MARS HILL AUDIO Journal

Volume 10

Guests on Volume 10: Paul Vitz, on the meaning of freedom and the dangers of "selfism"; Robert Wuthnow, on small groups and the changing understanding and practice of Christian faith; Marjorie Mead, on Shadowlands and the real personalities of C. S. Lewis and Joy Davidman; Martha Bayles, on why modern artists feel compelled to shock; Ken Myers, on our culture's disturbing fascination with death; Ted Prescott, on the spirit and contemporary manifestations of Surrealism; George Marsden, on the establishment of nonbelief in American universities; and John Hodges, on Gregorian chant.

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Part 1

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    Paul Vitz on the meaning of freedom and the dangers of "selfism"

    Psychology as Religion: The Cult of Self-Worship (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1977)

    Psychologist Paul Vitz discusses the modern tendency to see the self as the source of salvation. In his book Psychology as Religion: The Cult of Self Worship, Vitz explores how "selfism" has seeped into psychology. He argues that psychologists who promote self-actualization as the key to finding meaning and achieving happiness are advocating a philosophy of life, rather than prescribing a treatment based upon a scientific analysis. Vitz explains how the American notion of the "self-made person" and the consumer psychology that uses flattery as a sales pitch have fueled obsession with the self. He also contrasts the current narcissism with the traditional Christian idea that self-understanding leads to repentance.

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    Robert Wuthnow on small groups and the changing understanding and practice of Christian faith

    Sharing the Journey: Support Groups and America's New Quest for Community (Free Press, 1994)

    Princeton University sociologist Robert Wuthnow discusses his book Sharing the Journey: Support Groups and America's New Quest for Community. In his study of small groups within the Church, Wuthnow found that small groups may actually encourage individualism and cheap-grace spirituality. He explains that group dynamics tend to dampen debate and disagreement. As a result, subjective experience reigns supreme. Group members tend to approach faith, life, and sacred texts in a highly subjective fashion. Wuthnow also warns that while small groups do provide sharing and caring, the commitment is often limited and unstable.

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    Marjorie Mead on Shadowlands and the real personalities of C. S. Lewis and Joy Davidman

    Joy Davidman and C. S. Lewis

    C. S. Lewis expert Marjorie Mead discusses Richard Attenborough's film version of Shadowlands, which features Anthony Hopkins as C. S. Lewis and Debra Winger as Joy Davidman. Critics have noted that this production fails to capture the nuances of Lewis's Christian faith and its meaning in his life. Mead agrees and explains that the Attenborough version is more of a love story than a pure biography. The character which Anthony Hopkins portrays is less jovial and outgoing than the Lewis of his letters, according to Mead.

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    Martha Bayles on why modern artists feel compelled to shock

    Hole in Our Soul: The Loss of Beauty and Meaning in American Popular Music (The Free Press, 1994)

    Martha Bayles discusses her book on popular music, Hole in Our Soul, in which she examines how modernist notions about science and the nature of truth have led to a loss of beauty and meaning in art. Bayles explains how the increasing emphasis on empirical data as the only measure of truth relegated both religion and art to the purely subjective sphere. This development paved the way for "introverted" modernism, a movement that disconnected art from any accountability to reality, preferring to celebrate art for art's sake. Bayles's book focuses on the reaction against this elitist trend that began with Dadaism after World War I and reached its apex with the music of Janis Joplin in the late 1960s. For "perverse" modernists, art is a means for shocking people, according to Bayles.

Part 2

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    Ken Myers on our culture's disturbing fascination with death

    Embraced By the Light (Bantam Books, Inc., 1994)

    Ken Myers addresses the current cultural fascination with death. Myers and critic Douglas Groothuis discuss how popular literature such as Betty Eadie's Embraced By the Light attempts to take the sting out of death by denying its seriousness. Edie's so-called Christian account of a near-death experience actually denies the reality of sin, the doctrine of Trinity, and other Christian essentials. The result is an unrealistic picture that denies life's tragic dimension and encourages false hopes. Groothius insists that the orthodox Christian account of life and death which upholds the fall, sin, and radical evil makes better sense of history and our own experience.

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    Ted Prescott on the spirit and contemporary manifestations of Surrealism

    Sculptor Ted Prescott recounts the history of surrealism and discusses its effects on our intellectual, emotional, and social life. While once regarded as exotic and dangerous, surrealism has become commonplace in our everyday experience and discourse. Television barrages us with strangely juxtaposed sequences of disparate and dreamlike images that disorient and disturb us. The pervasive cynicism in modern culture is a natural response to the unsettling impression that life itself is inherently surreal. If we accept surrealism as the way things are, we are left wondering whether we can ever find order for our lives and our souls, according to Prescott.

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    George Marsden on the establishment of nonbelief in American universities

    The Soul of the American University: From Protestant Establishment to Established Nonbelief (Oxford University Press, 1994)

    George Marsden of the University of Notre Dame discusses how religion has ceased to be an influential force in American public life. In his book The Soul of the American University: From Protestant Establishment to Established Non-belief, Marsden asserts that schools abandoned their doctrinal distinctiveness and banished religion to the private realm in their effort to accommodate increasingly diverse student populations. Scientific naturalism, as the only nonsectarian mode of discourse, came to dominate public discussion. Marsden's study of the university serves as a microcosm for how American society has dealt with pluralism on a larger scale. He also suggests that the tide may be turning as people lose faith in secularism's ability to provide moral guidance.

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    John Hodges on Gregorian chant

    Chant Manuscript

    Why was the recent release of a collection of early seventh-century sacred music so commercially successful? Music critic John Hodges explains that the subtle, serene tones of the Gregorian Chant provide a soothing balm for the cacophonous fray of modern life. The chants are named after Pope Gregory the Great, who compiled and organized the "plain songs" in order to unify singing styles within the Western Church. The music itself was composed to fit the rhythm of the biblical text. Hodges suggests that listening to the chants is the best way to hear the word of God.