Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Through the Haunted Forest: Epistemology and the Veridicality of Religious Experience (Philosophy of Religion Homework)

1. Question: Analyze Isaiah’s vision (or another religious experience of your choice) according to the procedure discussed in class. In other words, describe the experience of your choice, and then run down the list of defeaters and apply them (as much as you can) to that specific religious experience. Then, tell me how much justification you think there is for taking that religious experience seriously. (1 ½ to 2 pages)

Answer: Having missed the lecture this question depends on, and somehow unwittingly missed the handout even after we spoke about it, I'll just have to improvise. This is just as well, for while some decent stuff has been written about the nature of religious experience, I've yet to see anything that really plays fair with all of the evidence from the phenomena. The closest I've ever seen to that is Rudolf Otto's The Idea of the Holy, but even that languishes somewhat under his theological liberalism. And then, even that problem was somewhat amended by C.S. Lewis' generally positive analysis of Otto's writing in his own works. At any rate, worldview considerations aside, scholars in this field can be forgiven for having a hard time sorting out such an array of apparently conflicting data. At all turns it seems, whatever one has to say about a certain religious experience will not hold true for another one. Where Rudolf Otto and C.S. Lewis succeed most thoroughly is in the demonstration that religious experience has a common origin in the apprehension of the numinous, the feeling of "fear and fascination" when a contingent being encounters something that presents itself as (to quote Martin Luther) a "naked absolute." In illustrating the apprehension of the numinous, Lewis gives the following example:

Suppose you were told there was a tiger in the next room: you would know that you were in danger and would probably feel fear. But if you were told 'There is a ghost in the next room', and believed it, you would feel, indeed, what is often called fear, but of a different kind. It would not be based on the knowledge of danger, for no one is primarily afraid of what a ghost may do to him, but of the mere fact that it is a ghost. It is 'uncanny' rather than dangerous, and the special kind of fear it excites may be called Dread. With the Uncanny one has reached the fringes of the Numinous. Now suppose that you were told simply 'There is a mighty spirit in the room', and believed it. Your feelings would then be even less like the mere fear of danger: but the disturbance would be profound. You would feel wonder and a certain shrinking - a sense of inadequacy to cope with such a visitant and of prostration before it - an emotion which might be expressed in Shakespeare's words 'Under it my genius is rebuked'. This feeling may be described as awe, and the object which excites it as the Numinous. (C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain p. 5-6)

From here, Lewis goes on to observe that "nothing is more certain than that man, from a very early period, began to believe that the universe was haunted by spirits." (Ibid.) From the most ancient human societies to modern civilizations across the whole world, it has been well established that more than a few individuals throughout the range of human experience have been having these numinous experiences, and "do not dissappear from the mind with the growth of knowledge and civilisation." (p. 8) So what should we make of this fact? Well, whenever we encounter a phenomenal appearance of something that we cannot plausibly attribute to being caused by something different from what it appears to be, then we are epistemically justified in believing that the noumenon that produces the experience to be at least causally correlated to its phenomenal appearance. So then, as relates to the phenomenal experience of the numinous, Lewis goes on to argue that in terms of the production of the numinous experience:

There is no possibility of arguing from mere danger to the uncanny, still less to the fully Numinous. You may say that it seems to you very natural that early man, being surrounded by real dangers, and therefore frightened, should invent the uncanny and the Numinous. In a sense it is, but let us understand what we mean. You feel it to be natural because, sharing human experience with your remote ancestors, you can imagine yourself reacting to perilous solitudes in the same way; and this reaction is indeed 'natural' in the sense of being in accord with human nature. But it is not in the least 'natural' in the sense that the idea of the dangerous, or that any perception of danger or any dislike of the wounds and death which it may entail could give the slightest conception of ghostly dread or numinous awe to an intelligence which did not already understand them. When man passes from physical fear to dread and awe, he makes a sheer jump, and apprehends something which could never be given, as danger is, by the physical facts and logical deductions from them. Most attempts to explain the Numinous presuppose the thing to be explained - as when anthropologists derive it from fear of the dead, without explaining why dead men (assuredly the least dangerous kind of men) should have attracted this peculiar feeling. Against all such attempts we must insist that dread and awe are in a different dimension from fear. They are in the nature of an interpretation man gives to the universe, or an impression he gets from it; and just as no enumeration of the physical qualities of a beautiful object could ever include its beauty, or give the slightest hint of what we mean by beauty to a creature without aesthetic experience, so no factual description of any human environment could include the uncanny or the Numinous or even hint at them. There seem, in fact, to be only two views we can hold about awe. Either it is a mere twist in the human mind, corresponding to nothing objective and serving no biological function,[1] yet showing no tendency to disappear from the mind at its fullest development in poet, philosopher, or saint: or it is a direct experience of the really supernatural, to which the name Revelation might properly be given. (p. 9-10)

If then, the numinous experience is a revelation of sorts, what exactly does it reveal? If we were to just go on the early sense of dread upon encountering the numinous, perhaps we would join the "enlightened" rationalist in his fears that he should find himself living in (to quote the Bride of Frankenstein) "a new world of gods and monsters". Who indeed has not, in one way or another, balked at the "incalculable claims of the Numinous" (p. 12) that threaten to utterly consume the nonbeliever and the mystic alike? In our all too fragile mortal mode of being, it appears that our only viable defense for our ontic self-affirmation against it's threat is to deny the numinous' claims upon us by any means possible. However, as Otto's work goes on to show, to the individual who both accepts the numinous' claims upon them and internalizes them in their very being, the experience of the numinous undergoes a transformation from awe and dread terror to love, joy, sweetness, and consolation. Having experienced a rich variety of aesthetic pleasures in my day, I will here cheerfully state that my greatest joy and happiness in life is found in quiet prayer, and I know I am far from alone in saying this. Indeed, in comparison to the joy of the numinous, all other joys and pleasures seem but pale shadows, and in this is the folly of those who would say that the joy produced in religious experiences stems some other kind of sensory stimulation exposed to be grossly inadequate to explain the phenomenon. You can try, but you'll never get the same qualia from anything else. To all who have had such experiences,the impression conveyed through them is unmistakably of the purest and highest love. And in the light of this transmission of love, it becomes clear that we are not condemned to forever be alone and empty in a meaningless universe, but that in this love we will be both accompanied and completed in an eminently meaningful universe now and forevermore.

To put all the pieces together, then, the human experience of the numinous in religious experience is highly suggestive of the existence of an Absolute who, unlike the detached God of deism's clockwork universe, takes the uttermost care in human affairs. The numinous reveals itself as one who both demands everything from the bewildered and beloved individual, and gives everything to them. To one undergoing such an experience or experiences, they will find themselves both sorely deconstructed and gloriously reconstructed, though often not as quickly as they would like. So too, the sheer ineffability of the experience combined with the fact that the one experiencing it emerges with clear conceptual content about the meaning of the experience strongly implies that the numinous communicates in a field of being that is to language what metaphysics is to physics. While such an avenue of communication is much more profound than language, unfortunately, it is also more vulnerable to what is known in the field of communications as "noise", whereby psychological and environmental factors inhibit the individual from receiving a communication as the thing-in-itself. This consideration goes a long way in explaining why individuals emerge from religious experiences with such wildly divergent (and often, indeed, "wild") conclusions about their meaning. To further complicate things, the capacity for other spiritual beings other than the fully Numinous to refract the numinous is capable of sending misleading signals that diminish from the the ontologically Absolute nature of the former (Cf. 2 Corinthians 11:13-15, 1 Thessalonians 2:1-12, Revelation 13, and Revelation 22:8-9, each of which reflect different aspects of humanity's tendency toward misguided idolatry, in which man worships the contingent as if it were absolute).

Well, in spite of these various inhibiting or even misdirecting factors, is it still possible to pierce through the haze and discern the source and identity of the numinous? Yes, I believe the very properties of the numinous phenomenon rather neatly correspond to the properties we would expect if the universe was the product of a benevolent creator God as posited by the theism, and so this seems the most plausible interpretation of the phenomena. Among the properties we are so clued in upon by the shape of the data hitherto are the creator-creation distinction, the divine attributes of omnipotence and omniscience, divine goodness and holiness, and sin and salvation, to name but a few. Having finished defining my approach to the problem of religious experience, let us turn to the analysis of the vision of Isaiah. In the sixth chapter of the book of Isaiah, one of the greatest prophets of the Old Testament, we read the story of his divine calling to became a prophet to his people and to many nations:

In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: "Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!" And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: "Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!" Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: "Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for." And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?" Then I said, "Here am I! Send me." And he said, "Go, and say to this people: "'Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive.' Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed." Then I said, "How long, O Lord?" And he said: "Until cities lie waste without inhabitant, and houses without people, and the land is a desolate waste, and the LORD removes people far away, and the forsaken places are many in the midst of the land. And though a tenth remain in it, it will be burned again, like a terebinth or an oak, whose stump remains when it is felled." The holy seed is its stump. (Isaiah 6:1-13)

What, then, are we make of this astonishing vision? Well, for one thing, it tells us of a numinous revelation so pure and direct that Isaiah finds himself in deathly terror that he will perish on the spot. Indeed, after only a brief span of time in God's presence, he finds himself so compelled just by being in it to confess his greatest sin and highest hubris and to humbly submit himself completely to God's mercy. Not bad for a first impression! So too, the sheer impression of the magnitude of God's presence is augmented by the account of the seraphim, the highest and holiest angels in the grand hierarchy of angels who spend all eternity in the direct theophany of God's glory.[2] Of these, it is said that they must have six wings for covers and veils to even cope with the magnitude of the divine presence, and that they call out to one another saying "Holy, holy, holy (and in Hebrew, when you repeat the same word several times in a row, it means you are emphasizing its importance and magnitude) is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!" Herein lies the the revelation of a great mystery - how could it be that a world so full of pain and sorrow and loneliness and anguish and hate and injustice and violence and despair already be full of God's glory, and how will Israel and humanity finally come to reflect this glory as properly as the presence of the Numinous demands? The calling of Abraham so long ago to start a holy people so long ago was intended to resolve this problem (cf. Genesis 12:1-3), but now in their rebellion the children of Israel have themselves become part of the problem. Indeed, at this very moment Israel stands at the brink of ruin for their injustice, violence, and treachery (Cf. Isaiah 1), and God in his wisdom warns Isaiah that his people will not respond to his warning before disaster comes upon them. While things in God's realm are going quite heavenly, the picture for planet earth still looks pretty bleak, and it will be up to the prophet Isaiah to warn and admonish the nations (particularly his own), and to prophecy the hope of the nations in the coming Messiah and his inauguration of the kingdom of God.

