Burning Book Club – Chapter 1 – Turns out Money can Buy Enlightenment

Book Burning(We’re basing this discussion on Terry Eagleton’s “Culture and the Death of God.”  Read all the book club entries)

We tend to think of a secular society as one with no religion, but in fact no such animal exists – or ever has existed.  Instead, a “secular society” is one in which religion is not a central organizing principle but exists only as one of many potential forms of amusement or self-help.

“Societies become secular not when they dispense with religion altogether, but when they are no longer especially agitated by it,” Eagelton notes at the opening of this chapter.  “Another index of secularization is when religious faith ceases to be vitally at stake in the political sphere, not just when church attendance plummets or Roman Catholics are mysteriously childless.”

This unites religion with art and cultural cannons, all of which have been impacted by what Eagleton refers to as “the privatization of the symbolic sphere.”

“It is when artists, like bishops, are unlikely to be hanged that we can be sure that modernity has set in,” he writes.  “They do not matter enough for that.”

For artists to matter socially, art has to be more than just a matter of private taste.  Indeed, for anything beyond raw power and money to matter culturally, it must invoke a common bond – be more than a matter of personal taste or fashion.  Burning Man is one among many kinds of culture that fall under this shadow.  To the extent that Burning Man is attempting to re-enchant the world or make life more meaningful … to the extent that we want art to matter … Burning Man faces off against the same forces that have displaced religion.

But these forces are not necessarily the ideas of Enlightenment per see;  Eagleton devotes much space in this chapter to the observation that the western Enlightenment was not actually hostile to God.  Far from intending to disprove God, many Enlightenment thinkers believed his existence could be deduced rationally.  “For the most part, it was priestcraft rather than the Almighty that the movement had in its sights,” Eagleton says.  “The task was not so much to topple the Supreme Being as to replace a benighted version of religious faith with one that might grace coffee-house conversation in the strand.”

As with many conflicts that are seen as being religious, much of the bloodshed surrounding the Enlightenment was in fact political conflict with a religious gloss.  The theological issues in question often turned out to be proxies for “who rules this land” and “who should pay for all this.”

Yet if much of the Enlightenment was not, in fact, hostile to religion, then how is it that the Enlightenment led to a secular society?

Eagleton – like Marx before him – suggests that it is material forces.  “It was middle class society itself that, contrary to its own best intentions, succeeded in bringing religion into disrepute.  In this respect, science, technology, education, social mobility, market forces and a host of other secularizing factors played a more vital role than Montesquieu or Diderot.”

Once economic forces become the central organizing principles of a society, society has entered modernity … and secularization follows modernity like day after night, because of course a society organized around currency cannot allow the sacred to transcend the pound sterling.  American capitalism loves religion to the extent it can make blockbuster movies about Biblical figures and sell religious tchotchkes – but it would never consider allowing the principles those figures stood for to influence the way they do business.  The meek pay full price.

The philosophical ideas of the Enlightenment were important, but secondary.  “The pieties and principles embedded in age-old forms of life are not to be uprooted by a few eloquent polemics,” Eagleton notes.  Ultimately we moved towards secularization because we didn’t want to have to subject the conveniences of the market to an ethical (let alone spiritual) review.  We ceased to put God in the center of the universe because we liked easy access to textiles and tobacco.

Once again, Burning Man appears to be in the same boat:  a movement that is lauded by market forces to the extent that we have the potential to move capital around.  If we would only sell t-shirts and bottled water, accept sponsorships and product placement, we’d have conquered the world without changing a thing.  Instead, we are at our most radical – and hard for the culture at large to swallow – when we place the 10 Principles above the capacity to cash in on them.

The simple act of not selling this culture out is a radical one.  Burning Man may not be religious, but by positing a higher value than profit and its conveniences, we are lumped into the same basket as religion by the forces that led to secularization.

Yet it is important to note that while the loudest philosophes were agitating for a God free world, the actual forces of secularization pushed Christianity no further out than they absolutely had to.  From a truly atheistic perspective, they left a lot of work undone.  “The Enlightenment sought to reconstruct morality on a rational basis, but as Alasdair MacIntyre has pointed out, the morality in question remained largely Christian in provenance.”

This is a deeper problem than most of our modern atheists appreciate.  “Frederich Jacobi recognized that the Enlightenment conception of Reason has a prehistory, one which includes elements of the very Christianity it challenges.  In our own time, Jurgen Habermas has also claimed that the values of freedom, autonomy, egalitarianism and universal rights derive from the Judaic ethic of Justice and the Christian ethic of love.”

