Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Prayer

Before arriving in Cartusia in 1084 and starting his legendary existence as a hermit in the Alpine wilderness, 54-year-old Bruno had held for many years a comfortable ecclesiastical job at the cathedral in the French city of Reims. Before settling down in France, the future founder of what would become (after his death) the Chartreux monastic order had received his basic education in his German birthplace, Cologne.

A week or so ago, in that same city of Cologne, the current cardinal, Joachim Meisner, evoked the concept of "degenerate art": an expression that rings an ugly-sounding Nazi bell. Media articles on this affair showed a photo of the cardinal in prayer, like Bruno.

The juxtaposition of Meisner's declaration and the photo of him in prayer gives the impression that the reasons for the German prelate's unexpected judgment on art can only be found in the private dialogue of prayer between the cardinal and God. Now, this suggestion infuriates me. When scientists and technologists—not to mention other intellectual leaders of society, including art experts—are called upon to back up their beliefs and allegations by hard facts, they obtain these precious elements of justification by many subtle and often complex means. Legal folk would speak of evidence. In any case, private dialogues with God are totally unacceptable as a justification for incendiary declarations concerning things in our everyday world... particularly when the declarations in question come from a German churchman, and they sound shockingly close to Nazi talk.

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