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Pornography vs. The Nude in Art: The Catholic-Christian Perspective

Posted by Tony Listi on December 9, 2011

Many colleges and universities offer art classes which necessarily involve the viewing of the nude male or female human body. There are two extreme and wrong-headed responses or approaches to this kind of situation:

  1. It is always and absolutely wrong to look at the naked human body merely for artistic reproduction or training. It is also always and absolutely wrong to publicly display such artistic reproductions of the nude body. Anybody who engages in such things is engaging in the deadly sin of lust.
  2. Looking at the naked human body, whether in person or through art, is no big deal and shouldn’t be taken seriously at all. Anybody who wants limits upon or has any concerns about the morality of looking at the naked human body are prudes who hate the human body or don’t sufficiently value its beauty and dignity.

The correct, prudent, and temperant approach is the Catholic Christian approach outlined by Blessed Pope John Paul II (JP2) in his Theology of the Body. Artistic representation of nude forms is a very complex issue because it combines very objective truths with very subjective experiences.

Let’s look at JP2’s own words: Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in American Culture, Art and Creativity, Catholicism, Moral Philosophy, Religion and Theology, Sex, The Papacy, Written by Me | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 18 Comments »

Dance and Theology of the Body

Posted by Tony Listi on June 12, 2011

Traditional dancing between men and women (i.e. ballroom dancing) is a great way to teach and illustrate Theology of the Body. Such dancing reveals visually with the male and female body what God wants men and women to be as men and women in erotic love.

1) Consent: The man should not try to force the woman to dance with him; he should ask for and have her consent. She shouldn’t have to dance if she doesn’t want to. Of course, it goes both ways; the man shouldn’t have to dance with anyone he doesn’t want to either.

Likewise, a man should not try to force a woman to date him, to be in an exclusive relationship with him, or to marry him. The man must ask her and respect her decision. And no woman should try to force a man into such things either. Love cannot be coerced.

2) Male Initiative: Traditionally, the man should ask the woman to dance. Yes, sometimes women do ask men to dance with them, but it is not the norm. The woman taking the initiative to ask in itself may not necessarily impair the dancing, but it could reflect an underlying predisposition of the man being unable or unwilling to assume proper leadership of the dance (see section on Male Leadership below), which would be a problem.

Likewise, the man should take the initiative to ask the woman out, to ask to be in an exclusive relationship, and to ask her hand in marriage. The man should prove his interest, love, and commitment. If the man doesn’t care enough to ask or can’t even muster up enough courage to ask, then he doesn’t really love her. Cowardice is self-centered and unloving, regardless of whether she says “yes” or “no.” It’s not good if the man is more worried about himself and his pride than about the woman, her well-being, and what he wants to do for her. If a sincere and loving man asks, and the woman says “no” haughtily and cruelly rather than compassionately and gracefully, then the man should realize that he is better off without such a woman, who is unworthy of his love and incapable of loving.

Yes, sometimes women take the initiative to ask men out, but again, it’s not the norm and could cause problems down the road, though not necessarily, for the same reasons as stated above for dance. At the higher and more serious level of marriage, I’ve never heard of a woman asking a man. There’s a reason for that spiritually: the man should lead and prove his love.

3) Male Leadership, Activity, & Responsibility: Once she agrees to dance, the woman follows and the man leads. The man actively chooses what dance moves will be done and where the dance will go on the floor. If both try to lead and neither follow, no dancing really occurs. In fact, in the extreme case, they hurt each other and/or part ways. If the man leads terribly, both suffer. Such leadership thus carries with it very important responsibilities. For example, the man must take pains not to lead the woman in such a way that she (or both of them) runs into other dancers on the dance floor.

Why can’t the woman lead the dance? In theory, I guess she could, but have you ever seen a dance where the woman is leading the man, spinning him, dipping him, holding him in her arms, etc.? Does it work? Does it look good? No, it doesn’t because such a dance is not in accord with the natural qualities of the male and female bodies and character (which I will discuss further in later sections). Such is the reality of dancing; different natures must be taken into account and obeyed.

Likewise, in a marriage, the husband is the natural leader, the head of the household, and thus has important responsibilities, including providing for his wife and children. Dating and courtship should be a process of the man gradually learning how to lead his girlfriend in love and service of her.

