This quest led me through Calvinism, Bible College, the Home Church movement, and at last into the Eastern Orthodox Church, where my thirst for beauty, communion, and hope could be satisfied.
At heart, I'm still a Westerner, however; and my concern is for Western culture. Having resolved my theological quandaries, I've turned to art - the playground of the thinking man.
I'm continually struck by how philosophical and theological trends come alive in art. Many people believe that art is exempt from philosophical examination, moral questions, or theological concerns. This view in itself, however, is a philosophical view - a revolutionary and recent one.
My life's work is to enact the play-through from philosophical reasoning to artistic delight. This first involves understanding art theoretically, where I rely on a catholic or common-sense Aristotelian approach. Applying the insights gained from this approach to the making of literary art - particularly poetry - is required next. Finally, the theory as incarnated in the art must be tested by experience. In art, the only experience which can attest to artistic success is the subjective delight of the audience.
This makes me a poet, an art philosopher researching and writing essays on the nature and virtue of poetry, and a publisher subjecting my judgment to the appetite of readers.
Accordingly, I founded The Academy of Inventive Literature, an informal non-profit group of amateur readers and writers seeking delight through fine traditional literature.
The Academy publishes The Journal of Inventive Literature, which even now is seeking musical, formal, lucid, beautiful, and traditional prose and poetry. We publish ad-hoc, preferring quality to schedules. We have recently published our third issue.
The Academy functions under the auspices of Vulgaris Media LLC, a publishing company founded to shore up normal human appetites in the literary arts. We are slowly getting underway our goal of publishing fun, unambiguous, and inoffensive stories and songs for the intelligent lay reader.
I am neither a Puritan nor a Separatist in my artistic and theological sympathies. It is my belief that the epistemological crisis, moral relativism, and the denial of truth as a common and permanent possession of the human race were all brought on by the fracturing of the Western Church, and its division from the sciences it once fostered.
If Western man believes that truth is unknowable, that everyone has his own truth, that perspectives can have validity but cannot be judged by an objective standard, that nothing is certain, that science is power, and that all belief is unreasonable - if Western man has gotten this impression - it is the fault of the institutional Church.
It is the Church - the earthly manifestation of the "pillar and ground of the truth" - that broke into a thousands of pieces and is still breaking. It is the Church whose fragments are still accusing one another and contradicting one another. It is the Church that has buried itself in trivialities, unable to solve the theological conundrums it raised for itself by its endless revolutions.
Western Culture likes to pretend it is "separate" from the Church; but it is still the Church's child, and always will be. The Church's revolutions became the revolutions of philosophy; and those in turn became the revolutions of art. Art teaches us how to feel; and so those revolutions entered into the feelings of the common man. From there, they permeated everything. The Church stands aghast as self-mutilating citizens tear themselves apart from the inside, trying to revolt from their own sexuality, trying to divorce their minds from their bodies with the cry that "biology is not destiny!" But that revolt started in the revolt of the Papacy from its older traditions of conciliar authority. And that divorce began in the divorce of the Protestant churches from their Mother.
It would be fruitless and perhaps cruel of me to insist that the only way back is back. The way back to an apostolic church is usually painful and involves involuntary separation from one's family and friends. It has not been easy for me and for my family. And there are fellowships yet to maintain.
I do insist that all persons of good will have a duty to the truth. And that duty is to find every ounce of universality and commonality in the traditions which are yet preserved to us, and to live by them.
In Baptist Fundamentalism, we were constantly concerned to discover who and what we were allowed to be "in fellowship" with (because it would have been too Catholic to say "in communion.") But fellowship is a fine word, and precisely describes what can be shared between traditional people of good will who are not part of the same communion. God will heal his Church; the way is beyond us, and we will not see the end. It is our duty to seek the healing of our own souls and the souls of our brothers.
