Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Uniformity's curse

We joined the crowds at Doulos when it was berthed at Westport after dropping off Ethan and Elliot for their TeenStreet reunion Saturday morning a couple of weeks ago. And oh the crowds! You would be forgiven if you thought there was a fire sale. Well, a lot of the books on display were going quite cheap although the range wasn’t the type that would have me jumping for joy. I think I stayed no more than an hour.

But I found this book – Abraham Kuyper: A Centennial Reader by James Bratt – (RM24!) which is a collection of writings by Calvinist theologian-politician Abraham Kuyper. Kuyper was an intellectual giant and a prolific writer publishing hundreds of books and articles on topics such as politics, literature, art, philosophy, and social issues. He was also a homeschooler, so I feel a special kinship towards him being a homeschooling dad myself.

The late Francis Schaeffer was much influenced by Dutch reformer Kuyper and helped to popularize his work. Others have claimed that Kuyper’s theology of natural order and common grace provided the basis for the institutionalization of apartheid in South Africa (this 1995 monograph gives a different viewpoint). Anyway here’s a fascinating excerpt from a criticism on modern culture and what Kuyper calls the 'curse' of uniformity. Interesting read. Although it was written in 1869, Kuyper could well be speaking about our own times today:

Humanity fashions for itself an iron fence made up of identical stiles. That is its unity. But if you wish to se the unity of God, go out into a wild forest, observe there the crooked trunks, the twisted branches, the mingling of colours, the endless variety of shades, and not how it is precisely in the whimsical interplay of colours and lines that unity is revealed in its finest expression. But what is our age doing? On the model of that iron fence, it trims frolicsome shrubbery into a smooth hedge and prunes those wild trunks to the very top to create a forced unity in the tangled mass by an artificial uniformity. It confuses monotony with harmony and fancies that the full accord of life has been found when every instrument is properly attuned and no dissonances heard…The average is the standard to which it artificially elevates the one and forcibly flattens others, which explains the mediocrity of modern life. In fact, the flourishing of the arts is the tree of true unity, out of an impulse toward a fuller life. The curse of uniformity is thus manifest in the fact that our modern life is almost totally devoid of artistic talent of any kind, poverty-stricken in aesthetic vitality, and totally destitute of artistic creations. Let no one think that this deficiency is accidental. It is rather the necessary consequence of the drive toward uniformity.

I was recently reminded by a blogger that the last time anyone experimented in racial and cultural purity (doesn't that sound like uniformity?) it gave birth to the totalitarian state of the Third Reich. Sobering food for thought.

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