From all this, then, it is clear that Isaiah's religious experience wasn't simply numinous and prone to all the noise of an ineffable communication, but is also linguistic, sensory, and very clear in the transmission. Here there can be no question about whether God exists or what he wants from Isaiah. To be sure, the passage doesn't tell us about anyone else witnessing the event or even whether it was a bodily or or out-of-body experience. When we refer to his experience as a "vision", what we mean by it is that Isaiah had a theophany without making further judgment of it's particular nature. As such, it looks like the veridicality of the vision stands or falls on Isaiah himself. Fortunately, from the available internal and external evidence, Isaiah stacks up very well. The image of Isaiah that emerges from both Isaiah 38-39 and 2 Kings 19-20 is of a man of great courage and integrity, the man who king Hezekiah himself turns to in his hours of most dire need, yet also one who can be trusted to tell him some very inconvenient truths about the future of his kingdom. So too, the astonishing correspondence of Isaiah's prophecy to future historical events, not least of which are those related to the coming of Jesus and the birth of Christianity, are compelling enough to indicate that he is a true prophet. In conclusion, then, we should take Isaiah's vision and prophecy with the utmost seriousness, and take it to heart. There's really so much we can learn from Isaiah, and we should take the time to do so.


1. Highly unlikely given an evolutionary paradigm and the inherent risks entailed by an individual who incorrectly apprehends what he or she perceives to be numinous or uncanny.
2. Ok, technically they are in fact the second highest and holiest angels on the grounds that Jesus, in emphasizing the immense importance of children in the world and especially in God's kingdom, made reference to the tradition of the wing-veiled seraphim to make his point. He said "See that you do not look down on one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven." (Matthew 18:10) Apparently, the vocation of these angels is so noble and honorable that they need no shield from the direct epiphany of the the divine presence.

On Methodology and the Miraculous: Is It Ever Rational To Believe a Miracle Really Happened? (Philosophy of Religion Homework)

2. Question: Two scholars are interpreting a religious text that describes a miracle occurring. One believes miracles are possible, the other does not. How will these two scholars differ in their interpretation/analysis of that religious text based on these two differing positions about miracles that they hold. Which scholar do you think has the more philosophically sound presupposition concerning miracles?-tell me why-mention those philosophical reasons that seemed most persuasive to you concerning the question of miracles (1 ½ to 2 pages)

Answer: The prime imperative of interpreting a text is interpreting it in terms of its own worldview and context first, and how it relates to one's own worldview and context second. As such, in the case of a religious text that describes miracles, the scholar who does not rule them out prima facie, but instead lets the text do its work, is the scholar who holds the view that is both more philosophically and exegetically sound. To say that a miracle of any kind is impossible before one even opens the text is both to appeal to an implicit line of reasoning and to close one's mind against the possibility of a good counterexample to that line of reasoning, which is assuredly not the way to be a good philosopher (or any kind of scholar for that matter). Worse still for those who place confidence in this implicit line of reasoning, the position that miracles are impossible does not, in fact, have a deductive argument to support it. To date, only inductive arguments have been put forward against the possibility of a miracle, which means we have already moved away from the realm of the impossible and into the possible (however probable or improbable). Of these arguments, the most influential and well-known are those of David Hume, who would go on to have a major impact upon the Enlightenment, and through it the community ethos of society and academia. Nevertheless, from the days of Socrates, it has been a time-honored tradition of philosophy that whenever the philosopher finds that society and the academy has been built upon faulty or untrue premises, then he or she must do what is in his or her power to challenge them. In this respect, then, let us turn to the arguments of David Hume.

Hume's first argument is that "A miracle is a violation of the laws of nature; and as a firm and unalterable experience has established these laws, the proof against a miracle, from the very nature of the fact, is as entire as any argument from experience can possibly be imagined." In other words, Hume says that because the laws of nature are so strongly attested to, and because miracles violate the laws of nature, the occurance of a miracle is in fact impossible. This argument sounds quite imposing at first, but closer examination reveals that it is in fact built upon the logical fallacy of circular logic. By stating that a "firm and unalterable experience" has established the laws of nature, he has in fact stated the conclusion in the initial premise, thus arguing in a circle. Furthermore, Hume's argument is dependent upon hidden premises about the ontology of natural laws when their exact origin and nature is still an open question. On a scenario in which natural laws are themselves contingent upon divine sustainment to remain in existence, the statement that it is impossible for the same God who holds them in being or nonbeing to further intervene in particular instances looks very doubtful indeed.

Of course, the most obvious objection to Hume's argument is if the evidence for the absolutely binding nature of natural laws is so "firm and unalterable", why do we have reports of miracles in the first place? Having himself anticipated this objection, Hume goes on to critique the epistemic value of any kind of witness to a miracle. In his second argument, Hume states that in the case of any testimony to a miracle, it is always more probable that the witnesses were mistaken or lying than it is they are telling a veridically accurate report for two reasons. The first is that 'We can always question the competence of any of the witnesses-we will find plenty to question in their common sense, integrity, or reputation, people have a tendency to gossip and exaggerate the truth, and most reports of miracles originate among people who are uneducated and uncivilized.' The second is that 'All religions support the truth of their faith by appealing to their own miracles. Such rival claims cancel each other out.' As far as the first reason goes, it is clear first of all that Hume has deliberately positioned standing himself upon that ever-so thin line dividing reasonable doubt and resorting to the blanket use of the ad hominem logical fallacy (i.e. mudslinging and personal attacks) to dismiss the witnesses to miracles prima facie. Contrary to this blanket dismissal approach, we should take things on a case by case basis, letting the strength or weakness of a particular witness stand or fall on its own terms. It especially won't do to rely on outdated myths about the alleged inferiority of other cultures when the fields of history and anthropology have amply demonstrated that there's more to the story than any stereotype can account for. Likewise, as far as the second reason goes, there is a difference between the miracle and its ontological interpretation. Similarly, not all miracle claims have an equal likelihood of having actually happened, so, once more, we should take things on a case by case basis before we make our ontological commitments about the meaning of a particular miracle.

In conclusion, then, there simply isn't enough reason to conclude at the outset that miracles can never occur so we shouldn't take any miracle claims seriously. In particular, I contend that there is compelling reason to take the miracle claims of Jesus' healings and resurrection very seriously, but that is an essay for another day. As such, contrary to the popular tendency in society and academia, the scholar who takes the position that it is in fact possible for a miracle to happen holds the position that is most philosophically sound and best embodies to principles of his profession. Therefore, we shouldn't let ourselves be cowered by people who say that we should never believe in miracles before we've even mentioned one to discuss it.

Troubled Waters on the Sea Of Galilee: On Religious Plurality and Soteriology (Philosophy of Religion Homework)

3. Question: In terms of religious diversity, are you an exclusivist, a pluralist, or an inclusivist? What do you feel are the strengths of your position. Consequently, what do you think are the weaknesses of the other two positions? (1 ½ to 2 pages)

Answer: In terms of the ultimate attainment of salvation for individual humans and humanity, as opposed to the more mixed and diverse present in which, to paraphrase the New Wave band The Police, 'we all sink or float in the same boat', my view may best be described as type of exclusivism that incorporates the strong points of pluralism and inclusivism while denigrating neither the unique salvific work only Jesus could do nor the importance of human autonomy. While that's a bit of a longwinded position for one sentence, in the delicate situation of today's world it is important to be perfectly clear as the stakes get higher and higher. In the midst of an age when we all live in armageddon's shadow praying that we have the wisdom to make it through the dangers both in the present and in the future, many pluralists are primely motivated by the conviction that 'The greatest threat to world peace, to preventing World War III is committed religious followers.' While it is true that religious violence remains a serious problem in today's world, the true greatest threat to world peace, to preventing World War III, is the expansionist policies of the world's greatest socio-political and economic powers. Indeed, even a cursory examination of the evidence from the first two World Wars will reveal that the whole root cause of the violence was expansionism gone horribly awry and overboard. As such, the culpability for threatening violence and political instability does not lie with anything unique to religion, but with a larger cultural tendency that commonly takes root in both secular and religious institutions, but isn't necessarily inherent to either type.

That being the case, why should we be willing to bend over backwards in the case of religion to embrace a standard of truth that would be jabberwocky nonsense anywhere else? After all, it seems political disputes over competing truth claims of what makes a just society has lead to a lot of violence and intolerance. Why can't we just embrace a political system that is democratic, fascist, libertarian, totalitarian, anarchist, royalist, capitalist, communist, theocratic, secularist, tribalist, internationalist, socialist, oligarchist, environmentalist, and technocratic all at the same time? Only in the case of religion are we asked to pretend that there aren't any real differences between us, and that everything will work out just fine no matter what you believe or what you do. In every other field this is known as complete rubbish, as every able-minded person knows full well that their beliefs have repercussions on their actions, and their actions in turn have repercussions on what happens to themselves and to others. The great blessing of the exclusivist position, then, is its unique ability to affirm identity and causation in the area of religion. By sketching out how this position best affirms these three crucial traits over the other options, we will have shown that the exclusivist position is the most favorable option in regards to religious diversity.

