Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Local Library and Ideological Purity

I'm a big patron of the Cincinnati Public Library. Their selection of books, films and sound recordings is exhaustive, their online catalogue is easy to browse, and best of all, it's almost free so long as I return materials on time. The library is also a great dividing line between pragmatic conservatives and ideological purists.

You see, the library is a publicly funded institution, and hard-line conservatives oppose all public institutions that provide services that a private market could supply. To a great extent, I recognize the inefficiency of public institutions and entitlements and the culture of dependency that they sometimes create. Moreover, it's obvious to me that the private sector could provide most of the services of a public library (see: Netflix). And yet, I still like the library.

Though it's publicly funded, it's still pretty cheap; last year's library levy increased local sales tax by a fraction of a cent. Moreover, it actually does what it was designed to do, providing wide access to books and media to patrons of all socio-economic backgrounds. It's also locally controlled; library funding is approved by the people who will actually use it.

What would be the advantages of a privately funded media co-op that would replace the library? Perhaps greater efficiency, more focus on new titles, the ability for local residents to opt out of the system. To the negative, the huge waste of media and space that would accompany a dismantling of the public library system and the limits placed on access by the membership fees that such a system would necessitate. These considerations weighed, I still favor the public option.

At the point, I hope that readers speak a collective "Duh." I am glad that you too like the library. What I am trying to illustrate is the need for a paradigm shift in conservative thinking, away from a priori opposition to all public institutions, and toward a weighing of the relative costs of addressing needs publicly or privately. As conservatives, we will still be skeptical toward public solutions and decide against them more often than not and will be very cautious about creating new institutions, but we will still consider problems on a case-by-case basis, and we will recognize that the serious costs associated with dismantling public institutions, even if we would have opposed their creation in some ideal original social position.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Addendum to Previous Post

For purposes of clarification, I provide the following summary of the points made in my previous post, along with a handful of new thoughts.

-We cannot evaluate songs chosen for corporate worship the same way we evaluate other songs, even Christian songs. The context of these songs demands that they express praise, thanksgiving, repentance, belief, etc. in ways that are common or ought to be common to all believers. Explicit description of specific personal experience renders a song inappropriate for corporate worship, no matter how good the song may be on its own.

-We must be careful about what our figurative language signifies. This is especially difficult because bad metaphors are the essence of pop lyricism. Worship songs, however, are trying to convey important truths and serious mysteries, not pleasant ambiguities. Figurative language should signify concrete truths to an audience. The most prevalent quality of hurricanes to most people is their overwhelming destructive power, and so "loves like a hurricane" is a bad lyric for a worship song, brilliantly ironic though it might be in some context. "The Lord is mighty like a hurricane" would be a better lyric.

-Worship songs should not require an inordinate amount of background knowledge to understand. A couple people have pointed me to the circumstances under which "How He Loves" was written, and these shed a bit of light on its meaning, but exacerbate some of the difficulties in it. But let's say for the sake of argument that the background story clarified everything in the song. It would enhance my appreciation of the song, but the song would still be a poor choice for corporate worship because few people know the background a be able to understand it; the worship leader would need to explain the story every time the song was played. It's one thing when a background story enhances our appreciation of a song (see "It is Well" by Phillip Bliss), another when that story is necessary to understand the song (see "American Skin (41 Shots)" by Bruce Springsteen).

-Biblical imagery provides a good basis for worship lyrics. We already know that its meaning is sound, and it calls congregants' minds to a wider body of truths. Inevitably, it brings us to think about God and not ourselves, as lines like "My heart beats violently inside of my chest" are wont to do. Moreover, song lyrics are marvelous teaching tools. They present the opportunity to ingrain in us the most important truths of our faith or meaningless pap.