Merold Westphal’s “Faith Seeking Deconstruction”

The Point of View of My Work as an Author

masters_of_suspicion Freud, Nietzsche and Marx

Merold Westphal is one of my favorite philosopher/theologians for a very good reason, namely that he “deconstructed” his faith without losing his faith. Following is a rare bit of narrative that he provides regarding his journey in what I call “faith seeking the penance of deconstruction.”

I, too, grew up in the context of a rather narrow, rigid and exclusionary “party line,” that of Protestant (dispensational) fundamentalism. But there was one important difference, in respect to which I take myself to be fortunate. For instead of a “system” without the classic texts it was supposed to present, I got a “system” that included an emphasis on reading and even memorizing the Bible for myself. So I had read it from cover to cover several times before I even got to college. Through my own reading and with the help of others who were better readers than I, I gradually…

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The Gospel “Eucatastrophe”

The Point of View of My Work as an Author

Out of a “perfect storm” that seemed to promise only perfect destruction came God’s new creation in Christ, because the “hurricane that is God” was “reconciling the world to himself in Christ.” The realist-fiction writer Flannery O’Connor would simply call this unexpected return for violence “grace,” while the imaginative high-fantasy writer J.R.R. Tolkien would, true to character, linguistically embellish that “sudden and miraculous grace” as a “euchatastrophe,” compellingly combining the blessed word “eucharist” (to give thanks) with the cursed word “catastrophe.”
(An advance excerpt from “The Gospel in the Dock.”)

“The Resurrection is the euchatastrophe of the story of the incarnation.” J.R.R. Tolkien, The Tolkien Reader, 88.

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“The Point of View of My Work as an Author”

Announcing my new my new webpage/blog (click here) for more extensive writing efforts.
Please follow there for updates on publishing.

Many Thanks!
BMC

Is Bob Dylan’s “False Prophet” About Jesus?

false prophet

False Prophet

WRITTEN BY: BOB DYLAN
1.
Another day without end – another ship going out
Another day of anger – bitterness and doubt
I know how it happened – I saw it begin
I opened my heart to the world and the world came in
2.
Hello Mary Lou – Hello Miss Pearl
My fleet footed guides from the underworld
No stars in the sky shine brighter than you
You girls mean business and I do too

3.
I’m the enemy of treason – the enemy of strife
I’m the enemy of the unlived meaningless life
I ain’t no false prophet – I just know what I know
I go where only the lonely can go

4.
I’m first among equals – second to none
I’m last of the best – you can bury the rest
Bury ’em naked with their silver and gold
Put ’em six feet under and then pray for their souls

5.
What are you lookin’ at – there’s nothing to see
Just a cool breeze encircling me
Let’s walk in the garden – so far and so wide
We can sit in the shade by the fountain side

6.
You don’t know me darlin’ – you never would guess
I’m nothing like my ghostly appearance would suggest
I ain’t no False Prophet – I just said what I said
I’m here to bring vengeance on somebody’s head

7.
I’ve searched the world over for the Holy Grail
I sing songs of love – I sing songs of betrayal
Don’t care what I drink – don’t care what I eat
I climbed a mountain of swords on my bare feet

8.
Put out your hand – there’s nothin’ to hold
Open your mouth – I’ll stuff it with gold
Oh you poor Devil – look up if you will
The City of God is there on the hill

9.
Hello stranger – Hello and goodbye
You rule the land but so do I
You lusty old mule – you got a poisoned brain
I’m gonna’ marry you to a ball and chain

10.
You know darlin’ the kind of life that I live
When your smile meets my smile – somethings got to give
I ain’t no false prophet – I’m nobody’s bride
Can’t remember when I was born and I forgot when I died

Copyright

© 2020 by Special Rider Music

Is Bob Dylan’s amazing song “False Prophet” about Jesus? More accurately, is the person speaking in the song meant to be Jesus? I think that we can count out the possibility that the song portrays Bob Dylan himself singing, unless we attribute to him a vast amount of megalomania expressed in lines like:

I’m first among equals – second to none

I’m the last of the best – you can bury the rest

Also, some of the statements of the singer seem quite impossible to attribute to Bob Dylan, amazing as he is. For he sings,

I’m here to bring vengeance on somebody’s head;

I’ve searched the world over for the Holy Grail . . .

