August 18th 2007
Essay: The Performer and The Musician – Adventures in Existential Debasement
The Performer and the Musician; Adventures in Existential Debasement – an Excursion into Three Types of Existential Debasement vs. Authenticity: Personal Identity, Religious Identity, and Societal, with Concluding References to both Soteriological and Societal applications, solution-wise, and a proposed Bonhoefferian rapprochement.
– Or –
I should have learned to play the guitar; I should have learned to play them drums…
rap·proche·ment [rap-rohsh-mahn; Fr. ra-prawsh-mahn]
an establishment or reestablishment of harmonious relations: a rapprochement reached between warring factions.
[Origin: 1800–10; < F, equiv. to rapproche(r) to bring near, bring together (r(e)- re- + approcher; see approach) + -ment -ment]
—Synonyms reconciliation, understanding, accommodation.
Dictionary.com Unabridged (v 1.1)
Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2006.
1.a person who makes music a profession, esp. as a performer of music.
2.any person, whether professional or not, skilled in music.
[Origin: 1350–1400; ME musicien < MF. See music, -ian]
Dictionary.com Unabridged (v 1.1)
Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2006.
ex·is·ten·tial [eg-zi-sten-shuhl, ek-si-]
1.pertaining to existence.
2.of, pertaining to, or characteristic of existentialism: an existential hero.
[Origin: 1685–95; < LL existenti–lis relating to existing. See existence, -al1]
Dictionary.com Unabridged (v 1.1)
Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2006.
–verb (used with object)
1.to carry out; execute; do: to perform miracles.
2.to go through or execute in the proper, customary, or established manner: to perform the marriage ceremony.
3.to carry into effect; fulfill: Perform what you promise.
4.to act (a play, part, etc.), as on the stage, in movies, or on television.
5.to render (music), as by playing or singing.
6. to accomplish (any action involving skill or ability), as before an audience: to perform a juggling act.
7. to complete.
–verb (used without object)
8. to fulfill a command, promise, or undertaking.
9. to execute or do something.
10. to act in a play: to perform in the role of Romeo.
11. to perform music.
12. to go through any performance.
13. (of loans, investments, etc.) to yield a profit; earn income.
[Origin: 1250–1300; ME parformen < AF parformer, alter. (by assoc. with forme form) of MF, OF parfournir to accomplish. See per-, furnish]
—Synonyms 1. Perform, discharge, execute, transact mean to carry to completion a prescribed course of action. Perform is the general word, often applied to ordinary activity as a more formal expression than do, but usually implying regular, methodical, or prolonged application or work: to perform an exacting task. Discharge implies carrying out an obligation, often a formal or legal one: to discharge one’s duties as a citizen. Execute means either to carry out an order or to carry through a plan or program: to execute a maneuver. Transact, meaning to conduct or manage, has commercial connotations: to transact business. 3. accomplish, achieve, effect.
Dictionary.com Unabridged (v 1.1)
Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2006.
–verb (used with object), -based, -bas·ing.
1. to reduce in quality or value; adulterate: They debased the value of the dollar.
2. to lower in rank, dignity, or significance: He wouldn’t debase himself by doing manual labor.
[Origin: 1555–65; de- + base2; cf. abase]
de·bas·ed·ness [di-bey-sid-nis, -beyst-] Pronunciation Key – Show IPA Pronunciation, noun
—Synonyms 1. lower, vitiate, corrupt; contaminate, pollute, defile. 2. degrade, abase, demean, reduce.
Dictionary.com Unabridged (v 1.1)
Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2006.
A couple of weeks ago, I was sitting in an undisclosed coffee shop listening to a band that will go unspecified; not at all unlike any number of capable, performing groups composed of youthful college students, trying to catch their big break with their guitar or drum sticks in hand; kinds that one can find going on about their business at any given location, almost any given time, anywhere in a hustling, bustling city such as the one I am given to inhabit: Chattanooga.
I was sitting there, doing what I usually do in coffee shops, eagerly wearing the keys out on my Macbook pro; and enjoying the music – when the thought occurred to me that it was in fact a halfway decent show that they were putting on. Their performance lasted a couple of hours, and I enjoyed it – as did a number of others, as gauged by their enthusiastic response. But what left an impression on me and set my thoughts in motion – and in part gave birth to this present essay – was not the quality, nor the execution of their music; but rather it was something that transpired, after the performance – after the music was said and done. To me it was an interesting introspection into the macrocosm that is music, at least as we know it today. It was a provocative ray of light that I saw; one which I will endeavor to illuminate across this present page, one which cast the shadow aside and gave clear delineation between two things that are so often assumed to be the same, and yet are so profoundly different: two things that we see all the time – but perhaps, at times, have little appreciation for the difference between: the Performer – and the Musician.
