Tuesday, November 29, 2011

SHORT FEATURE: QUARTERFLASH – HARDEN MY HEART

You want to know why music videos from the 1980s were more fun than most of the ones you see being made today? Because they made absolutely no sense, that’s why. Take even the most innocuous of 80s pop ditties, like say Quarterflash’s Harden My Heart, and with enough random imagery thrown into the mix, you can turn it into a what-the-heck hallucinatory hullabaloo worthy of the Surrealists in their prime.

So, you’ve got a woman wearing a perm and a unitard running through somebody's dimly lit basement, a gentlemanly dwarf adorned with a big heavy metal hairdo, some failed cloning experiments sitting around a vanity in the middle of a quarry, a gal playing a saxophone in a warehouse with a leaky roof, and some dude wearing a tuxedo and a motorcycle helmet pointing a flamethrower at a bulldozer. Bizarre, huh? Does anyone want to take their best shot at explaining what any of these hypnogogic hijinks have to do with the words that are being sung?

Cryin' on the corner, waitin' in the rain
I swear I'll never, ever wait again
You gave me your word, but words for you are lies
Darlin' in my wildest dreams, I never thought I'd go
But it's time to let you know, oh...
I'm gonna harden my heart
I'm gonna swallow my tears
I'm gonna turn and leave you here.....

Did I somehow miss the dwarf and the bulldozer in those lyrics? I don’t think so. In fact, reading through them, they seem like pretty standard break-up song material. Well, except for maybe the “harden my heart” line, as not too many people use that old phrase these days. But we all know what it means, right? After all, the image of the hardening of hearts appears quite a lot in the Bible, even showing up in the very first reading of the very first Sunday of this Church year (Year B) in a passage from Isaiah 63 where it says, “You, LORD, are our father, our redeemer you are named forever. Why do you let us wander, O LORD, from your ways, and harden our hearts so that we fear you not?” Seems simple enough. Hardening our hearts is basically when we willfully shut out and ignore anything or anyone we don’t want to be influenced by. It can be positive, such as hardening our hearts to the lies of a deceitful lover, or it can be negative, such as hardening our hearts to the call of God on our conscience. So, nothing weird about the hardening of hearts, right?

But what about those times in the Bible where it states that God hardened someone's heart? Pharaoh, the Egyptians, Sihon, the kings in North Canaan, and even the whole nation of Israel, they all had their hearts hardened by the Lord at some point. In fact, Paul pretty much states outright in Romans 9:18 that God “has mercy upon whom he wills, and he hardens whom he wills.” Which on the surface makes about as much sense as a 1980s video, because it sure makes it sound like God is usurping people’s free will and causing them to act in ways that will endanger their souls. I mean, how can you accept the word of the Lord if He hardens your heart so that you refuse to listen to it? Not only does that seem patently unfair, it pretty much contradicts the nature of our relationship with God as revealed elsewhere in the Bible.

And that’s just one of the examples, folks, of why we can’t just parachute Bibles into non-Christian countries and expect the so-called “perspicuity of scripture” to reveal the true meaning of the texts to those reading them. Scripture is not intended to stand alone without guidance. In this particular instance, some expertise in ancient Hebrew is needed in order to figure out what’s actually going on in these verses. In the book An Introduction to Biblical Hebrew Syntax By Waltke & O'Connor, we learn that those passages which speak of God hardening someone’s heart are utilizing the Hiphil verb form of the phrase rather than the Piel verb form. Which means that… um… well, it’s probably best to let the book explain what that means…

“Ernst Jenni, beginning with the assumption that the two morphologically distinct stems have different semantic values, undertook an exhaustive study of the Piel, focusing on the Piel and Hiphil stems of the same verbal root in similar contexts. According to Jenni, the Piel signifies to bring about a state, and the Hiphil, to cause an event. His distinction involves two contrasting ideas: state versus event, and to bring about versus to cause actively. According to Jenni, the differences between Piel and Hiphil can be understood by appealing to deep differences: the Piel is analogous to a nominal clause, the Hiphil to a verbal clause. Though both stems involve causation, the factitive-resultative Piel generally has to do with the bringing about of a state or condition, and the causative Hiphil with the causing of an event. The Piel can often be translated by an adjectival construction: an adjective (with stative verbs), a passive past participle (with fientive verbs). Superficially considered, the relationship between subject and object in both Piel and Hiphil  stems is often that of a transitive making or causing which proceeds from the subject to the object. The object, however, experiences this action quite differently in the two stems. With the Piel, the object is transposed passively into a new state or condition. Philosophers would refer to this transposition as "accidental" because the object makes no contribution to the verbal notion. With the Hiphil, however, the object participates in the event expressed by the verbal root.”

Or to bring it down to sound byte level, the use of the Hiphil verb form in the original Hebrew implies that God created the situations in which hearts COULD be hardened, but those whose hearts WERE hardened had to make the choice to go along with it. With that being the case, it’s understandable in the reading from Isaiah why the Israelites seem to be asking God to please stop them from doing that very thing. So you see, it all does make sense in the end.

