The Church Militant: Born to Struggle

by Christian Ohnimus                                                                         Wednesday, November 27

In writing on Hell and the contrasting views between Catholics Michael Voris and Fr. Robert Barron I received quite the response. Mostly, such responses centered on the issue of Hell itself and whether I was right or wrong regarding my views on Hell. While important, and an issue I want to continue to contemplate and discuss, I want to set the issue aside entirely for a moment and focus solely on what led me to write that article in the first place: namely, how we are supposed to confront disagreement both between fellow Catholics as well as between Catholics and non-Catholics. Also, while my criticisms are specified towards Mr. Voris and churchmilitant.tv my message is meant as a  general response to all who employ similar methods including notably anti-Voris types like Novus Ordo Watch. Furthermore, I want to make it crystal clear that by voicing my concerns it it not my intention to malign Mr. Voris. I don’t doubt his sincerity in the faith, question his Catholicism, or deny any good that has come from his work. However, while I make no judgement in regards to Voris’ intentions I do think his methods are erroneous and do possible damage to the very church which he so fervently seeks to defend.

My previous concern regarding Voris’ response on the issue of Hell was not that he states to positively know that souls have been damned there but his harsh criticism of any Catholic who hopes and prays for the salvation of all. Here and elsewhere Mr. Voris questions the very Catholicity of those who disagrees with him, calling them part of the “Church of Nice”, presumably in contrast with the Church Militant thereby implying that such Catholics who hope and pray for the salvation of all or who attend the Novus Ordo Mass operate outside the Catholic Church. Voris seems to possess one tool in his toolbox and when all you have is a hammer then everything looks like a nail, including your fellow Catholics. While there is such a thing as a Church Militant we are not meant to form a military and our objective is not to crush our enemies – especially if those “enemies” happen to be the neighboring Catholic also struggling to reach Heaven like you. While soldiers in the military may be a useful analogy at times, to Voris this seems to monopolize his entire ministry. Catholics are “born for combat”, his website is adorned with military camouflage, his symbol of choice is a sword, and of course there is his repeated use of condemnation and incendiary language with little or no pursuit of solidarity or understanding of others evident.

That is a mistake and not in the spirit of the Church Militant and here’s why. The Church Militant first must be understood as part of a whole. In addition to the Church Militant there is the Church Triumphant (those who are in Heaven) and the Church Suffering (those who are in Purgatory) and together, these three parts form the whole: the Communion of Saints.

The Latin word militans has a primary meaning of “serving as a soldier, military”, but it acquired a secondary meaning of “to struggle, to make an effort”, which is the intended sense in Church Militant. Christians on earth are still struggling against sin in order that, when we die, we may go to Heaven and be members of the Church Triumphant, those who have triumphed over sin. Therefore, what makes us “militant” is not that we are warriors “born for combat” but our struggle against sin and the effort to reach Heaven.

The Church Triumphant has found victory, not in razing enemies but in being raised to Heaven. We should look to the Church Triumphant as our model of what we should become or hope to gain while the Church Militant is what we are now, unfinished and imperfect. The Church Suffering is what we will endure for our struggles as the Church Militant as we are made perfect and whole again for Heaven.

The object of the Church is evangelization: to preach the gospel and convert everyone, both in and out of the Church, so that we may ultimately join the Church Triumphant. The goal is Heaven and the Church is the straightest path there. As such, I hope that we can all agree that anything within the Church that blocks that path is bad, anything that serves as an obstacle to the salvation or bars access to the gospel fails in its purpose. Conversely, that which furthers the message of the gospel and leads souls to salvation is good.

