Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The London Riots- UK's Chickens Come Home to Roost

For years, we have been telling young people that they are what they buy, wear and own. We have been feeding them a steady diet of nihilism, violence and materialism. The recent riots across the UK show what happens when a whole generation of young people, bereft of values, is let loose in a society in crisis. We can soon expect similar riots in the US. The reason is clear- as the bible says, "You shall reap what you sow".

The pretext of the riots, police brutality and racism, quickly devolved into random violence. It would be easy to blame this on "black youths", but the pictures show another story. We saw young people, boys and some girls, of all colors, rioting, looting and setting fire to shops, cars and homes. Disenfranchised, alienated and hopeless, they took out their frustrations on whatever or whoever was at hand.

In the US in the days of the Great Depression, there was a spirit of unity. The idea that "we're all in this together" held society together, and while some social unrest occurred, on the whole, people made an effort to get along. One reason for this was that Roosevelt insisted that every segment of society should "buckle up" and make sacrifices, while at the same time, he provided relief for the neediest. The message was clear- all human beings are deserving of basic dignity, and our monetary worth is not the sum of our human worth.

Furthermore, people in those days had a belief in the greater good, which was linked to the common belief in spiritual values. Granted, religious beliefs alone do not make a person good, but for those who are inclined to goodness, there is a foundation for living one's faith, and for those searching, there is a direction. 

Today, not just in the US, but across Europe and the rest of the industrialized world, governments are slashing budgets for social programs, all the while refusing to add one penny of tax for the upper crust. Multinationals, banking cartels and the defense industry are making record sums of money, while the poorest of the poor are treated like rubbish. The message is clear- those who have money are somehow worth more than those without. Without the designer clothes, the fancy car and the flashy clothes, you are nothing. Is it any wonder that young people crave these things?

Delayed gratification is nullified by advertising campaigns that tell us to buy now, pay later. Kids have watched as, for decades, their parents and elders have paid for everything on credit, sometimes getting things they could not afford. A sense of entitlement has trickled down from the very rich, who are held up as idols. Paris Hilton, a woman with no discernible talent, is lionized by the press while millions wait at the local food pantry for a bag of canned goods.

Meanwhile, for decades, religious values and morals have been scoffed at, and parents began to believe that so long as kids have adequate food, clothing and some kind of job training, their needs are being met. We all forgot somewhere along the way that our greatest need is the need for meaning. Kids who are left to solve the riddle of their own existence on their own find themselves overwhelmed and rudderless in a sea of confusion. They see that their elders not only are without answers, they refuse to acknowledge the questions. The kid whose parents refuse to provide moral guidance may join the Taliban, become a skinhead or join a religious cult.  We let them "choose their own values", afraid to tell them what to believe mainly because we are afraid of having our own lack of faith and integrity questioned. Is it any wonder that they respond with violence?

Money and materialism have also steered  society for too long. "Extras" such as music, the arts and sport have been cut, in favor of "practical" programs that are more money-oriented. We often use money and careers as a "motivation" for kids to stay in school, not noticing as their eyes glaze over and they begin to tune out more and more. The message we send kids is that money is all that matters. The things that make life meaningful are delegated to being "extras". Without the arts as a means of self-expression, they will express themselves the only way they know how: with brute force. 

Who owns the television stations that pump kids up with value-free violence? Who owns the radio stations and record companies that promote music for "gangstas" and ""pimps"? Certainly not the young people! Yet calls to monitor the film, television or game industry are pooh-poohed as forms of "censorship". We forget that teenagers are still too immature to make wise choices.

We, the adults, have got to start behaving like adults. We have to be the role models that young people crave, and stop shirking responsibility. parents have to stop blaming teachers, teachers have to stop blaming parents, and corporations that make money marketing products have to start showing some corporate responsibility. And lastly, we need a return to spiritual principles and embracing our humanity instead of materialism, hedonism and nihilism. These riots ought to be a wake-up call to act now, before something similar-or even far worse- comes to your town.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Light and Darkness

In architecture, "structural integrity" refers to the strength of the building. Similarly, a man with integrity is strong, while a man without integrity (like a building lacking structural integrity) is weak. Lack of integrity also refers to sinfulness, a lack of moral backbone. This is weakness in a man.

