Walter asked: “I am curious as to what would a defeater for divine inspiration look like to you?”
And I replied: “Provide some reason to think that the problem of miscommunication arising from the sublety of the text could not plausibly be offset by the benefits gained from the subtlety of the text.”
It would appear that Walter did not like this response. And so he snorted huffily in reply (at least I prefer to imagine him snorting huffily):
“The reason I ask what would constitute a defeater to biblical inspiration for you is because it seems to me that no matter what shocking thing you find inbetween the leather covers of your sacred texts there is *always* some clever way to spin the text to where it doesn’t really mean what it most definitely appears to. And this spin seems to be nothing more than post-hoc rationalization crafted to preserve prior presuppositions of Christian orthodoxy. One of the examples of what I am referring to is on display in this current post: Jesus’ racism. Another would be your treatment of the conquest narratives. It appears that there is absolutely nothing that can serve as a defeater to your orthodox views. Its enough to make the baby Shiva cry.”
Hmmm. Where to begin?
A debate as the credits roll…
Mick and Steve sat there in the theatre as the credits began to roll.
“That was crap.” Steve said. “Complete crap. I can’t believe you think Terrence Malick is a great film director.”
Mick raised an eyebrow. “Are you kiddin’ me? That was absolutely brilliant.”
“Brilliant? What’s with that dialogue? And what about those insufferably long montages? It’s so pretentious. And discordant. A total ego project.”
“Interesting,” Mick replied. “I found it ironic and compelling.”
“Compelling?” Steve laughed. And then he turned to look squarely at Mick and said “”I am curious as to what would a defeater for Malick’s inspiration would look like to you?”
“Go on…” Mick replied.
“The reason I ask what would constitute a defeater to Malick’s inspiration for you is because it seems to me that no matter what shocking thing you find in between the opening and closing credits of a Malick film there is *always* some clever way to spin the film to where it doesn’t really mean what it most definitely appears to. And this spin seems to be nothing more than post-hoc rationalization crafted to preserve prior presuppositions of Malick’s superior cinematic skill.”
Mick rolled his eyes. “I knew I should have taken you to the new ‘Transformers’ movie instead.”
So who is right?
I think we can sympathize with Steve. We can probably all remember seeing films that were lauded for their cinematic superiority. And we tried mightily to “get it”. But we sat through the film confused and bored. And we walked out thinking not about the dialogue and plot but about the many other ways we could have spent twelve bucks. (Here’s an example from my blog.)
On the other hand, I think we can all sympathize with Mick as well. We’ve all found something profound in a film despite the fact that people we loved or respected were looking at their watches and thinking about their wallets during those same ninety minutes.
We know we could talk for hours trying to persuade them of the profundity of this film. But we also know that each explanation of a plot point or a character or a moment of apparently stilted dialogue might well look to them like more rationalizations for a film that simply bored them to tears.
And we can remember the times when they were the ones attempting to persuade and we were the ones impatient as we endured a litany of rationalizations.
What’s the lesson in all this? It is simply this. Because there are works that we have loved and cherished despite the fact that others could not seem to extract any genius from them, we should show an open mind when others in our midst point to their putative candidates for genius. The fact that we do not have the patience to sit through an apologetic defense of every nuance of the work that we find ponderous is no argument that the other person ought not retain his or her passion for the work in question.
Indeed, it is probably worth pointing out at this point that the greatest works of art push back. They don’t yield immediately to our grip. They don’t kowtow to our withering, noncommittal “entertain me” glances. They do not pander to plebeians. They present themselves for inspection in their multilayered glory of brazen assertion and subtle nuance. And if you don’t get it, that’s fine. Others will.
Imagine the hubris of a fifteen year old reading Shakespeare for the first time in high school English. “Macbeth is total crap” he sneers to his friends as he smugly pops in his earbuds and the sounds of Five Finger Death Punch wash away the last bits of Elizabethan English from his brain.
However, one hundred years from now nobody will be listening to Five Finger Death Punch. And they certainly won’t be listening to the literary expostulations of this pipsqueak. But they will still be reading Macbeth. And they will still be reading their Bibles. And they will still be sitting quietly even after the credits have finished rolling … even if their friends didn’t “get it”.