Hauerwas, Liturgy and Aesthetics (or In Which Alastair is Unsure Whether or Not He Ought to Put His Tongue in His Cheek)

Stanley Hauerwas
OK, it’s almost 4:30am and I still haven’t gone to bed. However, I felt that I had to post this Hauerwas quote, which has been doing the circuit of the blogs [HT: John Barach].

One reason why we Christians argue so much about which hymn to sing, which liturgy to follow, which way to worship is that the commandments teach us to believe that bad liturgy eventually leads to bad ethics. You begin by singing some sappy, sentimental hymn, then you pray some pointless prayer, and the next thing you know you have murdered your best friend. — Stanley Hauerwas, The Truth About God: The Ten Commandments in Christian Life, p.89

Couldn’t agree more!

We don’t take the issue of liturgy anywhere near as seriously as we ought to do. I believe that the bad taste in liturgy and hymnody demonstrated by so many modern congregations should be every bit as troubling to us as their weak ethical and doctrinal standards (Dennis commented on this a while back). Beauty, goodness and truth stand or fall together. The aesthetical crimes that one witnesses in the evangelical subculture — look in the trinket or art areas of your local Christian store to get a sense of what I am referring to — are indicative of a rottenness in heart of the movement itself. The narcissistic aesthetic of much of the subculture of evangelicalism, seen in the appeal of kitsch and of art that involves little more than its own self-projections, is evidence enough of a serious departure from Christian orthodoxy.

'Evening Glow' - Thomas Kinkade

About Alastair Roberts

Alastair Roberts (PhD, Durham University) writes in the areas of biblical theology and ethics, but frequently trespasses beyond these bounds. He participates in the weekly Mere Fidelity podcast, blogs at Alastair’s Adversaria, and tweets at @zugzwanged.
This entry was posted in Quotations, The Blogosphere, Theological. Bookmark the permalink.

20 Responses to Hauerwas, Liturgy and Aesthetics (or In Which Alastair is Unsure Whether or Not He Ought to Put His Tongue in His Cheek)

  1. Pingback: The Boars Head Tavern » Blog Archive » Vindicated

  2. Jon says:

    I’ve got a photocopy of the handout from Theology this morning if you want it?

  3. Al says:

    That would be great, Jon. Thanks. I almost attended this morning, but decided that I would be far better off sleeping for an extra half hour or so.

  4. True that. Funny thing, the other day I found a book on sketching by Kinkade written before he was famous, and his paintings and drawings there are quite different: simple realistic observations of the world: .

    It’s sad that he’s sold out to repetitive, money-making kitch. What’s worse though is that there’s a market for it.

  5. Stephen says:

    Edit: that link (it’s in the wrong place) is an image from the book.

  6. pduggie says:

    Kincade and Kitsch bashing always makes me uncomfortable, because it feels like a proxy argument about class.

  7. garver says:

    Was there a such thing as kitsch before the 19th century? If not, then perhaps discussions of it have less to do with class than they do with other factors, in particular, the formation of desire and taste within a modern consumerist economy. And I would say the same thing about the emergence of the historically contingent institution of “high art.”

  8. Paul Baxter says:

    Thanks be to God that there is not yet (that I am aware of) a Kinkadeist liturgical movement.

    BTW, I like the 10 Commandments book a lot, but for some reason I had totally forgotten that quote.

  9. Dr. Veith in his book, State of the Arts, describes well what has happened to the aesthetic of the middle class. It is somewhat about class, but not what you think! Check out Veith’s book- very illuminating!

  10. Al says:

    Thanks for the book recommendation, Sarah. I haven’t read State of the Arts yet.

  11. Arni says:

    I couldn’t agree more with all that is said in this post.

  12. Pingback: Hugsandi trúgvandi » Blog Archive » Hauerwas um lovprísan

  13. pduggie says:

    Class pre 19th century and class afterwards are very different I suppose. But they were still issues of class in both eras.

    Poor people with gaudy and ostentation and rich people with ‘understated’ design and aedthetics say to me that class issues lie behind cultural artifcats and who approves or disapproves of them.

  14. garver says:

    The rich can be just as ostentatious as anyone and it’s often the rich and the poor who are most similar in many ways on a variety of issues, though no doubt for different reasons (e.g., having houses full of mismatched “antiques,” the success of Anglo-Catholicism among the very rich and the very poor, lack of “Victorian” prudery among both groups, etc.).

    If there’s a class issue here, it’s primarily about the middle class since much of what’s under discussion presupposes a significant amount of disposable income. In that case, I think the issue goes back to how modern markets construct consumers, including how they prey on their desires and insecurities.

  15. joel hunter says:

    Pduggie, if Kant’s aesthetics are right, you may have a point. If artistic truth is a matter of autonomous determination, then we will get conceptually stuck in the “high” vs. “profane” categories. However, if aesthetic judgments can be made–validly–then your class concerns are probably confusing cause and effect (which I think Dr Garver is suggesting). The problem is that we moderns are so ill-equipped to reflect upon and evaluate the positive arguments for artistic truth and aesthetic validity.

  16. pduggie says:

    Class isn’t one of the insecurites that modern markets prey upon to construct consumers?

  17. pduggie says:

    I guess I’m just insecure myself with criticing the kitsch that other people might find pleasurable, amusing, etc. because I think I end up feeling bad about their bad taste or their low class values, or their rich snooty values, and then I feel like they’re worth less as people.

    “you freaks with your narcissistic aesthetics because you like kinkade are duisplaying to us how evanglicalism is going down the tubes. If we were in charge and you set [our class] as your mimetic object you’d be better off” is how this stuff sounds to me.

    Isn’t that Hauerwas quote vastly overstated? It almost sounds parodic, not serious.

  18. pduggie says:

    wikipedia says it’s at least somewhat about class

    “Kitsch appealed to the crass tastes of the newly moneyed Munich bourgeoisie who, like most nouveau riche, thought they could achieve the status they envied in the traditional class of cultural elites by aping, however clumsily, the most apparent features of their cultural habits.”

  19. garver says:

    Assuming the quote from the Wikipedia is accurate (always a precarious assumption), doesn’t it indicate that setting one’s sights upon someone else’s tastes as the object of mimetic desire precisely the problem?

    If so, then kitsch is envy expressed as cultural artifact, made possible and nourished by the forces of the modern market.

  20. -drm- says:

    Thanks for this.

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