As it goes for men or nations, so it goes for spiritual beings. God, the creator of the universe (I call Him the "Heavenly computer programmer") is without sin and pure Love. Satan is full of sin, therefore, he is weak! God is sinless, therefore, He is almighty! So why do we fear evil? Because some churches have mistakenly given the devil credit for power that HE CLEARLY DOES NOT HAVE!

The Bible says that the devil is like a roaring lion, always roaming around, searching for someone to devour. In Job, God asks him where he was, and he says; "Going to and fro". God stands still, but the devil keeps roaming. This tells you that God is the same, yesterday, today and always, but the devil is a master of disguise, always changing his face.

Satan hates those who carry God's name (Jews) and those who carry God's Spirit (spirit-filled believers) and he will never end his quest to murder God (attempted deicide). The pogrom never ends. The next holocaust will not happen in Germany- Satan has already moved to a new location. He is already setting up camp elsewhere so he can, once again, attempt to kill his enemies. But the devil cannot win because sin is weakness. Strength can only be found in God, who is sinless. 

The question, then, is why an apparently intelligent being, Lucifer, who was created as a powerful angel, would imagine that he could wage war against God, who is infinite, omnipotent and omniscient. The answer lies in the fact that God, after making the angels, concealed some of His power. He loves unconditionally, and wants to be loved unconditionally. He does not want His creations to love Him out of fear. 

Lucifer believed that God's power was limited, so in his pride, he sought to raise himself up to be worshipped. The scriptures tell us that one third of the angels joined him and were cast down, forever separated from the light and love of God. 

In these times, it appears that darkness and evil have the upper hand. Evil dictatorships rob citizens of their rights. Poor farmers are oppressed by corporations or international organizations. The middle classes and the poor lose their land, their jobs and their livelihoods and the greedy are rewarded. We see wars everywhere, as well as natural catastrophes, like earthquakes, tsunamis and floods. Is God really in control?

Some would say that God is in control, and that he is behind these catastrophes. They say he is judging humanity. But who would want to worship a God who would kill little children, or even entire families? We can acknowledge that all men are sinners, but how can we justify the suffering around us?

Others say that God is not in control. They believe that God created everything, but gave it to us, to do as we please. This idea that God just created the universe, then sat back and let everything happen is referred to as "Deism". Many of the founding fathers were deists, including Jefferson and Franklin. They believed that the universe functions like a grand machine, and that God seldom intervenes in human affairs.

However, the scriptures reveal that God has, indeed, intervened in a very dramatic and personal way. The heavenly computer programmer of the universe became a part of the "code" itself and entered into His creation. He did this for one purpose only- to save us, His creation, and to show us all a better way through His example- a way of peace, love, forgiveness and grace.

Meanwhile, He is, again, concealing His almighty power. Lucifer, now the adversary of God ("Satan" is Hebrew for "adversary") believes that he can win at war against God. He has summoned all of his power. He has produced a body of anti-God propaganda (including the lie that God does not exist!). He has unleashed his demons of war, hatred, racism, violence, perversion and corruption. He is gaining more and more power over the earth. I do not doubt that Lucifer himself is behind the catastrophes.

God warned us through His prophets that these times would come. God warned that He would withdraw His divine protection from those who continually rebelled from Him, and that in these times, He would stand back as Satan was let loose. God, in His omniscience, knows beforehand what will happen, and knows what choices we make. This does not absolve us of our free will choices! However, in His mercy, He chose that these times would be cut short.

