What’s the use of studying a poem?

Thanks to Frank Sonnek for alerting me to this piece by literary critic Stanley Fish, trying to figure out what the value is of literary study.  He begins with a fine reading of some lines from George Herbert, and he nails Herbert’s Reformation emphasis on how Christ does EVERYTHING for our salvation.

Fish became a big postmodernist theorist, but he was also a first-rate George Herbert critic.  In fact, he was, like me, an early promoter of a Reformation reading of Herbert’s spirituality, in contrast to the Roman Catholic interpretations that dominated the scholarship until then.

So Fish tosses off this brilliant little example explaining a line from Herbert.  And, in fact, his overall discussion shooting down the various claimed uses for this sort of thing (to change your life?  not really.  to make you a critical thinker?  other things can do that too.  to enrich your conversation in the culture?  or make the conversation duller.  to promote liberal thinking?  but conservatives read the same texts) is pretty much true.

But what he is no longer able to do, given his postmodernist worldview–which makes him have to explain everything in terms of a “community of discourse”–is to use classical, Aristotelian analysis, whereby some things, such as a poem and studying a poem, are good IN THEMSELVES.  Not everything HAS to be “useful” (good because it leads to other goods).   The pursuit of things good in themselves was also the hallmark of a classical, liberal arts education (as Cardinal Newman explains).

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • fw

    In Francis Schaeffer´s wonderful book “How shall we then live?”, he makes a big deal of someone climbing a mountain “just because it is there” sometime shortly after the reformation.

    He argues that apart from a christian worldview or the christian worldview yeasting and salting the world, this would have simply not happened.

    My life is so much richer for the NON-elective Milton and shakespeare and classical latin and german and greek and hebrew and biology, and geometry, etc, etc. I received in the Wisconsin Synod´s educational system (starting in high school!), which mirrors what the Missouri Synod has now completely lost.

    They told me at the time, that the purpose of it all was that my world and my faith grew up in greece, rome and germany. I would never understand those things truly if I did not know the language and literature first hand.

    But this explanation was not offered either as justification or purpose as I see it now. It just was.

    Keep in mind that the awesome secondary purpose for this educational system was to train pastors and teachers starting from kindergarden. Seminaries were finishing schools. Studies in Language and litterature, sciences, music and athletics were complete at the bachelor´s level. The cost to students is nominal because the ex-pastors who teach are not professionalized as to pay or holding doctorates. They see their work vocationally and are masters of their subjects while holding often only MDivs. Amazing.

    Could we get back to this thinking again in the LC-MS? Maybe humble ourselves to learn something from the WELS here that we seem to have forgotten? We seem to be rediscovering and reinventing a wheel we forgot we had.

    Churchill, told that the purpose of learning latin was to learn grammar, oppined that english was a better vehicle for learning english grammar.

    I don´t seem to agree with churchill OR his teachers.

    I don´t see any tangible value to my education other than it allowing me to take a “chill pill” and a “long view” and not panic over current social trends.

    I do STILL agree tho with:

    “Latin´s a dead language,
    as dead as it can be,
    first it killed the Romans,
    and now it´s killing me.”
    ;)

  • fw

    In Francis Schaeffer´s wonderful book “How shall we then live?”, he makes a big deal of someone climbing a mountain “just because it is there” sometime shortly after the reformation.

    He argues that apart from a christian worldview or the christian worldview yeasting and salting the world, this would have simply not happened.

    My life is so much richer for the NON-elective Milton and shakespeare and classical latin and german and greek and hebrew and biology, and geometry, etc, etc. I received in the Wisconsin Synod´s educational system (starting in high school!), which mirrors what the Missouri Synod has now completely lost.

    They told me at the time, that the purpose of it all was that my world and my faith grew up in greece, rome and germany. I would never understand those things truly if I did not know the language and literature first hand.

    But this explanation was not offered either as justification or purpose as I see it now. It just was.

    Keep in mind that the awesome secondary purpose for this educational system was to train pastors and teachers starting from kindergarden. Seminaries were finishing schools. Studies in Language and litterature, sciences, music and athletics were complete at the bachelor´s level. The cost to students is nominal because the ex-pastors who teach are not professionalized as to pay or holding doctorates. They see their work vocationally and are masters of their subjects while holding often only MDivs. Amazing.

    Could we get back to this thinking again in the LC-MS? Maybe humble ourselves to learn something from the WELS here that we seem to have forgotten? We seem to be rediscovering and reinventing a wheel we forgot we had.

    Churchill, told that the purpose of learning latin was to learn grammar, oppined that english was a better vehicle for learning english grammar.

    I don´t seem to agree with churchill OR his teachers.

    I don´t see any tangible value to my education other than it allowing me to take a “chill pill” and a “long view” and not panic over current social trends.

    I do STILL agree tho with:

    “Latin´s a dead language,
    as dead as it can be,
    first it killed the Romans,
    and now it´s killing me.”
    ;)

  • Pinon Coffee

    Hear, hear.

    English, in my vast (ha!) experience and observation, is a terrible way to learn English grammar. I tried it both ways and Latin is much more efficacious. I’ve also found Latin helpful for learning random other languages, if you want to–besides you get discover its all-around awesome coolness. :-)

    But that’s getting away from Fish’s point.

    It’s true, postmodernists aren’t able to explain anything in Aristotelian good-in-themselves terms. And those are good ways of thinking about things, very helpful. But when I read Fish’s editorials, what struck me was even more basic: without Christ, art is pointless.

