8.09.2010

Get Religion!

One of my good friends just started a blog about comedy. I wouldn't be surprised if the site "takes off," but I'm not convinced that more laughs are what Americans need right now. Last week we may have hit a national low when President Obama fiddled while the empire burned appeared on The View to joke about Snooki. I'm certain that a greater percentage of Americans know the meaning of the phrase "Gym-Tan-Laundry" than can name even one of the authors of the Federalist Papers. The "news" channels feature lead stories about sharks spotted off Chatham Beach and scatting cartoon kittens. A vast, vast majority of Americans speak only English. Almost none of them have read the Bible, though apparently all of them have read all eight Harry Potter books and all three Dan Brown and Stieg Larsson books.

In a recent sermon ("Religion"), the minister at my Unitarian Universalist Church, after joking that religion is nefariously difficult to define (he told the one about the little girl whose teacher asks, "What are you drawing?" "God," the girl says. "But no one knows what God looks like," the teacher says. "They will in a minute," the girl quips.), offered his own definition of religion:
Religion is an intentional effort to engage with the intrinsic, insolvable, ineffable paradoxes in human experience.
Honestly: are we all, we Americans--not we academics--are we all doing that? Might we? Should we? This criticism isn't aimed, as most of my criticisms are, at academics. However obscure or off-the-mark I think their scholarship is, most academics are engaging the mysteries of experience in an intentional way. But are we calling the rest of America to join us, or are we lowering ourselves to their level?

I have nothing against comedy, especially among those who are little-r "religious," like most all of my academic friends. But America generally, it seems to me, would do well to rediscover its seriousness, and I think academics might be in a position to lead the way.

And the "religious" are not off the hook either, regardless of whether they cherish Melville or the Bible or Levinas or The Upanishads or Emerson or Schopenhauer overmuch. The minister concluded,
Religion's most common error is mistaking the pointer for that which is being pointed to. It's a bit like falling in love with a photograph rather than the one who is pictured. Or a little like going to a museum and paying attention to the frames rather than appreciating the art... so for example when certain religious people forget that their sacred texts are ways of trying to point to a life within, and instead start to think of their texts as what really matters, they are mistaking a pointer for that to which it points--a mere means for the real deal.

7 comments:

the third guy said...

the problem with your premise here comes from your belief that laughs ever come alone.

but thanks for sending 3 readers over. eventually.

Casey said...

I knew you'd hate this post... maybe it was induced by a caffeine-hangover. I just can't shake the feeling that "we" have all, collectively, become as superficial a culture as there ever has been. Soap-bubble content, you know?

Did you ever read the introduction to Victor Pelevin's "Helmet of Horror?" -- maybe you can on Google books.

Whistling Straights looks awesome, doesn't it? How about the view from #3?

the third guy said...

oh, but i didn't hate it. when i read it to buffy we were cracking up.

it's just the idea of laughter as superficial that i reject. do you know the wh auden line from the dyers hand?

"Among those whom I like or admire, I can find no common denominator, but among those whom I love, I can: all of them make me laugh."

there's a reason for that. and it's the core of why we can bear to hear each other speak of religion.

i'll look up the pelevin.

golf makes me cry lately. but i'll be sure to watch. because i do think it's the perfect sport. yes. sport.

Casey said...

Okay...... hm. But I'm sure you'd agree that, like, for example, "Real Housewives of D.C." isn't good comedy, right? I mean I can see how you might argue that Kathy Griffin isn't superficial because she's taking a comedic/critical approach to dealing with superficial culture, but that's almost too many layers down for me to bother. I'm just overwhelmed by how much bullshit you'd have to be willing to watch on TV (including the news channels) in order to be a Kathy Griffin. It's not worth it.

You better agree with me a little here, or I'm going to go convert to Orthodox Judaism with Monica and Luke...

the third guy said...

you're right. best to stick with politics and religion where there's no bullshit to get thru.

Casey said...

GRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR. Didn't you read my post last week on "Knowing When to Assent?"

the third guy said...

yeah, but your point there was to just let someone know you agree when you agree.

when someone says something ridiculous, why be nice and leave them alone!