One tool in spreading the gospel is of course condemning that which is contrary to it. However, this is just one tool and must be used appropriately. I fear that people like Voris focus on the use of such “weapons” at the neglect of our ultimate mission and at charity’s expense. Before anyone accuses me of being a parishioner of the “Church of Nice” and misunderstanding charity as ooey-gooey feelings of “love” let me make it clear that I fully understand that real love means willing the good of the other and that seemingly harsh tactics may sometimes be justified under “tough love”. However, should such tactics fail we can respond in different ways. One response is to try to meet God’s fallen children where they are at, seeking to inform them of God’s justice by first exposing them to His love and mercy for them. Another response is, having removed any doubt that they may possess even a shred of ignorance to spare them of culpability, to condemn the sinner for not repenting as soon as their sins are announced to them, and then continue to list their sins. Voris seems to take the latter approach, repeating his condemnations without reprise, as he does battle against unrepentant sinners (or faithful Catholics unfortunate enough to possess a difference of opinion). That’s not tough love, but it is militaristic.

There is certainly a war going on and the church on Earth is indeed in crisis. However, it is always in crisis. That’s what makes it the Church Militant. However, Christ gives us hope and we know that the Church will never be annihilated. The continual crisis of the Church is not over her existence but over the salvation of souls. Our enemy is Satan; everyone else are casualties, casualties on our side. It is not against them whom we wage war; it is Satan we will conquer. As for the sinners, we must bring them into the fight to struggle beside us. Like a field hospital, the church heals those harmed by sin until they are in fighting condition and able the join our ranks. What greater blow can we land against the enemy (Satan) than to heal those he tempted into harm?

Reader and blogger Tyler Nethercott, at the end of a long response to my post on Hell mourns that the Catholic Church, for the last fifty years, has focused less on condemnation of errors, choosing instead to evangelize more through the emphasis of common ground. What matters is that we stay true to the gospel. As for the approach we take we must meet the people where they are at as charity demands. In the Middle Ages when the world was Christian and the Pope was as powerful as emperors, condemnation of error was a far more powerful tool in leading men to salvation. Today that is no longer the case and most people run away from such methods, never learning the fullness of God’s Truth, perhaps lost to Satan, our enemy, forever. Thus, in subjecting their methods to the ultimate end of salvation, the Church has wisely chosen to approach the world in a way that it can hear. To condemn this as abandoning the Church Militant for the “Church of Nice” represents prioritizing the tools in our toolbox over the ultimate object of our struggle for which such tools were designed. The point of the Church Militant is not to be perfect, the point is for our struggle to lead us to Heaven so that we may become perfect as the Church Triumphant. That is what people like Voris don’t seem to get and why I believe their approach hurts the Church. We need to stop making the struggle for Heaven a war of “us versus them”, no matter how well-intentioned, and instead meet people where they are at. Its uncomfortable, I know. We have to get dirty, deny ourselves and, yes, even be nice to people we don’t like but we do it so that we may share in Communion with God as Church Triumphant. If they’re not all perfect militants, well, that’s what Purgatory is for.

Christian Ohnimus is a registered nurse in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He holds a Bachelors of Science in Nursing from Franciscan University. He is a contributor to The Porch and The Catholic Renaissance.

Jovially Correct

Do you hate being Politically Correct? Do you despise the PC police? Do you want shove their multisyllabic corrections into a grave and then dance on it?

Well I have a solution! Fight politics with jolly! Be jovial instead of partisan.  Be Jovially Correct ((echo)ect ect ect)!

What does this mean? It means taking things in stride instead of being offended by nonexistent hidden agendas. It means searching out the mirth in the earth instead of believing that behind every pronounced utterance is a conspiracy of the powerful to degrade the elitist. It means finding the hidden irony left behind by God’s magnetic personality instead of dumping on a conversation just because you were left out.

G.K. Chesterton

G.K. Chesterton (Photo credit: giveawayboy)  I bet you he was jovial.

What does this mean in practice? Lets say you were at a party and you used the (gasp) third person pronoun ‘he’ to refer to a person with unknown gender. The Politically Correct (TM) will immediately rush at this  instance claiming you are chauvinist (true story) and maybe even try to be helpful by that irritating interruptional phrase ‘or she’. But my dear Jovially Correct, don’t let that get you down. With the power of the JC (patent pending) behind you you can quip ‘or dinosaur’ without missing a beat. Or we find the JC personage having to fill out a form with (the horror!) an ‘ethnicity’ section (when all they want is your race). The power of the JC will check Native-American (born in Michigan after all), African-American (all humans descended from Africa, right?), and Hispanic-American (Hispanic means from Spain).

