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Legalism in the Classical Arts–Part 2

Kara continues to discuss the theme of legalism in this follow-up to last week’s post.


If an untrained teenage girl can sing a Puccini aria and, despite many technical deficiencies, touch the hearts of her audience, she must be doing something right. Unfortunately, many in the classical music world have condemned her for even attempting it, and her audience for enjoying it. This shows, in my opinion, a deadly flaw in the classical arts culture—an attitude which seems noble on the surface (the artist defending the integrity of his art), but can grow to be a subtle poison (the artist being demeaning and exclusive towards anything which does not measure up to his standards), which in itself corrupts the heart of something which is meant to be sacred.
It’s interesting to me that this same attitude can be seen in the church. There are many times when the right and necessary desire to protect the Faith from corruption–from being watered-down and stripped of its power, or from being turned into something that pulls people away from God and His truth—turns into a harmful and judgmental condemnation of any attempt that does not measure up to man-made standards, or any person that is not as far along in his walk with Christ as we might be. There is a fine line between the two, and it is very often crossed, turning people away from at least the church, if not from Christ.
Many times we also reject truth because it is not phrased in the right Baby Bathwater 2“Christian” language, or because the messenger is not someone whose opinion we would normal think to consider. I have been so often guilty of this—I hear something in what someone says that I don’t agree with, especially if the speaker himself is not someone I have reason to respect, and I tend to turn off my receptivity and close my mind to whatever else he is saying, thereby losing the chance of gaining some possible truth (much as those who listened to Laura Bretan’s performance turned off their receptivity to recognizing the good in what she had done because of the flaws in her technique). George MacDonald said, “Truth is truth, whether it comes from the lips of Jesus or Balaam.” Of course it is important to evaluate carefully what is said and where it comes from, and recognize that all truth originates with God even if the person speaking it does not recognize it yet. But truth is something that should be celebrated, regardless of its wrapping, and metaphorically throwing out the baby with the bathwater does nothing to grow us as people, or witness to those around us.
I think that for both art and Christianity, one solution for a judgmental attitude is to consider the purpose of what one is trying to defend. Does what you are hearing or seeing agree with that purpose, is it on the road towards that goal or does it in some way constitute a small part of it? Does the amateur performance in some way reach people in a place that goes deeper than words, as music is supposed to? Is the struggling Christian, in some part of his life, choosing to hold fast to God and follow His will? Did the secular professor say something in his lecture that gave a small gleam of a grander truth? If so, we must consider carefully before giving a rotund condemnation—for in so doing, we could kill a seed that would have grown into an emblem of what we are trying to protect and represent. We can recognize errors and false imitations, yes. Give constructive criticism, of course. But we should never lose sight of that seed—and more importantly, what we can do to help it grow.


These are current issues in today’s culture. Do you have any thoughts? Feel free to sound off here or on the Facebook page!