Archive for the ‘Modernism’ Category

What Time is it?

Tuesday, April 2nd, 2013
The Modernist movement, at the beginning of the 20th century, marked the first time that the term “avant-garde“, with which the movement was labeled until the word “Modernism” prevailed, was used for the arts. Surrealism was the “the avant-garde of Modernism”.
Art historian Clement Greenberg  states, “The essence of Modernism lies, as I see it, in the use of characteristic methods of a discipline to criticize the discipline itself, not in order to subvert it but in order to entrench it more firmly in its area of competence. The philosopher Immanuel Kant used logic to establish the limits of logic, and while he withdrew much from its old jurisdiction, logic was left all the more secure in what there remained to it.”  Modernism, in its attempt to attack everything traditional, created an autocratic liberalism.
In 2013 we live with the consequences of this liberalism.  We presume to know more than we know; to solve problems we cannot solve.  Along the way we have lost perspective on what time it is.  As I have mentioned several times, I love to swim at the YMCA. As my body shape attests, such lugubrious activity to my comfort, but laudable activity to my blood pressure, has done little to help me shed unhealthy pounds. But I do it almost daily. Today, I went swimming. There are two clocks in the pool area: One is located at the beginning of the swimming lanes; one at the end. The one at the beginning is 8 minutes slower than the clock at the end. So, quite literally, I begin at one time–say 4:00PM and I end the lane swim at 4:12PM (It takes me 4 minutes to swim the lane–I know! I am slow!). I love this arrangement. I only swim about 1/2 hour so as long as I start at the time on the beginning clock and end on the time at the ending clock I cheat time out of 8 minutes. I ignore the beginning clock and only look at the ending clock. Sometimes I think our government thinks it can cheat time by playing with the clocks. But it never works. Sooner or later, when I think it is 4:30 and time to quit, I happen to look at the beginning clock and see that it is only 4:22. I live in a sort of blissful ignorance . . . but sooner or later, I will have to realize the real time and that will be a hard thing. Sometimes I wonder if we really know what time it is . . . just thinkin.

The Best of the Best

Thursday, March 28th, 2013
In  September, 1976 I sat in Harvard University Chapel and heard Pastor Peter Gomes, the Harvard University Chaplain, tell us that we were the best of the best.  The hope of America and the world.  I and I suppose other Harvard souls were awfully glad to hear that.  We certainly wanted to think we were the best.  Like I enjoyed doing all over Boston, we wanted to flash our Harvard IDs to God and hope that He was impressed.  It turned out He wasn’t but that is another story.
Pastor Gomes told us to look around and see who the next president, governor, great author, and theologian would be.  As one professor quipped, “there are those who go to Harvard, and
those who don’t.”  Why, on that day, should I, a born again, evangelical, be greatly concerned?
British writer Virginia Woolf’s assertion that “on or about December 1910, human character changed” is all so true. About that time, Modernism emerged as the primary social and world view in human history. Modernism aims at that radical transformation of human thought in relation to God, man, the world, and life, and death, which was presaged by humanism and 17th century philosophy (e.g., Immanuel Kant), and violently practiced in the French Revolution.  French philosopher J.J. Rousseau, was the first to use the term but it will not blossom fully until the 20th century.
If the world view deism suggested that God was out to lunch, Modernism, a cousin of naturalism, suggested that God was absent altogether.
Modernism, in its broadest definition, is cultural tendencies originally arising from wide-scale and far-reaching changes to Western society in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  The world, including America, had rapidly changed from an agrarian to an urban society in one short generation.
Modernism fervently believed in science and technology.  It was an optimistic vision of the future. It was also a revolt against the conservative values of limitation and pragmatism.  The trademark of Modernism was its rejection of tradition. Modernism rejected the lingering certainty of Enlightenment epistemology and also rejected the existence of a compassionate, all-powerful Creator God in favor of human progress. The first casualty of this Quixotic thinking was Judeo-Christian morality.
Modernism was universal in its rejection of everything conventional.  Literature, art, architecture, literature, religious faith, social organization and daily life were all targets of this surprisingly arrogant movement.  Perhaps no social movement has been so confident in its moral ambiguity, as Modernism was.
The poet Ezra Pound‘s 1934 injunction to “Make it new!” was paradigmatic of the movement’s approach towards the obsolete. And Pound is a good example of the paradoxes inherent in Modernism.  On one hand, Pound embraced a new understanding of human liberty and free expression while embracing nascent totalitarianism and anti-Semitism.  Pound, like so many Modernists, felt he could separate his ethics from his world view.  This delusion would have disastrous consequences. Adolf Eichmann had a similar view in Nazi Germany and designed and implemented the Holocaust.