How do you get such awesome power? Realize the lies of the PC as lies. Accept the power of the jolly, and enjoy life no matter what comes at you. Even if what comes at you is ObamaCare.

Joshua Fahey is a Chestertonian Software Engineer who gets really annoyed when unnecessarily corrected.

In Pursuit of Friendship

I have what I suppose is the distinct honor of writing to you on the fiftieth anniversary of the death of the great C. S. Lewis. He is a man of such broad strokes that I cannot do his life justice here (he is, for example, still considered a must read for students of medieval literature). But I likewise feel this day should not pass wholly without comment.

In my life Lewis has had a significant impact on my understanding of love, particularly that love we call friendship. The book of Sirach (ch. 6), Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics (books 8 and 9) and Lewis’ Four Loves have formed the core of this study. But why am I interested in friendship? Because it is dying.

You may think me melodramatic or grandiose, but I am in all the senses serious. Social media wants us to believe we are more connected than ever before, yet this falls well short of any classical friendship. We know more people (in every sense of that word) yet what do we know about these people? Do we even see that they are people?

There are many fingers that can be pointed here and I’d like to only spend a moment with one: the reductio ad cupidem. everything is reduced to the romantic (and all romance is sexual). There is a specific friendship example that came from a Catholic source: a female friend of mine was reading a book about being single (perhaps uniquely on how it was not something to be content with if you are called to marriage). One section of this book was on guy friends, specifically married ones. It laid out a simple rule: you must be closer friends with the guy’s spouse than him. A male friend was always a potential romantic partner.

For much of my life (both Protestant and Catholic) this position was somewhat normative for me. No longer. Permit a practical example: imagine a man (or woman) with same-sex attraction. This doctrine of friendship would forbid them any close friends of the same sex (the individual attracted to both sexes would be allowed no friends).

The heart of the problem is simple: desire. If I want you to be my friend, I desire you. Under the reductio this desire is erotic (we don’t even have room for romantic desire anymore). Culturally it is hard to imagine telling someone you desire them without it being sexual. But the friend desires the other, sees the good of the existence of the other and does not want to be without it. We must relearn how to desire another beyond the bounds of sexuality.

Where does this leave us as friends? Contra the world friendship is not passive; it is not something that you simply let happen, that takes you along for the ride. Christians are good at seeing this fact in romance but miss it in friendship. To be a good friend I must be intentional about it. I must pursue my desire for you, which is always also a desire for your betterment. Thus I am intentional about being a friend who does not excite or pursue sexual interest, nor do I let such energy sit there. I choose to pass on those desires and cultivate others, desires proper to the wonder of friendship. I, as a friend, pour myself out for you. The friend is a lover, for that is what he does.

Justin Burgard is a friend to all, be a plant or fish or tiny mole. Yes, he knows that doesn’t rhyme. He is also aware that this is at least three posts worth of material. And that will almost certainly continue to be the case.

The Faux Pas of the Abortion Debate

By Paul Fahey                                                                                        Thursday, November 21

The internet is flooded with article after article, opinion after opinion, harangue after harangue about the legalization and limitation of abortion (or lack thereof) in the United States. So why did I feel the need to write another one? Quite simply because the discussion is far from over, the debate anything but settled, and there needs to be more reasoned, logical discussion from both sides. So that is what I hope to provide you with here: a brief argument against the legalization of abortion that captures and expresses the heart of the ethical debate without getting lost in the morass of personal and hypocritical opinions. This will be done in two parts. This week will focus on what to avoid when discussing abortion in order to have a reasoned conversation, and next week I will propose and outline the heart of the anti-abortion argument.

The first thing to avoid when trying to deter simple polemics and opining is using personal feelings as legitimate arguments. Next to the debate surrounding same-sex “marriage,” the legalization and limitation of abortion is probably the most heated and emotionally driven issue in American politics. I do not wish to discredit sincere human emotions and feelings. However, when it comes to the political and ethical debate surrounding the systematic discrimination against a particular demographic of human beings, I think that the way that someone “feels” about abortion and those involved must take a back seat to a reasoned and logical discussion. Personal feelings definitely have their place when it comes to the advancement or prohibition of abortions rights, but not when it comes to legislation or constitutional interpretation.

