"It seems to me that to organize on the basis of feeding people or righting social injustice and all that is very valuable. But to rally people around the idea of modernism, modernity, or something is simply silly. I mean, I don't know what kind of a cause that is, to be up to date. I think it ultimately leads to fashion and snobbery and I'm against it."
Jack Levine: January 3, 1915 – November 8, 2010
In the various bits of atheist propaganda I've run across, I recall one long piece claiming Franz Schubert for them, the evidence being one anti-religious brother and the relative paucity of choral music on a religious theme. As I recall their argument hinged on the various omissions from the Creeds of some of his masses. That they had to acknowledge that Schubert wrote a number of masses, quite fine works which are still performed, seems to be to present a rather steep hurdle for the argument for Schubert as an atheist, though I've never researched more into the issue than that. So much of Schubert's music is text based that it's possible to make all kinds of arguments as to what those show about the "real Schubert," whose supernatural genius for composing is a real life miracle that is there for anyone to hear. If the final three piano sonatas aren't a testament of inspired truth then they have no meaning that I can see. At random, here are some of the creeds from various masses
I also remember reading an analysis of Beethoven's great Missa Solemnis which claimed that he obscured part of the text because he disagreed with that particular part of the creed. Without an explanation by Beethoven, in his own words, that would seem to be an unwarranted assertion. Unlike an omission from the text, it could merely be him assuming that everyone who was listening would know the text and not need to hear it declaimed as if they'd never heard it before. Though I think the supposed obscurity might be the product of the conducting and not of Beethoven's intentions. There are certainly performances that concentrate on singing the words and those that ignore there are words.
But, that said, the text of The Creed has always been problematic because I doubt that much of anyone really understands all of the thorny theological and philosophical issues packed into the text. Afterall, they were often written to be a declaration to not believe in other ideas, some of which I don't really see much of a point in worrying about. I believe Jesus because of what he said not because of what people claimed about him. I believe that what is done to the least among us is done to God, I have no idea if the various ideas about the incarnation or The Trinity are true or which if any of the various expositions of those are true. Never considered setting the mass text to music, The Creed would have been the section that would have given me the most trouble. I'd probably just have left it out.
Here's an interesting passage from a recent Krista Tippett rebroadcast of an interview with the late Jaroslav Pelikan about his book, Credo, about many different Creeds.
Ms. Tippett: This is giving me a lovely and exalted way to think about a remark you make in your book, that one thing that someone who studies all these creeds, as you've done, is struck by is the sheer repetitiveness of them. Right? Dr. Pelikan: You should try to proofread them all in the course of a few weeks, as we did, and then you discover just how — you wonder, didn't I read this one yesterday? Ms. Tippett: No, and it — but it's so interesting, because I think that where someone goes when they hear that there are these thousands of creeds is that everybody's doing it differently all the time, and that's not really what you find. But I did want to dwell briefly on one that I sense is near and dear to your heart, which is this Maasai Creed… Dr. Pelikan: Oh, yes. Ms. Tippett: …the Maasai people of Africa, which was written around 1960, the Congregation of the Holy Ghost in east Nigeria. I don't know. Would you like to read some of your favorite… Dr. Pelikan: Like most creeds, it is designed on a threefold pattern of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and comes out of the experience of Christians in Africa who were animists, fetishists who worshiped things in nature and the mystery of life and who then, upon receiving the Christian faith, began reciting the creeds as they had been taught, in this case by Roman Catholic missionaries, in other cases by Evangelical or Orthodox missionaries. But after a couple of generations of that, a Christian community gradually comes of age, achieves a level of maturation where you want to do it for yourself, do it your way, speaking in your context, using the images of your culture. And the question is can you do that without sacrificing the integrity of what you have received? It's easy just to repeat, but then it's not your own. It's easy to say what is your own as though nobody had ever said it before, but then the question is whether it's authentically Christian. And I think this one manages to do both of those in a remarkable way. Dr. Pelikan: "We believe in one high God, who out of love created the beautiful world. We believe that God made good His promise by sending His Son, Jesus Christ, a man in the flesh, a Jew by tribe, born poor in a little village, who left His home and was always on safari doing good, curing people by the power of God, teaching about God and man, and showing that the meaning of religion is love. He was rejected by His people, tortured and nailed, hands