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'What is love? What is creation? What is longing? What is a star?' thus asks the last man, and he blinks. -- Friedrich Nietzsche


When I was attending college for art I became rather dismayed by the development of art in the past century. I wondered how we got from beautiful meaningful art of the past to the banal silliness of postmodernism. At that time, a friend gave me a copy of Francis A. Schaeffer's Escape From Reason. Schaeffer's book offered a profound understanding of the development of culture. Schaeffer was concerned that Christians were unaware of the new environment which make it difficult to communicate the truth of scripture. He traced the development of philosophy to the arts and then to mass culture to show how it shaped the world-view of the 1960's. Although

Schaeffer was writing at the time of the emergence of postmodernism, things have changed drastically in the last 48 years, I'm certain that line of despair is hardly reflected in the current culture, rather, I find a self-consciousness culture which escapes through ironic detachment, instead of facing the conditions of alienation.

Schaeffer traced the influence of thought from Aquinas to the modern era, which I will not get into detail here, but what is important to understand is the impact of the enlightenment of the 18th century. The development of science created a "box" of reason, an assumption that the methods of science can in principle yield exhaustive knowledge of all reality. Schaeffer pointed out that "The early scientists believed in the uniformity of natural causes. What they did not believe in was the uniformity of natural cause in a closed system". The position of scientism is highly problematic, Albert Einstein said "All our science, measured against reality, is primitive and childlike," but unfortunately it is the foundation of the world-view of most people. We are lead to believe our amazing technology is from a thorough understanding of physics when in fact much of it was achieved by the trial and error of engineering. http://milesmathis.com/pi4.html 

Below is Schaeffer's diagram which appears in Escape From Reason;it is divided into two levels with the subjects of transcendental truth on the upper level, the modern disciplines that are limited to a closed system are on the lower, the result is rather totalitarian. Everything that gives life meaning: God, love, morals, freedom, and significance appear to have been stamped out by an Orwellian boot. Mysticism, indefinable truth that was accepted since ancient times was rejected as irrational. The modern disciplines only regard subjects that can be defined to be worthy of academic discourse.

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Schaeffer claimed that line of despair began with the philosopher Kierkegaard, which "arose from the abandonment of a hope of a unified answer for knowledge and life". But I doubt that few were ever conscious of this, rather I would say the despair came from a sense of the tension of humanity being placed in a box after the "death of God". It's important to understand that Friedrich Nietzsche's claim spoke of the death of faith in God,” I shall tell you. We have killed him--you and I. All of us are his murderers. But how have we done this? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What did we do when we unchained this earth from its sun?" The expression of despair is prevalent in the work of the Symbolists of the late 19th century and the early 20th century. They sought to find meaning in the ruins of a decaying culture, their work reflects an interest in metaphor. Symbolism was in a way a reaction against Impressionism. While I tend to agree with Schaeffer, I hardly see the expression of despair as a tendency in art after the mid-20th century.

 

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The line of stupidity developed due to the decline in metaphorical thought and the loss of the awareness of soul. It was mainly the Impressionists who opened the door to the line. In fairness, this was not intentional and much of their work is admirable. But their approach to art was void of poetry which lead to a breakdown of communication in culture. Jean Renoir, the son of the famous Impressionist wrote,” Pissarro and Monet were the fanatical of the whole crowd. They were the first to condemn the study of the great masters, and to advocate learning direct from nature, and from nature only". When Claude Monet (1840-1926) did a series of paintings of hay stacks, he was interested in the effect of light at different times of the day. In a sense, Monet's approach to nature was akin to a scientist's approach to nature, his painting was a recording of the "facts" of the effects of light. Obviously, Monet's paintings are more than scientific illustrations since his brush work and use of color reflect aesthetic interests. But his paintings lack an essential aspect of cultural objects in that the haystacks are not symbolic. A symbol is an image that signifies a concept which is outside of the visual perception of the physical object which it represents. So a symbolic tree is more than a picture of a large plant with a million leaves.

