Browsing articles in "Culture"
Aug 29, 2012
neil

All change please? Tolkien and Lewis on the great myth of social progress

When leaders of our society (political and intellectual) urge us to embrace social changes designed to promote social transformation their main argument is that such change is a mark of social progress.

The speeches of our politicians, the views esposed on the BBC and in the columns of newspaper commentators present the social revolution that has taken place as an inherently good thing. What lies behind the rhetoric is an assumption that we really do know better than the generation(s) before us when it comes to the issue of how to live well in the world.  Our values, they say, are not merely different, they are superior.  We are told that the new values demonstrate a more enlightened, better informed and more sophisticated view of ethics than held by previous generations. Whether its no-fault divorce, abortion on demand, more liberal licencing laws, redefining marriage they are each presented as indicators of moral advance.

What is beyond doubt is that a great ‘experiment’ is taking place in which we are exchanging one set of values (predominately Christian) for another set (predominately anti or post-Christian). But in his chapter on the philosophy of history in The Philosophy of Tolkien Peter Kreeft highlights just how profoundly Tolkien and CS Lewis disagree with the idea that the social progressivism we are witnessing equate to actual advance. Both men were proud traditionalists and here are my 5 points drawn from Peter Kreeft’s analysis of Tolkien & Lewis’s reasons why.

1. Traditionalists respects and holds onto tradition with good reason

Kreeft writes of how Lord of the Rings is itself a call to respect the wisdom passed on to us. Tolkien is implicitly asking his readers, his culture, to remember their links with their own ancient wisdoms… Few lessons, however indirectly taught, could be more socially relevant than this one, for tradition means linking, unifying over time; and no community can exist without common unity over time as well as place. A generation gap destroys a community more surely than a war.

2. Progressivists are not telling you anything about what is true but merely what is fashionable

Countless studies have proven that children are happier, healthier and perform better at school when raised in a home together by a mother and a father and that Mum and Dad are much more likely to stay together if married. You would think the results of repeated studies would lead to government promoting marriage yet that is the one thing politicians of all persuasions have refused to do for at least 20 years. The attitudes of progressivists highlight that in their minds fashion trumps wisdom when they do.

CS Lewis describes such progressivism as simply ‘’‘chronological snobbery’ when it insists that ‘the uncritical acceptance of the intellectual climate common to our own age and the assumption that whatever has gone out of date is on that account discredited. You must find why it went out of date. Was it ever refuted ( and if so by whom, where, and how conclusively) or did it merely die away as fashions do? If the latter, this tells us nothing about its truth or falsehood.

3. Progressivism hides behind a ‘great myth’

CS Lewis in his essay entitled the Funeral of a Great Myth shatters the myth that simply because a society is advancing scientifically and technologically it must also be advancing in its ethics. A society can be in advance and in decline at the same time – depending on what it is we are measuring! That is as obvious a conclusion as it is possible to draw from the 20th century. The philosophy of social Evolution has hoodwinked us into thinking that humanity is ever-improving. CS Lewis writes;

It is, indeed, manifestly not the case that there is any law of progress in ethical, cultural, and social history.

4. Progressivism gambles with your future

In rejecting a thousand years or more of Christian tradition one has to also face the question ‘how do we know what the new ethic will produce?’ How can we possibly predict the consequence, intended or not, of a whole new set of values. Kreeft highlights that progressivism is arrogant, for we know the past far better than we know the future.

CS Lewis again; About everything that can be called ‘the philosophy of history’ I am a desperate sceptic. I know nothing of the future, not even whether there will be any future…. I don’t know whether the human tragi-comedy is now in Acts I or Acts V, whether our present disorders are those of infancy or old age.

5. Traditionalism secures the future.

The great trick of progressivists is to label those resistant to change as being opposed to progress but as Kreeft is quick to point out traditionalists far from being those simply ‘stuck in the past’ with no vision for the future are actually those keen to secure our future. Tolkien’s traditionalism, with all its dependence on the past, does not make the mistake of ignoring the future. In fact, the main reason for tradition is to guide the future. It is not even accurate to say that Tolkien’s heroes balance their traditionalism with a sense of responsibility for the future, as if the two things were opposites. For listening to the past and responsibility for the future are two sides of the same coin.

Aug 20, 2012
neil

What Tolkien wanted you to understand about yourself through Lord of the Rings

Peter J. Kreeft’s stimulating book The Philosophy of Tolkien: The Worldview Behind The Lord of the Rings takes a look at philosophical questions raised and answered in Tolkien’s work (as well as introducing us to helpful explanations from Tolkien’s private letters). On the issue of human identity Kreft reminds us that only human beings  ’can fail to achieve our nature’. Here’s a short extract on the theme and how Tolkien seeks to illustrate it from the lives of Frodo, Sam and Golem.

When the object we desire is God, or that which God is (truth, goodness, and beauty), the object is not possessable. And paradoxically, only then are we fulfilled, when we do not possess the object that we desire but it possesses us. But when we make anything other than God the object of our desire, when our goal is possessable, we are undone. This dark path began in Eden. Once we laid hands on the fruit we desired, the horrible effect took place immediately: it laid its hands on us. The self was ‘unselfed’ – not filled but emptied, not enhanced but devastated. The object grew into a god, and we shrank into slaves. We exchanged places: we became the objects, the its, and it because the subject, the I. We found our identity in what was less than ourselves, in what we could possess. We who began as the Adam (man) became the golem, the ‘un-man’.

