A Bridge to Transcendence

bridgeutahby Glenn Fairman   3/7/14
C.S. Lewis once stated that it was a shorter distance for a believer in myths and mystery religions to travel to the One True God than for a soul who views life from the vantage point of disenchanted materialism. Even so, one often requires a bridge—and such a bridge may lie in the power of music, art or literature. In ages where men lived close to the Earth, the book of nature often served as a spur to the transcendent—a sunrise, a birth, a death. But such epiphanies so often require a revolution of self, solitude, and room to meditate. As we now live under the penumbra of all things synthetic, the totality of our lives are conducted under neon and accompanied by the white noise cacophony of wall to wall sensations dangling in our faces like carrots on a filthy stick.[pullquote]For the Christian, art was a medium whereby the soul was conjoined to the sublime, and stood as a good steward pointing in the direction of the Divine. [/pullquote]

The classical manifestation of art always centered on religious themes that were pagan or Christian. (Islam and Judaism have an aversion to overtly representative religious depictions in their art.) For the Christian, art was a medium whereby the soul was conjoined to the sublime, and stood as a good steward pointing in the direction of the Divine. Lewis’ aforementioned thought, delivered in his final novel, Till We Have Faces, held that pagans clearly understood the transformative rhetoric of art, while in the last century or so our aesthetic sensibility has become greatly leveled in stature.

For the moderns, art has been reduced to pure expression: a mirror held up to and reflecting the decline of the emancipated soul. As such, in much of post- modern art, the medium reveals anarchy rather than a unitive character of being. And art is now showcased in its extreme incarnation as civilizational provocateur— both challenging and undermining the classical rendering while it obsesses with its meager diet of humanism, or indeed, nihilism.

The crippled spirit of the West now views art as liberator; art as a fun house mirror of distortion; art as destroyer. When the horizon of man’s aesthetic is solely focused on plumbing the dark waters of becoming rather than ProdigalSoncontemplating the sublime or beatific vision, art and poetry (in the inclusive sense) serve as corrosive mediums – mostly due to their innate power to persuade the human mind either in the direction of vice or virtue. And for men who swim in the forgetful waters of post modernity, art tends to point not in the direction of goodness, but is increasingly celebratory of our own wearisome carnality.

Enduring in a time of spiritual barbarism where the eclipse of God is deemed a foregone conclusion, we live the lion’s share of our lives hidden away in tombs of stucco and drywall — as nature’s rhythm grows faint and all that is artificial commands our attention and skews our perspective. Our arts seldom serve any longer as guides for our ascension, but instead coax us to blindly embrace only the tomb that is the world. In truth, the spirit that seems to permeate our art and literature is almost exclusively the insipid dogma of the Self-Creating Man whose sacraments have been shrunk down to the power of his money and the quality of his orgasm. How difficult it is in such an age to lift up one’s eyes, turn around, and make one’s way out of such a formidable Cave — as a prelude to mounting up into that most radiant of lights.
Glenn Fairman writes from Highland, Ca. He can be reached at arete5000@dslextreme.com. • (5063 views)

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32 Responses to A Bridge to Transcendence

  1. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    Dennis Prager (roughly paraphrasing him) says that traditionally art was meant to evoke beauty or the sublime. Now art is simply meant to shock. Vulgarity and nihilism are its primary colors.

    And I believe that fits in quite consistently with what you said.

    In short, for the secular person, life is something to be pissed on because it doesn’t live up to expectations. To be cynical and dismissive is to be hip. For just about anyone else with the mindset of that above a spoiled child, art is a chance to explore all that you said and more, to appreciate the beauty of existence — broadly defined, which sometimes includes the sadness.

  2. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    One thing about the secular culture, it really can’t imagine anything grander than the orgasm, something Glenn made reference to. To see only the material in this universe is to suffer from psychological and spiritual astigmatism.

    If one sees nothing higher than the material, then all one has left to do is to venerate the profane, for in this worldview nothing is, or can be, divine.

    So instead of stoking emotions and thoughts that raise one’s sites, the instinct becomes ingrained to run away from them, thus vulgarity and nihilism as the primary colors of secularism.