    In Christ, it makes perfect sense to spend your life studying Herbert. Or Dante. Or Virgil. Or even Sartre, if you prefer. They all reflect something about reality. Jesus holds it together so those “useless” studies have their proper place. But without Him, academia is just another lifestyle choice, if you can find someone willing to pay you to do it.

    It also occurs to me that the humanities properly understood as good-in-themselves-under-Christ will suddenly discover they’ve got all kinds of uses. But if you “do” literature for what you can get out of it, you will lose whatver value it had. I think Lewis talks about that.

  • Pinon Coffee

    Hear, hear.

    English, in my vast (ha!) experience and observation, is a terrible way to learn English grammar. I tried it both ways and Latin is much more efficacious. I’ve also found Latin helpful for learning random other languages, if you want to–besides you get discover its all-around awesome coolness. :-)

    But that’s getting away from Fish’s point.

    It’s true, postmodernists aren’t able to explain anything in Aristotelian good-in-themselves terms. And those are good ways of thinking about things, very helpful. But when I read Fish’s editorials, what struck me was even more basic: without Christ, art is pointless.

    In Christ, it makes perfect sense to spend your life studying Herbert. Or Dante. Or Virgil. Or even Sartre, if you prefer. They all reflect something about reality. Jesus holds it together so those “useless” studies have their proper place. But without Him, academia is just another lifestyle choice, if you can find someone willing to pay you to do it.

    It also occurs to me that the humanities properly understood as good-in-themselves-under-Christ will suddenly discover they’ve got all kinds of uses. But if you “do” literature for what you can get out of it, you will lose whatver value it had. I think Lewis talks about that.

  • Nathan

    Interesting thoughts above. Let me challenge a little bit.

    It seems to me that the only way that art, poetry, or anything for that matter, can be “good in itself” is if it is seen as being connected with the “mystery-gift” of love and humanity (and this is fully understood only in the love of the Triune God, ultimately revealed in Christ).

    In short, “good in itself” thinking can only proceed from a state, or disposition, of thankfulness.

    Therefore: I believe that becoming educated about the cosmos with a view towards some control over [fallen] nature can be a good and edifying thing (in other words, being “conservative” about education for the sake of being radical [and this can be used for what are ultimately good or evil ends, namely to give glory to God in Christ or not]). However, when all of our efforts are directed towards dominating nature such that we no longer see the need to connect intimately with on-the-ground, evidential, empirical realities – particulars and universals, personal and impersonal – then we seem to be getting very far from what it means to properfly be human.

    I’m curious: WHY would a pagan thinker like Aristotle contend that something like studying a poem is “good in itself”.

    And… is his answer acceptable – even from a Christian perspective?

  • Nathan

    Interesting thoughts above. Let me challenge a little bit.

    It seems to me that the only way that art, poetry, or anything for that matter, can be “good in itself” is if it is seen as being connected with the “mystery-gift” of love and humanity (and this is fully understood only in the love of the Triune God, ultimately revealed in Christ).

    In short, “good in itself” thinking can only proceed from a state, or disposition, of thankfulness.

    Therefore: I believe that becoming educated about the cosmos with a view towards some control over [fallen] nature can be a good and edifying thing (in other words, being “conservative” about education for the sake of being radical [and this can be used for what are ultimately good or evil ends, namely to give glory to God in Christ or not]). However, when all of our efforts are directed towards dominating nature such that we no longer see the need to connect intimately with on-the-ground, evidential, empirical realities – particulars and universals, personal and impersonal – then we seem to be getting very far from what it means to properfly be human.

    I’m curious: WHY would a pagan thinker like Aristotle contend that something like studying a poem is “good in itself”.

    And… is his answer acceptable – even from a Christian perspective?

  • fw

    Dr Vieth:

    What is fish religiously?

    How do you know he is post-modernist? and why does that matter? I am realizing I need to confess that I have used that word for years and have never formally delved into what it means? does “post-modernist ” mean something universally understood? how is it related to modernism, is it a reaction to , an evolution of or both? I have read that fundamentalism is really a modernist phenomenon and that modernism started in the 18th century. Can you point me somewhere… (ne of your many books perhaps?) to where I can understand all this better?

  • fw

    Dr Vieth:

    What is fish religiously?

    How do you know he is post-modernist? and why does that matter? I am realizing I need to confess that I have used that word for years and have never formally delved into what it means? does “post-modernist ” mean something universally understood? how is it related to modernism, is it a reaction to , an evolution of or both? I have read that fundamentalism is really a modernist phenomenon and that modernism started in the 18th century. Can you point me somewhere… (ne of your many books perhaps?) to where I can understand all this better?

  • fw

    Pinon Cafe and Nathan:

    There seems to be an interesting convergence here.

    Studying the PAGAN classics of art music and literature can be good in its self. but this is pointless without Christ.

    How does this apparent contradiction work out in your minds exactly. I am extremely curious.

  • fw

    Pinon Cafe and Nathan:

    There seems to be an interesting convergence here.

    Studying the PAGAN classics of art music and literature can be good in its self. but this is pointless without Christ.

    How does this apparent contradiction work out in your minds exactly. I am extremely curious.

  • http://www.geneveith.com Veith

    Well, Frank, if you don’t mind, allow me to recommend my book (highlighted at the right panel of this blog) “Postmodern Times.” I discuss Fish there.

