The triumph of the human spirit? two magazine pages

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Every week, the New York Times Magazine contains a photo of an interesting person, illustrating a page of Q & A between an interviewer and the interesting person. This Sunday, September 21, features David Suchet, the actor who has played Hercule Poirot, Agatha Christie’s fastidious Belgian detective, for 25 years. Here is one of the questions asked by Hope Reeves, the interviewer:

I read that you grew up without religion but became a Christian in 1986, at age 40.

And here is his answer:

I’ve always felt that there must be something better than what we have here. And that certainly, for me, has never been found in humanistic philosophy. I’m not that impressed with us as human beings, with what we’re doing to the planet and to each other. We’re a pretty cruel animal.

One of many reasons that this is so striking is that David Suchet, a convert to the Christian faith, is saying what very few of our clergy and lay teachers are willing to say. Instead, our leaders have swallowed the secular gospel of human potential, human possibility, and “the triumph of the human spirit.” The clear story-line of the Scriptures, that humankind has fallen into the grip of Sin and Death and is unable to free itself without divine intervention, is either ignored or actively rejected by numerous voices that I hear in the church. Thus the preaching of the Cross of Christ is reduced to a message of suffering love to cherish and emulate, but without the corresponding factor of Jesus’ submission, as the crucified One, to the malign Powers of the demonic–and his climactic and decisive victory over them. How can we truly celebrate Christ’s resurrection if we do not acknowledge the lethal nature of the forces that hold humanity imprisoned?

This lies at the heart of the Augustinian-Pelagian debate that I’m discussing in my Ruminations on this website.


On the page of the NYT Magazine just opposite the interview with David Suchet, there is a full-color ad for a high-end real estate company. The model, Misty Copeland, is a soloist in the world-renowned American Ballet Theatre company. She is dramatically posed on a sofa bare-assed (albeit not topless), displaying her elegant legs and ballet-slippered feet in a provocative fashion. The text says, “For leading soloist Misty Copeland, home is a stage on which to express herself.”

As a lifelong lover of the ballet, I find this appalling on every level. The great choreographer George Balanchine famously did not permit his dancers to “express themselves.” Ballet was about music and movement in the service of transcendent values. The coarsening of this tradition in the last ten years or so, with dancers in the NYC Ballet (Balanchine’s company) posing for reductive, or suggestive) photos of themselves with cutesy “we’re just people like you” quotes displayed in ads and in the theater, has been very discouraging (and much criticized by discerning ballet-lovers). The new ad for the NYCB shows the greatly admired soloist Tiler Peck posed as if she were just waking up, not from Sleeping Beauty’s long rest, but from an energetic night in bed, complete with up-to-there legs (again with those toe shoes) and what looks like tousled sheets. I am not just complaining about the vulgarity of the way ballet is being marketed now. I am thinking of the great Balanchine ballerina Suzanne Farrell and how appalled she would be to think that “expressing oneself” was a goal of classical dance. This is the way we live now, with the supposedly unfettered self at the center of it all … but David Suchet’s observations tell the truth about that lie.

Jesus is Lord, confessed the early Christians. He is Lord over the demonic forces that cause us to be profoundly estranged from our true selves. Balanchine, an authentic genius, envisioned the ballerina’s supreme command onstage, not because she was “expressing herself,” but because she bore in her person the vision of that realm wherein the power of God has liberated humanity from all forms of debasement.

(I am not alone in saying this; many people have written about it. Balanchine was an observant believer of sorts [Russian Orthodox] and did not deny these interpretations of his work.)

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