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7 years ago  ::  Dec 13, 2007 - 9:29PM #1
Erey
Posts: 18,441
Hello Bnet Folks,

I came across an interesting bit of writing I thought would be great fodder for this board.  This comes from Camille Pagalia's lattest article.  You can find the article with it's entirety on the Salon.com website.  For those of you unfamiliar, Pagalia is a long time writer, humanities professor, self-described atheist and lesbian.  And she is famous for bucking that stereotype. 
snip:
As an atheist, I wasn't offended by Romney's omission of nonbelievers from his narrative of American history. On the contrary, I agree with him that the founders of the U.S. social experiment were Christians (even if many were intellectual deists) and that our separation of church and state entails the rejection of an official, government-sanctioned creed rather than the obligatory erasure of references to God in civic life.

But what does Romney mean by the ongoing threat of a new "religion of secularism"? The latter term needs amplification and qualification. In my lecture on religion and the arts in America earlier this year at Colorado College, I argued that secular humanism has failed, that the avant-garde is dead, and that liberals must start acknowledging the impoverished culture that my 1960s generation has left to the young. Atheism alone is a rotting corpse. I substitute art and nature for God -- the grandeur of man and the vast mystery of the universe.
But primary and secondary education, which should provide an entree to great art and thought, has declined into trivialities and narcissistic exercises in self-esteem. Popular culture, once emotionally vibrant and collective in impact (from Hollywood movies to rock music), has waned into flashy, transient niche entertainment. The young, who are masters of ever-evolving personal technology, are besieged by the siren call of materialism. In this climate, it is selfish and shortsighted for liberals to automatically define religion as a social problem that needs suppression or eradication. Without spirituality in some form, people will anesthetize themselves with drink or drugs -- including the tranquilizers that seem near universal among the status-addled professional class of the Northeastern elite.
Europe, which has settled into a comfortable secularism, is no model for the future. The great era of European achievement in arts and letters seems to be over. There are local luminaries but no towering figures any longer of the stature of James Joyce, Pablo Picasso, Marcel Proust, Thomas Mann or Ingmar Bergman. Europe is becoming a museum and tourist trap, as people from all over the world flock to see the remnants of Europe's royal and religious past -- the conservative prelude, in other words, to today's slack liberalism.
end snip

OK, so at first I was puzzled by this and I wondered if she was just trying to fill up white space.  Then I thought about it mulled over it.  Let me just make a disclaimer by saying I very much appreciate the seperation of church and state.  I am comfortable and have no desire to shake up the general agreed upon church/state structure we enjoy.  So I have no real axe to grind.

However I do think there is some truth in what she says.  Secular Humanism is great.  Equal rights, safety nets, common curtosey, tolerance.  All values that fall under Secular Humanism (I think).  But goodness... Yawn... It is so boring!  That is what secular humanism lacks, it lacks passion, it lacks mystery.  Most of what people are really passionate about is a self-absorbed passion.  And it does not seem to inspire anyone to create anything glorious.  I mean secuar humanism is great, very comfortable but you can hardly use it to write a great symphony.  When Handel wrote Messiah he was not thinking about civic meetings.  He was thinking about the uncontainable glory of God!  Even Dali was thrilled by the mystery. 

I think part of the problem in our world is that this kind of passion is well..... unseemly, unplesant, untrustworthy.  And it is!   Passion is messy stuff, unpredictable, emotional, outbursting.  Recycling is well... orderly, scheduled, procedure like, duty.  Folks, I have nothing against Recycling or Civic meetings - I used to do the meetings and I still Recycle.  But you can't substitute one for the other.  So now any current exception art is dark, troubled.  It is OK to be full of angst or depression.    We dig it in music, art, etc.  Or if it si light it is full of self-obsession and shallow sex.But you cannot just let yourself become filled up with the spirit, that makes everyone uncomfortable.  And if you are filled with the spirit .... Can we then show your work in a tax funded museum?  Can we play your music on the radio?  People stop and wonder these things are unsure about the boundaries - only they are positive there must be boundaries to passion and spirit.

