Listened to: finally finished listening to Mark Twain’s Joan of Arc on tape. It’s been quite a journey, a meticulous and heartbreaking journey.
Link to the original worldview discussion
…but first, some more discussion on point #2. Rosie asked, what truth can we find in another religion that isn't already expressed in our own? Whew, wow, well, huge question. I have to answer this two ways.
First, I think there are truths we can find in other religions. I don’t know what the traditional theological position is, but there are things taught by other religions that are not readily known through any of the above-mentioned three means. There are religions, for example, that unify medical practices with their faiths, discovering the healing powers of herbs and so forth but attributing health to deities, spirits, etc. The Bible does not give much medical advice. There are religions, such as those that use astrology, which have made various scientific or quasi-scientific discoveries of which the Christian faith as yet knows nothing. Astronomy is finding out some things through “proof”—celestial influences via radio waves, for example—that eastern religions have taught for centuries by instinct. Can anybody think of other instances?
However, and here’s the other part of my answer, obviously I do not believe that any religion, science, or other interrogation of man can find out anything in contradiction to the Bible. Many appear to be in conflict, but these will be resolved upon further research or understanding. Furthermore, I wonder if any piece of knowledge comes by means other than man’s gifts as God’s image or through general revelation? In other words, doesn’t everybody everywhere know what they know, and indeed know anything, merely and totally because God give them brains and an orderly creation? So therefore all knowledge is given, in a round-about sense, by means of the Christian faith?
I have not dealt at all with other putative revelations—other sacred texts, dreams, visions, etc. Any takers?
Now, on to Worldview point #3: God is sovereign, man is responsible, and this “paradox” has great implications for art and life, the past and the future.
David Taylor once said artists must read their systematic theology. Indeed, I do believe that great Christian art is (partly) only as good as its doctrine. Partly; skill/craftsmanship/aesthetic excellence are also essential. But I also am coming to think that the debates over theological points are as fertile as solid convictions. The Problem of Evil is once such difficulty, the catalyst for large passages in Augustine’s Confessions, Dante’s trilogy, Milton’s Paradise Lost,….
And the debate over Free Will vs. Predestination is another such matter. I am reading Macbeth just now. The introductory matter in my Norton Critical Edition is by Robert S. Miola. He puts it into the context of culture controversies, one hot one being just this of Free Will vs. Predestination. He claims that “Whatever his personal convictions, Shakespeare clearly adopts a Catholic view of the action and theology of free will in this play” and “Rejecting the Protestant dichotomy between the elect and reprobate, Shakespeare deploys the Catholic view of free will perhaps from theological conviction, but more certainly from theatrical necessity. For the doctrine of predestination renders human action essentially undramatic: when the end is known, preordained, and absolutely just, there can be no real choice, suspense, conflict, or resolution. This conception of divine justice and human action renders pity an impertinence, terror a transgression, and tragedy an impossibility” (pp. xv, xvi).
I don’t think so. OK, sure, Shakespeare gives Macbeth the power of choice in this work, fine. I am not taking issue with Miola’s entire intro, not by any means. It’s splendid, well researched, and correct in its specifics. It’s only with the sweeping generalization I have a problem. I wouldn’t say that predestination freezes all possibility of dramatic action. What about Oedipus ? One of the greatest plays ever written, so I’ve been told, and it’s very power comes from the dreadful inevitability, the horrendous fate, the attempts to escape from destiny, indeed, from the very lack of free will! Am I right?
Let’s take another Shakespearean example: Romeo & Juliet. Right from the very get-go the end is determined:
From forth the fatal loins of these two foes
A pair of star-cross’d lovers take their life;
Whose misadventur’d piteous overthrows
Doth with their death bury their parents’ strife.
Well I guess I don’t need to stay and watch the play. The prologue gives it all away, it’s fated, it’s written in the stars, they’re going to die…. And yet I do stay, watch, am moved; and every time I hope (against hope, indeed) it will end differently! I wait for Friar Lawrence to get to the tomb before Romeo, I shout out loud “She’s not dead!” (only when reading, mind you; not when it’s on stage, although I have much ado to restrain myself!). When listening to Joan of Arc today I kept waiting for the rescue that would save her from the stake—O dreadful death! But I know my history; why did I wait for what I knew would not come?
[Why did Claudius sit still and unmoved when the Players acted the dumbshow, but jumped up disturbed and called for lights when he saw the “real” play, the Mousetrap?]
[Why do we watch the same play more than once, the same movie over and over, why do we reread our favorite books? Not only for forgetting…]
1. The characters do not know the ending. They are within a double predestination, as it were. Theologians will pardon me for abusing the term. First, they are predestined by God, if such is the writer’s or audience’s belief. Second, they are predestined by the intent and will of the artist. Or perhaps I have those in the wrong order?
2. In life, we do not know our ending. The staunchest Calvinist, if he has his wits about him, believes that here inside time we must make choices. Yeah, perhaps God has set the choice before hand, certainly God knows what will be done, but that does not make the psychological and emotional experience of choice any less a reality. Any less real. It is also thus inside works of art.