1 In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. 2 The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.
3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4 And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.
6 And God said, “Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” 7 And God made the expanse and separated the waters that were under the expanse from the waters that were above the expanse. And it was so. 8 And God called the expanse Heaven. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.
9 And God said, “Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” And it was so. 10 God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good.
11 And God said, “Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, on the earth.” And it was so. 12 The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed according to their own kinds, and trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. 13 And there was evening and there was morning, the third day.
14 And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years, 15 and let them be lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light upon the earth.” And it was so. 16 And God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars.17 And God set them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth, 18 to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. 19 And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day.
20 And God said, “Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the heavens.” 21 So God created the great sea creatures and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarm, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. 22 And God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” 23 And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day.
24 And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds—livestock and creeping things and beasts of the earth according to their kinds.” And it was so. 25 And God made the beasts of the earth according to their kinds and the livestock according to their kinds, and everything that creeps on the ground according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.
26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
27 So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.
28 And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” 29 And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. 30 And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. 31 And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.
According to Genesis 1, God created the earth in six days. On a sheet of paper, number 1 through 6 and list what God created on each day.
All the things in man’s world are not good unless they are human and submitted to the laws of a human being. They must move through man. They have no unconditional or autonomous stage before they encounter man. The laws of economics and politics must be his laws, the laws of the human. There are no eternal laws of economics or politics to which he must submit, whether they be human or no. It cannot be said of him, though it is, that business is business and he must face it; or politics are politics and he must swallow it all; or war is war, with its own laws, and he must face all these things as though they were eternal laws of being and God. By the same token he cannot be told that modernization is modernization, with its own absolute, unconditional, and sacrosanct laws.
Fr. William F. Lynch, Christ and Prometheus: A New Image of the Secular
, p. 53
One very popular modern opinion is that there is a disconnection between reality and fantasy. Video gamers, civil liberties groups, advocates for the entertainment industry, and other groups, for example, frequently insist that violent, misogynistic, or otherwise objectionable content in video games, music, and movies do not lead to violence in real life. Anyone who makes the contrary insistence in favor of the truth of the old adage that “you are what you eat” is viewed as antiquated and curmudgeonly. This debate reflects a deeper and older disagreement over the purpose of fiction and its place in human life more generally.
On the one hand, there is the position that the purpose of fiction is to escape from real life. Though the original idea here is certainly an ancient one, in his book Christ and Apollo, Father William F. Lynch traces its current popularity to “the growing encroachments of automation and the terribly repetitive, unfeeling nature of much of our daytime work.”1 As a result, he says, “we have been led to create a night-time culture, and a kind of time within it that has no relation to the day or to the work we do during the day.”2 He concludes that “this night-time culture is largely an attempt to provide a sensational and sentimental dream life in which real time is arrested or forgotten, and the coming of the next morning indefinitely put off.”3 In other words, under the oppression of the tedium of real life, man has come to turn to fiction as a temporary escape.
From this view of fiction emerges the assertion of a separation between reality and fiction. If the primary purpose of fiction is to provide an escape from reality, there must not be a connection between the two. Just as fiction is designed to remove one from reality, reality must stand at a remove from fiction.
The opposite assertion was perhaps first clearly put forward by Plato in his Republic. There, he pointed out that life imitates art and concluded from this that only the highest ideals should be allowed to be exhibited. From these, the audience can draw examples to imitate. While Plato’s ideas of banishing poets from the ideal state and allowing art to contain only positive examples for imitation are extreme and ultimately untenable, there is little doubt that his position is closer to the truth than is its opposite.