It is important to point out that Christian leadership is servant leadership. The greatest in the kingdom are the servants of others, using their power and authority to serve others rather than themselves. A leader who abuses his power and authority, lording it over others, is abhorrent. But contrary to modern thought, authority in and of itself is not evil or oppressive.

I think it is also important to point out that, despite the contrary case in dance perhaps, a good leader knows when to follow and let others take the lead, if only temporarily. A good husband has humility and knowledge of both his own and his wife’s strengths and weaknesses. He knows when to follow his wife’s lead and never dismisses or stifles her strengths. Such a good husband never really surrenders his authority but rather exercises it wisely and prudently.

So in a certain sense the man too is called to surrender, to surrender his self-interest for the sake of love and “surrender” his direct and explicit leadership role. These are the kinds of surrender that men must make if they wish to lead well.

4) Female Obedience, Surrender, & Receptivity: Again, the woman’s role in the dance is to follow. She is supposed to let the man lead her. If she doesn’t, both dancers are going to have problems dancing. This follower role doesn’t make her any less of a partner, dancer, or human being. Following is not a role of lesser dignity in dancing; it is merely different.

When a woman is a good follower of a man in dance, she is surrendering herself, especially her body, to that man. If she follows him obediently in more intimate dancing and dance moves, she surrenders her body, herself, to him even more. The more intimate the body movement the more complete her surrender.

Likewise, once married, the role of the wife is to obediently follow her husband’s lead. Admittedly though, a good husband who will lead lovingly and humbly like I described above can be hard to find these days. A woman would be better off avoiding marriage if she cannot find a man who will love her as Jesus loves the Church, eager to serve her and willing to sacrifice himself and suffer for her sake even unto death, despite her flaws, weaknesses, and imperfections.

Dating and courtship should be a process of the woman gradually learning how to trust, how to surrender herself to her boyfriend. Of course, the man has to gradually earn this trust of his girlfriend through acts of love. And the ultimate physical, emotional, and spiritual surrender and act of trust is the sexual act, which is properly reserved only for marriage because the life-long, total fidelity of marriage is a stable foundation for the total trust necessary in the sexual act.

If the woman refuses to surrender like a female dancer who refuses to be led, or if a woman never learns to surrender like a female dancer who never learns from her male lead’s physical signals what he wants her to do, the relationship will have problems, if not collapse.

Contrary to modern thought, authority and dignity are not equivalent or proportional. The fact that the husband has more authority than the wife does not mean he has any greater dignity as a human being (the same could be said about the authority of the pope and bishops in relation to Catholics and non-Catholics). So when St. Paul says a wife should be subordinate to her husband’s authority, he is not saying women have any lower dignity; he’s merely stating their specific role in the marriage dance.

5) Male Height, Size, & Strength: The male body is naturally taller, bigger, and stronger than the female’s on average. It is the man’s height and strength that makes him the natural leader of the dance, for he is able to easily spin, dip, and hold the woman. She typically cannot do the same with him. If the man is not tall enough, it will be difficult or impossible for him to spin the woman. If he is not strong enough, it will be difficult or impossible for him to dip her, hold her, and do other moves requiring strength. If the man is not tall and strong enough, both suffer.

Likewise, men should put the height, size, and strength of their bodies at the service of women and thus love the women in their lives. A man should open doors, carry things (especially if they are heavy), fix things, and provide other services to women that require strength. This principle is true generally apart from erotic love but finds greater focus and deeper expression in erotic love.  A man should use his strength and size to protect his date, girlfriend, or wife from harm, even to the point of sacrificing his bodily health or life for her sake.

Indeed, men should seek to be physically stronger for the sake of serving their girlfriend or wife. Lifting weights should not be motivated by ego (as hard as that is for us to avoid) but rather by a desire to be prepared for loving service to our girlfriends or wives, to strive for ideal masculinity. This kind of striving for strength should continue even after one has gotten married. Sometimes married men or even men in a serious relationship think they don’t have to work at being strong for their girlfriends or wives because they think strength is merely for attracting and getting women rather than also serving the one woman who is yours.

With all this in mind, it is quite natural that women desire and seek out men who are taller, bigger, and stronger than themselves. Just as naturally, men desire and seek out women who are shorter, smaller, and weaker than themselves. Despite the best of intentions, disharmony is more likely to arise where these physical inequalities are the opposite of these natural desires. Physical characteristics of the body naturally have psychological and spiritual consequences.