The show had ended and the guys in the band were busy loading their keyboards and guitars up into whatever vehicle had no doubt ferried them to their present locale. I was lost in thought about some arcane detail of an essay that I had been working on, when suddenly – I realized that one of these guys from the band was standing near me and that he was rather angry, as he was in the process of venting his frustration to the guy next to him. Now I profess to be a people watcher – but an audio voyeur, not so much. But the loudness of their conversation was such that the only way I could have completely turned it out would have been to pull my headphones out of my pocket; as I often do in such situations – and wedge them into my ears. But when I realized the apparent source of his contention; it provided me ample excuse to sit there and hear it; at least for a moment or so. To be honest – it rankled me a bit; so much so – that I eventually did put in my headphones – as I did not wish to hear any more of his conversation.
At issue, was the fact that all of the ladies – and I am sure their number included any “groupies” that had come out that night – were going out to do something unique and cloistered in nature; that is to say – it was a ladies night out and no guys were allowed to tag along. The frustration that this dear chap was expressing, was that he had just realized that he was – to be blunt – probably not going to ‘get any’ that night, and this was considerably disconcerting to him. He rambled on in language both vague and assertive as to his ruminations regarding what he had expected and what he now, begrudgingly, had to look forward to for the remainder of the evening; or rather perhaps – what he was certain to miss.
For those unfamiliar with the whole college band scene, allow me to cut rather close to the bone and state things as they simply are, for the record; that is to say, as they actually are, not as they sometimes appear to be. Most guys are in the band – not just so that they can potentially strike a lucrative record deal some day; but rather for reasons pertaining to the presence of a specific female varietal who’s habitat and sexual nature revolve around guys on a stage and the playing of some form of musical instrument in the process. It is a well documented fact: that a guy – regardless of how ugly he is; if he can play at least a given measure of music, given enough alcohol and time – can almost be assured an eventual sexual engagement by at least one present female. This phenomenon is also expressed within the contexts and dynamics of sports players, with great emphasis and frequency in regards to professional basketball players. In speaking with friends who have had contact with such enterprises; I am told that actual stratifications exist between the amorous females that come with such – the details and operations of which are beyond the scope of the present discussion.
But whether you’re a professional basket ballplayer or a rock star, bedding down a wiling groupie for the night – the same dynamic exists on a much smaller but just as explicit scale for the wanna-be rock star down at the local coffee shop/bar/wherever. They likewise have realized that they can get far more then just attention from girls – they can vacate their responsibilities as gentlemen and exert the full force of their blind and mindless lust upon willing drones, most of whom are perpetually eager to have sex with them – just because they can play an instrument and gyrate on a stage.
This young man provided ample evidence that he was wise to this reality and was using every opportunity aided and abetted by his band’s performance to get some nookie. And somehow – this night – here in this coffee shop, this time tested, always reliable way of getting laid had completely vaporized before his eyes. The laws of physics had changed. Gravity no longer worked – the sun had chosen not to shine; girls did not want to drunkenly follow some sweaty musician somewhere to have mindless sex. The world had ceased to work in its regularly predictive way – and he was mad.
At first I was mad too. I mean, this guy had perceivably played his heart out with a tip jar within reach of me. And I had come to the realization that he was not really playing for me, nor for my buck in his jar. He was rather waiting for something else to transpire; perhaps in the back of his car. Then for a moment – I thought to myself; in what manner do I have any right to be angry with this young man? How implausible is it that such a performance would go on within the true liberty of being an actual performance for my own auditory benefit and not their own later subsequent, adulterous / fornicative sexual mores. How deluded and self-deceived I had been. Suddenly – I felt anger towards myself; not that I had more fun writing essays rather then performing music; and had somehow been cheated out of the subsequent benefits incurred thereof – but that I had deceived myself. I had mistaken a performer for a musician.
Within the context of our own lives – we are all guilty, not just of this misallocation of identity in terms of our perception of another individual, but also of our own Existential Identification. Many of us have seen ourselves as musicians or masters of our own respective domains – when in fact we were not artists, or musician, teachers or scholars. We have all – at one time or another – walked in existential self-deceit and assumed an identity contrary to who and what we really are. And who and what we really are is always defined by our practice – not just by our purpose.
