MARS HILL AUDIO Journal

Volume 37

Guests on Volume 37: Gregory Wolfe, on how “religious humanism” follows the model of the incarnation; Jill P. Baumgaertner, on violence and the grotesque in Flannery O’Connor; D. Bruce Lockerbie, on the struggle of many modern writers against religion; Roger Lundin, on Alfred Kazin’'s God and the American Writer; Donald McCullough, on the religious rootedness of courtesy; David Nye, on how technologies build cultural momentum in unexpected ways; Kathleen Powers Erickson, on the Spiritual Vision of Vincent Van Gogh; and Michael Marissen, on how J. S. Bach avoided anti-Judaism.

Part 1

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    Gregory Wolfe on how "religious humanism" follows the model of the incarnation

    The New Religious Humanists: A Reader (Free Press, 1997)

    Gregory Wolfe, editor of the journal Image, speaks of his journey to and his understanding of religious humanism. His desire to balance a respect for the arts but not adopt a polarized and brittle political stance drove him to investigate it. According to Wolfe, humanism has only recently become associated with the word secular. Gaining insight from the Renaissance and Reformation Eras, he views Erasmus as a model for religious humanism. In a recent publication, The New Religious Humanists: A Reader, edited by Wolfe, he features authors that have an incarnational vision. In secular humanism, man is the measure of all things, but in this more traditional humanism the incarnation is the model for thought. In the incarnation, Wolfe sees the proper balance between the human and the divine.

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    Jill P. Baumgaertner on violence and the grotesque in Flannery O'Connor

    Flannery O'Connor: A Proper Scaring (Harold Shaw Publishers, 1988)

    Jill P. Baumgaertner, author of Flannery O'Connor: A Proper Scaring, gives a brief but thorough introduction to the writing of Christian author Flannery O'Connor. O'Connor's orthodox Catholicism make God, creation, sin, and grace the object and impetus for much of her fiction. Baumgaertner speaks to the violence in O'Connor's work and her mastery of the art of storytelling, and she gives a starting place to approach O'Connor's fiction. Baumgaertner compares the reaction to her students conditioned by violence in modern movies to those of earlier generations to the violence in O'Connor's work. O'Connor's mastery of the southern accent and her astute understanding of humor, especially in dialogue, add great flourish to her deeply theological conversion narratives.

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    D. Bruce Lockerbie on the struggle of many modern writers against religion

    Dismissing God: Modern Writers' Struggle against Religion (Baker Books, 1998)

    D. Bruce Lockerbie, author of Dismissing God: Modern Writers' Struggle against Religion, discusses his work. According to Lockerbie many modern authors did not dismiss God because they were involved in the skeptical philosophy of their day; instead, Lockerbie notes that many moderns—including Hardy, Lawrence, Joyce, Hemingway, and Camus—were raised in the church yet experienced a traumatic event in their lives. Thus, their dismissal of God was not skeptical but "an acting out of interiorized rebellion." This led many authors to feel it was plausible to put God on trial.

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    Roger Lundin on Alfred Kazin's God and the American Writer

    Alfred Kazin's God and the American Writer was published by Knopf in 1997.

    Roger Lundin of Wheaton College speaks about the critical vision of American literary critic Alfred Kazin. Kazin's vision of the great American authors sees them as members of a radical reaction to the evangelical nature of the American religious experience. Finding it boring and therefore inauthentic, these great writers went off to their studies and involved themselves in the truly spiritual activity of their age. Lundin points out that Kazin admired the American veneration of those who break with tradition. Thus, he applauds those who have nothing to applaud. Lundin points out that Kazin arrived at this point because of his understanding of religious experience in the American past. Kazin was particularly sympathetic to the Puritan tradition; he saw the New England Puritans as precursors to the modern intellectual life and understanding of the self.

Part 2

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    Donald McCullough on the religious rootedness of courtesy

    Say Please, Say Thank You: The Respect We Owe One Another (Putnam, 1998)

    Donald McCullough, theologian and author of Say Please, Say Thank you: The Respect We Own One Another, discusses his insights into the increasingly coarse nature of society and the theological foundations for courtesy. McCullough thinks that the world is becoming more and more coarse as life becomes more intense and the world more populated and as the American lifestyle increases in busyness. The desire to be dramatic in a coarse age requires further corrosion of civility as greater shock value is needed to make a dramatic point. McCullough sees the civil and courteous life as a result of the worship of God. This life is one of reverence for God and knowledge that all men and women are his children. God's care for all humanity comes to a climax in the incarnation of Christ, where the Church sees the Creator in the Savior of the world.

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    David Nye on how technologies build cultural momentum in unexpected ways

    Consuming Power: A Social History of American Industry was published in 1999

    David Nye, author of Consuming Power: A Social History of American Industry and American Technological Sublime, believes the choices a culture makes are responsible for the effects of the technologies that a culture uses. Technology is not determined or controlled; rather, the choices made by a culture to use certain technologies often develop unexpected momentum. The many technological decisions that a culture simultaneously makes often obfuscate the relationship between the culture's choices and the technologies' effects. Challenging this trend can be difficult because often the effects of new technologies cannot be understood until after they are in place.

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    Kathleen Powers Erickson on the Spiritual Vision of Vincent Van Gogh

    At Eternity's Gate: The Spiritual Vision of Vincent Van Gogh (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1998)

    Kathleen Powers Erickson, author of At Eternity's Gate: The Spiritual Vision of Vincent Van Gogh, speaks about this vision and its neglect by contemporary culture. Van Gogh's faith was an embarrassment to his family so that they were quick to overlook it. Art historians look for different things in their scholarship than do most religious scholars. Modern art historians looks at the formal, not biographical features of an artist's work. For Erickson, there are four main components to Van Gogh's spiritual vision: Christ as the model for life, God as the transcendent Creator, Christ as the center of religious experience, and the afterlife as the end of this experience. She explains how she believes these affected Van Gogh's work.

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    Michael Marissen on how J. S. Bach avoided anti-Judaism

    Lutheranism, Anti-Judaism, and Bach's St. John Passion (Oxford University Press, 1998)

    Michael Marissen, author of Lutheranism, Anti-Judaism, and Bach's St. John Passion argues against the notion that Bach was anti-Semitic on two fronts: first, Bach reads John's Gospel through Pauline lenses. Thus, at a time in the passion when contemporaries of Bach ridiculed the Jews, he chastised his Lutheran congregation. Marissen also counters the idea that Bach was influenced by medieval passion plays. Marissen notes that this is impossible because Luther forbid them in Protestant Germany.