All art makes an impression on its viewers, even if they do not believe that it does or desire that it do so. All art derives its existence from the philosophy of the artist. It reflects his values, his concerns, and his desires. Even the idea of art as mere amusement, as a simple pastime and escape, is itself a philosophy which produces a certain kind of art. There must be something the artist and his audience choose to escape from and a reason for what they choose to escape to. Clay Motley, for example, has pointed out that there is a definite link between the popularity of Western movies, which overemphasize masculinity, to periods in which cultural movements which may seem threatening to men, such as feminism, are in the ascendancy.4
The careful cultural consumer, then, must be aware of trends while remaining mindful of the influence everything consumed has upon him. Just as there is no food or medicine taken into the body which does not somehow affect the body, there is nothing taken in by the mind which does not somehow affect the mind. Cognizance of this fact should shape and inform one’s approach to arts and entertainment, whether one is reading a classic or a comic book. The questions that must be at the forefront of one’s mind are those provided by James Vanden Bosch in his explanation of moral criticism of literature: “What does it want me to be, or do, or assume, or assent to, or value?”5 Every artistic creation seeks to make its viewers want to be, do, assume, assent to, or value something; the question is not whether but what.
1 William F. Lynch, Christ and Apollo: The Dimensions of the Literary Imagination (Wilmington: ISI Books, 2004), 55.
4 Clay Motley, “’It’s a Hell of a Thing to Kill a Man’: Western Manhood in Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven,” in Leslie Wilson, ed., Americana: Readings in Popular Culture, Revised Edition (Hollywood: Press Americana, 2010), 72.
5 James Vanden Bosch, “Moral Criticism: Promises and Prospects,” in Clarence Walhout and Leland Ryken, Contemporary Literary Theory: A Christian Appraisal (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1991), 64.
Those who live as beasts on the level of sense alone make the Word flesh in a way dangerous to themselves. They misuse God’s creatures for the service of the passions and do not contemplate the reason of wisdom which is manifest in all things to know and glorify God from his works, as well as to perceive whence and what and why and where we are going from the things which are seen. Rather we go groping through the present life in darkness, feeling with both hands nothing but ignorance about God.
St. Maximus the Confessor, Chapters on Knowledge, Second Century, 41
This attempt to denigrate Western civilization in the name of multiculturalism reaches very far now. Wherever there are schools of education, programs are regulated by central departments that define curricula and oversee the closest details of the program’s functioning. A young person of eighteen going off to college will be taught things that are commanded in state capitals and in Washington. He will not know that many of the most precious achievements of the human mind are forbidden him under these commandments. Standards in our public schools are embarrassingly low. The longer our students stay in them, the further they fall behind most of the rest of the world. The ultimate explanation for this disaster can be found in the principle that all achievements of culture are equally worthy, which means necessarily that they are also equally unworthy.
Larry P. Arnn, Liberty and Learning, p. 55
Augustine’s ethical ideas are, like much Christian thought of Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, largely an update of Plato’s ideas combined with elements of Jewish and early Christian thought. Just as Plato did, Augustine proposed an eternal order by which the affairs and attitudes of individuals and societies could be measured and to which these microcosms should seek to conform. His unique contribution was to identify this eternal and perfect order as the “Kingdom of God” of the thought of ancient Jews and early Christians. According to Augustine’s Christianized update of Plato, the City of God is the eternal order which transcends and yet pervades the City of Man, the temporal order of human society and government.
Interestingly and in a rather bizarre manner, Augustine applied his ideas of the City of God and the City of Man to his ideas about women. As in his various other unique ideas in which he differs from earlier and contemporary Fathers of the Church, such as original sin and predestination, Augustine’s thoughts on women are a strange, haphazard mix of Platonism, ancient Jewish thought, early Christian belief, and his own ideas. For Augustine, drawing, it appears, on St. Paul’s words on marriage in Ephesians 5:22-33, but adding his own twist on the ideas expressed there, man is the “City of God” to woman’s status as “City of Man.” In a clear reference to Plato’s ideas concerning the tripartite nature of the human soul, Augustine asserts in his Confessions, for instance, that woman is “subject to the sex of her husband, as the appetite of action is subjected by reason of the mind.”
