Christ did not just say 'let him that has ears hear', He also said, 'let him that has eyes SEE'. What do we Christians have to show? Nothing much really, not so much in terms of our sacrificial Christ-like lives, not so much in terms of our symbols/arts either. We mostly spout out some hot air as the monk in Monty Python and the Holy Grail does when he preps to bless the 'holy grenade' which will kill a rabbitRead More
I love history, I admire beauty, I appreciate philosophy and I enjoy watching the Olympic opening ceremony with a bunch of good friends. Thanks to the 2012 London Olympics opening ceremony, I got to do all of this. What made the London Olympics special is that unlike most other Olympic ceremonies, the theatrics of the London ceremony were not about a juxtaposition of shapes, sounds and sights, rather it was beautifully choreographed storytelling of the Story of Civilization (some parts were politically charged though; the Olympics (at least the recent ones) was the one thing in the world I thought was above politics… apparently, not any more).
Anyway, I love it when art is used to tell a good story. Art needs no justification. Art does not have to always tell a good (or happy) story for it to be good art. When a story is told well, it is good. But then there are cases where art can be used as a 'propaganda machine' – when even its best elements become desecrated by subversive motives of base-humans that wield it for political purposes. Much of the rendition in the London Olympic ceremony was good artful storytelling, but there was some subversive use of art for propaganda too, especially for the NHS (British Healthcare System).
There was once a true saying about England: 'The Sun never sets in the British Empire'… literally, the British Empire was so vast, covering all time-zones, that some part of its empire was facing the Sun. Great Britain has a very special place in the story of Human Civilization; it almost single-handedly brought about the shift from an agrarian economy to an industrial economy the world over. The presentation at the Olympics about the history of Great Britain seemed to suggest that Britain strives to continue to be the rudder of the world, shifting the world economy to the next stage, away from the industrial/capitalist setup to a socialist setup (NHS).
The choreography began with an astoundingly beautiful landscape bright, beautiful and green where families farm the land, eat of its produce and enjoy communal harmony. Then the economy transitions to the Industrial Age. Slowly, the colors of the choreography change - what was bright, beautiful and green becomes dark, ugly and grey. You don't see families and country homes with gleeful kids playing anymore. Instead, you see masses of 'individuals' climbing out of coal mines greasy, grim-looking and hopeless. Out of the pain and toil of these industrial workers, iron is smelted into five fiery rings that interlocked to become the Olympic-rings. I thought this part of the story was beautifully depicted, even the grim-looking grey scale depiction of the industrial revolution was done artfully. It was spectacular. It was good art.
Now on to the part of the story were Art was made into a 'propaganda machine'. In the rendition of the transition from the 'communal' agrarian era to the 'Individualistic' industrial era, something interesting happens in the performance that is noteworthy. A few rich men pop-up and they are depicted as the greedy, suave and in-compassionate men - the evil masters of industrial revolution, the new 'capitalist'.
These 'Capitalists' are shown as being carefree, dancing and enjoying the fruits of the labor of other oppressed industrial workers. A slight on Capitalism? The whole thing had the feel of socialistic indoctrination. What shocked me was the performance ultimately ended in a crescendo for NHS (National Health System - the British Government controlled Healthcare System). I don't object to the government trying to take care of people who do not have enough community around them to support themselves, but to make Artful presentation in the Olympics as propaganda for the NHS is atrocious. Atrocious, not from policy stand point, but from the stand-point of using art and such a unifying event as the Olympics as a political propaganda for NHS. Of course, sick people need to be taken care of. There are many ways of doing it, NHS is one. It is probably not the best way to do it. To use Olympics and artful performance with kids as a vehicle for propagating the assumed greatness of NHS is I think very subversive use of art.
In fact the very introduction of the NHS is subversively done. It begins in a scene in which the kids in hospital beds have nightmares of being chased off by evil Ghosts (of the evil dead Capitalists? or Political Conservatives?). Then Mary Poppins is flown-in to soothe the kids and then (surprise, surprise...) in big, bold, bright lights the NHS is formed. It almost seems to imply that as London changed the world from an agrarian economy to an industrial economy, it will lead the world into a social economy.
Let us take a step back here... the overall idea that is presented here is that people were once happy farmers and then the industrial age makes them hapless victims of the evil capitalists and now moving towards a social age of taking money from the evil capitalists and serving the poor. This is Marxism pure and simple. The problem with this rendition of the story, is not that it is totally false (there is some truth to it), the problem with the rendition of the ills of Capitalism and the need for socialism it is that it is one-sided. The performance glosses over the fact that the agrarian economy had its problems. Neither does it show that the capitalistic system has its benefits too.
For example, in the agrarian age the farmer was a powerless worker at the mercies of forces beyond his control. Often he did not own large portions of land to have a sustainable income. He did not have access to capital, so he could never get a loan to buy land and work for himself and pass on the benefits of his hard-work to his son to build upon. Instead, he had to work for the large land owners. If crops failed, he got in debt to the land owner and eventually he became a servant/slave of the house of the Landlord. In this 'feudal' system, the landlords often were just another version of the evil, exacting and excessively greedy new capitalist. In this system, the farmer never got a shot at life, his son too had only to be a poor farmer at the mercy of the rain-gods serving the rich (often greedy) landlords.
