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Author Topic: Thoughts On The Link Between Literature And Spirituality  (Read 8110 times)

StudiodeKadent

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Thoughts On The Link Between Literature And Spirituality
« on: June 14, 2012, 09:32:12 am »
I must say I found this SIG's primary topic very fascinating. I'd like to share a few thoughts of my own on the subject.

Part of the reason I find the subject fascinating is that one of my Pagan friends is a writer. I've also written fiction.

Additionally, I am an Objectivist, so whilst I am an atheist, my philosophy was originally expounded in (very idealized) works of fiction.

As I see it, myths and legends and fables and parables (and many fictions) are stories which impart values (i.e. moral meanings).

People in general like seeing their values embodied in reality. I mean, we could all write lots of dry expositions of our moral beliefs, but are these really inspiring? Does writing an Ethics 101 article give a thrill? Expositions of moral philosophy are fine, but people need more than this.

Are you more inspired by a factual analysis of a virtue, or by an image of or story about that virtue in action?

Emotionally speaking, the latter is more effective.

I think humans have a need to experience their values in a concrete form. If we admire courage, we want to see images of courage, tales of courage, we want to be around people of courage, etc. It allows us to experience our highest ideals in the real world.

This, I think, is the link that ties spirituality and stories; the human need to feel close to one's ideals.

I remember at one time when I was writing a piece... I didn't pre-plan the story (like I usually do). I just felt, one morning, I needed to write it. It just 'flowed' out of me, if you will. And to this day my Pagan writer friend considers it one of my best works. I also remember something similar happening

I don't want to sound offensive to anyone's beliefs, but I am curious if a person with a Pagan outlook would, if they had a similar experience, consider that experience an occasion of some sort of contact with a deity or similar entity (strangely enough a similar experience happened when I was working on a piece that directly dealt with a subject from Greek mythology).

But yes, back to my thoughts. As I see it, the universal human need to feel close to one's ideals drives us to create and enjoy art dealing with these ideals. People are more likely to gravitate towards a work of art (such as a fiction) if that work is seen as embodying their ideals.

This artwork would be, I guess, spiritual fuel for that person.

Thoughts/comments/etc. most welcome! Hope the above doesn't seem too random or rambly.

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Re: Thoughts On The Link Between Literature And Spirituality
« Reply #1 on: June 14, 2012, 11:59:44 pm »
Quote from: StudiodeKadent;60047


As I see it, myths and legends and fables and parables (and many fictions) are stories which impart values (i.e. moral meanings).

Are you more inspired by a factual analysis of a virtue, or by an image of or story about that virtue in action?

Emotionally speaking, the latter is more effective.



Maybe I'm not reading this right, but while I enjoyed the sagas and Eddas, I'm way more fascinated by the analysis of them. I like the hows and whys of ideals more than the ideals themselves. If I enjoy a movie, then watching the commentary afterwards is the best part. I like art, but I really enjoy knowing why the artist chose yellow to express a certain emotion, or why something was centered just so on the horizon. Its the details that I enjoy, I suppose, and not the emotional impact of the bigger picture. Or, as my husband said, I find sentimentality in case by case issues rather than in generally broad ones.
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StudiodeKadent

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Re: Thoughts On The Link Between Literature And Spirituality
« Reply #2 on: June 15, 2012, 12:37:06 am »
Quote from: Juniperberry;60130
Maybe I'm not reading this right, but while I enjoyed the sagas and Eddas, I'm way more fascinated by the analysis of them. I like the hows and whys of ideals more than the ideals themselves. If I enjoy a movie, then watching the commentary afterwards is the best part. I like art, but I really enjoy knowing why the artist chose yellow to express a certain emotion, or why something was centered just so on the horizon. Its the details that I enjoy, I suppose, and not the emotional impact of the bigger picture. Or, as my husband said, I find sentimentality in case by case issues rather than in generally broad ones.

That's a very interesting comment. Thank you for it.

