Monday, January 30, 2006

The Neo-Rationalists and Architecture

Yesterday I had to take a trip down to UCLA to do some work with my Research Methods class. I have been reading the blog of who has been writing lately about ornamentation in architecture, an art form that I usually ignore due to my own lack of knowledge. While I was there, I decided to take in the architecture of this grand university.

The first thing that struck me was the pure size of the campus. There is nothing small at either, all the buildings were immense and powerful. I felt incredibly insignificant as I wandered through the sculpture gardens and pathways towards the library. Before I reached the Young Research library I passed by a building that must have been nothing short of twenty stories high. You could walk right under this tower since the foundation was made up of six or so pillars; there really was no true first story, but it was powerful in its size and scope.

The Young Library itself was just as massive as the pillar-tower, but whereas the first looked as if it had been the brainchild of an architect, the library appeared as if it had not been designed at all. It was a rectangle with some doors and windows.

When I finished my work at Young I took a walk to the Powell library, which is famous for its beauty. This whole area of the campus was made up of buildings that looked as if they had been taken from some old British university. I felt clever just walking amongst such structures. Remarking on these stunning buildings, one of my fellow students pointed out some Celtic designs on the arches over a doorway. At the time I didn’t think much of it, but once I entered the awesome Powell library I was confronted with a Spanish motif on the walls and a physical structure of a 200-year-old British structure.

It felt as if the architect looked at a bunch of buildings that he liked and then decided to put them all together just because he could. Each of the individual parts of the library was beautiful and powerful, but as a whole it was absurd in its apparently meaningless conflation of several different architectural styles. Recalling the other library and the pillar-tower I then realized that the campus itself was no different. Each individual structure was in someway magnificent, but together they seemed to have no unity at all; one building clashing with the one next to it in style and affect. Beauty, truth, and power were everywhere I looked, but none of it agreed.

Later that afternoon, my professor and I talked as we made our way back to the campus from lunch down in Westwood. We were both discussing intellectual problems facing ChristiansChristians in our times. We both agreed that it was important for Christians to be standing against the meaninglessness and relativism of Postmodernism, but he made the point that Christians in America seem to be anti-intellectual and that this was just as dangerous if not more so. I agreed with this, although I believe his intent was to suggest that any Christian who rejected Darwinism was irrational and therefore anti-intellectual. While I disagreed with the particular example that he was alluding too, I did agree with the broader, transcendentalist separation of spiritual truth and rational truth. Not wanting to launch into a lengthy debate on the merits of Intelligent Design, I decided to remark on a third popular philosophy that seems to be gaining ground worldwide.

It is commonly agreed upon that postmodernism (in its broadest definition as a belief system which is founded upon relativism and doubt) is the dominant philosophy of our day, whether this come in the form of art, politics, new age religions, or political correctness. This system’s crowning feature is its very lack of a foundation. Much like the pillar-tower, one is struck by the complexity and magnificence of such a structure that could be so easily toppled. And yet, it seems to be quite proud of the fact that it has an inadequate basis. It is as if the architect said, “look how great a thing I can make upon such a fragile foundation.” This is the postmodern situation, which so forcefully leaves man without meaning, without any epistemological ground, without value, and without purpose; but it does form a mighty structure by which to function.

My professor’s pet peeve was the “fundamentalist” Christians, who reject the importance of rationalism for the appearance of spirituality. To him, if one chose to be a fundamentalist, one had to reject science as a lie for the sake of believing a literal interpretation of the Bible. While I believe he was putting up a false dichotomy between science and the Word, (torn between accepting the truth of man’s science and the truth of the Word, he chooses man) for the sake of this discussion I will only describe the world’s perception of fundamentalists as ignorant and irrational. And I believe that this view is not totally out of line with the beliefs of some. As the Powell library was dressed up with the profound beauty of the ages, and yet lacked any true unity that could have come had the architect applied some rational thought to his design, many Christians look for the appearance, the semblance of the spiritual rather than True Spirituality. In this respect they are not far from the postmodernists in their relativism, the difference being that the fundamentalists deny that they lack a sufficient foundation.