I welcome any thoughts.
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7 years ago  ::  Dec 13, 2007 - 9:29PM #2
Erey
Posts: 18,441
Hello Bnet Folks,

I came across an interesting bit of writing I thought would be great fodder for this board.  This comes from Camille Pagalia's lattest article.  You can find the article with it's entirety on the Salon.com website.  For those of you unfamiliar, Pagalia is a long time writer, humanities professor, self-described atheist and lesbian.  And she is famous for bucking that stereotype. 
snip:
As an atheist, I wasn't offended by Romney's omission of nonbelievers from his narrative of American history. On the contrary, I agree with him that the founders of the U.S. social experiment were Christians (even if many were intellectual deists) and that our separation of church and state entails the rejection of an official, government-sanctioned creed rather than the obligatory erasure of references to God in civic life.

But what does Romney mean by the ongoing threat of a new "religion of secularism"? The latter term needs amplification and qualification. In my lecture on religion and the arts in America earlier this year at Colorado College, I argued that secular humanism has failed, that the avant-garde is dead, and that liberals must start acknowledging the impoverished culture that my 1960s generation has left to the young. Atheism alone is a rotting corpse. I substitute art and nature for God -- the grandeur of man and the vast mystery of the universe.
But primary and secondary education, which should provide an entree to great art and thought, has declined into trivialities and narcissistic exercises in self-esteem. Popular culture, once emotionally vibrant and collective in impact (from Hollywood movies to rock music), has waned into flashy, transient niche entertainment. The young, who are masters of ever-evolving personal technology, are besieged by the siren call of materialism. In this climate, it is selfish and shortsighted for liberals to automatically define religion as a social problem that needs suppression or eradication. Without spirituality in some form, people will anesthetize themselves with drink or drugs -- including the tranquilizers that seem near universal among the status-addled professional class of the Northeastern elite.
Europe, which has settled into a comfortable secularism, is no model for the future. The great era of European achievement in arts and letters seems to be over. There are local luminaries but no towering figures any longer of the stature of James Joyce, Pablo Picasso, Marcel Proust, Thomas Mann or Ingmar Bergman. Europe is becoming a museum and tourist trap, as people from all over the world flock to see the remnants of Europe's royal and religious past -- the conservative prelude, in other words, to today's slack liberalism.
end snip

OK, so at first I was puzzled by this and I wondered if she was just trying to fill up white space.  Then I thought about it mulled over it.  Let me just make a disclaimer by saying I very much appreciate the seperation of church and state.  I am comfortable and have no desire to shake up the general agreed upon church/state structure we enjoy.  So I have no real axe to grind.

However I do think there is some truth in what she says.  Secular Humanism is great.  Equal rights, safety nets, common curtosey, tolerance.  All values that fall under Secular Humanism (I think).  But goodness... Yawn... It is so boring!  That is what secular humanism lacks, it lacks passion, it lacks mystery.  Most of what people are really passionate about is a self-absorbed passion.  And it does not seem to inspire anyone to create anything glorious.  I mean secuar humanism is great, very comfortable but you can hardly use it to write a great symphony.  When Handel wrote Messiah he was not thinking about civic meetings.  He was thinking about the uncontainable glory of God!  Even Dali was thrilled by the mystery. 

I think part of the problem in our world is that this kind of passion is well..... unseemly, unplesant, untrustworthy.  And it is!   Passion is messy stuff, unpredictable, emotional, outbursting.  Recycling is well... orderly, scheduled, procedure like, duty.  Folks, I have nothing against Recycling or Civic meetings - I used to do the meetings and I still Recycle.  But you can't substitute one for the other.  So now any current exception art is dark, troubled.  It is OK to be full of angst or depression.    We dig it in music, art, etc.  Or if it si light it is full of self-obsession and shallow sex.But you cannot just let yourself become filled up with the spirit, that makes everyone uncomfortable.  And if you are filled with the spirit .... Can we then show your work in a tax funded museum?  Can we play your music on the radio?  People stop and wonder these things are unsure about the boundaries - only they are positive there must be boundaries to passion and spirit.

