An uncontrollable pressure relief valve for the questionably sane.

Posts Tagged ‘modern religion

Schools of Jellyfish

leave a comment »

We’re all trying so hard, aren’t we?  Are we getting anywhere?   Are we doomed to float aimlessly in the currents of the cosmos?  There are so many of us now; it used to be you didn’t have to do much to make a mark, but now you’ve got to get in the big line.  Or create a whole new ladder to climb.  I’ve always wanted to be an artist, whatever that means.  Different, rebellious, outside-the-box, open road, all that shit.  The funny thing is, I turned thirty and realized the concept is much broader, and there’s no welcome mat for aspiring artists.  Artists are a constant contingency in any population, in some eras they flourish, in others they suffocate.   So much of the modern art culture is a hoax, it’s not easy to find the people intent on making a difference with their ideas. Hipsters, by definition, are horribly contrived.  That’s funny because art should be the opposite of contrivance, not that every hipster considers themselves an artist.  I doubt they even consider themselves hipsters. Although, if you’re wearing dark-framed glasses with a sarong and a hard hat, you probably should.  Pardon the digression, like most of my essays I have a hard time getting to the point in the first paragraph, so here comes the second:

Art should break barriers, shatter convention, illuminate, rejuvenate, and inform the viewer/listener of something beyond their typical consciousness. Ironically, art is being mass-produced and co-opted at an alarming rate.  Perhaps not so alarming considering our relatively gargantuan population compared to, well… before.  But commercial art is still art.  Warhol was right.  People who didn’t understand him immediately thought he was just reproducing commercial logos and getting rich from something trendy.  Most people didn’t understand the depth of his thesis, it wasn’t really about getting rich or doing something easy.  It was about communicating an idea, a prophesy some devotees might call it, that can’t be communicated through language.  Now that I see the previous sentence in writing, I believe that’s the best definition I can give:  Art is communication without words or conventional physical expression.  We can write articles and essays about art’s message, or it’s perceived meaning, but we’ll never be able to communicate as effectively as the piece of art itself.  And you won’t understand unless you can step outside the parameters of conventional communication.  You have to feel it.

Rock ‘n Roll music has been a  constant tide of art in postmodern society.  Let me be clear about “Rock’n Roll:”  I’m not merely talking about the legacy of Chuck Berry, Elvis, Little Richard, et. al.  I’m not talking strictly about top-40 radio, although I reluctantly include it in Rock’s definition.  I mean all music that speaks to either crowds or individuals, that transcends typical communication.  This includes Hip-Hop, Classical, Punk, Bluegrass, Jazz, Country, Spirituals, Funk, Melodic Death Metal,  anything that comes from the gut, all of it.  The stuff that makes your balls tingle (ladies insert appropriate analogy here). Even when you don’t understand the message immediately, your intuition says “this means something.”  It’s the music that has to be made, because of the stirring in the artist’s creative innards. What I’m talking about is beyond labeling, “Rock” is the closest word I have to be inclusive of everything, so that’s what I’m using.

I saw an interesting interview with Paul Stanley recently on VH1C (I said earlier I was over thirty, right?).  Now, Paul didn’t sound like the smartest dude in the world, and I doubt anyone other than his groupies consider him an intellectual, but I think he truly understands what Rock  is all about. It’s about 80,000+ people worshipping at the altar of something greater than themselves–coming together with a crushing mass of other human beings to enjoy something simultaneously, to live in the moment–not only individually but en masse.  Not just to enjoy music, but to have an experience while having said experience immediately validated by thousands of your peers.   It is religious, a sacred experience–the kind of thing that’s not  easy to describe, but very human to feel.  Jesus was rock’n’roll.  Evangelical preachers more so, although I think they’re more the top-40 type–they might make you wiggle a bit in your seat, but there’s a more powerful commercial motive behind their art.  In a postmodern world where our churches have failed to keep us interested, occasionally violated us, in a generally dubious society at large where everything can be questioned, we all know deep down that there is something;  something bigger than ourselves, something connecting us, something that can’t be communicated through language.  It happens while riding in the car all the time, but the meaning comes through powerfully in a coliseum.

