Saturday, October 27, 2012

A confused response to being culturally struck

Recently there have been a number of "things" I have encountered that have struck me in such a way as to make it virtually impossible for me to synthesize and so make something coherent out of them. Besides, I don't really have the time I used to have to write. As a result, I will limit myself to two of these encounters and see where that leads.

Hans Urs Von Balthasar meets Mickey Mouse

The first is an installment of Martha Gill's "Irrational Animals" column, which she writes for the U.K.'s New Statesman. Her post, entitled "How God corrupts creatures great and small: Only Mitchell and Webb's Bad Vicar can save them".

The second cultural artifact (how's that as a substitute for "thing"?) is Béla Tarr's 2011 film The Turin Horse, also known as Nietzsche's Horse.

In seeking commentary about Tarr's movie, I came across a post by blogger Katie Smith, who captures what she aptly describes as "the heart" of the film by posting a monologue that gives great insight into what Tarr is trying to show.

This gets at the heart of Nietzsche's critique of Christianity, with which Balthasar, whose doctoral dissertation, which was not in theology and was entitled Apokalypse der deutschen Seele (i.e., Apocalypse of the German Soul), was quite sympathetic.

Speaking about how everything is in ruins, Tarr has one of his characters, Bernard, say, "it’s about man’s own judgement over his own self, which of course God has a hand in, or dare I say: takes part in. And whatever he takes part in is the most ghastly creation that you can imagine." While Gill highlights "[t]he skewing effect of a compassionate God can be seen even on lower, pettier levels. In exams, students who believe in a forgiving deity are far more likely to cheat, and in lab studies, Christian participants who spend ten minutes writing about God’s merciful nature showed increased levels of petty theft when assigned a money-based task afterwards. More recently, a comprehensive study found that crime rates are significantly higher in places where people believe in divine redemption."

I would reference Gill's remarks to the writings of Peter Hitchens, whose adult conversion to Christianity began with a memorable viewing of Roger van der Weyden's Last Judgment painting.

I can't leave you wondering about the Bad Vicar...

The bottom line is, people like the Bad Vicar aside, orthodox Christianity really doesn't have a lot trouble reconciling these things. Too often in contemporary discourse we consider these issues in isolation. Nietzsche did not do this because he possessed the learning necessary to comprehensibly engage such large matters.

When it comes to religious belief, no matter the kind of theism is being considered, there is a tendency to philosophically short-circuit these issues. Gill does this when she writes that "Religious morality is not quite like other kinds of morality, because instead of consulting your sense of right and wrong, you’re consulting the moral sense of an invisible being who takes sides depending on who believes in him the hardest." This is certainly not a fair statement about Christian morality. This is what make the Bad Vicar's comically un-pastoral harangue ring with no small amount of truth.

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