Monday, November 13, 2006

Mystical Bits

Last night I was captivated by an airing of a lecture by Richard Dawkins at a southern women's college on C-Span. After the inevitable "now what?" let-down of the elections, whose outcome was of course very pleasing, this was just the ticket. An English gentleman lecturing about the absurdity of God and God-beliefs in small town America. While he had an excellent audience that was academic, and by and large very supportive, he was NOT singing to the choir. We are at times a nation of church-going, God fearing, mindless lemmings. This was fascinating. What was amazing at that moment was how civil he was most of the time. What was also amazing was that the questions were not all ridiculous. It was a very good dialogue for television. Much better than all the recycled tripe on Hardball! It would make a GREAT television show! This is something people are REALLY curious about. What do they believe? Are there alternatives? What if you like some of the rituals, community elements, and even some of the people, but don't adhere to the beliefs for a second? I suspect that there are a lot of these people. There better be! There are also people that are excluded from those things because they don't believe.

Why am I writing about this? What does this have to do with art? First of all, plenty, and second of all, because I have a few questions of my own, thank you very much.

Richard Dawkins is a supporter of the Brights' Net movement. Brights are essentially Atheists. Bright is intended to be a positive term for Atheists along the lines of the term Gay, and what it did for the same-sex movement. And we are talking movement. A political force if you will. Why? Because religion is controlling the discourse, not only in this country, but around the world! So naturally I am right on board.

The Brights will tell you right up front that:

"Our nations, cultures, politics, genders, occupations, interests, and so on differ widely. However, we are generally "“in sync" with one another because we share a worldview that is free from supernatural and mystical elements. We are set apart in a broad sense from those who have worldviews that embrace such elements, whether entities such as deities, or forces, or both."

First of all I think it's great what they are doing. It is a big thing. It is a good thing. A very distant second thought is that I don't think you can have a movement that is defined by what it is not. Well, maybe you can, but it is reactionary in nature then, and at a distinct disadvantage when trying to hold it's own against the fanatics. On the other hand quibbling about that it is like standing in front of the Grand Canyon and arguing about the color of the shoe laces on your boots. Again, this is a big thing. A good thing. So although I have a problem with the "free from" thing figuring up front so prominently, it is a minor issue.

How does this figure into art? Art for art's sake. That says it all. I believe Brights' Net is merely "Life for life's sake." THAT says it all. Very positive. What art for art's sake meant was precisely the same thing in that "free from" was implicit. Art for art's sake paved the way for Abstraction, which was self-identical, about itself, of itself, etc. and I think that this is relevant to the discussion of being Bright. Abstraction IS the real. No illusion. Real color, real line, real paint, real form, real real. Bright is the same. Real. Reality. No illusions. No false references. Natural law. No pointing over there; but instead looking right here, right now, sober and clear eyed and yes, free from supernatural and mystical elements. It is a commitment to free-thinking; finding reasonable explanations for what we don't understand instead of inventing myths and relying on superstition to ease our pain and confusion.

This is a very positive thing. For so long now we've been trying to fix religion. Reform it. Create new ones. Those of us who rejected it altogether in favor of Life, life for life's sake, were disenfranchised, shouted down, alienated. Richard Dawkins is the kind of voice in the wilderness that David Hume was, the big difference being that Dawkins is out talking about it with people, people all over the world. HE is BRAVE. David Hume didn't have to remember too far back to when people were burned alive for being merely reasonable.

There is no fixing religion. We've tried that. People who want the sense of community, the comfort of rituals, the interaction, the sense of belonging, the sanctuary, need to seek a more reasonable solution. (Ironically religion involves a ridiculous amount of imagination--too much!) Reasonable imagination would do. Bright is a brilliant and imaginative alternative.

I've always felt very positive about art. Some people think it can be a religion. It is something better. It is a place that demands that we look and feel and think about the world around us, and then take that and celebrate it.Wartss and all. That we appreciate it! That we do it HARD! It locates us where we are, when we are, how we are and what we are. Even who and why we are. The path. The true path. The razor's edge. Accepting the challenge. Embracing the challenge. Keeping it real. Always learning. Always taking the hard fork in the road. True. No mystical bits. Just LIFE. Sounds pretty Bright to me.

That said, what does it mean? That said, what someone wants to believe or not believe is their business. No exceptions. So getting all excited about a reasonable world is just as absurd as believing in the Easter Bunny. Life is not reasonable. Reasonable, like every other ideal is, up to us. Like justice or charity or civility. How many times have I been wrong trying to right a wrong. Makes me shudder to think. My shoulders bunch up and a wave of "sorry" comes over me. Two wrongs. Wrong every time. I already regret ragging on religion.

It is hard to treat love reasonably. I've seen it done, and the results were anything but reasonable. I'm not even sure it's worth trying to accomplish. Reasonable is not warm. Reasonable is not comfortable. Not supposed to be. But don't we need comfort. Am I going to deny the comfort religion, with all its supernatural and mystical elements, can bring to the lonely, the poor, the lost, the confused, the downtrodden, the betrayed, the forgotten, the abandoned, and misunderstood? After all, who knows? It is very hard to practice the reasonable, even for those who preach it, just like it is hard for those who preach virtue. For every priest or evangelical who fail themselves and the ones they were meant to love and protect, there are the reasonable ones who go down in flames obsessing over some crush. Something they can't control. I've seen it. I've seen Oxford Dons taken down by aninfatuationn that was anything but reasonable. So so much for the church of reason. Fact is, we're on our own, and where ever we find sanctuary, well, any port in a storm. Good night and good luck!


Anonymous said...

Why not extend a little freedom for all: accept that people believe what they want to believe, need what they need, feel what they feel.

jlee said...

Wouldn't it be Ironic if in an effort to stand up to the domineering religious discourse Brights became the kind of intolerant force that it sought to be the answer to. Not ironic at all of course, because that what happens every time. Happened in Massachusetts big time.

UKbposters said...

Art is not so much unknown as more than rational. Superrational. This, it seems to me, would disqualify it from the Brights' Net. Dada was reasonable about this. Surrealism let it be what it was. Art is way too complicated to be caught and held in Brights' Net.

Nigel45 said...

Pursuant to the tenants of the Brights, forgive me, but the words "free from" signals anything but freedom. The imposition of "free from supernatural and mystical elements" is, I'm afraid, a rather broad restriction, especially when one considers, Addison, as you say, love and art "in that order!" This kind of limitation is not only restrictive, it is as equally as broad a net as Bright, and the Spanish Inquisition could drive a trolley of roasting heretics into it. It is the proverbial "slippery slope" and creates the very problems it seeks to solve.