    And this isn’t just caused by a political intransigence, of people stubbornly sticking to the dogma of their ideology. A person whose scope is limited by the material simply has nowhere else to go. If existence has no deep meaning then the only thing left to do is to burrow down, not out or up. And this leads to creating a kind of perverse meaning in vulgarity; or, at best, to find meaning in the mundane—a kind of mundane usually presented in superficial wrappings in order to try to dress it up, for the human heart (even one immersed in secularism) is drawn to something more.

    If one is of this secular mindset, one needs to keep doing this, which eventually does lead to praising the vulgar even if the more harmless mundane is the first object of this thin veneration. It’s a way to keep reassuring oneself, to keep those grander thoughts and feelings at arm’s length. It’s an ingrained whistling past the graveyard.

  3. steve lancaster says:

    Well said Glenn and Brad,

    Art of all kinds should bring to the listener, viewer or reader an opportunity to share a truth. We may disagree on what that truth is, but no adult will argue that it does not exist. “Ninety percent of [science fiction] is crud, but then, ninety percent of everything is crud.” said, Theodore Sturgeon. That may be a little severe, but we have to ask about the winnowing process of time.

    In no ones idea of the future will Miley Cyrus greatest hits be on whatever replaces iTunes, nor will the photography of Andres Serrano, (piss Christ), see you have already forgotten him as part of the 90%.

    What will still be considered art, is the Bible, Shakespeare, the symphonies of Beethoven and many other sculptors, composers, and writers including Homer. One of the things that give me hope for China is that millions of children are learning western classical music, from Hayden to Mahler. There may be an element of know your enemy in teaching, but there is a hidden force to the art that leads to liberty.

    For me, the themes of Beethoven’s 9th have profound meaning, “Alle Menschen werden Brüder”. Friedrich Schiller words, Beethoven’s music a perfect blend.

    It is rumored that during the destruction of the Warsaw ghetto, Jewish musicians would play Beethoven to invoke German genius in the face of German madness. I don’t know if that happened but it could have and that is enough.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      Piss Christ reminds me that, for the Left, art is first and foremost political. Rather than probing the depths of the mystery of Creation, the Leftist-secular propensity is to often use art simply to paint propaganda.

      That’s not to say that Christian art hasn’t been used to try and spread the faith. In fact, that has historically been perhaps its central purpose. But no one complains (or few do) if Wrigley’s advertises their chewing gum. The product is clear. There is no attempt to fool, only to enhance, embellish, and entice.

      The same with Christianity. We know it’s a religion. We know the basic tenets. There’s nothing to be snuck in the back door. But with the Left, their art is usually meant to promote a political cause. And truth has absolutely nothing to do with the promotion of their political cause. Art is thus ruined of its power to uplift. It might incite, but not uplift.

      Dennis Prager says that everything the Left touches it makes worse. This is an undeniable truth. And include philosophy and metaphysics in that as well. We are becoming a culture that is having a hard time experiencing reality because we’ve become accustomed to the lies.

      Of course, if you read Hitchens, Dawkins, Dennett, or Harris, you’ll understand that all religion is bullshit. It’s all a lie. But that’s not even the question of immediate importance. My opinion is that the books they write are used as anti-bibles. They are where you go to assure yourself not to have deep feelings, to not embrace the sublime, to not chase even the barest understanding of the Divine.

      • Timothy Lane says:

        “Piss Christ” is also a reminder that the Left’s favorite art is meant to inspire (or at least evoke) Hate. And one might also remember that the dispute was not over any desire to censor Andres Serrano (the photographer), but the National Endowment for the Arts taking money from taxpayers (many of whom were precisely those Serrano deliberately insulted) to pay for the crap.

        Note, too, that even as Slick Barry and Slick Hilly were prating of “freedom of religion” and the necessity of enduring “disgusting” anti-religious material, “Piss Christ” was on display at a NYC art museum not far from the UN. If they had been sincere, they could have used it as an example of what they meant.