We mention identity, first and foremost, because at the level of group identity, the individual gains a particular identity by aligning with and participating in one or more groups. While many express concern about the potential for group identity to overpower individual identity, "Only in the continuous encounter with other persons does the person become and remain a person," (Paul Tillich, The Courage To Be p. 91) and so the formation and maintenence of individual identity is itself contingent upon having some kind of group identity. As to the formation and maintenance of the group itself, the fields of sociology and anthropology inform us that there are three crucial elements that must remain in effect for a group to remain a group: beliefs, behaviors, and boundaries. Briefly defining these terms, beliefs refer to common worldview and values held by members of the group, behaviors refer to the activities in which members of the group participate in common with one another, and boundaries refer to the measures taken by members of a group to safeguard its beliefs and behaviors from various negating factors. While the pluralist may protest against the idea of group boundaries because they separate members of the group from those outside of it (a prelude to conflict with the Other), because human social behavior is based on roles and expectations, any group completely lacking in boundaries will not be long for this world before it breaks down and disintegrates. Some more fruitful questions to use in dealing with group boundaries, then, is what kind of boundaries are legitimate for maintaining a stable group, and what kind of boundaries are unethical by being needlessly constrictive and repressive? If we come across boundaries in the latter category, what can, or indeed should we do about it?

Applying this approach to the area of religion, then, it is clear that as a whole, believers in a particular religion have a set of common beliefs, behaviors, and boundaries, and thus can be fairly defined as a group. In defining religious beliefs as a whole, we can identify the following common elements. First, most religions posit from the human condition that humanity finds itself in some kind of predicament, a predicament that calls for some kind of resolution. Second, through some means of revelation or enlightenment, a way of salvation from this predicament has been discovered. Third, because such a way of salvation has been discovered, it is imperative that people hear, believe, and respond to this message of salvation so that they too can be saved from the human predicament. Unsurprisingly, then, the shared behaviors and boundaries among religious groups consist mainly of doing things conductive to the attainment of salvation, while avoiding things inhibitive to the attainment of salvation. Well, that's all well and good, but there are two features of all this that really bothers the pluralist and inclusivist. The first is that, with so many different religions and so many different ideas about the way to salvation, if there is in fact only one true way to attain salvation, then we seem to have to account for a lot of people who want salvation but don't actually attain it. The second is that, if the stakes involved in matters of religion are perceived to be greater than life and death itself, then certain religious believers can and will resort to means that are uncouth, or even downright dangerous, in their efforts to try and get the most people saved that they can. Whether the pluralist or inclusivist is motivated by desire that the most people possible get saved, by the desire to curb intolerant, immoral, and annoying behaviors among religious believers, or by personal doubt in the whole idea and prospect of salvation, what each of them have in common is the belief that the exclusivist concept of salvation is insufficient.

What, then, should we make of this? Certainly if salvation is real, then it isn't the kind of thing you would want to throw back in the river and wait for a bigger or better one. Indeed, if, as most religions claim, humans find themselves in a serious predicament, then no behavior could be more irrational. The problem, however, is that various religions, being rooted in different aspects of human experience, come up with different diagnoses of the basic problem of the human condition, and hence different solutions to that problem. Even so, lest we should all think there was no substance here and that it's all an illusion, a second look will reveal that human religious experience is not, in fact, worlds apart, but shares two common and crucial features. The first feature is the realization that there is something very wrong about the way the world is, a problem that is seen to manifest itself in evil, suffering, and death. The second feature is the realization, which comes by way of the human apprehension of the numinous in religious experience, that the ultimate power to resolve these problems and set things to rights is held by the Absolute. While the issue of navigating through competing truth claims as apparently mediated through religious experience can be tricky, I have already tackled this issue in the first essay, in which I argue that the experiential qualities of the phenomena of religious experience is most suggestive of the existence of a personal God as posited by theism. And since, for a variety of reasons, it is most compelling to say that this God has most directly revealed himself in the person of Jesus Christ, we will tackle the issue of religious diversity from a Christian perspective.

In this respect, then, if we are to really take seriously the belief that Jesus is the incarnation of God, then we must also take seriously the things Jesus said and did. In this respect, the teachings of Jesus, in line with his eschatologically oriented worldview, do not support the idea of plurality of salvations. He said "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me," (John 14:6) and "Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it." (Matthew 7:13-14) Now, it's not so much that Jesus was some kind of religious bigot who wanted to see people of other religions destroyed. Indeed, the New Testament accounts of his life are explicit that he was remarkably tolerant of people who represented other religions, even when those people and their religions had done terrible things to his own people and their religion. Rather, it would be more fair to say that Jesus is making a specific claim about his own identity as the Messiah in working out God's eschatological plan for the salvation of humanity. As N.T. Wright would put it:

Jesus' prophetic vocation thus included within it the vocation to enact, symbolically, the return of YHWH to Zion. His messianic vocation included within it the vocation to attempt certain tasks which, according to scripture, YHWH had reserved for himself. He would take upon himself the role of messianic shepherd, knowing that YHWH had claimed this role as his own. He would perform the saving task which YHWH had said he alone could achieve. He would do what no messenger, no angel, but only the 'arm of YHWH', the presence of Israel's god, could accomplish. (N.T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God p. 653)

As relates to the present issue, then, what humanity had apprehended in the numinous that only God could resolve, Jesus was now enacting within history itself so that humanity and the world could be saved and set to rights. He was not thereby negating humanity's universal religious experience, but rather fulfilling what it had promised all along. C.S. Lewis is famous for arguing of mythical hero archetypes that they prefigure, and are fulfilled by the person of Christ. Perhaps something similar could be said of many non-Christian religions as well, in which case they are not so much wrong in the sense of one who calls black white and white black, but rather that they have not comprehended the true nature of Christ, the unique factor that would fulfill the truths they had known all along. This is not to say, however, that salvation can be found apart from Christ, for it is clear that salvation can only come from the Absolute as it really is. The problem with the pluralist and inclusivist insistence that all be saved is that it insists upon the negation of the individual's existential choices in order to force salvation upon them. Why is it fair to assume that an individual who had spent their whole life committed to another religion would actually want to spend eternity with Christ in heaven when their whole life hitherto had been based on no such thing? Because of fear the alternative rather than the love of God?

It is fitting, then, to here just name the elephant in the room and get to the heart of the matter. To the pluralist and inclusivist, their greatest fear is that people who have lived otherwise very decent lives but did not believe in, perhaps did not even hear of the gospel, will burn in the everlasting torments of hell. Would not this be a severe miscarriage of the justice of a God who is said to be perfect, loving, and benevolent? As N.T. Wright would write on the subject of hell:

Part of the difficulty of the topic, as with others we have been studying, is that the word hell conjures up an image gained more from medieval imagery than from the earliest Christian writings. Just as many who were brought up to think of God as a bearded old gentleman sitting on a cloud decided that when they stopped believing in such a being they had therefore stopped believing in God, so many who were taught to think of hell as a literal underground location full of worms and fire, or for that matter as a kind of torture chamber at the center of God's castle of heavenly delights, decided that when they stopped believing in that, so they stopped believing in hell. The first group decided they couldn't believe in childish images of God, they must be atheists. The second decided that because they couldn't believe in childish images of hell, they must be universalists. (N.T. Wright, Surprised By Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church p. 175)

However, as any theologian worth his salt will tell you, the Biblical imagery of hell is not a literal statement of topographical features such as fire and brimstone, but rather a vivid symbol drawn from the hyperbole-laden ancient genre of apocalyptic literature for a state of shame, ruin, and separation from God. Hell, in other words, is not so much a place as a state of being, and this is a very important distinction. While it is popular to caricature the Christian doctrine of judgment as saying that people will be judged for adhering to other religions, the same doctrine has always, in fact, stated that humanity will be judged according to its works, whether good or evil. For the Christian, of course, because each and every person is marred with terrible evil that manages to creep into even their most holy and charitable acts (just look at the many failings of religion and government), only God through the saving work of Jesus Christ can ultimately save us. However, on the other side of the pendulum, if hell is a state of being, then not all individuals are equally capable of existing within that state of being, but only to the degree they have fallen away from good and God. The virtuous practitioner of another religion, in other words, is simply not as capable of existing in a state of hell as a person who lived an evil and wicked life because they are still in touch with their humanity, and thus the divine image. Even Dante grasped this point when he proposed that for the noble pagans of yore, for people such as Virgil and Socrates, the only torments of hell would be a quiet melancholy for being unable to enjoy the divine presence. The crucial variable, then, is the degree to which the individual has managed to preserve and protect the divine image, the defining element that makes us truly human, from erosion in sin. For in sin we sell out both God and our own humanity piece by piece to idolize something that could never really satisfy or define us.

Having dealt with most of the major objections, I conclude that there is no good reason for rejecting the exclusivism, which is Christianity's default position. Perhaps someone may ask something along the lines of "what about those who never heard the gospel?" Well, in that case, there are basically two possibilities. Either Jesus himself will somehow give that individual the chance to respond to his message without imposing upon their free will, or that individual will simply not be judged on account of their rebellion to the gospel, but on account of the works they have done (a less stringent measure). Either way, the great beauty of the exclusivist position is that it allows for an individual's eternal destiny to be fully in accord with their own choices and identity. With it, we do not have to say that certain people are dragged into heaven against their intent or will, or that all of one's most fundamental beliefs must be completely drained of real content in the name of tolerance. Indeed, for all their good intentions, the pluralists who insist upon the latter seem to have only invented a new version of that old colonial myth that says something along the lines of 'All you backwards barbarians over there are making a big mess with your warlike superstitious beliefs, so we Westerners are just going to have to do our best to "educate" you out of them.' This myth, of course, has been proven by history time and time again to be the natural prelude to militant expansionism, cultural assimilation, and oppressive imperial regimes (which, not coincidentally, are the greatest threats to world peace and the prospect of a third World War). By stripping all religions everywhere of their most basic doctrines and beliefs, these pluralists may, in fact, have formulated the gravest and most sweeping form of religious intolerance in the 20th century. Over against this, we must insist religion contains profoundly meaningful content, and sustain ourselves in its hope in a time that desperately needs it.

