Saturday, February 11, 2012

Religion is not what it is, always something else

Isn’t there a problem in thinking about religion as though religion were primarily a system of ideas—as though religion, whatever that is, were reducible to ‘philosophies of religion,’ or for that matter, to the objective claims some forms of religion make about the world (what Establishment Atheist Publications make of it?

Religion seems always to be—whatever it seems to be about, to be primarily ‘about’ something other than what it appears or presents itself to be about. In that—Blake’s take on religion as failed poetry is more than a rhetorical trope, as those aspects of religion he attacks are like in kind to what he attacks in philosophy—or the rule of law in established power, or conventional notions of male & female sexuality. Blake’s poetry throbs with images and tropes drawn from religious sources, and likely thought of himself as a Christian. To see this as contradiction, or as Shirley Dent put it, a ‘confused thinker’ , does him a grave injustice. There is something in Blake’s critique worth thinking about—though not as philosophy, not as what Blake understood as ‘reason’ (the rule of Urizon…
bring out rule and measure in a year of drought)

Not to over simplify, but for Blake, what poetry and the remainder of religion, that which had not been corrupted by reason and failed imagination, had in common—is that they are always about ‘something else.’ Here I think Blake was on to something. What makes this even more difficult to recognize than it was at the turn of the 19th C, is the thoroughly reactionary usurpation of most of what we see and recognize as religion—reactionary, in that religion—in its defenses and rationalizations—which is pretty much all that we notice or think worth thinking about, has translated itself into an ersatz modernist self-reflection of itself. That is—if science offers a new version of our origins that seems threatening—defenders reverse the order of importance and meaning of whatever their mythical narratives might have once meant (how would we ever know?), recast as counter-claims to what they assume they mean to science—so we have ‘creationism’ as, not only pseudo-science, but pseudo-religion… or rather, a remaking of religion as a negative image of a modern counter-religion (the creationists have to make evolution a kind of religion to find common ground to opposite it).

Back to Blake… and this is not a defense of religion, but a plea to get beyond the reductive miscasting of religion as a kind of ‘idea,’… a badly twisted misguided idea… no matter how strong a hold these ideas do in fact have, and how dangerous they are… but that the persistence of religion has very little to do with those ideas, with its high-theological re-constructions, and can’t be adequately explained by them. The social and political rhizomes of religion are so intimately entangled in every other aspect of life—so much more than “what people believe’ – that we miss what may be the only thing the indefinably diverse stuff we label as ‘religion’ has in common… it’s being always about ‘something else.’ And in that… I think Blake was no confused thinker—but right on target, in seeing the deeper roots of religion and poetry as one.

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