Elsewhere, 2/21/2011: The Church & Beauty, Lady Gaga, Firefly, the Prosperity Gospel & more

Amiens Cathedral Nave
The nave of Amiens Cathedral (Steven Zucker, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Katrina R. Fernandez contends that one of the Church’s principle roles is to feed people with beauty:

Churches used to be the source for transcendent beauty, the places where ordinary people could experience that overwhelming gasp-inspiring spiritual soaring because they were surrounded by it, immersed in it. Churches used to make the soul sing for God.

Beauty in the Church is essential. I don’t want God brought down from the Heavens and made ​“relatable” to me. I want to be carried up to Christ so I can meet Him there and be awestruck and changed by his beauty, expressed all around.

People often justify their ugly little parishes by saying they don’t believe in wasting money for garnishments that insult the poor. Little do they realize that their bleak and barren churches are spiritually depriving the poor by starving their very hearts and souls; hard lives ache for beauty. I often wonder why people think the poor need (or deserve) only the basic-and-bare minimums. A dreary life needs more, not less, uplifting beauty. A church should be a refuge from a harsh and ugly world, a place where deprived senses may swim in beauty. To deny us that refuge or to deny the poor a chance to be awestruck seems an injustice to me.

I’ve always been saddened by the fact that so many of the Protestant churches I’ve attended have such a utilitarian view of art, architecture, etc.

Tim Keller presents a fascinating essay on declining birth-rates and the impact of the Gospel on shaping society’s views on childrearing, marriage, and singleness:

The Christian gospel and hope of the kingdom-future de-idolized marriage. ​“Singleness was legitimated, not because sex was questionable, but because the mission of the church is ​‘between the times’ [the overlap of the ages]…We must remember that the ​‘sacrifice’ made by singles was not [just in] ​‘giving up sex’ but in giving up heirs. There could be no more radical act than that! This was a clear expression that one’s future is not guaranteed by the family but by the [kingdom of God and the] church…” (Hauerwas, p.190). “[Now, in the overlap of the ages], both singleness and marriage are necessary symbolic institutions for the constitution of the church’s life… that witnesses to God’s kingdom. Neither can be valid without the other. If singleness is a symbol of the church’s confidence in God’s power to effect lives for the growth of the church, marriage and procreation is the symbol of the church’s understanding that the struggle will be long and arduous. For Christians do not place their hope in their children, but rather their children are a sign of their hope… that God has not abandoned this world.” (Hauerwas, p.191)

Jef Raskin, the man who created the Mac interface, gives his son Aza Raskin a final gift that that testifies to the beauty and power of simplicity:

Twenty-five days before my father Jef died, on my birthday exactly six years ago, he gave me a present. He had the sparkle back in his eye — the one that had been reduced by pancreatic cancer to an ashen ember — when he gave it to me. It was a small package, rectangular in shape, in crisp brown-paper wrapping. Twine neatly wrapped around the corners, crisscrossing back and forth arriving at a bow crafted by the sure hands of a man who built his first model airplane at age seven.

This small brown package was to be the final gift my father ever gave me.

[…]

I stare at the package in my hands. In it is my father. The man who invented the Macintosh and misnamed what should be ​“typefaces” as the ​“fonts” menu. He never forgave himself for his incorrect usage of English. He groomed me to use language exactingly and considered that mistake a failure of being young and reckless with semantics. The man who invented click-and-drag was now the man who could hardly keep his gaze focused on his son. The box is, of course, smaller than a bread box. It’s a question we always ask. My family smiles only out of habit.

Humans, so far as we can tell, have the unique ability to reason about and contemplate abstract mental states, including the mental states of those around us. But what does such an idea do to our notion of God? Is God nothing more an a psychological illusion, an abstract mental state that exists only in your mind?

Consider, briefly, the implications of seeing God this way, as a sort of scratch on our psychological lenses rather than the enigmatic figure out there in the heavenly world that most people believe Him to be. Subjectively, God would still be present in our lives. (For some people, rather annoyingly so.) He would continue to suffuse our experiences with an elusive meaning and give the sense that the universe is communicating with us in various ways. But this notion of God as an illusion is a radical and, some would say, even dangerous idea because it raises important questions about whether God is an autonomous, independent agent that lives outside human brain cells, or instead a phantom cast out upon the world by our species’ own peculiarly evolved theory of mind. Since the human brain, like any physical organ, is a product of evolution, and since natural selection works without recourse to intelligent forethought, this mental apparatus of ours evolved to think about God quite without need of the latter’s consultation, let alone His being real.

Then again, one can never rule out the possibility that God microengineered the evolution of the human brain so that we’ve come to see Him more clearly, a sort of divine LASIK procedure, or scraping off the bestial glare that clouds the minds of other animals.

In a move guaranteed to garner them lots of good will, the MPAA is threatening to disconnect Google from the Internet:

Over the last few months, Google has received more than 100 copyright infringement warnings from MPAA-affiliated movies studios: most are directed at users of Google’s public Wi-Fi service but others are meant for Google employees. The MPAA is thus warning the search giant that it might get disconnected from the Internet.

Copyright infringement also violates your ISP’s terms of service and could lead to limitation or suspension of your Internet service. You should take immediate action to prevent your Internet account from being used for illegal activities,” the movie companies write in various letters, according to TorrentFreak. Although the copyright holders use strong language, these notices are nothing simply warnings, and typically do not lead to legal action.

