Thursday, September 09, 2010

The Art of Bigotry

A sculptor went into the Museum of Contemporary Art, where he saw an abstract painting hanging on the wall. He stared at it for a few seconds and then said, "I don't get it." The sculptor then took out his lighter and set fire to the painting.

Of course an artist would never destroy the work of another artist simply because they work in different mediums. A sculptor may not be a painter, but he still respects the painter's art.

Artists are understanding of varying styles in art, but different religions aren't nearly as cordial. Religious extremists tend to hate the religions they don't follow. Their own religion makes sense to them, so every other religion must be wrong.

Religious people could learn a lot from artists. Just as there are many different mediums of art, there are many different faiths and religions. But a clearer connection between art and religion is that they both come from an inherently irrational place. Art is not math, and if it is attempted to be interpreted intellectually instead of viscerally, it will almost certainly be misinterpreted. Likewise, the belief in something which cannot be proven is common in all religions, from Christianity and Islam, to Mormonism and Hinduism. None of these religions are based in logic. Faith is irrational.

The same is true of comedy. Watch an episode of Monty Python and two things will likely happen. A joke will be uttered and you laugh. But then a moment later, another joke will come and you will say, "I don't get it." Instead of turning the show off, you will continue to watch, because the joy you experienced from that one joke that made you laugh overrode the feeling of confusion you felt after the joke you didn't "get."

Art, comedy, religion. These are irrational things. But they are also uniquely human things. No other species in the world experiences these irrationalities. It is actually quite good for a human to engage in all three of these things. We should create works of art. We should tell jokes and make each other laugh. We should have faith and practice religion. These things are a celebration of our humanity.

But the key is balance. Not only are humans irrational, but they are also rational. This is certainly a paradox, but while I am completely capable of making a conscious decision to cover my face in mustard and hump a door handle, I am also capable of solving a math problem or participating in a political discussion. If I move too far to one extreme, however, my humanity will turn to monstrosity.

So how can one avoid the desire to burn Korans out of devotion to his own differing religious convictions? First of all, he must stop taking his religion so seriously. But more importantly, he must differentiate between the rational and irrational parts of his humanity.

Faith must not become rational. If one believes his religion is correct because it can be proven, he does not have faith in the first place. Faith, by definition, means believing in something that cannot be proven.

In the human mind there are two playing fields. One field is where rational games are played. The players are math and science. The other field is where irrational games are played. Art and religion are the players. Never should the players compete on the wrong field. Creationism being taught in a public school is an example of irrational players on the rational field. The 'God gene' being preached on during a Sunday service is what it looks like when the rational players hit the irrational field.

I don't know why religious people take their irrational beliefs so seriously. An artist who takes himself too seriously is insufferable. And a guy who just can't stop joking around is annoying. A guy who can't bifurcate his faith from the real, rational world is a wacko.

We believe in all kinds of silly things, but they bring us joy. It's great to live in a country that understands that. Not everybody believes the same thing, but it doesn't matter. We all believe irrational things, that's what humans do. The trouble comes when we start acting like those beliefs are rational.

Monty Python is incredibly silly, but it too brings us joy. An abstract painting can do the same thing. Feelings should never be mistook for wisdom though. But once feelings are balanced out by critical thinking, then we can talk.

Rational people, allow for irrationality in yourself and others. People of faith, do not impose your beliefs on any other human being. The animals are jealous of us either way.


Andrew said...

I do wonder about this dichotomy:

"One field is where rational games are played. The players are math and science. The other field is where irrational games are played. Art and religion are the players. Never should the players compete on the wrong field."

Especially as it relates to the interface of math and art ( or math and beauty (

the fatted calf said...

If a sculptor burns my painting, maybe i should hand over to him another.

dylanclub said...

Andrew, you're using a rational argument to tear apart my metaphor. If you must debate, please, next time use poetry.

Andrew said...

What rational argument? More like