We can go on.  Eagleton continues:

“Critics of religion … dismissed Eden as mythical, but looked back wistfully to a golden age of Roman virtue.  Some adhered to an all-powerful, self-founding, self-determining power, but its name was now Reason rather than God.  They renounced the sovereignty of church and Scripture, but betrayed a naïve trust in the authority of Nature and Reason.  They dismantled heaven but looked forward to a perfect human future;  spoke up for tolerance but found the sight of a priest hard to stomach;  scoffed at miracles but believed in the perfectibility of the human race, and substituted a devotion to humanity for the love of God.  They also replaced divine grace with civic virtue.  For all their brave talk of hanging the last king in the entrails of the last priest, ‘there is more of Christian philosophy in the writings of the Philosophes,’ Becker remarks, ‘than has yet been dreamt of in our histories.’”

To Eagleton, then, the secularization of society actually has very little to do with God and theology per see, and everything to do with the material principles around which society is organized.  Or as Philip Rieff noted:  “The Sacred Order is the Social Order” – what we do is, ultimately, what we believe.  God was dethroned and religion pushed to the side to exactly the point where it stopped interfering with the free market, and pushed no further.  To the extent that religion could get on board with market capitalism its influence was welcome.  The Protestant Work Ethic not only didn’t try to put any checks on industrial capitalism, it suggested that industry was next to godliness.  No godless capitalists went on record as objecting.  Martin Luther probably would have.

The new view placed “rational principles” just were God had been.  There was still an implicate order to the universe.  “Whereas Darwinism sees randomness in apparent order,” Eagleton writes, “the Enlightenment did the reverse.”  There was tremendous faith (the word is used deliberately) that with enough rational thought, all answers to the problems and questions of living would be found and answered.  God may have been moved to the side, but “salvation” stayed exactly where it had always been.

Eagleton lists a number of prominent Enlightenment thinkers – including Voltaire and Samuel Johnson – who did not believe in salvation.  But they also tended to doubt the ultimate efficacy of Reason, and thus while important and influential were also outliers to the spirit of the age.  To the extent that technology and economics requires that rationality be lauded, we laud it.  We do not doubt.  We have faith – and thus can cue those technophiles who believe we’re just years away from uploading our consciousness into a heavenly network and attaining eternal life in a digital paradise where we will never know suffering or want again.   Amen.

If keeping Christian society largely intact strikes you as a conservative position, remember that many of the Enlightenment thinkers were in fact staunch social conservatives … as befit their status as aristocrats or members of the middle class.  They had a lot to lose if their theories of universal reason led to universal social change.

“Holbach and Montesquieu were barons, Condorcet was a marquis and Condilac an abbe.  Voltaire sprang from the minor gentry, grew immensely rich and lived like an aristocrat.  Helvetius, the son of a millionaire who moved in courtly circles, made a fortune as a tax farmer;  Bentham lived off inherited income;  Gibbon was a Member of Parliament and the son of a prosperous landowner.  They were, as Peter Gay remarks, ‘a solid, respectable class of revolutionaries.’”

Indeed many Enlightenment  thinkers, believing that the common people were impervious to Reason … or at least would not understand why, in a world governed by reason, there should be aristocrats … actively encouraged orthodox religion as a force of social stability.

Eagleton quotes Carl Becker:  “They courageously discussed Atheism, but not before the servants.”

The parallels with today are many:  the world is full of people who want to ‘disrupt’ every system but the one that brings them millions.  If many of the contemporary acolytes of Pure Reason wonder why we have not stamped out religion once and for all, it is in part because many acolytes of Pure Reason prefer the society they have to the one that might come out of a true re-examination of basic principles.  (And they might have a point.)

In the end, of course, the Enlightenment would indeed lead to a world where religion was no longer a truly common social bond – in a capitalist society, Eagleton points out “the dull compulsion to labor” is the only real common social bond – but much of the ethical and epistemological systems that religion put in place still remain.  As do religious people.

As we shall see in the next chapter, the Enlightenment created ideals that much of humanity is perfectly happy to live with, but are not inspired by.  We may agree with rational propositions, but we will not fight and die for them – let alone write poems, symphonies, or love one another because we have heard their call.

“The more you ground morality in Reason,” Eagleton notes, paraphrasing Hume, “the more it may rob you of initiative.  … A purely technical rationality can have nothing to say about questions of value.”