 

picasso 400The Impressionists interest in light gave way to an interest in form. Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) was influenced by Cezanne's work to experiment with forms and textures from which he developed Cubism. Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’ Avignon is often identified as the beginning of modern art and the subject of the painting is a scene in a brothel. Picasso represented a group of prostitutes with jagged forms, which can be read as an ascetic statement. Such a painting would have been unthinkable to the old masters, not only due to the technique of the painting but also due to the semantics of the work. Renaissance artists painted figures from Greek mythology to represent ideals, of course nobody worshipped Venus but the Renaissance artists painted Venus to symbolize the important concept of love and beauty. H.R.Rookmaaker recognized "[the Renaissance period] was a world in which it was possible to speak of the reality of such concepts as beauty or love. They were realities outside man, and man in his life and work had to reflect them, to realize them by working according to them. Love and beauty were not just man's feelings and subjective taste; they were really there: if he did not follow them, hate and ugliness would be the result." By the early 20th century, men began to perceive the world through the lens of positivism, recall how love was crossed out in Schaffer's diagram. Everything was to be defined rationally, therefore love and beauty were dismissed as an instinctual interest, so love was thought to only to be sex. Does Les Demoiselles d’ Avignon celebrate this view of humanity? Hardly, the painting reflects an embarrassment for the goats and monkeys.

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The line of stupidity collapsed into nihilism with the appearance of the anti-art movement Dada. At least Picasso and his followers still painted on canvases, but Dada rejected traditional aesthetics altogether. Schaeffer writes, "One such man was Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968), whom every Christian ought to know about. He could be called the high priest of destruction. He sought to destroy you from within yourself." His means of destruction were called "the bluff on nullity" Jean Baudrillard. Duchamp's ready-mades were manufactured objects that he had no hand in making but he exhibited them as "art". Many viewers approach his "works" like his urinal with the pretext that art should mean something, Duchamp made use of this uncertainty and presented the viewer with a null object, his work had the effect of alienating the viewer from the semantics of art. In effect he was saying "You dope, You think life and art are meaningful, when it's just a joke." Escape through irony is in any case itself an illusion, rather than challenge the "box" of utilitarian reason his work reflectedresignation before modern technocracy. Duchamp's work is only modern in terms of critical theory, but not in social political terms. The modern in social terms, recognizes the individual as a subject and is concerned with the concepts of freedom and rights. Duchamp's work actually stands in opposition to these concepts. Duchamp's act of removing himself from the creation of the work, was the act of denying his potential as a free creative subject. In writing a story or painting a picture, there are hundreds of decisions to be made, the writer and artist learns from this activity and grows. By exhibiting a urinal one will not know what one is capable of creating.

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By the mid-20th century the expression of despair was more common of existential philosophers and writers than it was of artists but there are some exceptions. George Tooker (1920-2011) is known for his haunting paintings of contemporary men trapped in technological labyrinths. I had a chance to see an exhibit of his work at the PAFA several years ago. The great difference between his and the work of Duchamp is that Tooker acknowledged the state of alienation as serious problem but Duchamp's work reflects denial. Tooker became a Catholic later in his life while Duchamp's work is regarded today as a predecessor to postmodern. When my friend Michael Rizza was deciding on the topic of his Doctoral dissertation, we had a conversation about alienation. He brought up the fact that the phrase " an oxymoron like frozen fire because the postmodernists deny alienation. At least some of the modern artists realized there was something missing, that human beings are more than a biochemical machine, and often their work reflected a protest to the iron cage of technocracy. In contrast, postmodernism more often expresses a condition of passive stupidity.THE TOPOGRAPHICAL IMAGINATION OF JAMESON, BAUDRILLARD, AND FOUCAULT 

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Mark Ryden is a preeminent contemporary artist, when I saw his work on the cover of a text-book of art criticism, it confirmed my thoughts that his work reflected the zeitgeist. It was the influence of the Impressionists indifference to symbolism which created a cultural vacuum, work like Ryden takes advantage of the vacuum. All of Ryden's paintings feature realistic yet cartoonish young girls in surreal parodies of Renaissance landscapes. To give one an idea of his work, the titles of some of his paintings include, A Dog Named Jesus, The Angel of Meat and Meat Dancer. When I saw the painting with the title Incarnation, I nearly hit the ceiling. Most of his painting include meat in some way, the young girl in Incarnation wears a meat dress. The Incarnation of Christ is a central to our faith that the Son of God became flesh, but in this painting is not blasphemous in that sense since there no reference to Christ. Instead the painting attacks one’s sense of soul. Referring to Schaeffer's diagram, not only is God crossed out but man is as well. Because everything limited to the perception of mechanics, human beings are regarded as a biochemical machine, therefore a soulless object. An interest in human beauty is assumed to be only an interest in sex. Ryden reflects this trousered apeview of humanity by painting young girls as objects with meat, it's a operation to cut joy out of the soul. What is worse, people are being affected by this culture, I'm sure Ryden is not working alone, his work appears to be Psy-ops against old pagan mysticism, I will not go into it here but it is something C.S. Lewis addressed in his writings.

