Review of Anthony Massimini's "The New Dance of Christ"

A review of Anthony T. Massimini's The New Dance of Christ: Discovering Our Spiritual Self in a New, Evolving World  (Xlibris Corporation/Random House; Philadelphia, 2000; 280 pages; ISBN 073-882795-9)


Despite its seemingly precious title and un-academic cover, this is a very ambitious work. Dr. Massimini sets out to paint a unifying vision of reality that indicates the spiritual high ground above the war between the Jihad and the McWorld, a battle that presently threatens to plunge the planet into the deadly dance of Shiva the Destroyer. He suggests that we should not strain vainly to be justified by irrational faith alone. He prefers to interpret the revelations of science through the redemptive eyes of the mystic. There is redemption to be gained through wonder.

Massimini's book is not perfect, there are several embarrassing factual inaccuracies, typos and distortions that annoyed this reader; however, my overall impression is extremely favorable. I discovered that Massimini's audacity is matched only by his accomplishment; he succeeds in presenting an account of the human condition that is consistent with the highest aspirations of both modern science and Christianity. I do not mean to suggest that Massimini is only philosophically a Christian, he is clearly opposed to abortion and is convinced that those who refuse to participate in the cosmic dance will be thrown into the eternal "burning heap" of Hell. We should note that while there is nothing predestined about their doom, the spiritually dead bury themselves through their own choices.  Of far more interest, however, is his vision of how the living, intelligent Christians of good will, should relate to the world in these troubling times.

Massimini sees very clearly that the unprecedented event of August 6th 1945, the explosion of the Atomic Bomb over Hiroshima, marked a new epoch in human history. On that day the human race discovered that it could destroy the entire planet (the power of life and death without commensurable knowledge of good and evil) and this suggested that a fundamental reappraisal of the human role in the chain of being had to be undertaken. On that day, soon after the diabolical evil of the Holocaust, mankind realized that it could not trust that an omnipotent and all-benevolent God would preserve the order of nature and fasten tight the gates of Hell. It was not possible to believe unquestioningly in the natural goodness of man, the eternity of the various animal species or even the mortality of the earth itself. For better or worse, man recognized that he was henceforth destined to take on responsibility for the future of his planet. What sort of God would allow us so much freedom?  How are we to understand the terms on which we are to relate to divine and natural things in the future?

It is in this larger context that we must understand and welcome Massimini's spirited attack on false otherworldliness. He forthrightly points out that "one of the basic spiritual flaws of Christianity has been to disconnect us from earth." We can no longer sanctimoniously deny our responsibilities to the profane sublunary element in which we live, dwell, and have our being; we are called upon to be faithful to the earth. This very possibility of infidelity suggests that we cannot treat the earth as a rich and foolishly indulgent mother who cannot be harmed by our childish mischief. We are now adults, and consequently can no longer confidently believe that we will be bailed out from the worst consequences of our seemingly incorrigible irresponsibility. We are suddenly called upon to see how the laws of Karma operate in the cosmos; as such, we must not only make reparations to nature for our misdeeds, but also atone for the sins of our predecessors and callous contemporaries. "We gather up in ourselves all of earth's life and history...In and through us, our pre-human ancestors take on a new life and look at the world with a new sensitivity." It is as if the earth, our mother, has been stricken with Alzheimer's disease as a result of the swift and violent changes that have been imposed upon her and we must nurse her back to health. Massimini puts this recognition in gentler terms: "We are to care for her -to work creatively to fulfill her possibilities, to heal her hurts, to help her become an even more luminous expression of God's creative wisdom."  Moreover, "we are the universe having become conscious of itself in a human way -able to see itself and appreciate its own intelligence and beauty."

Massimini calls upon us to recognize the deeper implications of the obvious fact that the mechanistic (and fundamentally materialistic) Newtonian model of the world is fast passing away and is being succeeded by an understanding of reality, as pulsating energy,  that is far more compatible with the spirit of Christian revelation. Aristotle, Newton, and several rather prominent figures in the history of Christianity worshipped an austere God of Order rather than a God of Love. We cannot afford to be held hostage by their cynicism, which imprisons us in a dark cave of shadows and superstitions, any more. Creation is an on-going process, a gigantic cosmic dance, that God is continually and urgently inviting us to participate in. One is reminded of the parable of the wedding feast and the reluctant guests. While God does not wish to punish us for our churlish indifference to his summons, we live in a Karmic order wherein our very ungraciousness generates and harvests its inevitable chastisement.

