The Official Blog Of Edward Cline

Religion vs. The Arts

A
writer who presumes to champion “good” literature or “good”
art but begins his essay with a supporting quotation from James Joyce is not
someone I can regard seriously as a champion of anything. If any writer has helped
to contribute to the destruction of literature, and, incidentally, of the other
arts, it was James Joyce. See these descriptions of his Ulysses
and Finnegan’s Wake. Joyce’s
intellectual mentor was Immanuel Kant, a philosopher who strived to save
religion from the Enlightenment. To wit:
“I go to encounter for the
millionth time the reality of experience and to forge in the smithy of my soul
the uncreated conscience of my race.”  James Joyce, Portrait of
the Artist as a Young Man,
1916
Whatever
that means. I think it means that experience is “everything.” But
“experience” tells us nothing about what causes an experience.
Novelist
and screenwriter Andrew Klavan
doesn’t enlighten us about what causes experiences in his February 7th
FrontPage article, “The
Trouble with the Arts
,” which is an excerpt from his pamphlet,
“Crisis in the Arts: Why the Left owns the Culture and How Conservatives
Can Begin to Take It Back.” Klavan has assumed the role of the
conservatives’ doyen in shining armor to battle the artistic and political dragons
of the Left. He has a war plan.
Klavan
marshals two other supporting quotations, one from the poet Percy Bysshe
Shelley (“Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world”
), and one from the late conservative
publicizer Andrew Breitbart (“Politics is downstream of culture”).
Breitbart
actually had the right thing in mind. He would seem to agree with
novelist/philosopher Ayn Rand who wrote that politics would be the last thing
to change in any nation’s cultural renaissance. For a politics to change, a
change in a nation’s philosophy must occur first. America had a good start,
with the ideas that caused a revolution. But those ideas were implicit and not explicit
enough. The American Revolution was a consequence of men’s revolt against
secular and religious tyranny. But a nation can’t sustain itself indefinitely
on undefined ideas. The Founders were political philosophers, but for a
nation’s political philosophy to endure, it must be complemented and preceded
by a specific view of man and existence. And that can be illustrated in art.
If
its implicit philosophy is that man and reality are malleable and can be made
to conform to a tyrant’s or bureaucrat’s wishes – a philosophy which governs
the policies of the current occupant of the White House, one which actually
began to be implemented long ago in the 19th century, we’re only
just now seeing its consequences and logical end – then whoever in the future
occupies the White House must be raised in a culture whose philosophy is that
man is a being of volitional consciousness and that reality is not an ephemeral,
subjective figment of his imagination, but a rock-solid absolute that can’t be
evaded without incurring dire, life-threatening consequences.
The
adage goes that you can’t cheat an honest man. He can only sue for damages or a
refund or laugh at the man who thinks he has cheated him. Reality, however,
can’t be cheated, either, and its retaliatory options are far more costly. Look
at our society, our nation, today. “Reality,” says Cyrus Skeen of the
stock market crash of 1929 in The
Black Stone
, “has called in its markers.”
I
will argue that quoting Joyce, a Catholic who regarded man as a Freudian monster
governed by his bowel movements and as a beast unable to escape his inherent
wickedness, insignificance, and corruption, was the correct choice for Klavan
to quote. Klavan himself is a Christian convert and his article is rife with
allusions and assertions that man must struggle against his alleged evil nature.
He subscribes to the notion of Original Sin. Much of his fiction oeuvre is Christian in nature. It is of
the “Left
Behind
” genre.
I
would be amused by Klavan’s presumptions if they didn’t reflect on the real
crisis, which, according to Klavan, is that if there is going to be a
regeneration of American values and culture, it will be based on patriotism,
family, and religion. But patriotism isn’t enough to revive a love of country
that clashes with what it is today. Patriotism is an emotion. Family and
religion are not fundamental philosophies on which to ignite a renaissance.
They are banal and so shop-worn that one can see right through them.
“Family” is not a philosophic unit. Religion is merely a primitive
form of philosophy that attempts to explain man and existence. Reviving it
isn’t going to solve any crisis in art. It didn’t in the past, and won’t in the
future. Solving the energy “crisis” is not reinventing the horse or
learning how to make candles.  
Regarding
a definition of art, Klavan first quotes Leo Tolstoy:
“Art is a human activity
consisting in this, that one man consciously, by means of certain external
signs, hands on to others feelings he has lived through, and that other people
are infected by these feelings and also experience them.”  Leo Tolstoy, What
is Art?
He
then builds on that role of “experience” and on Joyce’s own rambling
grunts about art:
Art is a method of recording the
ineffable inner experience of being human.  There are no words that can
directly describe what it is like to be self-consciously alive….
So the purpose of art is not to
edify or instruct, though it can instruct and often does edify.  The
purpose of art is not even to delight, though, if it’s art, it will delight
because that’s its nature, that’s the way it works.  The purpose of art is
to record and transmit the internal human experience.
Whose
ineffable “internal human experience”? Klavan’s? Yours? Your
next-door neighbor’s? Or is there a boilerplate, one-size-fits-all “human
experience”? Klavan makes no distinction between the experiences of a
Charles Manson and a Cyrano de Bergerac.
By
way of contrast, here’s a philosophical definition of art, together
with a statement of its purpose, courtesy of Ayn Rand:
Art is a selective re-creation of
reality according to an artist’s metaphysical value-judgments. Man’s profound
need of art lies in the fact that his cognitive faculty is conceptual, i.e.,
that he acquires knowledge by means of abstractions, and needs the power to
bring his widest metaphysical abstractions into his immediate, perceptual
awareness. Art fulfills this need: by means of a selective re-creation, it
concretizes man’s fundamental view of himself and of existence. It tells man,
in effect, which aspects of his experience are to be regarded as essential,
significant, important. In this sense, art teaches man how to use his
consciousness. It conditions or stylizes man’s consciousness by conveying to
him a certain way of looking at existence.*
If
your life depended on knowing the definition of art, whose definition would you
count on? Rand’s precise reduction of the term to its essentials, or Klavan’s
woozy flailing about in his gloppish “experiences” in the company of
Tolstoy and Joyce in search of the “meaning of life”?
It’s
the difference between using a Colt Magnum .45 on a target and throwing pebbles
at it.
What
is a metaphysical value judgment? Is existence is to be valued, or feared? Is
life to be lived as an individual, or as a nameless, helpless cog in a
collective? Does one live for oneself, or for the state, the collective, for
the group? How men look at existence ultimately will determine what political