On Religious Pluralism and the Parable of the Blind Men and the Elephant (Philosophy of Religion Homework)

4. Question: 4. Primary Reading: Read about the blind men and the elephant on P. 297 in your text. Do you think, as an analogy, it illustrates pluralism well or do you think, as an analogy, it breaks down in places and would not be persuasive to an exclusivist? (1 page)

Answer: The story of the elephant and the blind men tells of a group of blind men who enter a room filled with an elephant. Awkwardly fumbling about the elephant's many appendages, the blind men soon emerge with an apparently conflicting set of reports about what an elephant is like. All of the blind men are, of course, giving an accurate report of what they are feeling and experiencing, but as we the seeing all know, the truth of an elephant and what it is like is much more complex than that. Well, says the pluralist, religion and religious experience is a lot like like that too - you think you've had religious experiences and formulated doctrines out of them that preclude other religious experiences and the doctrines formulated out of them, but the truth of the Absolute is more complex than that. After all, did not Immanuel Kant argue that as humans, all we ever have access to is the phenomenal appearance of a thing, as opposed to the noumena, or the thing-in-itself? How indeed, then, could we presume to say that we have discerned the true nature of Ultimate Reality when we cannot access it on the home-ground of its existence?

Well, while the analogy has some good points about the limitations of human knowledge of the Absolute, taken as an illustration for pluralism, it breaks down at several points. The first and biggest problem is that, whatever the blind men's limitations in discerning the true nature of the elephant, an elephant, by its very nature, has certain characteristics and attributes of what it is like. Conversely, then, by having attributes of what it is like, the elephant also has characteristics and attributes of what it is not like. For example, if one of the blind men were to conclude that an elephant is as small as a mouse, then they would be quite wrong about what an elephant is really like, and wrong is not something the pluralist would like to admit to. Second, if this whole business about the noumena being completely unknowable is truly to be taken seriously, then we must reject this story's omniscient fly-on-the-wall perspective and replace it with the more basic story of a group of blind men who reported to each other a bunch of conflicting claims about what an elephant was. Third, this analogy leaves no possibility open for the elephant to accurately reveal its own characteristics, a questionable assertion when divine revelation takes such a central role in religion. Indeed, when interpreted through the framework explained in the first essay, the pluralist appears to place greater faith and confidence in the communicative noise surrounding religious experience than in the Absolute itself, forever keeping it in the category of the nebulous and ultimately unknowable.

Over against this thesis, my own approach toward religious experience is capable of incorporating the strong points of this analogy without falling into its pitfalls. In conclusion, then, this analogy simply does not lead where the pluralist would like it to. Even so, we should not let that stop us from learning that God is, indeed, infinitely more complex than the boxes we make for him. We should be careful, then, not to be hasty in leaping to conclusions about what God is or is not doing within the world, but instead to follow his guidance to play our own unique parts in his will.

Friday, December 12, 2008

On 4'33" (Music Appreciation Homework)

Question: John Cage's 4'33" questions what is music and what is not music. Argue this question from both sides: Is 4'33" by John Cage a legitimate piece of music?

Answer: In Zen Buddhist lore, there is a story of a young pupil who approached a Zen master with the question 'What is the true nature of enlightenment?' Wasting no time in giving his reply, the master promptly slapped him square in the face without saying a word. Now in shock and made acutely aware of his surroundings in the ceaseless but transient present, it is said that at that very moment the young pupil attained enlightenment. In its own way, John Cage's composition "4'33"" is to the music world what this old Zen Buddhist story is to the young pupil; either a startling awakening to new enlightenment, or a grievous insult. Set in three movements spanning roughly four minutes and thirty-three seconds, the first movement consists of dead silence, the second movement consists of dead silence, and the third movement consists of dead silence. Never in the entire composition is a single note played, and the audience find themselves listening to their own sounds instead instead, namely all those common noises people usually filter out of their minds. Where most western compositions were made to block out noise by overpowering it, here was a piece that deliberately emphasized the noise around us. Well, needless to say, audiences were shocked, but they also actually bothered to pay attention, which was really Cage's point all along. The critics were unimpressed, but Cage considered it to be "one of the most radical statements he had made (and he made many) against the traditions of Western music, one that raised profound questions,"[1] and he was right. Over the next half-century or so, slowly, but surely, the creeping silence would begin to build cultural resonance until the sounds of silence became a matter of hot debate.

Well-read in Zen Buddhist and other kinds of Eastern literature, John Cage had posed audiences a new kind of koan (or Zen riddle): 'What is the sound of music not playing?' To those like my mother, it is the sound of a composer too lazy to make real music or even a real artistic statement. To be sure, Cage's composition is not music in the traditionally defined sense of "an art of sound in time that expresses ideas and emotions in significant forms through the elements of rhythm, melody, harmony, and color." Even so, my mother is wrong about John Cage on two counts. The first count is that taken as a whole, Cage's career reveals a bold and innovative composer who had no shortage of fresh ideas. Building unique compositions on a homemade device he called the "prepared piano", which consisted of a piano with nails and household odds and ends tied to the strings of a plain grand piano, employing the I Ching to create music based on chance rather than rational order, and even experimenting with electronic music, Cage anticipated an important development from the second half of the 20th century onward, namely the blurring of the boundaries between "music" and "noise". An astute observer of the development of musical technology, Cage correctly predicted as early as 1937 that "the use of noise to make music will continue and increase until we reach a music produced through the aid of electrical instruments, which will make available for musical purposes any and all sounds that can be heard."[2] Such music would prove particularly relevant in the decades following the end of World War as the average person's life became increasingly saturated with media messages and domestic technologies.

In this respect, then, the second count on which my mother is wrong about John Cage is her claim that "4'33"" is completely devoid of any musical, artistic, or aesthetic qualities. Contrary to this position, "4'33"" makes a very strong musical and artistic statement, and marks the awakening of the Western musical imagination to the aesthetic significance of noise and open space. This paradigm shift seems to reflect Cage's Eastern influence, especially the Japanese aesthetic sensibility of wabi-sabi by way of his reading in Zen. Where Western aesthetic values are ultimately built upon the "Greek ideals of beauty and perfection"[3], which lead most Westerners to link the qualities of beauty to fullness, symmetry, permanence, completeness, and perfection (or at least the superficial appearance of these qualities), Japanese aesthetics are ultimately built upon the realization of mujo, or impermanence, which is accepted and internalized to form their own conception of beauty. In contrast to the West, then, the Japanese prize qualities that reveal the object of beauty to be "imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete"[4]for it's capacity to produce "a sense of serene melancholy and a spiritual longing"[5] in the beholder. In example, for the Japanese, the annual appearance of cherry blossoms every spring is a time of both great happiness and immense sorrow as the frail, but elegant petals arise to fill the world with their beauty for but a short time before they wilt and perish. It is unsurprising, then, that the cherry blossom would become a prevalent cultural symbol for the transient and ephemeral nature of existence. Summing it all up, the wabi-sabi aesthetic is best expressed by the old proverb that says 'it is the cracked vessel through which the light shines.'

So, as relates to this particular subject, one common feature of the wabi-sabi aesthetic in action is the valuation of silence and white space. While it can be difficult for the Westerner to latch onto at first, one may see it expressed in the contemplative silence in the midst of conversations, in the white space surrounding ink paintings, in the airy black and white panels of Japanese comic books, in the wide-open spaces and contemplative pauses in Japanese cinema, and in the general cultural emphasis on implied meaning over stated meaning. Where the West was telling Cage that he should overpower noise and silence with his music because it is in noise and silence that the marks of transience and ontic nonbeing are revealed (a common Western anxiety), Zen was telling Cage that if enlightenment was ever to be found, it was to be in the permanently present now. It is, perhaps, no coincidence that 1 Kings 19:11-12 tells us that the prophet Elijah, entering a secluded cave for shelter while living under grave peril to his life, found the voice of God not in the booming noise and force of nature's great vicissitudes, but in the still small voice he heard in the silence. But here, now, is an entire culture living in grave terror of the things they will hear in silence, and so we do everything we can to drown out that silence, filling our lives with more and more noise. George Orwell would capture the mood very well with some lines in his essay "Pleasure Spots":

The lights must never go out.
The music must always play,
Lest we should see where we are;
Lost in a haunted wood,
Children afraid of the dark
Who have never been happy or good.

Where 1984 would reveal us to be mercifully free of the constraining presence of Big Brother, his most direct antecedent would emerge in the form of the increasingly pervasive influence of the mass media. Indeed, only two years before the prophesied day, Ridley Scott's film Blade Runner would transfer over the role of Big Brother from the government over to the media, which in terms of visual space and aesthetics is expressed by the film's dense hypersaturation with bright neon advertisements to the point that dark negative spaces give the same kind of comfort and reprieve well-lit negative spaces do in most films, though even then the penetrating neon lights find ways of creeping in through the windows. By the 2000's, advertisers would literally resort to employing invasive surveillance programs (commonly known as Adware or Spyware) on home computers to keep tabs on the personal habits of prospective markets, television commercials would cease trying to sell you the product based on its merits in favor of attempting to engender a psychological mood and feeling toward the product, and it became pretty much impossible to walk around your home or any public building for 20 seconds without seeing somebody's logo. Historically, such cultural tendencies have been long in the making ever since, in the years following the first and second World Wars, advertisers turned to the Freudian psychology of the subconscious and to the often manipulative techniques used by wartime propaganda to sell a people wars and unquestioning national loyalty (inherently a very hard sell), to sell them consumer products and unquestioning brand loyalty instead. Is it any wonder, then, that over the past 60 years, the cultural ethos of individual as consumer has largely supplanted the cultural ethos of individual as citizen when advertisers have been putting out their propaganda (conveniently renamed "public relations" after the second World War to avoid unpleasant associations with Nazi propaganda) longer, harder, faster, and with more intensity and duration? So too, as the average person's life became more and more densely saturated with electronic media, life itself would become increasingly saturated with electronic and mechanical noise.