Enter capitalism, capitalism is based on the idea of availability of capital solely based on merit. Capitalism steps into this feudal system and says that it will lend the farmer money to build his own farm and make money off it. Capitalism will lend you money if you are meritorious (hard working, industrious and responsible) to use the money well and repay the loan with interest. Capitalism freed people up to do what they were good at doing, as long as what they did was valued by others in the society. For example if you are good at making iPhones and people value the iPhones you make, capitalism becomes the vehicle to make it happen. You did not have to be a son of a billionaire to have a shot at life. You just had to be enterprising. The London Olympics points out the evil side of capitalism (rightly so), but it totally misses this good part of capitalism.
Social propagandists actually get it partly right, in that they observe the social ills better than the capitalist counter parts do, BUT they diagnose it wrongly. They think the problem with society is its Capitalistic bent. They think that if only people could be convinced (if need be, indoctrinated) that communism is a better system, then that people would become communists and the world would become a better place. They mistakenly see capitalism as the problem as socialism as the solution. They are oblivious to the real problem that is the cause of the ills of the society - the evil within human heart/will. Socialism has not and cannot change the evil within the human heart.
Enter Christianity, how does Christianity solve this problem? Christianity rightly diagnoses that the problem is the evil within human heart. The problem is not with an -ism, neither is the solution an -ism. The problem is Sin and the solution is a Savior. What is missing in London's rendition of the story of the civilization is that it misses the fact that there real Sin in all human hearts (whether agrarian or capitalistic or socialistic) and that there is a real Savior who can transform every human heart and make it anew loving, enterprising and happy.
Ironically, the London opening ceremony left out the part where much of Christianity spread through the world in the 18th and 19th centuries by the work of the British (and European) missionaries. The schools, colleges and beurocratic systems they built gave the colonized countries the social structure they needed as they moved away from the feudal systems to freer economies. In India, back when women were not sent to college, a British lady Ms. Sarah Tucker, through the work of the Christian Missionary Society built the first college for women in South India. It paved way for my grandmother and many other women of her generation to be educated. In fact, if only the Christians had followed the tradition of building mission hospitals where the poor and oppressed can come and get healed, we wouldn't have to be dealing with Government overreaches into the lives of individuals in the form of the NHS or any other socialist setup.
What is even more ironical is that it is the people who often consider themselves the 'Christian Right' that vociferously oppose Government support systems pertaining to Healthcare. If Christians had done a good job of taking care of the sick in their midst, the government wouldn't have found a need to step into in the first place. Francis Schaeffer, sometimes derisively called the 'god of the Christian Right' (by the liberal establishment), actually indicts the Christians of the Industrial era for not practicing 'compassionate capitalism'. Christians of that era did not love people around them enough. Of course, they bank rolled the pioneering mission organizations that built schools and hospitals in the Third World, but neglected the Lazarus sitting at their doorstep. We shouldn't forget that Christians gave Socialism the space it needed to become as a global movement. Christians should help the people around us by loving them as people created in the Image of God that deserve dignified treatment.
That the London Olympics chose to highlight the NHS is not so much an indictment of subversive use of arts by the Socialist as much as it is on the hypocrisy of the modern Evangelical Christians. The problem with Evangelical Christianity is that it is very narrowly defined. Evangelical Christians make the 'Great Commission' to proclaim the Gospel as the 'Only Commission' of Christianity. Evangelical Christians forget that we have a mandate to take care of the poor around us. At best Evangelical Christians, much like their counter parts from the Industrial age, have outsourced this helping of the poor to World Vision, Compassion and Living Waters. Ever wondered why most Hospitals have Christian-sounding names? Christians started Healthcare Services as part of their Christian-duty but then turned around and outsourced the taking care of the sick to products of the non-Christian establishment, Insurance companies and the BIG Government. And now, having woken up from the slumber and realizing that the tide has turned, the (evangelical) Christian-right complain that the Government is over reaching into people's private lives and choices.
History, beauty and philosophy come together in the Arts. Arts tell the story of our society. The beautiful choreographed story of London Olympics tells the story of our age - it egregiously shows the Socialist bias towards Capitalism, indirectly indicts Christian indifference to the plight of the society and leaves a gaping hole by saying nothing about Sin being the cause of the social-ills or the need for a Saviour who is powerful enough to disciple individuals and transform Nations. The need of the hour is not NHS or a socialist economy. The need of the hour is societies transformed by a Saviour in which every person is treated with the dignity he/she deserves - as a highly valuable individual made to reflect the Image of the fiercely loving God. Unless this transformation happens, our artful renditions of history, beauty and philosophy will continue to depict our brokenness in our systems (-ism) and the yearning for something better.