However, physical strength is not enough; a man in a relationship should have emotional, psychological, and spiritual strength to protect the woman’s emotional, psychological, and spiritual well-being. Indeed, this kind of protection is even more important than physical protection, so cultivating emotional, psychological,and spiritual strength is more important than lifting weights. A boyfriend or husband should be the protector of the body, mind, and soul of his girlfriend or wife.

6) Mysterious and Unveiled Female Grace, Elegance, & Beauty: The female body is naturally more graceful, elegant, and (in some sense) beautiful than the male body (perhaps I’m biased, being a man, but I don’t think so). When the female body is spun, dipped, and held, the natural grace, elegance, and beauty of the female body shine through. It’s very hard to put these mysterious qualities into words, to articulate this mystery of the female body…. But perhaps a man is in a better position than a woman to delve into this mystery.

It seems as if the male body’s leading movements in dance enhance or unveil the grace, elegance, and beauty of the female body that was hidden or not as manifest in the stillness or unrhythmic movement before the dancing. Sometimes the female body seems like it radiates a graceful, elegant, and beautiful energy and dynamism all its own that the male body merely tries to direct and contain like a nuclear reactor directs and contains enormous atomic energy.

Likewise, I’ve always observed that women seem to become more graceful, elegant, and beautiful when they are dating or in a relationship. Sure, one might say that such women have someone to be more graceful, elegant, and beautiful for, and so they take more pains to be so. Indeed, women should seek to be more graceful, elegant, and beautiful for the sake of their boyfriend or husband. Make-up, skin care, hair care, etc. should not be motivated by vanity (as hard as that is to avoid for some women) but rather by a desire to look one’s best for and thus please and serve one’s boyfriend or husband, to strive for ideal femininity.

But I think this phenomenon goes or should go beyond merely what the woman does in response to having a partner; the man who she is in a relationship with can and should draw out and unveil her grace, elegance, and beauty by means of his relationship with her, by means of his loving service of her.

Sometimes married women or even women in a serious relationship think they don’t have to work at being beautiful for their boyfriends or husbands because they think beauty is merely for attracting and getting men rather than also pleasing and serving the one man who is yours.

Of course, it is true that grace, elegance, and beauty are more than skin deep. It is more important for women to cultivate a spiritual kind of grace, elegance, and beauty that infuses the personality than for women to spend hours in front of a mirror. But the body should not be wholly neglected, for the body is who we are too.

As for marriage specifically, the ultimate unveiling of the feminine by the man happens in the sexual act and the consequent motherhood that follows. The grace, elegance, and beauty of the feminine is nakedly exposed in the marital act. The nurturing love of motherhood from development in the womb to nursing at the uncovered breast also has a mysterious grace, elegance, and beauty to it.

7) Only One Partner: A man can only ballroom dance with one woman at a time. He only has one body with two arms and two legs and can only look in one direction. The human body itself places natural limits on what the man can do in the act of dancing. Same goes for the woman.

Yes, it is possible to dance in groups, but that kind of dancing involves little to no intimacy with other human beings. Either no physical touch is involved or the physical interaction is very limited with regard to intimacy because one’s body and attention is divided between two or more other people.

Likewise, a man can only be in a serious relationship with or married to one woman. Sure, it is perfectly fine to date many people at once, to search for a partner who deserves your exclusive focus and attention. But dating is a means to an end, not an end in itself; it is a means to finding an exclusive partner. Treating dating as if it were merely a recreational activity rather than a search of love will cause harm and pain and make it even harder to obtain a stable, loving relationship or marriage.

Marriage is a “dance” in which the “song” doesn’t end until one partner dies and in which we cannot “switch” partners in the middle of the “song” without hurting ourselves, our partner, and others “on and off the dance floor.”

Just as in dance, the human body itself naturally places limits on erotic love. God designed our bodies in a very specific way sexually. Abnormalities of fallen physical nature aside, the body of each and every physiologically normal man and woman has only one set of sexual organs, of genitalia. Thus only one man and one woman can engage in the sexual act at any one time (any attempts to contradict this is a perversion). This act is the climax and consummation of the marriage and is exclusive by nature. If God had designed the male and/or female body in a sexually different way, then we Christians (Catholics) would have a different Theology of the Body. Monogamy is thus natural and right because of the exclusivity of the sexual act itself.

