Friday, February 13, 2009

Monkey: Journey to the West

I have been listenting to some amazing music.

Remember the BBC theme tune to the 2008 Olympics? The amazing cartoon with the monkey? That was a remix from Damon Albarn's most recent musical project.

Damon Albarn, formerly of the rock band Blur, surprised everybody recently by composing a Chinese opera based on the Chinese epic, Journey to the West, by by Wu Cheng'en. This music is absolutely amazing. It makes use of electronic music elements and a little bit of rock music, but it utilises the Chinese pentatonic scale rather than western musical structures.

I started reading Arthur Waley's translation of Journey to the West and am really enjoying it. It tells the story of Prince Tripitaka, a Buddhist monk who journeys to India to retrieve sacred scriptures. He is accompanied by three strange characters, the deified monkey king, a pig-like creature and a river demon. If that sounds a little familiar, it may be that you have seen the 1970s Japanese tv series based upon the story.

Journey to the West is an epic story, with fantastic monsters and creatures to rival Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. Yet it is a story on an even more cosmic scale, taking place in heaven as well as earth.

The story contains some hilarious political satire. The Chinese believed their gods were organised along the lines of their own society. Journey to the West reflects this by portraying the celestial realms as being run by divine, but small-minded and incompetent bureaucrats.

Part of the reason I love this work is that it is based on a supernatural cosmology. The various beings of earth interact with heavenly beings who have a definite physical location. The tragedy of modern science is that it has left the west with a cosmology that is entirely physicalist and materialist. It sees only a vast material universe of decaying stars and cold, dead planets. Christianity has largely abandoned the idea of a definite place called heaven. Theologians are often quick to insist that there is no heaven 'up there.' If that is the case, then we have a real problem making sense of the Ascension of our Lord.

We have to recover the idea of a cosmos composed of regions celestial, terrestrial and infernal, populated by spiritual as well as earthly beings.

2 comments:

agent4him said...

Matthew,

This has nothing to do with your post, but I noted on another thread somewhere that you were an advocate of the pre-Wrath rapture of the Church. I am a graduate of Dallas Seminary but after years of study and then reading Rosenthal's book, I realized there was at least one other person in the world that had "figured it out." I had long since adopted a pre-Wrath position and was elated to see that you did as well.

Celestial Fundie said...

I am glad you found that book helpful.