Some years ago I heard a sermon by a pastor entitled “The Woman and The Wife” which talked about the difference that a true wife makes in a relationship vs. a woman in a relationship unbound by the covenant of marriage. The principles and ideas entailed thereof and therein – I would not be remiss in assuming that my readers would both know and appreciate. Suffice to say, a man and a woman cohabiting together; say what they may, and try what they will, can never function truly as husband and wife; regardless of their own considerations of themselves as such by virtue of their own volition or that on the part of others.
Sometime later, I would also know a pastor who was guilty of allowing his lust to violate and obscure his responsibility as a Shepherd to his flock; he rather became a wolf seeking to devour and molest that which he was sworn to protect. No amount of theologizing or rationalization can repair the abuse incurred by such an act. Often – such an occurrence is considered “an affair” – and it never, ever is: it is always an abuse.
Each an every night, some young man mounts the light-strewn stage and belts out a few tunes for a couple of hours, somewhere, hoping for a performance of a different ilk elsewhere. He may be good – he may be the best; but if he is doing it so, so he can get laid after the show – he is no more a musician then the pope is Protestant. In separating his identity by virtue of his intent, he radically changes it. He is no longer a musical practitioner of any excellence in stature and capability: he is merely a wannabe; a two-bit fornicator; or worse yet adulterer; wrapped up in a deceptive self-identity that makes him in actuality far from that which he may think of himself as, even what others may think of him as being. Regardless of what he thinks about his ultimate agenda, and regardless of his ability to comprehend the Existential Debasement that he is guilty of – it is not a trivial thing. It is an abuse, not just of his talent, and his own trade; but ultimately it is he who is the farthest from what he intends to be. He abuses himself. He is no longer a musician – he is merely a performer, meaninglessly executing a ways and means for something that ultimately obliterates who and what he presents himself to be. As is the nature of such disorders, wherein we understand the abused become abusers, the oppressed become the oppressors, herein likewise – though perhaps in an inversive fashion – the deceiver becomes the deceived.
Throughout the modern cultural mindset, more and more couples are, with ever increasing frequency, choosing to cohabit before they marry. The arguments are vast and persuasive. So are the stark statistics of long-term successful marriages resultant from such an arraignment. Couples who financially or sexually play husband and wife before they become such, build a foundation based in self-deception; and when the very name of the game is authenticity and self-transparency, the selfishness of taking a person, emotionally, financially, and sexually – when you are supposed to be learning to sacrifice and learning to fall in love with the idea of giving; rather then prematurely taking such dimensions of a person – because the foundations is broken, it is virtually impossible to switch to something that is authentic when everything prior was a lie. Marriage is made upon an attitude of giving, sacrifice and compromise; playing with such always incurs the opposite: taking, selfishness, and steadfast unyielding stubbornness: the consistent enemies of marriage. This too is an abuse. The rationalizations all seem to stick; that you are sharing mutual sexual, financial, and emotional fulfillment; but without the practice and discipline of waiting, saving, and giving – everything you mean well in regards to – it merely becomes more hurt, regardless of ultimate intent. They too become mere performers, as they lose any capability of learning the true music of love. Never having learned the true chords and rhyme of verse, they become sad performers of a broken record of selfishness and self-deceit – that in the end, virtually no one can listen to forever.
The Performer and the Musician, the Woman and the Wife, the Pastor and the Wolf; need their be any further explanation of the brokenness and self-deceit that must be in place to enable a person sworn to protect a parishioner, to reach a place where they could willfully and unashamedly seek to seduce one of their own sheep and consume them in the fires of their own ravenous sexual desire? However grievous and pronounced – grotesque and horrific; it did not happen over night. It most likely did not result from one lie. It began as a lie that nobody noticed; not even themselves. The first debasement of their identity no doubt was as innocuous as that of the Performer – who mistook himself or herself for a Musician. It no doubt took much less compromise then those who would play at being a family – without the mark and the promise of a marriage covenant between them – could employ. For a pastor to go from Shepherd to Wolf, from Protector to Abuser; the process began with a small deception in Purpose and Identity and grew slowly, but exponentially from there.
The next time you do something; ask yourself what your reward is. If you purpose in your heart to serve and to give and expect nothing in return – save the natural potential fruits of the dedicated practice of such; then you are likely to be authentic to your own Identity. And in being faithful in your Identity – you connect the dots between your Identity and your Purpose; and a life lived in an authenticity of such, is something that the value of and the need of – can never truly be calculated by those around you who are blessed to have you as what you are to them and as what you do to them as well. There is no replacement for such; and it is not a stretch to say that it is the very glue that holds both the Universe and any true hope contained therein together. And this we can also say with some degree of certainty; that for the believer – that true hope is Christ.