Burning Man could be seen as one of the reactions against the excesses of the Enlightenment, but only after 500 years of continued development.  Certainly Burning Man, in its preference for embodied ritual over abstract symbolism (it’s in the 10 Principles –look it up), could be a response to the kind of Reason that began to emerge in the Enlightenment and has returned with a vengeance in the era of Big Data:  abstract, purely formal, and entirely disembodied.

“Once Reason cuts loose from the sensuous constraints of the body, it turns on humanity like a lunatic and tears it limb from limb,” Eagelton writes.  “A rationality unhinged from human fleshliness is a Lear-like form of insanity.”

Burning Man may also be a reaction against “the fact that when rationality becomes for the most part instrumental, a matter of calculation and cause and effect, it risks emptying social existence of meaning and value.”

To the extent that Burning Man places meaning and value back into social existence, it finds itself fighting with Enlightenment values in much the same way as religion did – except from the position of social outsiders, rather than an ancien regime attempting to retain control.

Which makes Burning Man’s cultural appeal all the more interesting.  While it attracts all kinds of people, the population of Burners is largely made up of the very people who have benefitted from the secular systems the Enlightenment built.  Why would a largely secular and privileged group support this fight after all this time, and the proven successes of capitalism?

“Rationalized societies tend not only to impoverish their symbolic resources, but to pathologize them as well,” Eagleton notes near the end of the chapter.  And here I think we’ve hit precisely on one of the appeals of Burning Man:  Burning Man enriches our symbolic resources, and makes them collective again rather than privatized … but without demanding an obedience to creed and clerisy.

It offers a desperately needed visceral link to the collective unconscious, without authority attached.

To people with First World Problems, reconnecting to shared symbolic resources may very well feel like coming home.

Everyone is welcome to comment in this space, though only comments germane to the topic at hand will be kept.  To join the Burning Book Club, just say you want to join in the comments section and leave an accurate email in the “email” field.

Caveat is the Volunteer Coordinator for Media Mecca at Burning Man is the author (under a clever pseudonym) of “A Guide to Bars and Nightlife in the Sacred City,” which has nothing to do with Burning Man. Contact him at Caveat (at) Burningman.com

About the author: Caveat Magister

Caveat is Burning Man's Philosopher Laureate. A founding member of its Philosophical Center, he is the author of The Scene That Became Cities: what Burning Man philosophy can teach us about building better communities, and Turn Your Life Into Art: lessons in Psychologic from the San Francisco Underground. He has also written several books which have nothing to do with Burning Man. He has finally got his email address caveat (at) burningman (dot) org working again. He tweets, occasionally, as @BenjaminWachs

13 Comments on “Burning Book Club – Chapter 1 – Turns out Money can Buy Enlightenment

  • jane says:

    Wow, still implying that Burning Man has anything to do with spirituality and religion. It’s a business; a week-long holiday event where tickets are sold for a price.

    Report comment

  • Caveat Magister says:

    Three responses.

    1) Prrrrrreeeeeety sure you didn’t read the post, if that’s your only response to it.

    2) So if someone pays for a week long meditation retreat at a Zen center, they’re not having a spiritual or religious experience? Or if someone pays for a tour of the grand canyon, they can’t have a spiritual or religious experience in response to it?

    3) “Burning Man” the event sells tickets. “Burning Man” the culture does not. We’re talking far more about the culture than the event.

    Let’s try to keep the discussion at a higher level than this, shall we?

    Report comment

  • The Grue says:

    Caveat, I think we took down all the same notes from this chapter. Now I almost feel like I have nothing further to add, except maybe this:

    “Once Reason cuts loose from the sensuous constraints of the body, it turns on humanity like a lunatic and tears it limb from limb. A rationality unhinged from human fleshliness is a Lear-like form of insanity.”

    I’ve been chewing on this all week. One of the stated purposes of religious experience (according to Eagleman) is transcendence. And I agree, being a self-avowed transcendentalist, that’s my preferred form of ecstatic experience. He still hasn’t defined it for us, and it’s looking like he may not do, but here’s where I’m stuck. If transcendence is “beyond fleshliness,” which is where most definitions put it, then how do we reconcile that with the hunger for a return to our warm animal bodies?

    I identify this as a problem, intellectually, but instinctively it makes perfect sense. Whitman was a great sensualist and a great transcendentalist in the same great breath. So I’m going to sit here with these puzzle pieces and play with them until something clicks. There’s room on this rug if anyone wants to help.

