and they may represent it however they choose (even if it is in a manner that completely destroys any real communication of that perspective). They claim that this is the true freedom inherent in art, i.e., the freedom to transgress beyond all limitations and boundaries, from absolute truths to even the canvas itself.

A counter-position to the post-modern notion of "art unlimited by truth" is here articulated by J.R.R. Tolkien in his famous essay "On Fairy-Stories". In one section (quoted below), Tolkien counters the claim (held by the modernists of his day as well as the post-modernists of ours) that the genre of "Fantasy" necessarily implies a lack of or even antagonism towards "Reason". Instead, he postulates a radical alternative: when reason fails, fantasy perishes; for fantasy is based upon a certain kind of deviation from the truth, but that deviation is not possible unless you first know what the truth is. 

An example is needed. A pilot cannot "deviate" from his "flightpath" without (1) there being a flightpath (2) that he can reference and (3) is fixed. If the flightpath is inaccessible knowledge for the pilot (either by accident or ignorance), or if it is not fixed but is changing to a different direction every second, then the concept of "deviation" disappears. Any direction chosen could as well as be a flightpath as well as a deviation. Thus, a fixed referent is necessary even for defying it, for sin is dead without the law (Rom. 7:8). Unknown and unknowable truths produce no rebellions, for the rebels could never know what they were rebelling against.

-Jon Vowell (c) 2011

(The following excerpt can be found on pp. 144-45 of The Monsters and The Critics: And Other Essays.)

Fantasy is a natural human activity. It certainly does not destroy or even insult Reason; and it does not either blunt the appetite for, nor obscure the perception of, scientific verity. On the contrary. The keener and the clearer is the reason, the better fantasy will it make. If men were ever in a state in which they did not want to know or could not perceive truth (facts or evidence), then Fantasy would languish until they were cured. If they ever get into that state (it would not seem at all impossible), Fantasy will perish, and become Morbid Delusion.

For creative Fantasy is founded upon the hard recognition that things are so in the world as it appears under the sun; on a recognition of fact, but not a slavery to it. So upon logic was founded the nonsense that displays itself in the tales and rhymes of Lewis Carroll. If men really could not distinguish between frogs and men, fairy-stories about frog-kings would not have arisen.

Fantasy can, of course, be carried to excess. It can be ill done. It can be put to evil uses. It may even delude the minds out of which it came. But of what human thing in this fallen world is that not true? Men have conceived not only of elves, but they have imagined gods, and worshiped them, even worshiped those most deformed by their authors' own evil. But they have made false gods out of other materials: their notions, their banners, their monies; even their science and their social and economic theories have demanded human sacrifice. Abusus non tollit usum [Latin: "Abuse does not take away use."]. Fantasy remains a human right: we make in our measure and in our derivative mode, because we are made; and not only made, but made in the image and likeness of a Maker.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Suicidal Mania of Post-Modernism (as prophesied by an Original Orthodox Rebel)

I have discussed post-modernism before, usually in contrast to both Christianity and common sense. In short, it is a lunatic subjectivism and skepticism whose corrosive epistemology eats away at everything, including itself in the end. Its exact elucidation is usually limited to the asylum of certain academic circles, but its fruits have permeated everywhere, from politics to Saturday morning cartoons.

That post-modernism is a self-destructive insanity was not an original idea of my own, nor did I get it from the popular tomes of Moreland and Zacharias (or any other popular figure in modern evangelical apologetics). Its maniacal idiocies were first made clear to me upon reading Chesterton's book Orthodoxy, which he wrote in 1908, a little over a hundred years ago. Then he was dealing with post-modernism's grand-sires (e.g., Nietzsche), and from their thoughts (or lack thereof) he could foresee the inevitable result, which he called "the suicide of thought," the title of one of the chapters in Orthodoxy.

The following excerpts (from pp. 42-43, 46-47, & 48 of the above-mentioned chapter) demonstrate (1) exactly what this rabid skepticism is, (2) what it entails, and (3) that it is nothing new. For my own part, my sentiments can be summed up in the last four sentences of the second paragraph and the very last sentences of the entire excerpt.