8 ) Focus on One’s Own Partner: Not only does the body place limits on dancing, but so does the mind. While dancing, a man must focus on his own female partner, her body, and leading her well. If the man’s attention wanders, he, his partner, and their dancing will suffer for it. The same goes for the woman. If she is not focusing on him and his leadership, problems will occur.

Likewise, dates, relationships, and marriages are going to have problems if the man or woman isn’t focusing enough on the other and is getting too distracted by others. Obviously though, erotic relationships should not consume our entire lives. Family and friends deserve our love and attention too.

But ultimately, once one is married, one’s spouse should come first before all other men and women, and one’s actions should demonstrate that. And serious boyfriends and girlfriends that could become our husbands and wives naturally deserve a degree of priority. However, good partners allow their significant others to spend quality time with their family and friends and take the time to steadily incorporate them into their own circle of friends and family.

9) Union & Intimacy: Ultimately, the goal of good dancing is union. If both the leading and following are done well enough, the dancers achieve a unity of mind and movement virtually to the point of becoming one dancing body rather than two. But unless the two dancers are of one mind first, agreeing on whether to dance and on who will lead and follow, and actually agree on such things according to their own natures, there will be no unity of body movement.

This may seem kind of obvious, but for the purposes of Theology of the Body it’s worth pointing out that you can’t really dance with someone while they’re all the way across the room or if you can’t even see them. Too much distance makes dancing impossible or, at the very least, much less intimate and hardly dancing at all.

It does not matter really whether the man and/or woman intend intimacy or not when they dance; intimate dancing creates intimacy between the man and woman. Sure, some dancing moves are inherently more intimate than others. Holding hands, standard practice in traditional dancing, is not quite as intimate as moves where the man is actually holding the woman in his arms or close to his own body, however momentarily. Yet the very fact of the man leading and initiating and of the woman following and surrendering, this reality in itself, is intimacy of some sort. So in this sense, dancing is inherently intimate. 

A man should not lead a woman into dancing moves that are too intimate relative to his actual relationship with the woman (one time acquaintance, friend, family member, girlfriend, wife?). And a woman should not surrender her body to dancing moves that are too intimate relative to her relationship with the man (one time acquaintance, friend, family member, boyfriend, husband?). Men and women who are in a serious relationship or married should discipline and guard themselves against too much intimacy when they are dancing with someone other than their boyfriend/girlfriend or spouse.

Likewise, as with dancing, erotic relationships of various levels will succeed if the man and woman are fulfilling their natural roles well and thus achieve unity of belief and action. Dating and relationships should be a process of ascertaining whether such unity is possible and of working to establish such unity where possible. Marriage should be the end goal when one has found and established sufficient unity.

With this fact in mind, it is easy to see that erotic relationships between people of radically different religions, politics, and worldviews generally are extremely difficult, if not impossible, to be truly loving because these differences prevent union. Couples have to be “on the same page” on a lot of important issues to achieve a loving union.

And of course, the obvious and ultimate union of the bodies of man and woman is the sexual act. But this bodily union cannot be loving unless an emotional and spiritual (sacramental) union precedes it. Without this previous kind of union, the physical union will merely bring pain, disharmony, and separation.

Just as with “long distance dancing,” long distance relationships are kind of an oxymoron. You can’t be in an intimate relationship with someone if you aren’t physically present to them on a regular basis (cf. the Eucharist). It is possible for relationships to endure long distance strain only if intimacy and depth to the relationship have already been built up by prior personal interaction. A marriage, if entered into seriously, should be able to withstand a short period of time of long distance (strictly speaking, a marriage should be able to survive anything with God’s grace, except the death of one spouse).

As with dancing intimacy, it doesn’t really matter whether a man and woman intend commitment or intimacy when they have sex or engage in very intimate touching. The very acts in themselves are the language of commitment and intimacy. To speak this bodily language of commitment and intimacy and yet to will and act otherwise is to lie and harm the person of the opposite sex.

Dancing of any and all kinds has always been something of a spiritual exercise, not merely physical. It is not mere motion but rather an expression of the soul. And thus dancing between men and women is naturally going to reflect the sexual spirituality of the dancers, not mere body movement.