In this cultural context, then, John Cage's composition "4'33"" represents an unprecedented cultural achievement - getting the damn machine to shut up for five minutes. This achievement would reach its pinnacle in 2004 when the entire BBC orchestra gathered together for a live performance and broadcast of "4'33"" over Radio 3. According to the BBC News report, the performance ran the risk of setting off the emergency system that kicks in whenever any silence is detected in the broadcast (it figures), and so the system had to be manually shut off for the duration of the performance. But as John Cage knew very well, not even silence is truly silent, and so we must take into account the music of the noise that always surrounds us. Our best and wisest option, then, is not to try to escape the noise that surrounds us in the present, but to consciously immerse ourselves in the present, to play around with the noise that constantly surrounds us to elicit new affects and meanings. Far from being meaningless or lazy, then, John Cage's composition "4'33"" performs an important catalystic function that provides the bridge into several important developments in music. On the one hand, it provides the cultural bridge between Zen and Western music, allowing for the development of minimalism and eventually the environmentally pervasive but noninvasive genre of Ambient as pioneered by musicians like Brian Eno. On the other hand, it provides the cultural bridge between the musical theories and ideas of the far ahead of his time futurist Luigi Russolo in his work The Art of Noises and the increasingly electronically generated and mechanistic music of the 20th and 21st centuries. In this respect, then, "4'33" can be accurately described as a very important musical composition indeed.


[1] Kristine Forney & Joseph Machlis, The Enjoyment of Music 10th Edition Shorter Version p. 429
[2] Ibid. p. 428
[3] Leonard Koren, Wabi-Sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets and Philosophers
[4] Ibid.
[5] Andrew Juniper, Wabi Sabi: The Japanese Art of Impermanence

20th Century Dissonance: On Musical Dissonance in the Modern Era (Music Appreciation Homework)

Question: Describe the changing role of harmony and dissonance in twentieth-century music. Cite composers and their music within your response.

Answer: If there is any commonly identifiable trend throughout the history of music taken as a whole, it is that music becomes more dissonant with the passing of time. This trend largely owes its origin in the individual and cultural mind to gradually become accustomed to sounds that were initially perceived as jarring dissonances, and instead to perceive them as accustomed harmonies. Where people once thought of the many composers of the 19th century as exciting and dangerous, revolutionary or ruinous, by the time I was growing up in the 90's and 2000's, music from these periods were commonly considered either boring or relaxing, depending on who one asked. The role dissonance plays in music is to build a sense of tension and excitement that we all expect to resolve itself nicely in an accompanying harmony that resolves the whole matter of dissonance and makes feel a sense of release, harmony, and resolution. Still, as any good musician knows, the right balance between harmony and dissonance requires a good level of aesthetic perception to keep the composition together. Too much dissonance, and the whole thing becomes ugly and garbled and falls apart. Too much harmony, and it all becomes boring, sappy, and unrealistic. It is in this framework, then, that we must consider the changing role of harmony and dissonance in twentieth-century music.

For composers living in the 20th century, the big change in the role of dissonance is that, where most composers who came before believed that musical dissonance was a thing that needed to be resolved with a harmony, now dissonance was perceived as a musical element that could stand out without any need to resolve itself. This change first came about in Wagner's Götterdämmerung (Twilight of the Gods), in which several jarring dissonances in the epic are never really resolved. Such jarring dissonances would prove particularly resonant within the 20th century, an epoch in which a long train of mechanically augmented acts of brutal violence and exploitation would leave a world filled with jarringly unresolved dissonances in it's wake. Not surprisingly, then, composers since Arnold Schoenberg began to speak of the "emancipation of dissonance", that is to say absolving dissonance in music from any need to resolve itself with a consonance in the melody. By shifting the role played by dissonance in music, Schoenberg had seized upon a truly effective way of agitating the listener, and perhaps make him or her think about certain unpleasant factors within his or her environment. The "emancipation of dissonance" came full circle when, building a series of musical scales that eliminate the tonal center, Schoenberg went on to compose some truly disorienting atonal works in the German expressionist style. Ever since then, dissonance has gone on to play an increasingly central role in musical works of the 20th and 21st centuries.

What, then, should we make of this? While the emancipation of dissonance has had the fortunate effect of drawing attention to the unpleasant aspects of the 20th century that we may just want repress out of our minds, it also carries with it an unfortunate element of psychological and spiritual trauma. As human beings, we all know in our bones that the things in our world that are broken can and should be set to rights. In theology, this profoundly human desire by no accident corresponds to the redeeming and liberating (indeed, emancipating) work of God's kingdom, which is God's project of setting the world to rights. By insisting that dissonance cannot and will not be resolved, these composers have surrendered a little more of the humanity of themselves and their listeners to an age of dehumanization. Over against these two rival tendencies in music toward sappy sentimentalism and crushing dissonance, we must insist upon a careful aesthetic balance that takes into consideration the often harsh realities of our world while still retaining and giving the hope that these problems can be resolved and set to rights. Such considerations have at all times guided my broadcasting decisions for my Internet radio station Batcave Redemption Radio, and I pray that it would remain a source of hope and light to those that have walked in darkness.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Ballets In Babylon - Romantic Tales Of My Legendary Exploits At Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker (Music Appreciation Homework)

Our story begins on the light rail with one glammed up narrator all Gothed out and ready for an evening of high culture at the opera house. Clad in his recently tailored tailcoat with metal buckles in the back that just scream "elegance and oppression go hand in hand," our generally well dressed New Romantic narrator departed to go see The Nutcracker ballet by the the Romantic composer Tchaikovsky. Whirling once more over the post-industrial zones with a custom Gothic, Industrial, Punk, and Post-Punk soundtrack, your humble narrator on a severe vanity binge soon found himself on the streets of Denver and ready to begin his epic mission. The first task at hand was to brave grave perils like terrifyingly unpredictable automobiles and the half-bewildered half-bemused looks I got from various Punk rockers, all the while still looking somewhat fashionable amidst the howling wind tunnel effect of the colossal skyscrapers. Making his way to the dreaded ticket office, your brave narrator had to enter the well-lit lair to secure a ticket at a reasonable price. Although I was deathly terrified, yours truly consoled himself that this was only act three, and he couldn't meet his end in this way just yet.

Fortunately, a fair maiden inside was willing to help your narrator's plight to secure tickets that were modestly priced, but still reasonably comfortable. Alas, however, not even she was capable of stealing seats from handicapped people like my gutsy brother, and your poor narrator was compelled to sacrifice more than he had intended. Fortunately, through a prescient omen that it would cost more than he intended, your narrator was able to secure an additional contribution from his mother. (Hey you! I see you thinking I'm not as heroic for getting help from mom, but what good hero doesn't have the support of his mother?) The additional funds were sufficient to prove a decent spot on the bottom floor that was apparently only mildly uncomfortable (or so said on of the wittier guys in the room who was working out perspective angles while roasting the architect). Emerging victorious, I gallantly made my way to the famous Wax Trax record store, the place where the same guys who would go on to found the great Industrial label Wax Trax started out. Taking a definite fancy to the music I was seeing and hearing, I soon procured a few albums with the economic miracle of my debit card and its usurious backers.

Emerging with such treasures as Second Edition by Public Image Ltd., Hidden Faces by Clan Of Xymox, and ReMix Dys Temper by Skinny Puppy, my next exploit was going to get a caramel Italian soda at Cafe Netherworld, the local Gothic coffee spot. If brave Odysseus was entitled to time off to visit Achilles in hades, I figured I was too. Indeed, already already this brave voyage had made the entire Iliad and Odyssey look like a walk in the park. Getting the drink from a bartender not entirely unlike Charon the ferryman, your humble narrator made his way to the spooky red room to enjoy his drink in peace and quiet where he could be as eccentric as he wanted. Howling with joy and laughter at the brilliant news in The Onion that the whole problem in the Middle East had lately been resolved, the glorious headline "Long-Standing Conflict Ends As Israel Returns Lawn Mower To Palestine" appeared before my very eyes. Feeling the need to do more heroic things so my readers would keep reading this stuff, a nearby Ms. Pac-man arcade machine was on hand to let me show off my video game mojo and rack up 60,000 points.

And so, finishing both my game and my drink, I soon went off the face the perils of the valley of the lotus eaters, also known as 16th Street Mall. Littered about the glossy signs and stores were a blooming mass of intoxicated consumers going with the flow and maybe buying one to twenty Christmas presents. Strewn haphazardly through the path, there stood some people trying to wake up the lotus eaters and get them to actually do something with their lives, but it was no use. Here was a Rasta man trying to get me involved with Green Peace, there was a bunch of people promoting a child sponsorship organization for poor kids in the third world, but it had very little effect. All I could do was politely explain that I was already either involved with that kind of work, or maxed out on resources (whether material, spiritual, or emotional) committed to causes I was already supporting, and I could feel their very personal frustration. It was that moment and afterwards that I didn't feel so hot or heroic at all, but more like a weak and puny middle class kid cast adrift amidst political, cultural, spiritual, and economic forces I had absolutely no control over, and everything just really sucked.

Fortunately, discontent wears off after a while when you're walking. While I was pretty lost and haphazard as I made my way to the opera house, a self-invented game of follow the Bauhaus architecture to the wealth and a quick look at the map I got the fair maiden to photocopy for me were enough to guide me to to the Denver Performing Arts complex. Not content to have actually found the right place when I found it, confusion about the way the building was labeled as Mr. So-and-So's Opera House when the ticket clearly said it was being held at Ellie Caulkin's Opera House sent me around the block in my misguided efforts to find the right Opera House somewhere else. It was about this time that I noticed my matter of dress was making waves among the upper class adults and their children. Fortunately, unlike the crushing bitchyness you'll get from middle class suburbanites confronted with the presence of a Goth, apparently the upper class are good sports and will actually react to your presence with charmingly melodramatic shock and fright. All the same, I did my best to be gentle with the Philistines, who I noticed displayed more of a refreshing aura of fragility than I was used to seeing back home. Eventually coming to my senses, I returned to the complex proper, noticed a small door with a correctly labeled cloth arch and a well-dressed older gentleman very officially standing in the doorway. Approaching this gentleman, who seemed just a wee bit put-off and intimidated by me (no, I wasn't wearing my big clunky Goth boots), he nevertheless graciously answered my various questions about the night's ballet, and told me all I needed to know.

