Rose Window Cathedral Chartre
Recently I was chiding atheists on CARM for thier Dawkinsian attitude that they can flap their gums about the alleged stupidity of that which of they know nothing, namely theology. Somehow all of liberal arts came into it. I have always suspected that most of the real Dawkamentalists don't like art and literature and know nothing about it. My suspensions were confirmed. One of them said:
Because its only purpose is the perpetuation of theology? Literature in general is not a particularly useful field of study; theology is simply literature distilled down to the study of a single story.
Now I know atheists who love art and literature. In fact as an Atheist I loved art and literature, but things were different in my day. Back when I was an atheist, the 70s, no atheist would be caught dead saying that art and literature are useless. That's because the cultural dynamic of those who claimed to be atheist was totally different. With no internet you didn't have all these gen xers and gen y-ers coming around the net knowing nothing about Bertrand Russell. Atheist in my day were people who met on the college campus and most of them were given the courage to defy mom and dad and break out of the family mold of religious belief by literature and art classes, and of course Philosophy, science the whole college bit. In that day being an atheist was about being an intellectual, not about hating religious people. It was about being smart, and being modern. In those days the culture embraced art and literature as it's highest aspirations. So atheists had to at least give lip service to the arts. But that was back when there were intellectuals.
I blame Dawkins, not single handedly but as one major source who manged to kill of the basis of Western culture. We were already on our cultural death bed, we had already given up art and culture. But Dawkins has made it respectable among the rabble to flip off art and culture and embrace science as the only form of knowledge that matters. Atheists who are shunned for attaching my dyslexia often turn to attacking my theological career and my education. In this same discussion another one told me my education was "useless." In trying to get across to them that I don't regret a single dollar of tuition I spent or an hour spent studying it was one of the best times in my life and it would never see it as useless even if I never officially a penny form it, or even I get no credit at all for the degree. Of course understanding that would entail understanding the value of learning and it would entail understanding that there are more important aspects of learning than just science. But I don't really expect them to understand that. That would be like expecting someone who watches professional wrestling all the time to understand the importance of turning the other cheek. Let me just mention here, Fritz Von Erich never turned the other cheek! Now I know that the atheists I respect such as Hermit, your regular loyal opponent, or Quantum Troll on my boards, would never accept the attitudes I'm talking about. Hermit has made statements here repudiating that attitude. So I am not saying this all atheists.
In a two part essay I'm going to talk about the value of theological education. This first part is about the value of liberal arts in general. But I want to also point out that for me theology and liberal arts are intertwined. I really see theology as part of the world of letters, and all aspect of the world letters are important. Theology is in the area of philosophy, a form of philosophy but more specialized. Yet I see theology as a metaphor for the life of learning. Karl Garth (major theologian of the last century, called theology "the queen of the sciences." Of couse he's using the term "science" in the old European since, which is much like Kung Fu guys use the term kung fu. Kung fu is said to be anything that requires great diligent practice to master. So really fine chefs do the kung fu of cooking, and really good base ball pitchers do the kung fu of pitching, and so on. Science is any systematic study that involves first hand observation (in the European sense) so we can have science of cooking, science of pitching in baseball and so on. In this sense theology is a science.
Theology is zenith of letters. It requires expertise in everything. To be good at it one must understand the great sweeping movements of history in ways historians have long forsaken, in the way Hegel did. One must understand history as a philosopher and philosophy as a historian. It's a total interdisciplinary discipline. It requires a masterful apprehension of structure while maintaining a wit and imagination that is capable of compete departure form the script and lateral thinking. What I want to talk about here is the link to all of art and literature and why when I defend one of those I defend the others. It's not because theology is "making stuff up." Although creativity is important as it in science. But the impulse to know, to understand, to learn to think, to do philosophy and write poetry and create art all of those impulses are part of the urge that one feels to understand theology and to participate in the ancient tradition of theology. Theology is not creative per se, in fact it's supposed to resist creation. To be innovative in theology was an insult at one time. Yet all research and all discovery involve creativity. It's just a matter of how you channel it. Because theology involves understanding the entirety of the world in a general way, the structures of ontology, metaphysics, physics, life, society and how the interrelate it's a microcosm of all university subjects and all that requires systematic and scholarly learning.
