MARS HILL AUDIO Journal
Guests on Volume 107: Victor Lee Austin, on why authority is not a barrier to true freedom and is necessary for human flourishing (and will be forever); Ellen T. Charry, on why happiness has been underplayed in Christian theology (and why it shouldn't be); Anthony Esolen, on the explicit and implicit teaching that has caused many young people to be cynical and unhappy; Ferdinand Schlingensiepen, on the ambivalence of postwar Germans to the anti-Nazi resistance movement (and to Dietrich Bonhoeffer); Allen Verhey, on why it's dangerous to draw too stark a line between nature and supernature; and Calvin Stapert, on the historical, theological, and musical elements that combined to produce Handel's Messiah.
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Victor Lee Austin on why authority is not a barrier to true freedom, and is necessary for human flourishing (and will be forever)
"The more complex the music, the more authority is operative in its performance."
—Victor Lee Austin
Volume 107 begins with an interview with Victor Lee Austin who paints a picture of how authority relates to human flourishing. Austin is well aware of the bad and partly justified reputation authority has as negative force that presses down on people in harmful ways; this is why he begins at a different place, to show the beauty of goods achieved only with the aid of well-used authority. Part of the background of our social life and imagination is a misunderstanding of the individual that places him in necessary opposition to and independence from a community. Austin argues that this isn't true to our experience of how individuals relate to families, communities and society. Individuals are shaped and formed in various communities to become a part of a society, and only in doing so come to express their full individuality therein. The more complex the society or the shared objective, the more authority is required to orchestrate persons to achieve the excellence of human flourishing.
Ellen T. Charry on why happiness has been underplayed in Christian theology (and why it shouldn't be)
"With that focus on our sinfulness and penchant for evil, it made it also difficult to even talk about happiness as a goal of life, as if happiness would compete with obedience to God and submission to the will of God."
—Ellen T. Charry
The next interview features Ellen Charry who has written a book articulating a theology of happiness and trying to understand why happiness is often viewed with suspicion in Christian circles. She first provides a caveat that the notion of happiness she is concerned with is not the glib, shallow and ephemeral feeling rooted in excitement that is everywhere in society today, but a deeper feeling that is rooted in the experience of all of life as a participation in the goodness of Creation and of being. She notes that for most of the Christian tradition, there has not been as much discussion of happiness as there has been of hope; most reflection has tended to push off happiness towards the eschaton for a number of reasons Charry elucidates. Finally, Charry comments on the division of the true from the good and the beautiful in Christian thinking and intellectual formation embodied in the separation of theology and "practical theology."
Anthony Esolen on the explicit and implicit teaching that has caused many young people to be cynical and unhappy
"It's the sort of thing that has the capacity to change their lives."
Anthony Esolen is concerned about the imagination of young people. He teaches undergraduate students and draws on his experience to illustrate the yearning young people have for transcendence and real joy, and articulates a number of practices that serve to undermine that joy and inflict sullenness or some cheap emotional stimulation in its stead. Esolen goes to bat for spending time outdoors and for the McGuffey Reader in the process of differentiating the narcissism that passes for imagination in much of modern culture from the kind of imagination flowing out of a posture of receiving, which he sees is necessary for a flourishing life. The segment ends as Esolen reflects on the power of the greatest works of imagination from the past to enthrall and captivate young people today.
Ferdinand Schlingensiepen on the ambivalence of postwar Germans to the anti-Nazi resistance movement (and to Dietrich Bonhoeffer)
"In the years to come, he was led, step by step, to the decision himself... are you prepared to obey Christ or not?"
In this segment, Ferdinand Schlingensiepen joins us to talk about the life of Bonhoeffer. Schlingensiepen was a dear friend of Eberhard Bethge, who was a close student of Bonhoeffer and his first biographer. Schlingensiepen begins by talking about the memory of Bonhoeffer in the post-war period of Germany, and how his popularity changed over the years. He traces the trajectory of Bonhoeffer's stand against the German Christians and his opposition to the Nazi government and its growing power, and then reflects on the theological and pastoral themes of Bonhoeffer's work.
Allen Verhey on why it's dangerous to draw too stark a line between nature and supernature
"Compassion is a response to suffering, but our compassion has been trained by this mythos to look for the best and closest technology."
The next segment features Allen Verhey's discussion of nature and some of the ways modern people think about it. One of the ways we can think of nature is as strictly divorced from the supernatural. Verhey articulates a number of ways this is problematic, as it can diminish the immanent work and care of God in creation and add to its disenchantment and abuse. He comments that certain myths about nature can serve to orient our activity in the world, including a myth that reduces life to genetics and a technological millenialism that sees salvation as lying in humanity's increasing power over and control of nature irrespective of the teleological order in nature. Especially powerful is the myth of automonous individualism underlying liberal society. Verhey is careful to point out that to suggest goods like freedom can be absolutized and idolized is not to suggest they have no value at all, but that their value must be recognized in ordered relationship to that of other goods.
Calvin Stapert on the historical, theological, and musical elements that combined to produce Handel's Messiah
"This collection of texts which promotes the Lordship of Jesus Christ is a tool to combat the spread of deism."
Calvin Stapert explains the origins and character of Handel's Messiah in this next interview. Messiah was in a number of ways an introduction of the tradition of the oratorio to England. Stapert comments on the Continental development of the oratorio as a liturgical form for services attended by laity that were centered around prayer, and gives a short history and description of various oratorios in Italy. The dramatic form of the oratorio borrowed much from the tradition of the opera, with a couple of notable differences. The interview ends with a discussion of Messiah as a Christocentric theological response to nascent deism in the society and the Church in Handel's time.