One of the highlights at the most recent Festival of Faith and Music was the lecture by David Dark. David is the author of The Sacredness of Questioning Everything, which takes a sideways look at postmodern Evangelicalism. His thoughts really resonated with me, and after I met him at the festival, he told me he'd be more than happy to do an interview on Total Darkness vs. Blinding Light. That may have been a year ago, but we just now finally got around to talking about trends in Christian theology, media consumption and how it all relates to our spiritual livelihood. If you're interested in that conversation, read on:
Dylan Peterson: First thing that jumped out at me when I looked at The Sacredness of Questioning Everything: Zondervan. When I heard you speak at Calvin, and even in the book, I thought, “David Dark doesn’t seem like the kind of guy who should be published by Zondervan.” Did they come to you? Or did you go to them? And if the latter is the case, why would you want to be published by Zondervan instead of a mainstream publisher?
David Dark: A good question. I was contacted by a Zondervan editor somewhere back there, and I had the same thought you did. Turns out that, at the time, they were looking to branch out a little (Think Shane Caliborne), and I was assured that they were very up for what I had in mind. I know what you mean on the “mainstream” concern, and I share it, but Zondervan’s in the HarperCollins/News Corporation salesforce. If I think of it that widely, Patti Smith and Charles Bukowski and I are in the same pond. Just different ways of going to market.
DP: How does one even get to a point at which he’s able to write books about the movies and music they enjoy? Which is what it seems you have done with this book, in a sense.
DD: I did it for Prism and Books&Culture and then contacted Rodney Clapp of Brazos with a book idea. This was in the days before blogs. I’m told that publishers and agents will hardly even talk to people who don’t have some kind of Internet presence these days. If I was just starting out, I suppose I’d begin with a blog. I recently listened to Patton Oswalt citing Roger Ebert as someone who helped him to understand that you can make a living by liking things, telling stories about stories, corralling your own enthusiasms in interesting directions. I suspect this characterizes an awful lot of what I’m up to.
DP: It’s clear that you value blogging. Do you do a lot of interviews with little blogs like this? Why put so much time in for such a small return?
DD: I don’t THINK I’ve ever turned down an interview. I might love the the voice in my head too much. I’m also helped considerably with my own thinking/words/work when people ask me questions.
DP: Virtual reality is almost just “reality” nowadays. Zizek elaborated on this almost a decade ago. Is community not “real” on facebook or throughout the blogosphere?DD: I have no doubt that many people are trading away (or avoiding) the possibility of living relationships through the time they devote to seeing if someone’s written them or gazing over photos of long lost friends while there’s a child nearby who’d like to be a little less alone with their legos. There’s a false urgency and a pseudo-intimacy at work in our interaction with electronic appliances. BUT these platforms can and do occasionally facilitate real connections. Nevertheless, I’m haunted by Jacques Ellul’s adage: “A computer isn’t a companion. It’s a vampire.”
DP: “Deliverance comes by questions” you say early on in your book. But so many people don’t want to ask questions. They do NOT feel joy when they ask questions, but only when they receive answers to questions. Should everyone become a philosopher even if it feels against his or her nature? What do you say to these kinds of people?
DD: I suppose I’d challenge them (presuming they claim one) to look a little harder at their alleged religious traditions and to ask what they mean (or think they mean) when they speak of faith. Flannery O’Connor once noted that college freshmen who steer clear of philosophy courses for fear that it would make them lose their faith probably don’t have a faith to lose in the first place. Faith doesn’t allow doubts and questions; faith is the work of doubting and questioning and wondering and giving voice to our own confusion. The biblical witness, like most sacred texts, is a record of these discordant voices. Being faithful to it means getting in on the act; finding and placing our own voices in the mix, voices that don’t know what’s what and say so. If someone was to say that love of wisdom (philosophy) is against their nature, I would tell them that I share their confession in a certain sense but that such foolishness can be meaningfully combated through prayer and study and listening to one another.
DP: Maybe you even said something about this in your talk at Calvin, but I see heretics as an essential part of a successful religion. Heretics provide that form of questioning WITHIN an establishment, not as some outsider objecting from miles beyond the club gates with nothing actually invested in the group project. A good dose of heresy may eventually turn a one-time heretic into a saint due to the progressive thinking they aggravatingly brought into a stagnating dogma. But, the former heretic only is seen as a saint once he has died, so what does this all mean for the living heretic? Though he may rise up against the orthodoxy that promises salvation, will his inner dedication to truth be the wildcard that all of the other followers could never attain? And if so, what of those followers? Are they doomed for not listening to the “heretic” when he spoke?
DD: I guess it means that he or she was/is faithful. And faithfulness, as I understand it, promises little or nothing when it comes to popular affirmation or the admiration of peers. Daniel Berrigan quipped that if you want to follow Jesus, you better look good on wood...Oscar Wilde said that no righteous deed goes unpunished. When it comes to the bad ideas that doubtless have hold of us now, I pray I’ll have the wit and humility to receive the instruction and admonition of the youth upon whom I’m counting to show me the way, and I trust future generations will assess ours clearly but also with mercy and love. Love alone is credible.
DP: You are a proponent for non-violence, yet you find value in a film like, say, There Will be Blood. Is this not hypocritical? Why not?
DD: I’d say I aspire to be a practitioner of the non-violent vision of the beloved community (Wouldn’t want to decree myself a proponent though I’d accept it as a compliment). I don’t think There Will Be Blood holds to the myth of redemptive violence; I think it unmasks it like Shakespeare and Melville do.
DP: “Redemptive” art seems particularly valuable for Christians. Can non-redemptive art be as valuable--do you believe in “art for art’s sake”?
DD: When I call something artful or poetic, I am speaking of what I take to be its redeeming witness, its way of calling upon the audience/reader/viewer to re-value, re-assess, re-vision, and re-member. When I withhold this affirmation, I’m admitting that I have yet to see if or how it does this.
DP: I’ve seen some writers try to redefine the word “fundamentalism” almost as an attempt save it from the bad reputation it’s garnered over the years for being so closely equated with “radicalism.” Are you trying to do the same sort of thing with the term “evangelical”? And if so, why? Why not just let that word remain the ugly thing it has evolved into? Why not just use a new term?DD: I think words are worth recycling, re-deploying, and salvaging. I treasure so many figures who used the word in a life-giving sense: Barth, Bonhoeffer, William Stringfellow. I value the tradition too much to see it misconstrued as a sleeper cell for a political party within one nation-state. It still means something else outside of its English language use in this one particular country. I want it to keep it alive and signalling.
DP: You’re very aware of what good art, drama or comedy is made of. Since you know what is required, why have you chosen to write non-fiction about good art, instead of making it yourself?
DD: Give me time. The commentary comes quicker (or more easily) at present, but I am possessed of certain, ridiculous aspirations. I’m interested in at least pretending to be Dostoevsky for the 21st century.