When we survey the Cross and what it means to the believer; there are many things that come to mind. The pain, the sacrifice; the humiliation of a manifest deity upon something that that same God Himself created: a tree. But however great the cost that can be calculated thereof; it was always His Purpose; and it is why it will always be His Identity. We are all called to pick up our own crosses and carry them just as Christ did; and we do this in part, so that we can be faithful in the practice therein – not just in an amorphorously religious essence, but in an actual, existential sense – that is to say; who and what we are, as we really are, match who and what we say we are to others – understanding that without such Existential Authenticity; who and what we are – and what we believe – becomes a lie. And when we set ourselves as testimonies to the reality of a birthed, crucified and risen deity – the factuality of such is hard enough to grasp; it need not to be facilitated into disbelief by a lack of existential faithfulness on the part of those who make claim to it’s inheritance. It is this understanding that drives a wedge between merely being a culturally-mediated Christian, replete with all the attendant religious behaviors and pietistic personifications; and being a true follower of Christ. When there is spiritual authenticity, there is existential authenticity; form does more then just follow the function; Identity and Purpose are aligned with Intent and Action. A large measure of vain religion and the full content of hypocrisy live in the space between: where these two are either together – or broken and bent apart in whatever manifest measure. This Existential Abruption of Identity and Purpose may start off small – but the ramifications are the same on a diversity of corresponding scales; and whereas one may deem it acceptable to live in such dissonance in degrees; an acceptance of such, always serves as a precedence for a further separation of the two.
But the ramifications of Existential Debasement go far beyond just the religious appropriations that such a concept might take on, as that as when distinctly viewed through a soteriological light. The dynamic of Existential Authenticity pervades all societal strata; indeed it is the bedrock of all good business: be a man of your word – and even the qualifying dynamic of trustworthiness in family, friendship, and societal agencies – such as the military or Government service: give what you say you will give, be what you say your are, do what you say you will do.
This secular appropriation of spiritual realties is what Cornelius Van Til referred to as Borrowed Capital; presuppositions that inhere from within a Judeo-Christian worldview’s mindset; ideas that regardless of how detached in application, can always be found to be rooted back into something much more older and more sacred then readily apparent. For years, religious fundamentalists, both Christian and otherwise, have harkened a veritable doomsday, proclaiming the perpetual misallocation and disavowals of such by a culture they view as thoroughly and persistency detached from the influence of the Sacred. Gnostic Dualist machinations and the attendant fantasies of these ideas always find a connection back to legalisms, both church-wise and politically; through their condescension of the physical – though not always without arguable warrant – which flies in the face of the voice of Scripture. The problem has never been the world or our flesh itself; the problems have always been Adamic Sin and the Fallenness of the heart of man thereof; these things are directly to blame – though in application they are manifest through such strata as culture or addictions. As if it were not enough – that those who should know better so often are found to chase spiritual rabbits and blame their problems on Democrats and Alcohol; Gambling and Movies – there has been an increasing rise of the so called “Village Atheist:” who’s genesis and increasing influence may in part be from Society reacting in terms to a Reactionary Force Dynamic – to counter abuses or counter Reactionary Forces. I am not alone in thinking that Atheists and the spiritually disconnected have always been around. What is arguable, though, is that a misapplied Religious Fundamentalism has given rise to an equally misapplied if not potentially misanthropic Secular Fundamentalism. I say misanthropic, as there are an increasing number of voices out there that consistently and without ceasing berate the need for the spiritual, and rather call for the complete abolition of any spiritual influence by Christianity or any other faith – either organized or disorganized. The coffee shop I and my laptop frequent is also the home of another writer working on a book which claims to propose a Moderationist or Centrist approach to politics; yet when pressed as to the nature of his solution(s) whereas first, most would say – first, kill all the lawyers – he say’s disband all the churches. He unapologetically finds absolutely no use for any sense of organized religion. His approach, while it may posit itself as being a “Center of the road”, unradicalized approach; actually is a contradiction in terms – as it is merely – at least in this regard – is yet another cleverly disguised apologetic for Secular Fundamentalism. This view, in varying applications, is being heard more and more – as more and more ideologues are trying to make a case for a disavowal of all things spiritual. Such a strident attack on the very nature of a biblically informed view of the compositional state of man – both all Spirit and all Flesh – can only be seen as an attack on the very nature of humanity; for it follows that if man is both all spirit and all flesh, the culture that is manifest by his presence in the world can also be understood to naturally and correctly contain both a spiritual and a physical component in regards to the wholeness of it’s composition. I say misapplied because I stubbornly defend the proposition that true Fundamentalism is a radically different creature from the commonly held assumption of what the term fundamentalist means in terms of a contextual conversations: to be known as a Christian fundamentalist often means (1) one who denies the validity of Textural Criticism, (2) the potential for Metaphor within the Scriptural dialogue, (3) a tongue in cheek hat tip towards disbelief via an embracement of Natural Theology, (4) a distaste for an Existentialist Philosophical interpretation, and (5) a pervasive tendency towards Gnostic Dualism in regards to cultural understandings.