-Jon Vowell (c) 2011

[We] may say that the most characteristic current philosophies have not only a touch of mania, but [also] a touch of suicidal mania. The mere questioner has knocked his head against the limits of human thought and cracked it. This is what makes so futile the warnings of the orthodox [i.e., conservatives] and the boasts of the advanced [i.e., progressives] about the dangerous boyhood of free thought. What we are looking at is not the boyhood of free thought; it is the old age and ultimate dissolution of free thought.

It is vain for bishops and pious bigwigs to discuss what dreadful things will happen if wild skepticism runs its course. It has run its course. It is vain for eloquent atheists to talk of the great truths that will be revealed if once we see free thought begin. We have seen it end. It has no more questions to ask; it has questioned itself.  You cannot call up any wilder vision than a city in which men ask themselves if they have any selves. You cannot fancy a more skeptical world than that in which men doubt if there is a world. [...] Free thought has exhausted its own freedom. It is weary of its own success. [...] We have no more questions left to ask. We have looked for questions in the darkest corners and on the wildest peaks. We have found all the questions that can be found. It is time we gave up looking for questions and began looking for answers.


The [old revolutionary] could tell you not only the system he would rebel against, but (what was more important) the system he would not rebel against, the system he would trust. But the new rebel is a skeptic, and will not entirely trust anything. He has no loyalty; therefore he can never be really a revolutionist. And the fact that he doubts everything really gets in his way when he wants to denounce anything. For all denunciation implies a moral doctrine of some kind; and the modern revolutionist doubts not only the institution he denounces, but [also] the doctrine by which he denounces it.

Thus he writes one book complaining that imperial oppression insults the purity of women, and then writes another book (about the sex problem) in which he insults it himself. He curses the Sultan because Christian girls lose their virginity, then curses Mrs. Grundy [i.e., an old pop culture term for prudery] because they keep it. As a politician, he will cry out that war is a waste of life, and then, as a philosopher, that all life is a waste of time. A Russian pessimist [i.e., an anarchist] will denounce a policeman for killing a peasant, and then prove by the highest philosophical principles that the peasant ought to have killed himself. [...] In short, the modern revolutionist, being an infinite skeptic, is always engaged in undermining his own mines. In his book on politics he attacks men for trampling on morality; in his book on ethics he attacks morality for trampling on men. Therefore the modern man in revolt has become practically useless for all purposes of revolt. By rebelling against everything he has lost his right to rebel against anything.


[In sum], thinking in isolation and with pride ends in being an idiot. Every man who will not have softening of the heart must at last have softening of the brain.


Monday, April 25, 2011

Homily 28: Eyes On the Prize (as preached by an orthodox rebel)

"There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two small fishes, but what are they among so many?" John 6:9

At the crisis moment of the feeding of the five thousand, the disciple Andrew thought that he was asking an intelligent question, and that is where he went wrong. It is our so-called "intelligent questions" that get us into trouble. The instant that we think we know exactly what is going on, the game is up, and our ignorance is about to be exposed. Andrew's question sounds commonsensical, given the circumstances, yet it was completely off-base. Its problem was not in its conclusions, mind you, but in its premise; not in its endgame, but in its starting-point. Andrew's focus was wrong: he was looking at the wrong thing and thus asking the wrong question. Instead of looking at the meager bread and fishes and asking what they could do "amongst so many," he should have been looking at Christ and asking what He could do "amongst so many." Then his conclusions would have changed: if Christ is Messiah, then He is enough.

The battle that most often afflicts every believer revolves around the same issue: is Christ/God enough?  Like Andrew, it will all depend on our focus. If the eyes of our heart are focused upon God and all that Christ has revealed about Him, then our lives (with all their myriad of moments) will find a stable sanity and clarity. However, if the eyes of our heart are focused upon anything else (whether it be the current crisis or our own strengths and talents), then our lives will rip from our grasping hands in a terrible whirlwind. No longer centered on the rock, we sink into the sand.

Of course, troubles and trials are a part of life, regardless of our focus. The point is that when your focus is primarily and  fundamentally on God and Christ, then troubles are faced with a startling inward peace and sharpened outward clarity. Without that initial focus, however, the troubles become overwhelming, because they are overwhelming. Five loaves and two fishes were nothing in the face of five thousand hungry mouths. The means were really insufficient, and thus the problem really was overwhelming. What was the solution? Taking your eyes off of the insufficient means and placing them onto the sufficient one: Jesus Christ, God with us. When the child's eyes are on their Father, there is no trouble that can alarm.

