Saturday, May 26, 2012

Why Bad Christian Art is Anti-Christian

Bad Christian art is not only bad; it's anti-christian.  Let me explain.  This may be a bit of a rant, but let me explain.

You will notice a theme running on my blog and at the Ink Desk - it is the attempt by my fellow writers and me to express and explain the bizarre separation of the Church from the culture that surrounds it - a Western culture that the Church gave birth to, a culture that now rejects both God and man - as it fundamentally rejects the man Who was God.

For instance, I am about to unroll a new website, dedicated to opening the eyes of readers and audiences to the Christian - indeed Catholic - elements in the works of Shakespeare.  With the help of Joseph Pearce, authors and literary critics worldwide, we hope to have a web presence that will counter the bad literary criticism that has been prevalent for quite a while - a view of Shakespeare that makes him and his art a mirror of our own times - in other words, something rather sick. 

But the immediate reaction of most modernists is that Shakespeare could not possibly have been Christian, and certainly not Catholic - his plays are far too well written and far too much fun. 

The idea is that a Christian - even a Catholic - and his art must be judgmental, contrived, shallow and artificial, connected only marginally to real people and the real world.  It is an idea that many of our fellow Catholics endorse.  Examples of which include ...

  • Appallingly bad liturgical music that no almost no normal people enjoy, and that leads no one to a God that is real.
  • Parishes and Catholic schools that are all about a kind of make-believe, with no sense of concern for the human spirit, much less the Holy Spirit.
  • Bad Christian fiction and bad Christian plays and bad Christian movies.
The latter of which I want to take a moment to discuss.

Now, again, as someone in the business of producing Catholic dramatic art, I am fully aware that much of what we do at Theater of the Word Incorporated may perchance be "bad  Christian art" - but it's one thing to be bad accidentally and another thing to be bad on purpose.

When an artist sets out to make his work didactic, to make it propaganda, and a propaganda of an underlying theology which is shallow and contrived; when an artist avoids the reality of life and the depth of conflict inherent in the human soul; when (I am told) Catholic publishers reject works of fiction that include the depiction of sin (not the endorsement of sin, but its mere depiction) and when these publishers say that there's not enough praying or overt religious content in a work; and when instead of Waugh and Chesterton and O'Connor writing masterpieces, we have authors and screen writers producing stories that are a cross between a Romance novel and a Little House on the Prairie episode (as Fr. Bryce Sibley describes the situation in a provocative article in Crisis this week) ... when all this happens, then there's a problem.

The problem on the one hand leads to the Catholic Ghetto, where devout Catholics are self-segregated, accepting whatever crumbs fall their way from the slum lord artists who themselves can't afford to feed them serious art.  The problem on the other hand creates a secular culture that revels in vulgarity and sexuality and the philosophy of nihilism and non-redemption. 

And the twain do not meet.

Notice that with Jesus the twain did indeed meet - even though it killed Him. 

Our Lord descended into the muck and mire ("Can anything good come out of Nazareth?"), calling not the righteous but sinners to repentance.  He reached down into the depth of our troubled and tortured and rebellious hearts, drawing forth the worst of human nature in order to redeem it and remake it and draw it out again as one draws good wine from new wine skins. 

Thus, the Catholic Church - which is the Body of Christ - made a redeemed culture that was the only truly human and humane culture the world has known. 

Now that culture has split. 

The secular side of the split rejects the grace that only can sustain it, and becomes the kind of culture that grows in a Petri dish or that grows on old food in the back of the fridge - a Culture of  Death. 

The Christian side of the split loses touch with reality and becomes a culture that is contrived, artificial and banal - a Culture of Sterility

In both cases, art - the signature of man - becomes anti-christian, opposed to Christ; opposed to the One who was both God and man; and thus opposed both to what God really is and to what man really is - or at least to what he was really meant to be.


For more reading, see my posts on Bad Catholic Art, the Catholic Ghetto, The Most Dangerous Thing in the Word, and so forth.

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