I hold to the idea that there is an Existential Abruption that exists between the content of what it means to be a Fundament in the modern theological conversation and what others do under the banner of Fundamentalism. The embodied content of the commonly held idea of what it means to be a Fundamentalist is actually the opposite of what a Fundamentalist really is. For as described above – 1 – everyone acknowledges that A), we do not have any of the originals of the Word of God/Sacred Texts as given, and B, there are factually documented changes, very minor, but still present errors in the text, and C, there is always an appreciable difference in the interpretation of the language between Hebrew/Greek and the Reader’s native tongue. It should be everybody’s lifetime goal to at least learn some Greek and Hebrew so that whatever chasm between the languages exists; they might enjoy some degree of appreciation in terms of the dynamics and nuances of the language. It is for this reason that any student submitting himself or herself for prospective admission to the office of Pastor/Minister will almost always be subject to the daunting challenge of a Hebrew or Greek Class, so that they might be separated by only two degrees, with the removal of the degree of linguistical translation, rather then the three. A further lifetime could be dedicated, and often is, in not just achieving absolute fluency in Hebrew and Greek, but also studying the errors and changes that are known to be present, those both known to be minor – and those proposed by some to be major. The process of Textual Criticism is the process of dealing with these ‘degrees’ and the result process that comes about in the process of seeking some degree f resolution in regards the separation incurred in the implications of the them. To say that you truly ‘love the Word’ is to naturally give oneself to a predisposition for it; it becomes only natural that you would genuinely seek to cast down the wall of having to go through a translator to hear God’s Word in your own language – and that you would eagerly seek the counsel of generations of truth loving, Word theologians, scholars, and pastors and the combines fruits of the labors that lay before us. Those who disavow Textural Criticism do not embrace the Word – they embrace an illusory posit of it thereof, and in effect create their own false idol. Many Christians get tied up in a certain translation of the Scripture – such as adherents to the “King James Only Crowd” – and in doing so reject the further work of biblical scholars achieved since then. They may think that they are demonstrating adherence to the Word by rejecting the further work of Modern Biblical scholars; but they are in effect actually merely worshiping merely a stage thereof that was at the time on the way therein. Many Evangelicals stumble on Barth’s assertion that the Word becomes The Word when it impacts the human heart. If we allow the scriptures that we have to be seen through the degrees of separation that exist – then we understand this reality to be true; we may hold copies with changes/errors within them that modern scholarship learns more and more about with each passing decade; but it is when that content is written upon the heart of man by God that their influence, affluence and authority are not just proven – but become actual. Textural Criticism is not to be demonized: it is a valid process by which the degrees of separation from the original inspired writings (A), the errors/changes however minor are addressed (B), and the Language Separation (C) can be in parts overcome. Far too many Christians write the entire scope of Textural Criticism off as being unnecessary because ‘the errors that are there are so small and limited as to be of no consequence.” But the only thing to be of no consequence is a blind love and adherence that is resultant from blind exuberance in the fact that such errors/omissions/changes are in fact rare. Their rarity does not constitute a lack of need of their further study thereof. The body of faith can only be advanced by fearless and thorough scholarly work on such matters. After all – we place our faith in Christ and his effectual work in our lives – not on the accuracy of a medieval scribe or a modern day theologian. In Christ I trust – all others are to be studied and reproved if need be in both the physical content of their work – and their ideas.
