No one in the entirety of Europe from the years 1200-1750 had any idea what temptation, or torsos, were.
I just came across this hilarious piece of religious-art history. You NEED to look at the whole thing, but here are a few highlights…
Just to get this out of the way, I am aware that the general vibe of most paintings of the Temptation of St. Anthony is like, DECADENT HORROR to denote the ultimate BAD END of temptations; all the horned pig-ferrets are more like a representation of “the wages of sin is DEATH” than like, an actual medieval desire to hang out with pig-ferrets. THAT SAID, literally everyone who has ever painted the Temptation of St. Anthony has actually no idea what temptation looks like.
Let us begin….
“Kiss me, Fuzzy Lobster Devil.” This is the worst temptation of them ALL. It’s just evil Care Bears and a furry crawdad? No one is tempted by this, not even the most committed of perverts.
This looks more like the island Pinocchio’s friends all get turned into donkeys on? Mr. Shellface playing the recorder, some weird Italian guy trying to read over his shoulder? WHAT ABOUT THIS SAYS TEMPTATION TO YOU? Everyone looks pinched and crowded and uncomfortable. The expression on St. Anthony’s face is “leave me alone with my books, you crab-falcon-beasts,” not “hmm, this might be worth abandoning eternal salvation for.”
YOU’RE JUST POKING HIM NOW
This one comes close on first glance but is UTTERLY HOPELESS. There are two naked babes, yes, but they’re hiding behind him and they’re joined for some reason by a tiny helmeted scuba diver. There’s half a donkey by his feet and someone else is running away with like…a book that has feet? Someone he’s trapped in a too-small coffin? And St. Anthony isn’t looking at any of them. You cannot tempt someone who straight up ignoring you!
You can read the rest of the hilarious commentary with some fascinating paintings here.
Karen Swallow Prior, professor of English at Liberty University and Research Fellow with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, begins each semester by exhorting her students to see the connections between the life of the intellect and the life of faith. She makes a sharp case for why Christians must be readers and writers.
Even in a world supposedly driven by pictures and sounds, books continue to be one of the most important ways we shape culture. Here are three highlights from this article:
1) Christianity is a religion of the written word. Christianity gives a primary place to the word over the image: God’s highest form of communication with us is through the written word (from the Ten Commandments to Holy Scripture to Jesus as the Word); God cautions us about the power of visual images or “graven images” (see Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death), and the Protestant Reformation reinforced the primacy of words over images); Christianity is responsible for preserving and disseminating the written word and literacy throughout the world as the invention of the printing press was motivated by the desire of Christians to get the Bible into the hands of the people. The word both spoken and written is central to our faith in countless ways.
2) When we take delight in literary creations, we imitate God. God took delight in his creation in looking upon it and declaring that “it was good.” It is good to take pleasure and enjoyment in our good creations, including literary ones.
3) Literary Christians are better equipped to engage a postmodern culture. Postmodernism is characterized by an emphasis on language and “story”; for many today the aesthetic experience has replaced the religious experience. Christians who understand this can more effectively engage the current culture.
This discussion led us to think a little bit about “cultural capital.” Which are those things that we “exchange” or “reveal” in order to get some sort of cultural good i.e. favor, prestige, status, friends, followers, gifts.
We concluded by asking some questions:
So what contributes to what counts as cultural capital within any one particular culture? How do people come to learn what is worth something and what isn’t? Is it simply because somebody told us once that some thing is valuable and some other thing is not?
Today we take up this subject – how do we come to believe that something is “cultural capital” and something is not?
The answer is that we learn what is culturally valuable in a non-cognitive manner. Let me explain….
Human persons are defined by love (a very Augustinian thought) – as desiring agents and liturgical animals whose primary mode of intending the world is love which in turn shapes the imagination.
The things we grow to love and desire are shaped and directed by material embodied practices. These practices are fundamentally religious, but not necessarily spiritual. We might call these “liturgical acts.” These acts in turn shape our vision for what the good life is all about.
Our vision for the good life (the eudaimonistic life) is shaped and directed by aesthetic principles found in stories, legends, myths, novels and films rather than principles.
What are these acts? These acts usually revolve around participating in actions which stir our affections. The are the sort of acts which usually stir our affections are acts which participate in some sort of aesthetic stimulation.
Okay…. Maybe this is getting a bit complicated – what I’m trying to say is that: we are shaped to consider certain things valuable and other things as value-less through non-cognitive means. In other words, we aren’t explicitly taught to value certain things, we are shaped to value certain things.
Think for a second how we know we ought to value some sort of fashionable outfit – for instance “hipster style clothes.” Did anybody ever say “Hey this is what is in right now, you need to wear this…” I’m pretty sure that no one has ever said that. Instead what happens is that you get bombarded by images, which are usually aesthetically pleasing, and eventually you come to believe that you want that sort of outfit.
