Sunday, September 8, 2013

Censorship Part 3: Art and Authority / Chewing the Cud

I said that later on I would discuss how art touches on morality (see Censorship Part 1). This is that post. While it will discuss some of the ideas presented in Art's Gift to Wisdom, I hope to make a case that art is not just a stopgap for ethics (though it does that too). No, at the bottom of every worldview is an appeal to the heart. I would say it's an appeal to beauty, but I don't want to give the wrong impression, and I believe it's more than just rhetoric as well.

Prometheus Bound by Jacob Jordaens
Kant is famous for arguing that our ethical duty is only reasonable. For Kant, the rational person fulfills their duties. We fulfill our duties because it's rational to do so. I'd like to flip that on its head. Many times, and with good reason, we reach out to the lost with the reminder that God is the final judge. If you disobey, if you rebel against God, you end up in hell. While this penalty is real, it does not completely answer the ethical question. Consider the story of Prometheus. Prometheus defied the gods and received eternal punishment for it. From the modern man's standpoint, the hero of the story is Prometheus, the one who defied the gods in order to further knowledge. Most importantly, Prometheus is the hero even though he ends up being endlessly tortured. Of course, we can still appeal to God as judge, but we must still answer this question: "Even if there is a God, why not rebel against him anyways?" The obvious reply is that the offender will get what he deserves. While this is a correct reply (and a good one), I don't think we serve a Nietzschean God. I don't think that God is a metaphysical tyrant who believes that might makes right. I believe that God is good. How is this true, and what does it mean that it's true?

For an answer to this question, I've returned again and again to this passage. "Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." God's authority is inextricably linked to his power, but more importantly, God's authority is linked to His glory. God's name is weighty, God's name is beautiful, God's name is sacred. Art is an essential part of shaping values because it assigns weight, it gives honor to, its object. God is authoritative at the last because He is glorious. His power is an inextricable part of that glory, but His Judgment is given preeminence because of who He is. Art makes its object sacred to man. Art is not merely teaching, if it can be called teaching at all. Art succeeds, not when it tells us to value something, but when we value something because we see it.