Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Some Cultures Are Better Than Others

Cultures are not neutral in contradiction to postmodernism and multi-culturalism.  You don't get better through diversity, that is, adding or mixing inferior cultures with their superior.   Andrew Klavan, in his recent biography, really a personal testimony, The Great Good Thing, communicates one important aspect in the consummation of his conversion experience, was the revelation of God through Christian history.
Through my years of reading, I had come to believe, as I do still, that the nations of Europe from, say, the Renaissance to the First World War, had produced more of mankind's greatest artistic achievements than any others.  I know this is now an unpopular sentiment.  Some people condemn it as triumphalist.  Some even call it racist.  Some consider it merely impolite.  In fact, it sometimes seems to me the entire postmodern assault on the concept of truth has been staged to avoid just this conclusion:  some cultures are simply more productive than others and the high culture of Europe has been the most impressive so far.  It's as if, in the aftermath of the racist cataclysm of the Holocaust, Western thinkers have grown so skittish around the idea of racism they will do anything to avoid naming their culture as superior to others, even if it means avoiding the evidence of their own eyes. 
I despise racism.  It's in conflict with everything I feel and everything I believe.  But for me, the greatness of European culture is neither a racial issue or a moral one, just an observational truth.  As the discoveries and calculus of Newton are more important scientific breakthroughs than anything that came before or since, as the Constitution of the American founders is the most profound piece of distilled political wisdom in all history, it makes simple sense that the artistic culture that underlay those advances, the culture that includes the poetry of Shakespeare and Keats, the music of Bach and Mozart, the painting and sculpture of Michelangelo and Raphael, and the novels of Cervantes, Zola, Tolstoy, and Dickens was somehow better, richer, and deeper than any other culture that has ever existed on earth. 
This has nothing to do with whether these people were nice or decent or did good things.  It only concerns the objects they made and left behind.  I don't think it's a matter of mere taste either.  No matter what the popular thinking is, I can't convince myself that the greatness of a work of art lies in the appreciation of the observer.  I believe art does something.  I believe it records and preserves the inner experience of being human.  I believe some art does this better and more honestly and more completely than other art, whether I happen to enjoy it or not.  I'd rather read Raymond Chandler than Gustave Flaubert, but Flaubert is greater. 
So I thought--and think--that the beauty and truth of man's inner life--the beauty and truth of the human spirit--were recorded in the artworks of high Europe more consistently than in any others.  This, in turn, gave me a deep respect, bordering on awe, for the underlying philosophy that shaped and informed these works:  the Christian worldview.
Earlier he wrote:
I went to college just as the ideas often called postmodernism were rising up through the educational system.  Up to that time--under modernism--academics and intellectuals had considered themselves to be participating in a Great Conversation, an interchange carried on across the centuries by the major thinkers and artists of the Western canon.  The idea was that by studying this conversation you could move closer to the Truth and so find a fuller wisdom about reality and what made for the Good Life.  Now, though, those intellectual who derided and even denounced the Western canon and Western values in general had come to the fore.  Literature was no longer to be loved and learned from, but deconstructed to reveal its secret prejudices and power plays.  Language itself was now considered not a rude tool for transmitting meaning but a political instrument of imperialism and oppression that needed radical criticism.  The very idea of Truth was being rejected.  All morals were relative, all cultures equally legitimate.
Klavan is a Jew, two Jewish parents, having grown up in New York.  It was obvious to him that Christianity was true, because it was the only view that worked.  It was superior to everything else. That was obvious to him.  There was more that he needed to settle, but this is what brought him to the Bible and the gospel.

What Klavan describes above is something that evangelicals and even often fundamentalists won't admit, and yet it was crucial in his trajectory toward faith in Jesus Christ.  The Christian culture, it's truth, goodness, and beauty, attracted Him, which sent him thereby to the one true God.  Evangelicals have ejected this culture for something modernistic and postmodernistic, and act and talk like that is still supposed to reveal God.  It doesn't.  It clashes.  It actually confuses and gives a false message, a powerless one.

[As a disclaimer, I haven't finished Klavan's book.  I have about 10 percent left.  I'm not convinced he's  a saved person either, but I'll know more when I get to the end.  His testimony is not one I would give for salvation, but it is nonetheless amazing.]


Anonymous said...

I'm confused by "was the revelation of God through Christian history"

I thought all revelation was through creation or Scripture. Should we add a culture category to the "scientific method" category argued for by some? Does one require the other?

Thank you.

Mark Rogers

Anonymous said...

I apologize if that sounded snarky - it wasn't my intent. I'm sincerely wondering how I should categorize these things.

Kent Brandenburg said...


God reveals Himself and His will through conscience, through creation, through providence, the latter of which is history. We know God manifests Himself through history. You see and hear God in music that reflects His attributes. God is transcendent, and truth, goodness, and beauty are transcendent. Beauty reflects the transcendence of God.

This is what I'm talking about.

Anonymous said...

Thanks. I guess I have some learning to do. Perhaps you could recommend some readings??