One day soon, all things will be revealed- both good and evil. In the book of Genesis, we read the story of how Adam and Eve ate of the tree of "Knowledge of Good and Evil", setting into motion the things that would be. The spiritual meaning of this is that we, humanity, want to know what good and evil is, but to do so, we must suffer. We have chosen the path of suffering instead of the path of Paradise. The final conclusion draws near. Those who choose Yeshua will be freed from eternal suffering. Their suffering here on earth will end in joy.

Good and Evil are being revealed in our time. Soon, God will reveal Himself to humankind,  and put an end to suffering. He will reveal His power. Before that happens, we who live in times of darkness must hold on to our faith, knowing that it only takes a small candle to light up the darkness.

God has the power! Remember that God is light. The power of darkness is the power that a shadow has. Shadows can frighten small children, but adults know better. We are meant to grow in Christ, and put away childish things, so we can give up our childish fears and face the light, and know that the darkness cannot touch us. 

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Creative Rebellion versus Capitalism

The work of a forest ranger is not easy. When old trees are not cut down, they rot and fall in the forest, and the forest ranger must be alert at all times to cut them down before they fall and injure someone. Without this, young trees cannot grow, because their light source is cut off by rotting dead trees. Soon, forest fires sweep through the forests, ravaging both old and young trees. In a similar way, the arts must be pruned or tended to. Without this, they die out. That which is old and dead must be cut or pruned, new forms must be sustained, and all that lives must be watered and nurtured. In our time, the long tradition of sacred or edifying music, poetry, literature and theater that was once supported by the church and the well-educated is in grave danger of dying out.

We can see that in all great civilizations, there is an innate need for each generation to differentiate itself from its forbears. This can take the form of either creative rebellion or destructive rebellion. Creative rebellion builds upon the cultural edifice of the past, adding to and embellishing upon the traditions that are wholesome, and discarding that which is contrived, outdated or superfluous. The impressionist painters, for example, saw the superfluity of realism in an age of photography, but didn't dispense with reality completely; instead, they supplanted it with a new technique. Modern jazz didn't merely spurn the jazz of the past, but expanded upon it. Destructive rebellion, however, seeks to destroy without building. It represents a negation of the past, and sees the wholesale destruction of society as the only possibility.

We are now seeing a society awash in destructive rebellion, one that can not differentiate between "art" and nihilism. Music, for instance, is based on the harmonic series,which comes from pure physical law. Even a newborn infant can readily tell the difference between consonance and dissonance, as based upon the tones of the harmonic series. That God is the creator of such laws was not lost on classical composers, many of whom dedicated their greatest works to God. 

In recent times, however, with the dawning of the post-Christian worldview, the arts lost their way. Rather than seek to work with the laws of nature, music rebelled, and instituted the artificial laws of 12 tone serialism, atonality, or "modernism". Man sought to become a law unto himself. At some point, rather than the arts serving God, the arts became and end in itself. In the name of "freedom", aesthetics were relativized to the extent that noise and music were considered exchangeable. Art for art's sake means turning art into an idol. When the artist is allowed to do all in the name of art (including destruction of art), then art no longer serves either God, man or nature, it becomes a false "god". As Ingmar Bergman said:
"Art lost its basic creative drive the moment it was separated from worship. It severed an umbilical cord and now lives its own sterile life, generating and degenerating itself. In former days the artist remained unknown and his work was to the glory of God." 

Atheism is, of course, nothing new. Its advent in ancient Rome presaged Rome's fall into irrelevance and the dawn of a dark age. In our time, the same, tired old atheism is touted as something new and original. Brahms himself didn't see atheism as capable of producing great art:

"I know several young composers who are atheists. I have read their scores, and I assure you, Joseph, that they are doomed to speedy oblivion, because they are utterly lacking in inspiration. Their works are purely cerebral. No atheist has ever been or ever will be a great composer." - Johannes Brahms in conversation with the violinist Joseph Joachim (1831 - 1907). (Quoted in Arthur M. Abell: Talks with Great Composers. (1955))

We can see the results of such thinking in the dreary, unremittingly bleak films being produced. Film critic Mark Butterworth stated, "A stylistic mood, a fashion of dullness, dimness, of the ugly, gritty, and dirty has overtaken us. We have a very sick elite operating at large calling evil good. Fortunately, most of these movies attract a small audience, but the general effects are pernicious and seep into the culture regardless of their success. The success is that such movies get made and more of them every year."