And so, finding myself with an hour and a half to burn, I began to walk around the other side of the block to see what was here. All I found, however, was a coffee shop called "Backstage Coffee" filled with Opera House employees, a forgettable fashion boutique, and an upscale residency with some visibly exhausted people from a labor union warning that the establishment was currently undergoing a labor dispute (it figures). Finding myself with nothing to do here, I soon returned to the 16th Street Mall to indulge in that ever-so countercultural pastime, window shopping. Descending down the increasingly densely populated streets, I eventually found my way to the Barnes and Noble. Looking around a much wider selection of books than the stores back home, I was pleased to see titles like New Seeds of Contemplation by Thomas Merton and No Future Without Forgiveness by Desmond Tutu readily available on shelf. Making my way to the expanded manga selection, I noticed another Goth girl and her friend sitting down on the floor right in the middle of the aisle and reading. Remembering how Barnes and Noble had made it big by offering a comfortable place both to read and books, as well as the fact that the store was very busy and there probably weren't any chairs to sit in, I delicately made my way from A to Z as politely as possible.

It was about this time that I heard nature calling and made my way to the bathroom, but soon discovered that it was so obscenely busy as to be claustrophobic and embarrassing. Finding myself in search of a more discrete bathroom, I quickly made my way out the door and began walking back up the 16th Street Mall. I noticed right about this time that the streets and stores were starting to get really densely packed, while the activists were getting really tired and frustrated, and I remembered that the city of Denver was putting on the Parade Of Lights that very same night. While using the bathroom at one the many restaurants along the strip was the most obvious plan, looking into the windows, it became clear that they were all densely packed to the brim. It was about that point that I noticed the storefront for Virgin Records, which I remembered was unusually forward thinking for a major label. Coming inside, I was immediately enchanted with the well-stocked record collection and the way they had on-shelf all this brilliant music the stores back home were too spineless to carry. Hastily making my way around the store, I noticed their movie selection was impressively well stocked, and everything about it left a media-savvy geek like myself deeply enchanted. Unfortunately, however, while they carried everything and the kitchen sink, they did not have a bathroom, and I soon found myself back out on the strip.

And so, continuing in my fruitless quest for a decent bathroom, your exhausted narrator eventually came upon the thick line of parade goers. Glancing around the faces in the crowd, there lurking only three paces behind the happily oblivious line assembled for the festivities was a mysterious figure who had clearly out-Heroded Herod. Clad in a death's mask with a black shirt and camouflage pants, he stood there like the Red Death all dressed up for the age of terrorism, but far from being shocked or terrified, this time no one really seemed to notice. Quickly making my way across the line, I was quite glad when I finally had the crowd far behind me. Making my way to the far extremities of the strip without finding a decent bathroom, I quickly looked around the Tattered Cover bookstore to no avail. Just when it seemed hopeless that I would ever find a good bathroom on the entire strip, I came upon some joint I had seen advertised in The Onion called Illegal Pete's, which was moderately filled with a bunch of Indie kids. There on the door I noticed a big yellow sign posted on the door advertising some lecturer who said he was only going to tell us how to solve all the problems of a "crumbling world economy". Before I could finish reading, however, I was deeply embarrassed by one of the patrons who made his exit through the same door, who invited me inside. Taking a brief look at the menu, I hastily made my way to empty bathroom to relieve myself, comb my wind-tossed hair, and actually look decent again. Exiting to take a look at the menu (I hadn't actually eaten in quite a few hours), I was disappointed to see that it was all pretty much burritos, which I can't stand. And so, exiting and taking a look at the clock on my iPod, I noticed it was now finally time to leave for the Opera House.

Navigating my way through the increasingly dense crowds, I eventually found myself back at the assembled line for the Parade of Lights, which I quickly decided not to cross again. Veering off to the right, I soon came upon a carnival just set up there willy-nilly. There, strewn about the path were a whole mess of striped tents and small rides, and I couldn't help but notice the irony that such mercenary spirits had turned the city's big celebration into a carnival. Just being there filled my mind with scenes from different horror movie classics like The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Freaks, Carnival of Souls, and Something Wicked This Way Comes, which was just as well. Eventually reaching the end of the long carnival, I finally came in sight of the Denver Performing Arts Complex, which truly was a sight for sore eyes. Making my way into the Ellie Caulkin's Opera House by way of the same door as before, the same gentleman as I met earlier earlier informed me that the entrance proper was in the big arched doors to my left, and that they would open in about ten minutes. Taking my place in line outside the door, another gentlemen clad in a really cool Victorian overcoat announced that this was indeed the line for The Nutcracker. Entering the doors once it was opening time, I soon handed my ticket to one of the ticket ladies standing at the front. Taking a look at the seating number printed on the front, she politely instructed me to wait at the door to my left for the chimes that would ring out when everybody was being seated.

And so, having had my ticket handed back to me, I soon entered the Opera House and began to take a look around. Having been built with towering white walls, the very first impression that entered my mind about the complex was its soft-spoken but resplendent beauty. Making my way left, I was immediately entranced by a fascinating sculpture that resembled a colorful inverted Christmas tree from an alien world made of an intensely luminous seaweed, while further exploration down the hall treated me to a fascinatingly angular staircase that resembled an M.C. Escher work in living color. It was about that point that I spotted both the door I was supposed to wait at and a really cool wooden sculpture of two ballet performers in the middle of an especially dramatic moment. After taking the time to orbit the sculpture in my usual fashion, I soon found a comfortable seat to sit down and begin writing this report, which means the story of this story is partly contained in this story. Eagerly penning this rather amusing account while looking just a wee bit eccentric, the time flew by quickly until at last the sound of bells filled the air.

Arising with my ticket in my hand, I soon entered the tall Opera doors and was met by an older lady who was sort of the more whimsical counterpart to the gentleman I met earlier, and who guided me to my proper seat (apparently a customary service, as made apparent from other patrons throughout the night). Taking my seat and thanking the usher, it soon became apparent that I was in the presence of an entire family by the sound of two giggling children and the ensuing "shhh!" They did this, no doubt, to keep the kids from bothering anyone with their unbridled glee, but the truth is that I rather enjoyed the added color they provided. Feeling a bit whimsical and childlike myself, I began to take a good look around the room, which truly was a marvelous sight. While the witty commentator I mentioned earlier had said that the theater's design was built with an outlook of aesthetics over functionality, nothing had prepared me for this! The entire atrium was built like an enormous and majestic bronze city with radiant rays of light filtering down from the ceiling like fairy dust, and it soon became clear that I wasn't in Colorado anymore. Complimenting the effect, the management played some cool and smooth Jazz renditions of various movements of The Nutcracker while we waited, which I really enjoyed. Having now had the muse return to me, I took out my pen and notebook, and began to write in the same manner as before. Not surprisingly, this seems to have drawn the attention of the older gentleman I had met twice before, who seemed to have mused in quiet exasperation: 'How weird does this kid get?' Soon afterwards, I was joined by two other families who were both really nice, and didn't really seem to mind all this writing and weirdness. And so it continued for quite some time until at last the lights went down and the curtain was raised...

The very first image that filled the stage was the unmistakable impression of a snowy day. No slouches for the special effects, the gentle trickling snowflakes were portrayed in surprisingly accurate motion on a kind of digital projector, a really cool piece of theatrical technology the production made ample use of at key points in the show. The orchestra, on the other hand, remained mostly out of my view throughout the performance, so I can't say very much about it other than it was true to Tchaikovsky while still adding interesting modern touches here and there, such as a mechanical noisemaker where the score calls for it and choral synths during the dance of the sugar plum fairies. The snow fell upon the setting of an old fashioned town and its cozy little shops, throughout which an endearing array of familiar fools engaged in their holiday antics to the audience's nervously knowing laughter while the Overture plays. Here a mother and father are exhaustedly pulled back and forth by the competing whims of their two little children, there a woman awkwardly fumbles blindly through the street with so many presents stacked in her hands that she cannot see two inches in front of her face. Oh yes, it's all quite funny, but who exactly do we think we are seeing up there on the stage? Finally, with the conclusion of the brief overture, the projector screen lifts like a second curtain to reveal the Christmas party of the eccentric genius, Herr Drosselmeyer.

The second curtain opens, then, to the comfy house of Herr Drosselmeyer, which is darkened on Christmas Eve as a well-crafted mechanical owl spreads its wings, lights up its eyes, and calls out the midnight hour like an ominous cuckoo clock. Whether the owl heralds the coming of wisdom, evil, or death, the important thing is that it foreshadows big and important developments yet to come. Before we can think too hard on the owl's significance, however, the lights rise up, and we find ourselves in the midst of Drosselmeyer's party, where everyone seems to be enjoying themselves to the tune of "March Of The Wooden Soldiers". The adults, on the one hand, engaged in a series of formal dances that seem just a wee bit odd after a century of Freud's influence, but into which they nevertheless managed to inject a certain measure of warmth. The children, on the other, remained in alternating orbit around either Herr Drosselmeyer or the Christmas tree, depending on which of the two promised more fun at the moment. Drosselmeyer's character, who in this production was production was portrayed as the eccentric Steampunk genius he always was, proved especially well done and inspirational. No slouch for entertainment, Drosselmeyer brought out the big guns in the form of two life-sized mechanical dolls who performed four dances from faraway lands. Upon completion of the four dances, soon afterwards all the children gathered around the Christmas tree to receive their presents.