  4. Glenn Fairman says:

    In 1974 or thereabout, I had the rather bizarre honor of eating dinner at Theodore Sturgeon’s home in the Hollywood Hills. His wife was a constant at that time on PBS and was a noted expert on Renaissance foods. One of my classmates made a connection with her and a handful of us were invited to their home, without a teacher. Well, apparently Weena Sturgeon neglected to tell her husband and when a dozen of us showed up unexpectedly at the front door, the bohemian home was in disarray. Their toddler son was running around the house naked and Weena cooked up some Vegan Tacos for us. Scattered around the floor of the home (amidst the child’s excrement) were trophies that upon closer inspection were Hugo and Nebula awards. We knew nothing of Ted Sturgeon at the time and he told us about life as a writer and gave us beers to drink. When he warmed up he wasn’t such an odd fish, but in later years when I got hooked on Vonnegut, I made the connection to Kilgore Trout, Vonnegut’s perennial character whose bizarre B-grade Science Fiction stories were interlaced with graphic pornography so that publishers could claim “redeeming content” and skirt censorship. This really doesn’t have much to do with this thread, but Steve just jogged the old brain cells.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      I never read Kilgore Trout (and very little Vonnegut in general), but Philip Jose Farmer would be a likelier target in terms of pornography. Interestingly, when the subject of censorship came up at a panel at the last RiverCon. Farmer — with his history of battles over sexual content — volunteered that the biggest problem as of then (and undoubtedly far worse today) was political correctness.

  5. Timothy Lane says:

    I have a sizable number of collections of art, of which the only one within the past 150 years (aside from SF/fantasy art) or more is M. C. Escher. I tend to prefer artists such as the Dutch Old Masters (I have collections by Rubens and Rembrandt) and 18th century British portraitists. But some of my art can be considered either religions in one form or related, such as collections by Hieronymus Bosch and Michelangelo, as well as the English moralist William Hogarth.

    Christopher Hitchens once fatuously said that religion has brought nothing good. Leaving aside the history of reforms such as eliminating the slave trade, I found it remarkable that he could so casually an abundance of great religious art, music, and literature.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      Yes, one thing you can say for Hitch as that he apparently wasn’t a complete and total useful idiot for Islam as most on the Left are. I’ll give him that. But that effect is probably produced within the context of “religion poisons everything.” As you brilliantly stated earlier, Timothy:

      Christopher Hitchens once fatuously said that religion has brought nothing good. Leaving aside the history of reforms such as eliminating the slave trade, I found it remarkable that he could so casually an abundance of great religious art, music, and literature.

      That kind of intellectual blindness does not, in the end, paint Hitchens (at least in my eyes) as an intellectual giant. I’ll give him full credit (as Mr. Kung has pointed out to me) that he had full command of the English language like few others. But a dull saw that cuts the correct length of wood is better than a razor-sharp one that cuts well but at a mis-measured pencil line.

      • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

        “But a dull saw that cuts the correct length of wood is better than a razor-sharp one that cuts well but at a mis-measured pencil line.”

        A nice metaphor.

  6. Glenn Fairman says:

    Hitchens will go down as one of the great mysteries, having been able to wrestle into submission (at least for his purposes) ideas that were in complete contradistinction. He was quite conversant with the bible, and although he frequently debated John Lennox and others, ( and was roundly handed his ass ) there was a rebellious core within him that reason could not permeate. While his brother is a Christian lecturer, Chris Hitchens monumental intelligence and loquacity would not bend a knee, even on his bed of pain. We are diminished by his loss.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      …there was a rebellious core within him that reason could not permeate.

      There we come to the core of “the bridge to transcendence.” Man’s first requirement (assuming he thinks he has any metaphysical requirements) is at least to peek above his own ego. He may not need to transcend it (which would be akin to Buddhism, which C.S. Lewis calls the heresy of Hinduism). But if he is to become more than the equivalent of poor Pavlov’s dog, forever salivating at, and responding to, the same old bones, he must at least take a peek past his own ego and sense of omniscience.

      For many people, such as C. Hitchens, his juicy-chess-club brain was his sword. And who willingly lays down his most potent weapon?

      I’m at odds with the idea that “man is a political animal.” I say that man is just that if he has no higher aspirations than using his brain and other attributes for endless jiu jitsu-like sparring. Whatever faith and metaphysical views one ends up with, while surely important, they are at the very least an open announcement that man is indeed not the center of the universe and the measure of all things.

