Thursday, July 26, 2007

On The Life of the Mind and the Pursuit of Beauty

-- Matthew R. Crawford --

In this post I hope to bring together the themes that I have discussed thus far as well as shed further light on them. Another book from my summer reading list is James V. Schall’s The Life of the Mind: On the Joys and Travails of Thinking (Wilmington, DE: ISI Books, 2006). Schall is a Catholic who teaches government at Georgetown University, and he has written numerous books on education, philosophy, and related topics. The Life of the Mind is one of the most enjoyable books that I have read in a while. There are many of us evangelicals who have rightly criticized the anti-intellectualism that mars the modern evangelical movement. However, I have not encountered a book that more effectively encourages the life of the mind than Schall’s book. Schall writes about the life of the mind with such obvious joy that it causes the reader to pursue the same. We as evangelicals must go beyond mere criticism to constructively define how the life of the mind fits into the life of the Christian. It is intriguing to me that such a book comes from the pen of a Catholic priest. I’m still trying to think through what to make of this last observation, but in the least it stirs within me the desire to see more solid evangelicals who interact with the broader Western intellectual tradition as does Schall.

Now, to the issues at hand. As I look back over my two previous posts and the comments they have generated, I see at least three themes/questions:
1) How do we help our churches to see the beauty of God?
2) How do we enjoy cultural products discerningly?
3) What is the Christian’s responsibility regarding the creation of art?

Here is a quote from The Life of the Mind that I think helps to answer these questions:

“In the ancient struggle between philosophy and poetry, Plato only allowed that poetry back into his city which was beautiful in what it held about the gods, in its rhythms, and in its melody. He knew that in the end there is only one way to counteract music or philosophy that does not glorify God as He is supposed to be glorified, and that is to produce a counter-poetry, a counter-music that is even more beautiful. To grasp the central point of Christianity in the intellectual sense means, whether we agree with it or not, to acknowledge that this poetry or myth has been produced, and that its production is not wholly something of human origin, that we did not ourselves produce it.” (88)

To summarize Schall, I think preliminary answers to the three questions would be:
1) By creating sermons, books, and art that echo the beauty/truth/goodness of God;
2) By looking for that which rightly exemplifies the beauty/truth/goodness of God;
3) To create art that resonates with this beauty/truth/goodness

To clarify that last point a bit, let me state that I don’t think this means that songs, films, poems, etc. produced by Christians must always present life in an ideal state. Francis Schaeffer wisely stated that the art produced by Christians should have a major theme and a minor theme. The minor theme is sin and the major theme is redemption. Both must be present in an artist’s corpus of work if he is to be faithful to his calling.

I think that I’m a novice in these matters. I would love to hear from some who have pondered this topic more than myself. What do you think?


Blogger Ryan Hill said...

matt...i'm enjoying your posts. I asked Owen once about cultural discernment/engagement and since this is his blog, I thought i would copy and paste his answer. It has been really helpful to me as I have tried to think about those issues. He said:

“To Ryan Hill's question about cultural engagement, I think part of Christian maturity is indeed understanding the culture. To do this, we have to engage it in some form. There is no easy answer to guide us in our cultural interaction. We each have to know ourselves and our sins and then let this knowledge shape the way we approach culture. We keep the concern for holiness close beside us as we listen to music, watch tv, and read literature. With Spirit-fueled discernment, we thus seek to understand our world and to hear its patterns of thought in the media it creates.

Each Christian will have different standards and abilities to handle secular content. The key is to be discerning, to be accountable to others, and to be careful. With that said, there is tremendous value in knowing what the culture thinks and says. Generally, though, you don't need to plunge into secular culture to understand it. You can sample it, and keep your ears and eyes open, and you'll be able to talk with lost people on their level. I don't need to watch much popular media to understand how the MTV generation thinks. I don't need 30 hours a week of secular radio to understand its various worldviews. I don't need to read through whole chick lit series to understand how teenage girls are thinking. A sampling will do. I think that's a helpful starting point.”

10:51 PM  
Blogger Joseph Gould said...

I don't have a question, but thought I would drop a good resource I have read in the past that dealt with Christians and their responsibility in the arts.

Art for God's Sake: A Call to Recover the Arts by Philip Ryken. 60 pages.

2:44 AM  

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