Awe, Art and Early Religion
Scientology 1.0.0 – Part – 7
That’s a possible sequence of things I think are inextricably linked.
This and the following several articles are my humble attempt at putting the Church of Scientology in some context so that the discussion going forward doesn’t have it dangling outside of history as anomalous.
If ever there was something that is relevant in Man’s exploration for answers to his plight today, it would be therapy. The above list is a guess at the things that have to be, in order that Man may have a workable process (therapy), so that he may continue to evolve. Scientology 1.0.0 is just such a workable therapy.
I will also try to draw attention – and parallels – to an equally big problem, where the ignorance of history is helping to cause chaos: the attack on one of the greatest humanitarian experiments the world has thus far seen, the Enlightenment – and why these attacks could be successful.
We live in a time where, in general, teaching history plays no real role and this is not only hurting any proper understanding of religion (and thousands of other more unfamiliar practices) but the secular world alike. For instance, how many times have you heard that religion is responsible for most of the violence since Roman times? Or that things have never been more dangerous or terrible than they are today? These views are connected and are so profoundly wrong as to be laughable. It’s this ignorance that is all that’s needed to make sure what may be coming could indeed be more terrible and dangerous than anything we have thus far experienced.
A whole passel of thoughts have been going on before now, certainly way before Scientology 1.0.0. Thousands upon thousands of thinking men and women thinking wild thoughts and acting on them, keeping the thoughts that help and discarding the ones that don’t – most of them, at least.
Once you’ve gotten motility and spent some considerable time (millions of years) being quite successful at mostly not dying by approaching nice things and avoiding horrible things; that is, long enough to get to thinking analytically, in the way we do today, then you get even more adventuresome and exploratory; apparently in a manner other life forms don’t.
Sure, a mouse will venture out and once fed will, if feeling safe, start looking around, dashing and poking, checking out everything within reach with special attention given to new things. What we don’t seem to see are mice behaving in a way that would appear to indicate that they are also wondering about things like, who am I? Where did I come from? Why am I here and where am I going? (Maybe they do.)
So, given our upright, bi-pedal nature and the change of eating habits that gave us a whole different kind of brain (I’m not a materialist but of course there are correlations between brain and being), sooner or later someone is going to wonder about existence itself and begin a new kind of exploration; one that makes the investigation of physical territory pale by comparison. Such as where do ideas rise up from? And why? And how? There’s going to be a lot of this kind of thinking when you’re not busy running toward good things and running away from bad things – which you are getting better at all the time thus leaving more time to do these other things. One thing for sure that one will ponder on, since the beginning of this sort of mind, is the power of awe and what it unleashes in the soul.
Awe! It’d be a good guess that this feeling was the beginning of what we now call the religious experience and possibly has been happening long before the cerebral cortex came online. Before then, perhaps, there just wasn’t as much of an “I” kind of mind’s eye to get its teeth into investigating it.
Awe comes in many forms and happens in many ways. Sometimes it just bubbles up out of nowhere, a feeling inside that might start in the stomach, rise up to the heart and explode in, or even over, your head. Or it surprises you as beauty so often can. Beauty,
maybe as something like a clear night sky lit with the Milky Way or a wide river valley filled with game at dawn. Or truly frightening as a mountain erupting in smoke and flame or the heavens fulminating with thunder and lightning. Of course, there’s the ultimate: the circle of life, birth and death. It might be that these experiences are so intense that you absolutely have to do something about them.
Art, like awe, is inextricably bound up with the religious experience. At least, that’s what I think.
I have painted pictures for many years and I have always done this in aide of having as many such experiences of awe and beauty as possible. This is so important to me that I organise my whole life around it: I’m as single minded about this as a heroin addict most of the time. Not just because it is joyful, that’s certainly nice, but because it affords me a level of perception and experience I don’t have when I’m merely content (and forget about being unhappy, then you are more blind than a bat). Lord, you can really see things when you’re that high up! Whole worlds of information come through and besides, you can just know things (hopefully without being delusional).
Now, a lot of things have happened over the past 300,000 years or so since the advent of Homo Sapiens. There is evidence of human activity that indicate Man was thinking about more than mere day to day survival; certainly we have statuettes, paintings and drawings from 25,000 to 75,000 years back; most art is pretty destructible so I think there was probably a lot of work done before that. Today anthropologists always seem to ascribe to them purely religious/ceremonial/ritual (read, utilitarian) significance but this is probably because anthropologists aren’t artists so they don’t know any better. To an artist, this sort of utility is born of art, not the other way round.