I climbed a mountain of swords on my bare feet . . .

. . . I forgot when I died.

Moreover, the main line, “I ain’t no false prophet” may well be a claim that the singer is a true prophet, which then makes sense of the rest of the song. I think Bob Dylan has rejected seeing himself as a true prophet since that mantle was thrust upon him in the sixties. Of course Jesus Christ was not merely a prophet, although the New Testament portrays him prophesying that the temple in Jerusalem would be destroyed before the present generation of Israel was passed away. (See Matthew 24:34; Mark 13:30; Luke 21:20-31.)

This represents part of a negative case that the song is not meant to portray Dylan’s own “voice.”  But the stronger case is the positive one – that the lyrics paint a portrait of some mysterious person or the persona thereof who “ain’t no false prophet.” I think that the overall portrait only makes sense if this person is Jesus, but particularly Jesus in a Christian trinitarian sense wherein Father, Son (Jesus) and Holy Spirit together are somehow (and confusedly so to us mere humans) one God. This means that the “making sense” may not necessarily be fully comprehensible as we will see.

The best way to try to demonstrate my thesis is to consider each of the ten stanzas in order and make some observations and propose various possibilities of meanings. I will call the persona “the Prophet” to keep things simple, but we will see that he is much more than that, and most probably divinity such as is “part” of the Triune God that Christianity almost universally posits. (Of course the Christian understanding of God is what Dylan has specifically related himself to in times past, and also related to others in the lyrical content of his songs.)

In the first stanza the Prophet begins with “another day without end” – a reference to God’s point of view wherein “a day is as a thousand years?” (See 2 Peter 3:8) The “ship going out” perhaps signaling a feeling of homelessness, being “Like a Rolling Stone.” The words  “Another day of anger – bitterness and doubt” seem to establish a “status quo” for the present character of life. But again, the Prophet seems to exist differently in relation to time than any ordinary human being, saying, “I know how it happened – I saw it begin.” Did the Prophet see creation itself, or the “fall of man” into sin? The closing line of this stanza is perhaps the most interesting but difficult to interpret of all:

I opened my heart to the world and the world came in.

Because of the development in the second stanza, it seems that this opening to and coming in of the world are positive occurrences. This statement then provides the ultimate context of the song, which is the relation of the Prophet to the world, but as perhaps also claiming to be its creator (John 1:1-3). The French philosopher, activist, and Christian mystic Simone Weil proposed that when God created the universe/world, God was voluntarily performing an act of renunciation of God’s self. And in the giving of free will to human agents, God was also granting them independence and also creating the possibilities (and therefore “risk”) of relationship. What Dylan recognizes is the effect this has on God whose love was thereby “opened” to the world which “came in.” The world coming in shows that God’s love did not diminish even when the world went “away” (astray). This has huge applications to Christian life and what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called “this worldliness.”

In the second stanza the Prophet introduces “Mary Lou” and “Miss Pearl” who seem to recall the relationships Jesus had with several Mary’s (his mother and Mary Magdalen) and their characters as being “Pearl” like. The rest of the stanza sings their praises and “fills in” important detail regarding the ways “the world came in” so that these women became “guides from the underworld” for Jesus’s life,  just as humans in general were so for God’s interaction with us from the beginning (albeit that’s a quite radical thought we can’t pursue here). The closing line of this stanza shows that some humans can “mean business” just as the Prophet does. In other words, some humans are “in sync” with God’s purposes in the world – leading right to the next stanza.

The third stanza has the Prophet saying that he is the “enemy of treason” (revolt against God’s loving governance?) and of “strife” (bad love relationships between God & man, and man & man?) He seems especially against “the unlived meaningless life” demonstrating that the Prophet is not arbitrarily against things, but against ways that are unprofitable for the relational loving human life God intended. The last line wondrously portrays the Prophet’s “heart” for the world, declaring himself “lonely” or seeking those “only the lonely” can reach. This sounds much like Jesus who came “to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10).