    Report comment

  • Ariel says:

    It seems to me that the relationship Burner Culture has toward the surrounding Capitalist one is reminiscent of 19th century Romanticism’s relationship to the industrial revolution. Or more to the point, Burner Culture is the counter offensive in the same war which after its defeat in the field of aesthetics some time ago, is trying to reemerge as not only a lifestyle, but a lifeworld in itself. Romanticism and its aesthetic offspring (dada, Situationism- all pointing to and trying to subvert the increasing rationalized/commodificatory nature of meaning in the modern world) had a fatal flaw: they existed merely as aesthetics, while the entity they battled was not just another movement, but a way of absorbing movements for the sake of commodification. So each attempt to merely construct linguistic and symbolic weapons to hurl at capitalism, merely made it stronger, lent it stockpiles of ammunition to be tagged and sold back.

    In a situation like this, the Romantic strain seems to only have one choice- force a stalemate by constructing a society (however temporary) which is built on a sort of Via Negativa. Capitalism can’t have, can’t assimilate, can’t re-brand, simple non-compliance with the rules of its own functioning.

    The Principles embody this. Each Principle is a refusal to perpetuate the mental attitudes and behaviors that characterize the basic pillars of Capitalist culture. The Romantic impulse realized at some point that the only art object capable of withstanding absorption into the Capitalist machine wasn’t an object at all, but an ethos. And ethos that builds into participants’ activity the capacity to constantly check the ideological tendencies that eventually lead to commodification.

    Report comment

  • Caveat Magister says:

    The Grue’s comment nicely seques into Ariel’s, actually …

    The conflict we’re already seeing in this chapter between “Rationality,” “Embodiment,” and “Transcendence” will get a lot worse in the next chapter when we look at the German Idealists. Then it will come much, much closer to resolving itself when we look at the Romantics. I suspect, Grue, that like me you’ll find your intellectual home right around there.

    Yet Ariel’s critique of Romanticism is pretty dead on: aesthetics, as aesthetics, do not create social transformation. (Eagleton will devote a lot of time to this). It is only when aesthetics reach what Ariel is calling an ethos and Rieff calls a “Sacred Order” that they begin to be effective agents of social change.

    But yeah, that statement … “Once Reason cuts loose from the sensuous constraints of the body, it turns on humanity like a lunatic and tears it limb from limb. A rationality unhinged from human fleshliness is a Lear-like form of insanity.” … it’s an incredibly hard lesson to learn. As forms of insanity go, it’s one our culture particularly loves.

    Report comment

  • Dom aka "Dom" says:

    Hello all,

    Hoping to join in a bit here. I am really liking the conversation around this so far (and I will be honest, my mind was having trouble treading water through a lot of the first chapter so it is cool to read other people’s ideas), and I have some thoughts.

    Going off of what Ariel said above, I also liked this section from Eagleton: “The problem is that any effective ideology must accomplish both tasks at once. In order to be credible, and thus to win general consent, it must be rooted in what men and women actually do; but in a society driven by appetite and self-interest it is therefore in danger of reflecting all the most disreputable kinds of value, and thus of failing to legitimize the social order”

    I feel like some of the Principles (I am thinking mainly of Gifting and Decommodification) are set in opposition to the “disreputable kinds of value” that Eagleton is talking about. In an environment where one is asked to “gift” to promote interaction, it becomes more difficult to be concerned with a lot of narrow self interest because the incentives are changed dramatically. It is very difficult to think of getting “fair market value” for something that the recipient is under no obligation to exchange for.

    This section also stuck out to me for reasons I am not quite sure of: “The reified thoughts of scientific rationalism cannot even pose the question of the existence of God. Or, at least, it can pose it only in the same way that one can inquire after the existence of the Yeti, or the Loch Ness monster”. I like to think that much as Caveat described Burning as being so alluring because it collectivizes the symbolic, I think it also works because it allows the irrational part of ourselves to be expressed in ways that do not fit as neatly into our day to day lives. We get to attempt ideas and project without as much of a rational concern for their marketability and that is quite liberating. Put another way, The reified thoughts of market rationalism cannot even pose the question for why a mobile Octopus sculpture that spits fire has value, or at least can only pose it in the same way that we ask why people write blogs for free, or why we value paintings. I am not sure if that even makes sense even as I write it…. but it has me thinking.

    Report comment

  • Air Freshener says:

    Nice gloss on the chapter! I agree with Grue that it leaves very little for me to add. The relationship between Burning Man, religion and capitalism is coming into better focus for me.

