The title for this post comes from an article by Ian Leslie that deals largely with the idea that actors and writers are at heart artistic liars, whose lies are seeded with a deeper truth. The full quote follows:
Given the universal compulsion to tell stories, art is the best way to refine and enjoy the particularly outlandish or insightful ones. But that is not the whole story. The key way in which artistic “lies” differ from normal lies, and from the “honest lying” of chronic confabulators, is that they have a meaning and resonance beyond their creator. The liar lies on behalf of himself; the artist tell lies on behalf of everyone. If writers have a compulsion to narrate, they compel themselves to find insights about the human condition. Mario Vargas Llosa has written that novels “express a curious truth that can only be expressed in a furtive and veiled fashion, masquerading as what it is not”. Art is a lie whose secret ingredient is truth.
It seems to me that this concept speaks to the fact that human language is not always sufficient to fully express exactly what it means to be human. In many ways this is useful way to look at religion. In our modern technological society- a descendant of an age of enlightenment gone rogue – science often seems at odds with religion. This is because science works under a completely different rubric from religion.
Where science seeks to break down, analyze and compartmentalize, religion seeks to open, set free and experience. Both are useful and objectively good. It is when they try to interact that we have problems. Maybe instead of pairing matters of faith with matters of reason we would be better off using art. Whether you accept the “factualness”of any given religious dogma matters less than whether that story or belief points to a larger truth that pales before language.
This is not a new age statement that all religions are equal. Just as some art contains more truth than others, some religions speak closer to what it means to fully express our inner humanity.
If one studies Rembrandt’s The Philosopher in Meditation one can see that the painting shows a man sitting near a window; on the far right is another man tending to a fire. The dark border of the image that surrounds the soft golden glow of the room emphasizes the philosopher’s stillness and the calmness that he embodies. The light illuminates the philosopher and his thoughts while the stairs remain untraveled, but waiting.
Did Rembrandt witness this scene? If we traveled back in time could we see it? Probably not, but it doesn’t detract from the meaning of the image he created. Now imagine a velvet Elvis; while still art, the value in terms of the truth communicated is clearly lacking. Yet Elvis is a documented reality.
The core of the matter is what brings out an essential truth, not what can be scientifically proven. Art is a lie whose secret ingredient is truth- or- religion is the myth whose secret ingredient is truth.
In other words, true art.
I first read David Hume’s An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding while in college and while I enjoyed it at the time I have to admit that like much of my college reading it fell from my memory. That is until I read The Authentic Adam Smith, where Hume was an influential minor character, and I heard that this weekend was to be the 300th anniversary of Hume’s birth.
Born May 7, 1711 Hume was a Scottish philosopher, historian, economist, and essayist, known as an empiricist and a skeptic. He is often considered one of the most important thinkers in the history of Western philosophy. His short work, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding,
the weakness that we have in our abilities to understand the world around us, what is referred to in the title as human understanding.
Above all Hume believed we lived through our emotions and passions, not necessarily through reason. In fact he theorized reason could only act as an arbiter of passion. “Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them.” In this view he moved away from the Aristotlean ideal that had made up much of the philosophy of antiquity, the middle ages and the Renaissance.
Whereas classicists such as Plato believed that ideas had a life of their own independent from the observer, Hume thought just the opposite. “Beauty is no quality in things themselves: it exists merely in the mind which contemplates them.”
As I mentioned above he was very influential on Adam Smith and the two of them became the foundation for a unique Scottish enlightenment movement that still influences philosophical thought to this day. His views however, were not always welcomed by the establishment, either academic, religious of political. his inate skepticism made him target many long held beliefs. “I have written on all sorts of subjects . . . yet I have no enemies; except indeed all the Whigs, all the Tories, and all the Christians.”
In the end, while his views can be debated and argued against, what can not be denied is the influence he had on modern thought, and on this his 300 anniversary it seems appropriate to at least acknowledge that impact.
In Part One I discussed how many in the Protestant sect of Christianity were having issues with Rob Bell and his apparent embrace of universalism. But the controversies swirling around Christianity extend beyond Protestants to the Catholics as well.
“At a recent Sunday mass at St. Edward Catholic Church in Bloomington, a woman stepped to the lectern on the altar — and started to preach. Before long, the vicar general of the archdiocese was paying a call to St. Edward’s pastor, the Rev. Mike Tegeder, and reminding him that the rules of Vatican II have changed. Lay people, even someone with a master’s degree in theology from St. Paul Seminary like this woman, can’t give homilies anymore. That job can be done only by priests.”- The Deacon’s Bench
Ans there is more.
“Some parishioners at St. Norbert’s Church in Orange describe themselves as “shocked and appalled” after a priest there allowed a Presbyterian minister to concelebrate a Mass and receive Holy Communion on Sunday, Feb. 13. Sources from the parish told California Catholic Daily that Fr. Agustin Escobar (shown in the picture) introduced Pastor Steve Whitney of Trinity Presbyterian Church in Sacramento at St. Norbert’s 9 a.m. Sunday Mass. The sources said Rev. Whitney concelebrated the Mass with Fr. Escobar, took Communion, and was allowed to distribute Communion to parishioners.” – California Catholic Daily
Much like the “Bell Affair” what seems to be happening is that people with authority from within these storied traditions are starting to challenge the status quo. To me this is not representative of an erosion, but an evolution. Traditions have value, I am the first to admit that. But it is also true that those institutions that refuse to grow will eventually whither and contract.
While no religious tradition should change simply to get members-the recent backlash against the mega-church model is an object lesson in how a business model doesn’t necessarily work in a religious setting- organic evolution should not be stymied.
At its heart Christianity seems to be about two things: developing a relationship with the divine and loving your neighbor. Do any of the above controversies contradict these most basic of premises? If not then they should not be automatically condemned. Serious discussions by people with open minds would go a long way to dealing with issues such as these.
The earliest forms of Christianity did not seem to wrestle with the amount of dogma today’s versions must deal with. If you’re interested a great description of the earliest form of the religion one can be found in Tony Jones short book, The Teaching of The Twelve.
Calling the Didache the most important book you’ve never heard of, Emergent leader Jones (The New Christians) briefly unpacks the theological and practical lessons to be gleaned from one of early Christianity’s most overlooked texts. Less than half the length of the shortest New Testament gospel, the Didache (teaching) informed new Christians about spiritual practices like baptism, prayer, hospitality, fasting, Eucharist, generosity, and basic morality. Dated between 50 and 130 C.E., it is one of the oldest extant Christian texts not found in the New Testament.- Publishers Weekly