    Also, as for whether LCMS schools have lost this classical emphasis, this may be true in general, but there is also a revival of classical Lutheran education in the members of the Consortium of Classical Lutheran Education. There are about ten schools that are members now, including the one my wife is currently leading, as well as some others that are classical but non-members. Also, I am told that the Evangelical Lutheran Synod is working to make ALL of their school classical.

    Check out the CCLE website: http://www.ccle.org/

    Note too that we are having our convention in August here at Patrick Henry College. Y’all come.

  • http://www.geneveith.com Veith

    Well, Frank, if you don’t mind, allow me to recommend my book (highlighted at the right panel of this blog) “Postmodern Times.” I discuss Fish there.

    Also, as for whether LCMS schools have lost this classical emphasis, this may be true in general, but there is also a revival of classical Lutheran education in the members of the Consortium of Classical Lutheran Education. There are about ten schools that are members now, including the one my wife is currently leading, as well as some others that are classical but non-members. Also, I am told that the Evangelical Lutheran Synod is working to make ALL of their school classical.

    Check out the CCLE website: http://www.ccle.org/

    Note too that we are having our convention in August here at Patrick Henry College. Y’all come.

  • Joe

    Dr. Veith,

    Thanks for the link to ccle. I had not heard of it before (according to the website there are no CCLE schools in Wisconsin, although I know that Peace Lutheran in Sussex, WI would fit within this description).

    We home school (because the LCMS schools within a reasonable driving range stink) and this website has many useful resources that we can use. We use the Well Trained Mind as a guide but this left a large reading gap on theological issues. This seems to fill that gap. Thanks!

  • Joe

    Dr. Veith,

    Thanks for the link to ccle. I had not heard of it before (according to the website there are no CCLE schools in Wisconsin, although I know that Peace Lutheran in Sussex, WI would fit within this description).

    We home school (because the LCMS schools within a reasonable driving range stink) and this website has many useful resources that we can use. We use the Well Trained Mind as a guide but this left a large reading gap on theological issues. This seems to fill that gap. Thanks!

  • Nathan

    fw,

    I am not sure I can articulate it very well. For me, I think this is all tied up with concepts of natural law. Since the Enlightenment, there has been a general consensus even among conservative Christians that even without Divine Revelation, natural law thinking will survive.

    I am not sure I believe this – or if I do, how I believe it (what this means). One thing to think on:
    the Greek word translated “nature” can also refer to something that is inherited via culture – e.g. the same book talks about the Jews being physically circumcised by nature.

    I tend to think that divine revelation itself has been part and parcel of the formation of the natural law tradition, and that the two cannot be neatly separated.

    One sees that in Luther people have the law in some sense when they are born and also as they are taught the law by their particular culture. If a person is brought up in a culture that has not been nourished in his true humanity through a steady and rightly divided dose of Law and Gospel, but is rather a part of a family or culture that has largely abandoned the Word of God passed on from Adam, it is likely that they will have a more minimal understanding of the “natural law.”

    Again, “WHY would a pagan thinker like Aristotle contend that something like studying a poem is “good in itself””. Does anyone know? I want to know!

  • Nathan

    fw,

    I am not sure I can articulate it very well. For me, I think this is all tied up with concepts of natural law. Since the Enlightenment, there has been a general consensus even among conservative Christians that even without Divine Revelation, natural law thinking will survive.

    I am not sure I believe this – or if I do, how I believe it (what this means). One thing to think on:
    the Greek word translated “nature” can also refer to something that is inherited via culture – e.g. the same book talks about the Jews being physically circumcised by nature.

    I tend to think that divine revelation itself has been part and parcel of the formation of the natural law tradition, and that the two cannot be neatly separated.

    One sees that in Luther people have the law in some sense when they are born and also as they are taught the law by their particular culture. If a person is brought up in a culture that has not been nourished in his true humanity through a steady and rightly divided dose of Law and Gospel, but is rather a part of a family or culture that has largely abandoned the Word of God passed on from Adam, it is likely that they will have a more minimal understanding of the “natural law.”

    Again, “WHY would a pagan thinker like Aristotle contend that something like studying a poem is “good in itself””. Does anyone know? I want to know!

  • http://www.geneveith.com Veith

    I don’t know that Aristotle actually addressed studying a poem, though he wrote one of the best in that vein, his treatise on tragedies. And by “good,” he’s not meaning that in a moral sense exactly. Some things are “goods.” Food is “a good.” That is, they are ends that we seek.

    Money, for example, is a “good.” But it is just dirty paper in itself. It is an “instrumental good,” meaning that it leads to other goods (food, shelter, etc.). It is a way to care for your family. Your family, though, should be seen as an “intrinsic good.” You shouldn’t try to USE your children to advance your status goals, to make your life easier, etc., but you should value them for themselves. An object of beauty–a sunset, a painting, a poem–is also an intrinsic good. Yes, someone could value a painting for how much money it could get him, but that is missing the aesthetic purpose and the intrinsic nature of the work.

    An intellectual exercise might be an instrumental good (I figure out how to design a new tool that would make my work easier), or it might be an intrinsic good (making a historical discovery that is worthy just because it is true, and truth is the proper end of the mind).

    All this is in Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics, by the way, a very illuminating read.

  • http://www.geneveith.com Veith

    I don’t know that Aristotle actually addressed studying a poem, though he wrote one of the best in that vein, his treatise on tragedies. And by “good,” he’s not meaning that in a moral sense exactly. Some things are “goods.” Food is “a good.” That is, they are ends that we seek.

