Charlie's Blog: Cultural Chauvinism


Cultural Chauvinism

Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.

I have been listening to classical music lately. I read that listenership to this genre of music is at an all time low, so it automatically made me want to go against the herd listening to rock, rap, and country. So, I've been listening to symphonies, requiems, opera music, sonatas, concertos, choral music, and chant. The weird thing about this change in listening is that my brain has rebelled by calling to mind every stupid song I have heard over the years. Some rap or country song will pop into my brain, and I will sing it. Singing it or rapping it seems to get rid of it, and I liken this process to a sort of cultural exorcism. The good is driving out the bad. This leads to a conclusion that people don't want to admit, but we know to be true. Not all culture is created equal.

Cultural egalitarianism is a product of the multicultural mindset that is the bastard child of the Protestant Revolution. If religious belief is an individual matter, it stands to reason that cultural sensibilities are also individual matters. This is where we get that notion that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Aesthetic judgments are purely personal matters, and we can't say that Brahms is better than some hip hop anthem. One form of music or art is as good as another. Then, some common person will appear on a television talent show filled with pop music performers and animal tricks and blow away the world not with hip hop or country but opera music that is so sublime that the audience is left speechless. Part of the surprise comes from the hidden talent, but I think the greater part of it comes from actually experiencing beautiful music again.

Cultural chauvinism is the belief that certain cultural products are superior to others. This is a radical notion in our day. Let me say it more explicitly. Rap music is the product of a debased culture. To make this statement is to invite charges of racism, but I can also say that heavy metal is also the product of a debased culture. Country music songs about banging out chicks in your four wheel drive pickup truck are also debased. What is pure, honorable, and lovely about any of this music?

Classical music was born in Christian Europe which is why it is so beautiful. It is not beautiful in some subjective sense as if this was just some mere taste. This music transcends culture, and it is beautiful wherever it is heard. The reason this music is beautiful is because it was born in the Church, and it is music befitting our Savior. The influence of this worship music permeated beyond the walls of the church to affect non-church music like the music of the opera and the waltz.

Beauty is not confined to the high brow but is also found among the folk forms of music. This music is not as polished as that of classically trained musicians, but it shares the same creative compass and direction as that more refined music. Whether it is the concert violinist or the troubador playing his lute, the belief is that beauty exists. Whether we achieve it is another matter. But this belief is essential.

The cultural egalitarian does not believe in beauty. The true, the good, and the beautiful are subjective things. The individual becomes the measure of all things instead of God. As I have written elsewhere, when God is no longer the cornerstone, things go awry. Disposing of God would be like an ancient sailor tossing his compass and astrolabe overboard and taking his chances on chaos.

So much popular culture today is intent not on celebrating beauty but desecrating what is beautiful. This is where you see the slow slide over the last two centuries from the classical forms to jazz to rock to Norwegian death metal. Each step has been to something more visceral, debased, silly, or violent. The aim is to shock, but then the shock is replaced by numbness as the soul becomes deadened to the pure and the lovely. This requires a stronger shock to achieve the same effect.

The irony today is that the greater shock comes when beauty intrudes upon this world of ugliness. People deadened in their hearts and souls are surprised when they feel a flicker of emotion when listening to beautiful music again. Try as they might, they cannot extinguish the truth that they are still made in the image of God, and their souls yearn for the true, the good, and the beautiful.

The most moving thing I have seen lately has been the efforts of the very poor in Asuncion, Paraguay, to find beauty. The Orchestra of Recycled Instruments of Cateura literally play instruments made from garbage, yet the music is beautiful informed by the cultural sensibilities of Christian Europe. There is irony here. The rich and the decadent turn their music into garbage while these poor and humble people in Paraguay turn their garbage into music. Do I believe that the music played on garbage is superior to hip hop? Absolutely. Yet, this somehow makes me an elitist and a snob. If it does, then so be it. To believe in the true, the good, and the beautiful is to exist on an elevated plane, and I want to get there and remain there. I am not a cultural egalitarian. I am a cultural chauvinist.