Journalism as a picture of exceptions

Mollie Hemingway, in the context of a post on how the media completely ignored a huge evangelical youth gathering, quotes the great G. K. Chesterton on the nature of journalism:

“It is the one great weakness of journalism as a picture of our modern existence, that it must be a picture made up entirely of exceptions. We announce on flaring posters that a man has fallen off a scaffolding. We do not announce on flaring posters that a man has not fallen off a scaffolding. Yet this latter fact is fundamentally more exciting, as indicating that that moving tower of terror and mystery, a man, is still abroad upon the earth. That the man has not fallen off a scaffolding is really more sensational; and it is also some thousand times more common. [Read more…]

The nature of Hell

Something interesting I found exploring the Patheos neighborhoods:  A discussion from Ryan Adams (whom I assume is not the same person as the former lead singer of Whiskeytown) on the Eastern Orthodox understanding of Hell, which is defined as the suffering that comes from being loved by God and yet rejecting that love.  He talks about this notion in Dostoevsky and shows how that mysterious phrase of the Creed about Christ’s descent into Hell plays into this.  Read it all, but here is his conclusion: [Read more…]

Hollywood’s explicitly Christian movie

We saw Les Miserables, which has to be the most explicitly Christian film that I have seen come out of contemporary Hollywood.  There are more meaningful unembarrassed references–in dialogue, songs, and plot elements–to God, Jesus, salvation, grace, prayer, and Heaven than in most of the overtly Christian productions that I have seen lately.

The ex-convict Jean Valjean has received the forgiveness of Jesus, thanks to a priest who shows him an inexplicable grace.  In response to that forgiveness, Valjean lives a life of sacrificial service to others.  His good works are a direct fruit of the Gospel.

Inspector Javert speaks of God also, but, as he says of himself, “I am of the Law.”  He is all about personal righteousness, justice, and salvation by works.  He does not believe that sinners can or should be forgiven.

This all gets caught up in the wretched state of French society and with a revolutionary movement, led by idealistic students.  (This is not to be confused with the French Revolution of 1789.  France had several successful and unsuccessful revolutions in the 19th century.)  But pay special attention to the words of that final song.

The movie is intense and very moving.  It’s a musical, not just in the sense of  big musical numbers (though there are those) but in the sense of an opera, with virtually all of the dialog being sung.  The film is realistically shot–the battle at the barricade is tremendous–but that doesn’t necessarily go with the stylized singing.  I think it works better on the stage.  So see the movie, see the play, and, above all, read Victor Hugo’s novel, one of the greatest in literary history.

The eucatastrophe of Man’s history

It’s still Christmas and will be for a total of 12 days.  Jim Denney reminds us of what J. R. R. Tolkien said about it in his classic essay “On Fairy-Stories“:

JRR Tolkien, the creator of “The Hobbit,” once wrote that his goal as an author was to give his readers “the Consolation of the Happy Ending.” That consolation takes place at the point in the story when all hope is lost, when disaster seems certain—then Joy breaks through, catching the reader by surprise. In a 1964 essay, Tolkien called that instant “a fleeting glimpse of Joy, Joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief.”

Tolkien even coined a word for the moment when the light of deliverance breaks through the darkness of despair. He called it “eucatastrophe.” When evil fails and righteousness suddenly triumphs, the reader feels Joy—”a catch of the breath, a beat and lifting of the heart, near to (or indeed accompanied by) tears.”

Is the Joy of eucatastrophe just a literary device for manipulating the reader’s emotions? No. This same sudden glimpse of Joy, Tolkien wrote, can be found in our own world: “In the eucatastrophe we see in a brief vision . . . a far-off gleam or echo of evangelium in the real world.” Evangelium is Latin for “good news,” the message of Jesus Christ.

Tolkien went on to compare the Christian Gospel, the story of Jesus Christ, to “fairy-stories,” the kind of fantasy tales (like “The Hobbit”) that produce the Joy of “eucatastrophe,” the consolation of the happy ending. The difference between the gospel story and fairy-stories, Tolkien said, is that the gospel is true: “This story has entered History and the primary world.”

“The Birth of Christ is the eucatastrophe of Man’s history,” Tolkien explained. “The Resurrection is the eucatastrophe of the story of the Incarnation. This story begins and ends in joy. It has pre-eminently the ‘inner consistency of reality.’ There is no tale ever told that men would rather find was true, and none which so many skeptical men have accepted as true on its own merits.”

via JRR Tolkien, the star of Bethlehem, and the fairy-story that came true | Fox News.

HT:  Paul Veith

Melanchton on Fables

 Philipp Melanchthon was the great Renaissance scholar of the humanities who became Luther’s right hand man and a major Lutheran theologian, being the author of the Augsburg Confession and its Apology.  Melanchthon also more or less invented the Reformation schools, giving them a curriculum grounded in the classical liberal arts.  He also championed the use of imaginative literature, which was neglected in scholastic institutions.  SZ at Mockingbird quotes from Philipp Melanchthon’s  On the Usefulness of Fables:

‘There is altogether nothing more beautiful and pleasant than the truth, but it is too far removed from the sight and eyes of men for it to be beheld and known fortuitously. The minds of children need to be guided and attracted to it step by step by various enticements, so that they may then contemplate more closely the thing which is the most beautiful of all, but, alas, all too unclear and unknown to mortals… Therefore, extremely sagacious men have devised some tales which first rouse by wonder the children’s minds that are sleeping as if in lethargy. For what seems more unusual to us than that a wolf speak with a horse, a lion with a little fox or an oak with a gourd, all in the manner of men?…

‘I believe that fables were first invented with that intention, because it appeared that the indolent minds of children could not be roused more quickly by any other way of speaking… For we see that the most serious and wisest of men have used this kind of teaching, and I cannot say easily what a great public evil it is that it is now banished from the schools. The learned admire the sagaciousness of the poet Homer so greatly that they place him beyond the common condition of mortals and clearly think that his mind was roused by some divine power. Yet he wrote about the war between frogs and mice…

‘[Finally,] there are so many fables in the Holy Scriptures that it is sufficiently clear that the heavenly God Himself considered this kind of speech most powerful for bending the minds of men. I ask you, what greater praise can fall to fables than that the heavenly God also approves of them?‘

via Melanchton on the Usefulness of Fables | Mockingbird.

“Rouse by wonder the children’s minds.”  Good pedagogy.

How was the Hobbit?

On another, appropriately escapist note, who has seen the Hobbit last weekend?  We plan to take it in later this week in a lull between family Christmas visits.  I’ve heard of people who loved it greatly, who were disappointed, and who were made nauseous by the twice-as-fast photography and rate of projection.  (One can see it without that effect, in the 2-D version.)  I’d like to hear what you thought of it (including your reaction to the special photography in the 3-D version).