Brett McCracken ponders the alien logic of Lady Gaga:

OK, Gaga. Even if I agreed with your illogical philosophical assertions about everything and everyone being perfect just as they are (which I don’t), how do you expect anyone to take seriously your ​“this is the right way to believe” political/​theological statements when they are couched in a persona so thoroughly, amusingly dismissive of normative truths or general sense-making?

Among its many problems, ​“Born This Way” heralds the self-defeating message that no one can tell anyone else who they are or what they ought to be, even while it assumes the privileged mantle of moral authority to assert this apparent truism in the first place.

All logical inconsistencies aside, the song is just a bleak, hopeless celebration of nothingness. If the abiding truth of reality is that everyone in the world (including me) is exactly as they ought to be — every last broken, frail, misguided, treacherous one of us — then the world is a far darker place, and virtuous existence a far more futile endeavor, than any of us previously imagined

Russell Moore looks at the ​“anti-Christian” bumper stickers that he sees on the way to his favorite coffee shop, and explains why they don’t make him angry:

Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying we shouldn’t confront culture. Jesus did, as did the prophets before him and the apostles after him. If we are, as Jesus said, ​“fishers of men” then we’ll understand that the eco-system in which the fish live matters. But we defend the gospel; not ourselves. We confront culture willing to be, as Paul said, ​“wronged” and ​“defrauded” (1 Cor. 6:7).

We know our ultimate vindication comes later. We need not then respond back to unbelievers with sarcastic barbs and slickly packaged campaigns. We have the right to religious liberty, and we ought to protect it. But we don’t have, and we shouldn’t want, the right to be free from ridicule.

My outrage at the Darwin fish in front of me often has little to do with persuading the Darwinist that there’s a more excellent way. Instead, sadly, my zeal is motivated by the very same factors that cause me to bristle when someone bashes the New Orleans Saints or tells a Mississippi joke. I consider it to be an attack on me. When that is my response to revulsion at the gospel, that becomes satanic.

Nathan Fillion has gone on record as saying that he’d love to re-launch Firefly, and several of the show’s writers have also stated their support:

When Nathan Fillion announced yesterday he’d love to step into the tight pants of Capt. ​‘Mal’ Reynolds again, we of course liked the idea, but also thought… well, what’s the chance of that? But today, now that a couple of Firefly writers chimed in to say they’d also climb on board a new Firefly in a heartbeat, we’re instead asking — could there really be a chance of that?

Not surprisingly, Browncoats have already begun a campaign to help Fillion buy the rights to Firefly.

Chaplain Mike over the Internet Monk offers of a scathing indictment of Joyce Meyer and her brand of the so-called ​“prosperity gospel”:

But Joyce Meyer and those who preach the bad news of self-righteousness are not interested in Jesus. They only care about disseminating the great American dogmas of personal effort, positive thinking, and opulent prosperity. They care only about condemning those who won’t ​“wiggle” when they should be trying to pull themselves up out of the mire. Through our faith and determination, we have become winners, they proclaim. You can become winners too, if you’ll just get off your butts and do something to get God’s attention.

This is most definitely NOT good news in the spiritual sense. It has nothing to do with Biblical Christianity. It serves only to enrich the prosperity preachers and enslave the audience in legalistic and moralistic self-righteousness. It is Christ-less, grace-less, hopeless ​“Christianity.”

In contrast, Jesus announced, ​“Blessed are the poor in spirit” — the ones who have nothing to offer, who are spiritually bankrupt, who have no ​“wiggle” whatsoever in them. They have no ​“seeds of faith” to plant. They are the helpless ones, who have no resources whatsoever. They are the prisoners who can do nothing to set themselves free, the incurably blind, the lame who cannot move move a muscle to get into the pool when the angel stirs the waters. The message of self-righteousness has nothing to offer these people — who by the way represent all of us, you and me, and everyone who walks the face of the earth.

Joyce Meyer has disrespected the dead and done a disservice to the living with this message. Let us call it what it is — bad news of self-righteousness.

Justin Fowler offers a theological defense for evolution:

[C.S.] Lewis, for his part, seemed to understand this. In ​“The Problem of Pain,” he laid out his understanding of evolutionary creation as filtered through a metaphorical reading of Genesis, in which ​“for centuries God perfected the animal form which was to become the vehicle for humanity and the image of Himself.”

At some point, these proto-humans developed self-awareness, and with this they gained the image of God and became completely human. And at some point after this, they fell. ​“Someone or something whispered that they could become gods.”

As the title of the book those quotes come from suggests, Lewis was extremely concerned with suffering, not just in humans but in animals as well. To accept evolution is also to accept an intense amplification of that suffering. Indeed, it is to accept suffering as intrinsic to the act of creation itself.

Lewis dealt with this problem by positing a variation to original sin: While sin entered human history through our earliest forebears, the universe was corrupted long before that. Evolution is, in this formulation, God making the best of a bad situation.

In light of recent statements from the developers of Firefox and Internet Explorer regarding their respective browsers, Faruk Ateş gives his definition of what, exactly, constitutes a modern web browser.

A modern browser is any browser that: successfully renders a site that you just built using web standards, testing only in your browser of choice along the way, with all the essentials functioning well; without you having written any browser-specific hacks, forks or workarounds; and shows great performance as you navigate it.

Elsewhere: A collection of interesting links and articles that I’ve come across in the last week or so. Follow me on Twitter for more of the same.