Clearly someone who’s not contributing to reasonable dialogue.

Secondly, do not, at any point, demonize the “other side.” This is much easier to do than one may expect simply because of the nature of the debate. One side is convinced that the lives of tens of millions of human beings is at stake and the other resolutely believes that the personal and sexual autonomy of women is at stake – so how dare someone disagree with me! While I’m not denying that there are people with straight-up evil intentions in this debate, in all honesty I have never seen any. Not one anti-abortion activist that I’ve met wants to subjugate women and take away their personal integrity, and I’ve not met one believer in the right to abortion that desires to murder babies en masse or sacrifice children to Moloch.

I know, I know, the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. However, I’m not saying that good intentions equal moral actions or positive decision making. What I’m saying is that it is very easy to dehumanize “the other” and not ever consider that they are motivated by some of the very same things that you are. To be cliché and quote Ender Wiggin, “In the moment when I truly understand my enemy, understand him well enough to defeat him, then in that very moment I also love him.” If those who oppose abortion are not able to see their ideological opponents as valuable human beings, then can they honestly call themselves “pro-life”?

The third thing to avoid when discussing abortion is tied to the second, and that is the descent into the semantic “anti-choice” and “pro-abortion” rhetoric. If the only issue on the table is abortion, it may be best to use the labels “anti-abortion” and “pro-abortion rights.” In this particular instance, I would avoid throwing around the typical “pro-life” and “pro-choice” terminology simply because these labels are poorly understood. To be pro-life does not mean to merely oppose abortion. To be pro-life is to profess an anthropology that holds all human beings as valuable simply because they are human. That means, among other things, ascending to a political stance that is opposed to war, capital punishment, slavery, etc. Likewise, to be pro-choice, if the label is to be accurately defined, does not mean to merely oppose legal/social restrictions on abortion. To be pro-choice really means embracing a more Libertarian ideology that opposes, among other things, any legal restrictions on one’s ability to choose what insurance to use, what school to send one’s kids to, what recreational drugs to use, or even when and where one may choose to carry a firearm. Words mean things, so use them intentionally and with prior thought.

Democrats_Pro-Abortion_01_250px

Nope, neither is this guy.

Hopefully these ideas will help further civil and rational dialogue on future discussion you may have about abortion. Or, at the very least, I hope they sparked some deeper reflections on this debate from both sides of the aisle. Tune in next Thursday for the central argument surrounding the abortion dispute, one that captures the heart of this pressing ethical issue.

Paul Fahey is a husband, father, and catechist. He has a BA in Theology with minors in History, and Catholic Studies and is currently studying at the Augustine Institute for a MA in Theology.

The Divinity of Marriage

by Christian Ohnimus                                                                         Wednesday, November 20

In just a few short days, on November 30th, 2013 I’m getting married. Naturally, then, marriage has been on my mind quite a bit. While the excitement at the prospect of newly married life and the stress of planning and preparing for the production that is the rehearsal have occupied my mind, what I’ve really contemplated is marriage’s divinity, the vows I will make, and what the sacrament of marriage entails and will demand of me as a husband. Frankly, its quite serious business, as I’ve concluded that married life demands nothing less than my own death – and, yet, I expect it to be awesome. To understand what I mean by that requires a solid understanding of Christian marriage, something contemporary American culture is quickly losing all grasp on. Which is sad because, like I said, this is awesome.

Fundamentally, marriage is a natural institution, defined, not by humans, but by human nature. This is the “natural law” that Christians appeal to when they state that marriage is between a man and a woman. But this is not Christian. Even pagans abide by this definition. Marriage is fundamentally human but it is supremely super-human; in its fullness, marriage is a religious institution and therefore transcendent, therefore more than just human: it is sacramental. That is what our society has forgotten, but the Church does not forget. So, marriage is a sacrament, but what does that mean? What is Christian marriage?