The third philosophy that is pervasive in our culture is what I would call a blind rationalism. This, I believe, is the most dangerous of the three. It neither pretends to have a foundation, nor does it flaunt its lack of one; rather, it ignores the question and places it aside as a question for absurd postmodernists and ignorant fundamentalists to fight over. Logic works, and no matter what Hume may say about the rising of the sun, it rises every morning in defiance of the skeptics. Not only that, its very rise can be completely explained without any appeal to deity and should it ever not rise; there would be a scientific explanation. Its spokes men are scientists and corporations. Like the Young Research Library, the question of a foundation is irrelevant as well as all questions of beauty, truth, and meaning. The strongest opponents of ID are among these. Many Christians sympathize with it because it rejects the relativism of postmodernism, and many postmodernists sympathize with it because it rejects the faith of fundamentalism. This third system is quiet and well liked by everybody, it’s rarely called to stand before criticism, and it appeals to the capitalism of our culture.

As we neared the end of our walk, my professor commented on the beauty of the buildings at UCLA; he talked of their magnificence and grandeur and said that this is what a university should look like. To which I replied that while it maybe a grand campus, the pervasive architecture is sterile, without any sense of beauty or of meaning. Almost everything looked like an interpretation of the Young Research library: practical, rational, solid, and devoid of any transcendence. And while one could find a piece of truth scattered about the campus, as a whole it seemed to be in utter chaos. Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Intelligent Vonnegut

This is not an Intelligent design blog, but as art exists within culture and science is a part of culture, it seems that there is very little that I could talk about here that would be truly off topic. In one of the most interesting twists of reality that I have been witness to, in an NPR interview Kurt Vonnegut has spoken in support of ID, at least as a topic for discussion in the classroom. Check out Intelligent Design the Future's blog on the interview from NPR. Even if you don't believe in a Biblical conception of creation, the censorship that has been going on against anyone related to ID should be absurdly frightening to you, that is assuming that you care about critical thinking, reason, and independent thought. For an introduction to some problems in evolutionary theory, check out my friends project.

On a side note, this blog has been getting quite a few new readers. The month of January has brought the most hits to this site since its conception! So if you're new, thanks for stopping by, please comment and come back for more!

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Offensive Art

Over at Mark Bertrand’s and at there has been some discussion over Michael Snyder’s short story, “All Healed Up.” The question has been raised over the use of material in the story that could offend people. Having just written a of my own with graphic violence and language, I felt compelled to join the fray.

As , I feel that it is our job to love God and our neighbor with our creation. Often this has been interpreted to mean that we must shield both parties from the evil that exists in this life. But I do not believe that this is true love. An illustration will help me make my point here. Let us say that I am dying of lung cancer. I have spent the last thirty years of my life smoking despite the fact that I knew that it would kill me and hurt others. You are my best friend and will be hurt the most by my death. Considering that I selfishly brought this death upon myself, and deep sorrow upon you, how do you react lovingly to me? If you ignore what I have done and my suffering, you do not love me at all. No matter how wrong I was, no matter how selfish I was, if you ignore my suffering then you are doing a great evil yourself. As Christian artists, if we ignore the realities of this world then we only are suggesting that humanity and its suffering (with or without Christ, for both suffer in this world) is trivial. But nothing could be further from the truth. Separation from God, from peace, from Shalom is a tremendously painful existence. If you add to that the other sorrows of this life (pain, death, finiteness, limited time…etc…) that everyone experiences then you must admit that it is no light thing to exist in suffering.