As also noted, I (2) affirm that not everything is literal within the scripture; and that this is a fundamentalist assertion as well. The conservative principle of Sola Scriptura affirms that Scripture interprets scripture, and as put forth by Brevard S. Childs of Yale, the only genuinely adequate theological method is that of a Canonical Approach. I could chase rabbits here, but will endeavor to not separate myself in further degrees from my own assertions within this essay; but suffice to say – the scripture says that the smoke from Sodom and Gomorrah ‘goeth up for ever and ever’ and yet we know that there is not a hole in the ground over there that is not still smoking since the time of the Ancient World. The scripture says it – but it is expressed in terms of a metaphorical understanding of everlasting punishment. Interestingly enough, the verse that the church has always used as the theological underpinnings for Eternal Punishment also uses this same language. An argument can be made and has been made, that while there may be people burning in hell right now, they may be eventually destroyed when Death and Hell are cast in to the pit. A truly fundamentalist position can accept – via scripture interpreting scripture – that the eternality of ‘ the smoke of their suffering’ may be metaphorical and the condemned may in fact burn for a thousand years – but they potentially won’t burn for eternity. Fundamentalists – in application – would never accept this, but Fundamentalism in actuality – in terms of the Identity and Purpose of the ideological moniker that it is, must allow for the potential of it.
As also noted I (3) do not believe that there is any argument within the physical world that can serve as a foundation for faith, other then that which comes from “the hearing of the Word” – they may be tools, but never foundations. Natural Theology’s adherence and subsistence upon Reason exposes it to the brokenness and potential error of human reasoning and logic; which I should not have equal need for explanation for either. Fundamentalists must deny this both in their own Identity but also in their practice – which they never do. This is not meant as a rebuff of what has been termed the Wesleyan Quadrilateral by the theologian Albert Outler: that doctrinal formulation properly comes from 1- Scripture, 2 – Tradition, 3 -Reason, and 4 – Experience. Reason is a useful tool – but ultimately the only true Foundation is the Word; all the other three are essentially enabling tools that are available for use, but ultimately cannot be counted on for any weight in regards to the self-authentication and the authority of the Scripture.
As noted I (4) find no reason for the disavowal of a need for an Existentialist Viewpoint within the Christian Standpoint and, contrary to what many assert; feel that it brings strength rather then weakness into ones’ epistemology. Many Fundamentalists deny the fundamental truth that we are persons and individuals framed within a mind and a body. The Gnostic Dualist influences (5) make us think so much in terms of our spirit – that we deny our flesh; not just in the brokenness of fallenessess thereof, but also the full range and apprehensions therein. Some Evangelicals and almost all who see themselves as Fundamentalists have a distaste for Existentialism because they find no need for any system of philosophy that gives any consideration of what it matters be and feel like a person ‘in the world’ and being ‘an individual’ within it’s context. Someone who is so heavenly minded that they are no earthly good would certainly have absolutely no use for Existentialist Philosophy by way of their Gnostic Dualism run amok.
A true Fundamentalist sees that the scripture speaks to man both in his flesh and in his spirit; and that the Cross speaks across the compositional state of man – that genuine Christianity is both Spiritual and Earthy. But the division between what is and what is perceived or understood is something that is played out in other dynamics also. The division between political parties has leapfrogged- or perhaps become merely more visible in it’s own unique way; as there is indeed a huge chasm between those who want the Sacred to rule the day – and those who want the Profane to, and both live in worlds as far removed from reality as the other. Too many Evangelical Christians fail to see that being salt and light to the world around them is a soteriological assertion inherent to the validity of their own faith.
In addition to the Existential Debasement of Personal Identity; as illustrated by the Performer and The Musician, and The Existential Debasement of Religious Identity; as typified by the ‘Religious Fundamentalist who wasn’t’ – there exists a third type of Existential Debasement: The existential debasement of the cultural identity of the role of the Sacred and the Profane.
The dynamics of this debasement have already been touched on and referenced throughout this essay; but it bears it’s own discussion, as it is both pervasive and expanding within our culture. History will bear out the destructive consequence of a radically enforced separation of Spirituality and the Secular in life throughout the ages. It has been attempted – but never been successfully achieved – at least in a long-term fashion. Mankind is intrinsically and undeniable spiritual. The history of all times bears constant testimony of the absolute futility of seeing man as a purely secular creature. The scriptural notion of Man as all flesh and all spirit is perpetually born out in historical regards. Whereas certain schools of thought directly or indirectly put forth a Gnostic Dualist Condescension of the physical in select regards (Religious conservatives banning Alcohol and many other societal conventions, and Certain Neo-orthodox Theologians such as Tillich & Bultman affirming the central need for Christ and his death and resurrection – but denying that it was soteriologically executed, not just in the spirit – but in the physical dimension also) and increasingly militant Secular Fundamentalists deny the need for any involvement in spirituality either organized or purely organic – both are not just blatantly blasphemous but also patently ridiculous. The full abruption and disavowal of the responsible mutual enjoinment of the Sacred and the Profane represents the full progression of Existential Debasement manifest on the Macro Societal level – whereas the illustration of the Pastor who became a wolf – the micro personal. But it follows logically that if the collective individuals within a society are Existentially Debased, personally – that it will follow that the society that they inhabit and ultimately create will follow in like regard and nature – it will also be Existentially Debased. Not understanding our own personal existential dynamics – we follow after illusory and broken ideas of what a whole and natural society looks like – and such a debasement ends on the macro societal level with what it began with on a micro personal level: a small but increasing misappropriation of the Sacred and the Profane.
