China banning Christian classical music

The London Telegraph reports that as part of a new crackdown on Christianity, China is banning public performances of classical music that carries a Christian theme:

Musicians and tour organisers have told The Daily Telegraph that a series of significant performances have been affected amid a tightening of political control over the arts and Christianity.

Among the victims are the Academy of Ancient Music, one of Britain’s leading orchestral and choral groups, which was invited to sing The Messiah at the Beijing International Music Festival in October.

The performance will go ahead but has been made “by invitation only” to get round the ban.
Ironically, among the invitees are members of the Politburo and other senior government leaders.

The Sinfonica Orchestra di Roma has dropped plans to play Mozart’s Requiem in the Sichuan earthquake zone in honour of the dead and to raise money for survivors. It will play a programme of smaller, mostly non-religious works instead.

At least one other performance of The Messiah has been cancelled and one of Verdi’s Requiem is under threat.

Illuminated manuscript

Zondervan is promoting the NIV with a bus that is going around getting people to write out a verse by hand until the whole Bible is written out in the handwriting of ordinary people. Then the result will be published. From Publisher puts ‘NIV’ Bible in Americans’ handwriting:

Now Americans coast to coast will have a chance to hand-copy a verse of Scripture to appear in a special edition of the New International Version of the Bible, known as the NIV.

To mark the 30th anniversary of the NIV, which has sold 300 million copies worldwide, publisher Zondervan launches a campaign today to create the unique edition, which will include its 31,173 verses, each handwritten by a different person.

A huge blue RV with the logo “BibleAcrossAmerica.com” splashed on its side and “Inspiration at every turn” on its back takes off on a five-month journey bringing “writing stations” to 90 stops in 44 states at churches, landmarks and popular settings such as NASCAR races.

“Before the Gutenberg (the first Bible printed on a printing press), they were all handwritten,” says Zondervan’s Steve Sammons. “In our digital age, we lose sight of what it means to have a tangible product we create by our hands. This will truly make the NIV America’s Bible.”

But. . .but. . .the hand-copied Bibles before the printing press were beautiful acts of devotion and praise! Here is a project that is more like it.

Do you see any problems with Zondervan’s hand-written-by-the-people Bible? Will you buy it, read it, and use it in your devotions?

Cranach up close–really close

Thanks to Paul McCain for alerting us to this online resource from the Getty Museum: Cranach Magnified. It allows you to see tiny details from Cranach’s paintings, which sometimes amount to surprising extras:

Following its acquisition in 2003, conservators and curators at the J. Paul Getty Museum examined Lucas Cranach the Elder’s A Faun and His Family with a Slain Lion under magnification. They found a number of startling details, such as this tiny running figure on the road in the background (near right), that are indicative of Cranach’s highly detailed technique. Similarly, close scrutiny of related paintings—Apollo and Diana (Royal Collection), and Adam and Eve, (Courtauld Institute of Art)—led to similar discoveries, such as the reflection in the stag’s eye (far right). This comparative image tool is inspired by these findings.

The project initially focused on paintings executed between 1525 and 1530, and the sinuous, almost calligraphic brushwork, textured foliage, and surprisingly minute features characteristic of Cranach’s style in the late 1520s. Cranach Magnified has now been expanded to include works from across the artist’s career. By enabling close comparison of paintings related by date and iconography side by side, this tool is intended to help researchers better understand Cranach’s technique.

Socialist fantasy

I did catch some of the closing ceremony. Just as China seems to have forged a new kind of communism, it seems to have forged a new kind of communist artistic style. Before, the only style allowed in Marxist regimes was socialist realism. Now we seem to have socialist fantasy.

Socialist realism had to consist of character types, with evil capitalists and a ridiculous and sinister middle class (still a Hollywood staple!), opposed by muscular workers and large groups of the noble proletariat. Based on what I saw at both the Olympic ceremonies, which would have to have been party-approved, this new style still rejects individualism, which would still be bourgeois and counter-revolutionary, and is highly collective.

We still see nothing but groups and individuals, all alike, taking their place in the groups. But this socialist fantasy–as we see in those lit up figures flying around–is fanciful and future-oriented. It is built around mass unity, rather than class conflict. It emphasizes wealth to the point of conspicuous consumption, though it is national wealth rather than anything that belongs to individuals.

This kind of communism, I suspect, will prove far more formidable–and appealing–than the old.

