3 Oct

"Freedom and Decency"

Category: Sound Thinking
By: Amy L. Graeser
Published: 10/03/04

"We are free not because we can choose, but only when we have chosen well." So writes orthodox theologian David B. Hart in an article titled "Freedom and Decency" published in the June/July 2004 issue of First Things. Hart, a guest on Volume 67 of the MARS HILL AUDIO Journal, muses about matters of censorship and definitions of freedom in this edifying and lambent article.

30 Sep

Eurabia by 2100?

Category: Sound Thinking
By: Amy L. Graeser
Published: 09/30/04

Was the liberation of Vienna from the Turks in 1683 merely a delay of the inevitable? Bernard Lewis thinks so.

Historian Bernard Lewis set the course for vigorous political discussion in Europe this fall with an assertion he made in an interview in July published in the Hamburg-based daily paper Die Welt. Lewis, a guest on Volume 59 of the MARS HILL AUDIO Journal, was asked if the European Union could serve as a global counterweight to the United States in the future and he answered that, no, it could not serve as such because it would be a part of the Arabic west by the end of this century. His comment in the interview—which was actually an interview about the war in Iraq, not about Europe and the European Union—sparked debate about the probability and desirability of an Islamic Europe. Outgoing European Union competition commissioner Frits Bolkestein mentioned Lewis's remarks in a speech he gave in September when he compared the current situation of an increasingly Islamic Europe to that of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, of which the majority population was Austrian but became Hungarian. Bolkestein suggested that Europe consider whether or not it desires to become further Islamicized before forging ahead with plans to open negotiations for European Union membership with nations with large Islamic populations. Details about Bolkestein's speech are available on-line; see Christopher Caldwell's "Islamic Europe?" in the October 4, 2004, issue of The Weekly Standard.

Journalist Robert Spencer details the current extent of Muslim influence in European countries in his September 16 article posted on Human Events On-Line. In the article Spencer, who appropriates Lewis's quote for his title, "'Europe Will Be Islamic by the End of the Century,'" comments on Lewis's statement and chronicles the growing presence of Muslims in Sweden and Denmark, along with Islamic terrorist activity in the Netherlands and Spain. Spencer wrote an earlier article—published on-line in the March 18, 2004, issue of—which sheds light on why Europe began to be Islamicized.

14 Sep

The Apocalypse: "It's a-comin', and it's gonna be big"

Category: Sound Thinking
By: Amy L. Graeser
Published: 09/14/04

Professor Alan Jacobs reviews Left Behind and Father Elijah.

"Moreover, it could be argued that not only the thriller but even the novel itself is fundamentally inappropriate as a vehicle for conveying this eschatological vision—that, as I said at the beginning, the Apocalypse cannot be narrated. The novel is above all a realistic medium, devoted to representing as faithfully and even minutely as possible the textures and themes of everyday life; yet what [John Henry] Newman counsels, and [Michael] O'Brien's Elijah [character] exemplifies, is a loss of interest in those very everyday textures and themes, a dimming of the physical eye so that the inner eye can grow sharper, more discerning of spiritual truth." Alan Jacobs

In an article in the September 2004 issue of Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity, professor Alan Jacobs calls attention to recent and to older treatments of the Apocalypse, partly in order to explain why the end times are beyond our storytelling abilities. Jacobs, a veteran guest of the MARS HILL AUDIO Journal, explicates the narrative styles of the Left Behind books and Father Elijah (the first book in a series by Michael O'Brien) in "The Inexpressible Apocalypse," demonstrating that theological beliefs emerge in the form of stories, in how tales are told.

Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins, authors of the former, are dispensationalist in their theology—they believe in literal, prophetic interpretations of Daniel and Revelation, that the end of history has yet to begin and that it will unfold dramatically when it does—and thus melodrama, states Jacobs, dominates their novels, turning them into thrillers about the events that bring history to a close. O'Brien, on the other hand, believes that the end times were initiated with the birth of Jesus, have been unfolding ever since, and that Christians need not worry about discerning events that signify the coming of the Apocalypse but, rather, should concern themselves with praying about, fasting for, and meditating on the laying bare of the meaning of history that will occur at the last battle of the end times. For his books this means that, while there are melodramatic elements in them (elements which Jacobs considers an artistic flaw of the works), those elements do not dominate the stories as they do in the Left Behind series.