Atheists who claim that theology is very stupid (Dawkamentalists) do so on the grounds that it's about something "imaginary" which they take God to be. That seems to mean they also disparage art and literature because they are merely imaginative too. The first one I quoted above says this: "I dislike fiction. It's generally rather contrived, and far less interesting than real life. This might well explain my position regarding theology." So his limited imagination sees literature only as just making up a bunch of stuff. But psychology tells us that creativity is crucial to psychological well being. Scientists tell us that creativity and imagination are crucial to scientific work. Joseph J. Kockelmans in his book Philosophy of Science
(Transactions Books 1999 ISBN: 978-0-7658-0602-4) Tells us that Scientists themselves ignore the importance of meaning and belief because they think they have to fit the image of passionless drones, they become wrapped up in the acquisition of data forget the importance of creativity in research. "I make no apology for insisting openly, even at the risk of irrelevance, on the necessity of proclaiming openly the imaginative element in science. When Scientists are ask about their own use of creativity and/or the arts, they usually affirm the value of it for doing science:
web edition, May 13,2009
RENO, Nev. — In a ceremony that’s referred to as “the passing of the torch,” hundreds of high school science students took part in a Q and A with a panel of Nobel laureates and distinguished scientists May 12. A more fitting title might be “the passing of the Bunsen burner or mass spectrometer.”
Student Terrence George, also an ISEF finalist, asked about the role of imagination in science, which prompted some quibbling among the panel. Jocelyn Bell Burnell, whose work led to the discovery of pulsars, said imagination is as important as the strictness of the scientific method. “We need the rigorous testing, but we also need creativity, wild ideas that are off the wall, because that’s where hypotheses come from in the first place.” Wüthrich then added a cautionary note: “Imagination can have its dangers,” he said. Scientists can get too attached to an idea they’ve imagined. “I would replace [imagination] with curiosity.”
Student and finalist Taylor Trew asked the panel members whether any had artistic talent and if that talent had helped in their scientific endeavors. Martin Chalfie, who shared the 2008 Nobel in chemistry for work on green fluorescent protein, said his father, a professional guitarist, gave him a classical guitar at age 12. “I still enjoy it immensely,” Chalfie said. “It is a great way to relax … and to balance everything.” Osheroff, citing his love of poetry, noted the importance of backing away from science and refreshing with the arts. He then recited from memory the cowboy poem “Reincarnation” by Wallace McRae.
The value of literature is more important than just a means inspiring scientific work. It's valuable in its own right. The things my Dawkie opponent says above are mere ignorance. One of the most valuable aspects of literature is that of the catharsis. Catharsis is a psychological mechanism which all narrative forms contain and which Freud discussed. It's the idea that you psychologically identify with the characters and with the story, you psychologically enter the story and vent your pent up rage and trauma and hurt by identification with the character. When you leave the story you are better, it has a healing quality.
Melvin W. Askew, Ph.D.
