Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Mysticism Invades Art and Writing


Pastor Stephen Feinstein

In the previous post, I discussed modern mysticism. According to Francis Schaeffer, this represents a third level below the line of despair. The line of despair refers to the belief that the universe is a meaningless non-rational place, and therefore there are no absolutes. The first level below the line is nihilism where people claim to accept the meaninglessness of it, and often sink into an utter depression from it. The second level below the line is dichotomy, where people divide knowledge into two separate spheres. They agree that reality is ultimately meaningless, but humans have the unique ability to ascribe their own meaning to things. Thus, truth and all values are relative to each person. Well, some people are uncomfortable with this, since they know it is admitted irrationality. They know it is contradictory. So they turn to a third level below the line of despair. They turn to mysticism, where they claim there is some inexplicable reality that does unify all things, but it is unknowable. Thus, all of our attempts to define and explain it are inadequate and are therefore equally valid expressions of “truth.” This third level provides the illusion that there must be meaning, and many people find it necessary simply because they cannot deal with the idea of true meaninglessness.

As I have said previously, this all goes to show that fallen man is foolish in his musings. All people everywhere live by absolutes. They believe in them. They cling to them. All people live as though antithesis is true. Even if they try to claim that they don’t, they do. The atheist college professor that says there is no absolute moral truth, but right and wrong are relative to each individual, will still flunk the student caught plagiarizing. The sexually depraved counterculture of the 1960s that cried for moral freedom were morally outraged at the Vietnam War. People who claim that the universe is random expect gravity to work tomorrow just as it did today as though the universe is orderly rather than random. Individuals who claim that matter in motion is all that exists tend to have no problem using immaterial thought and logic to learn things. Radicals who claim that property distinctions should be erased seem to have the full expectation that a cashier at a grocery store will return to them exact change when they overpay.

I think you get my point. As hard as fallen man tries to escape the obvious truth, his very actions betray him. The truth is that the universe is not meaningless. It was created by the Almighty God of the Bible, and that God sustains the universe every second of every day. The laws of logic are laws of thought that exist only because the mind of God exists. We have access to such laws because we are made in the image of God. Because God created the universe as He did, and assigned value to each thing He created, we know that absolutes exist. Every human knows this, even if they deny it with their lips. And all of those examples that I gave above demonstrate that no human can escape the truth. They all live in one way or another as if the Christian worldview is true. They do not live according to the presuppositions that they claim to have. Why? Because living according to their presuppositions are impossible. So they must borrow from ours. The evolution of the three levels below the line of despair is simply the shifting of presuppositions designed to remove the tension. Those who think deeply know that they cannot escape absolutes. They know they live according to the reality expressed in the biblical worldview. Therefore, they keep back peddling until they can find assumptions that satisfy them in their rejection of God’s truth. Yet, these faulty assumptions do not solve the problem, and thus these people keep living in ways that betray their claims. They pick and choose which absolutes they reject and then arbitrarily accept the absolutes that they like.

Well, in the last chapter I summarized, we saw that Schaeffer introduced the topic of mysticism in philosophy. In this chapter he moves back to art and language and shows that modern mysticism spread to these disciplines too.
Paul Klee Painting

One good example of such an artist and writer is Paul Klee (1879-1940). He described his art and his philosophy in his writings, and in such writings he tended to see his art like a Ouija board. Although he most likely did not believe in spirits, he hoped that the universe itself as an entity would communicate through his paintings. In a similar manner that a person’s hands automatically move to letters on the Ouija board, Klee hoped that by simply moving his brush on the canvas the universe would automatically communicate its truth through whatever was painted. He obviously had a mystical view of the universe, where he did in fact believe that there is an abstract universal absolute that exists, and he saw it as being some sort of consciousness of the universe itself. Francis Schaeffer was certainly right when he pointed out that the modern mysticism coming out of the West is very similar to Eastern Hinduism. The mysticism keeps taking on a form of pantheism. In pantheism, the universe itself is said to be God, and it is an impersonal consciousness. Klee obviously allowed this kind of thinking to influence his art.

A better known painter, Salvador Dali (1901-1989), also provides a great example of this mysticism. Dali was at first a Surrealist, where he agreed with the hopelessness and perversion of Dadaist art mixed with Freudian delusions. This was in the 1920s. Well, by the 1940s and 1950s his view had clearly shifted. He began to paint a new series of mystical paintings. They moved away from the absurd images of surrealism to more religious paints depicting certain aspects of Christianity. However, he made it clear that the Christian symbols painted by him meant something entirely different to him than what they really meant to historic Christianity. He believed that as science was reducing matter down to energy, this represented dematerialization, thus showing reality to be spiritual. So to him, energy was the universal absolute, and at its core it was spiritual. Somehow, in his mind, this allowed him to subscribe absolute meaning to concepts even though they were relative to him. To him, the existence of the “spiritual absolute” means that meaning can exist. Once again, this is nothing more than a pantheistic type of materialism.

A good example of mysticism in language is found in Martin Heidegger (1889-1976) in his later years. When he realized that the run of the mill existentialism did not work, and that dichotomy was not truly livable (since we all live according to absolutes that we expect others to live by as well), he moved down to the third level below the line of despair. To Heidegger, he believed the mystical absolute was to be found in human language in general. He believed some sort of being is there, and that it makes itself known through language. Thus human language itself became the universal absolute for Heidegger. We all participate in that being by our use of language. Of course, Heidegger argued that it was language in general that reflected this being rather than specific words. Thus, our specific words cannot describe this unknowable being, but the existence of language itself somehow allows us to participate in "it." This theory became the basis for the new theological liberalism that emerged after the 1930s.

In summary, mysticism is nothing more than nonsense. I hope you noticed that all of these people that claim that the ultimate reality is being beyond description somehow find a way to describe it. Heidegger's appeal to language is still a description of what he said was indescribable. Rather than accepting reality, these people become comfortable with admitted irrationality.  Reality is that the God of the Bible exists, therefore absolutes exist, and since we are made in God's image we cannot escape this reality. Of course, accepting that means we have to repent and do things God's way. We have to admit that He is the authority and humanity is not. Unregenerate man will never admit this. The end result is that fallen man would rather be irrational than accept the plain truth. Until next time, God bless.

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