My answer to the question of fellowship is this: Let us fellowship with everyone - precisely to the extent that we share anything at all in common with him. When our fellow-citizens discover what we hold in common - how very much we still share - we may yet be able to say with a straight face that there is such a thing as truth, beauty, and a given human nature. We will be able to say, "It is this at the very least - this thing we all attest to in common and with one voice."
In pursuit of this duty, each of us must find our way back as far as we can go. We will not know the ends of our ways until we have walked them; but it is clear and sure that we must about-face.
Under the weight of this duty, one might stumble in the pursuit of art's delight. Matthew Arnold said that art should replace religion, since religion had failed. If we traditionalists - we 'vulgarists' who love and honor the common things - believe that religion has not failed, there is no cause to lay such a burden on art.
When my husband comes home from work, my 3-year-old son loves to run outside, climb up into his truck, put on his hard-hat, and "be Daddy" for a few minutes. It's delightful, and it's play. It's learning, too; but it only works because my little boy doesn't know it's learning.
In my understanding, this experience exemplifies the roots and true nature of art. Aristotle observed that the soul of art is imitation. Just as my son plays and delights himself and those around him by imitating his father, so any artist creates an imitation of something he sees or hears, and thereby delights himself and others.
Because this essential playfulness is crushed when we take art too seriously; and because art is so vital that it can almost never be taken seriously enough - we find ourselves in a quandary that can only be solved through laughter. Laughter, of course, is a physiological release-mechanism for shame on the physical level. We find ourselves laughing whenever we confront our own inadequacy, and whenever we confront incongruity. On the spiritual level, laughter is an eruption of mingled acceptance and rejection which can find no other unity.
Having laughed off the ridiculous position in which we find ourselves, there is nothing left to do but get to play. Art which impresses; art which raises awarenesses and profiles; art which instructs or accuses; art which preaches or indulges; all these things can be dumped in the nearest trash-can for all of me. Art which sings, imagines, weeps, intoxicates, and frolics - when can we get back to that?
The idea of Baptist Fundamentalism was that, with the modern world closing in on us and defeating us at every step, we could hunker down with "the fundamentals of the faith," defending them to the death and preserving the essence of Christianity. Unfortunately, the "fundamentals" as envisioned by fundamentalists turned out to be exclusively theological in nature - as if the Church were ever going to be well approaching God through doctrine alone. The education of our sentiments was neglected; Beauty was neglected; kindness was preached but neglected.
I do not think that the first generation of Fundamentalists (many of whom were fine men, by the way) ever imagined that they would lose their great-grandchildren to alien beauty. But it was that flank which was left undefended (to use typical Fundamentalists battle-terminology;) or to put it another way, art and beauty were the need left unsupplied.
And it was God who made the soul to crave beauty; because God is Beauty. That was the missing Fundamental. In the churches I came up in, music was considered greatly important for the purpose of worship and ministry; and we often asked ourselves how we could make our music more holy and Christ-centered and God-honoring. The answer usually involved forbidding more techniques and bands and songs. No one ever proposed that we do it by making the music more beautiful. Excellent, yes; impressive and legitimate to well-educated outsiders, yes. Beautiful, no.
"What is holiness?" a college friend asked me once - it was a Socratic question, and I was supposed to say something about separation from sin. Just then asteep in Jonathan Edwards and his "religious affections," I responded with full conviction, "Holiness is the moral Beauty of God." It ruined his argument, and our friendship.
My husband came up in broader Evangelicalism. The "relevant" music of his church, which Fundamentalists castigated as "worldly" and "sensual," my husband quite naturally rejected as "ugly" and "shallow." It was unnecessary to scathe his conscience and go through the formalities of forbidding "CCM." He wanted Beauty, and so no power on Earth could make him prefer anything less. I don't say everyone reacts the same way. There is no doubt that the ordinariness of the ordinary human being is in ruins. Purities are poisoned; and normal, healthy appetites fall to addiction and abuse. Ugly music can be addictive if it appeals to the passions.
I do say that normalcy is naturally and ontologically privileged. And an appetite for Beauty is normal.