Sunday, September 23, 2007

Back to Barbarity ... Or Repentance

God's Kingdom or Apocalypse?
Ken Burns' new documentary, The War, premiers tonight. Is this good news, or bad? The Washington Post says today that near the end, "the camera lingers for a full 40 seconds on the image of a dead U. S. Marine on Iwo Jima. Face up, arms splayed, teeth bared, he is as grotesque as a man forever young can be."

One effect of such truth telling (the deconstructing of the mythology of war's "glory") to a generation that lacks true transcendence is to heighten the dread -- the religious awe -- the human heart feels toward death. Hit the pause button: "What is true transcendence?" one must ask. (1) First, it is a certitude that every single human being is eternal (for good or ill), and that biological cessation of life is not our terminus, our end point, our telos. (2) Secondly, it is a faith-filled hope that such knowledge is based on our peculiar nature; namely, that we are created imago dei -- in the image and likeness of God -- and that peculiar nature is not affected by death. And (3) thirdly, by virtue of that nature and relationship to God (for Christians, by God's grace through faith in Jesus Christ) our sufferings and deaths have meaning and purpose in the "economy" of God's Kingdom. "O Death, where is your sting?" we can say with Saint Paul.

But, you see, here lies the problem. Staring at the realities of life and death from the point of view of one whose "operating system" includes the above is one thing. Staring at them without the benefit of such faith produces and reduces humans to a far different level of being. It, in fact, brings the most stout-hearted atheist (literally, one without God) to the level of a modern primitive who has to function without the benefits of the revealed biblical faith that had been at the heart and soul of the Christian West until the first fissures appeared during the so-called "Enlightenment".

One might say that the endless project of Hollywood to create images of ever more violent scenarios, the "reality TV" efforts to throw people (down to "Kids Nation") into rivalries and bloody death-dealing mayhem has the effect of demoralizing a West made weak by its cowering awareness of the power of death. Death has become the 'new sex,' so fascinated have we become by it, awed by it, stunned by it, with demonstrable effects: enervation, low birth-rates, nihilism. The West's new motto: "What's the use?" So, I ask again, "Is the premier of Ken Burns' The War good news or bad?"

As the stars would have it, the West has a self-appointed rival and enemy that is decidedly not so enervated by the power of death. Indeed, it seems to thrive on such power, because its O/S leaves room for a parody of the Bible's Heaven -- however laughable its 72-virgins version may seem to us. Indeed, the West's enemy thrives on the West's a-theistic fears of death. Time was, the West knew that there were worse things one could do to a person than kill him, and ,conversely, there were worse things that could happen to one than to be killed. But now, such documentaries, no less than Hollywood's unholy fascination with death and other elements of the primitive Sacred, help create paralyzed, cowering, and rather spineless masses who believe nothing (defining "nothing" here is simply a laundry-list of priorities and values of modernist vapidity).

To such masses in the West, perhaps a scimitar-wielding overlord is what will be necessary. "Necessary for WHAT?" you may ask. Necessary, as Israel discovered during the Babylonian Exile, to repent and return to its precious, revealed faith in the steadfastly-loving, covenant-keeping God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Necessary today for us to repent and return to the God in Three Persons, the Most Blessed Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.


David Nybakke said...

Athos, can I drop a quote in here?

"As unbelievers deny Revelation more decisively, as they put their denial into more consistent practice, it will become the more evident what it really means to be a Christian. At the same time, the unbeliever will emerge from the fogs of secularism. He will cease to reap benefit from the values and forces developed by the very Revelation he denies. He must learn to exist honestly without Christ and without the God revealed through Him; he will have to learn to experience what this honesty means. Nietzsche has already warned us that the non-Christian of the modern world had no realization of what it truly meant to be without Christ. The last decades have suggested what life without Christ really is. The last decades were only the beginning." - Romano Guardini

David Nybakke said...

Maybe it’s due to being in retail all my life, but "Hollywood" is simply driven by what "sells" and that’s it. Sadly, we may feel, but it is buyer beware - sheer capitalism at its finest. You shed light on another example of what it means to live without Christ (ontologically barely a sliver, wafer-thin) and as they awaken from the fogs of secularism the more violent (more cathartic) the movie content will become, giving movie-goers what they think they thirst for, desperately trying to recover some sense of being.

We must continue to help bring to light this darkness AND be God's witness to the only True Transcendent light of being - of substantiality.

Athos said...

Too right, Aramis, re: Hollywood serving up only what the viewers want (i.e., what sells). But why DOES it sell? Because of the aridity of the modernist landscape, bereft as it is of true transcendence.

Here is Bailie (Lk 6A) describing far better than I said it:

That dread of coming anywhere near the corpse goes back to the origins of the sacrificial cult itself. Ultimately it goes back to the moment when the victim is lying there and the victimizers know that they cannot encroach on that sacred space. That is the moment when the old sacred system comes into being. Avoiding corpses, as these two are doing, is simply a distant reverberation of that old sacralizing impulse. What does that tell us? The Bible tells us that the consequence of sin is death. One way of understanding that is death as a cultic fascination. The sacrificial system is fascinated by death. And it exists to move it around on the board to the best advantage of all; that is to say, “it is better that one should die than the whole nation be destroyed.”
The sacrificial system is fascinated in a cultic sense by death, and it serves death. It both serves it and it “serves it up.” It performs it in order to ward it off. Death is at the center of the whole sacrificial system. So, ultimately, we have either the sacrificial system reemerging and drawing all the fascination back to death, or we have the gospel breaking us free of that. And it is interesting to me that in our world as the Enlightenment project collapses, we get the emergence of nihilism, which is nothing more than the religious fascination with death and all the sort of cultic mystery of death. This is very much in Heidegger, who talks about the “being unto death,” this fascination with death...
James Breech, who wrote The Silence of Jesus (mentions): “Their avoidance confers sacral power onto death, and implicitly recognizes it as the force which is ultimate in human life.” And I think that death and avoiding death will always be the organizingt principle in any sacrificial system. That is why when Paul says, “Death, where is thy sting?” he is talking as someone who has broken free of that...
Sebastian Moore says, “Death as ultimate horizon lets sin make as much sense as sin can make.” It goes back to this question of sin and death, and Moore says, “Death is our God- displacer, our pseudo-god.”
In the modern world, as the Enlightenment project collapses, you get things that started out to be life and then, suddenly, there is something else. And I’ve said this before and people get the wrong impression when I say this. I’m not I want to go back to a situation in which women are discriminated against at all; I do not. But you get a situation in which the feminist movement comes along and doesn’t realize how endebted it is to the New Testament for its own moral promptings - tremendously endebted to the NT for those promptings - nevertheless, it begins to ignore that and pretty soon its reigning principle is a mother’s right to kill the baby in her womb. It becomes death again. It starts out with the best of intentions...but because it cuts itself off from that [NT] moral imperative, it becomes death. It becomes fascinated with death. It becomes Heideggerian. It becomes what Sebastian Moore calls “our pseudo-god.”
All this is because I saw the priest and Levite moving to the other side of the road, which is just a way of bowing before death, a way of capitulating to the power of death.
Andrew McKenna says, “Most commentaries emulate the priest and the Levite by moving away from the centrality of the victim.”