DOES “REALISM” JUSTIFY SIN?
There is a continuing debate going on concerning the moral rightness of depicting sin in works of art — novels, dramatic productions, paintings, etc. The problem has reached crisis proportions in the world. With the advent of the “new morality” anything goes. Magazines, books, movies, dramatic productions all seem to vie with each other to see which can be the dirtiest and foulest. Swearing, sex and sexual aberrations, murder and lying saturate the arts. But the world does not have the distinction of being alone in this respect. The problem has entered the church and church-related schools. Sin is graphically portrayed in every form it takes in literary productions and dramas coming from even Reformed educational institutions.
But in our own circles as well there are marked tendencies in this direction. Perhaps not as serious as elsewhere, but they are there. One hears from time to time a plea being made, for example, to permit our children in school to read books in which sex and swearing are very common.
And, as often as not, the justification for all this is the magic word “realism”. I suppose it is difficult to keep from being prudish about all this; and there are problems here which certainly need to be discussed. But what does bother me considerably is the fact that the cry for realism is oftentimes a justification for grossest sin in works of art. Realism is supposed to justify reading novels with sex in them. Realism broadens the field of literature to embrace just about everything. In fact, the term has become a handy way to defend sin and flout the words of the apostle Paul: “For it is a shame even to speak of these things which are done of them in secret.” Eph. 5:12.
But is this cry of realism sufficient? In a recent article inChristianity Today, Addison H. Leitch had some pointed comments to make concerning this matter. He is writing chiefly about dramatic productions, which he approves — and we must take issue with him at this point. But his remarks are pertinent to all forms of literary art as well. He writes in part:
It might be worth our time to reconsider this whole argument about realism. We must admit that almost anything that is portrayed must be somewhere, among some people, realistic. But whether we need to know or have set before us on the stage or described in novels what realism in these matters may mean to some kinds of people is a nice question.
I like to think of it this way. The rose bush in front of our house is just as real as the garbage can at the back. I think it is a sound instinct that the garbage ought to be kept at the back of the house, with the lid on it. I don’t think doing this is narrow-minded, naive, old-hat, provincial, or square. It is a piece of progress that to my mind makes our century more pleasant and certainly more healthful than previous ones. The streets of our cities were once almost like cesspools, and that was real enough. Now we have learned to clean up the streets, and that is real, too. What I am trying to say is that to argue realism is not quite enough. Something else is at stake here.
In the movie and the play Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf? we have plenty of realism. The older couple in the play have made a very sad mess out of their lives, and in the course of the play they pull in the younger couple. With plenty of liquor and lots of foul language and one woman who acts like a fishwife and another who can’t keep from falling apart in tears, we get a strong dose of realism — at least what is real in some marriages and some families. Depending upon where we sit ourselves, we are more or less horrified by being allowed to look into something like this.
Perhaps the play has a moral: Don’t drink so much and do your best not to get your marriage into a mess like that. There is, of course, a touching and very dramatic problem in the case of the older couple, and there is a kind of hope at the end that they have found each other and are about to reach out and touch now as persons dealing with their problems. All I can say is three cheers for that….
. ..Great literature is not only a reflection of life but also a creator of life….
. ..Can we justify anything so long as it is artfully done for the sake of art? I pull back from this argument, too. Let your mind run to some of the physical things people have to do in the normal course of a day. We rightly do these behind closed doors. They are absolutely real, but doing them, even doing them well, on the stage would certainly be no argument for their presentation.
. ..I have often wondered why a college drama department can present on the stage viewpoints and language that would get a man fired if he used them in the classroom. (And the same can be said of novels —H.H.) We are all so afraid of being thought unsophisticated that we run for cover at the least scorn of one who is so sure that we must have realism….
It is amusing but also tragic that in the American culture we are so unsophisticated as to believe that our young people should be allowed everything in the name of freedom. Then we wake up with such naive surprise because somehow man-woman relationships have gone very sour indeed.
There is a point here that needs to be underscored. Realism itself is not justification for much of what is done and put into books. Whether it be a stage production or a novel, this excuse simply will not do. Rather, a work of art of any kind (and surely a novel) must have more justification than that it depicts reality to be chosen as good and permissible for our children. It has to have its chief justification in the fact that there is in it a communication of truth. It must not only passively reflect what life is; it must also point the way to what life ought to be. It must help in the difficult task of interpreting life in the light of God’s Word and explaining the calling of life according to the precepts of God. Then it is good. We ought to beware of pleas for realism — especially when they become an excuse to read or write anything and everything.