To paraphrase G.K. Chesterton: Christian marriage is a duel to the death and no man has ever survived it.

This seems a bitter view of marriage and one our hedonistic culture abhors. In fact, it is quite the opposite. If man’s death in marriage seems a nihilistic sentiment it is because man no longer understands marriage. With the modern epidemics of divorce, infidelity and marital strife society is now in crisis. Obviously the institution is flawed and we must “fix” it. The problem, however, is not marriage. No, the difficulty lies in the fact that while many men get married few know how to actually be married. Marriage is not hearts and flowers, it is not “whatever two people who love each other say that it is,” and it certainly is not “settling down.” If anything, it is venturing out.

Marriage, understood in its true form, is a Christian institution and a sacrament and if we know one thing of Christianity it is that death is at the very center of its creed. What image is more prevalent within Christian tradition than that of the crucified Christ? Likewise, a crucifix lies at the heart of marriage. Ephesians 5:25  says, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” How did Christ love his church? He died on a cross for her. That is the duel that no man can survive. Husbands, die for your wives as Christ died for his church. A man may boast that he would die a violent (and short) death for his woman but rare is the husband of whom such a death is perpetually demanded. All husbands are called to die. They are called to die to themselves every day and this is indeed the harder road for, while a violent death may be quick and noble, the death demanded of husbands does not end and it receives little recognition. The man who knows how to be married is the man who tends to his wife before himself, who protects his marriage above his reputation, who meets his children’s needs before he meets his own. In this way, like Jesus, the husband carries his cross every day and every day he dies on Calvary, crucified side by side with his Lord.

The secular man may despair at such a burdensome view of marriage and thus reject it. But God promises to make our burdens light if we just follow Him. If marriage is hard then it is also easy. Because if we die like Christ did then we will also be resurrected to new life just as He rose on the third day. Thus in marriage, with death at its center, we also find life. In fact, God grants the married couple with such an overabundance of life and love and joy that it literally cannot be contained between only two people. Thus, we have that greatest gift of life and the manifestation of God’s pure love in human form: children. This is the poverty of a sterile society: that such a supreme gift should be trucked for trivialities. For when husband and wife perform the marital act they are saying with their bodies, “I love you so much and you are so good that the world can only be made a better place with more people like you in it.”

To die for one’s friend is the greatest love and what greater friend does a man have than his wife? So, what greater love can he have than from dying for her? Our society wants all of the fruits of marriage without any of the work so is it any wonder that they want to redefine it by government mandate, as if bureaucrats could change the reality of the human soul? The fact is, however, that true love cannot be realized without first dying to self. Fixing marriage doesn’t require that we redefine it as something its not. It requires that our nation of egotistical boys grow up to be self-sacrificing men.

Christian Ohnimus is a registered nurse in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He holds a Bachelors of Science in Nursing from Franciscan University. He is a contributor to The Porch and The Catholic Renaissance.

Reading this post will not maximize your happiness; look at this picture of a puppy instead

Puppy link here

I’m continuing from last time by introducing the moral theory of utilitarianism (light-hearted but well written FAQ here). Utilitarinism is the most well-known version of consequentialism which, generally, states that the only thing that makes an action moral is the consequence of that action. This alone seems deeply troubling to a lot of people; after all, most of us don’t believe that the ends always justify the means. However, the real interesting part of Utilitarianism comes later, so we’ll take consequentialism as a given for this article.

Utilitarianism is the stunningly simple idea that moral actions are actions that maximize good (sometimes referred to as “utility”) in the universe. Where utilitarianism gets interesting is attempts to define what the good really is.

Utilitarianism was first developed by Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill. They formulated the main principle as “the greatest good for the greatest number”. The good, they argue, is pleasure and happiness and the bad is suffering.

It’s not too difficult to see why happiness was chosen as the ultimate good for a moral system (side note: if this seems obvious to you consider alternative goods such as fulfilling your duties (Kant) or maximizing your own happiness and not giving a damn about anyone else (Ayn Rand)). Happiness is something we all desire and suffering is something we all try to avoid. If our goal is to bring about the best consequences, maximizing happiness seems to be a great way to do it.

