Awe, Art and Early Religion
Scientology 1.0.0 – Part 8
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 if anomalous.
If ever there was, and is, 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 for man to 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 to, and make 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 well known organised religions (and other more unfamiliar practises), but also 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 to be 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?” Or, “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 in 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 in comparison. Such as, where do ideas rise up from? (I say, “rise up” because that’s how it seems to me anyhow.) 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 like think these other thoughts. One thing is certain: since the beginning of this type of mind, one will ponder 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 – may have – been happening long before the cerebral cortex came online. Before then, perhaps, there just wasn’t as much of an “I” kind of mind 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.
Maybe as something like a clear night sky lit by 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 the hope 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, although 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, because 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 indicates man was thinking about a lot more than mere day-to-day survival. We have statuettes, petroglyphs, paintings, and drawings from 25,000 to 75,000 years ago (most art is pretty destructible, so I think there was probably a lot more work done before that). Today, anthropologists always seem to ascribe to them purely religious, ceremonial, or ritual (read, utilitarian) significance, but this is probably because most anthropologists aren’t artists, so they don’t know any better. To an artist, this sort of religious 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! No other option.
In 1976, I got into an art college, a place called the California Institute for the Arts, also known as “Cal Arts.” (I don’t know if it still exists.) The first thing we were told 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 and painting exercises too, and all those wonderful books about art, artists, and art history, from 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, in addition to politics, economics, war, and technology, you must include all of the topics listed at the beginning of this article. History is important, and art history 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. And 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 (i.e., 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. That’s really 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. That God created man in order for him to be creative, not that God is humanoid.
In some interpretations of the Bible, the definition of image is “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 act of creation; the bringing forth or the raising up of something where previously there was nothing. I’d guess that in an attempt to encourage this non-literal interpretation of God, Judaism, for instance, uses 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, such as they did with Zeus, a muscly fellow with white flowing hair and beard. The point is, God is such a huge idea that any literal depiction is a kind of blasphemy (as in, profane), no matter what 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 might make sense to depict God as manlike, but it opens the door wide to the bane of all conceptualists: literalness. (Fundamentalism, in all its forms, is nothing if it is not utterly literal.)
(As an aside, I think that for AI to ever work, it too will eventually have to be embodied, just as we are, with all the human characteristics of movement and perception; otherwise it won’t be able to make the same sort of sense of the universe.)
Moving along. All this imagination and creation stuff, I mean, this is what man has in spades over all other life. The sheer magnitude of art and invention that has occurred is mind-boggling. And we’ve barely even gotten started! In my opinion: we are not at the end of art, as my teachers complained 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… I think it’ll continue to be a bumpy ride for awhile.
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 this way will inevitably lead to violence as it promotes the idea of uncreativeness and static human resources.
Now, the reason I am going to be pounding the drum about art going forward is that 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 goes with it (estimated at 242 million people bumped off by their own governments since 1900).
Flatland: destroying equality of opportunity in favour of equity of outcome: the Procrustean bed. Collectivist societies, which seek to destroy meritocracies, are far more easily captured by the ever-expanding authoritarian state (authoritarianism, like black mould, requires special conditions to flourish, and these conditions begin to be created when materialist flatlanders, as they did, enter 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. Damn! How was I going to make a career in a group with which I disagreed so vehemently, and with which I was, in fact, an enemy of nearly all that it stood for? (Interesting little problem, that; probably solvable by better people 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 horrors 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 called Dada (or Dadaism) had been established, but Fountain really took the cake, and so 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 logic and reason, instead prizing nonsense, absurdity, and irrationality.) But, as we all know, tearing things down is a lot easier than building things up, as even small children eventually discover, so, as much fun as this might have been at the time, it has turned out to be not such a good idea in the long run. (I can hear art experts screeching in my ear for such blasphemous philistinism, but what’s an honest fellow to do?)
This is not to say that Fountain was “bad” art. What it was, was a bad idea (the idea being that art is something that, well, there’s no other way to put it, one should piss on); the problem was the work’s purpose, which was nothing short of saying that art is meaningless, is pointless, and the entire idea and activity of art is dead (the same thing my art teachers were trying to tell me sixty years later). The sheer nihilism was, and still is, palpable and informs the art world to this very day.
To say the work that followed DuChamp’s masterpiece was not “good” would be untrue. On the contrary, tonnes and tonnes of amazing work was done both then and now, all work being done by artists after all. No, what I am saying is that all too much of the work that followed ran in the same dark and cynical vein. Most of the work that was being heavily promoted by the art world these past hundred years 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 aren’t black) 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) began, artworks had become so perplexing for ordinary people that – and this was certainly the case by the 1950s – one needed to read extensively from critics to understand the work at all; critics who, by the way, were themselves so cynical, 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, at least at 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 A.D., 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 technology 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 jewelled 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, and so on) would appear not only in these religious spaces, but all over the country, inspired by the artists and craftsmen who built all those cathedrals with their magical 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 life and expressing gratitude for the opportunity to exist; by laughing, dancing, and creating 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 rough, really rough, and people need to be reminded why they’re here.
This very much improves the quality of life so much 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 people?) 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.
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. I don’t think so. I agree more with another view. Every farmer knows when to sow and reap. They don’t need to know whether Mars is ascending, the precession of the equinoxes, or anything about the zodiac. No, what was happening was probably an early attempt at scheduling ceremonies, celebrations, and rituals in such a way as to also influence events and nature.
Even today, there is a lot of difficulty in properly analysing cause and effect. The earth rocks and slams, goes dry, and floods. All sorts of difficult things happen, so the ceremonies are bound up with all these very, very serious things too. Of course, they would be, and there would need to be some attempt to influence nature. 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 better 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 a little on this matter of ancient prehistoric cultures, is that it almost always seemed to be the case that descriptions of our distant ancestors usually had 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 and so on). Or violently morose at worst (sacrificing children, ritual head hunting, etc.). Life must have been difficult, certainly, but that’s only from our extremely distant, and cushy perspective. However, it is a fact 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 connexion with awe, beauty (art), and each other. And they can do it more consistently, with greater intensity and humour, than others in more pampered, secular circumstances because they make it a point of doing 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.