Lessons from the Letter of


Lessons from the Letter of James

Mr. Keilholtz's comments below on Stockhausen, gave me pause, for a couple of reasons. Let me quote what Stockhausen said with regard to what happened on 9/11:

What happened there is—they all have to rearrange their brains now—is the greatest work of art ever. That characters can bring about in one act what we in music cannot dream of, that people practice madly for 10 years, completely fanatically, for a concert and then die. That is the greatest work of art for the whole cosmos.

And of this Mr. Keilholtz says:

In fact, Stockhausen was likening the terror attacks as an act of Luzifer. He used the word art because he saw the parallels between the planning of that and the rehearsal necessary for a performance of art. I have to say, on rereading Stockhausen's comments (as well as his clarification), that there was nothing that outrageous.

Now, at first, I must say that I was a bit perturbed at the defense of this bit of, at best callousness, and at worst, out-and-out evil. But then I thought about what Mr. Keilholtz was saying and saw in it some sense. And it brought to mind some thoughts from the Letter of James.

Even if Mr. Stockhausen did not mean what he said, having said it in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy was a gross dereliction of Christian and even human duty. You may think all manner of things, but common decency requires some careful consideration before making such comments. They smack of the "no publicity is bad publicity" ethos. But let us assume that an old gentleman simply let spill some of the thoughts that were in his head--something that may have happened due to the stress and the shock of the situation. This is precisely where the Letter of James comes in.

James--Chapter 3 1 Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you realize that we will be judged more strictly, 2 for we all fall short in many respects. If anyone does not fall short in speech, he is a perfect man, able to bridle his whole body also. 3 If we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we also guide their whole bodies. 4 It is the same with ships: even though they are so large and driven by fierce winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot's inclination wishes. 5 In the same way the tongue is a small member and yet has great pretensions. Consider how small a fire can set a huge forest ablaze. 6 The tongue is also a fire. It exists among our members as a world of malice, defiling the whole body and setting the entire course of our lives on fire, itself set on fire by Gehenna. 7 For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, 8 but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 9 With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings who are made in the likeness of God. 10 From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. This need not be so, my brothers. 11 Does a spring gush forth from the same opening both pure and brackish water? 12 Can a fig tree, my brothers, produce olives, or a grapevine figs? Neither can salt water yield fresh.

This is enough to get the point. Our mouths are our worst enemies. From them spew all sorts of filth and nonsense. Even if Mr. Stockhausen's comments were not malicious, the time, context, and statement converge to give a most unfortunate impression.

As Christians we are called to watch what we say in every particular. Our mouths pave the pathway to Hell for a great many unsuspecting people. When we are harsh, when we are malicious, but sometimes even when we are simply mistimed. A friend of mine recently had a severe trauma because she made a very innocent remark that was misinterpreted by another merely because of the context of the conversation. This bothered her for several days and had she not taken strong measures to correct the problem might have resulted in the end of a friendship. Our words have far greater influence than we give them credit for. We need to be aware of what we say. We must not say things merely to stretch or break convention. For example, whether intended literally or not, a statement such as Breton's assertion that the ultimate act of surrealist art would be to randomly shoot someone in the attending audience is ill-considered, callous, and I think, downright evil.

To conceive of the death of another human being in the context of Art shows us the degeneration and destruction of the definition of art and demonstrates the ultimate fallacy and problem of PoMo criticism and notions of reality. For example, Michel Foucault, the primary theorist of PoMo philosophy, is said to have attempted to show that a retrovirus is not the cause of AIDS by repeatedly engaging in sexual activity even after he knew he was infected. PoMo reminds me of the "Stan who shall be called Loretta" syndrome of Life of Brian. In the movie one character says that Stan's desire to have a baby is "Symbolic of our struggle against the Roman Oppression" and the John Cleese character comments, "It's symbolic of his struggle against reality."

Our words shape the way we perceive reality. When we say negative things, we tend to think in negative ways and perceive things in a darker way that we might otherwise do. When we are uncharitable in language, it is pouring out of our hearts. We need always to bear in mind the words of our Savior--, "It is not what goes into a man that makes him unclean, but what comes out of him."

If we find ourselves spilling out statements like those of Karlheinz Stockhausen or Andre Breton, we would do well to get ourselves to confession ASAP and discover what the source of this wellspring of evil. Our words do real harm!

(But it is good also to remember the reverse is true--our words also do real good.)

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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on June 3, 2003 9:58 AM.

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