I ain’t no false prophet – I just know what I know

I go where only the lonely can go

This is a far cry from Christopher Hitchens’ view of God as a totalitarian “Big Brother” who has 24/7 surveillance watching over all of his human creations to see if any are “out of line” and due for eternal punishment for not being perfect as God is.

The fourth stanza seems to wax more traditionally prophetic wherein this Prophet surpasses all other previous prophets (as was said in a historical sense of John the Baptist) and also in rendering a “judgment” of nakedness, (a familiar image of Judgment for Dylan as in “It’s Alright, Ma – I’m only Bleeding”) and death, for the materially rich (another image Dylan has used as in “Seven Curses” and even “The Times They Are A-Changin”). But Dylan has the Prophet nevertheless praying (or recommending others’ praying) “for their souls” so that the temporal “judgment” is a gracious means to a better end for them.

The fifth stanza tantalizes since the Prophet, if one was to try to see him, is beyond sight – with a cool breeze encircling him. Is this a reference to the prophet as the Holy Spirit, or at least in intimate relation with the Spirit? Is the next line, inviting the one addressed to “a walk in the garden,” meant to evoke Eden where “Adam and Eve” “heard the sound of God walking in the garden in the cool of the day.” (Genesis 3:8) Note that the Hebrew word for “spirit” is also translated as “wind” and “breath” and that this may mean they heard God as the Spirit/Wind in the garden. And so it seems in Dylans picture, that the Prophet is or exists in the Spirit’s “cool breeze.” The last line seems to portray fellowship with God in Eden, under the shade and before the fountain, which are  biblical images of the peace of God’s creation.

The sixth stanza builds on the strange appearance (or non-appearance) of the Prophet as “ghostly.” Is this a way that Dylan says that Jesus, though presently unseen and only known through the Spirit, is nevertheless still a real tangible being existing beyond our present field of vision? For the Prophet is at the same time as tangible as any real flesh and blood prophet, and as “not a false prophet” and “said what he said” just as he also “knows what he knows.” What is interesting here is that Dylan seems to be saying that the Prophet has been and is still engaged in prophetic speech, and knowing acts, even if now seemingly “invisible” to us at the present. Is Dylan insisting that Jesus is presently the Lord of all? Of course that’s the basic Christian confession and Dylan has never repudiated what he once said quite clearly in his “Born-again Christian” phase and has dropped many more subtle hints to that effect throughout his songs since that time. Fittingly so, the prophet proclaims,

I’m here to bring vengeance on somebody’s head.

But what that “vengeance” means we have already seen to some extent and will see more of. It is not that of the “sinners in the hands of an angry God” but rather “sinners in the hands of a loving God.” The former is apt to view God’s angry vengeance as paramount; the latter more-so as God’s loving justice. Of course there is undoubtedly a harmony (or maybe a hierarchy?) of God’s acts and attributes that sometimes is misrepresented in theological formulations and common religiosity. I think vengeance is proper, but get the feeling from Dylan that for him it fits within an understanding of a pre-eminently loving God, more than in a pre-eminently vengeful God.

The seventh stanza opens with the Prophet’s search for the holy grail – an interesting turn of phrase if this is the search of Jesus for what would be a holy grail to him – perhaps the relationship with humans God’s love longingly desires and seeks. For that grail he sings songs of love and betrayal, and of course Jesus knew those intimately in his earthly life. (Note the hierarchy of love,   followed by betrayal, in that lyric.) For that grail he didn’t care about divisive purity laws regarding food and drink, nor the purity of those he sat at table with, which brought him into considerable trouble with “society.” Because the Prophet’s search for his holy grail led him to this:

I climbed a mountain of swords on my bare feet

It is also important to remember that “mountain” is a common biblical image of human government and that Jesus spoke of a mountain that needed to be overcome in his very day and instructed his followers to pray for that result. (See Mark 11:23) The lyric thus seems to portray the incessantly painful walk necessary for the Prophet to overcome the oppressive mountain of the world.