When a band takes the stage, and we all prostrate ourselves at their feet, dancing, jumping up and down, pumping our fists in the air, we are all swimming in the realization that we are One (whether we realize it consciously or not).  I am you and you are me.  “They” don’t exist, it’s merely “Us.”  Right here and right now.  Getting our rocks off together.  Despite selling billions of dollars worth of merchandise and selling out innumerable stadiums worldwide, KISS takes a lot of shit from “smart” people.  Mostly because they’re unashamed of being commercial.  And being commercial somehow has invalidated their religion, not unlike the Catholic Church.   Paul knows he’s just as much a preacher as he is a rock star, and thank God he does.  Where do you think the term Rock-God comes from?  Rock’n’Roll has always been intuitive proof that all life is connected.  Every time I’ve been in a stadium or large theater, toward the end of a good show, the house lights come on and reveal the squirming mass of humanity that’s been loudly celebrating and worshiping in the darkness. Every time I’ve witnessed this, all I can think of is schools of jellyfish.  Those gelatinous, vaguely flesh-toned invertebrates gently propelling themselves through the tides while pulsing, pulsing, pulsing, constantly brushing up against their neighbor, riding the currents while maintaining a loose but imperative connection with the rest of their like-minded group.  I’ve been to a lot of great shows, but I’m still looking for my particular group of jellyfish.



leave a comment »


(and yes, I’m posting a personal essay on religion as my third entry, might as well get the big stuff out of the way so we can start having a good time, thank you for your patience, dear reader.  The majority of swear words were omitted from the final draft per my wife’s recommendation , it wasn’t easy so I left a few, apologies to my fellow sensitives.)  –Lobe.


God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?

– Freddy Nietzsche,  Thus Spake Zarathustra.  Published in single volume, 1887.  Investigated and popularized in the U.S.A. in Time Magazine’s cover article, April 8,  1966.  

God isn’t dead, we just realized we’ll never know what He really looks like, despite all those motherfuckers that have seen his face in a watermelon or piece of burnt toast.  

– Me, can’t remember when.

I went to a funeral this morning and got angry.  A new feeling for me.  I used to be sad and empathetic during a funeral, not lately, not anymore.  It wasn’t the death of my friend that irked me, it was the ceremony surrounding it and how the attendees chose to ritualistically mourn him.  I hadn’t spoken to him in years, and I wasn’t a member of his church.

Here’s my problem:  I’m not a Christian although I was raised Catholic.  I’m no atheist either–atheism is boring, and nothing gets my spikes up more than evangelical atheists that work just as hard as evangelical Christians to prove the superiority of their particular brand of metaphysics (or lack thereof, the pussies). The irony of it all is more than I can handle without drawing blood.

The quiet atheists and Christians I can handle; please stay silent unless you’re willing to conduct a friendly discourse–otherwise shut up.  Since I don’t consider myself Christian I felt the typical winces cross my face as the pastor went on and on about salvation through the blood of Christ, etc.  But that wasn’t it either, I’ve heard all that before.  And it wasn’t the fact that no one dressed up for the event. I didn’t even wear a tie but I felt overdressed. Overdressed at a funeral!  It’s not like there was an invitation but if there was it would have reminded us to dress less than business casual, preferably jeans.  Casual is my go-to style on any given day, but I dress appropriately for weddings, funerals, etc., out of respect to the family, the deceased, and the mourners.  As rebellious as I can be in attitude I hold on dearly to my sense of decorum.  I’m not old enough yet (I don’t think) to be pissed off at people for being too casual.  Sure the funeral was in a little town south of Atlanta, in summer, but it’s not Florida.  So have some respect, rube.