Or consider how everybody “knows” that they should have an IPad… Apple’s advertisements for IPad’s have never straight out said “hey this is a good tablet, you should buy it.” Instead, they rely upon knowing that humans are driven by aesthetic principles in order to convince people to buy their product. Consider Apple’s latest IPad campaign. Not once does say that this is a better tablet, rather the commercial tells a story that draws us in, it shows us that the Ipad can help us to live a good and valuable life. We are drawn to that. As this sort of story is repeated over and over, this belief is reinforced – without every saying a single word.
Apple does not rely upon making cognitive claims in order to sell the product instead Apple relies upon the non-cogntive functions of the human mind to convince you that life is better with their product.
Why does all this matter to our past conversation about “cultural capital” in Christian circles? It matters for two reasons:
First it matters because as Christians we need to realize that much of what we believe is actually caught not taught. The action of “catching” most often happens (or always happens) in the context of community. It is within a community that we learn what is valuable and what is acceptable, or what it is worthless and unacceptable. Sometimes we are right about these sort of things but other times we aren’t. For instance, in Christian circles we tend to value people who speak “Christianese.” Where the heck did we learn that speaking Christianese is a worthwhile thing to do? Why don’t we speak normal English? Is it because early on somebody taught us – hey you need to speak a certain way to be a part of this community – I don’t think so. Rather, its because we have been shaped by a community that includes a certain vocabulary and to be a part of that community requires one to speak a certain way. We just “pick up” on those things.
The church is always at risk of embracing anti-Kingdom cultural patterns
Second, it matters because the church is always at risk of embracing anti-Kingdom cultural patterns. Some are obvious but most are subtle. It’s the subtle ones that are more likely to non-cognitively shape us than some of the more obvious ones. Think some of the music we listen to. For just a second think about Ke$ha’s music…
We’re gonna die young
We’re gonna die young
Let’s make the most of tonight, like we are gonna die young
(Die Young Lyrics)
Or this other Ke$ha song:
I dont wanna I go to sleep,
I wanna stay up all night,
I wanna just screw around.
I dont wanna think about,
Whats gonna be after this,
I wanna just live right now.
But Ke$ha is on to something that we Christians tend to forget, namely (as Augustine says) that 1) human persons are defined by love. And 2) that we learn what to love by means of acts which participate in some sort of aesthetic stimulation. Ke$sha taps into the power of non-cognitive affection stirring in all of her songs. She tells stories (by means of songs) that tap into our basest human desires….
Will any Christian explicitly affirm Ke$ha’s message – live today without reference to the future? Absolutely not. Its anti-Christian, Christians are called to live in light of new creation, because what happens in our embodied life now matters for our embodied life in the future.
However, we live in a culture where Christians live with exactly the sort of attitude Ke$sha sings about. Now most Christians aren’t going to live like Ke$ha (thank God), however they will live with a similar attitude. Most Christians will functionally live as though there is no after life – as though what matters the most is life in the present. Why do Christians live this way, even though Scripture teaches otherwise and sermons preach a contrary message? Its because we are shaped more by non-cognitive means than by cognitive (propositional) truths. Culture around us is full of stories, songs, movies, films, that portray a message contrary to the Christian worldview – these messages shape us in subtle but profound ways.
That brings us back to where we started. Why do we value certain things, i.e. why do we assign cultural capital, to certain things? Its because we are bombarded with stories, songs, film, t.v. shows that slowly lead us to believe that those sort of things are culturally valuable.
In other words – we are story shaped creatures – and the world is doing a better job of story-telling that the church is.
Our vision for the good life is shaped and directed by aesthetic principles found in stories, legends, myths, novels and films rather than propositions.
I don’t normally blog about this kind of stuff (decorating, weddings, etc.) – but I’m just so thankful to Corinne from House of Hartt that I couldn’t help share my appreciation for her and her team’s work at our wedding!
Amelia and I got married in January and Corinne from House of Hartt was our decorator. As you know from reading this blog – I’m really into books and I write a lot – my wife loves the vintage feel – so Corinne provided everything that we needed to pull of a vintage library/book themed reception. Let’s just say that it was amazing! She absolutely went above and beyond what we expected.
We got so many comments from our guests talking about how amazing everything looked. People especially liked the background she made (from scratch) behind our dinner table.
Corinne used high quality materials, which included some vintage furniture and props – like a tons and tons of books which matched our theme (titles) and even our wedding colors, she brought some antique type writers, even a library card catalog. The highlight was the furniture that she brought. It all looked so elegant!
We loved how it looked and our guests loved how it looked!
I recently found out that a dear (ergh..) friend of mine has moved on to a better place. For many years, me and my (ergh…) friend spent time hanging out, going on hikes together, working together, writing together, driving around town together. We even (ergh…) sang (screamed?) on stage together. It has been a long while since I last spent quality time with this friend, probably like 5 years, and it pains my heart that I will never spend time with this friend again (at least in person). I have pictures to remember my friend by, and I definetly have recordings of my friends voice – but it just will never be the same.