Pastor Stephen Feinstein
Two days ago, I wrote about artists plunging below the line of despair soon after the philosophers. By way of reminder, the line of despair, according Francis Schaeffer, is when people abandon the idea of absolutes and instead see reality as being relative to each individual. Relativity makes sense in a godless, accidental universe. Since many philosophers and artists bought into the philosophy of atheism, they gave up absolute truth with it. The end result is everyone can make up their own truth since ultimately everyone is wrong anyway.
Well, after the artists went below the line of despair, music went next, and then the general culture was soon to follow. Thus, today I will talk about the plunge of music and general culture below the line. As I have said before, the things that Schaffer points out are even more relevant for our day than his.
Just as Hegel was the doorway for philosophy and Impressionism was the doorway for art, Debussy (1862-1918) was the doorway for music to drop below the line of despair. He abandoned traditional musical Musique Concrete. Sound was seriously and deliberately distorted. They would take real sounds, but break them up, rearrange the parts, and throw them back together in any chaotic way they chose. Their message was loud and clear. Everything is relative, all things are in change, and nothing (not even sound) is absolute. This seems to be the uniform message of postmodern man. They see us as arising by chance and chaos, and eventually all will return to that state. So in the meantime, they say we must reject all meaning since there is no purpose or plan that unifies all of the particulars in the universe. For those who are interested, Schaffer gives some very interesting examples on page 36 of The God Who is There, of real samples from these types of composers.scales, eschewed tone in unnatural ways, and utilized chromaticism to alter music’s basic diatonic organization. In other words, our ears naturally make sense out of patterned scales and predictable tones, but he decided to jumble these around allowing for nonsensical sounds. This opened the door for music composers to deliberately go below the line of despair, as seen by the first large movement to do so. That movement was
Well, it did not stop with music. This progression below the line moved onto a fourth step—general culture. Schaeffer covers the different elements of general culture in this chapter to make his point. He begins with literature and claims that Henry Miller (1891-1980) started to move the general culture below the line. His writings were certainly pornographic, but his purpose was more philosophical than perverse. His goal was to smash everything, including sex. He rejected that there is any meaning, so his goal was to smash all traditional thoughts of meaning, and he even sought to show that sex is meaningless. Without meaning or standards, he can write about whatever he wants, no matter how perverse.
Related to Miller’s philosophic perversion was the emergence of philosophic homosexuality. Homosexuality was becoming more and more accepted among those who traveled below the line of despair simply because it was one more way to reject antithesis. Remember, absolutes depend on antithesis. Some things are good, others are bad. Some actions are right, and others are wrong. Well, homosexuality at its core is an attempt to undermine the most basic form of antithesis that exists in humanity—the distinction between male and female. Genesis 1:27 says that God created male and female in His image. Genesis 2:18 shows that God created woman as a complimentary partner and helper for man. This fundamental distinction between man and woman is what creates families and ultimately civilization. Well, those who rejected God and subscribed to a meaningless universe sought to do away with even this antithesis. The modern feminist movement is one of current driving forces for this idea. The goal is to annihilate the idea that man and woman are complimentary partners, but instead they seek the concept of unisex. Homosexuality actually fights against the entire order of God’s creation.
Next Schaeffer moves onto drama and focuses in on John Osborne (1929-1980). As brilliant as a playwright as this man was, he too was part of this movement towards absurdity. In his famous play Martin Luther, he deliberately distorts history to promote his view of truth. Luther was a man that was absolutely committed to truth and he was convinced that he was right in his doctrinal stances against the Roman Catholic Church. Well, in Osborne’s play, the story ends with one of Luther’s old Catholic mentors asking, “Martin, do you know you are right?” And contrary to all history, Osborne has Luther answer, “Let’s hope so.” The curtain rolls, and the audience is left with the mood that nothing is certain. What a moving way to end a play! If someone missed the point in a philosophy textbook, they certainly would have gotten it from the emotional pit in their stomach after watching the play. This is how drama works. It has the unique power, like music, to bypass the intellect and go straight for the emotions.
Poetry also fell below the line. Dylan Thomas (1914-1953) wrote a poem called Elegy, which is a depressing verbal expression of total meaningless. They are the words of a tortured soul. He put to poetic form the musings of the philosophers, and in so doing he capture the emotional torment caused by such a worldview. Once again, his poetic form could speak to more people than the philosophers could ever hope to.
Modern Cinema is no different. Good movies are not labeled as good because they are morally right, but instead because they are technically good with good camera shots, artistic flavor, and a philosophical message. It is much the same today. Often the movies that win the awards are the movies that the general public did not care for. The general public often likes to see a good guy overcome a bad guy amidst a two hour roller coaster of action and suspense. But in the opinion of the cultural elites, this is nothing more than bad writing and bad filming meant to appease the masses with romantic illusions of escape. The elites want none of that! Instead, the films that are dubbed as “good” are almost always created by people who agree with the postmodern view of man. Their films have plots that ultimately blur morality, certainty, and truth. They are at their core existentialist.
If you were to explain the drift of modern thought to the average person, they probably would not understand what you are talking about, but as Schaeffer points out, it does not mean they are not influenced by the things they see and hear in movies and on TV, and what they sing along to in pop music. In fact, it is from these areas that the masses have probably been most influenced. It is in these areas that the average “Joe” fell below the line of despair, whether he realized it or not.
For example, the psychedelic music of the Beatles were a deliberate attempt to destroy antithesis, promote
This all stems from the fact that fallen man rejects absolute truth because they reject the God of the Bible. In the past, they clung to idolatry so that they could appeal to some authority other than God in order to account for their absolute standards. But when the chief thinkers rejected any purpose or meaning to things, and instead insisted upon an atheistic existence, absolute standards were rejected. The philosophers wrote and articulated it, the artists painted it on canvas, the musicians promoted it with their new styles, and the general culture (literature, poetry, drama, cinema, TV, and pop music) unwittingly accepted it. Now this is the default mode of thinking for the people of Western Civilization. People reject absolutes even if they don’t know why. Most people would not call themselves atheists, but their entire view of truth and reality stems from an atheist worldview. It is amazing how the absurd ideas of a few philosophers were able to change the way of thought for the entire modern world.
So Christian, what is your view on truth? In a world where antithesis is rejected, we need to push the antithesis again and again until the culture understands they cannot escape it. There are ways to do this, and perhaps they will be shared in later posts. We know that it is impossible to live without absolutes. We know the universe does have meaning. Therefore we are not hypocritical or inconsistent when we live as such. But the culture is hypocritical and inconsistent when it rejects God’s absolutes and yet forms its own, while with the same breath claiming such absolutes do not really exist. We need to confront them with God’s absolute truth, which is the only absolute truth that exists.
The big battle of our day seems to be over the issue of homosexuality. We need to point out that homosexuality comes down to a lot more than people being able to freely love others. It is more than a civil rights issue. Instead it is savage rebellion against God’s created order. It is being used as a tool and weapon by the cultural elites to break the most fundamental antithesis that exists in human society. If they break the
distinction between men and women, then they have broken the prescribed structure for families. If they break the family beyond repair, then they have broken society beyond repair and have ushered in the chaos they seem to be hoping for. In many ways, the distorted feelings of gays and lesbians are being used and manipulated by these cultural elites in order to create this new order (or lack of order). Christians need to be aware of this. The only solution to this coming chaos is the same solution presented to man throughout all of history—the gospel. May we go out and proclaim it!