Nothing Comes From Nothing

I ran across an article in The entitled Innocence and Experience which, as the […]

JDK / 9.19.08

I ran across an article in The entitled Innocence and Experience which, as the intro explains, is a “compilation of great moments in precocity, endurance, and procrastination, organized instructively by age.” Of the 100 listed, here are a few excerpts:

Sigmund Freud sees his mother naked, 1859.
#10 Martin Luther King Jr. sings in a boys choir at the premiere of Gone With the Wind in Atlanta, 1939.
#12 Adolf Hitler attends a performance of Wagner’s Lohengrin, 1901.
#24 Bob Dylan goes electric on the first side of his album Bringing It All Back Home, and is booed at the Newport Folk Festival, 1965.
#31 Charles Schulz gives Linus a security blanket, 1954
#53 Walt Disney opens a theme park in California, 1955.
#89 Julia Child decides to give her Cambridge, Massachusetts, kitchen to the Smithsonian, 2001.
On his deathbed, W. Somerset Maugham asks a friend to reassure him that there is no afterlife, 1965.

Although perhaps not the authors intent, I was struck by how clearly the list illuminates the causal relationship between ideas and action, between creeds and deeds. Behind every great action, every momentous revolution in human history, lies an individual with an inspiration. . . an idea.

Contrary to an emphasis on the distinctive nature of particular ideas, most of what passes for theological discussion today revolves around a general sense of “the greater good” as manifest through an emphasis on the material. And to this growing emphasis on the penultimate, add an increasingly militant assault on any claim to universal truth, and you can begin to understand Rick Warren’s now (in)famous interview with where he stated:

I’m looking for a second reformation. The first reformation of the church 500 years ago was about beliefs. This one is going to be about behavior. The first one was about creeds. This one is going to be about deeds. It is not going to be about what does the church believe, but about what is the church doing.

Ironically, the emphasis on “deeds not creeds” arises out of an a-priori idea—a creed of pragmatism, if you will—that assesses truth or meaning in terms of practical success or application. Although there are a lot of arguments one can make in support of this sort of thinking from a (purportedly) secular standpoint (cf. Richard Rorty’s anticlericalism), the truth is that when Christian theology succumbs to this sort of shortsightedness, then it simply becomes a less-ideologically-defensible “spiritual Marxism.”

It should be noted that I’m not criticizing any theological (or philosophical for that matter) movement that translates ideas into practical service of others; however, the assertion that tattoos or deeds can somehow spontaneously appear devoid of any prior ideological or theological thought, is wrong. Borrowing from a well-known proverb: Give a man a fish, and he will eat for a day. Teaching a man why/how to fish requires a considerable amount of time, some concentration and a bit of reading, a lack of self-absorption, and a commitment to the idea that life is somehow more authentic or real when fish are involved 😉