Ballroom dancing and the ettiquete surrounding it were developed during an earlier time when the sexual spirituality of the Western world was much more Christian and thus much more grounded in truth. It is no coincidence that as ballroom dancing has declined and been superceded by unchaste grinding and more individualistic and autonomous dancing, true Christian erotic love has also declined. There is a correlation and probably a symbiotic causation involved. A lack of love leads to unloving dancing and vice versa.

Posted in American Culture, Art and Creativity, Catholicism, Moral Philosophy, Religion and Theology, Sex, Written by Me | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

Why Youth Politics Matters More than the Next Election

Posted by Tony Listi on February 28, 2010

Conservatives of all ages tend to be very short-sighted and ineffective when it comes to political warfare. They put all their energy into electoral and legislative battles but largely ignore the crucial Culture War that CampusReform.org fights daily.

When things get bad politically, conservatives volunteer and work for campaigns, for political parties, and for already elected officials. And when they win an election or legislative battle, they rejoice and go back to their normal lives…until the other side starts winning the elections and policy battles again.

But a battle here or there in itself is meaningless. Who is winning the war? The left is.

Why? Because despite the Reagan Revolution and the consequent short-lived ascendance of the Republican Party, the overall trend in public policy has been toward more government control of the economy and more government-pushed erosion of traditional moral values.

How did this happen? Conservatives have allowed the left to largely dominate the key cultural institutions that shape and determine political outcomes: schools, arts & entertainment industry, churches, and the media.

Create a leftist electorate and leftists will get elected. Simple as that.

While conservatives thought they were turning the tide in the 80s, 90s, and first half of the 00s, leftists had a better long-term strategy, steadily increasing their control over American culture, especially youth culture. All of a sudden, young people helped Barack Obama get elected, not just with their votes but also with the favorable image and winning psychology they provided him.

But which cultural institutions should be a priority for conservatives? The leftist monopoly on the media has been broken. FOX News, talk radio, and the internet have seen to that. Conservatives still do better than leftists among the church-going crowd because of the pro-life and pro-marriage factions of the conservative movement that Reagan and George W. Bush brought on board. But the left has made some gains over time, deceiving many Christians into believing that government can be compassionate and charitable.

But neither the churches nor the media has as great an influence on young Americans as do our schools and the arts & entertainment industry. Teachers unions, liberal professors, Hollywood airheads, musical blowhards, and misguided entertainers promote Big Government and immoral lifestyles among the young.

We shouldn’t have to wait and hope for sincerely misguided young liberals to grow up to become conservatives. If we take these institutions seriously and meet the challenge of reclaiming them, there will be more cradle-to-grave conservatives and more effective, intense conservative activists generation after generation.

Why are young people crucial to long-term political success?

  • It will take generations to undo what the left has inflicted on us over several generations.
  • They are future candidates, campaign staffers, campaign donors, activists, teachers, professors, artists, actors, musicians, priests, pastors, pundits, and journalists.
  • They can recruit and persuade their peers to join and be active in the conservative movement.
  • The young today become the electorate that decides tomorrow’s elections.
  • They will have children who eventually join the Culture War and the electorate that decides future elections.

Therefore, the most important policy endeavors conservatives can undertake lie in the realm of education, at both the primary and college level.

The left has understood this and is patient, fighting the daily battles always with the long-term cultural objective in mind. If conservatives want their principles to win, they will follow suit, giving priority of time and resources to supporting student activists!

Here’s what you can do to join the ranks in the broader war for the hearts and minds of American youth:

  1. Support the mission of CampusReform.org by getting active in or creating a conservative student group on your campus!
  2. Support CampusReform.org financially! Help fund political training for young conservatives!
  3. Tell all your like-minded friends about CampusReform.org! Spread the word about the crucial importance of youth politics!
  4. Make school choice for parents a top legislative priority in your state!

Posted in American Culture, American History, Art and Creativity, Culture War, Education, Elections and Campaigns, Government and Politics, Hollywood and the Film Industry, Political Activism, Student Activism, The Media, Old and New, Written by Me | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

C. S. Lewis on Barack Obama

Posted by Tony Listi on December 29, 2008

C. S. Lewis

Lewis died in 1963, so there is no knowing exactly what he would say. But I have come across some wonderful quotes from his satirical Screwtape Letters (uncle demon writing to a nephew demon on how to damn souls) that have obvious significance for what we should think of Barack Obama, the campaign he ran, and the state of American culture.