We can also note that in the song’s artistic image of the “False Prophet,” the shadow appears to be a hanging dead man. Thus the search for the grail finally led to the crucifixion tree, portrayed as the lynching tree – a theme also used by Dylan (“they’re selling postcards of the hanging”) and also by theologians such as James Cone who see the innocent victims of unjust societies participating in the cross of Christ. It is also appropriate that this song “False Prophet” and the artistic imagery of the skeleton shows how Christ, apart from Easter faith, has generally appeared to many or most, perhaps as being evil or bringing death, with only the shadow revealing the truth that Christ’s own sacrificial death as a scapegoat overcame evil and death. The hidden nature of the death of the cross was called by Jesus “the sign of the prophet Jonah” who was “dead” for three days in the belly of the fish but was vomited/resurrected out alive (Matthew 12:39. Jonah 2:10).  It seems that the illustration of “False Prophet” may quite plainly be showing, through the shadow, that the song is about Jesus.

The eighth stanza has the Prophet addressing the wayward desires of we “poor devils” and what God “gives” to us when we insist on such “rewards” – while all the while the aforementioned “mountain” of man is being overshadowed as shown in the video:

The City of God is there on the hill

The ninth stanza opens with the Prophet calling his addressee “stranger” when before he had said “darlin.'” Perhaps this is a different subject being addressed, perhaps even the devil himself – “you rule the land but so do I” showing the conflict and also that the Prophet (Jesus) is the one who really rules now. He calls the stranger “you lusty old mule” and characterizes him with “a poisoned brain.” Therefore he will be married to a “ball and chain.” Perhaps a reference to Revelation 20:1-2 where the devil is bound with a chain for “a thousand years.” Perhaps Dylan points out this ironic marriage as reward for the mule’s perpetuating his false marriage to humanity through deception and enslavement.

The tenth and final stanza has the Prophet again addressing a “darlin'” and saying that with his kind of life (of love), when she smiles in response to his smile – “something’s got to give. Because the Prophet is not only “no false prophet” but also “nobody’s bride.” This is probably not meant to demean marriage, but rather to say that in the marital imagery common to the Bible, God is the bridegroom, never the bride – which is the role of humanity. But as just mentioned, humans are sometimes “married” to the wrong groom, even the “lusty old mule.” But there is only one rightful bridegroom. And therefore, as Dylan sang quite some time ago, “The Groom’s Still Waiting at the Altar.” Possibly Dylan is  using that imagery here with Jesus still waiting for his wayward bride that he created and opened his heart to, from the beginning. The closing line of the song is quite interesting:

Can’t remember when I was born and I forgot when I died

Of course none of us remembers being born, but from the mouth of this Prophet that seems to take on added significance, perhaps alluding to something like what theologians call the eternal generation of the Son in the triune relationship of Father/Son/Spirit. The Prophet forgetting when he died could signify that God’s forgetfulness is perhaps a truly perfect forgetting, as God says that our sins he will remember no more. Perhaps the historic death of Jesus, who was the eternal Word and life itself is now forgotten, just as mortality itself is to be finally swallowed up by life and immortality.  (See John 1:4; 1 Corinthians 15:50-56)

At any rate, this Prophet is quite the person, as we have hopefully seen. I recommend, having some of these associations in mind, which I think may well be allusions intended by Dylan, re-watching the video and letting the rich imagery and allusions lead to an encounter with the Prophet, who it seems is much more than a mere prophet.

It seems to me that this is one of the most powerful song Dylan has ever written. And certainly in regard to what I think he considers his biblical calling, he has perhaps crafted this song in which, rather than singing about or alluding to Jesus, he provides a mediation of Christ in the very song. And that, as far as I understand, is the prophetic vocation. Perhaps by not himself claiming to be the Prophet of this song, Dylan has nevertheless fulfilled the role of a prophet. And if so, we need to be open to this encounter to the one who opened his “heart to the world and the world came in.” But we come in as individuals, to whom the prophet then says “Hello . . . my fleet footed guides to the underworld” and not, “Hello stranger – hello and goodbye.”

Let’s walk in the garden – so far and so wide

We can sit in the shade of the fountain side

Thanks for reading.

Bryan Christman @ Manifest Propensity, 2020.