In addition, capitalism tends to produce pseudo-rebellion. For instance, a trend is marketed as "rebellious" to the public, and sold. Burger King announces the "cheese revolution". By co-opting the word "revolution", the word loses its meaning, thus minimizing the risk that angry, dissatisfied people will associate the word with any form of political revolution. Ironically, even the image of Che Guavara is being marketed and sold, on bumper stickers, T-Shirts and magnets. Instead of real revolution, people are sold a marketed, plastic form of rebellion. Tattooing, originally a part of the punk/grunge movement in the US and UK, was seized upon by marketers and advertisers, and commercialized. The result is that millions of gullible people have stampeded into tattoo parlors to get flames tattooed on themselves. Mass rebellion is a form of conformity. Even grandmothers are tattooed and pierced, so the original intent of getting a tattoo to rebel against the older generation is now a moot point. Tattoos are now the mark of the gullible conformist.

 As Douglas R. Shearer describes it:
"Traditionally, art expresses the noblest impulses of the specific culture that produces it . But American art, since Andy Warhol, profanes the noble and ennobles the profane. And that's typically American. Americans distrust  "all embracing cultural ethics" because they threaten personal choice." 

The greatest cultures were awash in creative rebellion, ever seeking new techniques, assimilating influences from other cultures and combining different streams in new ways. We need only look at some of the greatest artistic movements of the past, the painters of the Italian renaissance or the composers of Vienna to see what a society can achieve when it is free to flourish. The greatest authors sought to illuminate truth, advance beauty and uplift humanity; today however, we no longer believe in beauty, unless it is simply physical, sexual beauty. We have replaced the divinity of the female form as depicted in the renaissance with the image of the busty stripper. 

Creative rebellion, like an orchid, cannot grow and thrive in the acrid soil of atheism, nihilism and bitterness.  It needs to be nurtured and  can only occur under several conditions:

Firstly, there has to be a cultural tradition that serves as a framework. This is an agreed-upon common set of culture, beliefs, values and morals.  If you destroy the framework, there is no longer the possibility of creativity. The framework can be modified, but too sudden changes spell the destruction of society itself. Like a living organism, society can be healed by necessary surgery, but cutting off entire organs kills the patient. What we see, however, is that in an effort to be inclusive, we have, too often, neglected our cultural traditions, dismissing them as irrelevant. "Political correctness" has demanded that works by Shakespeare, Milton or Dostoyevsky must be balanced by authors "of color" (as if there is such a thing as a colorless person!) or female authors, ignoring the fact that not all cultures have a strong literary tradition. With fewer and fewer students being exposed to the European cultural heritage, a European artist's work cannot draw upon such cultural references without risking the loss of a potential audience. As a result, the only "art" that succeeds is largely art that contains many pop cultural references, gimmicks or kitsch. Furthermore, America has seen mass immigration on such as scale as to nullify any pre-existing "common culture". This cultural Balkanization may prove to be a boon to the Latino community, but will, at any rate spell the death of European-American art. In Europe, as well, with the declining birthrate, it would be dubious to expect any vestige of a "common culture" to survive the decades to come. We are seeing a slow decay into ruin.

Secondly, creative rebellion is in need of  a culture that is at least somewhat conservative; otherwise,  there is nothing to rebel against. The arts, by their very nature, tend to be made by liberals. However, when even the conservatives are liberals (that is, when they no longer hold to the traditional moral, ethical or aesthetic tenets of the society), then there is nothing to rebel against, except life itself. The result is nihilism. 