THE WORSHIP OF SATAN
Recently an article appeared in the Grand Rapids Press (and no doubt, in other papers across the country, for it was carried by Associated Press Wire Service) in which was described a wedding performed in the name of Satan. It was performed by a sorcerer in the living room of a black-walled Satanist Church. The officiating sorcerer wore devil’s horns; the ceremony was performed in an atmosphere of devil worship and sorcery, for the participants were surrounded by human skeletons, stuffed oppossums and leopards, and a physician’s examining table which later became a bar. The one officiating also wore a black hood and a robe, rang a gong periodically, recited an ode to the satyr Pan and spoke incantations in a language he himself had invented. In explanation of the ceremony, the one officiating said: “This marriage was conceived not in heaven, but in hell, which is the mold from which heaven was cast and which has kept religion alive from the beginning.”
This is only one instance of a phenomenal growth of demonism throughout the world — especially in civilized countries. All sorts of demonic cults are being formed and sorcery, soothsaying, necromancy, fortune telling, occultism, etc. is spreading rapidly. Many times the rites of societies mimic the sacred ceremonies of the church — as the wedding described above and as various rites of devil baptism. The enemy of the Church is indeed, first of all, Satan. He remains implacably committed to subject this creation to himself so that he may rule as sovereign lord over all things in God’s place. The Bible tells us that this will someday actually come to pass before the Lord returns; but Scripture also suggests in some places that at this time men will literally worship Satan and bow before him as their king. Surely this is happening now. A startling and fearful sign of the evil of our times.
From time to time various attempts are being made by certain groups to control religious radio broadcasting. This has been tried in the past — as e.g., by the National Council of Churches; this will be tried again in the future.
Recently, the United Church of Christ, financed by foundation grants amounting to a total of $85,000 has announced plans to monitor all religious broadcasting. The avowed goal is to silence broadcasts which “tend to be weighed with extremist viewpoints.” When a certain broadcast reveals such extremist tendencies in the opinion of UCC officials, attempts will be made to stop the program through appeals to the Federal Communications Commission and, if necessary, in the courts.
This aim of the UCC is, no doubt, directed against various “right-wing” broadcasts, — although they do not say this. The reason and justification for this is, according to UCC officials, to keep from the air all programs which do not serve the general interest of the public. It is not difficult to envision what will happen if these liberals are ever successful in their attempts. Perhaps for the time they will be content in banning “right-wing” broadcasts. But they have a pretty potent argument that also the proclamation of the truth of God’s Word does not serve the general interest of the public. And their venom will be turned against the truth and those who proclaim it.
According to the Presbyterian Journal progress is being made in merger talks between Southern Presbyterians and the Reformed Church of America. The document ready for consideration by the churches deals with church government. Some proposals in the document include:
— changes in ordination vows. Among these, officers will not be asked to affirm, as once they did, that the Bible is “the Word of God, the only infallible rule of faith and practice.” Nor will they be asked to “sincerely receive and adopt the Confession of Faith and Catechisms of this Church, as containing the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures.” They will be asked to promise to bring any disagreements with fundamental doctrines to the attention of their presbyteries.
— changes in the election of elders and deacons. All office bearers elected subsequent to the merger will no longer serve indefinite or lifetime tenures as is now done in Presbyterian Churches. They will have to retire after a certain length of time. The committee discussing merger has not yet made recommendations concerning the decision of the Southern Presbyterians to join the COCU talks.
Briefly we note (hoping to discuss this more fully at some future time) a trend of major proportions within the Roman Catholic Church towards the liberalism of Protestantism. This liberalism, culminating in the death-of-God movement, is being openly espoused in Roman Catholic circles.
And in connection with this, there is a movement among Roman Catholics in Europe gaining strength, to have conversations with communists. Several efforts have already been put forth in this direction; and the idea is being hailed by Romish and Protestant liberals alike.
Along with this, it is of more than passing interest that the pope is paying increased attention to communism. He seems to have charted a course for himself in which he will attempt to act as mediator between Western and communist governments. He has already tried this in connection with the Viet Nam War, and seems intent on enlarging his role to include all differences between the West and the Communist bloc. There are significant implications in all this. Not only do these developments point to increasing possibilities of union between Romanism and Protestantism, but they point to a greater political role for the Vatican. The church is walking a way that leads not only to merger within the ecclesiastical community; but the same road to unity leads to an unholy alliance between the church and the state. There are other evidences of this; the one mentioned above is part of a larger picture. But the church which joins the state in a common cause will also have to bear the burden of joining in a common cause which is of Satan.