Frodo and Sam illustrate one half of this paradox, Golem the other. Frodo and Sam attain and save their selves because they give themselves away for others, for the world. And not for some abstract cause but for each other and for the Shire. In contrast, Gollum is obsessed with his “cause”: possessing the Ring. His selfishness is so self-devouring that he almost has no self left. He talks to himself more than to others; he often makes no distinction between himself and his “Precious”; he is confused about who he is. He speaks of himself in the third person. (“Don’t let them hurt us, Precious!”) It is the Ring that is now the Precious, and Gollum has lost his preciousness, his value. He has become its slave, and it has become his master. In fact it has become the self, the person, the subject, the actor, and Gollum has become its passive object, its IT. He is nothing without the Ring, He cannot distinguish himself from the Ring. He is the Ring, The person has become a thing. He has lost his soul.

Jun 12, 2012
neil

A quite brilliant article in the Telegraph on Peter Tatchell, gay marriage and the role of the State

Brendan O’Neill writes in the Telegraph on the domestication of Peter Tatchell

 

His conclusion is sobering ‘The gay marriage campaign will end up expanding the remit of the state, granting it the authority to overhaul an ancient institution, redefine our relationships, and rebrand is all as “partners’ rather than husbands or wives.’ 

May 16, 2012
neil

It really hurts to be told you’re useless

Tim Minchin, comedian, musician and actor was well worth the listen on Desert Island Discs this week.

What stopped me in my tracks as I listened was his incredibly honest reflections on receiving a disastrous review by Phil Daoust in the Guardian as a new-comer to British comedy back in 2005 and especially the insight into the fragility of the human ego.

Michin said:

People are quite contemptuous of artists who are not good at dealing with reviews but I think it’s completely disingenuous because it hurts being told that what you’ve worked on is useless.And I’m probably particularly not good at it. Which is why I don’t read them anymore.

Imagine you had to get up, you the listerner, dear listener, had to get up every night and do a whole lot of jokes that you already know that you don’t find funny any more, write a whole lot of songs that you don’t like the tunes of anymore because you wrote them yourself, sing with a voice that you loathe because its your own voice. These are all normal human things right  to not like your own material.

And someone in a national newspaper, your newspaper, the one you respect and read makes specific criticisms of specific bits in the show and doesn’t say that this could do with work but says this makes this person not deserve to be on stage.

How would you feel at the point, you get to that point in your show that night? How do you get up on stage and get to that joke again with that guy’s words ringing in your head?

It wasn’t the worse thing in the world but it was very, very hard to recover from it.

 

May 3, 2012
neil

A piece I’ve written for Evangelicals Now ‘No one kills in the name of atheism?’

Originally a post on this blog Evangelicals Now have edited and published it for a wider audience

 

 

This section of a documentary entitled The trouble with atheism presented by Rod Liddle also highlights the extreme violence conducted by atheist states in the past century.

Apr 9, 2012
neil

Winner of US Masters Bubba Watson tweets ‘To God be the glory!!!’

Just after midnight (here in the UK) Bubba Watson won one of the most prestigious golfing touranments in the world – the US Masters. As a Christian he celebrated his win giving thanks to God on Easter Sunday!

In a tweet just a few weeks ago he said:

Most important things in my life- 1. God 2. Wife 3. Family 4. Helping others 5. Golf

This post from the Billy Graham Organisation tells us more

(HT: Steve Couchman)

Apr 6, 2012
neil

The state we’re in: what Cameron & Obama’s Easter messages tell us

His Grace takes issue with David Cameron’s easter message.

 

(HT: David Robertson)

Mar 27, 2012
neil

Your ideas won’t change the world – A TEDx talk from a City Church Oldboy

Where do good ideas come from, ideas that change a city?  They come not out of thin air but out of the values and convictions of those who shape them.

The people who made Birmingham were moved by ideas to transform a city – but what values shaped their ideas?  Andy Weatherley looks at 4 men who made Birmingham what it is and asks why did they do what they did.

Andy Weatherley is pastor of City Church‘s daughter church Grace Church and he spoke this last weekend at TEDxBrum on how values change the world through the ideas they spark.

(When you get to the TEDx page click on ’10:20 Andy Weatherley – Birmingham’ on the right-hand side )

 

Mar 22, 2012
neil

Melvyn Bragg on the ignorance of Dawkins and de Botton

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

( HT: Mez McConnell)

Mar 16, 2012
neil

Gay marriage? It’s a stupid distraction from the main war

Peter Hitchens has written an interesting piece in this weeks Spectator (sadly not available to read on-line) in which he argues that those who are opposing gay marriage are fighting the wrong battle. It is in his words ‘a stupid distraction from the main war’.

Rather than form coalitions to oppose the tiny number of gay men and women seeking to marry (relative that is to heterosexual couples) we need to face up to the fact that

‘The real zone of battle, a vast 5,000 mile front along which the forces of righteousness have retreated without counter-attacking for nearly 50 years, involves the hundreds of thousands of marriages undermined by ridiculously easy divorce, the millions of children hurt by those divorces and the increasing multitudes of homes where parents, single or in couples, have never been married at all and never will be.’

There is a lot that is right with this argument but what Hitchens overlooks is that the gay marriage argument is not really an argument about gay marriage at all. It is an argument about every marriage and an argument about gender.

1)It is an argument about every marriage. If the law is changed then that changes marriage for everybody.  My marriage of 18 years is overnight redefined.

Not least it means that the centuries old, universal, understanding that marriage is inextricably linked with children will be broken for ever.  This has unseen and probably unintended consequences that I will explore in a future post.  But let it be known now that the redefinition of marriage will cause much harm to our children and children’s children.

2) It is an argument about the eradification of gender.

Perhaps the very last place where difference between gender is recognised is in the institution of marriage. When this is gone the language of male and female, husband and wife, father and mother will be gone, perhaps for ever.

So I share Hitchens concern – where have we been for the past 40 years? But also appeal for a recognition that there are bigger things at stake than the right or not of a few thousand gay couples per year to marry.

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