-Jon Vowell (c) 2011

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

An Autumnal Devotion on the Eve of Spring (the expressions of an orthodox rebel)

I remember when my grandparents were alive they would invite my brother and I to our family reunion in a little town called Williamsburg, Kentucky. You would think such a thing would be a kid's worst nightmare. I mean, there was absolutely nothing to do there except watch adults we didn't know talk with adults that we sort of knew.

However, I often find my mind returning to Williamsburg. Though there certainly wasn't anything to do there (even if you were an adult), I enjoyed my stays nonetheless. Of course, I loved spending time with my grandparents: my grandfather with his kind-hearted obliviousness and my grandmother with her smiling sighs. There was an even greater reason than them, however, and that was Williamsburg itself.

Williamsburg is located right in the heart of the Appalachian Mountains, and the reunion was always held in mid-October. Try to imagine the transition I took: from the oppressive heat of a muggy Memphis October to the cold and colorful autumn-life of the mountains. That transition alone was reason enough for me to go. I would gladly remain somewhat bored for five days just so I could wake up to the crisp mountain air, back-dropped by the Appalachian foothills, canvases of the colors of fall.

Since my grandparents' deaths, I don't go to Williamsburg anymore, but I still feel its pull. I felt it every time during the late autumn that I sat down in a recliner in the living room to read a book. To my right was a window that revealed a yard covered with leaves of all types, a burning carpet of color, the bed coverings of November. You could argue that God used moments like that to encourage my love of reading. I wouldn't disagree.

I feel the pull whenever I drive down Rust Road on a clear blue-sky day in late October. The trees that flank the roadsides hang down low, their limps limbs holding heavy burdens. As I drive past, the unseen wind would blow and relieve the trees of their burdens, sending a sudden shower of red and gold flakes onto my windshield. It's moments like those that make me feel as though I am outside time, gliding along like a blessed observer of some secret scene that only God, in His perfect omniscience, can see.

As the crushing humid tides of spring and summer begin their looming tyranny, I strive to let my mind glide along those roads and hills as often as possible.

-Jon Vowell (c) 2011

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Homily 27: How Jesus Trumps Social Justice and Religious Legalism (as preached by an orthodox rebel)

"When the disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, 'Why this waste? For this could have been sold for a large sum and given to the poor.' But Jesus...said to them..., 'You always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me.'" Matt. 26:6-13

The woman of Bethany comes to adore Jesus as best she knows how, sacrificing what was most likely her most prized possession. The disciples, being socially conscious religious types, rebuke her "waste" and lack of concern for those underprivileged few who lack a voice in the community. Jesus, the supposed radical reformer, rebukes the disciples instead. Coming off like a cranky fundamentalist, He points out that their pious social activism was missing one thing: Himself. He took priority, even over social justice.

Compare this story to the incident with Martha and Mary (Luke 10:38-42). Martha is busy fulfilling her duties and obligations as hostess, while Mary is lounging starry-eyed at the feet of Jesus. Martha asks that Jesus rebuke Mary for her inordinate abstractionism. Jesus, the supposed Rabbi and teacher of the Law, informs Martha that there is only one "needful thing," the thing that Mary has chosen: Himself. He took priority, even over duty-bound cultural obligations.

There is a certain balance, a certain sanity, to Jesus. We are so easily overcome by various extremities and ecstasies, falling from one miry pit of insanity to the next. We get caught up in global activism, striving by a great moral effort to end world suffering and satiate our white-guilt. And all the while we have forgotten Jesus. We get all tangled up in holiness living, taking great pains to make our attire and activities God-approved so that we won't "smoke or chew or run with girls who do." And all the while we have forgotten Jesus. On the one hand, we make Him into our great leader and radical example, but He ceases to be Lord and the only Salvation. On the other hand, He becomes our ever-disapproving taskmaster and all-seeing eye, but never our Friend and Savior. Jesus anticipates our insanities; He anticipates the heart of man (John 2:24-25). He offered only one corrective to our wild and weary exuberance: Himself. "Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" (Matt. 11:28). May we strive always and only for such rest.

-Jon Vowell (c) 2011