MARS HILL AUDIO Journal
Guests on Volume 124: John Fea, on how American individualism fuels indifference to the study of history, and how K-12 education can counter that apathy; Robert F. Rea, on how engagement with Church history deepens our faith and enriches our capacity as faithful servants; John C. Pinheiro, on how anti-Catholic prejudice in mid-nineteenth-century America was intertwined with beliefs about the virtues of Republicanism, "Manifest Destiny," and the Mexican-American War; R. J. Snell, on how newer ideas about natural law focus less on moral propositions and concepts and more on the thrust for meaning and value; Duncan G. Stroik, on how architectural styles function as languages that speak to us and enable buildings to speak to each other; Kate Tamarkin and Fiona Hughes, on the healing power of music.
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John Fea, on how American individualism fuels indifference to the study of history, and how K-12 education can counter that apathy.
“I think that in the sense that America is the first Enlightenment nation in the world, it is inherently progressive, and those who are progressive . . . really have no use for the past other than to look to it to make sure that we don't do that again . . . to do that horrible thing again, whatever that horrible thing happens to be.”
-- John Fea
In this issue’s first interview, historian John Fea discusses how American and Protestant individualism continues to influence our orientation towards the past. In contrast to other Christian cultures, such as Roman Catholicism, European Christendom, and the Eastern Orthodox tradition — all of which have viewed their histories more in terms of dynamic, living traditions — American Protestantism has been disposed to treat history as a collection of dates and events that are extrinsic and, more or less, optional to understanding the present and future.
Fea argues that the benefit of studying history is that history de-centers us, such that we are compelled to consider situations and motivations beyond ourselves. For Fea, history’s instruction leads to both moral and public consequences that must be cultivated with wise pedagogy. Rather than teaching students to be “consumers” of history, Fea and others call for practices of “producing” history, which requires engaging with primary sources and articulating informed and coherent accounts of historical documents.
Robert F. Rea, on how engagement with Church history deepens our faith and enriches our capacity as faithful servants.
“Most of the people who have . . . reservations about spending a lot of time on the Tradition, most of them are not saying that they don’t think it’s important. They’re just wondering if it’s important enough to spend time dealing with it, that they could use for other things and other practices. But what they often don’t realize is that many of the doctrines that they articulate are articulated in ways that were provided for them by people who went before.”
Church historian, Robert F. Rea, in his book Why Church History Matters: An Invitation to Love and Learn from Our Past, wants to persuade Christians from Evangelical and Free-Church traditions that the study of church history is more than an intellectual exercise or an academic discipline. For Rea, studying church history is a means through which we participate in the Church Universal, which includes the communion of those saints who have lived for twenty centuries. Rea’s invitation “to love and learn” prompts us to appeal to the Tradition as still living; part of this involves seeking out, and submitting to, the spiritual mentorship of a Church figure from the past. Connecting with “dead Christians” and their communities need not solely benefit personal spiritual formation, but can also reform our paradigms for what the practices and life of the Church community have been and can be.
John C. Pinheiro, on how anti-Catholic prejudice in mid-nineteenth-century America was intertwined with beliefs about the virtues of Republicanism, "Manifest Destiny," and the Mexican-American War.
“The dynamic that I think the Mexican-American War revealed is that white, Anglo-Saxon Protestants as a race (as Americans would have thought of it) were somehow uniquely predisposed to be the guardians of liberty and the spreaders of liberty, and that the darker or more Catholic you got, the less able you were to accomplish these things.”
On this segment of the Journal, John C. Pinheiro discusses the ways that nineteenth-century American Republicanism, and its attending notions of freedom, was conflated with Protestant theology and national prosperity. In his book, Missionaries of Republicanism: A Religious History of the Mexican-American War, Pinheiro tells how these notions were disseminated with evangelical rhetoric by such figures as the preacher Lyman Beecher and journalist John L. O’Sullivan. Included in this rhetoric were eschatological rationales for American expansion that resulted in pervasive anti-Catholic sentiments, which, in turn, helped to justify and motivate the Mexican-American War.
R. J. Snell, on how newer ideas about natural law focus less on moral propositions and concepts and more on the thrust for meaning and value.
“The natural law is not an abstract deductivist theory. It’s not just concepts in relation to concepts, but it’s about how real human beings . . . organize our lives towards purpose and meaning and good. And so there’s reasons why it doesn’t work out as pristinely as it looks to be in the textbooks. . . . When I think of natural law, I think of it in many ways as a form of therapy.”
-- R. J. Snell
In this interview, philosopher R. J. Snell explains how new currents in natural law have shifted from beginning with metaphysical assumptions, that answer metaphysical questions, to beginning with plain persons, who inquire (through a process of self-examination) into their reasons and motivations for action. Given the lack of vocabularies for moral discourse in contemporary public life, new natural law philosophers have responded by dispensing with natural law as a theory that accounts for a set of questions made evident through practical reason, in favor of natural law as a “performance,” or “therapy,” that cultivates practical reason and self-examination, and thereby makes possible an arena for argument.
Duncan G. Stroik, on how architectural styles function as languages that speak to us and enable buildings to speak to each other.
“Perhaps the best example is how traditional cities and traditional buildings speak to each other. There’s a discussion amongst them and to the people that are visiting them. Whereas you could take three famous modernist buildings and plop them down next to each other and they wouldn’t have anything in common.”
In this conversation, architect and professor, Duncan G. Stroik calls attention to the distinctly public and rhetorical power of architecture. Using the metaphor of architecture as “frozen music,” Stroik describes how buildings can be intelligibly expressive through their use of themes and sub-themes, which, although “frozen,” are nonetheless experienced over time. Stroik is especially concerned with the ways in which church buildings communicate to those inside and out. He details how mid-nineteenth-century tent revivalism drastically altered churches from places premised upon the location and worship of something sacred to spaces modeled after the stages of theaters and auditoriums.
“Hearing is the first sense to develop in the womb and the last sense to go at death. You can play to a baby who’s not yet born and you can speak to a person who looks absolutely unresponsive or even in a coma. So that says to me that whatever creative powers in the universe fashioned this, it must have been important.”
On this final segment of the Journal, conductor Kate Tamarkin and violinist Fiona Hughes share about their training in the area of therapeutic music. Not to be confused with music therapists (who attain a degree and use music to achieve specific rehabilitative goals), Tamarkin and Hughes apply their musical skills to partner with medical establishments as public servants to those in physical or mental distress.
While many of the physical responses to music remain anecdotal, there is a growing amount of measurable research to confirm how sensitive our bodies are to different forms of music. One such result has been in the area of hospice care. Researchers have discovered that medieval plainchant is especially palliative to patients who are dying. The structure of the music would seem to sympathize with what the person experiences in the process nearing death. The chant’s irregular beat and cadence; its simple, stepwise melodic profile; and its disposition to tarry and weave rather than drive towards a goal are all features it shares with the unforeseeable experience of dying. One might even suggest that the chant helps to prepare the dying person.