Saving Leonardo Hardcover – Aug 1 2010
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There are two parts to Saving Leonardo: Part 1, which describes how growing global secularization affects everyone everywhere, and Part 2 (the bulk and meat of the book), which following the advance of secularization in history, tracing the two threads of secularism--the Enlightenment thread, focusing on "the fact realm"; and the Romanticism thread, focusing on "the values realm"--especially as they influence the arts and culture.
Finally, there's the epilogue, in which Pearcey urges Christians to become involved in culture in a thoughtful way--to fulfill our cultural mandate. "Christian art," writes Pearcey "should grow out of the robust confidence that nothing is unredeemable--that Jesus himself entered into the darkest levels of human experience and transformed them into sources of life and renewal. A full-orbed work of Christian art should include all three elements of the biblical worldview: creation, fall, redemption. It should allude to the beauty and dignity of the original creation.Read more ›
To quote from the book, " We are called to revolt against false idols and teh power they exert over minds and hearts."
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Pearcey's newest masterpiece, Saving Leonardo is as the subtitle suggests a call to resist the secular assault on mind, morals, and meaning. The primary assertion: "The only hope lies in a worldview that is rationally defensible, life affirming, and rooted in creation itself."
THE THREAT OF GLOBAL SECULARISM
In part one, author clearly articulates the necessity of a Christ-informed worldview. She challenges readers: "Do you have the tools to detect the ideas competing for your allegiance in movies, school textbooks, news broadcasts, and even Saturday morning cartoons?"
Pearcey reveals the goal of the book at the outset: "The goal of this book is to equip you to detect, decipher, and defeat the monolithic secularism that is spreading rapidly and imposing its values on your family and hometown." As such, she calls Christians to abandon the "fortress mentality" that has been prominent for years; a mentality that gravitates to isolation from the world. Rather, Christ followers ought to become familiar with their audience and engage with them on a worldview level. "The first step," writes Pearcey, "is to identify and counter the key strategies uses to advance the global secular worldview."
Next, Christians must understand how secularism views the nature of truth. Pearcey demonstrates how empiricism has spawned what we know today as the fact/value split. This divided concept of truth is the most important feature of a secular approach to epistemology and is "the key to unlocking the history of the Western mind." The author is quick to explain the biblical concept of truth; a notion that was the theme of Total Truth: "Because all things were created by a single divine mind, all truth forms a single, coherent, mutually consistent system. Truth is unified and universal."
The fact/value dichotomy finds values in the so-called upper story (a scheme developed by Francis Schaeffer). These values are private, subjective, and relative. Values include religious claims and personal preferences. Fact are found in the lower story. These facts are public, objective and universal. The author gives numerous examples of how the fact/value dichotomy is diametrically opposed to the biblical view of truth. For instance:
* "Science deals mainly with facts; religion deals mainly with values." - Martin Luther King Jr.
* "Science yields facts but not 'value judgments'; religion expresses values but cannot 'speak facts.'" - Albert Einstein
Clearly, values posed in the fact/value dichotomy are never considered to be true. Rather they are expressions of an opinionated individual; i.e. a so-called "bigoted Christian."
TWO PATHS TO SECULARISM
Part two uncovers two paths to secularism, namely, the Enlightenment and Romantic movements respectively. The Enlightenment (or Analytic Tradition) is fixated on reason and relies on the scientific method. Immanuel Kant plays a central role here with his nature/freedom dichotomy. Various worldviews have been spawned as a result of Enlightenment thought including empiricism, rationalism, Darwinism, logical positivism, linguistic analysis, utilitarianism, and materialism.
The Romantic stream (or Continental Tradition) relies on story and is fascinated by myth and imagination. Again, various worldviews have resulted including idealism, Marxism, deconstruction, phenomenology, existentialism, pantheism, and postmodernism. Both streams are reductionistic and the author is careful to bring this point home repeatedly.
Pearcey dissects both streams carefully and skillfully. Her depth and insight is very helpful and encouraging. The final two chapters are the most helpful and practical. The author prompts readers to give up the typical Christian fortress mentality: "Christians must go beyond criticizing the degradation of American culture, roll up their sleeves, and get to work on positive solutions. The only way to drive out bad culture is with good culture."
The author reminds Christian parents that they cannot protect their children from unbiblical worldviews. But they can "help them develop resistance skills, by giving them the tools to recognize false ideas and counter them with a solid grasp of biblical concepts ... Christians are responsible for evaluating everything against the plumb line of Scriptural truth."
Nancy Pearcey is picking up where Francis Scheaffer left off. And she gives Schaeffer the last word on the subject: "One of the greatest injustice we do our young people is to ask them to be conservative. Christianity is not conservative, but revolutionary ... We must teach the young to be revolutionaries, revolutionaries against the status quo."
Saving Leonardo will likely win the Gold Medallion award in 2010. It's that good!
Though we're not even halfway through 2011 yet, I have a pretty good feeling this will end up being my favorite book of the year. A book on apologetics, culture, and philosophy that spends a lot of time focused on art, music, and literature is right up my alley! I actually finished reading it a couple months ago, but my brain was so full it took me a long time to process everything to be able to write a review. It's still a daunting task, but hopefully I can at least give you enough of a taste of what Pearcey offers in this book to make you want to read it... because you really should!