system they choose to live under, or endure, or tolerate.
The
secular version of Original Sin is that man is but a pitiful piece of
protoplasm that ought to be controlled and regulated for the good of the
greater protoplasm, and even extinguished, if necessary, if he gets too big for
his state-mandated britches.  Existence
is a burden, say the secularist elites, and the state’s purpose is to
ameliorate the conditions of life by banishing its attributes and suppressing
men who attempt to make living for anything but the state and the collective
evil and punishable. The religious version of Original Sin is that individuals
are born evil or contemptible or guilty of a wrong committed before they were
even conceived.
Klavan
has a foot in both versions.
If the purpose of culture is to
record and convey the internal human experience in its entirety, it is going to
record and convey a good many things of which we disapprove.  There is
simply no getting around the wickedness, corruption, greed, lust and sheer
troublemaking goofiness lodged in the hearts of the best of us — and therefore,
there is no getting around their entertainment value or their legitimacy as
subjects for art….
But while good and evil are real,
the human heart is not in harmony with them and never has been.  To
paraphrase Saint Paul, we do not always do the good we want to do, and the evil
we don’t want to do, we keep on doing.  Because we are fallen creatures
then, there is, in human life, a price for every choice we make and a
consequence for every action. 
Klavan
ironically chides some Christians for opposing what our culture has produced.
Some evangelical Christians made
the mistake of attacking the delightful Harry Potter novels because Potter is a
wizard and wizardry and magic are against Christian teaching.  But
Potter’s wizardry existed in a completely fantastical world that did not play
by the same rules as the real world.  In the context of that world,
his fictional wizardry not only exemplified excellent moral values, it also
laid the foundations for faith.  The novels are deeply Christian when
judged, not by their individual incidents, but by their overall effect. 
By condemning them, the evangelicals lost a hugely popular teaching tool.
One
must wonder why evangelical Christians draw the line at Harry Potter’s wizardry
and the wizardry integral to Christian faith, i.e., the loaves and fishes,
water into wine, rising from the dead, and other miracles.
Klavan
cites numerous instances of his likes and dislikes in contemporary culture and
the arts. But one of his dislikes stands out as a clue to his
“humane” notion of what constitutes “bad” art:
Conservatives are giddy with
pleasure and relief when a popular novel or film doesn’t thoroughly trash
capitalism or sexual morality or faith in God.  Meanwhile, the left wing
writers of TV shows like Law and Order tear true stories from the
headlines every single week and rewrite them to impose pro-left, anti-right
values on their narratives.  To cite but one example of many:  in
2005, brain damaged Terri Schiavo was judicially starved to death at the
request of her husband while evangelical Christian pro-life groups fought to
save her.  That same year, Law and Order produced a fictional
version of the case in which an evangelical Christian engineered the murder of
a Schiavo-like character’s husband.
I
can decide which is worse between a
left-wing rewrite of the Terry
Schiavo
case that demonizes Christian evangelicals, and Klavan’s complaint which
defends evangelical Christians who fought to save the life of an individual
whose body is alive but whose capacity for thought, values, and independence were
gone. The Law and Order episode was
just another naturalistic, hackneyed screed created by mediocrities, and comes
a literal dime-a-dozen on modern television. Would Klavan have wanted Terry
Shiavo to remain alive? Would there have been such a person as Terry Shiavo
inside the body? Or any person at all? Klavan doesn’t say. But his outrage over
how the leftist writers portrayed the evangelical Christians should serve as a
clue.
Then
there is Klavan’s penchant for what could only be called “hard-boiled religious
naturalism” and how the left-wing critical establishment treats it.
And, of course, when Mel Gibson’s
beautiful The Passion of the Christ ignited a wave of faith-based
excitement among evangelicals… well, what happened to Jesus in that movie was
nothing compared to what left wing critics did to Mel!
Anyone
who has seen Mel Gibson’s opus will concede that it is one of the most gruesome
depictions of the Crucifixion every filmed, and unnecessarily gruesome even for
a religious film. Yet, Klavan calls it “beautiful.”
Because
Klavan eschews the role of philosophy, his campaign to combat the left-wing
artistic establishment in Hollywood, the publishing industry, and the
“social media,” his efforts will come to naught. It will not be
“reclaimed” by conservatives in the current philosophical climate,
not next year, not in twenty years.
The vision that inspired the
American experiment in liberty was a vision created and preserved and handed
down through works of western art and culture.  It was a complex vision of
man as a flawed creature in a moral universe striving toward the freedom for
which he was made…. Uncensored, that voice, intentionally or not, consciously
or not, will always cry out for the very things conservatives most believe
in:  personal independence and lasting love, a good life today and a
better life tomorrow, faith in a God who is no stranger to our suffering and
who will yet become the father of our joy.
Conservatives,
however, are consummate altruists, and it is altruism that is responsible for
the cultural miasma Klavan excoriates. Conservatism shares the same deadly
premises of altruism with the statists, the socialists, and every tyranny that
has ever existed.
On
the other hand, Klavan would do well to heed Ayn Rand’s fundamental
prescription for cultural renewal and “taking back” the country’s
purpose and spirit:
As in the case of an individual,
so in the case of a culture; disasters can be accomplished subconsciously, but
a cure cannot. A cure in both cases requires conscious knowledge, i.e., a
consciously grasped, explicit philosophy.
It is impossible to predict the
time of a philosophical Renaissance. One can only define the road to follow,
not its length. What is certain, however, is that every aspect of Western
culture needs a new code of ethics – a rational
ethics
– as a precondition of rebirth. And, perhaps, no aspect needs it
more desperately than the realm of art.
When reason and philosophy are
reborn, literature will be the first phoenix to rise out of today’s ashes. And,
armed with a code of rational values, aware of its own nature, confident of the
supreme importance of its mission, Romanticism will have come of age.**
Some
of the most magnificent art of the past had religious themes or themes derived
from religion (e.g., Michelangelo’s heroic “David,”
the somber “Pieta,”
and the Sistine
Chapel
). The subject of that art was man himself, with religion serving as
an excuse to portray him. Romanticism will have come of age when men no longer
need an excuse to portray him as the heroic being he has been, is today, and
can always be, sans supernatural
excuses.
*”Art
and Cognition,” (1971) p. 45. The
Romantic Manifesto: A Philosophy of Literature
. New York: Signet, 1971.
Second Revised Edition, 1975.
**”What
is Romanticism?” p. 122. Op. cit. 
1969