"Catharsis and Modern Tragedy"
48C:81-88 (1961). 171
The analogy between catharsis as it occurs in tragic drama and as it occurs in the psychotherapeutic situation proved to be a fruitful one; it at least demonstrated, if it did not add, another dimension to the psychological concept of catharsis. Since the analogy is such a close one, and since it proved valuable psychologically, it might be profitable to reverse the perspective in order to see, first, if the analogy cannot illuminate some of the sources of tragic effectiveness and provide some basis for a distinction between aesthetic and psychotherapeutic catharsis; second, if the somewhat deplorable critical confusion about modern tragedy—at least the confusion arising when classical tenets are applied to it—may not be clarified.The analogy is simply as follows: catharsis in classical drama occurs when the discordant actions, impulses, and thoughts of the tragic hero are composed upon the background of an orderly moral, ethical, social, and/or religious system
Pyschodyamic Psychology:Classical Theory and Contemporary Research
Cengage learning 2004
Abreratcion is recall and re-experiencing of painful memories. Catharsis is the discharge of pent up emotions that result form abreaction. "People seek emotional experiences in books and film, and the Catharsis construct seems to explain the (counterintuative) everyday experience of seeking out entertainment stimuli that illicit anger, fear and sadness." Patients report Catharsis to be of great benefit. Jarvis writes about two studies, Mahon and Kemper in 1995,Clearly show that the patents attribute benefit to Catharsis. Smyth and Green (2000) show writing about problems helps. These studies both find positive results form narrative oriented catharsis in lue of other forms of therapy. Alternative explanations Jarvis delves into seem counter to the cathartic theory but might also involve narrative forms of release. The major such theory is "self regulation." Under a period of intense affect one might gain insight through the release of feelings. The difference here is not rather and than damming up feelings that need release one is bringing a period of insight while experiencing these feelings (which are not damned up but come on at the moment due to emotional stimuli). Yet the experience of the narrative form which puts the reading into the action is the stimulus for this critical period of insight.
Another major aspect of psychological healing and inspiration that is found in literature, and especially in poetry, the use of archetypes in symbols. Archetypes are psychological symbols which are universal to all human cultures. They are ways of dealing with ideas and problems below the surface. Symbols suggest insights that conscious minds can't grasp but our unconscious minds can deal with them through the hidden code of the archetype.
Jung's Theory of Archetypes
Clayton E Tucker-Ladd
Metal Health Net 2000
"Understanding parts of our
As you read more about personality theories, you will find other notions that give you insight into your self. For instance, Jung had a creative mind and besides describing the personality types above, suggested there are several parts of our personality beyond the id, ego, and superego. He believed that humans are innately prone to act certain ways and have certain beliefs, e.g. young children and animals are seen as "cute," almost every culture has created the notion of God and an after life, all societies have heroes and heroines, spiritual-mystical powers are thought to influence the weather, crops, health, etc., and the same children's stories are heard in all parts of the world (see Joseph Campbell's The Power of Myth). These universal beliefs or themes were called archetypes by Jung. Instincts and archetypes make up our "collective unconscious," which is this tendency for all of us to view the world in common (not necessarily accurate) ways.
In Jungian theory, there is a part of our personality called the persona which includes the masks we wear when relating to others--it isn't our real self. In contrast to the publicly acceptable masks (Jung looked for opposites), there is the shadow which, much like the Enneagram, is our dark and evil side--our sexual, greedy, aggressive, and power-hungry needs which are difficult to control. If a normally well controlled person suddenly had an angry outburst, the Jungian might assume it is the work of the devilish shadow. Yet, the shadow is always there; it compliments the conscious ego; a wise person will understand, accept, and consider (but not give in to) the shadow's needs.
Maslow Makes use of Jung's concept
Religions, Values, and Peak-Experiences, Abraham H. Maslow
Appendix I. "An Example of B-Analysis."
Maslow points out that the same universal symbols emerge in all people across culture. He confirms this connection emerges with with the use of all pyschoanalytical techniques.
"Now that may be taken as a frank admission of a naturalistic psychological origin, except that it invovles a universal symbology which is not explicable through merely naturalistic means. How is it that all humans come to hold these same archetypical symbols? (For more on archetypes see Jesus Chrsit and Mythology page II) The "prematives" viewed and understood a sense of transformation which gave them an integration into the universe. This is crucial for human development. They sensed a power in the numenous, that is the origin of religion."