The opposite extreme, however, is equally deadly. Fundamentalist or puritanical societies tend to view the arts with suspicion, even banning forms that they feel are evil. China's "cultural revolution" resulted in the suicides of classical musicians. The Taliban's rule in Afghanistan means the annihilation of a rich folk music tradition, which now is only a distant memory. No music of great substance is coming from America's fundamentalist movement; many of the right-wing universities that have sprung up in the past twenty years have no music or arts departments. Among America's "Bible Belt", classical music, painting and theater are often considered "worldly" and sinful. Among the liberal elites, they are invalid, unless they appeal to populism, radical politics or atheism. 

Thirdly, there has to be an arts education in place, which is accessible to a reasonably large segment of society. Those who are inclined towards a career in the arts must be nurtured at a young age; those unfit for such a profession must learn the rudiments so that they can participate as amateurs and provide the arts with an educated public.

Capitalism and market forces are not sufficient to sustain the arts. Capitalism markets "products" the same way, regardless if the product is shaving cream or opera. Fine arts, however, cannot be sold like cigarettes or autos. Their appeal lies in the intangible, not the marketable. Furthermore, capitalist, mass-produced "art" tends to need a cult of personality around it in order to market the goods effectively. In recent years, this has had a profound effect on the production of the arts, causing artists to select their subject matter more on marketing principles than on their artistic worth. The best photographers become commercial photographers, tonal composers, unable to find work as "serious" composers, score for films. Film makers begin to eschew themes that are unlikely to have mass appeal, and "tie ins" with advertisers begin to have a substantial impact on the plot and characters, to the extent that in the future, I predict that all films and television will be simply extended commercials. The lines between advertising, art and entertainment will become so blurred that the arts will become entirely irrelevant. 

Mass appeal for the arts could only be achieved by an educated public which would take the time to learn the cultural traditions. Capitalism, however, schools the public in the joys of instant gratification. There is no place for the intangible, the mysterious, the profound, the sacred. Any profundity that cannot be expressed in a five second commercial, a subway billboard, or an internet popup must be dispensed with. This approach is at work in all segments of society, resulting in churches that offer short sound-bite inspiration instead of depth and profundity, schools that emphasize entertaining, easy projects and wishy-washy discussions rather than hard work, and parents who demand pills to help them control their children, instead of disciplining them. The culture of convenience has turned into the culture of indulgence. 

In the past, the arts were sustained by the nobility, who were well-schooled in cultural traditions, and tended to be somewhat conservative in their tastes. This served as a braking mechanism on society, preventing  drastic changes that would be destabilizing and destructive. This also served as a backdrop of "old fashioned" taste which could be rebelled against. In time, the new forms and styles would be assimilated into the musical and artistic traditions, becoming the new backdrop for preceding generations. 

Today, the "old money" nobility is being replaced by the nouveau riche, who have not grown up with a fine arts tradition, and are more likely to buy pornographic sculptures, or support pop music than support "fine arts". Many would not see any use for such things, figuring that the public can best decide what is and isn't good art. In the modern world, what isn't of benefit to the marketplace, or isn't utilitarian is easily set aside. 

To make matters worse, the line between art, advertising and corporate entertainment has been obscured to such an extent that advertising itself is deemed "pop art", and music and art of little artistic value is over-hyped by a corporate media that is suspicious of anything that cannot be readily commodified or controlled. For example, Lady Gaga's value-free musical and video "artistry", including scenes depicting nuns being raped, is considered worthy of gallons of newsprint ink, while composer John Adams is seldom mentioned. Most young people have heard of Madonna, whose "music" is mainly the product of teams of producers and studio musicians, but many wouldn't be able to guess who Thelonious Monk was. 

This promotion of music and art that is plastic, pliable and free of values or morals is not accidental. Music with higher meaning cannot be easily used to sell soap or autos. Music and art that is sublime draws us to higher things, or to the art itself. Only the superficial can lead to the superficial. Materialism and the consumer mentality require making consumer objects the focal point of worship, thus necessitating art, film and music that will not compete with the consumer's affections. The car is the object of desire, so the music must not draw the heart towards heavenly desires. The new shoes must satisfy, so any insinuation that shoes alone cannot bring satisfaction must be suppressed. 

