This past week saw the unveiling—and unveiling is the word we are looking for—of a sculpture on the grounds of the Boston Common. The work is called “The Embrace” and it is purportedly taken from a photo of a hug between Martin Luther King, Jr and Coretta Scott King after MLK had won the Nobel Prize. So sweet. But after the unveiling, there were, um, questions.
For quite a few observers, those not trapped in the “art-is-whatever-the-artist-says” paradigm, the sculpture was a hot mess, resembling nothing so much as a gigantic act of bronzed cunnilingus.
But in an art world without standards, operating in a world without standards, why couldn’t it be that? Why shouldn’t it be that? Who are you to criticize, philistine?
Some might call it regrettable that I would post something like this on MLK day. I call it regrettable that people willfully overlook the fact that when it comes to the question of who commissioned and paid for this freak show, it should be remembered by all that it was not I.
Liberals like to talk about root causes of stuff. So let’s get down to root causes.
A False Transcendent
When man tries to live in a world without God, because man is made in the image of God, he nevertheless still yearns for a transcendent reality. He denies that divine reality hotly, but that doesn’t keep him from still needing it. But because his secular atheism excludes any form of transcendent reality, he must settle for a false transcendent, some sort of epistemic stopgap. God has placed eternity in our hearts (Ecc. 3:11), and try as we might, we cannot shake loose of it. We are all portraits, painted by God, and He has clearly signed every one of these portraits at the bottom. And as we in our rebellion self-vandalize, it turns out that we can deface pretty much everything about the painting . . . everything except for that damned signature.
But because we have attempted to banish God from our thoughts and all our considerations, we find ourselves inhabiting a low-ceiling cosmos where nothing is higher than some obnoxious eight-foot acoustic tile above our heads, some off-white acoustic tile that stretches down the hallway ahead of us, forever and ever.
We are locked in this flat and horizontal world, tunneling our way through never-ending meaninglessness, like so many mole rats. The unfortunate part is that we are mole rats that have evolved to the point where we can ask ourselves questions like “is this it?” And the answer that comes back from all our revered authorities at Mole Rat University is, “Yeah. This is it.” And with that dismal news, people start casting about for something to kid themselves with. A handful of them start flailing. I hear meth works for a while.
Malcolm Muggeridge once said that we—faced with such a grim cosmic emptiness—will either settle for the raised fist of revolution or the raised phallus of debauchery. There is, I suppose, no reason to suppose that these two idolatrous options might not be combined somehow. Violence, or sex, or both. And so it is that we live in a generation when young people try to find meaning for their stupid little lives by smashing in the shop windows of an Abercrombie & Fitch somewhere, or by putting on a tutu and some grease paint in order to read to little kids at the library. These are little kids who still need to be introduced to the wormhole mysteries of meaninglessness, and the sooner they are disabused of their fresh-faced innocence the better.
This is why we had the BLM riots. This is why we have so many drag queens. It is not because we failed to deliver a high standard of living. It is not because capitalism failed us. It is not a GDP failure. It is not because of our awful mortality rates. No. It is because we are without God and without hope in the world (Eph. 2:12), and further because we refused to honor God as God and refused to give Him thanks (Rom. 1:21).
This is because we are a nation of surly ingrates, and also because there are a host of regime theologians, evangelicals included, who solemnly inform us that any such expression of gratitude would be the fast track to the horrors of theocracy. Repentant ingrates might turn into ayatollahs. Can’t be too careful these days.
Shocking the Philistines
Once a society is lost in an endlessly dense pea soup fog, marching aimlessly, it becomes awfully difficult for the artists to stay out front as the avant-garde. What on earth do we mean by “front” anyhow? Where were we going anyway? We are not quite sure, but we still appear to be making good time.
Back in the early days of modern art, this particular aesthetic tapeworm was living the life of Riley. The host body provided plenty of sustenance. The society was still oriented enough that a particular art scandal could be disorienting. But this is a trick that can only work for a while, and after a while, everybody gets jaded.
Back in the early days, the goal of a really successful artist was to shock the boobs, and because of widespread Christian standards there were plenty of traditionalist boobs who shocked easily. This provided the avant-garde artists with plenty of material to work with, from Duchamp on down. I am talking about all those artists who were filled with modernist conceit, avarice, lust, and helium. But now that we live in a world filled with boobs without standards, many of whom have seen their share of porn, they don’t shock very well. And it also turns out that a number of these boobs themselves got the idea of going to art school, and are now the ones trying to do the shocking.
The old-time hacks used to have their heads stuffed with aesthetic clichés, like so much sawdust, while the new hacks have only one prime cliché, which is that there must be no clichés. The result is an aesthetic world bad enough to make your back teeth ache, and no outlets of expression for those who see what is going on, and would love to tell somebody about how painful it is.
The end result is that Boston puts up what the French might call a monstrositée, and everybody is too tired or boxed out to be gobsmacked, or outraged, or shocked, or bewildered. Everybody just thinks oh, the artists are at it again, makes a few comments online, and then we try to get back to our regular lives. But this kind of thing is a bigger deal than that. We ought to pay more attention.
Modern art is not the suicide of the West . . . but it is the suicide note. We ought to read it. We ought to pay more attention.