    Money, for example, is a “good.” But it is just dirty paper in itself. It is an “instrumental good,” meaning that it leads to other goods (food, shelter, etc.). It is a way to care for your family. Your family, though, should be seen as an “intrinsic good.” You shouldn’t try to USE your children to advance your status goals, to make your life easier, etc., but you should value them for themselves. An object of beauty–a sunset, a painting, a poem–is also an intrinsic good. Yes, someone could value a painting for how much money it could get him, but that is missing the aesthetic purpose and the intrinsic nature of the work.

    An intellectual exercise might be an instrumental good (I figure out how to design a new tool that would make my work easier), or it might be an intrinsic good (making a historical discovery that is worthy just because it is true, and truth is the proper end of the mind).

    All this is in Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics, by the way, a very illuminating read.

  • fw

    #9 Dr Vieth

    so do you write about this stuff too in one of your books? If you haven´t yet it would be worthwhile at alot of levels…..

    (for the rest of you, no i am not an infomercial plant ok? I just have seen Vieth break things like this down in some interesting ways…)

  • fw

    #9 Dr Vieth

    so do you write about this stuff too in one of your books? If you haven´t yet it would be worthwhile at alot of levels…..

    (for the rest of you, no i am not an infomercial plant ok? I just have seen Vieth break things like this down in some interesting ways…)

  • fw

    #6 vieth

    is that “christianity in the post-modern age in audible book format?

    encouraging about the classical movement in the LCMS. now if we can figure out how we could offer Lutheran primary education to everyone for free like in the old days and secondary and college level to lcms youth on the cheap if they are committed to becoming pastors and teachers….. it would be nice to see synod budget skewed in that direction…..

  • fw

    #6 vieth

    is that “christianity in the post-modern age in audible book format?

    encouraging about the classical movement in the LCMS. now if we can figure out how we could offer Lutheran primary education to everyone for free like in the old days and secondary and college level to lcms youth on the cheap if they are committed to becoming pastors and teachers….. it would be nice to see synod budget skewed in that direction…..

  • fw

    #8 nathan

    isn´t aristotles view much the same as the “art for art´s sake” secular thinking of today? thanks for your thoughts by the way. pretty deep stuff.

  • fw

    #8 nathan

    isn´t aristotles view much the same as the “art for art´s sake” secular thinking of today? thanks for your thoughts by the way. pretty deep stuff.

  • fw

    #8 Nathan

    Luther somewhere (large catechism?) talks about how God drives people to serve us. he compells the baker and farmers to get up early to bake and sow… etc.

    how much more so for writers and artists to be inspired to do what they do? that “muse thang”. people having fully formed characters in their heads and they just seem compelled to write as though possessed by those characters… or Tchikowsky hearing a fully formed score riding on a train… I always like to be around artists, sometimes especially of the most pagan variety. How they connect to reality can be jarring, and at the same time they seem to have a “3rd eye” or “sixth sense” somehow. somehow it seems to drive them to madness or alchoholism or…

    There was a norton anthology i had to read in HS that showed music, art, and literature in parallel and what was happening in each period. art was usually about 30 years ahead of the curve of everything else… they just KNEW somehow where society was headed….

  • fw

    #8 Nathan

    Luther somewhere (large catechism?) talks about how God drives people to serve us. he compells the baker and farmers to get up early to bake and sow… etc.

    how much more so for writers and artists to be inspired to do what they do? that “muse thang”. people having fully formed characters in their heads and they just seem compelled to write as though possessed by those characters… or Tchikowsky hearing a fully formed score riding on a train… I always like to be around artists, sometimes especially of the most pagan variety. How they connect to reality can be jarring, and at the same time they seem to have a “3rd eye” or “sixth sense” somehow. somehow it seems to drive them to madness or alchoholism or…

    There was a norton anthology i had to read in HS that showed music, art, and literature in parallel and what was happening in each period. art was usually about 30 years ahead of the curve of everything else… they just KNEW somehow where society was headed….

  • Nathan

    Dr. Veith,

    Thanks so much for that reply. It helps.

    Do you think it makes any sense to say that “In short, “good in itself” thinking can only proceed from a state, or disposition, of thankfulness?”

    Someone I read lately said that Aristotle had it wrong – man is not the rational animal but the ungrateful animal, or something to that effect. (here: http://blogs.britannica.com/blog/main/2007/07/thoughts-on-the-meaning-of-suffering-part-2/ ) Hmm

    Re: Aristotle’s views, I think the ideas of “intrinsic good” and “instrumental good” are somewhat compelling, pointing to a reality that is certainly true… but crucially – can this make sense not just from a Christian perspective, but also from all other Divine-power perspectives? (this is why I think Christians who value classical education need to be particularly wise…) After all, if we value our families, the sunset, a piece of art, or simply true knowledge about the world and world history as “proper ends in themselves” (and mercifully, not as means to a particular end!), *what conceivable reason is there to not just stop there, finding the divine within – as part and parcel of – it all?*

    Mix this with popular perceptions of Aristotle, and you have a lethal mix. For example, Will Smith, who being interviewed by about his new movie the “Pursuit of Happyness”, said, “I’ve been reading a lot about what is happiness, and I feel Aristotle had the best idea… He broke it down in the ‘Nicomachean Ethics.’ Like for me, it feels directly and inexorably connected to self-esteem. So I always explain it as: Think of yourself as two people and one of them is inside of you, and he’s a scorekeeper. And he keeps score of your idea of the world. …And when you have a conflict with your scorekeeper, that’s unhappiness. Happiness is being completely in sync… with your own perception of goodness”. (Caro, Mark, Chicago Tribune, in Star Tribune, Dec. 15, 2006, section F).

