Saturday, January 24, 2009

Serious Play

“Disparage not the faith thou dost not know,
Lest to thy peril thou aby it dear.”

-- Shakespeare

When my children were younger and my mother still alive we used to play, whenever we visited Nana and Poppop, what we called the ‘mountain lion game.’ My mother would put on a yellow sweat suit and chase the children, who were supposed to be baby mountain goats, around the playground. At a crucial point in the drama, when hope seemed nearly gone, the daddy mountain goat (I got to play that role) would come forward and drive the mountain lion off the cliff. Of course to my mother and me it was a game, but not to my children. They had looks of abject terror on their faces when the mountain lion was closing in on them and looks of ecstatic joy when the daddy mountain goat drove the lion off the cliff. On some level of my children’s consciousness they surely knew that their Nana was not a deadly mountain lion and their father was not a large mountain goat, but the overwhelming reality for them during the duration of the game was that Nana was a mountain lion and I was the daddy mountain goat. So what was a game to me was serious play to them.

And it struck me back then, and even more so now, that their serious play was a reflection of the way they viewed existence. There were very deadly monsters in the world who meant them harm, and father figures who could keep them safe from harm. They always wanted to play the mountain lion game, despite their terror during the initial attack of the lion, because they believed that the daddy mountain goat would ultimately defeat the mountain lion.

We don’t change much when we go from children to adults, not in our essential personalities. “Adults” do what my children did: we engage in serious play in which we act out our vision of existence. A crisis occurs in a culture when what used to be serious play to a people becomes meaningless prattle to their descendents. Such a crisis, I would argue, has occurred in European civilization. Great works of art such as Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel and Shakespeare’s King Lear are no longer treated as the serious play of the European people. They are regarded in much the same way that our European ancestors used to regard Egyptian hieroglyphics or the Hanging Gardens of Babylon: interesting artifacts of a past civilization but not something that touches the inner man. I first became aware of the dichotomy between the pre-modern Europeans and the modern Europeans when I majored in English literature at a modern university. Works that made me weep were treated by the professors of literature as examples of a particular era when people said such and such things and believed certain things, but they did not touch the modern man; he followed a different drummer.

It took me a number of years to realize what should have been obvious to me. The entire artistic output of European man, the serious play, is either implicitly or explicitly about the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. If you no longer believe that Christ is exactly who He said He was, the serious play of the people who did believe in Christ will strike you as a mere frivolity or a topic for abstract study.

Of course as C. S. Lewis pointed out, the liberals do have their own sentimental values or serious play that has replaced the serious play of their European ancestors. (1) In literature, for instance, works that reflected a Christian worldview were relegated to artifact status, and the social novel became the serious play of the liberals. A totally different view of existence emerged from the new serious play.

If all mankind is tainted with original sin, there is an element of humility in every social movement. A man realizes that he, as well as those opposed to him, are human and fallible. So there is some mercy, even for his opponents, in a man who believes in the whole Christian story. Not so with the modern liberal. If there is no original sin shared by all mankind then the happiness of mankind is being impeded by one particular group of people. Such a people must be opposed and eradicated so the perfection of mankind can take place. The white Christian male has become, to the white liberal, the fount of all evil in the world.

The faith in the perfectibility of mankind once antique Christianity and the white Christian males are eliminated has become the unquestioned Orthodoxy of the modern world. But like any new ideology it needed its apologists and its proselytizers. Novelists such as Sinclair Lewis and John Steinbeck articulated the new religion while the academics became the conduits for the new faith. And artifact literature is seen as relevant to the extent it supports the new Orthodoxy. Thus a work like Charles Dickens’ Hard Times is praised for its critique of white capitalists, but the book’s critique of Marxism and the main character’s belief in Christianity is thrown into the garbage bin of irrelevancy. Likewise, Uncle Silas, one of the great works of Christian literature, is called “a Gothic horror story” because that is the only aspect of the book that a modern post-Christian rationalist can take seriously. The ancient faith of the white race is not something that a post-Christian rationalist takes seriously.