I mean, I’d say there’s no confusion with the relationship between art and religious utility as long as you don’t get bogged down in the unhappy materialists’ debate about religion: “silly delusion or dangerous mental illness?”. Either/or, dude! No other option.
In 1976, I got into an art college, a place called the California Institute for the Arts, “Cal Arts”. The first thing we learned that fall was that Art was dead, D – E – A – D, dead. I only lasted one semester.
So my dad suggested that since he had a lot of art books I should just teach myself with his help; he was a lifelong autodidact after all so why not carry on the tradition? There were drawing exercises and painting exercises and all those books about art, artists and art history: prehistoric art forward to the present.
I really cannot stress enough how useful and interesting studying art history is, especially the way I did it. Because, along with politics, economics, war and technology you have to include all the topics I listed at the beginning of this article. History is important and art is a great way to get at it.
At the end of the day, if you’ve figured out nothing else studying this stuff, you’ve pretty much discovered that Man has been thinking hard and successfully about the most important things for a very long time.
You will also discover something else and that is for most of this time the perceived vector for matter is one out of thought. In other words, out of thought comes matter. Only very recently did it get viewed by some people as the reverse: thought out of matter. That’s to say, out of matter comes thought.
So what? some may ask. Well, it’s this thought/matter vector paradigm that I want to concentrate on – after discussing what’s been going on these past millennia.
First off, Awe and Art.
Actually I have nothing more to say about awe and that’s as it should be, I think. I mean, if we ever get to the point as a society that we need to discuss awe overly much then I think it’ll be too late for everyone, you know? Right now there are people who experience it and others who don’t so much; the end.
So, on to art.
Sadly art really needs to get back on the table for discussion by everybody. The round table, that is, not the autopsy table where it lies now.
Art: the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power. And (the arts): the various branches of creative activity, such as painting, music, literature, and dance. From, Middle English, from Old French, accusative of ars, from Latin ars (nominative), artem (accusative) “skill, craft, craftsmanship”. The key word in the definition though is creative.
Creative: relating to or involving the use of the imagination or original ideas to create something. And create: 1. to cause to come into being, as something unique that would not naturally evolve or that is not made by ordinary processes. 2. to evolve from one’s own thought or imagination, as a work of art or an invention. There are two etymologies: creative, Middle English creat (past participle) <Latin creātus, equivalent to creā– (stem of creāre to make) + –tus past participle suffix. Create: late Middle English (in the sense ‘form out of nothing’, used of a divine or supernatural being): from Latin creat– ‘produced’, from the verb creare.
Then one should make sure of the definition of imagination: the faculty or action of forming new ideas, or images or concepts of external objects not present to the senses. From Middle English: via Old French from Latin imaginatio(n-), from the verb imaginari ‘picture to oneself’, from imago, imagin- ‘image’. Image: form a mental picture or idea of. From, Middle English: from Old French, from Latin imago, (related to imitate).
And original: 1. present or existing from the beginning; first or earliest. 2. not dependent on other people’s ideas; inventive or novel. From Middle English, from Old French, or from Latin originalis, from origin–
And here’s the kicker, origin: the point or place where something begins, arises, or is derived. From early 16th century: from French origine, from Latin origo, origin-, from oriri ‘to rise’. To rise! Like the sun. Isn’t that something!
When you read in the Bible that God made Man in his own image, God as the Creator, this is what I believe was meant.
In interpretations of the Bible, the definition of image is always, idol; which means, an image or representation of a god used as an object of worship which leads to the usual literal anthropomorphic depictions. Rather, from a conceptual point of view, the definition of image – as related to imitate – is to be as God (in action), the action of creation; the bringing forth or the raising up of something where previously there was nothing. In an attempt to encourage this non-literal interpretation of God, Judaism, for instance, used the unpronounceable YHWH and Islam prohibits any pictorial depiction of God altogether. The Christian depictions of God as appearing human come to us from ancient Greece and then Rome where they had no problem with representing gods in that way. The point is, God is such a huge idea that any literal depiction is a kind of blasphemy (as in, profane), no matter what is your religion or philosophy.
A quick note here: that Man is shaped as he is (upright on two legs, head up, long arms, prehensile) is probably no coincidence given the nature of our universe. Shape and function correlate, I don’t know of anything that doesn’t; so Man’s extreme creative nature and his form are most likely connected. Therefore, if you’re making an artistic attempt to indicate God then it makes sense to depict God as manlike.
