06 September, 2008

Spirituality, Religion, and Remodernism

11th August 2007

Someone somewhere raised the question of whether Remodernism could be "spiritual" without being "religious". For this reason, I will attempt to explain the situation.

In order to do so, we need to define "religion" and then "spirituality". All of this in view of the manifesto of Remodernism as written by Billy Childish and Charles Thomson. Here is what I understand from the manifesto: the difference between religion and spirituality - since the manifesto claims that Remodernism is the latter but not the first - is that a "religion" is somehow more strict and more defined that "spirituality" which is perceived as an inherently human quest that every person is liable to undertake.

In this Post-Modern age, many of us are quite cynical about things that were considered sacred in the past. Many even laugh at the word "soul". It could be this that made the authors of the manifesto fear at the word "religion", which they see as different from spirituality, and I cannot blame them for it. Too many religious people are not truly spiritual, but that is another question.

Thus, by spirituality, we mean an existential quest of the human soul, call it "consciousness" if you are afraid of the word "soul". True spirituality is defined by an intransigent quest for the Truth, and by "Truth", I mean "what is". In other words, an honest and genuine desire from the individual to look for the Truth, regardless of how hard, or even impossible, that may be. That, I think, is the spirituality referred to in the manifesto.

The emphasis on saying that Remodernism is not a religious movement may come from two things: either the word "religion" is of itself something too scorned in Post-Modern times, or merely that the authors wanted to define Remodernism in broader terms than a "religion" would seem to imply. I believe the latter is the one. And I do understand why some people can question whether you can be spiritual without being religious. It depends on your own definitions of those things, and all I will say here is that, to me, a truly religious person is de facto a spiritual one. But that only post-pones the question at "truly". What is a truly religious person? Well, a person who is truly spiritual. And on, and on.

The role of God, or "God" if the word scares you, is important in the manifesto. Bringing back God/"God" into the arts is stated as one of the goals of the movement. Yet it specifies that this God/"God" is not as was before, by which I understand that it is a broader version of God/"God" than the masses are used to. In other words, and in my own, a God that is not owned or copyrighted by the main organised religions of this world. Trust me, if there is such a God, He certainly does not belong to anyone and certainly is not copyrighted by any group either. (Let it be said, however, that not belonging to does not mean that said group is wrong in its belief; all I am saying here is that no one owns God.)

One thing I wanted to do with this article is show that there is a strong connection between materialism, scientific arrogance, and atheism, as well as with the general disenchantment of the world and the feeling of superiority too many of our fellow humans seem to share. Do not misunderstand me, however. I do not suggest that Remodernism should become a religiously affiliated movement; what I say, instead, is that Remodernism ties back with the spirit of Truth that made humans want to understand the world in which they live, who they are, and God (and you can call this entity with any name you want). I think all of this is stated in the manifesto.

Another important point is the notion of a "higher purpose" which I myself described as "Greater Good" in another chapter. Having your eyes on a Greater Good is what keeps you aware that what you do is not just about you, or at least that it shouldn't be. Art allows us to communicate on a different level, and that should never be lost from sight. And for those of you who feel that likening art to communication is cheapening, you need to do some re-thinking about the act of communication, because believe me, if it weren't for communication, most of us would have committed suicide. As humans, the burden of loneliness and the sheer awareness of our being a single person forever secluded from others in some ways, the weight of all this is quite heavy and communication saves us from unimaginable torments. Therefore, do not underestimate communication, and do not underestimate art's communicative powers.

Now, we need to highlight why spirituality matters in an artistic endeavour. Spirituality - as the existential quest for meaning and understanding of both oneself and the outside world - represents a lot of work and a lot of questioning and of research. Likewise, art is demanding. And likewise, art can be very fruitful. Unlike philosophy, the theoretical kind, both spirituality and art request you to act on your ideas. Thinking about painting will not make you a painter, and true spirituality has effects in your daily life (so would true religious behaviour, I'd argue, but that is another topic).

What is common to spirituality and art is devotion. I could name countless artists who devoted themselves with the most grandiose faith and will. Take someone like Vincent Van Gogh. Here is a man who believed in what he was doing, even though no one else, or so very few, did. This man was not only a painter, but a spiritual person. Yes, he was a Christian, but what made him spiritual was that he believed in the worth of a human life, and in the potential of art. To this he devoted his life. And I believe no one is an artist without this devotion, by which I mean that no one gets to practice an art if this person has no faith in it. Most artists aren't paid for their art, but they don't need to have money as a motivation. Their art itself is worth it.

Art is one of the few things that give your soul/consciousness its real importance. If food is important to keep us alive, humans weren't meant to live "by bread alone", and if you doubt this, imagine a life without music. I love music, and a lifetime without any of it sounds like a nightmare. Dying of starvation is certainly not pleasant, but no more would a lifetime without music be. Art is useful and if you think that "useful" is demeaning, think again. Nothing exists that has no use. Supposed "useless" art in the past still had the use of being useless, which itself was useful. Being beautiful, arresting, fascinating, etc, may not seem very useful in the short-run, but you will realise that the usefulness of things aren't all of the same nature, that they're all equally useful to you. We tend to place the needs of the body higher than those of the soul/consciousness; don't you forget that a desperate soul will still commit suicide despite having food at hand. And yes to your question, I believe art saves.

To conclude, I want to state that Remodernism is inclusive, not exclusive, as you can read in the manifesto, and that because of this, any religious person is most welcome, as is any non-religious person. Is an atheist person capable of spirituality? I don't know, but I certainly would not mind seeing that at work. Once again, and I can't stress this enough, spirituality is about wanting to know the Truth, whatever it may happen to be. Total devotion to the Truth, what is, is what spirituality means. Being spiritual means that you undertake this difficult and tricky quest; whether you do so as a Buddhist, a Christian, a Muslim, a Hindu, or as an atheist does not really matter as far as Remodernism is concerned. What matters is that you search for the Truth.

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