Tyranny as art

George Will, in an insightful column on Russia’s invasion of Georgia, Russia’s Power Play, makes the best comment I have seen on the opening ceremonies of the Olympics:

For only the third time in 72 years (Berlin 1936, Moscow 1980), the Games are being hosted by a tyrannical regime, the mind of which was displayed in the opening ceremonies featuring thousands of drummers, each face contorted with the same grotesquely frozen grin. It was a tableau of the miniaturization of the individual and the subordination of individuality to the collective. Not since the Nazi’s 1934 Nuremberg rally, which Leni Riefenstahl turned into the film “Triumph of the Will,” has tyranny been so brazenly tarted up as art.

Harold Meyerson offers a reading of the event, which he thinks will be turning point, with the world turning away from American-style democracy in favor of Chinese-style omnipotent and benevolent authoritarianism:

If ever there was a display of affable collectivism, it was filmmaker Zhang Yimou’s opening ceremonies, which in their reduction of humans to a mass precision abstraction seemed to derive in equal measure from Busby Berkeley and Leni Riefenstahl. (Much of Berlin’s 1936 Olympics, we should recall, was choreographed by Riefenstahl to fit the fascist aesthetics of her film “Olympiad.”) The subject of Zhang’s ceremonies was a celebration of Chinese achievement and power, at all times stressing China’s harmonious relations with the rest of the world. Its masterstroke, however, wasn’t its brilliant design but the decision, during the parade of the athletes, to have Chinese flag-bearer Yao Ming accompanied by an adorable 9-year-old boy who survived the recent catastrophic earthquake that killed many of his classmates, and who returned, after he had extricated himself from the rubble, to save two of his classmates. When asked why he went back, the NBC broadcaster told us, the boy said that he was a hall monitor and that it was his job to take care of his schoolmates.

That answer may tell us more than we want to know. He could have gone back because his friends were still inside. Instead, he went back because he was a responsible little part of a well-ordered hierarchy. For all we know, he might well have gone back even if he weren’t a hall monitor, but his answer — whether spontaneously his own or one that some responsible grown-up concocted for him — works brilliantly as an advertisement for an authoritarian power bent on convincing the world that its social and political model is as benign as any democracy’s.

What Russia did last Friday was appalling, but it ultimately poses no systematic challenge to the world’s democracies. What China did last Friday was entrancing, but its cuddly capitalist-Leninism, already much beloved by our major banks and corporations for its low-wage efficiency, poses a genuine economic challenge to the messier, unsynchronized workings of democracies. A nation that can assemble 2,000 perfectly synchronized drummers has clearly staked its claim as the world’s assembly line.

China has found how tyranny and economic prosperity can go together. If China really is the nation of the 21st century, what the USA was in the 20th, that kind of authoritarianism really may be the wave of the near future. Dictatorships really can be more efficient than Democracies in “getting things done,” which is what even Americans now want from their government. We are not sure what we want done and we citizens do not want to be bothered with figuring it out, preferring to leave that to the experts and to state power. Greek democracy was abandoned; the Roman republic gave way to Emperor. Couldn’t that happen with us too?

Christian Samizdat?

Speaking of Solzhenitsyn. . . .At the Circe conference, Barbara Elliott spoke about the role of writers in bringing down Soviet Communism, something she documents in her book Candles Behind the Wall.

Though Writers and Artist Unions could give creative folks a good, prestigious living as long as they conformed to socialist ideology, those who did not were consigned to prison camps or insane asylums. (When I was in Estonia, I attended a birthday party for a poet who had just been released from a mental hospital where he spent many years for writing an anti-communist poem.)

A number of dissidents, though, resolved to bypass the totalitarian culture and create a “second culture.” They would write novels, short stories, plays, essays, and create other works of life that were committed to just “telling the truth” about life under communism. They would bypass the official publishing houses and distribute their work via secret printing presses and illegal copy machines. This was called “samizdat,” or “self-publishing.” People would get a manuscript, read it, then make more copies and distribute them to their friends. After awhile, denizens of the communist empire began seeing through the lies and fallacies of the regime until they no longer took communist ideology seriously. Eventually, the communist house of cards collapsed in an unprecedented peaceful revolution.

Do you think the time might come–or is now here–when Christians might oppose and undermine our secularist culture with a samizdat movement that promotes a “second culture”? This would entail not just writing evangelistic stuff that could not be published in the mainstream but “telling the truth” about the culture today. I could see stories that reveal what abortion is, satires of contemporary education, critiques of the intellectual establishment, films that anatomize what is happening to our families, poems against sexual immorality, music and art that express a Biblical worldview, and on and on.

The process of Samizdat is easier now than ever with the internet giving, in effect, everyone a printing press and a distribution outlet. Most Christian writers and artists currently seem to be caught in the syndrome of trying to make it in the mainstream or of trying to find commercial success. What if Christians set aside commercialism entirely and created for free? Obviously, things are not so bad yet as under the Soviet Union, but are there things Christians could learn from Solzhenitsyn and company?