Chapter 10


Modern Art, Music, Literature, and Films

For modern people, as they leap into the area of non-reason to try to find optimism without reason, not only are there no human or moral categories but there is no certainty, no categories upon which to distinguish between reality and illusion.
  • As time has gone on, people in Western culture have become surrounded by an almost monolithic consensus. That is to say, the same basic dichotomy–in which reason leads to pessimism and all optimism is in the area of non-reason–surrounds us on every side and comes to us from almost every quarter.
  • The historical flow is like this: The philosophers from Rousseau, Kant, Hegel, and Kierkegaard onward, having lost their hope of a unity of knowledge and a unity of life, presented a fragmented concept of reality; then the artists painted that way. It was the artists, however, who first understood that the end of this view was the absurdity of all things.
  • Leonard Bernstein in the Norton Lectures at Harvard University in 1973 says of Mahler and especially Mahler’s Ninth Symphony, “Ours is the century of death and Mahler is its musical prophet…If Mahler knew this [personal death, death of tonality, and the death of culture as it had been] and his message is so clear, how do we, knowing it too, manage to survive? Why are we still here, struggling to go on? We are now face to face with the truly ultimate ambiguity, which is the human spirit–the most fascinating ambiguity of all…We learn to accept our mortality; yet we persist in our search for immortality…All this ultimate ambiguity is to be heard in the finale of Mahler’s Ninth.”  This is modern man’s position. He has come to a position of the death of man in his own mind, but he cannot live with it, for it does not describe what he is.
  • Schoenberg totally rejected the past tradition in music and invented the “12-tone row.” This was “modern” in that there was perpetual variation with no resolution. This stands in sharp contrast to Bach who, on his biblical base, had much diversity but always resolution. Bach’s music had resolution because as a Christian he believed that there will be resolution both for each individual life and for history.
  • Popular music, such as the elements of rock, brought to the young people of the entire world the concept of a fragmented world–and optimism only in the area of non-reason. And poetry, drama, the novel, and especially films carried these ideas to the mass of people in a way that went beyond the other vehicles we have considered.
  • What then happened to science? In brief, science as it is now usually conceived, has no epistemological base–that is, no base for being sure that what scientists thing they observe corresponds to what really exists.
  • The humanist has no base for knowing within his own philosophic system. His optimism about knowing the external world is weakened.
  • Modern science tends increasingly to become one of two things: either a high form of technology, often with a goal of increasing affluence, or what I would call sociological science. By the latter I mean that, with a weakened certainty about objectivity, people find it easier to come to whatever conclusions they desire for the sociological ends they wish to see attained.
  • In the area of non-reason man is left without categories. He has no way to distinguish between right and wrong, or even between what is objectively true as opposed to illusion or fantasy.
  • For modern people, as they leap into the area of non-reason to try to find optimism without reason, not only are there no human or moral categories but there is no certainty, no categories upon which to distinguish between reality and illusion.
  • On the Christian base it is possible to know why music speaks. Man is not the product of chance. Man is made in the image of God, and on this basis, it is understandable why music is music to man. On the basis of revelation–the Bible and the revelation of God through Christ–there is not ultimate silence in the universe, and there are certainties of human values and moral values and categories to distinguish between illusion and fantasy. And there is a reason why man is man. But not for these modern people with a humanist position.  These philosophic films have spoken clearly about where people have come. Modern people are in trouble indeed. These things are not shut up within the art museums, the concert halls, and rock festivals, the stage and movies, or the theological seminaries. People function on the basis of their world view. Therefore, society has changed radically. This is the reason–and not a less basic one–that it is unsafe to walk at night through the streets of many of today’s cities. As a man thinketh, so is he.
Cover Photo: Abstract art, similar to style of Jackson Pollock, a major figure in the abstract expressionist movement.
This post contains quoted and paraphrased passages of How Should We Then Live? by Francis A. Schaeffer. 50th L’Abri Anniversary Edition, © 2005 by Crossway Books.

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