Comparing Art, Service, Church

A comparison of voluntary agencies:

The Theatre , An Association for the Intellectually Disabled, The Church

This is a list of a variety of topics showing how three formative places at which I volunteered as a teenager helped influence my personal development: 1. theatre, 2. a group of volunteers assisting the intellectually disabled, and 3. the church.

Family:

High school/Community Theatre is a temporary family of strangers who become friends united in telling a story full of emotions and moral lessons.

Within the intellectually disabled group, one becomes a parental figure to help guide ‘clients’ as they were called in my youth, participate in activities, a formal but rewarding relationship and experience.

The church is an extension of the family except that one has to apply the ‘Sunday Best’ outfit to go there.

Fantasy:

The world of theatre is a place where fantasies are magically brought to life through illusion.

Working with so called ‘retarded children’ in the early 1970s meant relating to innocent and naive people who often exist within their own fantasies.

The Presbyterian Church requires members to believe in an abstract non-sequitur: a monotheistic trinity.

Requirements:

Theatre insists on collaboration.

Children require love.

Church demands faith and money.

Facade:

Theatre makes artificial facades that are built as needed with theatrical makeup, lumber, canvas, acting, gingham and tweed. All of that: acting, scenery, lighting and costuming is applied to tell a unified story. Facade has a purpose here that is independent of the individual ego, it is a device used in storytelling.

The intellectually disabled have no facade, no mask to confront the world through artifice, so a volunteer’s task is to guide the clients toward behaviors that protect them in the world.

Maintaining one’s own facade is something to do at the church. Facade has an ego based foundation here: the presentation of self in conformation with the Presbyterian breed.

Humanity

Theatre is about sharing excellence. There are conventional means of telling stories in theatre, but those conventions are meant to be stretched and reformed as needed.

Unconditional love is what the intellectually disabled are all about. Each person you encounter provides a window into unsullied humanity.

Church is about a person’s relationship with a triune deity: a man, a ghost and a god (in math that would be expressed as 3 = 1). Their relationship is narrowly defined by doctrine and spelled out in rules. Your ‘personal’ relationship with the trinity has already been codified.

Vulnerability

An artist’s job is to bare their soul. Each production and performance is a new opportunity to fail as well as succeed. Theatre people are always vulnerable to published critics or anyone who buys a ticket.

We observe almost pure vulnerability with the mentally challenged, therefore, we can allow ourselves to become vulnerable too. The level of intellectual discourse is low but the level of emotional discourse can be profound. A volunteer’s  defenses can be comfortably lowered to connect at that primal level.

A teenage Presbyterian was once asked to read a passage from the Bible during a regular Sunday service.  He looked at the congregation, began to read, then he instantly froze solid, his rigid body tipped over the railing of the lectern with a thud, like a statue knocked from its plinth, then his body relaxed and he rolled down the steps to the altar. He had found himself, at that initial moment, face to face with a congregation of well managed facades. “I can’t bare to be judged by that!” he thought, so he left the room and his body for a few minutes. He was fine, physically, but he never should have been put in that emotional position; his young father had died of a heart attack in that very church several months before.

This guy was completely guileless; he had no clue about facade management. He was willing to speak (be vulnerable) in memory of his father, but he wasn’t interested in artifice at all. He simply couldn’t manage his own protective shield, so, when faced with the wall of judgement inherent in public speaking he collapsed. The meek may inherit the earth, but perhaps, the meek shouldn’t present their vulnerable, honest selves to the Presbyterians.

Inclusion:

Theatre is always broke, couldn’t care less about what you do and who you screw as long as you make the opening curtain. Don’t mess up their story-telling and you are just fine by them.

The agency for the intellectually disabled has basic legal strictures. Nothing beyond human kindness is necessary and it does not cost you anything. A scandal or misbehavior would be the only reasons to exclude someone.

Of the three, church is the most divisive. You either accept the dogma or you don’t. Promises and money are required. You will be excluded if you do not comply. If you are gay you are not welcome. If you are gay you are hated.

Love:

The Theatre is accepting of all permutations of love. Love is Love

The intellectually disabled offer their love unconditionally. Love is Love

Religion places conditions and restrictions on love and the expression of love, this is called:“Christian Love.” The hymn: ‘They’ll know we are Christians by our love’ sounds altruistic but it refers to the exclusive version of love, not the normal connotations of Love. Christian love is the exclusive restricted Country Club version.