In the Bible anyway. Now if only someone could publish a book explaining 1980s music videos, because I’d really like to know the significance of the unitard and the flamethrower in Harden My Heart.

15 comments:

Anonymous said...

wow. If I hear anyone complaining this week about the new translation, I'm going to have to work "factitive-resultative" into my reply.

And I'm kinda fond of 80s videos (my folks didn't have cable then) because so many of them seemed to just be having a good time, rather than how drearily seriously they take themselves now. (Lady Gaga, I'm lookin' at you!)On the bright side, the original lineup of Black Sabbath recently announced its reunion to tour.

Xena Catolica

EegahInc said...

"And I'm kinda fond of 80s videos (my folks didn't have cable then) because so many of them seemed to just be having a good time"

Yeah, we didn't have cable either when MTV started, so I'd sit at friends houses whenever I could just gawking at the silliness of it all. I guess the morbid teeny gothers slouching around during the 90s ruined all the fun.

Fr. Erik Richtsteig said...

You had me at flamethrower.

PaperSmyth said...

Whoa. I think I'm gonna have to buy the Introduction to Biblical Hebrew Syntax book. But only after I watch the video. Again.

Very informative post and if I catch your point: we need to always choose NOT to harden our hearts.

EegahInc said...

"You had me at flamethrower."

I should start rating all movies by whether or not they have a flamethrower featured prominently.

"I think I'm gonna have to buy the Introduction to Biblical Hebrew Syntax book."

Google Books is your friend, as long you don't mind some missing pages.

PaperSmyth said...

Google Books is usually my friend. Except that it tells people that I did research for books that I actually was NOT involved with research for. :-( Some of the books my name appears in can be rather... um... confusing, bordering on heterodox.

I wanted to pass along a link to this book. It crossed my desk at work, so I haven't had a chance to look at it closely, but it appears to be something you'd be interested in. And some of the readers here might as well.

EegahInc said...

Hmm, that's a familiar sounding idea for a book :) Thanks for the link. I backtracked the book to a group called Ministry and Media, so I might play around on their website for a little bit.

romishgraffiti said...

In my experience with non-Catholics, I've discovered their insistence on perspicuity of Scripture to be a tad...ahhh...situational. That is, Scripture is plain until you get to the passages like Our Lord giving Peter the keys, Our Lord saying you must eat my flesh and drink my blood three times and willing to let people walk away rather than "nuance" it, and the woman with a 12-star crown in Revelation--when they get to these passages, suddenly an army of pointy-headed scholars are called in writing reams of paper about how the plain reading could not possibly be right.

EegahInc said...

I believe I first went sour on the concept about the time I found myself listening to a preacher give a realllly long sermon on the "clear meaning of scripture" and began to think, "Then what do I need you for?"

wifeforlife said...

"In my experience with non-Catholics, I've discovered their insistence on perspicuity of Scripture to be a tad...ahhh...situational."

I laughed outloud when I read this, because I totally pictured you (okay, not you, per se, as I have no idea what you actually look like, but I digress..) standing on top of the wing of a crashed airplane - think Cyrus the Virus..... loved the imagery!! lol

wifeforlife said...

Whoops... to finish that thought (meant to hit preview, not publish)....

I pictured you on the airplane wing while saying that line, from one of the best villan characters EVER to come out of a Nicholas Cage flick.

Since this is a movie fan type blog as well, I am assuming that you will know the movie to which I am referring?

EegahInc said...

Not just a movie fan site, but a BAD MOVIE fan site! So, of course, all ConAir references are more than welcome here :)

wifeforlife said...

I certainly hope you're not insinuating that Con Air was a bad movie....
Some of the BEST lines EVER came from that movie!

romishgraffiti said...

At the risk of exposing my unhipness, I've never seen Con Air and don't know to what you refer.

I lifted the "situational" from Dale Price, who noted that a certain poster's ire about the Catholic sex abuse scandal was situational. That is, when a bishop did something orthodox and conservative, the poster would throw out, "Why is he worried about this when sex abuse is being covered up?" as a kind of discussion-killing trump card. But when a bishop said something for instance in favor of highly liberal immigration policy, we wouldn't hear a peep out of him about sex abuse.

EegahInc said...

"At the risk of exposing my unhipness, I've never seen Con Air and don't know to what you refer."

It's the 1997 Jerry Bruckheimer movie starring Nick Cage that pretty much set the standard for over the top silliness in action movies.

"I certainly hope you're not insinuating that Con Air was a bad movie"

Not in any insulting way! Critically, the movie was a bomb, and film snobs usually turn their noses up at it because a work of art it ain't... but we live for those kinds of movies around these parts. Any movie with the line "Make a move and the bunny gets it." gets a pass on this blog.