Monday, March 05, 2007

spectacle of religion


Chapter 14 of "the sociology of religious movements" by
William Sims Bainbridge discusses Star Wars. The Jedi knights tap into The Force which is both powerful to the faithful and often seemingly laughable to the unfaithful. (Not coincidentally, the book also includes a discussion of TM)

The movie "What the Bleep". It says that by tapping into the quantum, we can control our destinies... do anything.

The movie "Pi". A certain number exists that underlies both the numerology of the Hebrew old testament and the stock markets.

Three modern day myths. Seductive conclusions.

Although the "miracles" done in Star Wars are somewhat subtle (Luke's perfectly timed shot on the Death Star), the movie does seem to strongly give the impression that these supernatural things do happen. The same is true of Pi. A lot of people tell me how much they like it. I would have liked it if it weren't for the fact that it assumed that such a number actually exists. I couldn't make it all the way through What the Bleep, so I can't really tell you what the overall picture is. But my impression is that there's a story there with miracles occuring along the way.
Oh, I just realized that we can add the Matrix to this list.

Am I just being dense and overly literal to fault these films for basing their premise on something that's not strictly true?

I want to focus on more interesting things. Smaller things, less showy things. But maybe I need to deal with this big religious imagery producing popular culture machine first? (I should probably actually read what Bainbridge has to say. I'm just too impatient here. And biting off more than I can chew, ignoring my conclusions from the previous post.)


Trista said...

Yes, I think you're being overly literal. The glorious and larger-than-life images you're referring to here are technicolor versions of the small miracles we all have the ability to be a part of in every day life. A moment of clarity. A smile from a stranger. A lucky pass of the state trooper who's catching someone who is not you. Whatever. Filmographers are using larger-than-life representations because A: they want to make money at the box office, and B: they are trying to get a point across to the most obtuse viewer.

You know, all of life is not technicolor. But the variants of greyscale can exhibit small miracles too. I don't like the word miracle though--it sounds too woo-ey. I prefer to think of it as serendipity. But my point isn't to get into a discussion of semantics here.

I think that Bainbridge's parallel to the things that are powerful to the believer and not powerful to the doubters is an appropriate interpretation of the roles both religion and science play in society. If you think that prayer, or transcendental meditation, or or the study of quantum mechanics is going to show you a richness/meaning in life that otherwise you would not have, you have essentially made that true. If you are searching for meaning and you want to find it, surely one will find meaning in SOMETHING.

Though perhaps in is in the searching and the relishing of life's great mysteries that we can find joy in living. I don't need to know the answer. I just need to know that I am always looking for it, and ways to live the life that fulfills my purpose here. Thank God (for lack of a better term) I don't feel it's necessary to pay $2,500 to learn the TM techniques--that salvation is too rich for my blood!

Good luck in your quest.

Boaz said...

Thanks for the comment Trista. Casting the science/religion discussion in terms of a search for meaning seems useful.

In a way I've come full circle as far as my search for truth and meaning. I got into physics/science out of both wonder at the world and wanting to simplify the confusion I saw in my life, tame the darkness. (Probably also a bit of wanting to get at the thinking behind the physics/consciousness claims involved in transcendental meditation.) Now that I've been involved in such narrow technical things for so long, I feel like I'm looking outward trying to rediscover the wonder. (Maybe that makes it half circle?)

I don't know if you read the Wind Up Bird Chronicle, by Murakami, but there's a part where the main character says that there are two kinds of people, basically one who thinks that the world always makes sense and the other who doesn't. I'm afraid that I've become one who thinks it makes sense and get annoyed at things that blur this distinction. Something like that. Anyway, its a good point that these films represent a technicolor version of very real universal experiences of mystery/wonder.
I'll rethink my opinion of Pi. I'm not sure I'll be able to like What the Bleep, though I suppose watching it all the way through would be a start.

Trista said...

"The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed. This insight into the mystery of life, coupled though it be with fear, has also given rise to religion. To know that what is impenetrable to us really exists, manifesting itself as the highest wisdom and the most radiant beauty which our dull faculties can comprehend only in their most primitive fomrs--this knowledge, this feeling is at the center of true religiousness."-Albert Einstein

I hope you can keep the kernel of wonder that sent you on the quest on which you find yourself. I hope I can too. It ebbs and flows with the minutiae of every day life. I can't remember which author said that it is the details that can kill you. But he was right.

What are the small and beautiful things that keep you alive? Kumquats, perhaps?

Boaz said...

I think my original kernel of wonder involved redwood forests. Mint, bay leaves, madrone berries, I miss those.

The wild turkeys at Brookhaven usually make me happy. Being outside and connecting with people, those are two important ones, though I'm not sure whether I'd call them big or small. Yeah, fruit too, like kumquats and thimbleberries.