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4 Comments

  1. revereridesagain

    Gods are for people who can't handle heroes. Anyone mentally shackled to the biblical notion that man is inherently wicked, insignificant, corrupt, and "disobedient" to an imaginary god will be unable to rationally grasp the concept of a true hero. Someone like Klaven, who sees himself as "fallen" human, can view the extended wallow in human sacrifice that is Gibson's "Passion of the Christ" as "beautiful" because here is a god voluntarily being tortured to death in order to "save" him from an unearned inbred "guilt". No wonder he can't get past the security blankets of religion, family, and flag-waving to grasp what kind of Michaelangelo is needed to create a renewal of the culture. Or even to examine his own motives in wishing to prolong the agony of the defenseless victims of his imaginary god's "will" such as the Schiavos. Self-righteous rationalization of such cruelty to others is apt to be the outcome of obsession with one's own "salvation" through unquestioning obedience to godly dictates.

    Trying to argue with the "salvation" addicted reminds one of the old saying about beating one's head against a wall because it feels so good when you stop.

  2. Edward Cline

    Thanks for the input, Revereridesagain. I guess everyone else is too frightened to make a comment.

  3. Michael Neibel

    If the deck is stacked against us, who stacked it? I'm afraid it was us with our anti life choices. We can unstack it any time. we only have to choose to do so.

  4. Edward Cline

    Mike N: I "unstacked" it for myself long, long ago. Since then, I've been a voice in the wilderness of altruism and religion.

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