Here’s how it might work (we’ll use made-up numbers to try to “measure” the happiness in the system). Let’s say you and I are walking together and I have an ice cream cone. I’m getting 1 util (a “unit” of happiness) out of the ice cream cone. You, however, love ice cream and would get 5 utils out of it. Right now the system contains 1 util. In this case we could maximize utility by transferring my cone to you (system has 5 utils).

But wait! Maybe I’m a selfish person and I would actually suffer -5 utils by seeing you with the ice cream that I thought was mine. Now if I give you the ice cream cone I’m suffering -5 utils and you’re enjoying +5 for a net of 0 utils. The system has actually gone down in utility.

But wait! Maybe you’re something of a bully and you’d actually gain 3 utils from taking the ice cream from me. Now I’m suffering -5 utils and you’re enjoying 8 utils for a net of 3 (system has gone up).

As you can see, trying to “measure” happiness can get complicated fastHow could we possibly know how much enjoyment people get out of things? How can we possibly know how much people will suffer as a result of our action or inaction? Are there different kinds of happiness? Is the happiness you get out of, say, sex, better than the happiness of solving a difficult chemistry problem? How could you possibly know any of that?

The above example was for two people and it gets increasingly complicated with more. Would instituting a law that everyone has to purchase their internet from Comcast decrease happiness in the world? It’d sure anger all the customers but maybe Comcast would enjoy the profits enough to make it worthwhile.

As it is, utilitarianism seems unworkable. It requires a knowledge of other people’s subjective experience that we just don’t have and actually figuring out the exact consequences of an action are, even for normal actions, really hard. Someone like the President is going to have an impossible time figuring out the exact change in happiness as a result of, say, a new healthcare policy.

Can Utilitarianism do better than Jeremy Bentham’s formulation? Well, maybe. Preference Utilitarianism is a very popular formulation that states that, instead of maximizing people’s happiness, we ought to maximize the fulfillment of their preferences.

Even if it doesn’t sound like it, that’s a pretty substantial difference. We no longer have to stay awake wondering if our perfectly utilitarian society is just going to become a group of drugged-up wireheads; we can just poll people and ask “hey, would you like to be strapped to a chair with a machine stimulating the pleasure-centers of your brain for the rest of your natural life?” and listen when they say “umm, no?”.

Better still, while it is quite difficult to calculate happiness it’s much easier to calculate preferences. The field of Economics already has a whole host of tricks for doing so. We don’t have to ask people “how much, would you say, do you value the new iPhone5?” we can just set the price and see who buys it. People’s actions say a lot about their innate preferences.

On the other hand, what about situations where people’s preferences are harmful to them? Someone who is anorexic may prefer to starve themselves, but it doesn’t seem like fulfilling their preference is a good thing. It’s pretty foolish to suggest that people always know what’s best for them.

Utilitarianism also has problems of narrow-mindedness. In focusing on happiness or fulfilling preferences it ignores a lot of what intuitively seems to be relevant to moral problems (for example, an individual’s duties and responsibilities). Some moral problems just don’t seem to be about happiness. New parents, in disciplining children for instance, often sacrifice their own happiness for the sake of their children (even if their decisions aren’t making the kid happy either).

If you find all the math and complicated scenarios frustrating, just remember that, at its core, Utilitarianism is about happiness. I think most utilitarians (and most Christians) would agree that if you live your life trying to make people happy you’re not going to screw up too badly.

Ultimately, I don’t find Utilitarianism convincing as a moral theory. The whole idea of needing to know the exact consequences of your actions seems unworkable in practice and utilitarianism conflicts with my intuitions in several different ways. On the other hand, I have great respect for utilitarians. It’s always a good thing when people seriously consider the consequences of their actions and it’s certainly a good thing when we care about what happens to others (sorry, Ayn Rand).

Speaking of Rand, next time we’ll talk about a very different moral system that starts from the a very similar place: the idea that maximizing your own happiness and self interest is the only moral principle.