    I’ve been thinking about the phrase “symbolic resources”. What does it mean to impoverish or enrich them? I’m not sure I know. Is it to restore their ability to point to something beyond the realm of human experience? Caveat, could you expand on this?

    The symbol is an interesting thread that connects commerce, transcendence, the Romantics, and community. I’ll explain what I’ve come across in past readings. My sources are two books, David Graeber’s “Debt” and Peter Struck’s “Birth of the Symbol”.

    The word “symbol” comes from the Greek word “symbolon”. This was a clay token that was broken in half to represent a contract, a promise, etc. Only when the two halves were brought together by separate parties would the original contract or promise be fulfilled. Interestingly enough, the word for “symbol” in Chinese means the same thing, ie “tally”.

    Its first use may have been to record debts or obligations. Later, the Greek allegorists used the word “symbolon” to refer to the way poetry points to something mysterious and elusive. They thought that the symbol was the ultimate gateway to an ineffable truth.

    So the Romantics didn’t really invent the idea of symbols as transcendence. Is it possible that the Romantics actually did the opposite, making symbols more relevant to practical and political life? Shelley’s idea of poets as legislators of the world?

    The other interesting thing about symbols is that they have meaning only by social convention. A symbol represents what it does only because we all agree that it does. So symbols also bind a community together.

    Money might be seen as the ultimate symbol. It exists only by social convention. And people see it as a substitute or a representation of so many things that they covet: happiness, health, freedom, etc.

    I’m not sure where I’m going with this. One question this history of the symbol raises for me is whether capitalism and transcendence are really as opposed to each other as we think. They seem to have been joined at the hip in ancient pre-history.

    Report comment

  • Caveat Magister says:

    Wow – what a great discussion!

    I think I’m going to respond to the issue of transcendence in a full post next week – for those who aren’t on the Book Club email list (IF YOU WANT TO BE ON THE EMAIL LIST, JUST LEAVE A COMMENT IN THE COMMENT SECTION SAYING YOU WANT TO JOIN. NO ONE WILL SEE THE EMAIL YOU LEAVE IN THE FIELD BUT ME), we’ll be taking two weeks instead of one to read the section on German Idealists …

    … there ain’t no party like a German Idealist party because a German Idealist party exists as part of an inevitable historical dialectic! …

    So I’ll use that time to offer thoughts about transcendence. See what happens. (This is all pretty much improvised.)

    In the meantime, I want to offer props to Dom’s connection between the limits of rationality and the experiences of Burning Man. I think you’re absolutely nailed it: there is no rational justification for Burning Man that is not post hoc.

    That is to say, someone might conduct a study (and this actually has been done) saying that Burners have more emotional regulations strategies (on average) than non-Burners. All well and good. But we don’t actually do this stuff because we think “Oh, I wish to have better emotional regulation strategies,” and any attempt to do so (as in, “I must build an art car in order to have better emotional regulation strategies”) is as futile as it is absurd. Any such benefits are incidental to what we’re doing and why we’re doing it – to reap those benefits one must go beyond reason for its own sake.

    The moment you make it instrumental (a means to an end) you lose it.

    Regarding symbols – Air Freshener raises interesting points. But the idea that symbols are purely social constructs is not actually universal. Plato disagreed, as did Kurt Godel. In fact, Godel regarded numbers themselves as the ultimate symbols – which he felt were real and in the world … that “3” and “5” have innate existence.

    Crazy? Quite possibly – but we don’t actually have a better idea. No real answer to what numbers “are” has been found, but they are in a sense the perfect symbols: they perfectly represent what they represent, and straddle the line between social constructs and universal truths.

    I suspect we’ll actually find that a lot of symbols do that. One possible explanation is mysticism, broadly defined. George Lakoff, in his book “Metaphors We Live By” (along with the masterful “Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things,”) offers another perspective: that some symbolism is hard-wired into human culture as a result of biological realities, and other metaphors are hard wired into human beings as a result of the cultures we live in.

    “Up” usually symbolizes good things (heaven, happiness, etc.) while “down” usually symbolized bad (hell, depression) because our perceived seat of consciousness is at the top of our bodies. (this is called an “Orientational Metaphor”).

    Then there are metaphors that impact that often vary based on cultures, but are also generally invisible to people in them: that “argument is war,” for example, or “time is a commodity.” To say that these vary by culture is accurate, but to say that you can just choose to disagree with them isn’t quite right: like language, once you have them it’s extremely hard to lose them. You might forget a word, or an expression, but when was the last time you forgot a whole language?

