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I came across this video, a homework assignment by Vania Heymann, a first year student at Bezalel University in Jerusalem. I liked it so much, I reposted it on Facebook. It’s started a helluva conversation on my wall, so I thought I’d continue it here. I’d love to know what you think, both of the videos and the subsequent conversation, posted below.

My original facebook comments, posted along with the video, were:

This is so smart. The idea of the making-sacred of a meaningless object, and what we do to protect/worship/connect with what we perceive it to behold. J, I think you’ll enjoy. B, my scripture posting friend, and M, my born once or twice classmate, I’m curious to know what y’all think as well.

Here are all the follow up comments from Facebook. I’ve redacted all the names for privacy.

~B~

I may need to sleep on this. I have feelings about it, but need to digest them all. I can say on a creative level, it is gorgeous and a real work of art. I like it. I will have to consider this one for a little bit. 😀

~H~

The problem as I initially see it (and I’m just tossing up an idea at this point) is that it’s substituting a meaningless object with a meaningful one, implying that the meaning attributed to sacred objects is entirely constructed and artificial. Sacred objects aquire meaning through their use – symbolism is inherent, emerging from an objects function within a tradition or as part of human experience, or a significant event – not something pasted on as an afterthought. Contemporary marketing employs modes of religious symbolism to create the illusion of meaning, but some, through use, have aquired layers of meaning of their own. This would have been a more powerful message if the watering can image had been introduced as the giver of water in a barren landscape, the source of comforting ritual in the garden, and so on – as it is, it is a rather abstract, useless contemporary object, so lacks the associative power of a useful symbol.

~A~

I agree with H. I should preface by saying I’m not Christian, but this was made by someone who doesn’t understand religion. Aside from a few nutjobs, the people who defend/worship religious symbols don’t defend/worship the symbol itself, but the meaning attached to it. While it might seem at the surface that they are defending or worshipping the symbol, generally (again, there are exceptions), it’s really about something deeper. It’s just easier to focus the human mind on symbols that remind us of those deeper concepts. It’s similiar to avatars in Buddhism. Symbols help humans to focus.

~LTL (<– this is me)~

H, I think the fact that sacred objects accrue their meaning, so to speak, over time through use is exactly the point. At one time, an incense burner was just a metal object. It became this item of ritual, and over the centuries, became holy. At its beginning, it was nothing more than what it was. I’m not sure the video is exactly about the objects associated with religion, as it is about what people are looking for when they practice religion. Because pictures of holy figures, as well as monuments like the wailing wall, were included in the video.

All these items and places and things are sort of branded with this concept of religion. They have a superimposed meaning, they’re labeled “important!”. Jews daven at an old, old wall and stick secrets into its cracks. Muslims get on their knees five times a day and touch their heads to the ground in the general (or specific) direction of a big black cube. I think the video is saying…if this water pitcher was 2000 or 5000 years old, you could be praying to it, too, and isn’t that nonsense?

So I think it’s more a story about what we’re looking for when we worship. What we hope to accomplish through prayer. And that these external assignations, while they may give us comfort through community and ritual, are essentially meaningless. And so everything that follows – and remember this was filmed in Jerusalem, so hostility and tension are heavily implied – is equally meaningless.

~A~

It could be a watering can one prays to. It could be a noose instead of a cross. It doesn’t make it any more absurd, to me, if the meanings we give to them are the same. Is it absurd to kill or die for a symbol? Yes. But are they really killing for the symbol or the idea? Sometimes, I don’t think it is separated by those that kill. Killing for an idea is just as absurd as killing for a symbol, but dying for an idea is not always as absurd, it is just senseless. They don’t have to be religious symbols either, what about flags? Those are symbols we put a lot of faith and blood in too.

~L~

Have to agree, this seems to be made by someone without any understanding of faith. And I say faith rather than religion because often organized religion does get wrapped up in symbols more than it should and organized religion is completely different than faith/belief. Religious objects should (in my faith anyway) be reminders of what we believe in, not idols that are actually worshiped. Symbols remind us of past sacrifices and events whose lessons must be remembered. If you pray to an object or think the object itself has any power then it’s become an idol.

~LTL (me)~

I appreciate your point, L, and largely agree. There’s still more to separate when discussing the faith/religion bridge. Take idolatry out of religion, and you still have religion. So make the watering can the crucifix, or hell, make it christ himself. It’s the worship of _____ (<– fill in the blank) that seems so silly to some of us.

Which brings me back to faith. Some people believe that a human person was the actual, literal son of god; and that he “died for our sins” past, future, and present; and that he’s gonna come back to earth again. Also, that the earth is only so old and that dinosaurs and people hung around together and we all came from the garden of eden, not from swamps and organisms that became simian that became human…

I think all of that is…insane. I do. I’m still capable of respecting people who believe this stuff, because we all do what we need to do to make our realities tolerable and orderly and all. I mean…I put stock in astrology. Maybe that’s just as crazy. I also have *faith* in things like destiny and karma and…other things to make my own reality a little more tidy than it generally feels. But religions… I think they’re the craziest.