      • Glenn Fairman says:

        Zoon Politikon –Man the Political Animal deals with the political in its full classical sense. Man is a valuing, judging, weighing, aspiring creature who seeks the nominal good and does so by virtue of living in a community. He does not live in solitary fashion like a beast or a god. His gregarious nature presupposes the forming of alliances and institutions to bring his conception of good to its fruition, and this makes him a political being since the polis is, like the family, inherently natural.

        • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

          Wasn’t “Zoon Politikon” one of Frank Zappa’s children?

          And as far as man being necessarily a political animal due to the fact that he is a social animal and so the adjudicating of differences and regulating of life are part and parcel of his existence, I agree.

          But we can appreciate what a “political animal” is from living in our times where “political” equals “raw and blind partisanship to the point of destructiveness.” It’s one thing for, say, a Christian (who defines himself as Christian first) to engage in the political arena in the normal course of civic life. It’s another thing for his politics to be his religion. And that is what we find today that is so destructive among so many. People define themselves by their politics first, not in regards to their identity as a Christian, not as an American, not even as a human being.

          Thus the Left truly does fashion man into the “political animal,” whereby all things, all thought processes, all aspects of life are said to be political and/or have political implications.

          Man is also a lover, too, but imagine if we took this to an extreme and we all became sex-crazed fiends (which, in reality, is part and parcel of the radical materialist secular view of the Left as well to some extent).

          Man as a spiritual being (broadly defined) does not doom him to constant mindless axe-grinding – the very nature of politics, it seems to me — wherein he simply wears the same rut he’s walking in deeper and deeper. He is free to use his mind for complex, even sublime thoughts. One can be C.S. Lewis as opposed to Jon Stewart.

          • Glenn Fairman says:

            My point was that the modern rendering of politics is far narrower than the conception of Aristotle who coined the phrase in his Politics. A man who is defined by his politics sui generis is an ideologue, and abstract ideologies are insufficient sieves to strain the human soul. Some of the most horrible individuals of modernity were successful in viewing existence through an ideological template—-to the abject horror of those who fell under their spell.

          • Steven Craig West says:

            Well I’m not the one who initiated this problem we, “are faced with. Those who got greedy and stole are. And then to let themselves be a lap dog to other peoples causes and squashes(oppression/suppression) are. One should never sit in the seat of the scorned or stand in the way of a sinner, Such a man is blessed. Transcendence is of a gift by GOD! But for those that are in that realm (REAL M AN)/REAL M E) and are almost always in the loop. (Full circle) with GOD as the center. then information doesn’t usually bypass us without us noticing. hint hint

  7. steve lancaster says:

    Hitchens is one of a few atheists that I would care to share a meal and a beer or two. We are truly diminished by his loss and I suspect that the argument continues at Peter’s gate. One other is Penn Jillette, but count your fingers when you shake hands. 🙂

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      Hitchens had a fine mind that perhaps was a bit too in love with itself, to in love with “reason,” if you will. He had two or three basic core tenets that were wrong. It’s a shame he didn’t clean them up before he died.

      I see David Horowitz as sort of the reformed Christopher Hitchens. That man has questioned his basic tenets and came out of it alive and stronger. To some extent, Hitchens was just an eloquent regurgitator of the same old stale Leftist memes.

      I wasn’t a huge fan of his. I appreciate more the honest ignorant common man than the “intellectual” whose ignorance is masked by great eloquence. What a waste. And a cautionary tale for all of us.

      • Timothy Lane says:

        One nice thing about Hitchens is that he once pointed out that George W. Bush had done more against religious tyranny (by fighting jihadism) than all the liberals who prate about it but never seek to oppose jihadism. This showed that he could place principle above partisanship, and also that his opposition to religion wasn’t purely christophobic (as is the case with so many atheists).