But that’s not quite it either, I can endure people’s fashion choices without frustration. I think it’s that I was realizing the majority of us are just waiting to be led–the masses are comprised of followers, not leaders.  Many cliches involving cooks and chiefs remind us that this is necessary and ultimately good for the sake of efficiency and civil balance.  So I think my problem with modern Christianity is that it’s inherently backward-looking, giving little weight to discoveries of the modern age.  Evolution?  No way, God created us in His own image and there’s no way I can accept coming from a monkey (this argument in particular kills me, mostly because if you believe in evolution you believe all life sprang forth from a series of single-celled organisms, comparing yourself to a monkey is flattering in this context).  The Big Bang?  Forget it, Earth was created first and everything else came after.  Can people of other religions get into Heaven?  Nope, you have to be saved by the blood of Jesus Christ, sorry Asia. These are the most common and admittedly base arguments Christians and non-Christians have all the time.  I’ve been involved in this debate or overheard it innumerable times since kindergarten. Perhaps this is because I was raised in the South, remember I’m not doing any hard research here.  I’m sure there are many enlightened, scholarly theists out there with whom I would have much in common.

Regardless what either side thinks, I believe religion is a good thing.  In a macroscopic view religion can give us a framework from which we can learn to deal with and understand the painful realities in life we will never understand through science.  And without getting into a philosophic discussion on morality and ethics, religions give us guidance when we’re trying to figure out how to act.  A cosmic GPS if you will–when you find yourself at a frustrating moral crossroad, the religion sign lights up and points you down the appropriate fork.  I feel sorry for Nietzsche that his work has been so mishandled.  “God is dead” isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and if you do some cursory research on Wikipedia you’ll find that the great pessimist actually had a positive outlook about the death of God.  Fred merely understood that we had finally arrived at a point in time when we could no longer kid ourselves with the old stories. That doesn’t mean the stories aren’t important, on the contrary they’re some of  the most important stories on the planet.  It just means they should not be taken literally.  They will always be relevant, that’s why they’ve lasted millenia, but the time has come for redefining our beliefs and to stop gazing toward the supernatural for guidance in our earthly reality.  In a way, “God is dead” is an amazing and wondrous statement, letting us know that the time has come for us to put away childish things (refer to 1 Corinthians 13:11), and embrace the magnificent reality which we live in now.  So many grown children are afraid to put away the toys that have comforted them through their childhoods. This may be the crux of the problem, but I’m still not sure.

Nietzsche has been popular in Western culture for a long time. In a way he paved a road for modern spiritual gurus like Eckhart Tolle (I’m a big fan, even if he was endorsed by Oprah) who has taken it upon himself to spread the word of modern enlightenment through popular books such as The Power of Now and A New Earth.  I doubt I’ll ever know certainly if Tolle is attempting to give humans a modern framework from which we can get our GPS to work again, he might be, who knows? To not consider God is to be nonhuman.  Even atheists, by default, have considered the concept of God, if only so they could reject it.  I haven’t done extensive research on modern redefinitions of religion, Lord knows there are a lot of people out there trying to do their own thing, some crazy, some legitimate, all of them sincere.  But I’m curious as to why Christianity still seems to be such a powerful force in our country.  Is it merely tradition?  Are we just used to it all?  Are we afraid of challenging our elders?  I sympathize with anyone who has feelings like me but keeps trudging back to church on Sunday, seething with resentment at what should be an uplifting, illuminating experience.  The head-scratching moment for me comes when I consider the time-frame.  Nietzsche published his controversial works in the late nineteenth-century, well over 100 years ago.  God has been dead for more than 100 years!  It is a testament to the Christian infrastructure, whether Catholic, Protestant, or Baptist (no, the Baptists are not protestants) that we can gain such tremendous knowledge that challenges religious fundamentals and relatively little has changed.  Christianity took a few centuries to get going, maybe it will take a few more to incorporate itself into the bigger picture.  “But I don’t want to wait!”, says my instant-gratification-seeking-Generation-X conscience.  I have a kid to raise, I need a place to go, somewhere to enjoy the “sacred games” and “festivals of atonement.”   I have no such place, if you think you have one outside the context of modern Christianity and you’re not a total flake, please leave a comment.