Our business is to get them away from the eternal, and from the Present. With this in view, we sometimes tempt a human (say a widow or a scholar) to live in the Past. But this is of limited value, for they have some real knowledge of the past and it has a determinate nature and, to that extent, resembles eternity. It is far better to make them live in the Future. Biological necessity makes all their passions point in that direction already, so that thought about the Future inflames hope and fear. Also, it is unknown to them, so that in making them think about it we make them think of unrealities. In a word, the Future is, of all things, the thing least like eternity. It is the most completely temporal part of time—for the Past is frozen and no longer flows, and the Present is all lit up with eternal rays. Hence the encouragement we have given to all those schemes of thought such as Creative Evolution, Scientific Humanism, or Communism, which fix men’s affections on the Future, on the very core of temporality. Hence nearly all vices are rooted in the future. Gratitude looks to the past and love to the present; fear, avarice, lust, and ambition look ahead….

To be sure, the Enemy wants men to think of the Future too—just so much as is necessary for now planning the acts of justice or charity which will probably be their duty tomorrow. The duty of planning the morrow’s work is today’s duty; though its material is borrowed from the future, the duty, like all duties, is in the Present. This is not straw splitting. He does not want men to give the Future their hearts, to place their treasure in it. We do. His ideal is a man who, having worked all day for the good of posterity (if that is his vocation), washes his mind of the whole subject, commits the issue to Heaven, and returns at once to the patience or gratitude demanded by the moment that is passing over him. But we want a man hag-ridden by the Future—haunted by visions of an imminent heaven or hell upon earth—ready to break the Enemy’s commands in the present if by so doing we make him think he can attain the one or avert the other—dependent for his faith on the success or failure of schemes whose end he will not live to see. We want a whole race perpetually in pursuit of the rainbow’s end, never honest, nor kind, nor happy now, but always using as mere fuel wherewith to heap the altar of the future every real gift which is offered them in the Present.

It follows then, in general, and other things being equal, that it is better for your patient to be filled with anxiety or hope (it doesn’t much matter which) about this war than for him to be living in the present. But the phrase “living in the present” is ambiguous. It may describe a process which is really just as much concerned with the Future as anxiety itself. Your man may be untroubled about the Future, not because he is concerned with the Present, but because he has persuaded himself that the Future is, going to be agreeable. As long as that is the real course of his tranquillity, his tranquillity will do us good, because it is only piling up more disappointment, and therefore more impatience, for him when his false hopes are dashed. (Letter XV, underlined emphasis mine)

In American politics, the words “past” and “future” have, respectively, negative and positive connotations. Is this a good thing? Did not Barack Obama’s campaign exploit futuristic jargon most successfully? Shouldn’t we be skeptical of so-called “progressive” policy schemes that play on false hopes of heaven on earth?

What we want, if men become Christians at all, is to keep them in the state of mind I call “Christianity And”. You know—Christianity and the Crisis, Christianity and the New Psychology, Christianity and the New Order, Christianity and Faith Healing, Christianity and Psychical Research, Christianity and Vegetarianism, Christianity and Spelling Reform. If they must be Christians let them at least be Christians with a difference. Substitute for the faith itself some Fashion with a Christian colouring. Work on their horror of the Same Old Thing. (Letter XXV)

From the above passage, I think it is quite clear what Lewis would think of Black Liberation Theology and the Trinity United Church of Christ. He would disapprove.

The horror of the Same Old Thing is one of the most valuable passions we have produced in the human heart—an endless source of heresies in religion, folly in counsel, infidelity in marriage, and inconstancy in friendship. The humans live in time, and experience reality successively. To experience much of it, therefore, they must experience many different things; in other words, they must experience change. And since they need change, the Enemy (being a hedonist at heart) has made change pleasurable to them, just as He has made eating Pleasurable. But since He does not wish them to make change, any more than eating, an end in itself, He has balanced the love of change in them by a love of permanence. He has contrived to gratify both tastes together on the very world He has made, by that union of change and permanence which we call Rhythm. He gives them the seasons, each season different yet every year the same, so that spring is always felt as a novelty yet always as the recurrence of an immemorial theme. He gives them in His Church a spiritual ear; they change from a fast to a feast, but it is the same feast as before.