Trumpification

Religions have become Trumpified. Actually, Trumpification has been happening throughout society for my whole life. I first noticed it in Red Cross Lifesaving classes at the Boy’s Club in the late 1960s. A large part of the class was spent learning about the legal repercussions from any attempt to save a life. Along with actually learning the techniques for saving a life we were learning how to make deep philosophical choices about whether to bother trying at all given the legal consequences! Through this, the moral choice that had always seemed blatantly obvious – wasn’t.

Knowing how to save a drowning person does not obligate you to attempt the rescue. Morality obligates you and common decency obligates you, training guides you, but if the person you save breaks a rib as you salvage their ability to breath air again, you can be sued. (Good Samaritan laws since that time have made it better, but not removed the threat.) The most basic moral choice – to save a life – is so full of legal ramifications that morality is squeezed out of the choice. This very same thing is happening in religion.

I’ve written in the past about the inverted pyramid of structure that ignores the wholesome reasons for its genesis. The church begins with good intention, but as it decides new moral concerns, its laws expand. The more rigid the rules, the more a specialist is needed to manage it. Theologians have to become lawyers just to do their job. The structure is so vast and complicated that the specialists transform themselves from deep thinking scholars contemplating lofty thoughts, into code translators – lawyers of the codified dogma. A massive set of rules with subsections and related scholarship, clauses, codicils and analysis must fit into cells in the spread sheet to be managed. Or, at least computerized data starts out as the tool that is used by the manager of the vast religion’s leadership. Eventually, the computerized data-set earns enough trust to proclaim the “truth” of the organization on its own, not the humans. The humanity of compassion and morality and intuition can’t be factored into the equation as before, so even religion, a supposedly human-based entity, becomes machine-like. I have used the Pope’s recent Exhortation on Love as a prime example of heartless databased legality dressed up in pretty words; the rules for ‘exclusion,’ if you will.

Success in this world comes to those most willing to pay the lawyers to fight and prolong the battles. Trump does what he wants then says: “see you in court.” The church says: “see you in court, meanwhile, we’ll pray for your child’s torn rectum and mental well-being.” The drowning girl’s father sues you for cracking her rib after you risk your own life to save her’s. The precision of definition that either allows or prevents human variance is immensely detailed.

The lawyer’s job is to clarify the rules by removing emotion and precisely defining the edges of the rules. This makes sense when creating a will, but lawyering emotion out of religion is contraindicated. Religions rely on emotion for rituals and hymns, its architecture and art. Ceremonies, holidays, societal events all use the emotional appeals to deities. Rationality is not the prayer’s function.

This universal reliance on codes, not humanity is altering the nature of morality itself. The interface between humans is lined with implied contracts and legal obligations, with varieties of social, racial and religious rules. Back in the days of Lassie and Rin Tin Tin (old TV shows from the 50s) even the dogs could tell right from wrong. Now, some rich guy with enough lawyers and no moral conscience can run the world. There’s no legal way to stop him except for the slow laborious process of bureaucracy. One of the wealthiest religions in the world, the Catholic Church, hides behind a wall of lawyers. Just like Trump, their “monied morality” – the judgment of the secular database, will be decided in court; one long-delayed case after another. The trained lifesaver who takes no action as the little girl drowns faces no legal challenge, but the pain of moral responsibility should be unbearable.

Or should it? Our churches hide behind lawyers because of their own behaviors and in spite of their own rhetoric. They know their sin. They did it again and again. Yet they slowly clutter up the courts with legal gamesmanship. The president doesn’t represent moral standards of any sort, yet he is not punished. Why shouldn’t the trained saver-of-lives believe it’s morally correct simply to walk away? His moral choice has become: whether he can afford enough lawyers to face the legal ramifications of saving her. The sanctity of her life has little bearing. The moral question of saving the little girl, is no different from the church’s choice to hide abusive pedophiles rather than turning them in to the police, or deceitful business practices protected by a wall of lawyers.

My Humanism expects that the honorable trained life-saver will do his human duty in spite of the consequence of our Trumpified lives.  Let’s follow that example not Trump or the Church.