"Saving Leonardo" is broken down into two Parts, though the second makes up the bulk of the book. Part 1 ("The Threat of Global Secularism") shows the extent to which our culture has been co-opted by secularist thinking. Nearly everyone has a worldview that has been affected to some degree by secularism.
Far from being a conservative "fearmongerer", or attacking an abstract secular "boogeyman", Nancy Pearcey is very deliberate and nuanced in her description of what secularism is, and how and why it is so pervasive in our culture. The primary way in which secular thinking works its way even into the worldviews of most Christians is through the "fact/value dichotomy". Pearcey builds off the work of Francis Schaeffer (under whom she studied at L'Abri), who described a "two-story concept of truth". In this conception, "the lower story consists of scientific facts, which are held to be empirically testable and universally valid. The upper story (`values') includes things like morality, theology, and aesthetics, which are now regarded as subjective and culturally relative" (p. 26).
As Pearcey points out, "this dichotomy has grown so pervasive that most people do not even realize they hold it" (p. 27). This dichotomy is in direct contradiction to the biblical concept of truth, which is that all of creation is ordered by a transcendent, holy God who has given us objective, knowable truth that encompasses both facts AND values. The dominant thinking today, however, is that the realms of science ("facts") and religion ("values") have very little to do with one another. This could not be further from the truth!
Unfortunately, Christianity has bought into this false dichotomy over time, and has therefore largely withdrawn from (or in some cases succumbed to) the culture-at-large. Christians have very little influence or credibility in the sciences, and are no longer creating art, music, and literature (the building blocks of culture that shape our worldviews more than anything else) that impact society outside of Christian circles. This abrogation of the church's responsibility as a culture-making institution has led to rampant secularism in our schools, our media, our politics, and even (to a growing extent) our churches.
For this reason, we find ourselves living in a time and place in which we are "metaphysically lost". The concept of "Total Truth" (the title of Pearcey's first book: Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity) is so far removed from our culture's understanding that we are hardly even able to engage in the discussion. Christians who have unconsciously bought into dualistic thinking are unable to form logical arguments for why things like abortion and euthanasia are morally wrong. As she points out, "people do not just need rules, they need reasons" (p. 69). She closes out Part 1 with this challenge (to which I give a hearty "Amen!"):
"It's time for the church to regroup, rethink, and recast its strategy for social and political engagement. Christians must learn to engage the secular worldviews that drive the public debate. They must learn to articulate a worldview rationale for biblical morality. And most importantly, they must back up their message with authentic living before a watching world." (p. 69)
Part 2 ("Two Paths to Secularism") seeks to equip Christians with an understanding of exactly how we got where we are, and with the hope that real change in our society IS possible... though not using the tactics to which conservative Christians have resorted for generations. She does this by tracing the development of secular dualism by exploring the work of several "change agents": philosophers, artists, composers, authors, theologians, scientists, politicians, and others who have shaped the course of history.
Those familiar with Francis Schaeffer's work (especially How Should We Then Live?: The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture) will recognize the method of cultural analysis Pearcey uses to determine the significance of a particular cultural artifact, though her work is far more expansive in this regard. After a "crash course on art and worldview", she dives into the meat of the book, tracing the "two paths to secularism". These are two philosophical streams, each of which focused on one side of the facts/values dichotomy. The "Enlightenment Heritage" (Materialism) laid claim to the realm of empirical facts, while the "Romantic Heritage" (Idealism) wanted to protect the realm of values. Each of these streams of thought has had several tributaries -- there is much variety within the two traditions -- but they have developed roughly in parallel, with thinkers from each side of the divide reacting against the other.
The problem is that, while there are elements of truth within both realms, it is an error to focus on one to the exclusion of the other. Throughout history, Christians have found themselves on both sides of this split. To give you an idea of the scope of Pearcey's investigation, I refer you to the promotional video included on Amazon's page for this book, in which the author names several of the genres and individuals presented in the book.
In the end, Pearcey encourages Christians to fully engage in cultural creation and debate. We should approach culture with discernment (which requires first and foremost a solid grounding in the Word of God), holding fast to what is good (1 Thessalonians 5:21) wherever we find it. Armed with God-given spiritual discernment and a "compassion for those who are trapped by destructive ideas", the church is to become a living work of art, conveying the drama and excitement of the gospel to the world around us in word and deed. After all,
"Ideas are very difficult to accept if they are solely abstract and theoretical. We need to see them lived out practically -- made visible and tangible... we need a `plausibility structure,' which means a social structure that renders an idea more plausible and believable. And what is the plausibility structure for the gospel? The church, the corporate life of the Christian community." (p. 276)
There is so much more that could be said, but your time would be much better spent reading this book! I'll warn you: This is a very large book (though it's beautiful illustrations and full-color renditions of referenced artwork make it a joy to read, and offset the large amounts of text in a visually appealing way) that will take a long time to read, and even longer to process. Though Pearcey's writing style is quite accessible, you'll have to think a LOT. You'll be challenged to reconsider preconceived notions, even if you don't agree with every one of the author's conclusions. In short, reading this book takes work, but it is absolutely worth it!