Friday, October 30th, 2009

Universities were founded because early Americans earnestly believed that American society should be governed by evangelical Christian people. They believed that American industry should be run by evangelical Christian entrepreneurs. They believed that American culture should be created by evangelical Christians. The desire to assure that America would be ruled by an evangelical elite was no doubt the primary reason that American universities were founded from 1636-1800.

The marriage of spiritual maturity and elite education is a potent combination and to a large degree assured the success of the American experiment. Its divorce may presage its demise.

Evangelicals became uncomfortable with the secular university as early as 1800. As modern science influenced the university, Christian evangelicalism maintained peace with it, believing that all truth was God’s truth. In fact, Christian evangelicalism wed the Gospel to science. Evangelicals sought to maintain a commonsense epistemology that easily accommodated scientific advances (George Marsden, The Soul of the American University. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 1994). In a congenial, almost filial spirit, the colleges endorsed a broader, more moralistic, less sectarian Christianity. However, as science abandoned theism for naturalism, evangelicals grew uneasy. Eventually, by the 1880s, religion–including evangelicalism–was on the fringinges of the American university. Eventually Christian evangelicalism was to be off the university radar screen altogether.

Universities now professed a vague commitment to a liberal, ethical Christianity which invited skepticism and indifference. Religious commitment was perceived as psychological phenomenon, and moved to the fringes of university life. In fact, religious commitment was perceived as a voluntary activity, an aberration rather than an expressed purpose of the institution. Christianity was taught along with other religious expressions in religious departments. Christian ministry was relegated to insignificant graduate schools or dropped altogether.

By the 1920s the university was not even loosely a Christian institution. Religion in the university and in public life was to be relegated to the private experience. So-called “academic freedom” became a sacrosanct concept and precluded anything that smacked of religiosity–especially old time religion that evangelicals so enthusiastically embraced. Religion was represented on campus in sanitary denominational ministries and token chapel ministries (that were hardly more than counseling centers). The separation has been so thorough that when the New York Times’ reporter Ari Goldman spent a year at Harvard Divinity School he was pleased to find, after all, God at Harvard! (Ari L. Goldman, The Search for God at Harvard. NY: Random House, 1991).

At the same time, with growing persecution, evangelicals abandoned the secular university and founded their own universities. This whole process accelerated after the Scopes Trial in the 1920s.


Wednesday, August 26th, 2009

The Modernization of Protestant Religion in America, Leonard I. Sweet

These are exciting times in which we live! More and more Americans began their walk with God outside their denomination church and stayed there. Why? Sweet, nor I, are being critical of the denominational church but we both are wondering what happened.

Factors that contributed to the decline of the mainline churches are: the growth of individualism, high criticism professionalization of the clergy, unwise and unpopular decisions made by denominational bureaucrats, ecumenism, actionism, pluralism. The end result of all this has been the decline of the mainline churches–both numerically and spiritually. Evangelicals, fundamentalists, and Pentecostal moved to center stage as modernism has been forced into retreat. In characterizing the mainline denominations during these five decades, Sweet notes: “With everything gone, there was little reason for people to stay.”

Sweet gives much attention to the relationship between the denominational leaders and the church members, were growing increasingly distant. This led to the leadership taking stands without considering the beliefs and feelings of the people in the pews, which then resulted in a growing distrust by the members of their leaders. Sweet describes these developments as a loss of mastery and mandate–that is, the loss of mastery of the common touch and mandate of the common faith.

Some have thought these to be exciting developments. Others see these as a dangerous trend toward existentialism and away from confessional faith. You will have to decide.

The Cry of Modern Man

Thursday, July 30th, 2009

BECAUSE I could not stop for Death,
He kindly stopped for me;
The carriage held but just ourselves
And Immortality.