    It seems to me that without revelation’s persistent “side-by-side” influence (in other words, a big part of people knowing God’s law [in some sense], is because they see, and copy, or mimic, the followers of the true God), “natural law thinking” is bound to lead people further and further away from God’s will for us.

    But *if* we hear the truth that there is a Creator and Redeemer that is distinct from the cosmos – and if we do experience thankfulness as a result of these evidently created things… are they not – in reality – an “instrumental good” that leads us to praise of, and thanksgiving to, the true God… and is this not a good thing?

    And by the way, is food an “instrinsic good” or an “instrumental good” anyways? 

    What do you think of this:

    Education – learning what it means to be human – is about enjoying God and his gifts, as we serve and bless our neighbor for His Name’s sake with our [personal] knowledge of Him and His creation.

    FW,

    Thanks for the kind words.

  • Nathan

    Dr. Veith,

    Thanks so much for that reply. It helps.

    Do you think it makes any sense to say that “In short, “good in itself” thinking can only proceed from a state, or disposition, of thankfulness?”

    Someone I read lately said that Aristotle had it wrong – man is not the rational animal but the ungrateful animal, or something to that effect. (here: http://blogs.britannica.com/blog/main/2007/07/thoughts-on-the-meaning-of-suffering-part-2/ ) Hmm

    Re: Aristotle’s views, I think the ideas of “intrinsic good” and “instrumental good” are somewhat compelling, pointing to a reality that is certainly true… but crucially – can this make sense not just from a Christian perspective, but also from all other Divine-power perspectives? (this is why I think Christians who value classical education need to be particularly wise…) After all, if we value our families, the sunset, a piece of art, or simply true knowledge about the world and world history as “proper ends in themselves” (and mercifully, not as means to a particular end!), *what conceivable reason is there to not just stop there, finding the divine within – as part and parcel of – it all?*

    Mix this with popular perceptions of Aristotle, and you have a lethal mix. For example, Will Smith, who being interviewed by about his new movie the “Pursuit of Happyness”, said, “I’ve been reading a lot about what is happiness, and I feel Aristotle had the best idea… He broke it down in the ‘Nicomachean Ethics.’ Like for me, it feels directly and inexorably connected to self-esteem. So I always explain it as: Think of yourself as two people and one of them is inside of you, and he’s a scorekeeper. And he keeps score of your idea of the world. …And when you have a conflict with your scorekeeper, that’s unhappiness. Happiness is being completely in sync… with your own perception of goodness”. (Caro, Mark, Chicago Tribune, in Star Tribune, Dec. 15, 2006, section F).

    It seems to me that without revelation’s persistent “side-by-side” influence (in other words, a big part of people knowing God’s law [in some sense], is because they see, and copy, or mimic, the followers of the true God), “natural law thinking” is bound to lead people further and further away from God’s will for us.

    But *if* we hear the truth that there is a Creator and Redeemer that is distinct from the cosmos – and if we do experience thankfulness as a result of these evidently created things… are they not – in reality – an “instrumental good” that leads us to praise of, and thanksgiving to, the true God… and is this not a good thing?

    And by the way, is food an “instrinsic good” or an “instrumental good” anyways? 

    What do you think of this:

    Education – learning what it means to be human – is about enjoying God and his gifts, as we serve and bless our neighbor for His Name’s sake with our [personal] knowledge of Him and His creation.

    FW,

    Thanks for the kind words.

  • Nathan

    Dr. Veith,
    I am realizing my post may have seemed contradictory, as I had said:
    Do you think it makes any sense to say that “In short, “good in itself” thinking can only proceed from a state, or disposition, of thankfulness?”
    …and then I went on to talk about how “good in itself thinking”, without divine revelation, could lead to pantheism (and worse).
    I mean to say that, when a person feels thankful, they are actually capable of thinking of things in a way that goes beyond the “what can it do for me? / how is it useful to me?” kind of meme. I.e. such thinking is actually conceivable.
    I think as sinners, we are literally bound to think this purely “instrumental” way – apart from God’s “common grace” / mercy that is (though even when common grace “strikes”, and an unbeliever realizes that they are thankful and have received love, seemingly been able to sacrifice for another, etc. they are still bound – apart from divine revelation pointing to Christ – to think when it comes to thinking about their relationship with the Divine: “I must have done something good”, “I am a good person”, “What a good boy am I”, etc.) – and those who have experienced little thankfulness are bound to see most everything as instrumental (which coincides with extreme forms of materialism)
    The Christian however, informed as he is by divine revelation, in one sense, sees everything as intrinsically and instrumentally good – it is something that is to be valued and enjoyed, simply because God has created it and given it to us because He loves us. It spurs us to freely create for the sheer joy of it in the same way, imitating our Father (as kids often do). At the same time, it is, practically speaking, also “instrumentally good” in that it does not lead us to pantheism, but to Him, somewhat outside the system (“as it is in heaven”) – and to further enjoyment of Him and His purposes (“on earth as it is…”).
    Something like money is perhaps not so much an “instrumental good” – but a “good of the fallen world”, in that it is something that is necessary now, but will not be in the new heavens and new earth. Perhaps the same could be said for most technological creations, which help us fight against the curse of the fallen world.
    As you can see, I suspect Christians need to really “mess up the hair” of Aristotle’s categories.