Cosmology in John Donne’s Ruine and Bruce Cockburn’s Broken Wheel

donne

John Donne, 1573-1631

THIS is Natures nest of Boxes; 

The Heavens containe the Earth,

the Earth, Cities, 

Cities, Men.

And all these are Concentrique;

the common center to them all,

is decay, ruine.

(from John Moses, One Equall Light – An Anthology of the Writings of John Donne)

 

As Van Morrison says, “Rave on John Donne.” It seems that Donne’s words were still assuming the Ptolemaic universe, at least for his theological purpose to reveal the decay at the center of the universe. Bruce Cockburn sees Donne’s ruine “way out on the rim of the galaxy” in the Copernican universe. In either view, we see the tragic reality of our Manifest Propensity.

Bryan M. Christman @ Manifest Propensity, 2020

 

Is the “Eternal Power of God” being denied by Young Earth Creationism?

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A Creation Scene from “Tree of Life”by Terrence Malick

The title of this post is stated in the form of a question, because in it I merely seek to raise  a question concerning the scriptural view of the age of the earth and the universe in which the earth exists. Part of the questioning format is due to the reason that I am thinking through this issue and do not wish to be unnecessarily dogmatic. Therefore I’m basically thinking out loud and putting my thoughts out there for interaction.

The scriptural text to be considered brings together what theologians call “general” and “biblical” revelation, which at times have come into conflict in Christianity. General revelation is the term used to consider what can be known of God apart from scripture. According to Millard J. Erickson general revelation is:

Revelation which is available to all persons at all times, particularly through the physical universe, history, and the makeup of human nature.

In contrast, biblical revelation, is what can be known of God through the Bible, and it is important to note that those that believe in God as the “author” of both revelations believe that they cannot ultimately contradict one another. But this supposition creates tensions and problems in the quest to harmonize general and biblical revelation. At the present time, the most obvious example of this is between those that believe that general revelation postulates that the earth is 4 to 5 billion years old, and those that believe that biblical revelation postulates that the earth is probably 6 to 10,000 years young. The former group generally holds to what is known as “old earth creationism” while the latter group holds to what is known as “young earth creationism.”

This post will present an important text that may very well bridge the supposed “chasm” between general and biblical revelation, because it is a biblical text and therefore biblical revelation that speaks of general revelation. What the text seems to present is the universal “manifest propensity” of the response of humankind in regard to what creation has always “taught” human beings regarding the age of the earth and of creation. It thus presents two things: 1) an empirical observation of what humankind has universally thought about the age of the earth and creation; and 2) a propositional declaration that God has intended that thought to be produced in all humans of all times. The text is Romans 1:20, a well-known one from  Paul who authored many of the books of the New Testament as many of you may know:

For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.

Paul’s proposition is fairly simple albeit fairly radical, especially to our modern and postmodern ears. God’s “invisible attributes” have been “clearly perceived” by all people since the beginning of the world. The universality of this perception is more fully explained by Paul in what he wrote before and after the text of 1:20, but is hinted at in 1:20 by the words “they… (all people) …are without excuse.” Furthermore, the thing that Paul says is clearly perceived in creation “since the creation of the world” is God’s “eternal power.” Paul seems to be saying that creation itself seems to be “saying” to all people of all times that a main attribute of God is his “eternal power.” In other words, the observation of creation necessarily transmits an idea of eternality due to its own “given” attribute: creation itself seems to all humans to be eternal.

But this proposition of Paul, if I have given the correct sense of it, is dogmatically contradicted by Young Earth Creationists who deny that creation is old. To look at Paul’s proposition from the opposite angle, a young earth cannot produce the idea of eternality in and of itself. But YEC may respond by saying what they almost all admit, that the earth and creation “appear” to be old. But if that is actually the case it seems as though at least two serious problems arise: 1) Logically speaking, if the creation only appears to be old, then the correspondence between God’s and creation’s seemingly age-evocative attributes would also require that God only appears to be “eternal;” and 2) God’s intent that all humankind’s sense of his eternal power would amount to God presenting a false exhibit – a charade, something that in itself does not exhibit the attributes he intends to convey universally to all people of all times. God’s intent for general revelation, as stated in this text of biblical revelation, is that creation (and through it God’s own self) would be clearly and accurately perceived as eternity-evoking to all people of all times. 

