Saturday, April 27, 2013

Letter to a 'fundamental' friend on the mother of all thorny subjects...

Dear J,

Okay, so you're not a "fundamentalist". I apologize for the assumption, though it was not exactly an assumption, more an interpretation of your expressed view that artistic creativity implies the existence of an original (Christian) creator.

To my way of thinking, this view is in some degree a fundamental position because it does not allow questioning of the very basics of your faith, namely that which denies the science of evolution and the well-established history of where humans came from. To an extent, this denial suggests to me a blindness of the kind that you say you are opposed to. I'm not sure you can have your cake and eat it too on this matter.  

But 'fundamentalist' is a loaded term, which, especially these days has lost a lot of its useful meaning. I did not mean to be condescending in using it, anymore than I'm sure you meant to be condescending in implying I was being blind to the nature and origins of creativity. It's just, like I said, very difficult, if not impossible, for those who believe in an original creator, and those who believe in the science of evolution, to believe in each other. I think the honest approach, so important to good creative endeavour, is to admit this fundamental divide.

The Life if Pi deals with the basic issue well, I think, as it takes the subject of all religious faith and shows, quite effectively, why to make up a story that adds purpose and hope to our lives, especially in the face of death and despair, makes practical sense, and is preferable to knowing the harsher truth. Trouble is, though, that if you don't believe in the story, or have faith, you can't be reassured, and if you do believe, and are taught to believe from a young and impressionable age by your parents, society and church without being told it's a story, you are the victim of brainwashing, even if of a well-intended sort. Faith in the story might help you to live a cleaner, more focused, even happier life, but it won't help you to become an effective creative artist, who must begin at least from a premise of understanding - of self and society - not faith.

Better to believe...?
To me it's a question of faith or truth, and an artist must err towards finding and forging the truth, however harsh and disarming that is. An artist must fight to find real reason to hope - because there is real reason to hope - in the grim realities of his/her times with the most open and courageous mind possible, which means a mind removed from preconceived ideas and prejudices (easier said than done, of course). But this is the essential artistic challenge, as far as I can see, and to my way of thinking religious faith hinders, more than helps its realization.

That's all I wanted to say. No condescension intended.


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