Jacobs employs his elucidations of these very different works to support his thesis that the Apocalypse cannot be narrated. The Apocalypse, he writes, "is the end of history, and the end of history is the end of narrative; it is beyond our powers of storytelling because it is beyond story itself." While LaHaye, Jenkins, and O'Brien make noble efforts to portray it, older approaches to describing the end of the world—such as the silence Dante depicts when he is faced with "the unveiling of cosmic hierarchies"—may "be our best guide to these vexing matters" of how to illustrate the Apocalypse.

The full text of Jacobs's article is available on-line.

6 Sep

Heresies: Against Progress and Other Illusions

Category: What We're Reading
By: Amy L. Graeser
Published: 09/06/04

Professor and writer John Gray publishes book debunking the Enlightenment faith in progress.

Political philosopher John Gray spoke—on Volume 40 of the MARS HILL AUDIO Journal—about his 1998 book False Dawn, which delivered a soberly realistic assessment of the state of international economics (in novelist John Banville's words). Gray's most recent work, Heresies: Against Progress and Other Illusions, debunks the Enlightenment faith in progress that has shaped the modern era. The book is a collection of essays Gray wrote between 1990 and 2003 for the New Statesman. In the collection he explains that faith in progress—the belief that human beings become better with the growth of knowledge—is misdirected faith; human knowledge grows, he writes, but the human animal stays much the same. John Banville's review of Heresies was published on-line in the September 4, 2004, issue of The Guardian.

Some of the concerns of Gray's Heresies are addressed in An illusion with a future, published in the Summer 2004 issue of Dædalus: Journal of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. In the article, Gray writes that the idea of progress is a recent creed that has developed, and come to be believed in, in the last two centuries. Before its development thinkers never imagined that improvement in any area of life would be sustainable throughout time; while Christianity and its promise of salvation for those who would believe inspired people to hope for improvement in the human condition, after Christianity's advent people still believed that what was gained in one generation would surely be lost in another, explains Gray. Once modern science was established and started to effect dramatic improvements in the material quality of life, people transferred their hopes for a better future from religion to science and faith in progress. This transfer was misguided, however, because faith in progress cannot account for human nature and its hopes as religion can: Like older faiths, progress and the Religion of Humanity are illusions. But whereas the illusions of older faiths embody enduring human realities, the faith in progress depends on suppressing them. It represses the conflicts of human needs and denies the unalterable moral ambiguity of human knowledge. Gray, who is clearly as skeptical about religion as he is about secular progressivism, states that it may be possible to temper the modern faith in progress, but that overcoming it any time soon is not possible.

26 Aug

Robert Hughes on Fast Art, Slow Art

Category: Sound Thinking
By: Ken Myers
Published: 08/26/04

Art critic Robert Hughes reviews the last 25 years in art in a new BBC documentary

Twenty-five years ago, art critic Robert Hughes hosted an eight-part television series on modern art called "The Shock of the New." While the book based on that series is still available (being one of the most acccessible and provocative surveys of the meaning of modernity in art), the videos, sad to say, have not been commercially released. In July, viewers of the BBC had an opportunity to watch the series re-run just prior to an epilogue of sorts, "The New Shock of the New," in which Hughes discussed and displayed some of the highlights (and lowlights) of the last two-and-a-half decades in art.

One of the concerns Hughes has expressed repeatedly is that art has become a commodity like all other commodities, for which value is just economic value and the ebb and flow of the forces of fashion erase distinctions of quality. While there have always been celebrity artists, the restless demand for novelty and fame (lust of the eyes?) sustained by mass media and advertising has (in Hughes's words) "distorted nearly everyone's relationship with aesthetics."

In the June 30 issue of The Guardian, Hughes offered a peek into his new program in an article called "That's showbusiness." "It used to be," wrote Hughes, "that media-based, photo-derived art looked automatically 'interesting.' It cut to the chase instantly, it mimicked the media-glutted state of general consciousness, it was democratic--sort of. The high priest of this situation was of course the hugely influential Andy Warhol, paragon of fast art. I am sure that though his influence probably will last (if only because it renders artmaking easier for the kiddies) his paragonhood won't, and despite the millions now paid for his Lizzes and Elvises, he will shrink to relative insignificance, a historical figure whose resonance is used up. There will be a renewed interest--not for everyone, of course, but for those who actually know and care about the issues--in slow art: art that takes time to develop on the retina and in the mind, that sees instant communication as the empty fraud it is, that relates strongly to its own traditions."