Therefore the proposition of Paul seems to be clear. What is necessary to support it though is the empirical evidence that humankind has indeed always “clearly perceived” that creation is evocative of eternality. It seems evident to me that the empirical evidence is “common knowledge” as part of the history of human knowledge and philosophy. One source that adequately brings together much of this material is presented in the puzzlingly near-anonymous work of the author of a web-site called exactlywhatistime.com. In one page called Ancient Philosophy  the author demonstrates that until about the 6th century AD, the common knowledge was that the world itself was eternal, or at least eternally cyclical. Astronomical numbers were posted in support of this with cycles themselves consisting of repetitions from ten-thousands of years up to many millions of years. It was not until the early Christian apologists presented a defense of Creation that the eternality of creation itself was systematically challenged. In 529 John Philoponus of Alexandria wrote a critique titled On the Eternity of the World Against Proclus in which he challenged arguments put forward for the eternity of the world, which was the theory which formed the basis of pagan attacks of the Christian doctrine of Creation.

But does historical/empirical evidence that humankind always surmised the eternality of the world before the Christian doctrine of creation emerged prove too much? Not at all, for it actually serves to demonstrate that the eternity-evoking attribute of creation that God intended worked! God intended that Creation would evoke in people of all times and places the idea that it was eternal, and that therefore the invisible God, intuitively known through the agency of creation, had eternal power. What remained in God’s purpose was for God to bring to humankind a distinguishing between God and creation.

In conclusion, it seems that the recent trend toward young earth creationism denies God’s pedagogical intent for creation to instill in humankind the sense of eternality. The book of Ecclesiastes seems to show God’s method of evoking the concept of eternality in humankind by means of the seemingly endless natural cycles. Thus Ecclesiastes 3:11 aptly concludes sections of poetic narrations of the cyclical attributes of nature in 1:2-11 and 3:1-8.

He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. (Ecclesiastes 3:11, English Standard Version.)

Furthermore, it seems that this text in Romans 1:20, which all admit to be one of the weightiest texts in support of Paul’s universal “gospel,” is an informative instance of “biblical revelation” regarding God’s revelational intent for the world, as “general revelation.” And it seems that Paul was fully aware of the fact that humankind had “followed the lead” of seeing the world itself as eternal and thereby also knowing intuitively the “eternal power” of God, even though they might also seek to repress that knowledge.

I also add that this has been an attempt to reckon with a direct text that seems to address the question of the age of the earth and creation, as opposed to drawing inferences from texts that do not directly address that question. These other (and unfortunately more well known methods) have included seeking to draw precise chronological information from Genesis as Bishop Ussher did in his findings that the earth was created in 4004 BC; or by concluding that the 7 day creation narrative simply requires a young earth due to other “theological” reasons.

I haven’t surveyed other texts in this post that have some bearing on the age of the earth, but may do so in the future since I think that similarly evocative texts are in the Bible, and ought to be considered. But hopefully, this introduction provides what I think might have been Paul’s own summation of what we are meant to know regarding the age of the earth through our experience as human beings in the world, through general revelation.

Thanks for reading this post and please feel free to reply with any comments or questions.

Bryan M. Christman @ Manifest Propensity, 2019. All rights reserved.

Thanos and the Infinity Stones: A Cautionary Tale for Control Freaks (Like Us)

thanos-snap-has-an-official-name-and-its-brutal_xzhb

Marvel comics supervillain character “Thanos” is certainly a contender (apart from the biblical Lucifer) for the prize of being the ultimate control freak. But he is actually each of us magnified almost infinitely in our desire to control all of reality and God – and thus a cautionary tale. We all are tempted by the uncertainty, anxiety, fear, and suffering of life to “wish” that we could change things in almost ultimate ways, as Thanos hoped to do in complete ultimacy, once he was able to possess all six of the “infinity stones” – mind, soul, space, power, time, and reality. I always wonder whether the multitudes of Americans seeing movies like this realize that a major point is that the desire for “control” is ultimately dangerously destructive to our God-given creaturely self-hood and of the dignity and right to life of others?

