Tuesday, April 08, 2008

What's Better: Pizza or iPods?

When the question is asked whether something is "good," the query is so general that it is virtually impossible to answer. Since people love it when you answer a question with a question, an honest reply would be, "Good at what?"

God is good, but he's mostly good at saving me from my sins, not for helping me understand how to replace my muffler. The Christian religion is good, but mostly at preparing a people for the age to come, not for cleaning up the present one. Pizza is good, but it's pretty much only good for eating, not for playing MP3s.

So turning from pizza to art, how do we determine which art, or music, or films, are good? Well, we often hear that various forms of art are "good" when they corresepond to reality, biblically defined. OK then, what does this tell us about someone like Picasso, whose art is often less realistic than impressionistic? And don't get me started on Bob Dylan, who can't carry a tune if his life depended on it. What I'm saying is that sometimes the disconnect between art and reality is the whole point.

If art is not intended to be overtly didactic or preachy, then may it not simply describe rather than prescribe? Anyone familiar with U2's Zoo TV Tour understands the power of an artist's wearing another's shoes (or in this case, sunglasses) in order to subtly mock and subvert a culture's idols, often without their getting the joke.

So when you look at René Magritte's depiction of a wooden, saxophone-shaped thing with a bowl on one end in his painting entitled "This Is Not a Pipe," how ought we to respond to it? On the one hand he is right, it is not a pipe but a painting of a pipe. But on the other hand, is his intentional subversiveness dangerous for the Christian who believes that Jesus once held bread in his hand and said "Hoc est corpus meum"?

If common grace is a legitimate category, and if Van Til was right about unbelievers borrowing capital from the theist's worldview in everything they do, then perhaps we actually sell ourselves short when we equate the non-holy with the unholy, the profane with the destructive, and the secular with the "bad."