Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Is the cigar just a cigar?

While working on the Gospel According to Shakespeare class, I was reading GK Chesterton’s collection of essays on Shakespeare. He wrote something to the effect of “The problem with Calvinists is that they’re always looking for a message rather than just enjoying” – of course I don’t remember the exact quote (it was 6 months ago, and I haven’t had a chance to look it up in my notes yet).

That comment stung – After all, isn’t that just what I’m trying to do with our cultural exegesis ministries (gospel according to Shakespeare, Art Museum Devotionals, etc). Then I came across this wonderful article on Belief.net by Frederica Matthews Green. It discusses the overanalysis of subtext in two children’s movies Shark Tales and the Incredibles. Both are wonderful movies, and both have led social pundits and commentators to go nuts in exploring the subtle messages that may or may not be behind the films.

  • See the article here

  • All of this leaves me wondering – are we doing this too? I really enjoy the films, plays, tv, books, experiences, and music that I write about here, but is this a case of overanalysis? There is an idea in deconstructionist philosophy that we simply play language games – we can deconstruct a work of art and then reconstruct its meaning in a playful and creative way – often directly contrary to what the artist intended. And if the philosophy holds true we can do this with every encounter. In effect, do we spend so much time “constructing our reality” that we don’t enjoy the reality that is around us? That seems to be exactly what Chesterton criticizes Calvinists for.

    And yet, there is a sense that we Calvinists are not trying to reconstruct reality, but simply portray the deep truth behind reality. We believe in the Sovereignty of God. I Chronicles 29 shows David praying to God “Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the spelndor; for everything in heaven and earth is yours. Yours O Lord, is the kingdom; you are exalted as head over all. Wealth and honor come from you; you are the ruler of all things. In your hands are strength and power to exalt and give strength to all.” Proverbs 8 depicts God as the master builder with wisdom, crafting everything in the Universe – including the foundational concepts of truth, goodness, beauty, love, faithfulness. All the virtues that we find in things reflect something of the Divine nature – even when that nature is not recognized. Artists who present beauty reflect God’s nature, even if they know nothing about God. This is the old doctrine of Common Grace.

    And so the Calvinist goal is to call attention to Common Grace at work in the world. It doesn’t mean we stop enjoying a work of art in order to read our own message into it fully. Rather it means that we more fully enjoy a work of art – for our enjoyment becomes an act of praise and worship.

    Soli Deo Gloria