So, to love someone you must not ignore the sin and sorrow of this life, but if you do not ignore them then you will offend someone with these horrors. If I relate the wretched and tortured existence of a serial killer, I will be treating that person as a person, as valuable. But that story might also be a great offense to others. The key here is balance. We must strive to make art that acknowledges man and his suffering and his fallenness. But not in a way that minimizes the great need for Christ’s intervention. Often when does speak to the human condition, it does so in a didactic manner. Returning to our illustration, this would be the same as coming to me as I am slowly dying and telling me how smoking kills me and suggesting that I should stop. It is not that these things do not need to be said, but that they need to be said with a tremendous love and empathy for the individual. This requires a love that comes from Christ alone. We do not have the selflessness to empathize with others sincerely. We never have and never will without Christ. We must acknowledge and offer hope without trivializing anything. What a challenge. The first step to avoiding offending people with a portrayal of the world, which includes sin and evil, is to be honest. If we are honest about sin, then we will not be glorifying it or cheapening its awfulness. The second step is to judge your audience. Not everyone should take part in viewing/taking-in all . There are some works of art that are too graphic for me. Their presentation of the human body is too vivid. I know that if I watch certain movies I will no longer stay faithful to my wife in my heart. That doesn’t mean that those movies are not great works of art, or that they glorify sin, it simply means that they are too much for me. It is easier for me to say that all art is sin and reject it than it is to be on my knees in prayer for wisdom and discernment. It is easier to love shallow works that do not offend me than those that offend but speak to the human condition. This is because critical thinking is not valued and discernment is often exchanged for legalism. As artist, it is our responsibility to be sensitive, in prayer for discernment, and aware of who will be engaging our art.

In conclusion, I believe that Christian artists have both the freedom and responsibility to make art that does “expose the deeds of darkness” at times, with an honest love for both those in sin and those who will be reading the stories. This balance only comes through prayer and exercise of discernment, and most of all, a true desire to love our God and our neighbor through art.

Saturday, January 07, 2006


The following story is quite violent.

“I need retribution, otherwise I will destroy myself. And retribution not somewhere and sometime in infinity, but here and now, on earth, so that I see it myself. I have believed, and I want to see for myself, and if I am dead by that time, let them resurrect me, because it will be too unfair if it all takes place without me.” Ivan Karamazov from Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov

I come to this place all the time. It’s a nice place to come and sit and let people just be around you. I mostly come for the free wireless Internet and the coffee, but it’s more than that. People talk a lot about how everything is getting worse and worse; how they used to be able to walk streets and all that kind of stuff, I guess that’s why no one looks at me in the eyes. I can sit in this place for hours and not one person will even acknowledge that I’m there. I blend in nicely. After I’m here for an hour or two I like to play this game where I breathe slower and I move as little as possible. I try to become invisible. Then I turn down my headphones (I always wear headphones) and see what I can hear people talking about. I don’t know why I do this, I’m way too old to be playing make believe or whatever, I just like to feel like I’m watching something. Maybe it comes from too much TV.

I usually pick a couple of tables near me as my targets. Old people are great, but they don’t talk much unless they’re with their grandkids or friends. It’s still nice to watch an old couple sit together and know that they love each other even though they look awful and they’re always in pain and they know all the other person’s secrets already. No mystery there, but there’s some peace to that. It’s mostly families here, which is usually good, but sometimes it’s depressing. It makes me tired to listen to some families talk, like they’re all bored but they feel obligated to say something. I guess genes are pretty pointless.

Young couples come here a lot too. They come after a lot of the families have gone home. Around seven or eight the place fills up with kids in groups and couples. I like to picture some of them as old people, I know that they aren’t likely to last long enough together to get married and grow old, but it’s fun anyway. The kids are all right as long as they’re nervous: it makes me really happy to see some kids sitting together sweating like crazy and talking about the dumbest stuff. I guess I just like to know that someone is still afraid in public. There is always at least one or two couples that kill it for me though. Some guy that either knows every inch of the girl’s body or knows that he will know every inch in about an hour, or some girl that thinks she’s all great because she gets the guy to do dumb crap for her all cause she’s a D cup. Whenever I see a young girl with her parents or friends I feel like I have to pray for her, especially if she’s pretty at all. I want to just think, “hey, she’s cute,” not like I want her or anything like that, just to think that she’s cute. But all I can help but think is that she’s either unbelievable dirty, or she will be in like two years. I don’t know why I pray, it’s not ‘cause I think it does any good, but I need to do something and if I went up to some little girl and told her not to ever let herself be treated like a sack of flesh someone would probably kick me out of here or get me arrested or something. I probably shouldn’t get so concerned about these girls, no one else seems to, only I can’t help it. Stuff like this seems more than wrong to me, it seems unjust, which is probably why I feel like praying even though I know its empty.

