Thursday, December 20, 2007

Atheist & the Crucifix (2)

Written 18 Nov 2007:

I don't remember how it happened, but somehow I was led to this blog entry:
The Atheist and the Crucifix by Menachem Wecker
Mr. Wanker is an artist and writer living in DC. I'm not aware of ever coming across him in person, but how would I know? Anyone, after reading this, on 25 May I wrote my own blog entry (which see).

The same day I received an email from Mr. Wanker out of the blue asking if I wanted to discuss this further. In turn, I asked him: what is there to discuss? Never heard from him again.

I found this entire web site sickening, not surprisingly, but I wasn't about to devote a lot of thought to it. However, certain parallels to this scenario surfaced from time to time and it occurred to me at those times that I will have to return to this theme.

Recently, I made a mental note of it, but then I could only remember that I forgot something I wanted to do. Then, when I read the essay cited below about onto-theology vs. expressive theology, it all came back to me. It's a muracle!
Blackburn, Simon. "Religion and Respect," in Philosophers Without Gods: Meditations on Atheism and the Secular Life, edited by Louise M. Antony (Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), pp. 179-[???].
Why did this bug me so? Is it just because I hate evangelism on G.P.? I think there's something more. The idea that a person would be interested in specifically religious art in the contemporary world rubs me the wrong way, just the stomach-churning feeling I would get from contemplating the notion of "Christian rock", or Christian music as a pop music form. It's not that I would not appreciate the religious artistic products of the past, but there is something contrived and dishonest or just plain tacky about this sort of thing in the present.

Why do I think this? Well, one approach to art is propaganda, but I don't think that art with religious content that genuinely moved people in the past was merely propaganda, and in any case did not have to compete with a secular society in order to prove itself as an alternative message. The conditions of the time, in concert with symbolism and the avenues of expressivity, would tend to create a genuine concrete content that could outlive its time and intention. Someone could have thought to himself: well, I want to create Christian, Buddhist, etc., art, but to do that today, in the Western nations anyway, seems to me rather hollow and kitschy.

Let's look at this from another angle. If, to simplify matters, that art expresses its time, if someone has something to say, (s)he will say what needs to be said via the tools and perspectives endemic to that era. An equally passionate and creative person would not express himself in the same fashion at every point in time and space, but would push the envelope given the tools and information at hand in any given cultural environment. So the question is not who is capable of admiring the artistic products of the past, but what are the needs of the present, and given what we know now, how would we best express ourselves now? There are, for example, whole genres that could not have existed as such way back when, such as science fiction, which presupposes a (pseudo-)naturalistic universe in which some questions would be raised that could not have been posed in the pre-modern world. What needs to be said now, on however profound the level, cannot be sought after by imposing a prefabricated religious doctrine that does not express the knowledge and full reality of our time. I think this is why this preoccupation with religion in art is so shallow and debased.

I could conceivably transmit this message to Mr. Wanker, but there's nothing in it for me.

1 comment:

menachem said...

Don't worry. I found it. My response is posted here: http://iconia.canonist.com/2007/12/21/ralph-dumain-vs-religious-art/.