"In Appendix I and elsewhere in this essay, I have spoken of unitive perception, i.e., fusion of the B-realm with the D-realm, fusion of the eternal with the temporal, the sacred with the profane, etc. Someone has called this "the measureless gap between the poetic perception of reality and prosaic, unreal commonsense." Anyone who cannot perceive the sacred, the eternal, the symbolic, is simply blind to an aspect of reality, as I think I have amply demonstrated elsewhere (54), and in Appendix I."
Studies backs Jungs theory as valid
A brief look at whether the Collective Unconscious is a figment of Jung’s imagination, and whether it has any successful role to play in modern Psychotherapy.
Copyright© Philip Penny
This is all very well of course, but it simply serves to prove further that there is little to justify the notion that the theory of the Collective Unconscious is an invalid one. There is much to support the notion that there are Archetypes, or inherited characteristics of human nature, and true to say that models of human psychological process based on this assumption may prove invaluable in a therapy situation. The question of whether this theory is an aspect of Jung's imagination is a philosophical one and as stated previously it is beyond the scope of this literature to explore this adequately. The conclusion of the question therefore is left up to the reader as to conclude further may well simply result in stating a figment of my own imagination.
These aspects of literature will not be grasped by students in school. That's a shame because that's when they need to know about it. It takes time to develop a taste for great literature but over a life time one can come to feel this sense of healing sometimes very strongly in stories, novels, poems and film.It's very strong in film. One of the measures I use to gage the greatness of a film is how healed I feel after watching it. Do I feel like Ive really been through something enriching? It's a sens of wholeness like I'm back to normal. Students who are under the gun to turn in papers showing that they read the Old Man and the Sea or something are not going to get this. I takes time and experience of life, must have something to compare it to. As a young student you haven't lived enough. But there are plenty of student are sensitive enough to feel this, but they usually don't know hat they feel.I was that way.I didn't really put all of this together until just a few years ago, but I did feel healed as a kid reading The Iliad in biology class the as the teacher talked about spores, or reading Light in August in Math class as the teacher discussed algebra 2.
The healing aspect of film is quite strong in Bergman films. I've reviewed several of Bergman's films for this blog and I've discussed his theological times and how they crop up in his films. Bermgan's films are not theological statements but they are of theological importance. This is because they raise great questions and they document the searching of an unbeliever, and atheist (although in that intellectual atheist mode I spoke of above). These films demonstrate the human longing for union with the reality behind the archetype, and the frustration of not understanding what that is or being sure its' really there. Archetypes are at their in poetry where the play of symbols is most important. Yet film being visual can meld imagery right into its fabric. Consider the image from Bergman's winter light which I used in that review:
Björnstrand and Thulin in
The doubting minister who can't face his own calling (or lack thereof) is cradled in the arms of the mothering, smothering woman who wants to baby him and who wants to own him, their backs are to the light, they are hidden form natural (divine?) light and their backs are also to the crucifix with its rustic Norse interpretation of pain of the suffering savior. That cinematic image says more than a thousand essays could say, one does not need words. Of course the Dawkamentalists would say It's worthless, just contrived and made up. It's not scientific. Yet the whole point of archetypes is that these are telling us true we can't grasp or face consciously. This is something you can't get at through science. The thing that image tell us is not something science could tell us. We cant' do studies and say "39% of all believers feel this way (reference the image). Because we can't even put into words what it tell us. But the studies we can do tell us that the healing effects of such controlled moments of emotive release and the symbols that communicate to our pysche are profound and important for our lives. In addition to that, we can use it for science, because it was scientific studies that told us this. So some psycholgist saw some archetypal image or had a catharsis at the movies and thought of some research to do on those things.
We find this same healing aspects in the narrative of the Bible. The purpose of scripture is to bestow grace upon the reader. This, and not epistemology and not philsophy or science or history is the purpose of the Bible. So finds William Abraham of the Perkins School of Theology (my old prof and erstwhile coffee drinking partner) in his ground breaking work Canon and Criterion: From the Fathers to Feminism.(I can't over stress the importance of reading this book. I would put it on my top 10 must read books for theology). One of the most important ways grace is bestowed is through the catharsis. Another is through the use of Archetypes in the symbolism of the Bible. The cross is itself an archetype, as is the empty tomb. This is why religious people can tear up the use of religious symbols and why atheists can at times think they are stupid ad idiotic for doing so. The atheist has shut himself off from the psychological healing of symbols and catharsis. Those who don't get literature and hate it because they think its' useless are just cutting themselves off from real mental health.