I got my favorite seat last time in the corner of the café. It gets kind of dark there at night so it helps me pretend to disappear even better. I was busy for the first hour or so writing and surfing the Internet, but I stopped after this family came to the table in front of me. There was just this young girl and her parents, but she was pretty. They talked a lot, which made me happy. To my right there was a table with an old German couple. I don’t know that they were German, but they looked like it. I turned off my music and held still so I could hear them all talking. I still surfed the Internet, but just to look like I wasn’t listening in on them at all. They didn’t say anything that interesting, but I still listened.

It made me feel really good listening to them. After a little while some kids came in; it was getting late. Two girls sat in the opposite corner from me; they looked really exposed, but pretty. They were too far for me to hear, but I watched them some. For the most part they made me feel down so I just avoided them. Whenever the door opens I watch to see who comes in. I know some people around here so if one of them comes in I want to see them before they see me so I can figure out what I am going to say and all. These two guys came in and sat to my right. They looked like they were about forty, but they also looked sixty. One was wearing an awfully sick looking pair of once-gray sweat pants; I think they were inside out. He had on this yellow shirt and over it was a leather jacket, but not like a biker would wear, it was tan and very worn-in. He was bald and his friend was going bald.

The almost-bald one was dressed like his friend, but a bit different. They were both fat; you could tell they drank a lot. It was real easy to hear them talk because they had that thick and heavy voice some fat people have. When they first sat down I saw the bald one give a couple of glances towards the family with the young girl. At first I figured that the bald one was interested in people just like me, but he just kept looking over at them so much that I began to wonder if he knew one of them. Then the almost-bald one started to look at them too.
I didn’t think they would actually order any food, but they did. In this place when you go to pick up your order you have to go to the side of the café that was opposite from the door. When their order was ready, the bald one got up and went to the opposite corner of the café to pick it up. He seemed to be the weaker one; I mean the wimpier one. He was a little smaller than the one that was going bald and he walked with a bit of a hunch. When the bald one brought their order to the table, he set it down and leaned over to his friend. He had a big grin on his face, which made me sick. I didn’t hear what he whispered, but the almost-bald guy said something like “yeah I saw her too” back to him. Then they both turned around to face the table where those two girls sat in the opposite corner from me and they scanned the room as if they were looking for someone. When the finished looking around, the bald one said something that I couldn’t hear and then they both laughed.

It was when they were pretending to look for someone that I first thought that they were rapists. I’ve known some real sick people in my life and they pretty much all looked sick too. These guys both looked like scum when they walked in and after seeing them checking out that little girl with her parents and those two other girls, I started to think about what they might be doing here. They didn’t look like they could afford to eat a meal at such a nice café, so it didn’t make much sense. Besides, they mostly served salads and sandwiches and these guys looked like hamburger people. The only thing I could think of was that they realized that this was a good place to find girls. Not to pick-up girls, ‘cause the way they looked no one would talk to them, but to follow girls out to their cars and kidnap and rape them. Or maybe follow them home and grab them before they got inside. While I was thinking about this they were telling some joke about being “filled” with the Holy Spirit with some sexual implication that I didn’t quite hear. They were cussing pretty loud considering they were sitting so close to that family at the other table. I didn’t have to go anywhere anytime soon, so I decided to watch them.

