Be Careful for What You Pine

If you want the world to be sacramental:

Living a sacramental worldview means, quite simply, viewing the world as sacrament. A redundant definition it might be, but often times the simplest explanations are the best. If we do truly believe that the Sacraments are moments in time where the invisible grace of God is made visible and tangible then seeing this same grace working constantly in and through our daily lives would only beg that we see the sacramental nature of daily life. This is not to say that every blade of grass is truly the transubstantiated body of Christ, but it does substantiate St. Ignatius’s charge to see God in all things.

You may wind up with the market as God:

In his most recent book, The Market as God, Harvey Cox argues that the market economy has become deified in our contemporary world. In formulating this argument, he identifies many parallels between the structures of Christianity and those of the capitalist economic system.

Why the Personal is not Political

President Obama explained why policy is such a poor instrument for addressing something as personal as race relations:

But this is always one of the challenges of politics: It can never capture all the complexity and contradictions in life. So you end up having to try to be true in a way that can be consumed for a mass audience, but you’re always missing some elements of it. You’re always leaving some things out.

And that’s part of the reason why race is such a difficult thing to deal with in politics, because the evolution of racial identity, racial relationships, institutional racism, is never similar. The trajectory, I believe, has been positive. But anything you say on the topic of race, there’s a counterargument, there’s an exception, there’s a nuance. There’s a, Wait, hold on a minute, how about that? And that’s part of the reason why, I think, it creates frustration. It’s also why it’s easy to demagogue. It’s also why situations that look ambiguous can lead to people dividing into camps very quickly.

Justice is one thing. Politeness is another.

Can Fairy Tales Do More than the Holy Spirit?

As much as I live and breathe and have my being in conservative circles in the United States, I cannot understand how conservatives who are Christians can write so cheerfully about virtue and what it takes to cultivate it:

Mere instruction in morality is not sufficient to nurture the virtues. It might even backfire, especially when the presentation is heavily exhortative and the pupil’s will is coerced. Instead, a compelling vision of the goodness of goodness itself needs to be presented in a way that is attractive and stirs the imagination. A good moral education addresses both the cognitive and affective dimensions of human nature. Stories are an irreplaceable medium of this kind of moral education. This is the education of character.

The Greek word for character literally means an impression. Moral character is an impression stamped upon the self. Character is defined by its orientation, consistency, and constancy. Today we often equate freedom with morality and goodness. But this is naïve because freedom is transcendent and the precondition of choice itself. Depending upon his character, an individual will be drawn toward either goodness or wickedness. Moral and immoral behavior is freedom enacted either for good or for ill.

The great fairy tales and children’s fantasy stories attractively depict character and virtue. In these stories, the virtues glimmer as if in a looking glass, and wickedness and deception are unmasked of their pretensions to goodness and truth. These stories make us face the unvarnished truth about ourselves while compelling us to consider what kind of people we want to be.

Calvinists have a problem with this, obviously, since they put the T in Total Depravity. But shouldn’t any Christian who considers himself Augustinian or any theist who believes in the fall (recorded in the not so fair tale of Genesis)? Can’t we at least, if you’re not going to talk about effectual calling, reserve some space for baptism and the sacraments more generally?

Or, are we supposed to conclude that a kid reared on Beauty and the Beast has as much a shot at virtue as the one who’s baptized? If that’s the case, then why is cult so much the bedrock of culture?

What Kind of Art Will American Greatness Leave Behind?

Talk about greatness after you watch The Great Museum, a documentary about The Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna:

The museum was the creation of Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria-Hungary. Opened in 1891, the museum (a combination of two) holds the Habsburgs’ formidable art collection and makes many of the effects of the Holy Roman Emperor accessible to the general public. As much as the Protestant and republican in me wonders about that kind of wealth, concentration of power, and even accumulation of relics, it doesn’t take a high school diploma to understand that The Great Museum should be on my bucket list and should likely have been higher than the Louvre or London’s National Gallery. Say what you will about the Habsburgs, they acquired lots of stuff that people interested in history and art want to see.

(Although, I could not fight the impression that the art world, even as accessible as it is now compared to when it fenced in for only the aristocracy and friends to enjoy, has become one big commodity to be bought and sold. The documentary has one auction scene that took the missus and me back to The Red Violin, arguably the best historical treatment on film of the changing value of a musical instrument. Let’s just say, moderns know monetary value better than artistic achievement. I’ll confirm that by noticing that even though the Republic of Austria subsidizes the Great Museum with significant Euro’s, admission in 2013 to the Great Museum was almost 34 Euros — $37. Ouch!)

Meanwhile, back in the greatest nation on God’s green earth, the feds debate whether to cut funding for the National Endowment for the Arts. Stephen Limbaugh keeps it real when he warns about the NEA’s ideological outlook:

Be it the misuse of funds, waste, or deleterious governing philosophy, the National Endowment for the Arts has proven to be a recidivistic cultural butcher.

The NEA’s process for cultivating art is informed by standards set by universities and critical theorists. Those standards of what qualify as “acceptable” contemporary art seem to be any phenomena that offends an individual’s inherent aesthetic disposition. Preferential treatment is given to those works that 1) are able to evoke the most unpleasant reaction and 2) are created with the least amount of discernible purpose. This destructive artistic praxis is thoroughly documented, and there are few examples of NEA-backed art that does not adhere to it.

Be that as it may, so what? Even if the NEA retains their funding, will the artists they subsidize produce anything that will command attention in three centuries? Anything like Peter Brueghel’s Tower of Babel (the film’s closing image)? Can a top hat worn by President Wilson really compare with the Bratina of King Ladislaus IV of Poland?

I don’t think so.