FRANCIS SCHAEFFER ANALYZES ART AND CULTURE Part 257 review of How Should We Then Live? (Featured artist are Hubbard/Birchler )


    August 16, 2010 · 1:48 am

How Should We Then Live? (Ancient Rome)

In order to learn lessons from the ancient times, Francis Schaeffer begins with Rome because of her strong influence on the western world. Schaeffer tracks Roman movement from away from a society built upon the city-state polis and toward a society built upon gods. In classical Athens, all values had meaning in reference to the polis because allegiance to an elitist republic was intrinsic to Roman citizenship. When the polis system failed, however, Rome, in partial imitation of the Greeks, turned to a society built upon gods that were little more than amplified human men and women with amplified feelings and flaws. “Since the gods depended on the society which made them, all of their gods put together could not give them a sufficient base for life, morals, and values and consequently when this society collapsed the gods tumbled with it.”

The Romans eventually accepted an authoritarian government centered on Caesar himself out of desperation for a chance to breathe after too many civil conflicts. “[Caesar’s] power now was not only absolute, but perpetual, too.” Plutarch writes about this time of political corruption when the emperors ruled as gods in his famous Lives of the Noble Greeks and Romans. But, as Schaeffer writes, a human god is a poor foundation and Rome fell.

Civilization is delicate and humanity is fragile. Without a strong foundation, it is only a matter of time before the inevitable collapse comes under pressure.

Christianity gradually came to Rome and with it came a totally different vision for culture. The Church brought with her an objective standard for truth, beauty, and goodness that completely uprooted all governments, all politics, and all societies founded on anything but the Triune God. The Romans burned their dead, the Christians buried theirs. The Romans aborted their babies or left them for dead on the streets, the Christians preserved all human life. The Romans practiced homosexuality, sodomy, bestiality, and pedophilia, the Christians restored marriage and sex to their redeemed purpose in the Kingdom of God.

But Rome was cruel and Christians were thrown to the beasts. Why were the Christians killed? They were not killed because they worshipped Jesus or because they loved their neighbors as themselves. They were killed because they worshiped Jesus as God and the infinite-personal God only, and because they had an absolute, universal standard by which to judge both personal morals and the State itself. A Schaeffer puts it, “nobody cared who worshipped whom so long as the worshiper did not disrupt the unity of the state, centered in the formal worship of Caesar.” In other words, Rome kept peace because peace depended upon the pluralism of Roman society. When Christianity disrupted society with the gospel’s implication to render Caesar unto God, things got messy.

Near the end of the Roman Empire, Francis Schaeffer argues that art, music, architecture, intellectual livelihood, and the economy suffered due to the apathy that had been growing in the minds of the Romans. Even after Constantine ended the persecution of Christians and made Christianity a legal religion in 313 A.D., pluralism soon took its toll on the health of society. “Rome did not fall because of external forces such as the invasion by the barbarians. Rome had no sufficient inward base; the barbarians only completed the breakdown – and Rome gradually became a ruin.”

If Rome only came to the logical conclusions of its worldview, Lord have mercy on America.

Featured Artists are Hubbard/Birchler


Teresa Hubbard was born in Dublin, Ireland, in 1965; Alexander Birchler was born in Baden, Switzerland, in 1962. Teresa Hubbard and Alexander Birchler live and work in Austin, Texas, as life partners and artist-collaborators. Both received MFAs from the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, Halifax, Canada. Hubbard and Birchler make short films and photographs about the construction of narrative time and space, without the context of a traditional story line; their open-ended, enigmatic narratives elicit multiple readings. They began their collaboration in the mid-1990s, making sculpture, installation, photography, and performance-based work. In an early photographic series, they created film-still-like images of people interacting with objects and architecture in ways that questioned simplistic narrative resolution.

Their interest in the construction and negotiation of space, architecture, and the function of objects in three dimensions still plays a primary role in their work. In the video installations Detached Building (2001) and Eight (2001), the camera moves in and out of buildings in seamless loops, blurring the physical and chronological borders between here and there, before and after. Their productions reveal a strong sense of carefully constructed mise-en-scène that owes as much to natural-history-museum dioramas as to cinematic directorial techniques. These works seem to be spliced from a larger narrative, but the artists are unwilling to lead the viewer toward any specific apprehension of what that story might be.

Hubbard and Birchler cite as influences Hitchcock, Malick, Mamet, Kafka, Flaubert, and Hopper—all of whom are notable for use of the psycho-spatial dimension. Hubbard/Birchler’s work has been shown at Whitney Museum of American Art at Altria, New York; Centro Galego de Arte Contemporánea, Santiago de Compostela; Museum of Contemporary Art, Berlin; Foundation for Photography, Amsterdam; Center for Photography, Salamanca; Venice Biennale (1999); and National Gallery, Prague.

Artists’ website

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