Now just as we pick out and exaggerate the pleasure of eating to produce gluttony, so we pick out this natural pleasantness of change and twist it into a demand for absolute novelty. This demand is entirely our workmanship. If we neglect our duty, men will be not only contented but transported by the mixed novelty and familiarity of snowdrops this January, sunrise this morning, plum pudding this Christmas. Children, until we have taught them better, will be perfectly happy with a seasonal round of games in which conkers succeed hopscotch as regularly as autumn follows summer. Only by our incessant efforts is the demand for infinite, or unrhythmical, change kept up.

This demand is valuable in various ways. In the first place it diminishes pleasure while increasing desire. The pleasure of novelty is by its very nature more subject than any other to the law of diminishing returns. And continued novelty costs money, so that the desire for it spells avarice or unhappiness or both. And again, the more rapacious this desire, the sooner it must eat up all the innocent sources of pleasure and pass on to those the Enemy forbids. Thus by inflaming the horror of the Same Old Thing we have recently made the Arts, for example, less dangerous to us than perhaps, they have ever been, “low-brow” and “high-brow” artists alike being now daily drawn into fresh, and still fresh, excesses of lasciviousness, unreason, cruelty, and pride. Finally, the desire for novelty is indispensable if we are to produce Fashions or Vogues.

The use of Fashions in thought is to distract the attention of men from their real dangers. We direct the fashionable outcry of each generation against those vices of which it is least in danger and fix its approval on the virtue nearest to that vice which we are trying to make endemic. The game is to have them running about with fire extinguishers whenever there is a flood, and all crowding to that side of the boat which is already nearly gunwale under. Thus we make it fashionable to expose the dangers of enthusiasm at the very moment when they are all really becoming worldly and lukewarm; a century later, when we are really making them all Byronic and drunk with emotion, the fashionable outcry is directed against the dangers of the mere “understanding”. Cruel ages are put on their guard against Sentimentality, feckless and idle ones against Respectability, lecherous ones against Puritanism; and whenever all men are really hastening to be slaves or tyrants we make Liberalism the prime bogey.

But the greatest triumph of all is to elevate his horror of the Same Old Thing into a philosophy so that nonsense in the intellect may reinforce corruption in the will. It is here that the general Evolutionary or Historical character of modern European thought (partly our work) comes in so useful. The Enemy loves platitudes. Of a proposed course of action He wants men, so far as I can see, to ask very simple questions; is it righteous? is it prudent? is it possible? Now if we can keep men asking “Is it in accordance with the general movement of our time? Is it progressive or reactionary? Is this the way that History is going?” they will neglect the relevant questions. And the questions they do ask are, of course, unanswerable; for they do not know the future, and what the future will be depends very largely on just those choices which they now invoke the future to help them to make. As a result, while their minds are buzzing in this vacuum, we have the better chance to slip in and bend them to the action we have decided on. And great work has already been done. Once they knew that some changes were for the better, and others for the worse, and others again indifferent. We have largely removed this knowledge. For the descriptive adjective “unchanged” we have substituted the emotional adjective “stagnant”. We have trained them to think of the Future as a promised land which favoured heroes attain—not as something which everyone reaches at the rate of sixty minutes an hour, whatever he does, whoever he is…. (Letter XXV)

Is American culture obsessed with change for its own sake? Is it irrationally afraid of “the Same Old Thing”?

The truth is that the Enemy, having oddly destined these mere animals to life in His own eternal world, has guarded them pretty effectively from the danger of feeling at home anywhere else. That is why we must often wish long life to our patients; seventy years is not a day too much for the difficult task of unraveling their souls from Heaven and building up a firm attachment to the earth…. So inveterate is their appetite for Heaven that our best method, at this stage, of attaching them to earth is to make them believe that earth can be turned into Heaven at some future date by politics or eugenics or “science” or psychology, or what not. (Letter XXVIII, emphasis mine)

Do Obama and liberals believe that they can create heaven on earth?

Posted in American Culture, Art and Creativity, Christianity and Politics, Government and Politics, Liberalism, Moral Philosophy, Political Philosophy, Political Psychoanalysis, Politicians, Politics and Religion, Quotes, Written by Me | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

Sexual Attraction is Not Love: A Critique of the Movie “Closer”

Posted by Tony Listi on June 9, 2008

If you have not seen Closer, you might want to familiarize yourself with it here (will spoil the movie) or just skip this post. The style of story-telling is very clever and imaginative. The characters are powerfully portrayed by each actor. But it is the substance of the film that I am most interested in.

