Monday, June 20, 2011

Culture or not culture-- which is it?

A pastor I knew back in the 90s was a big fan of Frank Sinatra. My friend loved Sinatra's voice, his musical offerings, and even the sense of "swagger" that was evident in the man. When asked about his thoughts on Sinatra's lifestyle (a serial divorcee with alcoholic tendencies and alleged ties to the mafia), my friend would shoo the question away, saying, "that stuff doesn't matter-- he's a great musician!"

Yet, the same friend was outraged about the antics of a certain former U.S. president, whose philandering ways had recently come to greater public attention. Because of the new knowledge of this president's personal life and conduct, my friend asserted that he should be ousted from office-- regardless of the professional and political success and effectiveness that was also displayed.

Jump forward a few years: while I was in seminary, I was the teaching assistant for a professor whose area of research (that eventually became a book) focused on the Myers-Briggs Temperament Indicator and how personality/temperament plays into calling, communication, etc. During that time, I visited a family from church in their home once, and over dinner the topic of my professor's research and book came up. One of my dinner companions (the husband/father in the family) dismissed it, saying (in sum) that such pop-psychology nonsense had no useful place in the church.

Meanwhile, we were enjoying some good music during and after supper; I remarked that it had been years since I had heard this particular album, by the long-successful band Kansas. What followed was an interesting conversation about good music, and why my hosts never listened to the stuff that was often passed off as Christian music-- they preferred, by far, to enjoy the talents of bands like Kansas.

Music isn't the same thing as psychology, nor are musicians the same sort of public figures as politicians. I'm not trying to draw a direct connection between the categories, but simply wondering this: if the personal life of a public figure like Sinatra is irrelevant to the quality of his professional achievements, why is a politician different? If the contributions to culture of a band like Kansas are acceptable-- and even preferred-- for (at least some) Christians, why not the cultural contributions of thinkers like Myers and Briggs?

Here's the underlying nature of my concern: those who would hold up "secular" artists as preferable in the quality of their art often appeal to concepts like the image-bearing of all of humankind, the creative nature inherent to that image-bearing, and the idea that "all truth is God's truth, wherever it may be found." Do those concepts only apply to artists, or do they apply in other realms of culture-making (such as the cultivation and maintenance of culture)?

If the second, then my friends given in the above examples are inconsistent. That's okay; we're all inconsistent in at least some ways. But the result is a luke-warm, halfway approach to culture that, I think, is damaging to their overall aim of seeing God glorified in creation.

Not that I would prefer necessarily that they become culture warriors! Rather, I would hope that they would see in presidents (past and current), psychologists, and others the same sort of "glorious ruin" that they are able to appreciate in the musicians they love.

No comments:

Post a Comment