Bigotry will be their salvation

One of the best experiences of living on the Island of St. Croix is the Writer’s Circle I belong to. It is made up of a variety of people from all walks of life. The other day I showed them my most recent blog, the one about Harry Potter. HO HOs Role in Polytheistic Monotheism We always critique one another’s work with an eye toward positive reinforcement. One person pointed out that much of what I said would be offensive to the religious community. I agreed with that assessment. She wondered why I would do that since she liked the beginning and the ending bits a lot. I explained the nature of Freethoughtblogs.com and said the comments would fit in with the tenor of the other bloggers and readers. I suspect she really wanted to know why I was being intentionally offensive because I don’t come across as being an offensive person and would be likely to point out a similar offense in others. She has a valid point.

I often wonder why those of us who have been stung by organized religion have the emotional reactions we do. Conversely, why does our secular society cow-tow to these harmful, secretive, exclusive, tax-exempt clubs? There is sense of privilege religions take. Religious privilege is a demand of the pious. They demand special treatment because, well, not for any contemporary reason, they have always had it. Many do good and charitable works alongside their political actions and deceptive sales pitch. It’s honored because its always been that way. I would love to know why we continue to do so? They are tax-exempt, exclusionary, bigoted, private clubs. They have the least-rational premise of any organizations, for example: heaven, hell, angels, getting your own personal planet when you die. Then there is praying dead people from some other religion into their version of heaven and having the relatives get really mad about it. The covered heads and gender specific clothing, food, saying prayers instead of taking action, and a whole slew of myths about birth, rebirth, and death. Folks, these are the ancient equivalents of wands and quidditch matches (it’s a Harry Potter thing), robes and flying brooms – the exemplars of an attempt to commune with the Dreamworld. The difference being that art knows it’s an artifice, religion pretends it isn’t. J.K. Rowling intends to entertain, edify and exalt humanity with her novels; take them or leave them, just don’t demand that government codify the rules of quidditch.

Now, I remember the friends of my grandparents being quite upset at the possibility of Jews being allowed to join their Country Club back in the 1960s. I remember the efficient, immaculate, and at times invisible all-black serving staff at the Club with their white gloves, and polite subservience. And I remember feeling so unwelcome by the other kids at the swimming pool when my Grandmother would take us there. She thought she was honoring us with this privilege, when all we were, was embarrassed. The elitism of that Club carried throughout the community – the most privileged of the white upper class.The way it had been for a very long time. Society and that Club have changed along with the times. Anyone willing to pay can join today and a person of any skin-color or religion may serve or be served dinner.

Religions enjoy privilege in this culture, however, they are more resistant than the Country Club to the progress of time. We see it most blatantly in the “religious liberty” legislation they are attempting to pass. They want to make secular laws allowing for the religious version of an all black wait staff. They wish to keep today’s version of “Jews” (or the Irish, or the Catholics, etc.) – the LGBTQ community, from being in their club. They feel put-upon and abused because their own antiquated bias humiliates them. Toto has pulled back the curtain on their fraudulent misbehavior a long time ago – cover-ups and perpetuation of child rape for example, but they have hired lawyers; so, in the style of Donald Trump, their deceit is obvious and met with a “so what” attitude. Regardless of whether their behaviors are right or wrong the holy wizards want to win, morality be damned. When lawyers take church doctrine and transform it into legalese, then the jump across the wall separating church from state is easier to make. The most effective organization opposing LGBTQ rights in this country is the hate group Alliance Defending Freedom, a collection of faith-based lawyers sponsored by the most militant evangelicals. They are legally sophisticated and determined to win in the courts and work at it with little public scrutiny.

The privilege of religion is sinking toward a negative number, just like Trump. The shear inertia of that ancient privilege has kept them going this far. Irrelevance, scandal and other atrocities provide the friction that slows the momentum. They are grasping at roots from long dead trees as they fall over the cliff attempting, in desperation, to invent legal codes that merge their falling religions with the secular laws of the land. They must legalize their “ability to exclude” to survive. Bigotry will be their salvation.

So, getting back to the original question, why offend the religious? Quite frankly, I felt deceived and betrayed when they did not live up to their promises in my youth. I have outgrown the hatred and vitriol that I carried for the church for so many years. The absurdity of organized religion and its misbehavior is now a recognized matter of fact. Using humor to point out the oddities of an absurdity seems nicer than forcing it into an academic debate. I mean, Jesus, HO HOs are funny! The first third of my last post mostly pokes fun at myself. The middle third shows how absurdly out-of-date Christianity is. The last third finds moral value in an easily accessible format, suitable for the age in which we live – the morality parables of the Harry Potter Series. ART!

