THIS I BELIEVE
The source of my personal religion is the world of art. Permit me to explain.
I am a product of the unique contemporary culture of the west coast of the United States, in the second half of the twentieth century. This culture, I think, is nothing short of phenomenal. It is a combination of an atmosphere of extreme tolerance that nurtured and valued new ideas and diverse lifestyles, and the remarkably broad availability of low cost liberal higher education, occurring in an era of unprecedented prosperity. The result? Perhaps the highest degree of individual freedom, unencumbered by social convention or tradition, prevailing at any previous point in human history.
On the other side of this coin, however, is the diminished role of institutional influences on the formation of one’s character. A central tenant of a liberal education is the critical examination of issues and ideas. Your charge is to select or reject various beliefs, assembling the components of your individual character like assembling your own unique wardrobe. No a bad system really…except when it comes to religion.
In the absence of family influences, where do you even begin? Early in life I was exposed to Christianity. Exposed but not compelled. My parents felt obligated to enroll me in protestant Sunday school. You would not find my father, however, strangled by a tie, ensconced in the gloom of a church on a sunny Sunday morning. It didn’t take me long to figure out the inequity. The logic of the argument was irrefutable. If Dad doesn’t go to church, why do I have to? Later in my education, a few history and world religion courses confirmed my rejection of Christianity, and for that matter, all other organized religions.
Still, I could not help but notice a significant vacuum. Admittedly,“ what other people thought” was an influence. Clearly one needed to believe in something, or at least be able to justify one’s non-belief with an agnostic or atheist label.
It took years for the connection to form. With increasing age I became more and more interested in the world of art, and more and more curious about its element of mystery. There are many books on art. There are attempts to theorize about it, to define it and to describe why, say, a certain painting is art. Art’s mystery begins where the words end. The fact is that when it comes to art, words ultimately fail. There’s no question that words can deepen your understanding, your perception and your appreciation of art. But that’s as far as it goes. I even remember an author of an analytical book on art apologizing in its preface for attempting to write about it.
To me, the value is in the mystery that cannot be adequately described by language. Language depends on logic and rationality. Art’s meaning resides in the intuitive and the emotional. Works of art are interpreted as art through a consensus of intuitive emotions. If religion provides a path to a meaningful understanding of the phenomenon of life, art is my religion.
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