Well, as everybody familiar with this story knows, whether by chance or design, before Drosselmeyer's beloved godchild Clara can receive a present around the Christmas tree, the other children quickly snatch them all up. And so, eagerly petitioning Drosselmeyer for a present, he presents her with a plain, simple nutcracker, which seems a bit atypical for the man who makes clever toys at the cutting edge of technology, but which also foreshadows future developments. However, as it so happens, Clara absolutely loves the nutcracker, and she does her very best to cherish and protect him. Her brother Fritz, on the other hand, is a very rowdy boy who insists upon the prime function: what good is a nutcracker who doesn't smash nuts open? Eager to appease the two siblings, Drosselmeyer allows Fritz the privilege of the inaugural nutcrack with a very loud crunch before returning it to Clara's care. Clearly, however, the two siblings find themselves at cross purposes for the nutcracker's future, and Fritz, being a real go-getter, gathers together a posse of other boys armed with pop-guns for the purpose of capturing the nutcracker and compelling him into service. Clara, having none of this, proceeds to engage in a desperate struggle to keep her nutcracker out of enlistment. Her hopes are dashed, however, when her nutcracker comes crashing down onto the floor with a broken jaw. Drosselmeyer, arriving just in time to try and set things to rights, gives Fritz a good scare but spares him a sound beating (after all, boys will be boys), bandages together the nutcracker's broken jaw, and assures Clara that all will be well.

And so, onward the night passes until the party is over at the brink of the midnight hour. If Clara, in light of recent events, had felt inclined to believe that her brother and his friends are the worst pack of dirty rats in the whole world, she's soon to be in for a very unpleasant surprise. Indeed, no sooner than Herr Drosselmeyer turn out the lights and exit the room does a big horde of giant rats begin scurrying about. Then, just before the stroke of midnight is called out by the mechanical owl, Clara re-enters the room only to be quickly assailed by the villainous pack, who seek the nutcracker's destruction. Desperately protecting it against her verminous assailants, just when it seems desperately hopeless, Herr Drosselmeyer arrives to the rescue, leaving the rodents comically incapacitated on the floor. Apparently, Drosselmeyer is not just a talented engineer, but is skilled in the ways of magic as well. Raising up the tree to monumental heights, Drosselmeyer grabs the nutcracker, and takes it with him into a small tent apparently lurking just beneath the tree. Suddenly, out pops a now life-sized Nutcracker, who moves and thinks of his own accord. The Nutcracker is quickly joined by his comrades in arms, and the Nutcracker introduces himself and his soldiers to Clara.

However, before they can so much as sit down and have a nice cup of tea, the mice reappear and the the ensuing battle begins. The mice prove ill-equipped to face the Nutcracker's well-trained army, and soon find themselves having a very hard time of it back on the floor. However, just when victory seems assured for the Nutcracker's army, the very formidable Mouse King enters the battle, and the tides turn in favor of the rodents. But just as it seems hopeless for our heroes, the Nutcracker and the Mouse King enter a fierce and perilous duel. The duel, alas, leaves both combatants dying on the floor. The mice, in their desperate efforts to save their defeated king, began to frantically perform CPR and mouth the mouth resuscitation, which greatly amused the whole audience. The heroes, on the other hand, allow the Nutcracker to pass away with peace and dignity. But just as Clara begins her grieving for the loss of her cherished friend, who sacrificed his life in defeating evil, what should happen but lo!, the Nutcracker is resurrected and transformed into a handsome young prince!

And so, as an act of celebration and declaration of his love, the young prince takes Clara on a journey to many faraway magical lands, where she is entertained both by dancing with the prince and by the dances of the sugar plum fairies. Here the management spared no expense in making this scene as aesthetically beautiful as possible, and I really couldn't help but crying. I remembered all those times when I thought it would be better to be dead than to endure more misery, but now here in a world where such beauty and elegance was possible, all that seemed like a terrible mistake. I thought about all the great suffering that latches itself onto the project of human civilization, but now here in the performance of one of its great cultural achievements, it seemed that it all might be worthwhile after all. And so the dance through the snow continued until at last Clara and the Nutcracker entered a carriage, and together went off far into the sky (an effect that looked very cool by means of the digital projector). And so the performance was concluded, and for once I believe I was happy to the point of delerium. Taking a good half-hour to admire the art throughout the complex, I soon afterward left the complex to board the light rail. When I encountered an old classmate from philosophy of religion, but really could barely speak after what I had seen, I soon found myself having to politely explain that I had just got out of The Nutcracker, my mind was still stuck in sugar plum fairy land, and that it would take a while for me to return to reality. And so, boarding the lightrail home, I soon continued writing these epic tales until at last I was at home. Having finally made it back, I soon brewed some Celestial Seasonings tea, and quietly reminisced over the many events of the evening, which you have just finished reading.

Friday, December 5, 2008

"Is Morality Tied To The Existence Of God?"

(The following is a the paper I wrote for a debate in Philosophy of Religion on the question "Is morality tied to the existence of God?", to which my team argued the affirmative. While I had to crunch it down a bit to make good time, the debate went very well, I got a 20/20 score, and I'm very proud of my work here.)

Is morality tied to the existence of God? Or, to ask the question more generally for the time being, is the truthhood of any and all moral claims dependent upon the accuracy of any particular religious truth claim? To just about anyone from the humble farmer to the towering intellectual living in the past three millenia before the 18th century, the answer to that question would be a resounding "yes". Of such matters, the Greek writer Plutarch accurately captured the whole spirit of the ancient world when he wrote that "It would be easier to build a city without the ground it stands on than to establish or sustain a government without religion." (Plutarch, Moralia 1125D-E) To the ancients, the notions of what it meant to have good moral character, to be a good citizen, and to have religious piety were so tightly interwoven as to be completely indistinguishable. If you were to ask an exemplary ancient person why it is so important to live in good moral standing, they would probably respond by telling you something about the nature of God or gods they fear and worship, the God or gods who act as generous benefactors to the whole operation. If the ancients were at times very harsh with people who did not assent to their religious beliefs, such behavior in no small part came from the conviction that the very foundations of the moral truths that keep their people safe and prosperous were being undermined. Still, by the 18th century, the long and drawn out conflict between Protestants and Catholics over who would take the heart of Europe and become the official state religion had left many people exhausted and in search of a new way of doing things. Out of this period emerged an unprecedented new historical development: the idea and actualization of a secular society in which several completely different religions could coexist in the same society because religion itself had very little to do with day to day life. It was out of this context that there emerged a new historical phenomenon: people who very clearly have no religion, but still live very ethical lives.

Is it still fair, then, to say in this age of religious plurality and nonbelief that morality is tied to the existence of God? Yes, I believe it is fair. While we can by no means go back to the simple assumptions of our ancestors that people who do not believe what we do can never be moral, when we stop to really consider an important question about the nature of morality itself, we shall find ourselves compelled to say that morality is certainly tied to the existence of God. The question is this: From what source does any moral statement become true, valid, and morally binding upon individuals and society? To this question, we can basically give three kinds of answers. The first answer will say that morality is strictly rooted in the individual, that it is all subjective rather than objective. While at first this seems attractive because we don't have to say prickly things like "what you're doing is wrong", when we are confronted face to face with the terrible injustices committed by people who do not, in fact, think that what they are doing is wrong, we shall find ourselves compelled to say that "what you are doing is still wrong although you do not subjectively believe it is so." Imagine, for example, that you had fallen helplessly into the grasp of a cunning and intelligent murderer, someone like Hannibal Lector from The Silence of the Lambs. The murderer offers to let you go free only if you can convince him that murder is not in fact a really exciting hobby, but really is wrong. To the subjectivist faced with this dilemma, there are basically two options before them, either accept that the murderer is subjectively right that murder is not wrong for him and resign oneself to their impending doom, or posit another source of moral truth independent of the subjective self. While this scenario seems a bit outlandish, in a world filled with a grim variety of cruel atrocities perpetrated by people who do not believe they are violating any kind of moral imperative by what they do, it is not, in fact, a far cry from the truth. If subjectivist morality cannot account for such basic moral imperatives, then it is completely useless as a theory of moral truth.

This brings us, then, to the second option, that moral truths originate from one's society, a view best exemplified by social contract theory. A social contract is an agreement made at the foundation or reformation of a society that the people will give their consent to be governed in exchange for the protection of their rights. In this context, then, a social contract theorist is someone who posits that moral truths are themselves generated and sustained by the process of forming a social contract. While I certainly will not deny the importance of social contracts in the formation of a just and ethical society, when taken as a theory of ethics, social contract theory proves woefully inadequate for three reasons. The first reason is that when you really look into the process of the formation of a social contract, the people involved in the process themselves do not have any sense that they are forming any new moral truths with its creation, but rather that they are drawing from moral truths that existed before they ever took pen to paper. The second reason is that, because a social contract is only binding upon the particular group of people who consent to be governed: it offers no guideline to dealing with the greatest moral challenge of the 20th century; the relation of the ethnos to the Other, that is to say any person, group, or nation outside of the boundaries of the group with which one identifies. In the wake of a century that has brought issues such as racism, nationalism, colonialism, expansionism, globalization, poverty, economic injustice, ethnic cleansing, institutionalized discrimination, religious persecution, terrorism, totalitarianism, fascism, genocide, and nuclear, chemical, and biological proliferation to the forefront of the most dire and pressing problems of the day, it is clear that any successful theory of ethics must be prepared to take on these issues head on, and to deal with the underlying issue of the relationship between the ethnos and the Other. And lest we think this is all just some philosophical abstraction with no relation to reality, we should remind ourselves that very shortly after we ratified the Mayflower Compact and the U.S. Constitution, our own people began to relentlessly persecute and slaughter the Native Americans in a fashion that can only be described as a wholesale massacre. So too, the third reason social contract theory proves inadequate is that it provides no guideline for moral confrontation with any society that is clearly unjust, yet still holds the consent of the governed, since that same society is held to be the ultimate foundation for morality itself.

