MARS HILL AUDIO Journal

Volume 24

Guests on Volume 24: James Davison Hunter, on a survey about American political life conducted by the Post-Modernity Project; Robert H. Bork, on judicial complicity in the coarsening of America; Rochelle Gurstein, on how some advocates of unbridled free expression had second thoughts; Roger Shattuck, on how we’ve lost the ability to recognize the fact that some knowledge is bad for us; Michael Behe, on how complexity in cells suggests an intelligent designer; David Morgan, on the paintings of Warner Sallman; and Ted Libbey, on Gabriel Fauré’s Requiem.

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Part 1

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    James Davison Hunter on a survey about American political life conducted by the Post-Modernity Project

    "Postmodern: Not troubled by unanswered questions."

    Sociologist James Davison Hunter has established a reputation as an acutely perceptive observer of the shifting reorientations of American cultural life. He discusses a 1996 survey, "The State of Disorder," conducted by the Post-Modernity Project at the University of Virginia which chronicled the political culture of the United States. Hunter discusses the type of political culture required for democracy, and the elements of the survey which helped uncover the moral sensibilities of the American people.

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    Robert H. Bork on judicial complicity in the coarsening of America

    Slouching towards Gomorrah: Modern Liberalism and American Decline (ReganBooks, 1996)

    In his book Slouching Towards Gomorrah, Robert Bork makes a case for censorship as the only alternative to a brutalized and chaotic culture. He believes a stable and just democratic order requires a certain moral climate. He is also concerned about a crisis of legitimacy regarding the courts; contrary to the plan of the American government, the Supreme Court has usurped the powers of the people and their elected representatives. Americans are no longer free to make our own fundamental moral and cultural decisions, according to Bork, because the court oversees all such matters when and as it chooses. Many Americans hold the courts in an extreme degree of reverence which Bork finds culturally and historically unprecedented.

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    Rochelle Gurstein on how some advocates of unbridled free expression had second thoughts

    The Repeal of Reticence: A History of America's Cultural and Legal Struggles over Free Speech, Obscenity, Sexual Liberation, and Modern Art (Hill & Wang, 1996)

    In The Repeal of Reticence, Rochelle Gurstein explores the history of America's cultural and legal struggles over free speech, obscenity, sexual liberation, and modern art. Gurstein studied how Americans have, during the last 130 years, asked and answered the questions of what should be allowed in public and what should be kept in private. She contrasts two groups, the advocates of "reticence" and the advocates of "exposure." The former believed certain matters were unsuitable for public discussion or display and that public order depended on the certainty that some things would remain private. The latter was most influential in the last quarter of the nineteenth century and has been dominant ever since. Gurstein points out that virtually every human society has veiled certain aspects of human experience, guided by notions of the shameful and the sacred.

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    Roger Shattuck on how we've lost the ability to recognize the fact that some knowledge is bad for us

    Forbidden Knowledge: From Prometheus to Pornography (St. Martin's Press, 1996)

    In Forbidden Knowledge author Roger Shattuck reflects on various stories that describe the dangers of too much knowledge and of an unwise pursuit of unrestricted experience. He also examines case studies that investigate dangerous scientific knowledge, particularly atomic and genetic research, and the knowledge sought in pornography, an extreme and dehumanizing region of knowledge and experience. He asks the question, "Are there things we should not know?" Shattuck challenges two great assumptions of American civil religion: the right to know, and the right of self-expression, suggesting Americans are foolish to assume that more knowledge will solve all our problems and Americans are a poorer society for having no taboos.

Part 2

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    Michael Behe on how complexity in cells suggests an intelligent designer

    Darwin's Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution (The Free Press, 1996)

    Biochemist Michael Behe was shocked to discover a deficiency in the Journal of Molecular Evolution's otherwise illustrious history. In the entire history of the Journal, not one paper has ever been published that proposed a detailed model by which a complex biochemical system might have been produced in a gradual step-by-step fashion; that is, the Journal has been silent on the question of how molecular mechanisms might have actually evolved. Behe discusses this deafening silence in his book Darwin's Black Box. He concludes that the complexity of the biology of life is evidence of design, unlike many of his colleagues who conclude that it is possible to explain the universe solely in terms of purely physical and material causes.

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    David Morgan on the paintings of Warner Sallman

    Icons of American Protestantism: The Art of Warner Sallman (Yale University Press, 1996)

    Generations of Christians regarded the Head of Christ, by Warner Sallman, as the most authentic and precious portrait of Jesus. Thanks to energetic marketers, the painting has been reproduced at least 500 million times on a wide assortment of objects. Art historian David Morgan edited a collection of essays examining the work and its effect on society. Icons of American Protestantism is an instructive study of the forms of mutual influence of religion and cultural artifacts.

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    Ted Libbey on Gabriel Fauré's Requiem

    Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924)

    Gabriel Fauré was born in 1845 and died in Paris in 1924. His most fruitful years as a composer were between 1885 and 1914, a period that saw the rise of the French avant-garde, of aesthetic modernism, and a new preoccupation among artists with the future. Fauré's music, while not anachronistic, is clearly rooted in the past. The Requiem is probably his best known work and follows most of the traditional text of the requiem, although it omits the awesome "Dies Irae" movement, the traditional depiction of judgment. But as music critic Ted Libbey explains, Fauré did not plan the work as a show piece but as a work for liturgical use. It has an ethereal quality, a spirituality, and a light which "penetrates the darkness of the soul in mourning."