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Nietzsche is mistaken as a predecessor to Postmodernism, it is clear in his writings he would have only contempt for the age, only contempt for the "despisers of the body". Nietzsche predicted that the loss of faith in God would result in an apathy for life. Reviewing the culture of postmodernism, his vision could not be more accurate. His metaphor of the last man predicted this condition, he imagined humanity as a herd blinking in the sun. His writing was actually therapy for a state of resignation that's why he envisioned the "over man" or "superman", but we don't we need Nietzsche's "superman" because humanity was created in God's image. Our existence is not transitory but eternal, this gives a deep assurance of the intrinsic significance and value of a human life. When contemporary artists desecrate the human form, in a sense, they are desecrating God Himself, for they have contempt for what God has made. Nietzsche envisioned the loss of love to create, he wrote, "Alas, the time is coming when man will no longer give birth to a dancing star. Alas, the time of the most despicable man is coming, he that is no longer able despise himself. Behold, I show you the last man."

When I give birth to a dancing star it not surprising if no one notices.



He nicknamed himself “The Greatest” and few disagreed. Born Cassius Marcellus Clay in 1942, Boxing Heavyweight Champion Muhammed Ali died earlier this month. He wasn’t the first personality to step onto the world arena who eventually earned enough public recognition to be branded with a bigger than life nickname!

In the twentieth century, Elvis Presley was “The King” (reportedly responding to the title when he first heard it by saying: “only Jesus is King”).  John Wayne was “The Duke”. Then there was the singer who called himself “Prince”.  It seems to me as if we are subliminally longing for a monarchy!

Let’s not forget, reaching all the way back to 356-323 B.C., the king of Macedonia, conqueror of Greece, the Persian Empire and Egypt – Alexander the Great. These “Legends” have one thing in common; they are dead! “…it is appointed unto men once to die…”(Hebrews 9:27 King James Version). That means the rich, the poor, the powerful, the weak, royalty, presidents, the average person and legends! The Bible teaches no second bite of the apple; no second go around. This is it! That certainly distinguishes Biblical Christianity from eastern religions.

Francis Bacon wrote: “Men fear death as children fear to go into the dark.”

Death comes to all of us...an obvious statement.

How we die differs. How we approach death also differs. The followers of Christ see life beyond the grave. C.S. Lewis expressed the perspective believers hold about our own death: “There are better things ahead than any we leave behind.”

When legends die they are remembered in the pages of books and magazines until the pages yellow with time and blow away in the wind. But, if they have put faith and trust in Christ Jesus as Lord and Savior, then their names are written in God’s Book of Life. While their legend may not live on, they will live on. At home, at rest, at peace in heaven where they will meet “The Greatest”, “The King”, and “The Prince of Peace.” The only one worthy of our praise, Jesus Christ!!!

Over the Memorial Day weekend, when America honors its military fallen dead, the nation was gripped by the story of a young boy who had wandered past barriers and fallen into the Cincinnati Zoo gorilla enclosure. An anxious mom, visitors and zoo staff looked on in fear as the 450 pound gorilla manipulated the tiny child through the enclosure’s running stream as if he was a toy. Within minutes, zoo management decided the boy’s life was in imminent danger. They then had the primate killed. The boy was rescued suffering only minor injuries. End of story? Not by a long shot!

Next came the second guessing, the hindsight wisdom, the advocacy groups, followed by strident messages and the heated debate questioning the primacy of human life over animal life. I assume most people would consider the life of the child must take precedence over the life of the gorilla. But there is a segment of the population for whom there is no such hierarchy in which human life is neither superior to animal life nor has the right to exercise dominion over all other living things. The line of demarcation is brightest for those who believe the Genesis account of creation.

Genesis 1:26 King James Version And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.”

In His decree for humans’ “higher role” God also determined man’s higher responsibility to nurture and care for all living things. In God’s economy all life is sacred and precious, but He holds human life as distinctive and set apart from that of animal life because He endued humanity with a living soul. It is that soul, which is eternal in nature, that purposed Christ to Earth. He came to “seek and to save” us from sin and death! God did not give animal life the ability to choose between good and evil, right and wrong. Instead, He gave them the sense of instinct, i.e. behavior that is unlearned, complex, impulsive and powerful.