  8. john hartnett says:

    Another excellent piece. True and right as a hard-driven nail. And I sensed a mood of weariness in this piece with the mess that is modernity. Maybe because it is my mood and my own sense.
    I’ve been having a debate with a friend concerning ugly churches, which, to me, are abominations. Ugliness where, more than anywhere else, beauty demands to be expressed in those houses of God which should call to mind He Who is the architect of beauty itself.
    Alas, I found out that he served on two committees over the years charged with reviewing architects’ proposals on the design of new (Catholic) churches, and subsequent selection, the outcomes of both of which, are …well, disheartening to say the least. I’m being kind here.
    My point being that this parasitic sewage, spawn of the disordered nature of nihilism, has permeated so deeply into the modern psyche that even those who should know better can no longer recognize the infection for what it is. And so confusion reigns awaiting the return of the light of Truth.
    Thanks for your works. Too many columnists today have nothing to say, just prattle. But you’re not among those.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      Glenn is indeed a treasure. And we’re lucky to have him around. I told him once that “This site is your site.” And I’m sure at the time he looked at me as if I was some deranged Buckley wannabe looking for short-term “chops” in order to make a name for this site. (Actually, I was simply desperate for content and knew an ace when I saw one from long experience.)

      But the goal of this site is righteous obscurity. Let’s help amplify the Glenns and Deanas of the world so that one day they’re speaking at CPAC. I’d rather serve in Heaven than rule in Hell.

      My point being that this parasitic sewage, spawn of the disordered nature of nihilism, has permeated so deeply into the modern psyche that even those who should know better can no longer recognize the infection for what it is.

      That is the truth there, never spoken better.

  9. Glenn Fairman says:

    As a superannuated grad student in the early 90’s, when thoughts of academia still danced in my pointed head, I went to a CPAC conference in LA and was mulling around the bling table (free stuff) in the back and caught David Horowitz filling his coffers. At the time, we resembled each other in the extreme and were dressed in like fashion. He eyed me rather apprehensively and mumbled something to me about an author. Years later, I encountered him on a plane to Dubya’s first inauguration. Those were heady times. Anyone who has read his political bio par excellence knows the burden of guilt he carries for his days as a red diaper baby. As the sage said, “Ideas have consequences.” Can a man take fire into his bosom and not be burned?

  10. Rosalys says:

    Ah! C.S. Lewis! I read the Chronicles of Narnia many, many many years ago, not as a child but in my late teens/early twenties. I recently purchased the Focus on the Family audio CDs to listen to in my car. I had almost forgotten what a thoroughly delightful, charming writer he was and I’ve made the decision to re-read those books I have read already as well as seek out and read those works of his I have not read.

    One of the things that really strikes me is the difference in good children’s literature of yesteryear as opposed to the garbage children are bombarded with much of the time today. Too many children just aren’t allowed to be children anymore.

    I am loving this website! Not only the articles but the comments where the discourse is thoughtful as opposed to the usual snarky stuff that goes on in other forums. I suppose it is only a matter of time before the trolls discover this site…sigh!

    “…for the Left, art is first and foremost political.” For the left EVERYTHING is political! The left destroys everything; it’s all they know how to do and it’s a full time job.

    “The same with Christianity. We know it’s a religion. We know the basic tenets. There’s nothing to be snuck in the back door. But with the Left, their art is usually meant to promote a political cause. And truth has absolutely nothing to do with the promotion of their political cause.” Indeed! The truth is they HAVE to lie, because if they were to come right out and tell people what they really think, few people would listen to them. But the ends justify the means. And when they finally usher in the new socialist paradise the way it’s suppose to be, then we will all bow down and call them blessed because it’s for our own good, don’tcha know!

    • Timothy Lane says:

      I started reading the Narnia books about 30 or so years ago, when I was about 30, after seeing a TV cartoon version of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and realizing that I remembered it from school (to be precise, I vaguely remembered the significance of Turkish delight, and the scene in which Lewis listed various types of monsters in Jadis’s army — including orkneys, which for some reason I remembered 20 years later).