Religious art, which played such a huge role in the founding of Western Civilization, has, in the process, become a victim of de facto censorship by the corporate media fascists, who will allow songs about sodomy and murder to be played on the radio, but will not allow music depicting Jesus as the Son of God. In the end, capitalism has morphed into new breed of fascism, a rabid serpent devouring its own tail. And because music, art and entertainment of quality is not seen by the public, they take the paltry offerings they are given. The corporate plutocracy then justifies its actions by claiming that they are only giving the people what they want.

The public could decide, of course, if they were well-educated in the arts. However, in recent years, funding for public arts education has declined, due to pressure from corporations who demand a workforce that will be competent in math, science and technology.  The result? Marketplace demands are being met, schools have installed computer rooms, corporations, eager to get qualified workers, have donated technology and resources to schools and universities. They have not, however, contributed to arts in education, and why would they? It isn't in their best interests. 

Fine arts open people up to things that cannot be bought with money. They remind us of our humanity, spirituality and transcendence. If enough people experienced these things, we would no longer be so easily manipulated, or drawn into the web of consumerism, debt and insatiability. The market promotes whatever sells, and the public, ignorant of art, and primed to buy only what provides instant gratification, does not have the attention span to listen to something that lasts longer than three minutes. 

In contrast to the past, in which enlightened, educated aristocrats chose the music they felt was most profound, and set it before the public, nowadays the lowest segment of society sets the tone, and the result is clear to see. Incapable of understanding chord progressions, unable to carry a tune or even understand a melody that is more than two measures long, wanting only a steady beat, grunting, and pornographic lyrics, the modern Neanderthal gets exactly what he wants- grunting, crude rhythms, repetitive, five note melodies endlessly repeated, all accompanied by images of gorgeous women dancing half naked. 

Furthermore, the corporate plutocrats of our day and age don't want a public that is schooled in the arts, for the simple reason that the arts can be a powerful means to empower the poor. Keeping the arts ensconced in an ivory tower, to be gazed at by a privileged few means less chance that the unwashed hordes will storm the tower, and set the arts free to live among humanity, willingly serving both God and man. 

Some feel that the arts are to be left at the hands of the government. In every industrialized nation, there is some sort of ministry of arts, or arts organization. However, these organizations are more likely to be run by the enemies of artistic tradition, not their supporters. Government officials often have no concept of higher art, and are likely to abuse their positions to promote political agendas. 

Under communism, for instance, only openly pro-communistic, atheistic art is allowed. Similarly, in America, artists of questionable talent and ability are awarded grants and prizes for political reasons, often by radical nihilists within such organizations. This serves to further alienate the public from the fine arts, causing them to demand even less funding for the arts. The destructive spiral continues, as artists scramble to make art that will please the current set of political appointees. 

As a result, artists whose political or social views are unpopular, unclear or uninteresting tend to be marginalized. Those who are "scandalous" can get press coverage, thus providing the capitalist marketplace with a selling point. Those who make easily digested, accessible art that can be "marketed"  or used as film music, background music for television commercials and the like, are also rewarded. This leaves little room for genuine creativity, which can often take years to develop, and cannot be understood without patience and a fine ear. 

Political correctness decrees that the droning of a digeridoo is the musical equal of a Symphony by Brahms or Beethoven, or a jazz piece by a piano virtuoso. To state otherwise would be political suicide. Music that took decades to perfect is cast aside for grunting and murmuring; the public refuses to pay for live music, because they can listen to a DJ for free. Why should they understand the hard work and years of dedication that allows a jazz musician to play a competent solo, or the hours of practice that enable the pianist to perform a Ballade by Chopin? A public that has been stupidified by an educational system that will not teach them how to carry a tune, clap in time or play a simple instrument will certainly not produce a public that can appreciate the arts.