This brings us, then, to the third and final option, that morality is ontologically rooted in the nature of Ultimate Reality, the view held by most major religions. I don't know about you guys, but if you're anything like me, a lot of this stuff I've been talking about really pisses you off. Everybody knows in their bones that these kinds of moral crimes are very, very wrong, and that the world shouldn't be like this. But if we were to try and say something like "that's just wrong", which when stated in terms of raw logic would come out as "that is wrong because it is wrong", we would just find ourselves arguing in a circle. It is clear, then, that morality is not a self-evident proposition, but that moral truth must be true, existent, and valid because something else is true, existent, and valid. Because we cannot find the ultimate source of moral truth in either individuals or society, and because our observation and experience of moral truths is very powerful indeed, we find ourselves compelled to posit that the foundations for morality lie ontologically deeper in the nature of Ultimate Reality itself. Because pantheism and naturalism hold that the nature of Ultimate Reality is unconscious and impersonal, and because morality defines relations between conscious beings, both views cannot account for our observation of existent moral truths within the universe. Similarly, if somewhat more old-school, philosophers since the days of ancient Greece have laid out a barrage of valid criticisms that the all-too human anthropomorphic polytheistic idea of the gods provided no valid foundation for the existence of moral truths. Having eliminated every other possible thesis, then, we are compelled to say that the real and observed existence of moral truths is ontologically rooted in the real existence of a personal God, thus confirming my initial thesis.

Monday, November 24, 2008

The Public Image: New Wave/Post-Punk Old-School and Revival

(The following is a transcript of a presentation I gave to an alienated audience in Music Appreciation class, who gave me a lot of cold stares and made me feel very uncomfortable, but pretentiously applauded at the end anyway)

The story of New Wave and Post-Punk music basically begins where the story of Punk left off after the big crash of 1978. That was the year when The Sex Pistols, one of the most important bands in the genre, broke up, leaving a shattered mosaic of Punk factions in the wake of it's ruin. The big breakup was catalyzed by the ongoing dispute between John Lydon, commonly known as "Johnny Rotten", the stage name he used when he was performing with The Sex Pistols, and Malcolm McLaren, their sleezeball manager. Defiantly foaming at the mouth to challenge the United Kingdom's nationalistic pretensions in the most impolite and confrontational manner possible, soon after the release of the infamous single "God Save The Queen", angry hordes of thuggish patriots thought they ought to show Lydon just how civilized Britannia is by repeatedly assaulting him. And so, according to Simon Reynold's Rip It Up and Start Again: Postpunk 1978-1984, finding himself "Scared, scarred, and in practical terms virtually under house arrest, Lydon decided to take control of his own destiny. His anarchist/Antichrist persona - originally Lydon's own creation, but hyped up by manager Malcom McLaren and distorted by a media eager to believe the worst - had spiraled out of control. Agreeing to do the Capital Records interview without consulting his management, Lydon embarked on a process of persona demolition that would result in "Public Image" the song and Public Image Ltd the group." (p. 16) Public Image Ltd., the band John Lydon formed in the wake of his departure from The Sex Pistols, would go on to be one of the defining bands at the vanguard of the New Wave and Post-Punk revolution.

So what exactly is New Wave and Post-Punk music? Well, the term "New Wave" itself originally derives from a movement in avant-garde cinema, the French New Wave, and was first applied to Punk music by the aforementioned Malcolm McLaren. Beginning to circulate through both the underground fanzines and the music press, Seymour Stein of Sire Records began to describe bands like the Talking Heads and The Ramones as "New Wave" to get airplay on radio stations leary of the whole "Punk" thing. In time, New Wave would come to describe not just any kind of Punk band, but those bands that favored an innovative and experimental sound over Punk's stripped-down roots-rock revival. Arguing that "radical content demands radical form," (p. 3) New Wave musicians believed that "punk had failed because it attempted to overthrow rock's status quo using conventional music." (Ibid.) Seeking to challenge the bland, self-complacent rhythms of normalcy and become "a thorn in the side of mediocrity," (Ibid. p. 355) this new breed of Punk musicians created music at the cutting edge of production, instrumentation, song-structure, media technology, art and design, and lyrical narrative. As different bands took a different approach to their musical experimentation, the term "Post-Punk" came to describe bands like Public Image Ltd. Joy Division, and Gang Of Four that have a gritty experimental sound based on analog instruments like the electric guitar and bass. "New Wave", on the other hand, came to describe the glossy synthetic sound of bands like the Talking Heads, Devo, and The Police, which made heavy use of sleek guitars, synthesizers, and saxaphones. With that, I will now play excerpts from a couple of songs. The first is "Public Image" by Public Image Ltd., while the second is "Spirits In The Material World" by The Police...

And so, to break down the sound of Post-Punk and New Wave music, we can identify the following elements. Post-Punk achieves its gritty experimental sound through the use of angular guitar playing, giving it a sound that is brittle, crisp, and spiky. Where a lot of rock bands like to overcharge the reverb on guitars in production to give them a big fat sound, the Post-Punks, under heavily influence of the wide open dub spaces of Reggae music, argued that in terms of musical space, "minimal is maximal." And so, opening up the space between Punk's big wall of noise, grooving basslines or atmospheric synthesizers shifted to the fore as the main driving melody of Post-Punk music. Turning disco into a danse macabre, Funk into a mechanistic pressure groove, employing state of the art synthesizers drawn from Krautrock, and implementing a Dub and Reggae rhythm and vibe, Post-Punk musicians had seized upon a treasury of disorientation effects to shatter the self-complacent rhythms of normalcy. Not surprisingly, chaotic driving dance rhythms drawn from each of these sources played a huge role in Post-Punk music, while the disorienting effects of the whole sound was amply augmented with production board wizardry.

While New Wave musicians turned to techniques and influences similar to the Post-Punks, most opted for an approach that was simultaneously both more subtle and more culturally pervasive than most Punk and Post-Punk musicians. Indeed, to this day, I hear New Wave music all the time when I go on outings about the town, which is a lot more than one can say about bands like The Clash and The Sex Pistols. Where the Punks and Post-Punks liked music that was loud, gritty, and in-your-face, New Wave musicians thought the most subversive music was glossy and synthetic, well-produced, but coming apart at the edges to subvert the illusion of pop perfection and it's cultural image of a happy and well-ordered society. Complimenting this subtly subversive approach to music making, New Wave musicians employed tactics like the use of coy humor and disruptive multimedia presentations to challenge everyday assumptions about the nature of life and society while still getting airplay. Making heavy use of synthesizer melodies and atmospherics drawing heavily upon Krautrock, Dub, and Funk, New Wave musicians always managed to maintain a more futuristic edge than their pop peers. Similar influences pervaded the rhythmic section of New Wave, which was complimented by a thin and choppy rhythm guitar to set it apart from that dense rock & roll vibe. Completing the sound, the occasional inclusion of Jazzy influences like trumpets and saxophones give it just the right amount of added flair.

Where Post-Punk's popularity would languish under the weight of John Lydon's eventual latent bout of extreme laziness, New Wave's popularity was just getting ready to really flare up. In the midst of ultimately rock-oriented New Wave and Post-Punk bands, musicians like The Human League, Gary Numan, and New Order saw in New Wave the opportunity to break free of rock in favor of a more straightforward electronic sound. Fusing together elements of Krautrock, Funk, Eurodisco, and New York Electro, these bands created a new style of New Wave music known as Synthpop. Built on catchy dancefloor rhythms made on drum machines, simple and highly geometric synthesizer melodies, and pulsing Funk basslines, Synthpop musicians like The Human League had built a sound that would do for pop what the Ramones had done for Rock. For the Human League, their big break came when the invited Joanne Catherall and Sussane Sulley, two pretty ordinary girls dancing during a Futurist night at a local nightclub, to join up with the band. Having "literally let the crowd into their sound", interest in the band and in Synthpop skyrocketted. With convenient historical timing, the release of cheap new synthesizers flared up a newfound "anyone can do it" do-it-yourself ethic in the realm of pop. By 1982, America had a full scale Second British Invasion on its hands with the advent of MTV, and there were so many Synthpop bands in Britain that nervous members of the Musicians Union desperately lobbied the government to ration the use of synthesizers to protect the jobs of professional orchestras. With that, I will now play an excerpt from another track, "Don't You Want Me" by The Human League...

As with any movement as progenous and influential as New Wave and Post-Punk, there are a lot of important subgenres that we don't have time to go into, many of which survive today as independent subcultures. Among these are No Wave, Industrial, New Romantic, Gothic, Darkwave, Mutant Disco, Avant-Funk, 2-Tone Ska Revival, Shoegaze, Ethereal Wave, and Dreampop. While New Wave and Synthpop was driven underground by the successive waves of music written as a backlash to it, since the early 2000's there has been a resurgence of interest in New Wave and Post-Punk music, leading to a new revival of the sound for the new millennium. On the one hand, a new spate of New Wave/Post-Punk revival bands such as She Wants Revenge, The Killers, Interpol, The Faint, Ladytron, and Arcade Fire have met with considerable success both in the mainstream and in the underground. These Post-Punk revivalists have proved especially successful in proving that the musical ideas of that era can be seamlessly merged with the forms and production techniques of Indie and Alternative rock. So too, one after another, legends of the initial Post-Punk era such as Gang of Four, The Fall, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, The Police, Duran Duran, Siouxsie of Siouxsie & The Banshees, and the Bauhaus have resurfaced to go on tour and release new albums that prove the New Wave and Post-Punk sound and style to be as relevant as ever. So too, with the smash success of Control directed by Anton Corbijn, a 2007 independent film about the life of Joy Division's lead singer Ian Curtis, it would appear that the Post-Punk revival will continue to gain momentum. With that, I will leave you with excerpts from two final tracks from the New Wave and Post-Punk revival, "Into A Swan" by Siouxsie, and "Walk Away" by ThouShaltNot.