Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Artist and Fundamentalism


I have been reading this impacting short book, "The War of Art", that a friend sent to me. It is one of the best direct reads in addressing our inner barriers to creativity and successful living. It states much better than I can some of the realities I have lived from being raised "fundamentalist" and having evolved towards a more "artistic" approach to living.

It has been my observation that fundamentalism of all forms seeks to turn upside down the natural order of things. I am more and more thinking it starts with our version on "the meaning of existence"...Who am I? Why am I here? For most of the world's inhabitants, they are so mired in the "primitive stages of evolution" and just barely surviving on the basics of eating and finding shelter...they don't have much time or energy to focus on education and enlightenment. Based on this reality, the masses simply accept the "fundamentals" of their culture and/or religion to define for them answers to the meaning of existence.

A few of us get lucky and escape the veritable "crab bucket" of life...you know...the fighting to the top of the mountain of crabs where one has the slight chance of "hopping" out of the bucket and pursing its own direction away from the crowds. Steven Pressler in this book uses that analogy to describe the few who find a way to escape fundamentalism and live their life "artistically" and independently. I think this is the metamorphosis or track I have been on for the past 50+ years. Escaping the "crab bucket" of this world...

For those of you who will not follow though in reading this book...I would like to share some key quotes that I think best illustrate what I am TRYING to say:

Fundamentalism is the philosophy of the powerless, the conquered, the displaced and the dispossessed. Its spawning ground is the wreckage of political and military defeat, as Hebrew fundamentalism arose during the Babylonian captivity, as white Christian fundamentalism appeared in the American South during Reconstruction, as the notion of the Master Race evolved in Germany following World War 1. In such desperate times, the vanquished race would perish without a doctrine that restored hope and pride. Islamic fundamentalism ascends from the same landscape of despair and possesses the same tremendous and potent appeal...

The fundamentalist (or, more accurately, the beleaguered individual who comes to embrace fundamentalism) cannot stand freedom. He cannot find his way into the future, so he retreats to the past. He returns in imagination to the glory days of his race and seeks to reconstitute both them and himself in their purer, more virtuous light. He gets back to basics. To fundamentals.

Fundamentalism and art are mutually exclusive. There is no such thing as fundamentalist art. This does not mean that the fundamentalist is not creative. Rather, his creativity is inverted. He creates destruction. Even the structures he builds, his schools and networks of organization, are dedicated to Annihilation, of his enemies and of himself...

Resistance to the fundamentalist is the call of the Evil One, seeking to seduce him from his virtue. The fundamentalist is consumed with Satan, whom he loves as he loves death. Is it coincidence that the suicide bombers of the World Trade Center frequented strip clubs during their training, or that they conceived of their reward as a squadron of virgin brides and the license to ravish them in the fleshpots of heaven? The fundamentalist hates and fears women because he sees them as vessels of Satan, temptresses like Delilah who seduced Samson from his power.

To combat the call of sin...the fundamentalist plunges either into action or into the study of sacred texts. He loses himself in these, much as the artist does in the process of creation. The difference is that while the one looks forward, hoping to create a better world, the other looks backward, seeking to return to a purer world from which he and all have fallen.

The humanist believes that humankind, as individuals, is called upon to co-create the world with God. This is why he values human life so highly. In his view, things do progress, life does evolve; each individual has value, at least potentially , in advancing this cause. The fundamentalist cannot conceive of this. In his society, dissent is not just crime but apostasy; it is heresy, transgression against God Himself.

When fundamentalism wins, the world enters a dark age. Yet still I can't condemn one who is drawn to this philosophy. I consider my own inner journey, the advantages I've had of education, affluence, family support, health and the blind good luck to be born American, and still I have learned to exist as an autonomous individual, if indeed I have, only by a whisker, and at a cost I would hate to have to reckon up.

It may be that the human race is not ready for freedom. The air of liberty may be too rarefied for us to breathe... The paradox seems to be, as Socrates demonstrated long ago, that the truly free individual is free only to the extent of his own self-mastery. While those who will not govern themselves are condemned to find masters to govern over them.

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