Ho Ho’s Role in Polytheistic Monotheism

Today while I was out doing battle with the string trimmer a brilliant thought occur to me. I was mauling the grass into submission due to the recent volume of rain here in the rain forest, I conceived of something I deemed to be of monumental importance. Previous to that, I had been lamenting the lack of HO HOs on the island of St. Croix. There I was, swinging the string trimmer back and forth – burrrrrump one direction and burrrrrrrump the other, when I caught sight of a glorious truth over by the banana trees. Inspiration struck fully formed then, as usual, it was gone. I suspected it had something to do with the 3rd or 4th centuries. But, why would I even think about stuff from way back then, and why now, I mean 2017? I had become dehydrated of course, this is a tropical island and I am retired so I required a fan and a bottle of water to restore my salinity, sanity, and dissipate my entropy. Then back to the chore at hand.

I did remember the HO HOs lament, so I had something to help reconstruct my train of thought. Wait a minute, “HOs” “polytheism” of course that’s what it’s about; how polytheism influenced Christianity, which presumably related to the TV show Mad Men, burrrrrrrump. You know, that TV show about, burrrrrrrump, the advertising business in the 1960s. Wait, this makes no sense! I doubt the women back then (third century-ish, maybe fourth), burrrrrrrump wore those pointy bras or heels, or even worked in ad agencies, burrrrrrrump, but it’s quite likely there were three (or more) wise-women hanging-out with their camels looking for a bright star in the East, burrrrrrrump, and a slew of female sheep herders hanging around the stalls awaiting the phenomena of a, burrrrrrrump, virgin birth. After all, it had happened before. A new thought occurred that brought a conclusion to this whole lawn trimming thing: If he is a shepherd wouldn’t she be a hepherd? I’m just asking. Time for another bottle of water and a nap.

 

Lets reconnoiter, Jesus is to HO HOs as polytheism is to the third century. That should make things clear. It may never be an analogy on the MCAT but it works for me. Let me explain in my own words: (That is what I have been doing so far and look where it’s gotten us!)

The original marketing plan in the early days of Christianity was great, remember: “Jesus actually exists, He’s not myth (like those other gods), he’s real”. This was the perfect marketing angle for its time. It was fresh, new, and exciting. It worked like gangbusters too, but after a century it started to lose its bang, the pizazz was gone. This is where the Mad Men ad agency would come in handy. What if Christians had those guys working for them way back then? How would a 1960’s ad firm sell that particular box-o-soap?

Well, assessing the situation, it looks like monotheistic Jews and a variety of polytheistic religions were the main competition. Christians would need to choose an ad campaign to counteract those problems. So, this is where the HO HO’s come in – “Three flavorful treats in one package!” TA-Da! Welcome to the age of the Trinity.  Reformatting that monotheistic God into three parts is shear genius. It’s monotheistic polytheism for the masses.

God the father could be the superhero, an all-powerful father figure with muscles like superman and a beard like well, Rembrandt’s version was just fine. His “real-life” blood soaked action-figure son, Jesus as second in command all Rambo-like with a sword in one hand and a massive wooden cross in the other sitting on God’s right hand. That leaves the
holy ghost – well we’ll just assume that back then they knew what a ghost actually does, or even looks like, cause I can’t imagine the purpose of having a ghost except to scare people. Maybe that’s what they mean by god-fearing Christians – they’re afraid of ghosts. Well, the new pitch includes, a progenitor fertility myth, a salvation/action hero, and a scary guy in a sheet. Put that in a HO HO wrapper and you can sell it in any gas station across the country.

So, what exactly would you be eating anyway? I mean you’ve got two men and a genderless spirit that are all supposed to be the same thing. What do you see when you open that package? Short stubby black tubes filled with a white creamy substance that squirts out its sugary goodness when you bite into it. You could try sucking on it but that usually makes a gooey mess. The point is, each snack is identical to all the other HO HOs.