I welcome any thoughts.
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7 years ago  ::  Dec 15, 2007 - 2:56PM #3
Sholem
Posts: 344
This dove-tails with something I've been thinking. I think we make a mistake when we see our society as ideally being secular. Rather we should strive for a society of religious anarchy. In an anarchy, religion is neither controlled from above nor by the majority. Neither is it safely fenced out of the way. Rather religion (or lack of it) in an anarchy is a legitimate expression of individuality. Of course, religious anarchy requires separation of church and state. The government's only role is to keep itself out of the way of religious expression. Except perhaps that schools should spend some time teaching comparative religion and philosophy - but not teach any of them as Truth. 

How is this different from what we have now - at least in the United States? It would not be a difference in law but a difference in attitude. A different cultural approach to religion.

Just a thought.
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7 years ago  ::  Dec 15, 2007 - 4:08PM #4
Summer813
Posts: 325
Good grief, where to begin?

First off, Pagalia couldn't be farther off-base with her claim that liberals "automatically define religion as a social problem that needs suppression or eradication". In fact, the vast majority of liberals most decidedly do not hold any such view of religion. Hell, I'm a liberal, and I'm also a very spiritual, religious person. Perhaps Pagalia should come down from her ivory tower and actually talk to real, live liberals before making sweeping pronouncements about them.

Secondly, she writes as if having a secular common culture somehow equates to eradicating spirituality from the lives of individuals, a viewpoint that is, at best, ludicrous. The spiritual capacity of Americans is not even remotely dependent upon governmental support of religion. Furthermore, the secular and the sacred are perfectly capable of existing side-by-side, and indeed have done so for centuries. Like most here, I believe in keeping government and its related entities firmly secular in nature, because what they are designed to govern and to deal with is in fact the secular, material world. Religion and spirituality have their proper place in the non-governmental sphere, where individual citizens and groups of citizens practice their particular beliefs and promote their particular causes in relation to those beliefs. By all means, let people with strong religious or spiritual viewpoints express them and even attempt to influence others in that regard if they feel they must, but there is neither a need nor a right for them to utilize the machinery of government to do so. If one voice crying out in the wilderness was enough to influence human hearts two thousand years ago, why on earth should entire congregations' worth of voices not be sufficient today? I suspect there's a very good reason why neither John the Baptist, Jesus of Nazareth, or for that matter the Buddha, sought to set themselves up in positions of temporal political power or leadership, preferring instead to minister directly to the hearts of the people. If we have become a people so dependent upon governmental handholding that we cannot even follow our own spiritual precepts and pass them on to our children without the state or some entity sponsored by it taking an active role, then we are far more lost than any resident of Sodom or Gomorrah ever was.

Now, Erey, you've made it clear in your post that you are firmly in favor of church-state separation, and I not only appreciate that, I applaud it. We are in agreement here. I also agree that our culture has become entirely too shallow in the broad view - when people like Paris Hilton and Britney Spears garner more attention than, say, the scientists who are expanding our collective knowledge of the universe, or the spiritual and social leaders who are working to improve humanity's lot in this world and bring justice to the downtrodden, or even the artists whose works have Profound Things To Say about the human condition, then indeed we have become an impoverished people, despite our material wealth of iPods, Hummers, and hi-def plasma televisions.

