Religious content as a matter of taste, religious practice as merely instrumental use of fictionPosted: 05/04 -10
Anything imaginable can be endowed with religious belief, but not everything can be religiously significant. Sorting out what to view as sacred from what is best to leave profane is a task for religious taste, a facility bound and guided by factors like one’s goals, one’s situation, one’s personality and capacity – it is thus narrower than (or a specialization of) aesthetic taste, which is bound and guided primarily by personality and capacity only.
What is it that separates religion from mere instrumental use of products and practices of the imagination? Perhaps nothing. But contrary to a common intuition, religious seriousness does not belong exclusively to the superstitious. What sets fictionalist religion apart from superstition is not the quality or intensity of feeling, but the object of this reverence. For the superstitious, the fiction itself is the object, while for the fictionalist on the other hand, fictions are merely tools to be believed in only in so far as they are expedient in life and help keep the important or beautiful things in focus. They are spectacles to view the world or one’s own life in a flattering hue; new clothes, and skin, and self-image; heroes and mentor characters, exemplars of excellence; but really, they are just cardboard scenery to help set the stage of one’s life or work or situation. The real object of reverence is the reality beyond all cardboard cutouts, beyond even thought and perception.
Of course, it is not a given that one can stomach fantastical uses of fiction at all, at least not such as is involved in religious practice. Some people seem to manage very well without it, utilizing scientifically justified models as exclusively as possible. Personally, I not only stomach it but need and relish uses of fiction on the fantastical end of the spectrum. I have to admit that I find it hard to endow my fictions with belief of religious quality and intensity, but some sort of immersion in speculative or fictional worlds is absolutely vital for me. And I call this need religious, although it is certainly religion in a weak sense.
To inappropriately segway into a movie recommendation; I think my religious alignment is close to that of doctor Parnassus in the very good movie The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus.