Art, science, faith

The politics undergirding our beliefs

“Skepticism is the beginning of Faith.”

—Oscar Wilde

Faith – in an Occident made starry-eyed by secularism – is often unpopular. Yet it has quite simply evolved.

Secularism: the Politicization of Art
When feigned by apathetic Rage Against the Machine (politically-polemical nineties band) concertgoers screaming, “Eff you, I won’t do what you tell me,” the politics of rage can be seen as a practice of misguided wretches, brainwashed into fanatically commercialized performances.

“Without action, rage becomes just another commodity or marketing tool,” laments Mark Levin in an Al-Jazeera article titled, “No More Rage Against the Machine.” In response to the dearth of rage surrounding Wikileaks’ revelation of the myriad atrocities denied or concealed in Iraq by the American government, he criticizes how fury is channelled in concert-screaming rather than protest. The disparity between Rage’s enormous fan community and the petty fraction of them who exhibit the band’s commitment to political resistance against the woes of neoliberalism epitomizes, for Levin, politicized art’s artificiality.

The notion of politicized art – or any artistic creation that is not simply a religious product – is relatively new. Walter Benjamin, in his essay “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” speaks to the necessary politicization of art when bereft of traditional and ritualistic value. After secularization in the 18th century, paintings and music once commissioned primarily as veneration for religious figures or as accompaniment to religious ceremonies were diverted for secular purposes. The novel secularity of art revised its value as an end in itself rather than as means to the divine. This paved the route towards key loci of modern artistic activity – galleries, concerts, et cetera.

While Rage concerts may not foment political spirit in the traditional sense, they politicize the faith in music itself, required to replace the faith gone astray in the process of secularization.

Atheism’s Jesus, Mohammad, and Abraham – Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Sam Harris – preach scientific scriptures, seeking to disenchant the brainwashed from theological curses.

Yet while watching Harris’s TED presentation – “Science Can Answer Moral Questions” – I was persuaded that he was engaging in mystic wizardry, casting a spell on his white, middle-aged, middle-to-upper-class audience. “Does the Taliban have a point of view on physics worth considering?” No, he responds to himself. Almost on cue, as if meticulously orchestrated, they chuckle at hackneyed, obtuse jokes. Laughter ensues from his theatrically-voiced response. Chuckles likewise follow his profession that he is the Ted Bundy (seventies serial killer) of string theory.

I frequently marvelled, Huh? Wtf is Sammy sayin’? Eventually, I was laughing incessantly at an often-illogical ramble (liked by 4,197 YouTubers) accompanied by visual presentations juxtaposing DNA strands with statues of the Virgin Mary; terrifying images of the Pope, sallow and dark-eyed, with even more terrifying pictures of gravely-gazed Rabbis; and women in burqas, with scantily-clad blonde bombshells.

While analyzing the infidels’ hyper-receptivity to Harris’s scientific sermon – their eruption into applause after remarkably uninsightful remarks – Bob Dylan whispered to me…

Moralizing conclusion
The Duchess moralizes Alice in Wonderland, “Tut, tut, child! Everything’s got a moral, if only you can find it.”

What is it?
Dylan chants, “The answer is blowin’ in the wind,” depending on what you listen to, or, more precisely, what you choose to hear, scream apolitically at Rage concerts, or laugh gratuitously at at TED talks.

Our ethnocentrism allows us to criticize all performances of faith as the actions of brainwashed androids. Yet the idea of brainwashing is curious to me. The moralizing din that religion, amongst other institutions, brainwashes, is banal. Everything “brainwashes” – capitalism, nationalism, art, ad infinitum. Humans require faith in somethings, the mere belief in which never inherently indicates vice. Faith is what forges institutions into existence, and what is humanly – not epistemologically – contrived for “good” or “bad.” As Wilde so astutely notes, skepticism and the subsequent disavowal of certain value systems is quite simply the beginning of faith in other systems from which to derive a sense of community and morality.