  11. Glenn Fairman says:

    I think the amazing thing about the Narnia series, and in general all of Lewis’ corpus, is the economy of words. None of these books extends past 110 pages but so much action occurs. Every book is just right. I find that when I try to unpack Lewis’ writing, so many thoughts are concentrated within his prose…….I suppose it is better to leave it to the master and just deliver up a sea of quotations.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      Well, the Narnia books were written for children, so naturally they aren’t too long (though J. K. Rowling certainly didn’t follow that pattern). But his adult books (most notably That Hideous Strength) are longer.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      Right now I’m reading Lewis’ “The Grand Miracle” which is an apologetic regarding miracles, per se, but the overall theme is an apologetic of Christianity, in general, and is therefore a critique of modernism. And what I find fascinating is that the crap that is going on today in America was going on in 1945 England. This is a prolonged and concerted effort by some force to knock over Western Civilization and tear it completely from its roots.

      In this book is a reference to Arnold Lunn’s book, The Third Day. I would recommend that most here read the introduction to this book.

      Lewis’ book is not simply the defense of miracles. It’s also a critique (one going with the other, of course) of naturalism. Here are some of his brilliant words regarding the oddities of modern physics (and surely he is speaking of quantum physics):

      Statistics were introduced to explain why, despite the lawlessness of the individual unit, the behavior of gross bodies was regular. The explanation was that, by a principle well known to actuaries, the law of averages leveled out the individual eccentricities of the innumerable units contained in even the smallest gross body. But with this conception of the lawless units the whole impregnability of nineteenth-century naturalism has, as it seems to me, been abandoned. What is the use of saying that all events are subject to laws if you also say that every event which befalls the individual unit of matter is not subject to laws. Indeed, if we define Nature as the system of events in space-time governed by interlocking laws, then the new physics has really admitted that something other than Nature exists. For if Nature means the interlocking system, then the behavior of the individual unit is outside Nature. We have admitted what may be called the subnatural. After that admission what confidence is left us that there may not be a supernatural as well? It may be true that the lawlessness of the little events fed into Nature from the subnatural is always ironed out by the law of averages. It does not follow that great events could not be fed into her by the supernatural: nor that they also would allow themselves to be ironed out.

      Another brilliant insight is:

      As regards material reality, we are not being forced to the conclusion that we know nothing about it save its mathematics. The tangible beach and pebbles of our first calculators, the imaginable atoms of Democritus, the plain man’s picture of space, turn out to be the shadow: numbers are the substance of our knowledge, the sole liaison between mind and things. What nature is in herself evades us; what seem to naive perception to be the evident things about her, turn out to be the most phantasmal.

      I may have slightly damaged a friendship not too long when I pointed out that the “multiverse” was simply a wild and ungrounded desire by atheists to avoid any kind of beginning. As Lewis points out in this book, those who are naturalists (materialists) need to believe that nature has always been, for to suggest that something is primary to nature is not to ruin their science, per se, but to ruin the secular religion’s most cherished and central dogmatic belief.

      • Timothy Lane says:

        Back when I was at Purdue, a friend argued against the idea of a tachyon universe (or even tachyons — faster-than-light particles with a notional imaginary rest mass to make the math work) on the basis that they could not be detected and thus were not really scientific (which doesn’t make them false, be it noted). This is the same flaw in the concept of a multiverse. It’s simply an object of faith substituting for another (i.e., Yahweh or some such creator). But (like tachyons) it sounds scientific rather than religious, just as (e.g.) global warming aka “climate change” does, so that believers can pretend that it isn’t a secular faith.

        • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

          I’m glad you brought those points us. It reminded me of the passage in “The Third Day” by Arnold Lunn:

          The word Science is derived from “scientia,” which means knowledge. A correct explanation of a given phenomenon which enlightens us as to its cause is “scientific”, be that cause a natural or a supernatural agent. There is not the least scientific justification for the belief that a particular group of agents must be excluded from the field of research. This is as if Le Verriere had been restricted by his terms of reference to explaining all planetary “perturbations” in terms of planetary agents known to, and classified by, astronomers.

          What is “scientific” has been intentionally and artificially restricted to a radical materialist worldview (which is usually mixed up with a quite political view as well). We see the ultimate results of this one of yuze guys mentioned some secular schmo who said he didn’t think his own self existed. And the other end, they are willing to inflate the universe into an infinity of speculations — all to protect their radical materialist view.

          That’s not science. That’s being dogmatic and close-minded.

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