This movie is about 4 messed up people who cheat on each other and have no idea what love really is. It is a reflection of how dysfunctional and hyper-sexualized Western societies have become in their relationships. It is the tragic and perverse culmination of so-called sexual liberation. It is hard to find a theme or moral that is not negative in formulation (e.g. “Don’t do this!”).

Dan, Alice, Anna, and Larry are all weak, broken people. Each has their own unique faults, but all of them fail to realize what love really is. The men measure their relationships and “love” based on mere sexual attraction or in terms of power. Alice seems unable to love herself and who she is, and so she lies to herself and Dan from the very beginning. Anna is too weak to rebuff the advances of Dan and her own attraction to him, a married man. Both women prostitute themselves and thus degrade themselves. None of the characters seems to realize that love is not sexual attraction, not something that one feels. Love goes beyond mere feeling that intensifies and fades away (perhaps in cycles) with time. Love between men and women is a permanent, exclusive commitment to sacrifice for and serve one another till the death of one spouse. It is a relationship that is to be strengthened and made sacred before the eyes of God through the institution of marriage. How can love be more than bestial urges, mere irrational biochemistry, without an anchor in the Transcendent?

One line of the movie (paraphrased) stands out among others as a potential takeaway message: “Without the truth, we are nothing more than animals.” True enough. And yet Larry, the doctor character played by Clive Owen, is scrupulously honest with others throughout the film, as far as I can tell. But he behaves like a sex-crazed, vengeful animal just like the other three. He is vain and malicious. For all his honesty, he is a monster. So if the message of the movie is merely “tell the truth,” that merely begs the question: what is the truth that we should tell? How can we be honest with each other when we don’t know what the truth is?

Of course, the previous question is not quite the best interpretation either. Each of the characters knew it was wrong to cheat on their spouse. Each should have plainly seen how their choices, actions, and approach to sex and love were destroying their lives. Guilt was no mere “social construction” for the four. The real question is this: how can we be honest with one another when we aren’t honest with ourselves, when we don’t heed the moral truths written on our very hearts that are confirmed by human experience and history?

It has been said that art is a reflection of life (among other things); Closer, sadly, probably is a reflection of real life in many Western cities, especially those which embrace modern liberalism. It is gritty, sexual realism of a sort. Because the movie accurately portrays the consequences of breaking moral laws, especially with regard to sex and marital love, I cannot help but like the movie for its honesty.

But as I’ve suggested above, honesty is not enough. There was no closure to Closer. There was no offer of a better alternative to the moral chaos and misery of these characters. There was no offer of hope. Marriage is treated as a superfluous social convention rather than as something made holy and seriously contemplated. The film is devoid of any reference to the Divine, which points the way to real Love. But perhaps one cannot expect too much of one movie. The detailed intensity of the havoc of sin in the movie (especially of a sexual nature, which is often hard to demonstrate abstractly) may be valuable enough to those who already know what the alternative is or those who are spurred to search for a meaningful alternative.

But I can’t help but think that many people are going to accept the moral chaos at face value as “a fact of life” and search no deeper. Some will conclude there is no truth, no morality, no exit. Some will watch the movie and embrace its nihilism, its poetic meaninglessness. They will embrace it as a “feel good” movie because the harsh reality was “beautifully” presented. They will take hollow comfort in the beauty of tragedy without seeking a better escape. That is what I fear. That is what I object to.

Yes, art can be an honest reflection of life but it can do better than mere honesty. Art can be a reflection of Truth. It can be a reflection of moral truths, of ideals that may never exist in full in this world but which we should constantly aim towards nevertheless because the alternative is the observable fate of Dan, Alice, Anna, and Larry. Art can be a reflection of Purpose, of meaning to our lives because we embrace certain truths. Art can be a reflection of Faith, of trust and submission to something higher than ourselves, higher than the tragedy of fallen humanity. Even the ancient pagan Greeks and Romans recognized this higher plane of art. Ultimately, if art is not grounded in Truth, Purpose, and Faith, it merely intensifies the maelstrom of confusion, chaos, misery, and hopelessness.

Posted in American Culture, Art and Creativity, Culture War, Government and Politics, Moral Philosophy, Religion and Theology, Sex, Written by Me | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 58 Comments »