and feet to a cross, and died. He lay buried in the grave, but the hyenas did not touch Him, and on the third day He rose from the grave." Dr. Pelikan: Now for one thing, the Nicene Creed as well as the Apostles' Creed go directly from born of the Virgin Mary to suffered under Pontius Pilate. And the whole story in the Gospels… Ms. Tippett: The life of Christ. Dr. Pelikan: …yeah, is just leapt over. Ms. Tippett: And that's what a lot of modern people have criticized in the creeds. Dr. Pelikan: You go from Alpha to Omega. And here, see, He was born, as the creed said, He left His home — the creeds don't say that — and He was always on safari in Africa. When I read that the first time, a student of mine who'd been a member of a religious order, she was a sister, and she had been in a hospital in east Nigeria, and that's the creed they recited at their liturgy. And so she brought it to me, and I just got shivers, just the thought, you know, the hyenas did not touch Him and the act of defiance — God lives even in spite of the hyenas. But it's a good example of this model that I quoted earlier, that it is not enough to Christianize Africa. We have to Africanize Christianity. No, the dangers in there are enormous. Ms. Tippett: Mm-hmm. Dr. Pelikan: In the 1930s, under the Nazis, a movement that wanted to purify Germany of foreign — that is to say Jewish — influences and to affirm Aryanism — that is to say, we do not want to Christianize Germany, we want to Germanize Christianity — taking the same model, and they ended up… Ms. Tippett: …completely destroying… Dr. Pelikan: …denying that Jesus was Jewish, refusing to ordain as priest or minister anyone who had one-fourth Jewish blood. And so intuitively, one knows that this Maasai creed has the ring of authenticity and that that Nazi creed does not. Ms. Tippett: Yes. Dr. Pelikan: But specifying that, explaining what is the real difference between this kind of — as they use the technical word — acculturation and that kind, is not easy. And by the time you're done, you've got to be talking about the nature of creeds. Ms. Tippett: OK. Oh, it's very exciting though. It's very exciting. So you are one of the great, religious historians, uh, I believe theological minds of our time and I can't not ask you about your conversion. In 1998 you converted from Lutheran tradition in which you had grown up to Eastern Orthodoxy. And I just wondered, I'm sure we could talk about that for hours. Dr. Pelikan: I could but I won't. Ms. Tippett: You could but you won't. But I wonder, just given what we've been talking about, about the Creeds, how does your reverence for and your knowledge of this kind of Christian expression, you know, how is that part of your reasons for this conversion? Dr. Pelikan: The centrality of tradition as a force, as the bearer of the message, as what the Church believes even if I don’t believe anything at a particular moment and it — the capacity of tradition to sustain itself and to sustain the church is something with which I have been impressed, partly through my own studies and partly by my faith. And then realization that the, of course, there was tradition before there was a bible.
And from my recent down time,
Fun With Pop-Atheism
"Bronze age goat herders"
Ha! I happened to hear part of the second Psalm the other day and went back to read the whole thing and came across this:
You shall break them with a rod of iron. Psalm 2:9
The first thing I thought was that old saw about "Bronze Age goat herders" and it made me curious to see where else those guys talked about iron in the earliest books of The Bible and found it all over the place.
Zillah also had a son, Tubal-Cain, who forged all kinds of tools out of bronze and iron. Tubal-Cain's sister was Naamah. Genesis 4:22 And I will break the pride of your power; and I will make your heaven as iron, and your earth as brass: Leviticus 26:19 For only Og king of Bashan remained of the remnant of giants; behold his bedstead was a bedstead of iron; is it not in Rabbath of the children of Ammon? nine cubits was the length thereof, and four cubits the breadth of it, after the cubit of a man. Deuteronomy 3:11 But the LORD hath taken you, and brought you forth out of the iron furnace, even out of Egypt, to be unto him a people of inheritance, as ye are this day. 4:20 A land wherein thou shalt eat bread without scarceness, thou shalt not lack any thing in it; a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills thou mayest dig brass. 8:7 And there shalt thou build an altar unto the LORD thy God, an altar of stones: thou shalt not lift up any iron tool upon them. 27:5 And thy heaven that is over thy head shall be brass, and the earth that is under thee shall be iron. 28:23 Thy shoes shall be iron and brass; and as thy days, so shall thy strength be. 33:25
Bronze Age goat herders have nothing to answer for their ignorance of stuff that came far after they lived but conceited, post-literate, Plutonium Age professors and assistant professors who can't even bother to read the book that they're dismissing in such ignorance and arrogance have no excuse at all. And, note how often they do it while pushing their ACADEMIC standing to do so.
but I'm not done being cranky about it. I'm beginning to think someone's trying to tell me I'm too old to do things I did when I was in my fifties. And it wasn't even something fun enough or scandalous enough to make talking about it worth while. You know you've gotten old when your follies aren't even interesting. Not even to you.