Thomas Carey is a husband and father. In his spare time, he’s a Ph.D. student at the University of Colorado, Boulder and tries to relax from both by hiking, climbing, and playing board games.

Art is not a god

  By Karen Mannino                                                                     Monday, November 18th, 2013

The bright April sun made the pale pavement painful to look at. Four or five of us sat on the steps of the amphitheater squinting. A student in a colorful skirt sat a step or so above us and held open a picture book from the children’s section of our college library. She read the sweet, soothing story aloud to us. I don’t remember what it was. What I do remember is the contrast of the other sounds around us. I had to concentrate to keep myself from looking away from the book. Behind my head, dozens of glass bottles were popping and shattering against the concrete wall of the art building. My shoulders were hunched and flinching, waiting to feel a shard of glass bury itself in my back. I saw one, out of the corner of my eye, bounce past my foot. The reader kept her pace, undisturbed, turning the book so we could see all of the pictures.

Probably art

Art! I’m not sure what’s going on here, but my little sister drew it, so it must be fantastic

This was one of several projects that my design class did the last week of my undergraduate career. Painters from many centuries create visual illusions. Figurative sculptors create an imitation of life. My 3D design class was creating an artificial experience. I don’t know if anyone has ever experienced quite what we did naturally, but it was certainly an interesting thing to simulate.  Our assignment was to design in four dimensions, a piece of art lasting about three minutes.

Christian was right, when he wrote on Wednesday that much depends on how one defines art. Anything defined so broadly as “self expression” must be very common. It is only practical to censor art. There are simply some self expressions that we need not tolerate, much less honor, in public. The flaw of art is pride. We insist that anything can be art if we say so. We also insist that art is some kind of god, exempt from little things like good manners. Well, it can’t be both. Something can, however, be art, and a heinous crime at the same time. That is far more likely, if we are going to exempt it from civility.

Mostly Plagiarism

Also art in process. But mostly plagiarism.

We have a reverence for the word art. We don’t want to call something art unless it is somehow elevated and moving. I think this is a dangerous attitude. Art is that thing that humans do, and lower animals do not. We are little images of God trying vainly to imitate His creative power. Art is the product of those clumsy attempts. Most of it involves shocking amounts of plagiarism. I have a BA in art and I am pretty sure there is nothing sacred about art in and of itself. It is special only because all humanity has a need for it in some form. It seems to come with the rational soul, and that is to be celebrated. But so does math, and no one worries about math censorship. I almost think we need another word to talk about the really profound human attempts at creations that move us to see eternal truths through new eyes. I guess you could call that good art. All the rest that falls short isn’t necessarily bad (most of it is just boring, honestly). It has it’s own private purpose for the artist. The devil can also corrupt it until art is truly bad and evil. It is much easier to do this when art is a false god. This is when children are sacrificed on a artist’s personal alter.

Cascades

A photo of an original work of God. From his Pacific Northwest period.

My three minute involved cheap pie tins, a falling thirds chord progression, and rice. Was it art? I’d say yes. It was a created experience. Boring to most people, unless they had never heard Pacholbel’s Cannon in D before. Not nearly as memorable as my class mate’s projects involving broken glass and children’s literature. But it was an imperfect attempt at imitation of God the creator. It certainly was not fine art.

Much of the art that is venerated in the larger world right now is about creating an artificial experience. Another bunch is about the artist’s particular experience in making the art. It all ranges from boring, to insulting, to evil. But I’d say it’s all art. Creative minds love a challenge. And often it is the restrictions that spark creativity the most. It is possible for a generation or artist to emerge from this rather murky environment and use the creative skills we’ve been playing with to create experiences of truth and beauty. But only if our culture demands that art be subjected to the same rules a civility and common public decency under which most other uniquely human endeavors flourish.

Karen Mannino earned her BA in studio art from Aquinas College in 2012. Since then she has been trying to find a place to paint in her house where her brother won’t be in danger of ingesting turpentine. She is also sleep deprived. But she was glad that Christian’s post got her thinking enough to have something to type about today. Thanks Christian.