Thanos is a good character to portray such self-deception, because he isn’t automatically portrayed as a shallow one-dimensional maniacal egomaniac but rather as a reasonable, courageous, even sacrificial and loving person (by his own estimation). It’s amazing what the unchecked desire for control does to us all, a story as old as the fall of adam & eve, the fall to the desire for control in the garden of God in Genesis, and as real as the terrible consequences that violently rippled out from there and provide the dismal default context of our personal and collective lives.

So, is there any anti-Thanos we can look to for a better way? How about a “forty day fasted” Jesus in the desolate wilderness tempted by Satan to use “infinity stones” to change “everything” but ultimately victorious over him though the conflict continued and culminated in an “anti-garden” of suffering, called Gethsemane? He is the one to consider, along with those who have truly followed his way, though they be few and far  between.

 

Thanks so much for reading!

Original Content © Bryan M. Christman and Manifest Propensity, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Bryan M. Christman and Manifest Propensity with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

The “Problem” of Anxiety and Freedom: Soren Kierkegaard, Arcade Fire, and the “Promise” of “Creature Comfort”

 

anxiety

 

It goes on and on, I don’t know what I want,

on and on, I don’t know if I want it.

On and on I don’t know what I want,

on and on, I don’t know if I want it…

From “Creature Comfort” by Arcade Fire, “Everything Now”

A chorus from Arcade Fire that is “dizzying” in both “merry go round” style – “on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on” – and actually also in content, which this post will explore. Soren Kierkegaard wrote that “anxiety is the dizziness of freedom.” Does that mean that “Creature Comfort” for the anxious is the ultimate thing we should seek? Is our anxiety itself one of the “Signs of Life” that as a “Manifest Propensity” empirically shows that we were created for more than simply consuming (and being consumed by?) the creature comforts marketed to us constantly?

Arcade Fire’s petition to God about the “problem of freedom” is “just make it painless” with painlessness coming through the “Creature Comfort” supposedly promised and provided for through the technological consumerism of “Everything Now.”  Arcade Fire raises one of the most perennial questions of human beings regarding God. Can God, if we consider God as the One that is the creator of human life, able to make that life “painless” for a being that is created with a measure of freedom? It seems that Soren Kierkegaard thought that freedom inevitably produces a measure of anxiety for creatures endowed with that gift.

If that is true, then question becomes, what do we do with this “birthright” of anxiety? Do we try to manufacture “comfort” for the “creature,” the solution that Arcade Fire sees as the “anxiety fix” currently on offer for any and all of us willing to buy into that solution? The manufacturers of such “creature comfort” constantly bombard us with the assurance that we ought to “Put your money on me?” In fact, we all tend to buy into that solution simply because it is the given of our existence now. In a sense we have already paid for it, simply as the price of admission to the modern world.

Infinite Content.

Infinite Content.

We’re infinitely content.

All your money is already spent on it.

All you money is already spent.

On Infinite Content.

From “Infinite Content” by Arcade Fire, “Everything Now”

With nearly biblical poetical genius Arcade Fire reveals the pseudo-religious character of this captivating sales pitch which captures precisely because it tends to exhaust all our resources so that we can’t afford anything else. All our money is already spent! We’re overly invested. But that’s alright because we’re so “infinitely content!” Many or most of us will probably admit how trapped we feel in this situation. But lurking within is the anxiety of dizziness caused by our struggle between wanting and not wanting to remain sellouts to the consumerist solution of “Creature Comfort.”

Soren Kierkegaard defined anxiety as “a sympathetic antipathy and an antipathetic sympathy.” Mark A. Tietjen explains that “It occurs when one is attracted to and repulsed by the same thing.” We seem to be attracted to the comforts offered, but repulsed by the loss of freedom we pay for them.

A short alternative answer from Kierkegaard was that we shouldn’t evade our birthright of anxiety, for the sake of a false “comfort,” but rather embrace it. For in that path lies becoming the self we were created to be.

