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3.1.06 Pyramidical silence  


What a gift: (a) my favorite critic reviews a book written by (b) one of my favorite scholars on (c) one of my favorite authors--even referencing (d) my favorite philosopher!

Answer key: a) James Wood; b) Andrew Delbanco; c) Herman Melville; d) Ludwig Wittgenstein

Religious history fascinates me, not merely for its own sake, but also as a facet of studying an artist's relationship with his/her historical moment. Clearly Melville's imagination was molded by his Calvinist upbringing, but not in an obvious fashion: the notion of original sin wasn't an aid to grasping the world. (The Decoder Ring model of theodicy?) On the contrary, original sin was for Melville more of a metaphysical palisade, shielding the riddles of existence from skirmishing philosophers. (The Rampart model of anti-theodicy??) Original sin, in short, hurt the case for God.


It's perhaps too much to expect theological groping from a pop song, but rap's waist-deep in invocations of both Mammon and the Almighty. Is piety just another commodity? Another accessory for the genre's neverending catwalk of conspicuous consumption? After all the sacred nods nestled amid "profane" lyrics & awards-show podium litanies, I return to questions of hypocrisy, about the charge itself: is it accurate? does it miss the point? is it unfair? is it "relevant"? relevant to what?

As we rightly condemn Bush for his contradictions of faith--e.g., cowboy militarism + the Beatitudes? or the bellum omnium contra omnes ethos of unbridled capitalism + the whole Sermon on the Mount?--then shouldn't we condemn the hypocrisy of pairing the worship of Christ with the worship of blood, or the hatred of women, or the quest for riches? Some wave this off as a style vs. substance debate: it's the beat, stupid, they suggest. Some might find this a paternalistic, even racist, singling out of a genre. Some say this simply reflects a telling contradiction in the culture itself: inner-city conditions are an economic fact; religion is a spiritual response, a historical antecedent?

What do you think?


Well, I can't read the James review, which is a pain in the ass, but I'm intrigued anyways. As for the rap Mammon/Christ stuff; I don't think we should single it out, that's probably a little prejudicial, but style vs. substance or even the fact that it (might) reflect(s) reality doesn't/shouldn't get anyone off the hook. That being said, there are plenty of Christians out there who think it's Godly to be rich, and I'm not just talking about rappers. Shouldn't we be looking at that confluence?
There is a major flaw in Biblical interpretation when Mel Gibson can build himself a private (of sorts) church and celebrities can spend thousands of dollars on stylish charms blessed by the pope.

However, I don't think that there is an inherent contradiction between wealth and religion. If I may paraphrase my Bible: Give to Caesar what is Caesar's and God what is God's. Affluence does not signal a lack of religious conviction, but use of money on religious whims is the antithesis of the most fundamental ideals of Christianity. Anyone who can spend millions of dollars to enhance their personal worship of Jesus, might do well to actually read a Bible from time to time.

Also, I am firmly agains the idea of tithes, but this isn't a religious debate.

Rap Mammon shouldn't be singled out, but I think its a very good place to start. Consequently, I've forgotten where I was going with this and can't really remember what the original post was arguing, so I'm gonna just leave it at that.
i admire woods & melville quite a bit too.. too much smarts for pre-caffeinated me to comment though. but -- check the current double issue 'Holiday' edition of The Economist for a fascinating article on American churches -- "Churches as businesses". I think a lot of these contradictions you mention are much more prevalent in the average Evangelical churchgoer than in a handful of rappers -- it's nice talking about rap of course, but the culture of evangelical megachurches is far more surprising and unexpected -- and in those cases, religion is readily converted into capitalism, it's more than lyrical allusion or invocation. But less bass.
Roque, thanks for sending me the article. I still need to read it, but that's my time management problem.
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