If you want to know where a civilization is going to end up, all you have to do is look at the art that is most typical to that civilization. Our own Western commercial postmodern civilization is no different. Our art involves pop, pastiche, remix, and irony. And there is no better example of the art of NOW than the following mash-up by DJ Earworm. It perfectly expresses on every level the spirit of our times. Visuals, lyrics, message, meaning, tempo, medium, EVERYTHING is a PERFECT window into our times:
Now, listen very carefully to what I say next: what you just watched was breathtakingly and divinely BEAUTIFUL.
If you did not think that video was beautiful, then read the following paragraph and watch it again. I don’t care what your background is, if you’re a ‘conservative’ or an ‘optimist’ or ‘religious’; read what I have to say and re-watch the video.
Pagan culture is beautiful. It’s blasphemous, despairing, pastiche, dark, over-sexed, sadistic, and breathtakingly gorgeous. I’m not saying it isn’t ugly, but hell is it a beautiful ugly. It ought to be alluring to us. If we do not find it attractive on some level, my prognosis is that we have numbed ourselves to beauty in general to protect ourselves from Ms. Culture’s tempting allure.
I’m a hopeless romantic, so I have a weakness for beauty. In fact, true beauty makes me inevitably fall in love. In fact, I have fallen in love with the beauty of our trashy culture.
Sometimes I feel guilty about falling in love with such ‘wordliness.’ Does this make me a bad Christian? Am I a sadist because I love Quentin Tarantino movies? Am I a nihilist because I love Skrillex’s dubstep audio garbage? I’ve increasingly come to believe that my fascination with ‘secular’ culture is actually God-given. It is actually a proper response to the culture.
G. K. Chesterton divided the world into three kinds of people: the saint, the heretic, and the satanist. There is no dealing with the satanist (also called the anarchist), because he is the one who has no truth, who deliberately chooses truth as falsehood and falsehood as truth. Maybe you think no such people exist. Chesterton met a person of such description, and the experience was so profoundly horrifying that it was one of the causes of his eventual conversion to Christianity.
The second kind, the heretic, is the most common, and is divided broadly between optimists and pessimists. Optimists believe the lie that everything is okay, i.e. that the world does not need saving. Pessimists believe the lie that everything is bad, i.e. that the world is not worth saving. Both have some half of the truth (optimists that good exists, pessimists that evil exists), but they are both ultimately mistaken.
The saint is the one who knows the world is bad enough to need saving and good enough to save. Chesterton also calls the saint the patriot. The saint has a love affair with the world, but his love is not blind. He cares about the culture enough to save it. He wants to bring Heaven to Earth not because he hates Earth, but because he loves it.
Now I’m no saint, but I think most Christians have fallen into the heresy of optimism or pessimism. The optimistic Christians live their lives as if there isn’t a world to save, and so they go on living comfortably in their happy-go-lucky bubble. The pessimistic Christians live their lives as if the world cannot be saved, so they retreat into their comfortable, safe little bubble. Both views are radically dangerous to the Christian life. Christ said Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations. Both heresies make this calling impossible.
The key is that the saint/patriot must love the world before he can save it. When I look at the mess of our culture, I see incredible beauty. Never before has so much talent, such precise craftwork, and such proliferation of culture been so widespread. Media culture – especially film (in my mind) – is incredibly artistic and effective. The message might be crappy, but it is crap mixed with fudge and chocolate. And man does it go down well.
Re-watch the DJ Earworm mix. Immerse yourself in the culture it represents. Feel it. Cherish it. Love it. Now go out and fix it. And, remember the lesson the culture has taught you: you can’t counter a chocolate-coated piece of of shit with a shit-coated piece of chocolate; You can’t sell the beautiful Gospel in frumpy dressing if the ugly culture has a chic outfit. If you are going to save the culture, you’ll need more beauty and better craftwork than the world has to offer. The world is beautiful. If we want to save it, we need to make it more beautiful.