Okay, I only own 5 books, but still...
My experience with Nancy Pearcey's writing is primarily based on her previous book, "Total Truth"--which is outstanding. I find her, once again, to be insightful, intellectually challenging, very interesting, and a brilliant analyst of culture--both historical culture and contemporary culture.
In "Saving Leonardo", Pearcey describes, in compelling ways, why the increasing "secularism" in our world is a serious problem. She makes the point that secularism is even a problem for those who do not consider themselves to be religious. She writes, "Because the word `secular' is the opposite of `religious', many people assume that secularism is a problem for religious groups only. Not so. When politics loses its moral dimension, we all lose. When political discourse is debased, the entire society suffers. The reason Christians should be concerned is not to protect their own subculture, but to protect the democratic process for all people."
Pearcey expands in helpful ways on the concept of the "fact/value split" about which she wrote in "Total Truth". She identifies the fact/value split as the "core of modern secularism". Read the book for her able defense of that contention.
In Part 2 of "Saving Leonardo", she addresses two paths to secularism--"originating in the clash between the Enlightenment and the Romantic movement"--in which she traces the "historical rise of secularism".
To demonstrate the effects of secularism on Western culture, Pearcey provides many examples of specific works of art ranging from literature, to painting, to music, to sculpture, to film, and more, explaining how they have contributed to secularism or how they display, knowingly or un-knowingly, the results of secularism's steadily increasing influence.
I found her thoughts on "Artists as Thinkers" to be interesting. She writes, "The truth is that artists interact deeply with the thought of their day, translating worldviews into stories and images." Pearcey correctly identifies "art"--in its many manifestations--as a field of significant influence. And perhaps it is more influential than many Christians realize or acknowledge.
Since I have not studied art in any serious, comprehensive way, there were a number of things I learned in Part 2 of the book. Actually, now that I think of it, it would be more accurate to say that EVERYTHING in Part 2 of the book involved new learning for me...except the page numbering. I was pretty familiar with that concept from the other 5 books I own.
I highly recommend "Saving Leonardo". Nancy Pearcey is brilliant.
Oak Lawn, IL
A. You hack into the program codes of discarded video games. You retrieve the "wallpaper" design of clouds that paraded behind the "Super Mario Brothers". You project it on the gallery wall. Voile'! You're a GENIUS!!
I preface this review by noting that I am a liberal, and I fully expected to dislike "Saving Leonardo" intensely. Instead, I often found myself in full agreement with it.
Here's what I agreed with: It IS important to understand the philosophical bases underlying art, music, and culture. Reconnecting art with the spiritual is also important. "Saving Leonardo", better than most art texts or art historians dare to, elucidates the connections between art, science, and metaphysical ideas.
Pearcey is also correct that many young students come out of college with no critical powers of reasoning. The art department is the most politically correct place you will find on any college campus. Students often emerge from it thinking they are revolutionaries, when in fact they are reactionaries. There is currently a "war" on the traditional art object, like a brush-created painting in a frame or a piece of figurative sculpture. Students are encouraged to believe that conceptual and postmodern art, possibly composed entirely of appropriated junk (things the artist procured or "found" but had no hand in creating) , is actually far superior to traditional forms of art.
It's hard not to feel that the most successful, most lauded, or most visible art created these days is often some kind of simple or elaborate stunt. "Art is whatever we say it is", Andy Warhol propounded. Art is whatever you can sell someone. It is the apotheosis of elitism. Elitism, thy name is contemporary art.
On those concerns, I do agree heavily with Nancy Pearcey. However, that's as far as it goes. After going through a complete analysis of art up to postmodernism, she barely touches on contemporary art, providing no examples besides a few installations that are decades old. Then she instead diverts her attention to popular culture like movies (I think movies receive enough honest criticism in this society-- but art doesn't), and proceeds to dilute her own focus. She also further mystifies "postmodernism", which is already a buzzword far removed from its original meaning, by applying it to the bedroom.
She doesn't propose censorship, but she does seem to hint at it. And therein lies the problem. You cannot restrict creativity, because it is the foundation of a free society. When you limit art to "Christian alternatives", you do young people an extreme disservice. The examples of contemporary "Christian art" Pearcey provides actually pale in comparison with the rest of the examples of art in the book (the ones that she asks readers to judge by worldview, not beauty.)
The fact is that Mark Rothko's art is spiritual, even if it is not Christian per se. People should be free to enjoy whatever delights the eye, because that is what art is about. It either works or it doesn't.
My belief is that art must rest on a bedrock of craft. Art should be skillful. I don't entirely trust the marketplace to winnow out bad art---not when kitsch (literally, bad taste)has become a very marketable fad-- and I hate the elitists that tell me the evidence of what my own eyes see can't tell me what good art is. I know good art when I see it.
Nancy Pearcey recommends a "worldview detector". I just prefer the good old fashioned B.S. detector, which has always worked very well for me.
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