Friday, January 15, 2016

The ultimate narcissism of theological Beauty-worship

Perhaps it was Rod Dreher's typically modest comment

In my case, it was perfectly obvious from the beginning why one would want to be Orthodox. But I know myself well enough to admit that I’m a rare type, in that I am unusually moved by beauty. (Recall, it was seeing the Chartres cathedral for the first time at age 17 that brought me back to Christianity.) Beauty alone isn’t enough, but in my particular case, it is so central to my experience of God that I can scarcely do without it. This has been a blessing to me, because it has made me deeply grateful for the role of beauty in holiness, but also a burden, as far too often I am aware of certain disdainful impulses towards low-church worship, a spirit of criticism that is spiritually harmful. (Believe me, it was very much there when I was a Catholic too).

in a post contrasting the beauty in Orthodoxy with the beauty in Catholicism that first got me thinking of this, but it was Dreher's God and Architecture that propelled me to follow through.

Dreher, and, of course, an entire tradition make much of the relationship between Beauty (canonized in capitals) and the Divine, so let's break this down and see how well it holds up under scrutiny.

The common element across all of these pronouncements of beauty is regularity, in space and across time. Forms - including human forms - that are proportional, often symmetrical, as well as entities - the whole concept of architecture itself - that endure in space and across time.

Beauty is conceived in superior contrast to things that don't do this: in contrast to the child with only one pop eye and a seal flipper for a left arm, in contrast to the ramshackle, disposable nest a chimp makes for the night.

But it turns out these elements of Beauty - regularity, proportionality, endurance across time (Platonism) - are in fact at heart human celebrations of itself, of our ability to impose our wills on the vagaries of nature: to build enduring things that function and last, homes that stand, mills that work, etc. We then in turn, perhaps even simultaneously, apply these values to the natural world as well, to its regularities, its proportionalities, and symmetries, none more so than to others of our species. Ever wonder why there are so few truly ugly human beings in the world? Yes, that's right: no dates. Selected against, out, and adios forever.

Consider though, in contrast, an example touched only by the Divine, say, a random mud flat along the Bay of Bengal, at high noon and low tide. Random, irregular, unenduring, soupy, muddy, strewn with flotsam and detritus, redolent with thousands of simultaneous different processes of animal and vegetable dismemberment and decay - all of this owes its existence to only one Author. And, naturally, it would be abhorred by the Beauty-worshiping Drehers of the world.

But why? The only Hand at work there is God's.

So if you want to celebrate Beauty as your aesthetic, sensate avatar of the Divine, sure, go right ahead, but realize, as the Drehers of the world will congenitally never be able to, that what you are celebrating is your view into a mirror, one you have previously constructed long ago to celebrate yourself and your achievements as a human being. Outside and beyond that mirror the purest realms of the solely Divine - the Bengali mud flat, the alien solar system dissolved in radioactive fury - look wholly different.

And meanwhile, the limbless, anacephalic stillborn child some thoughtless vandal dumps in the night on the steps of majestic, soaring Chartres, like so much garbage: whom does she inspire, and to what?


In a mood which this sums up. Yes, I know it's a cover of a Modern Lovers tune, but I like this version better.

Pablo Picasso - Burning Sensations by DeeDarden

Obviously I'm "looking for the joke with a microscope" today.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

The Obama Legacy

Bruce Haynes accurately paints a picture of the Obama Legacy by using the current election season as the palette. Excerpt:

In Iowa and New Hampshire, the two states where the most campaigning has been done, I give you the respective leaders for their parties’ nominations:

bernieScreen Shot 2015-11-13 at 1.15.50 PM

Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders.

Think about that. This is what two terms of Barack Obama has wrought. In Iowa and New Hampshire, two Purple states, swing states that decide presidential elections, the Democrats want a declared Socialist and the Republicans want an angry Populist.

Obama’s legacy could actually be a Sanders vs. Trump general election. Yes, I realize that there are miles to go in this race, and yes I have the humility to realize I might have a better chance of winning the Powerball than to explain right now who will win this race. But to be here, in this place, three weeks out from the night of the Iowa Caucuses, is truly extraordinary.

The Benedict Option FAQ

Q: What is the Benedict Option?

A: The Benedict Option is people, alone, apart, or together, talking about the words "the Benedict Option", some for profit, some just for fun.

Watch this space. If the Benedict Option ever becomes anything more, we'll be the first to let you know.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Songs for the Benedict Option parodying itself

(NB Pauli: perhaps it will simply beat itself to death with its other shoe)

Well, this is one way for Rod Dreher to put a halt to my making fun of his Benjamins Option* cult fraud being perpetrated on psychologically needy or otherwise uncritical Christians - by taking the lead himself.

Did I use the phrase "Dungeons and Dragons for Boutique Christians" in a recent comment? Well, here you go - Songs for the Benedict Option.

I'm going to excerpt a great wad of Dreher's hilariously cynical in-your-face-you-gullible-snipes mocking of his own reader-followers, because I could care less whether Dreher-TAC likes it or not, but mostly because, frankly, this beats anything I had on hand myself.