The serious play of the new liberal is a seamless garment. In the visual arts, everything that depicts man as an autonomous, isolated atom in a meaningless universe is praised, while magnificent works of art like Michelangelo’s Pieta are praised for their technical virtuosity but still relegated to the artifact category in terms of social relevance. I had an experience in my junior high school art class that’s a perfect example of the new play vs. the old play. My art teacher was fresh out of art school and imbued with all the latest ideas about what constituted good art. She gave me and the rest of her students three months to come up with a creative masterpiece. She was available to advise us if we felt the need for advice, but we were encouraged to be “creative” and “self-reliant.” I frittered away my time in class, talking about sports and playing ‘hangmen’ with some other students. Suddenly, or so it seemed to me, the three months were up and I had one 45-minute period in which to come up with a masterpiece. I splattered some paint on a canvas, with an emphasis on the more somber colors, and called my ‘painting’ “The Void.” Without much hope of getting even a D- on the painting, I handed it in. But lo and behold I received an A+ for my magnificent work! The teacher couldn’t praise me enough. It was a work of “surrealistic genius.” I blush to acknowledge it, but for one fleeting moment I came close to believing my teacher. Maybe I was a genius. But when I saw the painting another student had done, I knew with absolute certainty that my painting was garbage. Kathy (I’ve forgotten her last name) had turned in a wonderful painting of a local pond she often visited with her family. The various members of her family were depicted in the picture, fishing, spreading out a picnic lunch, and so on. It was a beautiful painting. Kathy had a real gift. She received a B- for her efforts. The teacher told her that her painting lacked creativity. I wonder if Kathy believed her and learned how to become an avant garde painter of garbage. As for my masterpiece? I threw it away in the trashcan on the way home from school.

Is it even necessary to talk about the revolution in music? Let one example suffice. I think Bach, with the possible exception of Handel, is the most explicitly Christian of the great composers. I remember one Christmas looking for a copy of Bach’s Christmas Oratorio for a friend who I thought would appreciate it. When I found a copy I was delighted. But the blurb on the back of the album, written I’m sure by a musical ‘expert,’ was quite offensive. The expert praised Bach’s music to the skies but then threw in a little editorial: “We need not share Bach’s faith in order to appreciate his music.” Oh really? Can a spiritual eunuch appreciate a Christmas oratorio? Bach’s Christian faith inspired him to compose his music. The post-Christian rationalist’s desire to have an aesthetic experience inspires him to listen to Bach. The two feelings are not compatible; serious play is antithetical to intellectual masturbation.

The Brit who said that the Battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton was correct. Sport is part of the serious play that defines and forms the soul of a nation. Thomas Hughes vividly depicts, in Tom Brown’s Schooldays, the inspirational potential of sport when it is superintended by Christian men such as Arnold of Rugby. The young men of Britain during the time of Thomas Hughes learned the code of chivalry in their athletic contests. That type of serious play produced heroes such as Henry Havelock, the liberator of Lucknow. (2) Duty, Honor, Faith; such was the code. But such heroes are no longer honored today because our serious sporting-type play encourages different values. We honor racial diversity, androgyny, capitalism, and barbarism in our sport.

The most striking aspect of the new play of white liberals is the unreality of it all. Negro savages are given the parts of statesmen, women are assigned the parts formerly reserved for men, and the personal God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and St. Paul, is replaced by nature. The liberals have codified the surreal. And because their world is so unreal, they must suppress every manifestation of reality. Everything from the European past is put in a museum and labeled racist and/or sexist. If a white man tries to bring the values and the faith of old Europe out of the museum and into the light of day, the reigning liberals will suppress, by whatever means necessary, the antique white man’s attempt to interject European reality into the kingdom of liberal surrealism.

In the European fairy tales the knight, armed with the sword of truth and the shield of virtue, prevails against the witches, the wizards, and the dragons. He prevails because his faith, the ancestral faith of the European, provides him with a sword and shield. If he had proceeded against the wizards, witches, and dragons, with the sword of Thor and the shield of democracy, the sword would not have been able to penetrate to the dragon’s heart, and his shield would have withered in his hand. What does the psalmist say? “Gird thy sword upon thy thigh, O most mighty, with thy glory and thy majesty. And in thy majesty ride prosperously because of truth and meekness and righteousness; and thy right hand shall teach thee terrible things. Thine arrows are sharp in the heart of the king's enemies; whereby the people fall under thee.”