“To venture causes anxiety, but not to venture is to lose one’s self…. And to venture in the highest is precisely to be conscious of one’s self.”
Søren Kierkegaard

I think it is highly possible that Arcade Fires’s song “Put Your Money On Me” contains a double entendre regarding two different voices pleading for us to put our money on them. The first, which we all know all too well, has already been considered. The other is the anti-type of the former. Arcade Fire’s song “We Don’t Deserve Love” explicitly evokes Jesus Christ with the plea to a “Mary” to “roll away the stone” and the mention of the “Christ-types” which leave Mary (us) alone and inevitably don’t provide what we need (love) so that we are always “waiting on” them. I believe that point is that the “Christ-types” can’t give us love. The more sinister underlying narrative of the false savior consumer culture is that we are merely “consumers” and as such are less than human beings. In other words “We Don’t Deserve Love.”

So to return to the double entendre of “Put Your Money On Me” – it is actually present through the song as a complex counter-narrative wherein there is an “either/or” (Kierkegaard) regarding the identity of the one speaking throughout the song. Is it the false Christ offering us “creature comfort” through loss of our own true self or the real Christ offering us love through the gain of true self-hood?  I believe that the “counter-narrative” of the real Christ is actually stronger because of a few of the lyrics, but I still call it the counter-narrative because of Arcade Fire’s “Money + Love” video in which the speaker is obviously the false one. The section of the song that I believe most explicitly can apply to Christ, and can’t really apply to “consumerism” is this:

My mother was crying on the day of our wedding.

Trumpets of angels call for my head.

But I fight through the ether and I’ll quit when I’m dead.

If you wanna know who’ll be there in the end,

When you bury me, baby, I’ll still be your friend.

It is also important to note that the basic premise of the song is the difficult and anxiety producing struggle for freedom by the one being spoken to throughout. The song closes before the epic track “We Don’t Deserve Love” with the words, “I know it’s not easy to put your money on me, all your money on me.”

It is also interesting to think about the scenario of “venturing” for the freedom of true self, as Kierkegaard calls it, in light of the fact of the seeming unfreedom inherent in the fact all our money “is already spent.” Is it possible Arcade Fire’s narrative/ counter-narrative interplay in which money is required for everything leads one to the biblical invitation to freedom for those in bondage that does not require the soul destroying commodities the world trades in? In other words, was Win Butler who majored in Bible and Philosophy at McGill and has explicitly given credit to the Bible and Kierkegaard as constantly forming the way he approaches everything, thinking about the only commodity God “trades in” with humans, namely our anxiety producing gift of freedom of choice?

Isaiah 55 Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.

Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread? and your labour for that which satisfieth not? hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness. (King James Version)

 

Kierkegaard saw how humans deal with anxiety as bound up with the problem of despair. His thought on that problem is more than can be dealt with at the end of this meditation. So I’ll merely add this quote in which he shows that despair can be overcome through the proper reaction to anxiety which is possible through “resting transparently” in God.

“The formula that describes the state of the self when despair is completely rooted out is this: in relating itself to itself and in willing to be oneself, the self rests transparently in the power that established it.” (Soren Kierkegaard, Sickness Unto Death)

I apologize for not taking time to add links to Arcade Fire’s songs, but I assume that for most of us, being adept with navigating “infinite content,” they are easy to find!

Thanks so much for reading!

Original Content © Bryan M. Christman and Manifest Propensity, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Bryan M. Christman and Manifest Propensity with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

U2’s “The Lights of Home” – How U2 and You Too Can Pray

Thou didst hide thy face,

I was dismayed

To thee, O Lord, I cried;

and to the Lord I made supplication:

“What profit is there in my death,

if I go down to the Pit?

Will the dust praise thee?

Will it tell of thy faithfulness?

Hear, O Lord, and be gracious to Me!

O Lord, be thou my helper!”

Psalm 30:7b-10

“The use of these ‘psalms of darkness’ may be judged by the world to be acts of unfaith and failure, bold faith, albeit a transformed faith. It is an act of bold faith on the one hand, because it insists that the world must be experienced as it really is and not in some pretended way. Continue reading