We slowly drove, he knew no haste,
And I had put away
M y labor, and my leisure too,
For his civility.

We passed the school where children played
At wrestling in a ring;
We passed the fields of gazing grain,
We passed the setting sun.

We paused before a house that seemed
A swelling of the ground;
The roof was scarcely visible,
The cornice but a mound.

Since then ’t is centuries; but each
Feels shorter than the day
I first surmised the horses’ heads
Were toward eternity.

Emily Dickinson, a 19th century recluse, was the first modern American poet. She wrote in free verse and she discussed topics often ignored (e.g., birds on sidewalks). She also wrote about death.

Many think that Dickinson refused to commit her life to Christ. Perhaps that haunted her her whole life. I think so. When I read her poems I hear that forlorn cry.

Dickinson presages the cry of modern man—a cry for relevance and meaning and life in the midst of inhumanity.

IF I should die,
And you should live,
And time should gurgle on,
And morn should beam,
And noon should burn,
As it has usual done;
If birds should build as early,
And bees as bustling go,—”
One might depart at option
From enterprise below!
’T is sweet to know that stocks will stand
When we with daisies lie,
That commerce will continue,
And trades as briskly fly.
It makes the parting tranquil
And keeps the soul serene,
That gentlemen so sp rightly
Conduct the pleasing scene!

I am so glad I know who my Redeemer is! He snatches me from the tentativeness of modernity!

Out of the Silent Planet

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2009

In Out of the Silent Planet, C.S. Lewis illustrates how humans on planet Earth are corrupted by and corrupt others by evil. To contrast and shed light on the spiritual plaques of Earth, the author created the planet of Malacandra to portray a utopian world where the inhabitants live together in peace instead of in fear and separation. On Earth, human beings have become motivated by selfishness and greed. Satan, the “Bent One,” rules Earth and has corrupted their souls. Because of Earth’s evil, the other planets and spirits in the universe cannot hear the cries from this “silent” planet. In return, humans cannot be healed or feel the love that is available to them from the universe. Sound familiar, Saints? Like the world before Christ our Lord came as a man? (Adapted from many quotes are verbatim from this Internet site)

Lewis has a rather orthodox view of evil. The planet Mars or “Malacandra,” is an ideal world where the inhabitants coexist in harmony and peace. They are personal friends with their God, Maleldil, and are ruled by Oyarsa, the Great Spirit who protects and watches over them.

Likewise the Malacandra’s beings, the Sorns, Pfifltriggi, and Hrossa, realize their differences but accept and love each other nevertheless: “they can talk to each other, they can cooperate, they have the same ethics” (156). While humans dishonor and compete against each other for their own selfish gains, the beings on Malacandra love even creatures that are harmful to them. “The hnakra is our enemy, but he is also our beloved” (75). The Malacandrans also respect their planet and honor the cycles and balance in nature. “I do not think the forest would be so bright, nor the water so warm, nor love so sweet, if there were no danger in the lakes” (75). They are true ecologists!

One of the major problems with Earth’s corruption is that humans compete against others in a “survival of the fittest” method. In other words the theist Lewis is critical of naturalism. They will destroy those whom they view as inferior to them. For example, Devine and Weston, the two captors who brought Ransom to Malacandra, think they can take over the planet. Devine and Weston believe they are superior to the ‘primitive’ Malacandrans. “It is in the might of Life herself, that I am prepared without flinching to plant the flag of man on the soil of Malacandra: to march on, step by step, superseding, where necessary, the lower forms of life that we find, claiming planet after planet” (137).
What Devine and Weston do not realize is that they live in fear of death, while the Malacandrans are aware that death is a natural part of life. “One thing we left behind us on the harandra: fear. And with fear, murder and rebellion. The weakest of my people does not fear death” (140). Threatening to kill off the Malacandrans cannot strike fear in their hearts. “It is the Bent One, the Lord of your world, who wastes your lives and befouls them with flying from what you know will overtake you in the end. If you were subjects of Maleldil, you would have peace” (140).

Out of the Silent Planet is a powerful apologetic piece where Lewis powerfully portrays the dangers of modernism and the potentialities of Christianity.