Moving along. This imagination and creation stuff, this is what Man has in spades over all other life: the sheer magnitude of art and invention there has been, it boggles the mind! And we’ve barely even gotten started. My opinion, we are not at the end of art as my teachers said at Cal Arts but instead at the beginning of the beginning, where we shall always be. That’s the long view though. The short view… hmm.
It has to be emphasised though, that ignoring and even negating this creativity seems to be a habit amongst famous Materialists (such as Marx and Lenin) who thought only in terms of zero-sum games. Getting everyone to think in this way will inevitably lead to violence as it promotes the idea of uncreativeness and static resources.
Now, the reason I am going to be pounding the drum about art going forward, is it has been going through a dark phase these past hundred years or so and where art goes goes the culture (the ideas, customs, and social behaviour of a particular people or society) and where the culture goes goes everything else. The last thing to go down this drain is politics and the democide that so often has gone with it (estimated at 242 million people bumped off by their own governments since 1900).
Not to bore you with more personal anecdotes but when I set out to paint full time back in 1987 I began to realise that the Art World was fully immersed in socio-political messaging. Nothing wrong with that on the face of it, but it is one thing for art to carry a socio-political message than it is for the socio-political message to use art; this is what we call propaganda. Art is always political but there’s just no such thing as Political art. Therefore, the kind of society being pushed and promoted in many of the galleries I attended around the world were collectivist (see article on Infinity Valued Logic); what Ken Wilbur calls, “flatland”, a very apt term.
Flatland: destroying equality of opportunity in favour of equity of outcome; the Procrustean bed. Collectivist oriented societies, seeking to destroy the merit based society, are by far much more easily captured by the ever growing authoritarian state (authoritarianism is like black mould, it needs special conditions to flourish and these conditions begin to be created when the materialist flatlanders get into the arts). So I found flatland very troubling indeed, not just as a citizen certainly but also on a personal note, as an aspiring artist. Lordy, how was I gong to make a career in a group to which I was in fact an enemy? (Interesting little problem that, probably solvable by better persons than myself – in any case I never did. Solve it, I mean.)
How did things come to such a pass? Well, here’s the briefest of sketches.
World War Part I (WWI) quite naturally shocked and appalled the artists of the day. How, after such a period of invention and originality as the previous era, could such horror come to pass? In 1917, after three and a half years of unimaginable slaughter, an artist by the name of Marcel DuChamp created a work by presenting for exhibition in New York a urinal he titled Fountain. It was photographed and published in a magazine and the rest, as they say, is history. The year before, a new school of art had been established called Dada (or Dadaism) but Fountain really took the cake and Dada was destined to set the tone for the Art World in the century to come. (Dadaism, by the way, having been born out of the negative reaction to the horrors of WWI, was an international movement begun by a group of artists and poets associated with the Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich. Dada rejected reason and logic, prizing instead nonsense, irrationality, and intuition.) But, as we all know, tearing things down is a lot easier than building things up, so as much fun as this might have been at the time it might not be such a good idea for the long term. (I can hear art experts screeching in my ear for such philistinism but what’s a fellow to do?)
This is not to say that Fountain was a bad idea or to say the work that followed was not good. On the contrary, tons and tons of amazing work was done both then and now, all work being done by artists after all. No, what I am saying is that most of the work that was being heavily promoted by the Art World ultimately got us to 2021 discussing such nonsense as whether men can have babies and pushing Critical Race Theory (that all white people are racists because they are white) and other such rot. All the while the State, laughing down its sleeve, is going more and more insane and authoritarian as the loudest most strident voices amongst the proletariat (always the loudest, never the majority) clamour for flatland on social media and at the polls.
By the time World War Part II (WWII) was ramping up, artworks had became so baffling for normal people that, certainly by the 1950s, one needed to read extensively of critics to understand the work at all; critics, by the way, who were themselves so complicated and cryptic as to be indecipherable. The result: regular folks avoiding galleries for fear of appearing stupid when they “don’t get it”. (Throughout my years as a painter I would repeatedly hear people commenting about the art world, “well, I guess I don’t know anything about art….” Of course they know about art, every feeling person “knows about” art.