So here you go, Benjamins Option fans, future history pole-vaulting straight to farce:

A couple of you have sent me this song by a singer/songwriter named Bill Mallonee, suggesting it as a theme song for the Benedict Option:

Winnowing (CD, Vinyl or Digital Download formats!) by Bill Mallonee & The Darkling Planes

Here are the lyrics:

IN THE NEW DARK AGE (the only lamp burning bright is you)

All the dominoes fell
we went under a spell
and all hell. broke. loose.
Everything you held dear
when the dust finally cleared
it was just as you feared

In the new dark age
Nobody puts up a fight
In the new dark age
You’ll see no flares in the night
The only lamp burning bright…is you

All the mask [sic] came off
All disguises were dropped
The game was declared over
Love was escorted out
There was hardly a shout
I’ll take the crimson & clover

We’re all mystics & freaks
With the spirit beneath
Deeper than any ocean
Let the string section “riff”
Seal it up with a kiss
Honey, we are all golden

In the new dark age
no one trusts anyone
In the new dark age
they forget to have fun
The only light from the sun…is you
In the new dark age
nobody puts up a fight
In the new dark age
you’ll see no flares in the night
The only lamp burning bright…is you
The only lamp burning bright…is you

Nice. If I were writing it, I would only tweak it to say that the only lamp burning bright is us, and then put a verse in about Christ as the light of the world, and the only reason we burn in the darkness is that He burns within us. Then it would be truly Ben Oppy, though I would have to get over my reflexive, irrational prejudice against contemporary Christian music in order to listen to it.

And then there’s this 2004 standby, “Dégenération,” from the Quebecois band Mes Aïeux, which wouldn’t take much alteration — a verse about the loss of faith and Christian tradition — to be a perfect Ben Op song:

Alright, that's quite enough, don't you think? Frankly, I'd take the crimson & clover over this myself.
But, still, who says radical, adolescent role-playing nouveau-Christianisme can't be a ton o' funzies, even truly Ben Oppy.

Will there be an official BenOpCon - not the standard operating procedure, the Star Wars kind - where we can all dress up in SCA-esque costumes and sing the Songs for the Benedict Option?

If there is, I'll be there in my new, officially pretentious Benjamin Options avatar, The Wordsmith Monkster.

Strumming a lute.

*NOTE: all uses of my favorite new phrase should be credited to its originator, commenter Tom.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

"Radiant on the River"

Here's some beautiful poetry translated from the Maronite Liturgy. The hat tip goes to Siris, a blog I recently discovered.

First Sunday after Epiphany
2 Corinthians 10:1-11; John 1:29-34

John by the river saw Jesus
and proclaimed with true prophecy:
Behold the holy Lamb of God!
He takes away all of our sins;
I came that He might be revealed,
forgiveness radiant on the river.

O Son of the Almighty God!
You stooped to receive Your baptism.
The Father proclaimed You His Son.
The Holy Spirit like a dove
in power rested on Your head,
divinity radiant on the river.

With Your baptism You have clothed us,
the robe of glory you give to us,
the seal of the Holy Spirit,
the promise of holy rebirth
in water and in the Spirit
with Your light radiant on the river.

We do not fight with human strength;
we wield weapons of the Spirit.
The darkness has already lost;
with a glance from God light poured down
in magnificence and glory,
through His grace radiant on the river.

May divinity dwell in us
through the Spirit's descent on us;
may our minds receive Christ's great light.
Through Word and Spirit God made all;
Word and Spirit He gave to us
in splendor radiant on the river.


Love it.

Monday, January 11, 2016

The danger is that we might nominate, even elect, someone with these qualifications

No Person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President; neither shall any Person be eligible to that Office who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty five Years, and been fourteen Years a Resident within the United States.

That is, someone like this

Donald Trump
or this

Rod Dreher
or, God forbid, even this

(no, really, my Mom's a natural born citizen; and, no, you can't ask.)

My point is, as much as 21st Century Americans may still subliminally long to be governed by a Better Quality Lord or Lady Lickbottom, our Constitution plainly sets the qualification bar no higher than their own Everyman selves.

It can do that because no part of our constitutional republic is important unto itself - least of all a One as chief executive. Rather, our constitutional republic itself is the only important thing, as a system where the whole holds every single element within it in imminent check mate.

Or at least that's the theory.

Things break down, though, when the other elements of the system, beginning with the electorate, start deferring or outsourcing their responsibilities. When we, instead of being conservative (or, hell, liberal) ourselves, start looking, not for someone to legally implement our individual conservatism, but rather for someone to vicariously be conservative in our stead.

When our Legislative, in order to not risk looking bad in media, abrogates its responsibilities to the Executive.

Or when the Judicial, deferring to the Legislative, abrogates its own, separate responsibilities to maintain a constitutional separation of powers.

That's when Caesar becomes poised to take the stage, and the only thing worse than the other guy's Caesar is the one we yearn for ourselves.

So don't fear Trump becoming President, or Drump, or even me. Fear instead your own passive acquiescence into letting any one of us - or you - become a One.