  • Nathan

    Dr. Veith,
    I am realizing my post may have seemed contradictory, as I had said:
    Do you think it makes any sense to say that “In short, “good in itself” thinking can only proceed from a state, or disposition, of thankfulness?”
    …and then I went on to talk about how “good in itself thinking”, without divine revelation, could lead to pantheism (and worse).
    I mean to say that, when a person feels thankful, they are actually capable of thinking of things in a way that goes beyond the “what can it do for me? / how is it useful to me?” kind of meme. I.e. such thinking is actually conceivable.
    I think as sinners, we are literally bound to think this purely “instrumental” way – apart from God’s “common grace” / mercy that is (though even when common grace “strikes”, and an unbeliever realizes that they are thankful and have received love, seemingly been able to sacrifice for another, etc. they are still bound – apart from divine revelation pointing to Christ – to think when it comes to thinking about their relationship with the Divine: “I must have done something good”, “I am a good person”, “What a good boy am I”, etc.) – and those who have experienced little thankfulness are bound to see most everything as instrumental (which coincides with extreme forms of materialism)
    The Christian however, informed as he is by divine revelation, in one sense, sees everything as intrinsically and instrumentally good – it is something that is to be valued and enjoyed, simply because God has created it and given it to us because He loves us. It spurs us to freely create for the sheer joy of it in the same way, imitating our Father (as kids often do). At the same time, it is, practically speaking, also “instrumentally good” in that it does not lead us to pantheism, but to Him, somewhat outside the system (“as it is in heaven”) – and to further enjoyment of Him and His purposes (“on earth as it is…”).
    Something like money is perhaps not so much an “instrumental good” – but a “good of the fallen world”, in that it is something that is necessary now, but will not be in the new heavens and new earth. Perhaps the same could be said for most technological creations, which help us fight against the curse of the fallen world.
    As you can see, I suspect Christians need to really “mess up the hair” of Aristotle’s categories.

  • Nathan

    fw,

    “isn´t aristotles view much the same as the “art for art´s sake” secular thinking of today?”

    Maybe. For agnostic, atheistic materialists, at least, the concept of “art for art’s sake” seems to me inevitably vacuous when on considers that for them, value must ultimately come down to that which “could be interpreted as profitable for man’s comfort or useful in the universal battle for survival” (Schumacher, A Guide for the Perplexed).

    In other words, all that is conceivable is the “what can it do for me? / how is it useful to me?” meme (this is what happens when the “true reality” – not just the appearance – is that the “selfish genes” are running the show)

    Check this out my conversation with an artist here at the Britannica blog for more on this line of thought:

    http://blogs.britannica.com/blog/main/2007/11/art-and-elitism-a-form-of-pattern-recognition/

  • Nathan

    fw,

    “isn´t aristotles view much the same as the “art for art´s sake” secular thinking of today?”

    Maybe. For agnostic, atheistic materialists, at least, the concept of “art for art’s sake” seems to me inevitably vacuous when on considers that for them, value must ultimately come down to that which “could be interpreted as profitable for man’s comfort or useful in the universal battle for survival” (Schumacher, A Guide for the Perplexed).

    In other words, all that is conceivable is the “what can it do for me? / how is it useful to me?” meme (this is what happens when the “true reality” – not just the appearance – is that the “selfish genes” are running the show)

    Check this out my conversation with an artist here at the Britannica blog for more on this line of thought:

    http://blogs.britannica.com/blog/main/2007/11/art-and-elitism-a-form-of-pattern-recognition/

  • http://www.geneveith.com Veith

    “Art for Art’s Sake” was a modernist, quasi-classical approach, but that is NOT what we have today. As Nathan here says, art is valued NOT for its own sake (as a good in itself), but for being “profitable for man’s comfort or useful in the universal battle for survival,” or “what can it do for me?” Notice these are all still modes of being useful. Postmodernists also tend to see art as political propaganda.

  • http://www.geneveith.com Veith

    “Art for Art’s Sake” was a modernist, quasi-classical approach, but that is NOT what we have today. As Nathan here says, art is valued NOT for its own sake (as a good in itself), but for being “profitable for man’s comfort or useful in the universal battle for survival,” or “what can it do for me?” Notice these are all still modes of being useful. Postmodernists also tend to see art as political propaganda.

  • http://www.geneveith.com Veith

    And Frank, speaking of shilling for my books, I’m going to have to do some shilling of my own in answer to your question. Check out my books “Reading Between the Lines: A Christian Guide to Literature.” Also “State of the Arts.”

  • http://www.geneveith.com Veith

    And Frank, speaking of shilling for my books, I’m going to have to do some shilling of my own in answer to your question. Check out my books “Reading Between the Lines: A Christian Guide to Literature.” Also “State of the Arts.”

