Carroll, being both a novelist and a devout Catholic, sees the human aspect of theatre coming not from the liveness of the event but rather the coherence of the text, because in that coherence of moment to moment, meaning is created (or at least meaninglessness is denied).I was tempted to reply in his comments about how his whole line of questioning is suspect and and just how fucking wrong he is about the meaning of faith and belief, as well as the difference between faith, belief, and dogma.
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For me, it strikes me as an acutely religious (or spiritual anyway) understand of the dramatic art.
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To me, part of what is beautiful and ennobling both about being an atheist and about being an artist is that we get to create our own coherence and thus meaning.
Then I thought better of it and decided to post my thoughts on my own blog.
I'm going to come clean about something so that people who have religious discussions with me can actually get somewhere. Here it is:
I am not interested in Religion 101 discussions. Does God exist? Is the Bible literally true? Is homosexuality a sin? Let me make it easy for everybody . . .
I. Don't. Care.
Those types of grade school-level ontological questions bore the fuck out of me. The discussions they produce always go in the same circles and never reveal anything new. And I'm fucking tired of talking about them.
Just like I'm not thrilled about making well-made plays, I'm not interested in talking about who believes what. I'm far more intrigued by the cutting edge of contemporary religious thought (particularly with how people experience and/or express God), and you don't get that when you're dealing with people whose religious education consists of what's spoon-fed to children. The religious avant-garde (and I don't mean New Age) approaches our experience of God in a way that's deep, subtle, and complex. This appeals to me far more than rebutting the gross misrepresentation of faith in public discourse.
I recently had the opportunity to attend the Religious-Secular Divide conference at The New School early in March. Why? Because I get to ask shit like this:
- To what extent do the intersections of religious and secular identities - for example, queer Black Jews or transgender Latina Catholics - play into or resist the compartmentalization of selfhood as lived through individual experience?
- What are some strategies for: developing new definitions for religious and secular that are nuanced, subtle, complex, and rooted in lived experience; taking the public discourse between religion and secularity away from academic and media strongholds and into other areas of public discourse (including but not limited to blogs and other social media); and bringing religious ideas and values into the public discourse for addressing secular issues facing people today?
(Note to educated White folks: Read that last part a few times before you start talking down to me - about anything. Chances are that whatever comes out of my mouth goes way over your fucking head. Do me a favor and acknowledge that then let me explain myself better instead of assuming that I don't know how to fucking communicate.)
Back to Isaac's blog post.
In the comments, Tony asks a couple of really good questions:
In practical terms, does a religious writer necessarily have a overtly different type of coherence in a work than a non-religious writer?
Does having a different way of seeing how our world is created automatically equal a different way of creating a work?
I think that helps steer conversation in a better direction, but it doesn't go far enough for me - doesn't go far enough in addressing the implicit and problematic assumptions behind Isaac's post or far enough in opening the discussion to genuinely different points of view.
Let me address the implicit assumptions first.
I'll be fair and acknowledge that Isaac doesn't want to offend anyone and apologizes in advance for doing so. Fine. But to prevent future offense, I feel compelled to explain the source of the offense in my case.
I frankly think the way Isaac presents his post (particularly the part quoted above) is kind of a set-up. It presumes a lot about my reasons for calling myself a person of faith or the role religion plays in my life. It also presumes a lot about how I experience God, especially how it undermines the depth and complexity of that experience to one or two cliche variables. And from there, I'm forced to engage with the discussion on those limited grounds (limitations that don't necessarily apply to the people involved) or not engage at all. So, even without meaning to, the way he frames this discussion excludes and marginalizes the very people who could enrich it.
As far as opening the discussion to divergent points of view, it's simple: ask more genuinely open-ended questions - questions that overtly assume nothing or are at least open about the limitations of those assumptions.
So, rather than linking a religious response to theater as by necessity rooted in the search for a predetermined meaning or coherence, why not come out and ask us how religion interacts with our experience of the aliveness of theater?
That is a far more interesting question than whether aliveness or coherence is the predominant mode of a religious experience of theater.
And to answer the question I really want to answer, it's really difficult to describe in words. Like most things that are truly profound, it has to be experienced.