But I don't think that's the fault of "secular humanism", because secular humanism is simply a tag for a belief that human beings are capable of resolving life's major problems and questions, and of building a better world for ourselves and our descendants. Wikipedia has this to say about secular humanism:


Secular humanism describes a world view with the following elements and principles:[2]

        * Need to test beliefs - A conviction that dogmas, ideologies and traditions, whether religious, political or social, must be weighed and tested by each individual and not simply accepted on faith.
        * Reason, evidence, scientific method - Commitment to the use of critical reason, factual evidence, and scientific methods of inquiry, rather than faith and mysticism, in seeking solutions to human problems and answers to important human questions.
        * Fulfillment, growth, creativity - A primary concern with fulfillment, growth, and creativity for both the individual and humankind in general.
        * Search for truth - A constant search for objective truth, with the understanding that new knowledge and experience constantly alter our imperfect perception of it.
        * This life - A concern for this life and a commitment to making it meaningful through better understanding of ourselves, our history, our intellectual and artistic achievements, and the outlooks of those who differ from us.
        * Ethics - A search for viable individual, social and political principles of ethical conduct, judging them on their ability to enhance human well-being and individual responsibility.
        * Building a better world - A conviction that with reason, an open exchange of ideas, good will, and tolerance, progress can be made in building a better world for ourselves and our children.

Now, personally, I don't have any problem with individuals or groups of individuals looking to divine or supernatural aid or inspiration for dealing with the problems of life in this world, but I think that as a species (and as individuals) we do ourselves a grave disservice if we rely solely upon those things to get us through. We have an enormous capacity for some pretty wonderful things, we have a collective intellect that is more than equal to resolving the issues that we face with regard to living successfully in this physical world and using resources wisely, living in harmony with those different from ourselves, and producing a rich and meaningful life for each of us. Religion and/or spirituality is an addition to, rather than a subsitute for, these things, in my opinion.

There are plenty of sources for passion within the secular. For example, I have a passion for science, a passion for music, and a passion for good literature. I know others who have similarly strong passions, and I honestly think that this is due more to a cultivation of this capacity in us from childhood onward, rather than any other factor. If there is one overriding cause of our impoverishment in passion today, it is probably the intense focus on material wealth and the garnering and manipulation of same, to the point where we place that ahead of virtually all other considerations. For example, we tend to scoff at people who seek satisfaction and fullfillment in their work rather than financial gain. When our children announce that they desire to grow up to be musicians or artists or poets, we tell them that they would do better to become accountants or executives. We cut back subjects like art and philosophy in schools and replace them with endless rote drilling in reading and math, and all too often we don't even give them anything inspiring to read, or relate the math to real-world concepts that could fuel their young imaginations. After school and on weekends, we shuttle them off to sports practices and tutoring and tae kwon do lessons, rather than museums and galleries and concerts, or better yet, letting them browse freely through centuries of human imagination at the library. If there's any time left for family relaxation, we turn on American Idol or Survivor and watch as a family, and then we scratch our heads and wonder why the primary concepts our children have internalized seem to be competition, a desire for fame (or notoriety) and the idea that purely creative or intellectual pursuits are a waste of time.

And this has been going on for a couple of generations by now. I'm 43, my own peers are at least to some extent a product of it, and don't get me started on what my generation has been doing to its kids. (I'm not a parent, but I worry just the same, because I have to share a world with them, and they're going to be the ones in charge of it when I am in my dotage.)

Can you write a great and inspiring music about a secular or humanist topic? Of course you can. Look at Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf, for example, or Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker,  Holst's The Planets, or the works of Aaron Copland. None of these involves religion or deities of any stripe, yet I don't know of anyone who would regard them as less than awe-inspiring. For that matter, there's some pretty inspiring folk music out there, too, from a variety of cultures around the world, that doesn't deal with anything religious.

I don't enjoy angst and depression in my music, by the way. Never really have, not even in my teenage years.

And I don't know about you, but I find recycling to be inspiring as well, in its own small way. When I stop to think about how Nature itself recycles everything it contains, and how I am a part of that natural cycle and how the paper that I put out to be recycled allows it to remain in that natural order rather than being shunted off to the side and becoming a nuisance rather than a resource... to me, that's pretty magnificent.

I think that maybe the problem here is simply one of perspective. I don't accept any boundaries to passion and spirit. And I don't find religious, deity-oriented music, art or concepts to be inherently any more passionate than music, art or concepts that are centered on non-religious things. To me, they are all part of the same continuum.