Open up a package of Trinity and what do you see? Well, an old fuzzy-faced guy with big muscles holding a younger guy who’s got his hands full of big heavy chunks of timber and a sword. And then that ghost is hard to visualize. Is he like Casper? All friendly and such? I Googled it and found lots of bird pictures, some were on fire, some were dripping blood, one was a fish, and one included a bar tender pouring “holy spirits” into a shot glass, so who knows.

Back in the day, this Trinity thing was a great solution to competition from polytheism. Nowadays, the religious folks need help from the Mad Men again. They need to take the one armed Trinity (face it: God better be left handed because Jesus has both of his arms full and is sitting on God’s right hand. The ghost is a fire-y, bleeding, fishy, bird liquor). Any kid’ll tell you that ain’t a great image.

What if they devise a reformulated trinity of just three school friends? Two guys and a girl who spend part of their lives living as everyday normal kids and part of it living in the Dreamworld. Many events occur while in the Dreamworld that are parables of real life existence. What if it became very popular to read the stories and watch cinematic versions of the parables. I have been saying for some time now that art serves as a better conduit to the Dreamworld than ancient religions, frozen in time. Harry Potter with its trinity of protagonists rearranges the Dreamworld of theological entities with a consistent, valid, moral formula for existence in this world.

Harry Potter novels teach the importance of love and loyalty. It says: if you need help ask for it. It hates bureaucracies, but sees them as part of life that works as well as the people operating them. It speaks to every individual’s validity in the world and that all people have value. It speaks to the authenticity of an individual’s own thoughts and the “reality” of those thoughts. The school diagnoses and sorts into houses individuals according to personality traits that are sometimes unknown to the individual themselves. Each house has its own defining motto such as: “Do what is right” for the brave-hearted and those willing to stand up for others; “Do what is wise” for the deliberative thinkers; “Do what is nice” for the hard working and fair; and “Do what is necessary” for the prideful, cunning, ambitious. These assigned “families” help reinforce the students where they already have strength and potential.

Evil seems more prevalent in the ‘do what is necessary’ house while the others have a moral sense built into their philosophy. ‘Necessary’ overrides questions of right or wrong.  But, those who consider ‘doing the right thing’ to be necessary can also be part of that group. Just as in the final battle when good people used the techniques of evil to protect and defend themselves.

Some moral lessons of the series include:

1. Love ultimately wins. (all kinds: family, friends, society, as well as romantic)

2. Evil requires desire: “You’ve got to really want it” in order for evil ‘magic’ to work.

3. Bureaucratic structures don’t work well, but aren’t inherently good or bad. Treat them with caution. Don’t automatically trust the system, including its rules. Think for your self.

4. Strategic vulnerability can be a defense or used offensively too: face your fears.

5. Treat all people with the same respect irrespective of their status in society.

6. There is light and darkness in everyone.

7. Anything is possible.

8. There is often a cost to doing the right thing.

9. Loyalty is earned.

10.Morality requires no church or religion or ritual.

11.Expect trustworthiness in others until it is proven otherwise.

My point is that even though HO HOs would melt instantly on this island they still have relevance here. Drink plenty of fluids when cutting grass. The Dreamworld exists everywhere, and can be accessed through many portals. You should read, or re-read the Harry Potter Books. It won’t solve your problems but it puts you in the Dreamworld where you too might spy a glorious truth by the banana trees.

Illud Tempus Dreamworld

 

This post is going to be a little happier than the last few have been. We’re going to find the Dreamworld. This portly dazed and red-nosed game character from Operation will assist us in this endeavor. Let’s call him ‘Duh’ it seems appropriate, I haven’t played the game since childhood and don’t know his name. The parts of the body have changed a little too, we can ignore the arrows and whatever beer mugs and stuff cause we’re looking for something more esoteric.