All theological discourse contains these elements, symbolism and archetype. But there's more to it than that. Theology is not just a means of feeling good, it's not fiction. The value of literature doesn't end with psychological management. But there's a global relationship between all disciplines of learning. It all comes together in an education. This is why a theological education will never be a waste even one ceases to believe. Atheists who don't like poetry or literature or great art films cut themselves off from a source of healing, and source of inspiration, they also cut themselves off from the global understanding of knowledge by rejecting theology and refusing to learn anything about it. Theology may not make direct use of all aspects of the arts, but that hardly matters. The point is not that theology is art its that theology is part of the greatness of human culture and civilization at its form on planet earth. In my next installment I'll deal more directly with theology itself.
Those reductionists who reject as invalid and "useless" anything that doesn't produce pragmatic results in monetary terms, in hard data that can be used to produce monetary terms,or medicine, are closing themselves off from emotional healing by rejecting liberal arts and theology. Let us a say a boy is left by his father in his early life and he hates his father. As a a result he hates fatherhood. Let's say hypothetically that this is a reason he rejects God, too much talk of "the father." he can't see that consciously because it would be treading upon closed wounds to open that up and understand it. The symbolic and cathartic aspects of literature might help with healing and enable him to face that. Now let us assume knows everything about fathers. He becomes a social scientist and he dedicates his life to proving that children don't need to be raised by fathers. Say he learns every fact that can gleaned scientifically about the value of fatherhood. But he still can't face his wounds and he wont understand that this is the reason he can't accept God. Obviously we know what would become of him. He was spend his life posting on carm and saying snide things about me. The point is the unscientific "useless" "contrived" "made up stuff" might be the only thing that would allow him to deal with his pain and understanding all the scientific facts in the world do nothing to heal him.
I see modern "new" atheism as a symptom of the larger problem of one-dimensional man. We have as a culture destroyed our own civilization. We have given up all the intangible not obvious things that lie hidden beneath the surface. That's why the Dawkies are like very simple people who look the window and go "there's no God out there so there must not be one." We have given up everything that doesn't give us immediate gratification and short term profit and quantifiable results, and what have we in return, a failing economy a dying planet and soulless jerks manipulating us into buying their crap. Learning is global, in the sense that you can't limit it to just those aspects with quick return on investment. The business model usually doesn't work well for anything except business. Those who reduce knowledge to just the quantifiable merely limit out abilities to search for further knowledge. There is a depth in terms of human experience and vitality in understanding the self and the world in terms of the liberal arts. That can only be managed with a global understanding of learning where we can draw upon everything from Shakespeare to Sokal, to Derrida to Julius Schwartz. We need it all and those who close it off are killing the thing they try to enhance. The atheist of my day were under the sawy of the 60s. The 60s meant we learn about everything. As Joni Mitchell told us "life is for learning (the song "Woodstock")." That was the attitude. Back then the social cement was "the movement." Everyone under 30 knew something was happening and everyone was part of it and we just knew something great was going to come of it all. Now the only social cement these kids have is hating God and hate religion and being temperamental and going on message board to exhibit that snide bitch tone about "your invisible sky pixie." They are cut off from learning. Learning, they have told, is boring. They don't want that. So they lump every kind of learning that doesn't make money for their employers into the useless pile. But don't worry about their feelings they have philosopher Wayne Proudfoot to tell them they have no feelings. They are cut off from real learning, they are also cut off from God and from their own feelings.It's all in there, it's global. Life is an open ended journey, it's for learning.