A story is told of a Christian apologist who was visiting a university, and they took him by their new art gallery. Of course, the nihilism of the art department is not limited to the art department—it also permeates the architecture department. And so it was that this new building had staircases that didn’t go up to anything, columns that didn’t reach the roof they were supposed to be supporting, and so on. You know, edgy stuff.
But the apologist said, “I’ll bet they didn’t do the foundation like that.” I like to imagine him saying it sardonically. Because of course—because the building has to remain standing—it must somehow work. It doesn’t matter that the architects share the same nihilism as the painters . . . they are still susceptible to lawsuits if their buildings collapse and kill some people. The artists can just carve or paint or mold some dreadfulness, and then make fun of the booboisie who don’t “get it.” In other words, they have some protection for their nihilism that aeronautical engineers do not have. They operate in relative safety because regular people don’t take them seriously. It is not hazardous in itself, we say. It is not the gun, or the bottle of pills. It is just the suicide note. Pen and paper never killed anyone.
So rootless artists do their thing, year after year, and everything else goes on normally. This creates the optical illusion that society “still works,” and that ordinary life is “still functional.” But this is not accurate. Cancers spread more rapidly in soft tissue than hard, but it is still possible for cancer to get into the bone. We are living in the moment when this particular cancer of subjectivism, with us for more than a century, has now gotten into the bone.
What do I mean by soft tissue? Abandonment of objective standards is a process that can more readily begin in the soft tissue of the humanities—but unchecked it will eventually get to those areas that we were pleased, in our vanity, to call the hard sciences. We are already seeing this happen in our time, it is happening all around us.
The demented lunacy of transgenderism is no longer limited to gay theater majors with daddy issues—it is now a dogma supported by the American Medical Association. You know, the medical science people. If there is no truth, then how on earth can there be such a thing as a girl?
So here is the point. You cannot deny the existence and authority of objective truth, and still keep truth. Your denial will eventually work its way into everything. And I do mean everything.
If you have seen a few videos of athletes keeling over, in numbers you don’t remember ever seeing before, and you google something like “how many athletes have died in the last several years?” you will receive a bunch of helpful links debunking this “misinformation.” You will receive these links from the boys at Big Tech—that gaggle of censor-happy miscreants.
In a world with no truth, something must take its place, and what takes its place is “the narrative.” The current narrative is whatever the leftists grasping for power want you to believe. And that is what they will tell you over and over, regardless of facts, because in their worldview a repeated lie can establish a narrative just as readily as anything else. In fact, for their purposes, even better.
Why are they not humiliated? Why are they not embarrassed down into the ground? They are not embarrassed when the truth comes in a demolishes their position because there is no such thing as truth. They can stick to their guns, and they do, because according to their definitions, our side doesn’t have any guns. We have the truth, which doesn’t exist, and we don’t have the narrative, which they control.
As the ongoing releases from the Twitter files are demonstrating, the critics were right all along. I am referring to the critics of the censorship, the lockdowns, the masks, the vaccines, alternative treatments, the whole shooting match. (They were right about other stuff also, but let us not get distracted by Hunter’s laptop. The gaslighting is happening in multiple arenas.) These critics were shamelessly censored, and hounded out of the discussion. An orthodoxy formed on the virus within weeks, and that smelly little orthodoxy—to use Orwell’s phrase—was enforced with a club. This naked power move was BRAZEN. And now that the Twitter files are proving all of this to have been true, what is their move? It is exactly the same, to BRAZEN it out. How can the release of Twitter emails prove their lies to have been lies, when there are no lies? Who needs to care about truth when you still have your narrative?
This is the suicide of thought. It is the suicide of the life of the mind. But regular people should not be astonished by any of this—they have spent a lot of time on that suicide note, more than a century. But it has been easy to ignore, because it is not so much as note as like a Unabomber manifesto—filled with demands, typos, screams, lower case letters at the start of sentences, moans, trouble with subject/verb agreement, lust, and lots of inarticulate keening. Somebody should have looked at the first signs of this febrile mental state, prior to Picasso, and insisted that our intellectual elite go get some counseling.
Less of a Conclusion, and More of a Dead End
The wrath of God is what happens when God lets go of us, and allows us to run headlong. This is what Paul tells us in the first chapter of Romans. The wrath of God is visited upon all of our unrighteousness and ungodliness (Rom. 1:18). And how does God visit this wrath? He does it by giving us up to our own demented desires. “Therefore God gave them over . . .” Rom. 1:24). “For this reason God gave them over . . .” (Rom. 1:26). What is the result of this? Pride parades. Or, to put it more biblically, our “goeth-before-destruction parades.” What is the ensign of our rebellion? Rainbow-colored death and sin rags.
We began writing this suicide note many decades ago. And that note, that manifesto, contained a host of exorbitant demands, and God, in His wrath, has started to grant our impudent and imperious demands. And so it has come about that—without repentance—we are undone. One ancient pagan poet wisely referred to foolish petitions “which Heaven in anger grants.”
“And he gave them their request; But sent leanness into their soul.”
Psalm 106:15 (KJV)
“So I gave them up unto their own hearts’ lust: And they walked in their own counsels.”
Psalm 81:12 (KJV)