In these potentially apocalyptic times it cannot be denied that any divine intervention in the world cannot take the form of efficient causality; in other words God does not have giant tentacles that could pluck Jews from the ovens of Auschwitz and deflect terrorist attacks on vulnerable targets. Neither have we need or warrant to spout the blasphemous claim that any humanly engendered atrocity was a necessary part of God's hidden plans, predestined from all eternity. It is crucially important to understand that we are the principal agents of efficient causality in the world while God acts through the subtler means of inspiration and grace. We are the players and God is the coach patrolling the sidelines and calling out hoarse instructions that frequently are drowned by the roar of the crowd; he is not the Vegas odds-maker who has fixed the game!  Differently put, while God tries to help us make sweet uses of adverse circumstances, the adversity itself is not divinely decreed. While, as Christians, we are called on to suffer for the sake of love, we are surely not expected to love the suffering!

Massimini also employs this enlightened approach towards interpretation (of both scripture and God's other text: the world) to take on more aspects of what George Bernard Shaw famously denounced as "Cross-tianity."  For example, in taking on Pauline sexism, and explaining God's words to Eve regarding the pain and sorrow she would experience in childbirth, Massimini points out that God did not gratuitously curse 'the Woman,' he merely explained the sad consequences of her sin.  Massimini does not commit the 'Is = Ought' fallacy and shamelessly blame God for the horrid shambles that mankind has made of the beautiful world he created.  We are culpable for misusing our God-given talents and positing a spiteful divinity: a tyrant who condemns us to reap what he sowed. We must somehow learn to see the world through renewed, innocent eyes; to recognize all the potential for goodness that is still inherent in creation, instead of regarding a divine banquet as no more than a fine opportunity to start a food-fight.

Massimini points out that many of our self-proclaimed Christian leaders merely take the name of the Lord in vain. He tells of how when George Bush Sr. decided to attack Iraq, he called in the bishop of his church and asked for a blessing. "The bishop is reported to have said 'George don't do it' He then left the White House, crossed the street and joined some peaceful demonstrators. President Bush then called in the Rev. Billy Graham who prayed with him." Massimini finds that this typifies "American Spirituality" a hubristic approach that sees a leader first make decisions for shamelessly opportunistic or chauvinistic reasons and then 'tacks on' the words 'God Bless America' to cover his behind. Instead of trying to 'schmooze' with God like the triumphal Pharisee of the parable, we should surely strive to emulate the humble Publican -who sought forgiveness and beseeched God not to forsake him.

I have used the words 'we' and 'us' constantly to describe Massimini's vision of how things should change because it is inappropriate to discuss this urgent topic in detached scholarly tones. Today, 225 years after the Declaration of Independence, both America and the world itself are swiftly recognizing that events have revealed our profound "Interdependence" on the earth, one another, and those "better angels of our nature" that the Great Emancipator, Lincoln, so poignantly invoked seven score years ago. Massimini laments the deep fragmentation of the human community, and indeed the soul itself, while simultaneously reminding us of the non-coercive ties of grace and solidarity that are constantly made available to man -like cosmic lifelines that could make spiritual millionaires of us all.

Our present predicament demands that we should all become more generous and loving as we confront the dark forces of violence and cynicism that lurk both around and within us. Massimini paints the compelling image of the citizens of a beleaguered town waiting for a hero riding a white hat. However, all that arrives is a large hat box. Inside it are hats, "not white but multi-colored -everybody's color and everybody's size. The hero we are waiting for is not coming; he is already here. The hero is every one of us."

Massimini suggests that this heroic transformation can be best effected through fundamental reforms in public education. He points out that the corrosive values that pervade everyday society, pathological individualism and hyper-competitiveness, are presently being instilled into the young at schools. The best and most expensive schools teach the virtues of a predator, while the rest practice crowd-control and produce tens of millions of spiritually consumptive consumers. Instead of getting sanctimoniously and opportunistically embroiled in the divisive issues surrounding the separation of church and state, Massimini suggests that Christians try to make the public schools "more academically excellent and therefore more luminously human."

It is crucially important that we collectively admit that education is more than training for the professions or the workplace. Massimini insists very sensibly that "public schools must learn how teach our children the wholeness of knowledge ...and what it means to be a whole person ...today's schools present a fragmented picture of knowledge, and ... of the students themselves." He recognizes that developing this new vision will not be easy: "colleges will have to change their programs and teachers will have to be re-educated." This threatens "the vested interests of those teachers and administrators whose positions demand on maintaining our present system." We desperately need teachers who teach out of a sense of vocation, we need professors who are not in the classroom chiefly to pay off their mortgages and advance their material prospects. We cannot afford to infect the next generation with our toxic cynicism - it would be far better if millstones were put around our necks and we were all thrown into the sea.

Anthony Massimini's lively rendering of the 'big picture,' his inspired interpretation of the spiritual opportunities and challenges faced by humanity today, is both edifying and inspiring. The New Dance of Christ is written in a lucid and engaging style that makes it very accessible for any person of good will -regardless of their level of education. This rare quality makes it a very important book indeed. It is a book that should be first read carefully and then shared with friends. I recommend it very highly.

 

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