    The idea, then, is that symbols (in Lakoff’s term, metaphors) are far from arbitrary: they are the basic patterns of thought in culture and human organisms.

    But symbols, in any form, are always conceptual entities. Now … what if (and then I’m going to stop) we think of transcendence as a kind of non-conceptual perception?

    Please debate any point raised here – I’m not so much advocating any given position raised as raising it in order to deepen the set of ideas we have access to in this discussion.

    Report comment

  • Dom aka "Dom" says:

    I would love to be added to the book club email list…..

    Very good points all around about symbols and worth thinking about long term. Not sure I can collect my thoughts on it enough yet to put it to paper, hopefully as we move into the next couple chapters….

    Report comment

  • Hamili says:

    Pseudo-intellectualism, yuppie-spiritualism, and diarrhea of the mind.

    Welcome to Burning Man. You get 10 spirituality bonus points for suffering this far.

    Report comment

  • Caveat Magister says:

    Oh no, Hamili’s upset!

    Was it mentioning George Lakoff? Dammit, I always mention George Lakoff on the first date, and it ruins everything!

    Why do I never learn!

    Report comment

  • The Grue says:

    Wow, check and mate. We can’t all be towers of rhetorical genius like you, Hamili. Guess we’ll have to keep muddling through, saying stuff to each other, like mortals do.

    AS FOR THE REST OF YOU, quite naming awesome-sounding books I’ve never heard of! I have too much to read this summer as it is!

    [flips table]
    [picks up ukulele]

    I’m sorry, I blacked out there for a second. Where were we?
    [pluck pluck pluck]

    Report comment

  • Larry Harvey says:

    I don’t want to derail this conversation, but let me cite a quote by William James, the great American expositor of Pragmatism (I notice that Eagleton does not list him in his index). Near the end of The Varieties of Religious Experience, a book that contains no chapter on metaphysics, James condenses his conclusions in the following statement, “The practical needs and experiences of religion are sufficiently met by the belief that beyond each man and in a fashion continuous with him there exists a larger power which is friendly to him and to his ideals. All that the facts require is that the power should be both other and larger than our conscious selves. Anything larger will do, if only it be large enough to trust for the next step”.

    This is a very carefully worded statement. I suppose I would substitute the phrase “cognate with” for “friendly to”, but that is of little consequence. The thing to notice is that he says that for religious purposes this larger power must be experienced as both other and larger than our ‘conscious’ selves. He definitely does not say that this object must in any way be supernatural. The urge to intimately connect our most deep-seated sense of inner reality with a reality far more powerful than ourselves is perennial in human nature; it is as common as a child’s desire to be mirrored by and merged with a parent, it animates the creation of art, and it informs our passionate attachments to nature. These may not be rational sentiments, of course, but then what sentiment is?

    I’ve said elsewhere that such exalted feeling-states can be described as constituting a continuous arc of meaning, expressing this as three emphatic assertions: I am, We are, It is. Likewise, this same series of perceptions characterize our burning of the Man. People gather to it as they would a kind lodestone; it is like them, though much larger, and it has served them as a central landmark over several days. As they approach it along the radial streets of our city, it continually dances before them, as if to mark the seam dividing earth and sky. And when people gather for its burning, it is here, for the very first time, that the entire community witnesses itself. Finally, as the figure at the center of this circle burns, sending out a thermal wave that singes hairs, this great release of energy pretty much supersedes any ideas one might have had about it.

    Some will call this Romantic stagecraft, and I suppose it is. But isn’t all liturgy a species of stagecraft? For years I have been attracted to Neolithic temples, especially those that are so very ancient that they are divested of all evidence of any system of belief they have supposedly ‘illustrated’. Indeed the one great difference between our practice and religion is that we have no recourse to a supernaturalism. No one can mistake the Burning Man for a supreme being, but one may easily come away from the experiences that our culture generates with the passionate conviction that being, in all of its manifold forms, is supreme.

    The last of the Ten Principles, and to my mind perhaps the most important, states, “Immediate experience is, in many ways, the most important touchstone of value in our culture. We seek to overcome barriers that stand between us and a recognition of our inner selves, the reality of those around us, participation in society, and contact with a natural world exceeding human powers. No idea can substitute for this experience”. If this agenda, so similar to what religion has provided us in former ages, can be realized, I think it could reanimate the world.

    Report comment

  • Comments are closed.