So back to the funeral.  Granted, this was a church full of mourners, not all of them members of the congregation, I wouldn’t expect everyone to fall into step perfectly with one another.  But even considering that we weren’t all part of the same organization, I couldn’t help but notice the lack of cohesion, everyone wondering what to do or how to behave.  Hence all the jeans and shorts I suppose.  Just like most Sunday services, we lazily sang the hymns, bowed our head when the pastor asked us to pray, and filed out orderly when it was over.  Christianity has many lessons to teach us, I hope the tradition never perishes, but we need a big update to handle all the knowledge that’s been pouring into our consciousness for the last 100 years.  I never thought I’d understand why Sinead O’Connor ripped up that picture of the Pope, but now I do (I am old, if you don’t know who Sinead O’Connor is, that’s okay you’re not missing much, but she ripped up a picture of the Pope onstage during a performance on Saturday Night Live in 1992, people went dogshit crazy and she later publicly apologized to the Holy See).  I don’t have the kind of balls she does, but I get it.  It’s time to meet the new boss, but none of us know who he is.  The Church has a kind of control over us because we’re all too chickenshit to be creative, it’s been too strong for too long.  We’re afraid because of all the propaganda we’ve swallowed over the years; even as I write this I have a twinge of fear because this somehow might be a sin.  The fear is easily overcome, but it’s there nonetheless.

So now a word on sin.  The actual word itself, according to linguists and experts on Yahoo! Answers and some universities, is derived from the Greek word “hamartia,” which translates literally as “to miss the mark.”  I’ll spare you a lengthy argument on the origins of the word, but I think it’s apparent that our current and common Christian connotation of the word is drastically different than its original meaning.  Biblical literalists are rarely well read, this is why they have such a terrible time with metaphor.  If you read, and particularly if you’ve read the Bible, you understand how powerful metaphor can be.  A metaphor is a symbol, a good metaphor was worth 1,000 words before photography was invented, it’s how we crammed a ton of meaning into a simple phrase–remember, paper and pen weren’t easy to come by thousands of years ago.    I’m not about to get deep into any specific Biblical interpretations, I don’t have the time or inclination.  To take a specific verse from the bible and interpret it literally is in my mind is a great sin, to truly “miss the mark.” So often commando Christians wield literal interpretation against “sinners” when so often the literal interpretation itself is the sin.   Again the irony overwhelms me.

Any fire-and-brimstone Christian that has read this far has probably condemned me to burn already.  I can live with that.  But I would like to make clear that I feel churches, synagogues, mosques, temples, pagodas, sacred caves, etc. are necessary and good for a functional civilization, be that civilization a small tribe or 7 billion souls.  I’m still looking for a comfortable place to belong.  So please don’t think I’m criticizing the devout, I’m primarily commenting on the disconnect between the modern church and our day-to-day realities.  Sincere congratulations to anyone who finds love and comfort in their church.

I don’t know the statistics, but The Church seems to be hanging on fairly well, despite its numerous challenges (by The Church I mean Christianity, not just the Vatican).  Our civilization has changed at such a rapid pace that The Church has found itself in strange and unnavigable waters, just like the rest of us.  Take a look at a bird’s-eye view of any significant city built before 1850.  Chances are the largest, most central building in town was a church or cathedral, all the major roads leading to it.  That was the central unifying force of the populace. If you take a look at a modern city, the financial center will be the largest most dominating structure on the skyline, if not several competing financial towers reaching heavenward, each of them a monument to financial strength.  This is why The World Trade Center towers were targeted by Al-Qaida—the towers were our greatest monument at the center of the Western world, they represent what we “worship.”  The terrorists could have done a lot more physical damage if they wanted to, it seems anyone can get a hold of a nuke these days, but there’s no way they could have done greater psycological damage to our nation than destroying those two monuments.  I point this out because it demonstrates the disharmony between religious ideals and our modern lives.  We need accord, and we need it soon.

So who’s the new boss?  Not sure really.  If you’ve read this far through the essay you’ve probably had a lot of these thoughts, or you’re just preparing material to send me some hate mail.  But I have a feeling the new boss is us.  Each one of us.  We’re walking around in heaven right now, and it’s time we started acting like it.


Written by billlobe

June 16, 2011 at 1:26 pm