  • Nathan

    Veith: “Art for Art’s Sake” was a modernist, quasi-classical approach…”

    …which in my mind was just a stopgap for the desire to return to paganism (which = sophisticated folks embracing varieties of pantheism [more impersonal] and the ignorant masses getting the polytheism [more personal]). I submit that some of the more sophisticated materialists (who I think can find a common cause with pantheistic kinds of thinking) *always* used the “inherited capitol” (J.W. Montgomery) of the Christian mind / world to their advantage against “cultural Christians”, who while not actually being Christians, were nevertheless bathed in a Christian frame of mind, and would therefore look at folks like Plato and Aristotle, and would assume that Christianity and Greek thought were in many ways compatible (they also beat out: “sophisticated Christians” [who exhibit a false sophistication, for example thinking that things like 6-day creationism are beyond the pale, and not worthy of serious consideration and examination] and of course, “fuzzy-minded” Christians [those who simply don't think much at all]) Actually, I suspect that these systems do not mesh well at all, and that the most sophisicated materialist-types (who actually carefully read Epicureus, Lucretius, Machievelli, Locke, Hobbes, Rousseau… Darwin was simply the *last* piece of the puzzle – see moral Darwinism by Wiker) could always see this – or at least saw how Aristotle for example, which was preferrable to Christian theism, could easily merge with materialism (as it does not exclude pantheism).

  • Nathan

    Veith: “Art for Art’s Sake” was a modernist, quasi-classical approach…”

    …which in my mind was just a stopgap for the desire to return to paganism (which = sophisticated folks embracing varieties of pantheism [more impersonal] and the ignorant masses getting the polytheism [more personal]). I submit that some of the more sophisticated materialists (who I think can find a common cause with pantheistic kinds of thinking) *always* used the “inherited capitol” (J.W. Montgomery) of the Christian mind / world to their advantage against “cultural Christians”, who while not actually being Christians, were nevertheless bathed in a Christian frame of mind, and would therefore look at folks like Plato and Aristotle, and would assume that Christianity and Greek thought were in many ways compatible (they also beat out: “sophisticated Christians” [who exhibit a false sophistication, for example thinking that things like 6-day creationism are beyond the pale, and not worthy of serious consideration and examination] and of course, “fuzzy-minded” Christians [those who simply don't think much at all]) Actually, I suspect that these systems do not mesh well at all, and that the most sophisicated materialist-types (who actually carefully read Epicureus, Lucretius, Machievelli, Locke, Hobbes, Rousseau… Darwin was simply the *last* piece of the puzzle – see moral Darwinism by Wiker) could always see this – or at least saw how Aristotle for example, which was preferrable to Christian theism, could easily merge with materialism (as it does not exclude pantheism).

  • Nathan

    could always see this – or at least saw how Aristotle for example, which was preferrable to Christian theism, could easily merge with materialism (as it does not exclude pantheism).

    should say:

    could always see this – or at least saw how Aristotle for example was preferrable to Christian theism, as it could more easily merge with materialism (since Aristotle does not exclude pantheism, and in my mind, even encourages it).

  • Nathan

    could always see this – or at least saw how Aristotle for example, which was preferrable to Christian theism, could easily merge with materialism (as it does not exclude pantheism).

    should say:

    could always see this – or at least saw how Aristotle for example was preferrable to Christian theism, as it could more easily merge with materialism (since Aristotle does not exclude pantheism, and in my mind, even encourages it).

  • http://maplemountain.blogspot.com/ samuel

    From my follow up post at my blog…sorry it’s long, but I loved this post by Dr. Veith and enjoyed intercating with it.

    I think this is an ESSENTIAL point, and one that I long to hear conveyed more. Art does not have to have any “practical” utility to be of value. If it is good, it has value that need not be “useful.” And I mean useful in a practical way. To a large degree Christian artists have become utilitarians, seeing art as merely a vehicle for transmitting a message. And that is not the sole purpose of art. I won’t say that art cannot be a medium for a message, but I believe this very often serves to cheapen the art and the message it is presenting, usually in an ungainly way.

    But aren’t we to live and breath for the glory of God?
    YES!

    The Tree Illustration
    When explaining my view on this, I often resort to “The Tree Illustration.” I am fond of trees, even with an amazing deficiency of botanical understanding (there’s something in that, I suppose).

    Imagine the most beautiful tree you have ever seen. What beauty, what serenity, what transcendence it conveys. It speaks plainly of the glory of the Creator. Now imagine that same tree, but with “John 3:16″ crudely spray-painted on the trunk. Now this tree, already displaying its God-given purpose, becomes polluted by being transformed into a mere medium for a message.

    The Word of God and the Gospel of Christ
    Now, hold on. I hear you. I know that faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God. That’s a fact. I am one who does not buy into the idea (attributed, I believe erroneously, to St. Francis of Assisi) that we ought to “Preach the Gospel, and if possible use words.” The Gospel is conveyed by words. God loves Words so much that he has chosen to communicate to man primarily through words, his Word, and most profoundly through his Son, referred to in Scripture as “the Word.” So words matter, the Gospel matters, and it must be preached using words. But that does not require that we put Bible verses on the Mona Lisa. That doesn’t help either the message of the cross, or the art done to the glory of God (or art that necessarily glorifies God by it’s sub-creative worth).

    “Is that Christian Music?”
    I believe that engaging in art, be it writing a novel, painting a canvas, composing music, sketching a tree, writing poetry, etc., has value. It has value even without a “conversion scene”, or an “allegory of Christ”, or “Bible verses above the lyrics”, or a “quota of Jesus references in a song.” It has value because it is part of the order of God to convey the beauty of the common, and the thrill of the transcendent in his world through every noble facet of our imaginations. Imagination is crucial to the Christian, it is where the Lordship of Christ is established and his reign issues in our lives. If he is not Lord there, then where? And I do not mean, by imagination, the unreal. But the most real. The place of the soul…our very selves. As C.S. Lewis said: “You do not have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body.”

