Friday, December 7, 2012

Gods can teach us - just don't worship them

Children at Bible Camp, Wisconsin
I've my regular column up on the ABC today, 'Gods can teach us--just don't worship them'.

Following up from my last column, I'm looking into gods, and how the freest souls treat them playfully. A sample:
All the gods, argues author and publisher Roberto Calasso, were once a primal kind of play. His epic The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony makes this point brilliantly. "But how did it all begin?" he keeps asking in the first pages. For Calasso, there is no one beginning. Endless becoming is the rule: transformations, births and deaths, deaths and rebirths. Calasso's book tells Greek stories, but perhaps the Norse god Loki stands in for all deities here: becoming salmon, mare, fly and swapping sexes like suits, as he waits to destroy the world; the tragic, laughing prankster.  
Put less esoterically, the gods are not one single, eternal and universal truth. They are, to pluck that dubious word from Heathers, myriad. This is the basic nature of myth. Any one myth "is always a tree with many branches," Calasso said recently in the Paris Review. "Unless you take into account all the possible variants, you don't truly understand it."  
But in churches, variants of scripture and teaching have another name: heresy. Aquinas described it as "a species of infidelity in men who, having professed the faith of Christ, corrupt its dogmas". This Abrahamic ideal, and perhaps all institutional ideals, are antithetical to Calasso's play. The Abrahamic religions are often frightened of mythic "infidelity", and confessedly jealous: the God of Exodus, for example, but also of Paul's second letter to the Corinthians. Paul is worried about Calasso's 'variants': "Someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the Spirit you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted." He wants, he says, to give "virgin" souls to God.  
These are metaphors, but telling ones: fear of other myths and fables, and their seductions. As a Jew, and apostle of Christ, Paul warns his acolytes about playing around, so to speak.
(Photo: Paul M. Walsh)


Rolly Christian said...

G'day Damon,

Love the kids worshiping picture with this blog. It lifted my spirit.
These children have tapped into something bigger than themselves.

When confronted with the Truth as demonstrated in Jesus you can either repent of your sins (exposed by the Truth to come clean) and yield your will (life) to Him (worship) or you can reject His moral authority and go it alone.

It's a stark choice, but one that is made either way.

Damon Young said...

Interesting. I find the photo creepy.

Pasquino said...

Hi Damon, this article was really stimulating reading. As an artist I've tried to reinterpret the cultural stories of myth within the context of aesthetic theory and artistic practice. If you have the time I'd love to know what you think.

Damon Young said...

Thanks, Dominique. Your figures are exceptional. Visceral but elegant, in a Renaissance kinda way.

I'd be fascinated to see your take on Norse myth.

aquaduck said...

Praise & worship can be found in the secular world. Unquestioning belief in the natural is hardly critical thinking at its best, especially in light of the supposed big bang & particles to people...very faith like.

Your garden of cultivated thoughts, hard work & repetative themes takes many a person on a journey of intelectual ascent through the positive & negative aspects of world veiws.

Isaiah 42:3 describes one who will come, he will not destroy the bruised reed, He comes in tenderness & mercy.

Rabbi Eisenberg said...

Hi Damon,

It’s interesting how different perspectives of history can lead to such radically different world-views.

We Jews have grown used to seeing the emergence of societies that think they have discovered the ultimate truth and that we believers were primitive and deluded. We experienced it first with the Greeks, then with the Romans, the Christians, the Enlightenment thinkers, the Communists and most recently, the New Atheists. Each of them has had their day in the sun (making important contributions along the way), but our experience has been that their proud stances don’t stand the test of time, while we have humbly persevered. As a result, we don’t take the condescension and ridicule so seriously, aware of the underlying hubris (which often has a strangely messianic feel to it). At least now they don’t kill us for thinking differently (at least, not in the Western world), although the ill-informed and smug derision in the public sphere is a bit irritating.

I don’t know if you got to the Jonathan Sacks’ book we discussed, but if you haven’t, I do think it would broaden your presentation somewhat.

Rabbi Eisenberg

Pasquino said...

I don't know a great deal about Norse myth but I certainly would consider it. I've also thought of the Buddhist art of southern Afghanistan and Gandhara and its continuity with the language of western classical aesthetics and how this might be re-appropriated within the context of contemporary secular interest with Buddhism in general.

If you ever decide to write a book on mythology and you want an illustrator who thinks deeply about these same cultural ideas, drop me a line lol!