Abraham, Art Critic: To Search For Survivors Or Corpses?

Too often, the critic is apt to make St. Paul’s teaching in Philippians the sine qua non of his critical credo:

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

I have found, on the other hand, that the most captivating criticism drafts off the spirit of Abraham’s defense of Sodom in Genesis 18:

Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked? What if there are fifty righteous people in the city? Will you really sweep it away and not spare[e] the place for the sake of the fifty righteous people in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing—to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. Far be it from you! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?”

As we all know, Abraham goes on to successfully barter God down to a mere ten righteous men.

The best criticism asks that the book not be condemned if there are ten righteous pages, that the music not be condemned if there are ten righteous bars, that the film not be condemned if there are ten righteous minutes. The best criticism does not seek out signs of nihilism, signs of secularism, signs of moralistic therepeutic deism… what good is it finding those things? Those are the things which we must condemn. The best criticism seeks out Abraham’s righteous citizens, and begs for the salvation of the art.

I find it easy to believe that many Christian teenagers enjoy lurid pop culture because they want something to defend, something to radically reinterpret in a generous manner. Christian pop culture does not need defense, does not need apologists. There is no spirit animating the matter, but the thing is already pure spirit; there is no secondary meaning to discern. It is the glory of God to cover over a matter, but the glory of kings to seek it out. Christian pop culture needs no king to turn it over. It is obviously good, obviously pure. It does not appeal to the sleuthing intellect.

The search for survivors in rubble is exhilerating and seems more worthwhile, and more pressing, than the search for corpses. Worldview analysis tends to look for dead things, but the lover looks for the living.

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