Thankfully for humankind and the world, other art forms were not indecipherable, such as music and film. And what’s to be deciphered anyway? Art is about emotions, especially the emotion, the feeling, of awe. Sure, you can and do attach all sorts of messages and stories to it but it is the goal of all real artists to try and first get the audience to say “wow!”.
As an aside, many people don’t know how this whole epoch of art got started in the first place, so very quickly: around 1096 AD a bunch of Christian mercenaries and scholars invaded the Holy Land which was under Islamic rule at the time. The world of Islam had preserved much of the technologies of the ancient world from before the fall of the Roman Empire and they also had the best schools. Sometime after this Crusade, Christians began building churches and cathedrals of a wholly different kind, buildings of air and light; this was amazing and a total about face from their heavy stone and shadowy predecessors. The stained glass that filled these places with beams of jeweled light told the stories of Jesus and the Apostles, the saints and all the glories of heaven, there were even mandalas (!) of exquisite complexity and beauty.
Imagine, if you will, the people from all the country ‘round, most of whom could not read and write (which included the aristocracy, by the way, not just the villagers, peasants and serfs) entering a structure so tall as to dwarf everything else for miles around and moving through all that glorious colour, literally bathed in the stories of The Lord and Saviour while the priests intoned the mass – notes that would completely fill the whole open space with mellifluous sound, rising up to meet God Almighty Himself. It gives chills, you know? I’m sorry, but wow, that’s awe!
And that, in a nutshell, is art. Soon more and more art (architecture, painting, sculpture, music, poetry, literature, etc.) would appear in not just these spaces, but exploding across all the land, inspired by the artists and craftsmen who created all those cathedrals with their windows. Within a few hundred years there was the Renaissance, then the Enlightenment and then the Industrial era. And now the Information Age.
What’s the point of being alive anyway? I mean truly alive. Well, it’s got to be the feeling of exhilaration and beauty and all the wonderful awe. Without that, at least every now and then, one might as well be dead.
The tried and true way to be sure to get that feeling every now and then? Religion. By celebrating being alive and expressing gratitude for this chance at existence. By laughing and dancing and making beautiful music and things. So people regularly get together for this experience and ceremonies are made up for the express purpose of not just celebrating the awe and joy but creating it too because times can get tough, really rough and people need to be reminded why they’re here.
This so very much improves the quality of life that it gets done on a schedule rather than when one just feels like it and, most importantly, lest one forget to do this (because that can happen, know any depressed persons?) – special days and dates are set aside just to make the point. Masters of Ceremonies (called priests and so on) were appointed to be in charge of making sure that things never got so serious that everybody died, which is what happens without awe and beauty – and good fun.
I’ve often read that all the attention the ancients gave to the position of the stars and planets was to determine harvest times and so on. What balderdash! Every farmer knows when to seed and reap, they don’t need to know whether Mars is ascending or the precession of the equinoxes or the anything about the zodiac. No, what was happening was probably an early attempt at scheduling ceremonies, celebrations and rituals in such a wise as to also influence events and nature.
There is a lot of difficulty in properly analysing cause and effect, even in our day. The Earth rocks and slams, goes dry and floods and all sorts of difficult things happen so the ceremonies are bound up with all these things too, of course they would be. It doesn’t change the primary fact that, just as then and as it still does today, ritualising beauty and gratitude lifts us up and that, ultimately, influences everything.
So basically it’s my guess that archaic religion is awe by schedule. Too simple? Maybe. But it might explain all those ancient calendars.
Here’s the thing. At the end of the day I don’t actually know if this is the sequence of things, awe, art and then some form of early religion, nobody does, or that they weren’t simultaneous or something else. These articles are my thoughts, after all, not a white paper.
What I do know though, as I have studied this matter of ancient prehistoric culture, it almost always seemed to be the case that descriptions of our distant ancestors usually have them depicted as a pretty dour bunch, painfully practical at best (making art to improve the hunt or ceremonies to get the gods to produce rain) or violently morose at worst (sacrificing children, ritual head hunting, etc.). Life must have been difficult to be sure but that’s only from our extremely distant and cushy perspective. It is a fact, however, that in our own times, deeply challenged individuals and groups can be more than capable of finding joy in life, despite their circumstances; by ensuring a regular connection with awe, beauty (art) and each other. And they can do this often more consistently and with greater intensity and humour than others in more pampered secular circumstances because they make a point of it – through rituals, regular rituals.
It is with this kind of courage and gratitude that life is made more liveable, even joyful, no matter what your era.