I’ve used this other image in the past to illustrate the Dreamworld. It, is my own composition which  has no inherent meaning other than my attempt to express my impression of the Dreamworld. It is a rectangle simply because that happens to be a default size I use on Photoshop. It could be any size or shape as far as that is concerned.It has some recognizable elements such as the blue grid and the interior frame within the un-framed illustration. Shapes may not make sense or seem to have a real purpose. When I made it I may have used 18 layers or so. I would rather discuss the qualities of the elements within the illustration rather than creative technique. By ‘qualities’ I don’t mean anyone’s opinion about whether things are good or bad, more the component’s reason for being a part of the composition, their position within the border, color, texture, relationship, balance, etc. This wasn’t just random stuff thrown together, it has purpose and intent and a reason to be what and where it is. Sometimes, the explanation may be simply that it looked good. At other times there is a real important purpose. Did you notice every shape has a texture? Some shapes are used only once while others are repeated often. Colors are bizarre but fit together comfortably. The grid fills up a third of the page but is also barely noticeable. Does the interior frame actually ‘frame’ anything in particular? Why so? Why is it there, instead of the edge where a frame could, as usual, contain the total illustration? Could the frame have been a little bit smaller than it is? What is its message? A philosopher could spend a whole day finding meanings for just the frame alone if he had nothing else to do. And was really bored.

I would call it a better piece of art than Duh, but the purpose is different, and I made it;) Duh is meant to be whimsical and funny, but not very serious piece of graphic illustration; it is well crafted for that purpose. Dreamworld has richness and depth and sophistication. It has humor and sadness and seriousness and plenty of wry whimsy. Duh makes the viewer ask: “Why is there a hammer in his leg?” and other obvious game-like stuff while Dreamworld poses more esoteric questions. The meaning/purpose of Duh is readily obvious. The Dreamworld illustration is never clear, nor are the questions it brings up answered. You, as the observer of each piece, gets to choose what kind of time and thought you give to each observation. I’m going to ask you to give some thought to Dreamworld because I have the expectation that it will illustrate its name. At the same time we will look at our ‘everyman’–  Duh, to discover where inside each person the Dreamworld exists.

In the process of creating Dreamworld I had the goal: “to express my impression of the Dreamworld.” I made thousands of choices and used hours of intense concentration to make the picture. I also drove to work, taught classes, advised students, designed, rehearsed, and opened plays, shoveled alpaca poo, put feed out for the chickens, fish and hay for the alpacas, mowed the grass, read books and watched TV. All of those things contributed to the end result. See the correlation?

“to express my impression of the Dreamworld” means I had an idea of the Dreamworld which came originally from an article I read in the early 1980s, Illud Tempus, a latin phrase meaning roughly ‘now and always.’ It suggests an atemporal dream or dreamlike state where past, present, and future coincide. In this Illud Tempus, boundaries, time, and consciousness are freed from normal constraints and possibilities abound. It is a place, of sorts, where god lives. It is also where our fears, worries, and concerns live too. It frequently reveals itself to those who have made the effort to understand it. All people experience the dream world in their own personal way, and find it with their own solitary journey. It plays a part in every person’s daily choices and it is influenced by the experiences of life: a book, a movie, a religious experience, tripping on the sidewalk, or any other life experience.

So, a person who spends time attempting to understand the Dreamworld has many paths open to them. Some are well-worn highways where perceptions of its many ephemeral components are codified and taught to others of a particular group or religion. There are often shaman, learned individuals of a particular religion, who teach and guide folks through its labyrinth path to the dreamworld.

But what about Duh? The dreamworld exists for him and is part of him. If we wanted to give Duh another hidy-hole like the beer mug and the hammer where would we place it on Duh’s body? Without a shape or depth or time or particular sound it will be hard to figure out the appropriate placement. Is there any form of logic that could answer this question? I mean the heart seems logical, but the brain does too. The stomach and other organs that produce chemicals and proteans necessary for life are needed as are the sensory parts of your feet and legs to keep you standing upright. The whole body is where the dreamworld lives.

It  would be wonderful if we could understand the dreamworld the way we understand our feet and legs and can control them with precision. Our dreamworlds are all of Duh – his whole body and beyond. It includes the smell of the bakery, the view of the lake, the feel of the PJ’s and the emotional states of those nearby. It is the sum and total of each moment of your life. Yet, we can’t grasp any more than a tiny part of it. Most of us don’t conceive of it at all; we call it God and rely on the shaman and the secrets, revelations, scriptures paths of those who have sought to understand it before. As humans we give it familiar trappings to pretend we understand but they are only metaphor. Their influence and continuity give them a sense of false credibility.

All Duh has to do is look inside himself and make an effort to understand by asking a question. When you ask the Illud Tempus for answers you communicate with the divine within. Keep asking questions and have a conversation. You will have done all that is necessary; no cathedrals, symbols, statues, rituals or prayers are required. No holy book can contain it. The dreamworld is the experience of being you.

