Whenever I find them, I will try to watch or listen to roundtable discussions composed of my favorite authors or speakers. I sometimes find these attached to larger conferences, variously described as Q & A or open forums. At the best of times, I’ll find a relaxed and serendipitous conversation, where thinkers will address a range of topics they haven’t necessarily covered in their writing and speaking.
I’d like to share two such talks in this post. The first is a round-table discussion between the notorious Four Horsemen of the New Atheism movement, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, and Daniel Dennett. Apparently the title of the video, “The Four Horsemen” was its inaugural use. While I like these guys quite a bit more than they would like me, what I appreciated about this video was the opportunity to see these men interacting on areas of agreement and, most interesting to me, areas of disagreement. I have read quite a bit of Dawkins and have always found him more enjoyable in print that in person. I admire the late Christopher Hitchens the most of the lot, primarily because of his candor and interest in granting fair representation of those whom he (sometimes vehemently) disagrees with. Though their rhetoric can occasionally be taxing to this pious Christian, I find interacting with their challenges to be mostly enjoyable.
The second video is a discussion between pastors and theologians, John Piper, Doug Wilson, Sam Storms, and Jim Hamilton. The two hour session was called An Evening of Eschatology. The four men interact on various views regarding what Scripture says about things to come. The discussion is situated around the various positions on the millennium referenced in Revelation 20 (Wilson- postmillennial, Storms- amillennial, Hamilton- premillennial, with Piper serving as moderator), so you have a unique opportunity to see how the positions compare in the context of a passionate yet irenic debate.
If you’re in to this sort of thing, drop a line into the comments of any talks you’d recommend. I’ve enjoyed these discussions across a variety of subjects including history, theology, politics, science, ethical issues, etc. I’ll try to share more as time allows.
We are a bit like savages who, having been discovered and evangelized by missionaries, have converted to Christianity without having experienced all that came before and after the revolution. The fact that most of us never would have heard of Oedipus if it were not for Freud should make us aware that we are almost utterly dependent on our German missionaries or intermediaries for our knowledge of Greece, Rome, Judaism, and Christianity; that, however profound that knowledge may be, theirs is only one interpretation; and that we have only been told as much as they thought we needed to know. It is an urgent business for one who seeks self-awareness to think through the meaning of the intellectual dependency that has led us to such an impasse.
~Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind, (New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, 1987), p. 156, emphasis mine.
This came from the concluding paragraph of a chapter on the influence of German philosophy on the American mind. If I knew more about Nietzsche, I would try to evaluate Bloom’s argument that Nietzsche provided the grounds for our current cultural value-relativism. However, I can say that Bloom’s words addressing our unconscious intellectual dependency are worth dwelling on.
Why do we put up with developing ‘acquired tastes’? What acquired tastes have you come to enjoy? Coffee, wine, diet soda- lutefisk? The first time that you tried it and found it wanting, what gave you the desire to give it another try? Acquiring a taste for something reminds me of a recurring difficulty I had as I began my flailing efforts at a liberal arts education. I was asked to read all sorts of things. So many times I was told to expect grandeur only to find a bore, or worse, a wall of esoteric inaccessibility. Take an example I’m not terribly proud of- I hated reading through my first two Charles Dickens novels. I can’t remember which novels they were, but something clicked with David Copperfield. I finally saw the light.
For other books, the ‘click’ took longer to arrive. My perennial question became how do you tell a dud before you spend time with it? There are so many books worth reading, surely, so how do you know when you’ve been given jug wine instead of a classic vintage? Starting out, it is sometimes hard to tell. Charlotte is still my only Bronte, and I can only read T.S. Eliot with Google close by. I have, however, stumbled onto a principle that has assisted me in trusting the annals of time with something I don’t immediately appreciate that I probably should.
Imagine writing that seemingly obtuse opening chapter, composing that quirky score, or creating that set for the initial scene. I remember recognizing the usefulness of this principle by remembering my baptism into the art of saxophone. I was immersed in the world of middle school symphonic band, back when it was ok that your saxophone sounded like a lawnmower. I wanted to play everything that came across my path. After a gloriously short stint in a jazz band (we did manage to play in a coffee shop), I came to appreciate the complexities that accomplished players would display in all sorts of performances. The hours of grueling practice across a variety of genres made it easy to imagine myself in this band, producing that tone. My experience made awe a possibility.
Imagine writing the piece that you are trying to appreciate. What would you do differently? Would you be able create the same intrigue that the author has? Listen to Bethoven’s 5th, imagining that you are the composer- beginning with that smallest initial motif that continues throughout the piece. Many times- not every time- you’ll get a glimpse of excellence that bids you plod along.
Unless you’ve tried to harmonize a choral in the style of Bach, you haven’t a clue how perfect this music is- how subtle are the inner voices, how wonderful the harmonic choices, how superb the baseline! It’s great art! ~ Robert Greenberg