Our ancestors, in the serious play of their art, their literature, their music and their folklore, bequeathed us a sacred treasure, a treasure much more precious than gold. They left us a vision of the one true God, and neither He nor His culture is meant to be a museum piece. “Having eyes, see ye not? and having ears, hear ye not? and do ye not remember?” Can’t we see the Hero through the mists? And can’t we hear His voice calling from the mountain top? And don’t we remember that our ancestors were the Christ bearers? If we see what they did, and hear what they heard, how can we not respond? I can hear the voice of Henry Havelock again: “Over two-hundred of our race are still alive in Cawnpore; with God’s help we shall save them or die.” There are thousands upon thousands of our race with souls that yearn for the lost Europe. With God’s help we shall restore it to them or die.+

(1) “A great many of those who ‘debunk’ traditional or (as they would say) ‘sentimental’ values have in the background values of their own which they believe to be immune from the debunking process.” – C. S. Lewis in The Abolition of Man

(2) After taking Cawnpore, where they found the whites had been murdered to the last man, woman and child, Havelock and his men went on to Lucknow where thankfully they were not too late, as depicted in this poem by Robert Traill Spence Lowell:

“The Relief of Lucknow”

Oh, that last day in Lucknow fort!
We knew that it was the last;
That the enemy's lines crept surely on,
And the end was coming fast.

To yield to that foe meant worse than death;
And the men and we all worked on;
It was one day more of smoke and roar,
And then it would all be done.

There was one of us, a corporal's wife,
A fair, young, gentle thing,
Wasted with fever in the siege,
And her mind was wandering.

She lay on the ground, in her Scottish plaid,
And I took her head on my knee;
"When my father comes hame frae the pleugh," she said,
"Oh, then please wauken me."

She slept like a child on her father's floor,
In the flecking of woodbine-shade,
When the house-dog sprawls by the open door,
And the mother's wheel is stayed.

It was smoke and roar and powder-stench,
And hopeless waiting for death;
And the soldier's wife, like a full-tired child,
Seemed scarce to draw her breath.

I sank to sleep; and I had my dream
Of an English village-lane,
And wall and garden; but one wild scream
Brought me back to the roar again.

There Jessie Brown stood listening
Till a sudden gladness broke
All over her face; and she caught my hand
And drew me near as she spoke:

"The Hielanders! Oh, dinna ye hear
The slogan far awa?
The McGregor's? Oh! I ken it weel;
It 's the grandest o' them a'!

"God bless the bonny Hielanders !
We're saved! we 're saved! " she cried;
And fell on her knees; and thanks to God
Flowed forth like a full flood-tide.

Along the battery-line her cry
Had fallen among the men,
And they started back; -- they were there to die;
But was life so near them, then?

They listened for life; the rattling fire
Far off, and that far-off roar,
Were all, and the colonel shook his head,
And they turned to their guns once more.

But Jessie said, "The slogan 's done;
But can ye hear it noo?
'The Campbells are coming'? It's no a dream;
Our succors hae broken through!"

We heard the roar and the rattle afar,
But the pipes we could not hear;
So the men plied their work of hopeless war,
And knew that the end was near.

It was not long ere it made its way,
A thrilling, ceaseless sound:
It was no noise from the strife afar,
Or the sappers under ground.

It was the pipes of the Highlanders!
And now they played "Auld Lang Syne."
It came to our men like the voice of God,
And they shouted along the line.

And they wept, and shook one another's hands,
And the women sobbed in a crowd;
And every one knelt down where he stood,
And we all thanked God aloud.

That happy time, when we welcomed them,
Our men put Jessie first;
And the general gave her his hand, and cheers
Like a storm from the soldiers burst.

And the pipers' ribbons and tartan streamed,
Marching round and round our line;
And our joyful cheers were broken with tears,
As the pipes played "Auld Lang Syne."

Havelock died shortly after the liberation of Lucknow. He was always the perfect example of a Christian soldier. When his dear friend, Outram, asked if he needed anything to ease his pain, Havelock replied, “I have for forty years so ruled my life that when death came I might face it without fear.” He died, not knowing that he had become a legend in Britain:
Guarded to a soldier’s grave
By the bravest of the brave,
He hath gained a nobler tomb
Than an old cathedral gloom.
Nobler mourners paid the rite
Than the crowd that craves a sight;
England’s banners o’er him waved,
Dead he keeps the realm he saved.
In 1901 Archibald Forbes wrote these words about Henry Havelock:

“So long as the memory of great deeds, and high courage, and spotless self-devotion is cherished among his countrymen, so long will Havelock’s lonely grave beneath the scorching Eastern sky, hard by the vast city, the scene alike of his toil, his triumph, and his death, be regarded as one of the most holy of the countless spots where Britain’s patriot soldiers lie.”
Needless to say, Britons no longer regard the grave of a ‘racist imperialist’ as sacred. But I do, and I’m sure He does. And He is the only one Havelock ever sought to please.

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