A reader responds further to the latest posts from S.M. Hutchens and Anthony Esolen:
I completely agree with S.M. Hutchens: this world has indeed “done its damnedest to let us know where we stand in its books.” It doesn’t like us. That does not, however, excuse us from the call to love the world. Pearls are pearls, buried in manure or fresh out of the oyster. They are of great price, no matter where they are found. The pearls in question should not necessarily be our own portraits, however. (We will never be portrayed well by Hollywood—this Hollywood, at any rate. Maybe that means we’re doing something right.) Rather, it is well worth digging through more than plenty of manure to find the pearls that are portraits of others.
We must not forget that every such pearl, shimmering or not, is also a portrait of Christ. We must not forget that Christ’s love is the fulfillment of the love inherent in all humans (created and placed their by God). Pagans and producers, no less than prostitutes and tax collectors, love. They make mistakes. They do good. They hide their shame. They wake up the next morning to begin again. Their portraits are our portraits—incomplete, perhaps, insofar as they lack the palette of revealed colors—but mirrors of ourselves, nonetheless. Like looking through a glass darkly.
Christ did not back away, refusing to touch this world unless “a pole or a club” was at hand. I don’t think we have the choice of retreating, at least those of us without a monastic vocation. It may be that listening with an active mind and a critical ear to “Britney Lopez or Jennifer Spaniel or the vast indistinguishable Whatever” is the way to learn what are the a priori assumptions behind the thoughts of our neighbors. Getting at those, we can actually engage in a dialogue with these neighbors. We cannot counter opinions we have not bothered to investigate—we won’t have any arguments the so-opined will listen to. Going home with Zaccheus, seeing the art on his walls, and listening to the music coming from his stereo, are all ways of loving him. They may also be the seeds of ways of converting him.
Pagan morality, while lacking Christ, is not necessarily exclusive of Him. Pearls, all pearls, are worth finding. And no one will join our “town choirs” if we aren’t writing music they can sing. Charles Wesley knew that when he set out to turn drinking songs into hymns we still sing. “In the world but not of it” still means being in the world.
It was worth writing about culture merely to receive Miss Bluett’s spirited and eloquent response. And no Christian can disagree that we must be in the world, but not of it. She and I disagree, perhaps, on the application of that command.
My plea was that we distinguish between mass entertainment, which in its current debased form has the curious effect of making people both worldly and utterly clueless as to what life is really like (that is, they grow to be of the world, but not in it!) and popular culture. It seems to me almost impossible that mass entertainment and popular culture can subsist, side by side. Now I could be wrong about that, but I haven’t seen it. As the one grows, the other withers.
I am not now speaking as a Christian, but as an amateur anthropologist. People used to create their own entertainment, as they used to play their own sports (and cook their own meals, and dress up for their own parades, and so on). I am a great lover of popular culture—therefore, if my premise is correct, I must be suspicious of mass entertainment.
As I said, the Golden Age of American film came early, when the actors and filmmakers were sons and daughters of miners and farmers and masons, who went to vaudeville shows and could dance a bit and sing and maybe play the fiddle. Hollywood has long since severed its ties to the popular culture, and popular culture has long since withered, so that in America now there is not much left that is worthy the name.
So for me it is an affirmation of the goodness of this world and of man’s endeavor in it—both of which I uphold with hearty cheer—to reject mass entertainment. Of course, it’s not enough just to stay home from the megaplex. We need to recover what we used to have. If my podunk town in coal country, with its one hotel and fifteen Irish watering holes, back when you were well educated if you finished high school, could boast a homegrown drama club, then if we try really hard even we college educated folks could have at least a shadow of the same. That is, only if we turn off the television and confront the world again.