The almost-balding guy and his friend stayed for about an hour. Before they left the bald one got up and went outside. I could see from my seat by the window that someone was smoking a cigarette. It was dark out, but there was enough light to see him pacing around the parking lot. I saw him stop near one car, it was a green two-door; he looked around for a second then put his head up close to the widow. After that he came back in. He said some things to the almost-bald guy then they got up and walked to the door, leaving their near-empty plates on the table. The two girls were still sitting in the corner but the family had left about thirty minutes ago. I sat at my table for a minute thinking about what I should do, then I threw my laptop into my bag and left to see if I could find them. If I couldn’t find them outside I would just go home; if I could, I didn’t know.

The lampposts in the parking lot were halogen, which made them paint everything with a pale, blue light that was sickly fake. When I walked out into the night, I didn’t see anybody. I looked around to see if I could find the guys, but there were only cars. My heart was beating hard until I realized that they had left. I waited for a second, just to be sure, and then I walked to my car, which I had parked around the corner of the café. Parking at that place is always bad. As I neared the end of the building, I smelt cigarette smoke. I figured it might be those guys, so I slowly peeked around the corner and sure enough they were both smoking. When I saw them I leaned up against the wall so they couldn’t see me and when I did I saw the two girls leave the café and head my way. I didn’t want the guys to see me, but I also didn’t want to stand there looking stupid, so I casually went to my car. With the lights off in my car, I watched as the girls walked passed the almost-bald guy and his friend. I had my hand on the door handle just incase they tried to grab the girls. I don’t know what I thought I was going to do, but I was going to do something.

Once the girls were in their car, the guys stopped smoking and quickly got into their car. It was an old back Cadillac with dents. The girls pulled out of the parking lot first, and then the guys, and I followed them. I couldn’t tell how far ahead the girls were, but those guys drove fast and made a lot of sudden turns, which made me think that they must have been following the girls still. I kept up with them good, not too close so that they could see me, but not too far so that I lost them. We drove through a few housing tracks, down some side streets, and then they pulled over. I didn’t see the girls’ car at all, but I thought that they might have pulled into a driveway without my seeing them. Anyway the guys just sat there for like ten minutes, I parked in front of a house and turned off all my lights so it looked like I wasn’t there. One of them got out of the car and went to the trunk. The streetlight was dim so he was back there looking for awhile. It was too dark for me to see what he took back with him, but he did look around before he took it out. After he returned to the car, I could make out two red dots in their car, which told me they were smoking again. I started to think about what I could use to stop them. Not kill them, I didn’t want to kill anybody, I just wanted to help those girls. For a minute I thought about calling the cops, but I couldn’t think of anything to say to them. Nobody had done anything yet. I had that urge to pray again, so I did.

“Your no kinda God if you let those girls get abused.” It would have been an awful thing to pray if I really believed there was anyone listening.

While I waited for them to do something I felt really anxious; I just wanted them to act so I could figure out what I should do. They spent five or ten minutes parked there, then they turned their car around and headed straight for me. I ducked in my seat as they passed. Counting to five, I decided that it would be safe to follow them and so I did. Just as I expected they were going through the same neighborhoods that I had followed them through earlier. They were driving too fast for a residential area, which gave me the hope that a cop would pull them over. But there were no cops. I thought I lost them for a minute when they made a quick turn onto a street that I didn’t recognize from earlier. When I made the turn myself I could see their red brake lights glowing in the distance like beacons calling to me. They parked in front of a blue house about halfway down the block. It looked sort of beat-up, and the house itself was set so far back from the street that I doubted that it had a backyard at all. I parked four houses down on the other side of the street and watched them. I guess my heart was beating bad. They got out of their car and started to look around the street; I popped my trunk and slipped out the passenger-side door. When they started to walk up the pathway towards the house I dug through my trunk as fast as I could. After grabbing my tire-iron I spotted the almost-bald and bald guy walking slowly. Confident that they wouldn’t see me, I darted across the street and over to where the car sat; they were almost at the door. The lights in the house were on, but there was no movement that I saw. Christmas lights dangled wearily down from the eaves and a badly pruned tree stood in the center of the lawn. It seemed like the kind of place where whorey girls would live with their single mothers or their drunkard fathers. I knew whoever was in that house was going to be defenseless against these guys. They almost disappeared in the shadows as they reached the front door. For a second I saw them inside, naked, fat, and ugly, throwing a fist into the utterly horrified face of one of those girls and using the other to tear clothes from their bodies. My hands were red around the handle of the tire-iron.