I’m going off the rails.

My point is, make the bible myths the watering can. Make the wailing wall the watering can. 5000 years ago a war was fought there. And that does not make the wailing wall a holy place. It makes it a ruin that people have *decided* is sacred. Just as easily as someone might decide a watering can is sacred and should be worshiped; should be deeply contemplated, should be exalted and protected, should be fought over and died for.

I think the video was made by someone who understands religion very well.

~L~

‎*sigh* Unfortunately it is hard to explain to one who doesn’t believe in anything. I don’t expect to change your mind but whether I expressed myself poorly or out of desire to not sound like I was lecturing anyone I kept it too short, the point was missed. 🙂

~LTL (me)~

Actually, I think my point was missed. I said pretty explicitly I believe in a lot of things, including karma – the concept that you get what you give, which places a great deal of importance on being kind, charitable, good and honest; and destiny – the idea that our lives are fairly pre determined and we have to work at being good to keep to the path. “Not believing in something prescribed”, to you, equals “not believing in anything”. I guess all’s fair, since to me, worshipping Christ through the testaments (old or new) is tantamount to worshiping a very, very, very popular watering can. *sigh indeed*

~A~

I’m mostly pagan and I cannot fathom how anyone who believes in Karma or astrology can call anything else absurd :-), yet we do. We (pagans) sit around in groups and mock Christians all the time. That’s the reason I hate organized religion so much. “That group is more stupid than us.” we say, while we’re attaching stupid meanings to the moon or the seasons. I’ve even met atheists who are superstitious. How is not walking under a ladder less absurd than praying to a cross (granted, not all atheists thing Christians are dumb, some just don’t believe).

That’s why I said whoever made this doesn’t understand religion. It’s nothing new. Anyone who opposes religion always says this same thing, maybe not as elegantly. Your faith is meaninglessness, your symbols are empty. To me, that belittles the story behind the faith, behind the objects. To me, it’s like a first grader looking at worship. “Why are they worshiping a cow? It’s just a cow.” But there’s really a deeper, less obvious thing going on.

Again, not everyone who worships understands the deeper, less obvious thing. Some people just do it from ritual. I have to go to church on Sunday. I have to take communion. However, especially in those places where religious wars are common, many are able to express the meaning behind their watering cans and express why they stand up for it. Is it because they love the can? No. It’s because they wish to protect the flowers taking care of it brings.

~H~

I don’t believe in anything, but I’m also struggling to express my thoughts. Feminist theory tends to view everything as a social construct, in the sense of being almost something abstract and imposed upon reality. We can’t make the bible myths into a watering can, because they have an intrinsic power. The myth of the self-sacrificing god, the man-god hung on the tree, is one that arises independently in a multitude of cultures. It’s powerful because it connects with innate human experience. People don’t just ‘decide’ that something should be worshipped. It evolves over millenia as experiences associated with physical objects accrue religious significance.

~H~

There’s a lot of interest at the moment in the ’embodied brain’. Human experience doesnt’ only arise from our minds but from our bodies. We are physical beings; the nervous system in the gut has been described as a ‘second brain’, it is so complex and powerful. There’s a good reason we associate emotions with the heart and other organs. This is why gesture and ritual are hugely important in religion. It involves the whole being, not just the mind.

~LTL~

It’s why I like to roll my own cigarettes. (The ritual of it).

~H~

Think also about something like a favorite cup, or paintbrush. When you hold those objects, a host of associations come with them.

~LTL~

It’s also why I keep adding things to my non-religion spiritual practice list. Like lighting candles on Friday (Jewish) and giving gratitude before meals (just a hippie?) and why I burst into tears when my mother covers her head to say a holiday prayer.

~LTL~

Helen, yes, totally. Embodied brain. I’m gonna look that up.

~H~

So you see why calling out those practices and objects isn’t a strategy that will have any effect. They address fundamental human needs, and arise from real human experience. (Though on the other hand, my experience of a protestant church was so dry and cerebral that maybe it would work… religion would cease to satisfy those urges…)

~LTL~

Ha. Yes, of *course* I understand why calling them out won’t work. This is some deeply embedded stuff. The video just happens to agree with my dogma. Which just got run over by my karma. 😉

~H~

calling them out isn’t the phrase I’m looking for either. Iconoclasm? At any rate, it was a very thought-provoking video. There’s a bunch of other ideas it kicks off for me too. It’s really difficult stuff to talk about, isn’t it. I have so many half-baked ideas.

~LTL~

It IS so hard to articulate on this topic. It’s easy to deride whatever I disagree with, but difficult to express what I don’t. Disagree with. Which is really just a reflection of my uncertainty about these issues. Truthfully, I’m far more comfortable being *uncomfortable*…bumbling, inarticulate, and uncertain, than I am with those who have absolute certainty on this topic. I’m sure that peace is reassuring. To be done with the wondering. To brush your hands off and say, nope! I have this book right here, it has all the answers. But I don’t crave that peace. I crave a certain peace, but not that one.

 

…..What do you think?

 

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