Although I tried to compose something original for today’s entry, I feel that it ended up as a rehash of topics that I’ve written about before. Please forgive this.
I would appreciate it if a respected critic were to write an article in praise of my literary output. I could then cite this article at events, whenever anyone asks who I am and what I do. Such-and-such publication (I would reply) has referred to me as “our age’s most valuable writer.”
But I think I’m finally learning to accept the fact that I am not a superstar in the world of entertainment. For a while, I was jealous of anyone who had a hit TV show: I envied their success in general, and I specifically envied their audience—it seemed to me that the audience for television is much wider than the audience for books. But now I realize that if you want to please the majority of people, and make big bucks doing so, you’ve got to compromise with forces that might not hold aesthetic dignity as their primary aim.
Where I live, we do not have kings presiding over courts, so I assume that my understanding of the profession of jester is imperfect: to me, a jester is someone who performs a laborious routine in order to please a king. I’ve never been attracted to this notion—it seems too exhausting to try to entertain a particular audience: I prefer art that is uncompromising and personal. Plus it’s difficult, perhaps impossible to know what will capture a king’s interest (does the king himself even know what he wants?)—so I’d feel like I were wasting my time to try. Much of the entertainment that is produced in the U.S. looks to me like jesters trying hard to offer diversion; and their king is the public. Like a clown at a children’s party, a modern entertainer must grovel for laughs.
I like to have goals and aims in life but not in art. I enjoy art because there are no rules—this openness intrigues me. I’ve always loved stand-up comedy, but I’ll always be slightly more intrigued by poetry, because poetry is not restricted by the aim of laughter. The second we say “The point of our sketch or speech is to make people laugh,” I become a little bored. I’d like it better if someone were to say “I created this scene, or produced this mural, or wrote this book for reasons that escape me—I was mysteriously attracted to doing so: I can’t tell why—it was like I had fallen in love with something that did not exist, and so I had to create it.”
When you follow your bliss (that phrase is Joseph Campbell’s) and it leads to the creation of a particular work, what has guided you? What is it that makes a painter decide that this part of the canvas should be blue, whereas that part should be red?
One’s bliss, one’s intuition—this baffling sensation could even be labeled as “God.” In a recent diary entry I mentioned how William Blake referred to this marvel as the poetic genius. We can speak plainly or we can speak colorfully; that’s why, although I say that I’m filled with God, I also, when speaking plainly, call myself an atheist.
Am I wrong to use language this way? Should an atheist never name her intuition “God”? Is the whole religious battle just an argument about the proper use of terms?
What if an atheistic scientist traced a trail of clues into the deep past and discovered a being named Yahweh walking thru a garden in the cool of the evening? What if this scientist could examine Yahweh, in the way that Dr. Treves examines Mr. Merrick, the “Elephant Man,” in the film from 1980—and the scientist were to conclude, after this inspection, that Yahweh is a totally regular mortal? “I am not an elephant! I am not an animal! I am a human being!”—as poor Merrick says in the movie.
This idea, that all Gods were once plain old sinners, brings to mind a couple of other deviants. I think of Sigmund Freud—his ideas about Moses being killed by his own followers, and how, to assuage their guilt over doing so, these followers invented the concept of the Return of the Messiah (Leader/ Christ/ King/ or what you will). Also I am reminded of some of Joseph Smith’s ideas. I have only a flawed and novice understanding of Smith, but, to me, he seems to value the concept of apotheosis—of humans evolving into deities; like that famous passage from Genesis (5:24): “And Enoch walked with God: and he was not; for God took him.”
I recently watched a stand-up routine where a comedian ridiculed both Mormonism and Scientology. Now I have mixed feelings about this: part of me hates religion—ALL religions—so I understand and laugh right along with the ridicule, and ultimately I approve; however, part of me feels a regard for artistic ingenuity; and, since what the founders of these religions actually put forward can be taken as poetic innovation, a fraction of my mind wants to defend them. After thinking for a moment, I realize that the crux of the matter is something that I’ve repeated ad nauseam already: I admire the efforts of each individual, but I object to any group enforcing conformity.
To oversimplify, I would divide every religion into three parts or stages: The first stage is the founder, she who invents the religion, whom I tend to respect because I see each founder as a poet. The second part consists of the leaders or priests, who organize the founder’s concepts so as to enslave a congregation, a church, a mob. (This second stage is the part that I despise most about religion.) And the third part consists of the followers of the religion, the individual members of each mass of believers—I find it hard to blame an adherent for his religion’s evildoings, until I’ve heard that particular individual’s story; this is a gray area, therefore I choose to err on the side of kindness toward believers.
That servant, which knew his lord’s will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes; but he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes.
I take these words of Luke’s Jesus (12:47) to mean that the priests of a religion will receive the severest punishment from their own God, because they knew better; whereas the merely ignorant followers of any religion will be reprimanded just lightly, because their God only holds them accountable for the minor fault of allowing themselves to be duped.
So that takes care of the priests and the followers—but what about the founders of religion? People like L. Ron Hubbard, Joseph Smith, the Apostle Paul, Yahweh, and myself?
I do not believe in any God who has yet been revealed; and I say that no God will punish anyone in the future, either severely or lightly, not even the reprehensible priests. But if there were a God, and this God were to desire to perform a Final Judgment, then all authors of religions would be held blameless for their tomfooleries, because the poetic genius is God’s own personality (does it contradict itself? very well then, it contradicts itself: it is large, it contains multitudes)—and the only way that the kingdom of heaven can avoid becoming a United Standing Idol is if God keeps casting out God by way of God.