Shared pain is lessened, shared joy increased. Thus do we refute entropy. - Mike Callahan, Callahan's Crosstime Saloon
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7 years ago  ::  Dec 17, 2007 - 12:01PM #5
eadler
Posts: 4,449
Erey,
I agree with everything that Summer has written.
Pagalia has missed the problem of commercialism and anti-intellectualism that pervades American Culture. It has nothing to do with liberalism. The American frontier culture denigrates reflection, education and values wealth and physical prowess, rather than intellectual and artistic attainment . Also American culture is anti extended family, and stresses mobility. All of this, plus the commercialization of media,  contributes to a coarsening of values.

America's embrace of religion, is a result of revulsion against these trends. As a child of immigrants raised by parents with  with European cultural values, it is easy for me to see what is happening in the US, and where we have gone wrong.
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7 years ago  ::  Dec 17, 2007 - 6:05PM #6
Erey
Posts: 18,441
Thanks for all the responses thus far.


Summer -

I think it is easy to be defensive over Pagallias statements.  She herself is a liberal and perhaps she writes in a self blaming fashion.  At least I have noticed that from time to time having followed her writing for a few years now.  Anyway, blaming liberals or conservatives is not really the part that captured my attention. 
I suppose you could say that prior to say the 1950's that our country had a decidedly more christian/churchy standard to it.  It was the liberal movements that eradicated that hegemony of US culture and implemented a more inclusive less christian dominant standard that undeniably watered down the christian influence in US society.
Again, I am not itching for the good old days.  I am pretty sure Pagallia is not either.  But rather did we perhaps throw the baby out with the bath water?  I think we may have done so.  Not that it is such a tradgedy, not that it was not worth it. Sometimes when you want to clean up your bathtub you have to sacrifice a few babies.   But I think if we can recognize what we might have lost or where the cost has been we can recover some of that or compensate.  She is talking from a humanities professor position.  She is saying the artistic world today is damn disapointing.  The music, the art, the literature.  I have to agree wtih her. The older I get the more I have to go back in time to find anything of substance.  I can enjoy a trashy Janet Evonovich novel as much as the next girl but if I really want to feed my soul I pretty much have to reach for something written by a dead author.  Art.......Iagain for the dead guys.  I even have some living friends making their living in the current art world.  So I do get a decent amount of exposure.  Music, I will have to plead being an old fart it is perhaps not fair to judge that across generations.  And maybe that is what pagallia is, an old fart bitching about the world today in the way old farts will. 

Sticking with the artisitc forms I have to agree with Pagalia.  Science is way cool but it is not going to inspire any great artistic works.  Only passion can do that and that seems to be on short supply.  People don't trust passion unless it is sexual passion or some kind of sensual passion.  Remember how downright crazy people thought Mel Gibson was for making The Passion?  Granted, I don't consider Mel all that stable either with his drunken rants.  But the fact that he would make a movie about the crucificion of christ was so offensive to so many people.  I forget all the talking heads but I think it was Lou Dobbs who was just totally put off by it.  One thing Mel has is Passion.  Evidentaly it was his passion that the rest of the world thought they needed.  People flocked to see his movie. 

I disagree on a point that many people do feel that religion is something that must be contained and perhaps eradicated.  I hate to blame it exclusively on liberals because so much of the sentiment is in mainstream, politicaly neutral thought.  As we see in politics today or in the art world the religious are always haveing to explain themselves.  To assure people that although they are passionate believers they are not crazy and don't want to hurt you. 

So I would like to skew the point away from blaming liberals or conservatives.  But rather would like to focus on how difficult it is to be spiritualy passionate.  I don't know how easy it was to be spiritualy passionate in the good old days - that was before my time.
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7 years ago  ::  Dec 20, 2007 - 6:29PM #7
Summer813
Posts: 325
Erey, I will write more when I'm not about to head out the door to meet friends. But I just want to say, take a good look at what Eadler wrote. He summed up exactly my point in a much more succinct fashion.