I use the word profane; because it was the choice of words that Dietrich Bonhoeffer used in the 1930’s- when he was building his own theology in such matters. Bonhoeffer was executed by the Nazis in Flossenbürg on April 9, 1945, in the closing days of WWII for his involvement in the attempted assassination of Hitler. In addition to his work on Ethics and their role within the Christian Worldview – Bonhoeffer was a tireless exponent of the seeming opposite of what we have today. Bonhoeffer felt that there need not be the vast chasm between the Sacred and The Profane; the Church and the World, our spirits and our existential identities. Bonhoeffer perhaps echoed faintly the ideas of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin; in that the world had evolved to a higher point in terms of it’s own advancement – and Modernism was not the end of the sacred; rather it was the embodiment of what has been termed a Post Christian era; or the end of so called Pietical affluence. Bonhoeffer was cut down in his prime by the fascist gallows before he could finish his work. We have scattered, smuggled-out-of-prison unique thoughts on the subject; but are bereft of a completed and coherent assembly of them. What further ideas that never made to paper that could be smuggled out, left this world with Bonhoeffer.
That framework may someday be written; but I have a suspicion that had Bonhoeffer lived, he may have written or perhaps framed his argument under these guidelines discussed herein; an authenticity of Existential States; and a unity in both the Physical and Spiritual as the hallmark of both true Spiritual and Secular maturity.
However he might have structured it – it is a subject that more theologians, philosophers pastors and ministers should steadfastly consider and reflect on. There are issues that are literally beat to death within the theological landscape and they are often issues that rally the troops. A good argument can be made that those things that the church would benefit the most from – are those things that we least speak of or wrestle with. God grant us men who would take up this challenge; I have nothing less then full faith that such a task could never be completed within this generation or any other – but the very foundation and course of Christianity as we know it would both be affirmed and directed in all the ways that we say it should be – but it seemingly really never is. The irony of it all is, that if such a task, were successful, it would in fact affirm the affinity within Christianity for the Physical/Profane to coexist necessarily with the Sacred; it’s identity would truly be aligned with it’s purpose: that we need the world and the world needs us – that God knew not just how to create the world; but to save it, and we are, after all – better together, rather then separate and purely and mindlessly cotensive. Perusing a Theology of Inhabitation and not just isolation and escapism would surely be a step forward in genuinely manifesting the kingdom of God within our lives, in our faith, and in our witness to a lost and dying, existentially debased and deceived world.
Both brokenness and Healing begin with the church. We should not look on with dismay if the world around us exhibits exacerbated existential debasement; when we ourselves walk in Existential Dissonance. We first discounted the world – before they ever discounted us. We should not take it as a shocking revelation that having failed to be the Salt we are commanded to be in Scripture that we have been trampled under the feet of men respect-wise (Matthew 5:13) and thought not even worthy of the dung pile influence-wise (Luke 14:34). If we make efforts to understand our faith as not just speaking to our Spirits but also all the itinerations of our physicality and Culture – and in doing so affirm a connection between our identity and our Intent – from Foundation to Roof – then we can begin to become authentic salt and light to a world that was born disillusioned with itself, long before it rejected our token concern and non-scriptural inventions.
Bonhoeffer’s vision of the Sacred and the Profane is a Society that is not Religious – but is more then just informed – it is one that has reached the crux of it’s evolution and advancement – having reached passed the relative vulgarities and false hopes of both false religion with it’s frequently abused pietism as well as false secularism with it’s denial of both the need for salvation and existential wholeness that must come from a dimension larger then – yet inescapably connected back to itself.