In his De Trinitate, Augustine’s bizarre mix of Platonism, Judaism, and Christianity is even more evident in his views on women. There, he draws simultaneously on Plato’s Republic, the opening chapters of Genesis, and 1 Corinthians 11:3-12 to reach his rather strange conclusion that a woman herself does not bear the image of God but is the image of God only in conjunction with her husband. While this is the logical conclusion of Augustine’s comparison of the relationship between man and woman with his conception of the City of God and the City of Man, there is no justification for this in either of the scriptural texts he draws upon to make his point and the assertion clearly runs contrary to the thrust of both Jewish and Christian, if not Platonic, thought.
Unfortunately, it is the Platonic element in Late Antique and Medieval Christian thought, most notably in the thought of Augustine, which has attracted the most attention from modern feminist critics. The criticisms of Deborah Mathieu, Rosemary Radford Ruether, and Eleanor McLaughlin, to name three of the most popular such feminist critiques, for example, have all aimed their attacks at this Platonic element in Christian thought. As a result, there has been little meaningful criticism of or commentary upon elements of Christian thought from that period that are truly unique to Christianity but much criticism has been directed at the Church of that period for its continuation of some elements of earlier Greco-Roman thought.
Similarly, much of the multicultural criticism that has been directed against Augustine and his contemporaries in the Christian Church more often springs from misunderstandings and distortions of early and medieval Christianity than from an accurate assessment and meaningful engagement with it. Jorge Valadez’s criticisms of Christian ethics, for instance, are largely inspired by his concern for two elements which he finds, whether rightly or wrongly, are emphasized in the thought of certain pre-Columbian traditions of the Americas but believes are lacking in Christianity, namely a belief in the bisexuality and the all-pervading presence of the Divine. That Valadez sees these elements as missing, however, is more an oversight on his part than on that of the Christian thinkers of any generation.
In his criticisms of the lack of bisexuality in the God of Judaism and Christianity, for example, Valadez makes the very strong statement that the God of Christianity “has traditionally never been spoken of in female terms.” While it is true that masculine terminology predominates in both Christianity and Judaism in order to emphasize the active and “penetrating” nature of God, it is untrue, and obviously so to anyone with a decent knowledge of Christian theology and history, that these faith traditions have indeed used feminine terms; two very prominent examples are the concept of the Shekinah, or Divine Presence, in Judaism, and the concept of Sophia, the Divine Wisdom, a very important concept in Christian theology which is viewed as synonymous with Christ (the Second Person of the Trinity). Here we have the Presence (in Judaism) and Wisdom (in Christianity) of God, both central concepts in the respective faith traditions which possess them, being identified as feminine.
Similarly, Valadez claims that because of the Christian ideas of God’s transcendence and separation in essence from the created order, Christianity lacks the theoretical basis for an “ecological culture” such as he ascribes to the Maya. On the contrary however, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam have all long emphasized the all-pervading presence of God. One prayer that has been in common use in the Eastern Christian churches since at least the early Middle Ages, and which makes up part of the standard beginning to nearly all Eastern Christian church services and personal prayers, explicitly refers to God as “everywhere present and filling all things,” thereby exclaiming a clearly panentheistic position.
In addition, the traditional, and especially Eastern, Christian tradition of iconography, which views the material elements of wood and paint as worthy objects of worship insofar as they stand as symbols for and conduits of the divine figures whom they are used to depict, as well as the traditional sacramental view of Christianity, which sees objects of the material world used as conduits for God’s presence, as in the wine and bread of the Eucharist becoming the Body and Blood of Christ, the Second Person of the Trinity, and the water and oil of baptism and chrismation becoming the vehicles for the Third Person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, give lie to Valadez’s assertions concerning the separation of God and world in Christian thought. Of more value than Valadez’s criticism of Christianity is Catharine P. Roth’s more informed critique of Western Christianity’s loss of iconographic and sacramental focus: “Because God was not seen in any … material objects, the world was understood as mere matter. Where there is no ‘sacramental consciousness,’ there is no restraint on scientific analysis and technological exploitation of the cosmos”. In other words, the ecological basis Valadez is seeking is not something foreign to Christianity which must be found in such troubled and fundamentally flawed traditions as the Mayan and Aztec systems, but something that is quite natural to Christianity and is waiting to be rediscovered in its roots.