You don’t need an inverted pyramid to give credence to the experience of being you. If you like and wish to use a pyramid’s features it will also become the experience of being you. It may take you on a long journey back to where you started. If that has value to you or not it is now the experience of being you. Many people are drawn to the inverted pyramid, they find the prepared, organized, well-trod path comforting. I don’t, I left my inverted pyramid for being gay and I am a better person for the experience of being me.

You will see many versions and variations of the pyramid and they all are designed to include some and exclude others on the journey to find themselves – the experience of being you. Passions will be raised and lowered by these attempts. The end result is the experience of being you. The search for god leads right back to the experience of being you. Do you prefer the long arduous journey of organized religion or simply looking  inside yourself? Either choice ends up at the same place: your Dreamworld.

Religion, Art, Morality Part 2

Note: this was the second in a series of discussions about religion, art and morality. It is rather lengthy so I have not posted much else while I compile this diatribe.

There is a loss of genuine emotion in society; people have been made numb. It is a culture-wide phenomena where institutions of many stripes whittle down emotions and instinct altogether. Human characteristics are replaced with rulebooks and programable codes — tangible items that are quantifiable. If it fits in the accountant’s book it is real; if it can’t be measured it is ignored. With unmeasurable abstractions such as love, compassion and honesty out of the way the door is open to protect child abusers who are measurably expensive to defend in court.

Think of the Catholic rule regarding condoms and HIV. I am sure lots of study has been done on the theology of pregnancy and I do not care to address it. Whether you argue for contraception or against it you still fall into the trap that most of us fall into. We start playing the game by institutional rules.  Ancient institutions have set the stage for all discussion by establishing ownership of the issue through the body of scholarship they have generated. The tone and quality of debate always reverts to the institutional model because it is the familiar, go-to resource for discussion. Most of us are novices in this environment despite the familiar seeming context and are easily dismissed by the professional scholars of the church.

God Jesus Ghost

They have created a structure of theological scholarship that is based upon a central assumption: God, Jesus, and the Holy Ghost actually exist. And, that the Jesus third of the triumvirate once existed in human form from a virgin’s unwitting supernatural pregnancy, died, was reborn in mystical form, and sits on God’s right hand (cue the eyebrows). The central mystery of the church is its foundation which guides all discussion.

I respect the right of anyone to have whatever belief they choose. I am not qualified to judge the validity of one mystery over any other. The appeal of mystery is that it is mysterious. It’s the bureaucracy that flows from the belief in a mystery, that is the problem.

The Christian religion is an inverted pyramid resting on this central point of belief: Jesus exists. Early practitioners of what became Christianity took all the best elements of all the popular religions of the time and re-packaged them under this marketing tool: Jesus really existed, he is not just a myth like the other gods. The metaphorical conception of “god” became actual. The fledgling church merged all the various start-up versions of an “actual” deity into one by codifying the basic myth and dogma. Paul managed to get them all on the same page through his letter-writing campaign that has become the bulk of the New Testament. Over time, layer upon layer of argument, justifications, rules and edicts were built up on top of the point of belief guided by the ‘revealed’ word of a deity. For example, the concept of a ‘Trinity,’ was added to the pyramid in the fourth century, it is not mentioned in the scriptures. The rational for each theological question requires academic answers that reach deeply into the bureaucratic structure for justification, latching onto preceding ‘revelations’ and arguments based upon the central assumption at the inverted pyramid’s point. Each answered question and its associated scholarship solidifies into a new layer of the structure extending slightly beyond the previous layer making an up-side-down pyramid shape. The inverted pyramid manifests as a striking facade, even though it is constructed solely from rhetoric based upon belief in a mystery. Followers refer to the prior massive volumes of rhetoric as if the bulk of the rhetoric itself verifies the belief. The rhetorical weight is so precarious that even a mere bird landing on the top could throw it out of equilibrium; all that weight pressing upon a point of mystery makes it unstable. External supports are necessary to keep the facade from collapsing under its own weight. The inverted pyramid now rests on those supports; it no longer needs the foundational structure to balance all of its proclamations. The new foundation provides a solid, material, footing so a single point of balance isn’t required. The Church has become fully supported by buttresses. The tiny point of belief in a mystery has done its job, it is now a point of reference, not of structure.