I figured that they might not hear me if I ran across the grass lawn, there were no leaves to betray me. From the moment I left my spot beside their car I felt as if I had left my body and ascended into a state of pure motion. I caught the bald one in the face with the tire-iron as he turned to see me running towards him. He cursed as blood splattered and he fell. The almost-bald one tried to grab me, but I swung as hard as I could at his left leg. I didn’t expect the cracking sound. His friend was on all fours crying and screaming something about his eyes, I guess he was pretty bloody. Since he seemed to be unable to attack me, I turned back to the almost-bald guy, who was yelling at me to stop. I forced the tire-iron down upon his head, which gave another cracking sound and sent him into convulsions; his mouth was a red fountain. The bald one was crawling towards the door, but I hit him like the other. Both lay red on the ground. I knew they were dead, but all I could help but think about was that awful image of their disgusting bodies raping those two girls. Their eyes were the worst. I could barely make out the eyes of the bald one. I hit them both until their eyes were lost in the surrounding flesh.

It was hard to breathe and my body felt like it was falling to earth. I dropped the iron and pounded on the door. Nobody answered. I began to panic. The air was humid and it smelled of blood. It seemed like I should yell for help, but I was strangely afraid to puncture the silence with my voice. I took the iron from the ground I beat the door handle until it fell off. My head hurt a lot. I kicked the door open and screamed “help” with my eyes closed. The hot blood from the iron was dropping onto my hands and I hated it. When I opened my eyes I saw a poorly lit living room. There was a TV to my right and stacks of pornographic tapes and dvds and magazines in piles around the couch. I yelled again, but there was no answer so started to look for someone. It was late. I thought maybe they didn’t hear me. I glanced into the kitchen, but saw no one so I started down the hall. It was a mess. A door on my right turned out to be a bedroom. There wasn’t anyone in there, so I searched for pictures of the two girls, or any girls, but all I found was more magazines and some pictures that look like they had been printed from a computer. Back in the hallway I yelled again and looked into a doorway on the left, which turned out to be a bathroom. Even in the darkness I could make out black spots on the walls and ceiling. The last door was at the end of the hall. When I noticed the door, I realized that there had been faint voices coming from the room the whole time. I guess it was the shock or something; kept me from hearing. Opening the door, I saw a big bed in the middle of the room. A small TV was set across from the bed so that someone could watch it from bed. It smelled like powder and old air and urine. Next to the bed was a tank with a hose that was split into two and led to the nostrils of an almost unperceivable figure lying under a dark brown comforter. The light from the TV lit-up the lines and caverns of her small, oval face. She turned her head to look at me. I thought she would look shocked or something, but she just looked tired. More tired then I ever thought a person could look. I didn’t know what to say anymore. But she did.

“Tim? Walt?”


“Where are my boys?”

“Do any girls live here?”

“No. Where are my boys?” She tried to yell this time. It ended in coughing. I looked around the room for a phone, she had one next to her bed. Its cord ran along the wall to a jack next to the door. I pulled the cord from the wall-jack. She was still coughing and trying to yell when I shut the door and left. I went back to the kitchen a looked through the sliding glass door at their small backyard.

It was all dirt and weeds. I found some garbage bags under the sink; I grabbed a handful and headed for the front door. It was not my fault. I never chose to care about those girls. It wasn’t like I wanted to kill anybody or even be a hero; I didn’t even want to believe in justice, I just did. Someone else put that in me. What the hell was I supposed to do?

Sunday, January 01, 2006

A Great Post

Read this brillant article by Peter J. Leithart, Ph.D. about aesthetic apologetics: