01 August 2007

Religion and Transcendent Art for the Confirmed Atheist

What can an atheist learn from religion, to become a better artist?
Let me make my premises clear: I am a professed atheist and a pro-choice libertarian Democrat. But based on my college experiences in the 1960s, when interest in Hinduism and Buddhism was intense, I have been calling for nearly two decades for massive educational reform that would put the study of comparative religion at the center of the university curriculum. Though I shared the exasperation of my generation with the moralism and prudery of organized religion, I view each world religion, including Judeo-Christianity and Islam, as a complex symbol system, a metaphysical lens through which we can see the vastness and sublimity of the universe. Knowledge of the Bible, one of the West's foundational texts, is dangerously waning among aspiring young artists and writers. When a society becomes all-consumed in the provincial minutiae of partisan politics (as has happened in the US over the past twenty years), all perspective is lost. Great art can be made out of love for religion as well as rebellion against it. But a totally secularized society with contempt for religion sinks into materialism and self-absorption and gradually goes slack, without leaving an artistic legacy.

Like Camille Paglia, I have chosen my own path, away from religious and political groupthink. Although I do not believe in the god of any religion, I am quite capable of feeling the same awe and wonder that is inspired in the heart of any devout believer. My awe and wonder is inspired by music, beauty in the natural universe, and inspired art and literature, not religious belief.

When I see the current obsession with tearing down icons of religious belief simply to replace them with empty cynicism, I feel sadness for the deluded pseudo-liberation that is taking place. But these are the choices we must all make.

If we want to create great art, music, and inspired literature, however, we must be inspired by something. Something greater than ourselves--at least greater than our working concept of ourselves.

Cynicism grows and becomes all consuming, if allowed. The proper end of cynicism is to come full circle--until cynicism becomes cynical of itself. That moment is one doorway to enlightenment.

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Blogger Aaron Kinney said...

I simply find it hard to swallow that a person is reduced in quality of character or perspective merely by his inexposure to false doctrines and immoral ideologies.

Is an artist, or musician, or a scientist, less of a high-quality human being merely because he is uninitiated in the minutae of the functions of, say, organized crime?

Wednesday, 01 August, 2007  
Blogger al fin said...

Humans would never have invented all these religions had they not felt a need for them, a need for transcendence.

A great artist will tap into that need.

Paglia is saying that comparative religions should be taught to art students (and all educated people) in order to convey something of this inbred feature of the human cognitive apparatus. She does not suggest that students be exposed to religious proselytising.

I agree with her, and suggest further that the popular ripping apart of religious belief among the "intelligentsia" without recognising the underlying need for transcendence and attempting to supply something in its place that is more rational, is not only irresponsible and childish, but is reflective of lack of depth and insight.

Wednesday, 01 August, 2007  

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“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act” _George Orwell

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