The problem here isn't a matter of secularism vs. religion, it's one of materialism vs. things that go deeper and are more meaningful. You seem to be saying that in order to be deep or meaningful ("passionate", in your words), a thing has to have its roots in religion. I think that in order to be meaningful and/or passionate a thing has to spring from what is probably the same root that religion springs from, and that is a sense of wonder.

Thing is, I think that science can and does inspire that sense of wonder in a lot of people, and therefore can inspire art, music, and other things that one might well be passionate about. I mentioned Holst's composition The Planets in my earlier post. That's a pretty good piece of music, it has passion, and it isn't inspired by religion.

I think the big problem we have in this nation is that our culture has become exceedingly shallow, and increasingly materialistic. With or without religious elements, I sincerely think that we can and should return to that sense of wonder that used to provide mankind with the impetus to create not only great works of art, music and culture, but also strong connections between ourselves. We need to relearn the value of things other than the brawn and bling that form the current linchpin of popular culture.

A note on literature: personally, I've found plenty of works by currently living authors that inspire me and feed my soul. Perhaps you might want to venture into sections of the library that you haven't yet visited? There's a lot in there that is neither "works by dead authors" nor "trashy novels". I could even give you some recommendations if you tell me what kinds of stories you like best. (And I do actually mean stories - I'm not about to send you off to read secularist treatises. Those don't entertain me much either. I far prefer a good, well-written story that actually makes the reader stop to ponder things, including the human condition. My guess is that your taste may in fact be similar.)
Shared pain is lessened, shared joy increased. Thus do we refute entropy. - Mike Callahan, Callahan's Crosstime Saloon
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7 years ago  ::  Jan 02, 2008 - 4:04PM #8
jacknky
Posts: 586
I agree with summer and eadler. I found the article disquiting on so many fronts I don't know where to start.

It is simplistic and false to equate "passion" and other positive human traits with religion. Passion and compassion are a part of the human condition and without religion they would still exist undiminshed. That passion/ may express itself differently from religious passion but that isn't necessarily a bad thing. I agree that if there is a general decline in our society it has more to do with materialism than any rejection of organized religion.

Personally, I think humanists need to affirm that the positive aspects associated with religion such as passion and compassion are indeed human attributes and are not dependent upon any belief in supernatural beings. Let's face it, there is a lot of hatred and violence in our world. It's time we tried something different.  World views based on supernatural beliefs don't seem to work and indeed might be a part of the problem. We certainly don't find humanists flying airplanes into buildings or trying to limit the civil rights of homosexuals.

Rather than emphasizing other worlds, perhaps it's time to emphasize this one. That might not be as much fun as imaginary friends but in the end might make a bigger difference. Instead of asking "What does God want?", a basically unanswerable question, we should compassionately ask "What works here?".

______________
"If the concept of God has any validity or any use, it can only be to make us larger, freer, and more loving. If God cannot do this, then it is time we got rid of Him."
-- James Baldwin

"My own mind is my church."
--Thomas Paine
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6 years ago  ::  Apr 08, 2008 - 4:50PM #9
Agnosticspirit
Posts: 9,244
Religion is not at all necessary to fuel a sense of wonder. In fact, it can kill the spirit when questions aren't welcome.

I am an artist and my passion originates from wonder; there are many superb contemporary artists, especially the watercolorists who paint with virtuosity, wonder and respect for the world and those who inhabit it.

Whether you're into the abstract or representative forms of art, there is so much to love. Google and drool over the works of Stephen Quiller, George James and Timothy Clark. Or head over to wetcanvas and see the many extraordianary works of art by living artists. Some of them many have a religious passion for what they do, but many of them express the awe of the world we live in without the trappings of religion.
Tribalism, ethnocentricism, racism, nationalism, and FEAR is the Mind Killer... >:(

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