The gorilla in the Cincinnati Zoo was doing what came naturally. Humans in authority at the zoo used their God given intelligence based on experience to determine that the gorilla’s instinctive actions was a threat to the life of the child, consequently they ordered the primate killed. Life is neither a movie nor a fairytale in which there’s always a happy ending. In this situation a child is alive to live his life with the potential to go on to greatness: Happy! A beloved animal lost his life so that the child would live: Sad! Sad for the people who loved him, sad for those who in their best judgment determined he must die.

We Christians understand that trade off in an even deeper way. Our savior gave up His life that we might live. It was His great love that allowed for that transaction to take place. “Good Friday” was ‘sad’, but then came Sunday – and the Resurrection – “oh happy day”!

Jesus said “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live and whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.” (John 11:25, 26). Do you believe this? 

Here we are in the Presidential Primary Campaign of 2016. A campaign, by most assessments, unprecedented in its rancor and divisiveness. Democrats are split between the progressives versus the socialists. Republicans between the outsiders versus the political insiders.

We’ve been building to this rift by virtue of a political and cultural system that has promoted a philosophy of “winners and losers”, “the lucky and the unlucky”, “the privilege and the underprivileged”. Race, gender, education, politics, religion are all used to as pry bars to separate us from one another. Our nation is poised for a state of “divorce by virtue of irreconcilable differences”.

2,000 years ago Jesus said: “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand (Matthew 12:25 King James Version).” The word desolation is defined as unfit for habitation, devastated, dismal, gloomy without friends or hope, lonely. It seems in 2016, anger and despair have replaced hope and optimism. Jesus said cities or homes won’t stand if divided. Just look at the devastation occurring in some of our biggest urban areas prompted in part by fatherless, broken families.

God is in the addition and multiplication “business”. Satan is in the subtraction and division “business”. “For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek for the same Lord overall is rich unto all that call upon Him. For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” Romans 10:12,13. Only Christ can change our divisive politics! How? Only He can change the heart of the dividers and the divided

It seems so strange for us in the West that people seek to murder the maximum number of total strangers (including innocent women and children) while blowing themselves up. Our western minds cannot grasp the total depravity of such actions. But we who grew up in a civilization grounded in the light of the Jewish and Christian scriptures perceive the world through different glasses. We have a sense of hope and we believe in the future. We love life and everything that it has to offer. We are optimistic of the future. Even those of us who were born into poor immigrant families hope to better ourselves and enjoy our time on this earth. We dream of marrying and having children, seeing them grow up to become doctors, lawyers and even politicians. These are the dreams of even the atheist and agnostic who are increasingly being churned up by our universities; institutions originally founded by pious men so that everyone could read the scriptures - now unfortunately, these are populated by atheist professors who think they are wise, but are fools. These are not my words, but those of the Creator of the Universe (Rom 1:22).


Most of us believe in a life after our time on earth is over. Jihadists hope to attain better life in the hereafter if they commit these heinous crimes. They have been convinced that the only assurance of entering into paradise if through this terrible act of self-sacrifice. It does not help that corrupt and morally bankrupt regimes (who are too cowardly to involve themselves in open war with the West) manipulate them to become their proxy swords and tanks; and bank roll these criminals by providing generous payouts to the families of these infamous murderers. Sadly, they are not going to paradise as they like to think, but instead to eternal damnation. How terrifying it must be to close your eyes in this world and instantly open them in the next and find yourself in the pit of hell. To find that everything you believed in was nothing but a lie and to know that those whom you love are also destined for this miserable place. But there is no way to go back and tell them. One thing is certain, whether we are believers in God or not, all of us will one day meet our Maker (Heb 9:27).


Pray for those who lost loved-ones in Brussels. Pray for those who are related to the bombers. Pray that you and your loved ones are not caught unaware when your time of death comes. Whether under tragic devised means as our brethren in Brussels or comfortably in your own bed, pray that you may be found innocent and worthy to enter the kingdom of heaven because our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ paid the penalty for you in the gruesome and cruel Cross of Calvary (Rom 6:23, Jhn 19). It is because of his sacrifice that we choose to love life and have it more abundantly (Jhn 10:10).

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