[For those who don’t know, a buttress is the structure on the outside of the cathedral that counters the weight of the arches in the roof. Stone cathedrals require a big interior space, but a roof covering that much empty space is too heavy for walls alone to support, so architects created the buttress which holds the weight. One type of buttress acquired the name “flying buttress” because they look like wings attached to the exterior wall of the cathedral. The Presbyterian church of my youth had small buttresses that didn’t really fly and were purely ornamental; the building had a steel superstructure that did not require a buttress. These superficial flourishes of the architect were a facade applied to the structure to make it seem more grand than it really was. As an architectural design feature, it enhanced the feeling of awe as one approaches the building. Even the facade of the church wore a facade.]

Now that the inverted pyramid of Christian religion is a structure resting on buttressing supports independent of its foundation point, all sorts of irrelevant arguments can be made that are totally reliant upon buttresses alone. The inverted pyramid continues to grow but each argument based upon a buttress diminishes the significance of the main point.

Magritte

As I write this description I can’t help but envision what a picture of it would look like. First, we take a photograph of one of the great pyramids of Egypt, cut it out of its background, flip it over and have it rest on a new surface. As we try to do this we realize that the point is missing, it has been worn away over time so you have to position the pointless image so that it appears to rest upon the empty space where the point would have been if it still existed.  At this moment the image looks rather surreal — like a rock or bowler hat in a Magritte painting — just floating above the ground. Then, we find pictures of cathedrals and copy just the buttresses (flying or otherwise) and paste them into our image so that it looks like the buttress holds the up-side-down pyramid off the ground.

Okay, so, now we have a Magritte-like pointless pyramid inverted over the ground, being supported by an odd combination of whatever buttresses we could find. As we look at our collage we realize that the missing point metaphorically describes the theology of the church accurately, but alas, not so historically.  So, we need to go back and examine what the point actually is.

I became a member of the Unitarian Universalist Church for a few years. I like their philosophy to an extent because it encourages its members to find their own spiritual path and it avoids dogma. There was a major controversy in our small rural congregation about a sign one of its members had donated. The sign said, “God Is Love.” U.U.s don’t deny the existence of God but they don’t require belief in it either. The Humanists in the congregation objected to the sign and the believers defended it. I was on the Humanist’s side saying that the sign should read: “Love is god.” My version supported the possibility that a god did exist but didn’t state it directly. Our version converted their declaration that: “God is …” to the suggestion of a metaphorical god which includes the possibility of an actual God. Maybe this conflict provides a solution to our pointless problem.

If we are going to finish our collage-style illustration we will need to fill in the missing point. We will need to illustrate “God, Jesus & The Holy Ghost.” That is, after all, the point of this hodgepodge of supports and structure. How are we going to do that? We could photoshop some more rocks into the shape of a point and paste it into the picture but that would be like saying that the point is the same thing as the structure: argument, dogma, justification. Is God & Co. the same as the church? Is God & Co. an unwieldy compilation of arguments built upon itself then supported by supplemental constructions?

I am going to ask you to imagine as John Lennon did in his song “Imagine.” Imagine “Love” as the new point of the pyramid. Love is god. Is that too radical an idea? What happens if we just go with the possibility that love is love? Would the church structure change? Take for example the condom situation, if love is love then there is no longer justification to deny life-saving condoms to lovers. That would take a big unnecessary chip out of the pyramid. All the other arguments built upon those justifications would become invalid too, causing a large destabilizing gap.

The thing is though, buttresses have staying power. The buttresses in this metaphor are the assets of the church: its buildings, its gold, its art, its power, and the appeal of its ritual and its bureaucracy. These tangible assets support the inverted facade of an ancient religion.  Only surface appearance seems to matter because that is what is celebrated in the mass. The substance behind the facade is hidden and it is used to protect child rapists; it is corrupt. Its own “Theo”-logic has whittled away its point. Faith clouds more than academic judgment here because it ignores genuine love of fellow mankind: our children. Wouldn’t Love provide a more substantial point to start from?

Imagine if we get rid of the old structures altogether and change the shape of our new construction from a pyramid into a ball of light like the sun and make the center “love” then place this ball of love in the middle of a radiant matrix so that every idea, justification and person could have direct access to the center instead of some intercessional bureaucracy. What would that be like? Could you then wear a condom if it kept you from dying? Could Love be God?