    Disclaimer
    This is not a definitive treatment of the subject, but merely a window into my thinking on it, which is always growing and (I hope) conforming to the truth of God. I think we ought to engage in art to the Glory of God, and that leads us necessarily to art that expresses Beauty and Goodness.

    Semi-concise Pseudo Summary

    Here’s my semi-concise pseudo-summary:

    We are either engaging in art for goodness’ sake, or we are forsaking good art.

  • http://maplemountain.blogspot.com/ samuel

    From my follow up post at my blog…sorry it’s long, but I loved this post by Dr. Veith and enjoyed intercating with it.

    I think this is an ESSENTIAL point, and one that I long to hear conveyed more. Art does not have to have any “practical” utility to be of value. If it is good, it has value that need not be “useful.” And I mean useful in a practical way. To a large degree Christian artists have become utilitarians, seeing art as merely a vehicle for transmitting a message. And that is not the sole purpose of art. I won’t say that art cannot be a medium for a message, but I believe this very often serves to cheapen the art and the message it is presenting, usually in an ungainly way.

    But aren’t we to live and breath for the glory of God?
    YES!

    The Tree Illustration
    When explaining my view on this, I often resort to “The Tree Illustration.” I am fond of trees, even with an amazing deficiency of botanical understanding (there’s something in that, I suppose).

    Imagine the most beautiful tree you have ever seen. What beauty, what serenity, what transcendence it conveys. It speaks plainly of the glory of the Creator. Now imagine that same tree, but with “John 3:16″ crudely spray-painted on the trunk. Now this tree, already displaying its God-given purpose, becomes polluted by being transformed into a mere medium for a message.

    The Word of God and the Gospel of Christ
    Now, hold on. I hear you. I know that faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God. That’s a fact. I am one who does not buy into the idea (attributed, I believe erroneously, to St. Francis of Assisi) that we ought to “Preach the Gospel, and if possible use words.” The Gospel is conveyed by words. God loves Words so much that he has chosen to communicate to man primarily through words, his Word, and most profoundly through his Son, referred to in Scripture as “the Word.” So words matter, the Gospel matters, and it must be preached using words. But that does not require that we put Bible verses on the Mona Lisa. That doesn’t help either the message of the cross, or the art done to the glory of God (or art that necessarily glorifies God by it’s sub-creative worth).

    “Is that Christian Music?”
    I believe that engaging in art, be it writing a novel, painting a canvas, composing music, sketching a tree, writing poetry, etc., has value. It has value even without a “conversion scene”, or an “allegory of Christ”, or “Bible verses above the lyrics”, or a “quota of Jesus references in a song.” It has value because it is part of the order of God to convey the beauty of the common, and the thrill of the transcendent in his world through every noble facet of our imaginations. Imagination is crucial to the Christian, it is where the Lordship of Christ is established and his reign issues in our lives. If he is not Lord there, then where? And I do not mean, by imagination, the unreal. But the most real. The place of the soul…our very selves. As C.S. Lewis said: “You do not have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body.”

    Disclaimer
    This is not a definitive treatment of the subject, but merely a window into my thinking on it, which is always growing and (I hope) conforming to the truth of God. I think we ought to engage in art to the Glory of God, and that leads us necessarily to art that expresses Beauty and Goodness.

    Semi-concise Pseudo Summary

    Here’s my semi-concise pseudo-summary:

    We are either engaging in art for goodness’ sake, or we are forsaking good art.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17639370291865261582 Cindy

    #6 Veith:

    It’s true that the ELS is adopting the classical curriculum for their schools. See http://www.lsaels.org.

    Now if the WELS would do this too, I’d be just thrilled!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17639370291865261582 Cindy

    #6 Veith:

    It’s true that the ELS is adopting the classical curriculum for their schools. See http://www.lsaels.org.

    Now if the WELS would do this too, I’d be just thrilled!

  • fw

    #20 & #21 Nathan and Samuel

    Man I wish we all lived in the same city and could share a good bottle of wine (or three) and become good friends!

    #21 Samuel: I see this same thing going in in the “worship wars” among Lutherans. Everything has to have some christian symbol on it, or has to have some overt instructional benefit. A church can´t be made to be beautiful just because. there needs to be s reason… etc etc…

    Alot of times the liturgical types look identical to the praise worship types in their argumentation. No wonder there is so much confusion there.

  • fw

    #20 & #21 Nathan and Samuel

    Man I wish we all lived in the same city and could share a good bottle of wine (or three) and become good friends!

    #21 Samuel: I see this same thing going in in the “worship wars” among Lutherans. Everything has to have some christian symbol on it, or has to have some overt instructional benefit. A church can´t be made to be beautiful just because. there needs to be s reason… etc etc…

    Alot of times the liturgical types look identical to the praise worship types in their argumentation. No wonder there is so much confusion there.

  • fw

    #22 Cindy.

    been a long time since i was in the wels. apparently. I was looking at my wels highschool transcript and it reads more like a college transcript than a highschool transcript from looking at it. better than most colleges in fact! what went wrong and when?

  • fw

    #22 Cindy.

    been a long time since i was in the wels. apparently. I was looking at my wels highschool transcript and it reads more like a college transcript than a highschool transcript from looking at it. better than most colleges in fact! what went wrong and when?

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