I do not take religion up on its many faith-based propositions, but I am interested in what has always been an express mission of organized religion: that of fostering and enshrining terrestrial beauty. Although it is seldom produced (or financed, as the case may be) without all the metaphysical baggage, I am happy to see people inspired or sparked creatively by the work of our fellow primates. In fact, the wanton desecration of any form of art, architecture or poetry, of which religion can claim much, is the only sense of blasphemy I respect.
The not small irony in this, is that the material interests of religious organizations tend to contradict religion on its own terms. Catholicism is the largest organized religion in the world, and it shows. The gilded palatial halls and the posh garb of its inhabitants are not only an affront to idolatry and the primacy of Christ’s love for the poor, but it is such a tawdry imitation of the majesty in the architecture in the city from which it’s sequestered.
American devotional works and architecture are less common, as should be expected because of our Constitutional disinclination toward state-sponsored religion, but NYC is home to about 8,000 churches, synagogues, temples and mosques, many of which are quite impressive and beautiful. Even the Mormon Temples in Salt Lake City are not without their charm (although they remind me of Superman’s Fortress of Solitude). If Patti Burke may be treated as the rule rather than the exception, tithing is probably the best way she can contribute to the generation of devotional art and architecture.
James Joyce called God a “noise in the street”, Einstein said “the idea of a personal God is an anthropological concept which I am unable to take seriously” but has been called an agnostic, deist, and pantheist. I don’t expect Patti to adopt the more nuanced iterations of faith that a Joyce or Einstein deems palatable, but whatever charm people find in theism surely must be eroded by the ubiquity of miracles and what constitutes a sign from on high.
The need to have a deity reach into ones life with regularity, I think, strays little from the original religious impulse, but the response to a widening omnipresence, it seems, has two paths. The first is pantheistic, or at least the deistic: where God does not play the role of supervisor, interventionist, or even moralist. He is the symbol of all knowledge and creation. It is a viewpoint that I am not particularly averse to, but I also think it has absolutely no explanatory power. To say God is everything and everywhere, neither adds to nor subtracts from what we already know about the universe. The God argument presented in this way acts as nothing more than the ultimate argument-assumer. It points to the limits of our understanding and masquerades as understanding itself. It is by definition unscientific, and only useful for ontological discussions, which are necessarily short because there is little to relate about realities not accessible to us other than suggesting their possible existence.
The other path is Ms. Burke’s. She believes in a God personal enough to appear to her and any nearby reporters, but mysterious enough to reveal himself to her by way of Goldfish cracker. Let this be–for the love of God– the straw that breaks the camel’s back for what counts as, or even what strikes people as divine intervention. Let a miracle be a miracle. If you’re going to suspend your disbelief about the suspension of the laws of physics, have the patience your faith demands of you.
This phenomena, however, doesn’t surprise me at all. The latest Pew poll found that 40% of Americans think Jesus will come back in their lifetime. How anticipatory must these people be waiting for a moment to transpire, for revealed wisdom to come, and how defeatist will they become when it doesn’t? Such an unnecessarily tortured existence, would drive you crazy looking for signs. You’d become Russell Crowe in Beautiful Mind or (to a much more mediocre extent, Jim Carrey in The Number 23).
I sometimes feel I’m doing the same, waiting for the shoe to drop with American Biblical literalism. Another study from Public Policy Polling found that 13% of voters think that Obama is the Antichrist. First of all, if you’re a theist, give your God a little credit. If He is everything you say he is, surely his opposite cannot be a center-left incrementalist pol from Chicago. I think such sentiments are mostly disingenuous, however. If 13% of the country believed that the honest-to-God Antichrist was running the country, they would not merely grumble about it on polls
A religious or spiritual person, it seems should have no trouble finding meaning and wisdom. It won’t make the news, but someone with richness of spirit or imagination will see signs in their children’s faces, in the trees, in this lottery of existence we all take part in, in the impossibility off our own minds. I like Goldfish crackers too, but don’t mistake them holding for the secrets of the universe.
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