There are those who will argue that this is all both meaningless if not dangerous speculation; but is must be asserted that with power comes responsibility, and with truth comes danger. We cannot insulate ourselves from danger and error at the same time. To walk in truth – is to accept the valid possibility of both error and danger theologically. Indeed the before mentioned French Priest, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, wandered deeply into metaphysical, new-age thought; and a devout follower of his works is actually referenced in the book Hostage to the Devil: The Possession and Exorcism of Five Contemporary Americans, written by the late Malachi Martin – with the clear allusion that a fascination with de Chardin’s theology opened up a door that facilitated the eventual demonic possession of one of the individuals who’s case study and subsequent exorcism is related in truly frightening detail and frankness. Recently I was in the office of a U.T.C Religion Professor and my eyes scanned his library, which spanned the full expanse of his wall. I noticed that it contained a ‘demonology/occult’ section; the spines of the books contained therein had lurid, provocative titles splashed across them. I casually noted to the Professor that his library did not seem to have a copy of Hostage to the Devil; and he arose from his chair and with a cautious look, slowly pulled it out from behind the trim of the bookcase. I noted to him that he seemingly had hidden it; and he responded that he indeed had; and he gently tucked it back away and out of sight, saying with half a smile – “and that’s where it belongs”.
And so yes – it is important – that in this daunting task we practice great jurisprudence and exacting caution – lest – as has happened so much in our past, theological history; we react by creating more problems which are worse then those we sought to remedy, and therein risk become a footnote or entire chapter in a book on heresy or on even more unspeakable things. It would have been interesting to see if Bonhoeffer would have brought greater balance to his criticism of the need for an actual religious presence manifest in a Pietistic methodology; and seen his own theological assertions as being less “post Christian” then as they are often interpreted as being; had he had time to not just give propositions, but to also work them cohesively into a systematic theology that also offered counterbalances and corrections to perceived potential abuses within itself.
There are those who will argue that this is merely Liberalism reinvented – that these methodologies are themselves also tired, failed, and irresponsible. Such an outlook seems very attractive to one who embraces a literalist eschatological framework- or that this whole world is just getting worse and worse and that the Rapture is going to save all of God’s good people from the Devil’s bad. For the record – I am and remain a pre-millennial, Pre-Trib; an eschatological dispensationalist – that’s theologian-speak for a belief in a Rapture event and soon coming Triumphant Return of Christ. But believe as I may, and for as much as I do believe in it, and even hope for and look for it – it does not absolve me from responsibilities to both myself and those around me. It gives me no excuse to cease as caretaker of anything. Both Nature and Technology are based on what is sometimes terms Dialectical Tension; or ideas or forces that are opposite of each other – as is the Sacred and the Profane – opposite ideas that isolated are lies, but are things that become true only when held together. If it rained all the time – or if the sun was always shining; most life would cease to exist. Spiritual Life is the same; it likewise contains an infinitely good God, and an infernally evil Devil.
We are called to both wait and hope for the triumphant return of Christ and yet to be caretakers of Babylon (Jeremiah 29:4-11), and ensuring that we keep a hand in both (Ecclesiastes 7:15-18) goes along way to assuring some resemblance of Existential Authenticity. And if we can be as we are and what we were created to be – both to ourselves and together as a society; then that is a step in a positive direction; so that – if we are a musician – we remain musicians and not merely performers, and if commit to being husbands and wives, we follow through the process that leads to the convocations of ourselves as such, and if we become pastors and teachers – we have the audacity to be what we are and do what say we will do; understanding that or own existential faithfulness will in some tangible way make progress on a larger scale in many ways the world around us – first in part, and then potentially in whole. And that – could make all the difference.
Thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, unto all that are carried away captives, whom I have caused to be carried away from Jerusalem unto Babylon; Build ye houses, and dwell [in them]; and plant gardens, and eat the fruit of them; Take ye wives, and beget sons and daughters; and take wives for your sons, and give your daughters to husbands, that they may bear sons and daughters; that ye may be increased there, and not diminished. And seek the peace of the city whither I have caused you to be carried away captives, and pray unto the LORD for it: for in the peace thereof shall ye have peace. For thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel; Let not your prophets and your diviners, that [be] in the midst of you, deceive you, neither hearken to your dreams which ye cause to be dreamed. For they prophesy falsely unto you in my name: I have not sent them, saith the LORD. For thus saith the LORD, That after seventy years be accomplished at Babylon I will visit you, and perform my good word toward you, in causing you to return to this place. For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the LORD, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end. (Jeremiah 29:4-11)
In this meaningless life of mine I have seen both of these: a righteous man perishing in his righteousness, and a wicked man living long in his wickedness. Do not be overrighteous, neither be overwise – why destroy yourself? Do not be overwicked, and do not be a fool— why die before your time? It is good to grasp the one and not let go of the other. The man who fears God will avoid all extremes. (Ecclesiastes 7:15-18)