I'm not trying to dichotomize "art" and "analysis." I was probably not clear in my initial post.

I agree that analysis of art is fascinating, very much so. But here's the rub; wouldn't analysis of art reflect the impact of art? Someone that wants to analyze a piece of art must have found the artwork fascinating and powerful and provocative of thinking in the first place.

I guess what I am trying to say is that allegory is a powerful method of conveying values in a way that is concretely relatable to a very large proportion of the audience. In literary terminology, "show, don't tell." Most people don't want to sit down with a dry treatise on ethics, but a play where an ethical message is delivered will probably attract a far wider audience.

It certainly explains why the world's most popular value systems aren't those of Enlightenment philosophy, but rather religions. Religions cater to the human need to feel close to one's ideals (via rituals, mythology, allegory, etc.). The Enlightenment, for all of its rationality and beneficience and progress, didn't cater to this need. It gave people lots of long and relatively hard to read tomes on ethics... but without some "immanentalization" of these values, it can strike people as Platonistic, Ivory Tower Cerebral Masturbation, "blinded by the light" rambling.

That said, I'm merely talking about a general audience here. I'm not trying to allege you "should" respond in the same way.
« Last Edit: June 15, 2012, 12:37:33 am by StudiodeKadent »

earth_dragon

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Re: Thoughts On The Link Between Literature And Spirituality
« Reply #3 on: June 15, 2012, 01:06:20 am »
Quote from: StudiodeKadent;60047
...
As I see it, myths and legends and fables and parables (and many fictions) are stories which impart values (i.e. moral meanings).

People in general like seeing their values embodied in reality. I mean, we could all write lots of dry expositions of our moral beliefs, but are these really inspiring? Does writing an Ethics 101 article give a thrill? Expositions of moral philosophy are fine, but people need more than this.

Are you more inspired by a factual analysis of a virtue, or by an image of or story about that virtue in action?

Emotionally speaking, the latter is more effective.

I think humans have a need to experience their values in a concrete form. If we admire courage, we want to see images of courage, tales of courage, we want to be around people of courage, etc. It allows us to experience our highest ideals in the real world.

This, I think, is the link that ties spirituality and stories; the human need to feel close to one's ideals.



 

I think you hit right on it. I think we read stories, fables, and tales, and watch TV and movies because we want to to see the embodiment of qualities and traits that we admire. We also like reading about and seeing qualities and traits we dislike get shot down and curtailed. And as you said, it's much more fun to read an entertaining story or watch a cool movie than to have to feel like you're studying.

StudiodeKadent

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Re: Thoughts On The Link Between Literature And Spirituality
« Reply #4 on: June 15, 2012, 01:18:01 am »
Quote from: earth_dragon;60141
I think you hit right on it. I think we read stories, fables, and tales, and watch TV and movies because we want to to see the embodiment of qualities and traits that we admire. We also like reading about and seeing qualities and traits we dislike get shot down and curtailed. And as you said, it's much more fun to read an entertaining story or watch a cool movie than to have to feel like you're studying.

 
I couldn't have said it better myself! That's precisely what I think.

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Re: Thoughts On The Link Between Literature And Spirituality
« Reply #5 on: June 15, 2012, 01:19:10 am »
Quote from: StudiodeKadent;60136
That's a very interesting comment. Thank you for it.

I'm not trying to dichotomize "art" and "analysis." I was probably not clear in my initial post.

I agree that analysis of art is fascinating, very much so. But here's the rub; wouldn't analysis of art reflect the impact of art? Someone that wants to analyze a piece of art must have found the artwork fascinating and powerful and provocative of thinking in the first place.

 
I see. I thought you were suggesting that the overall art form produced the strongest emotional attachment to it's message and that's what I was replying to.
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Re: Thoughts On The Link Between Literature And Spirituality
« Reply #6 on: June 15, 2012, 01:25:55 am »
Quote from: Juniperberry;60145
I see. I thought you were suggesting that the overall art form produced the strongest emotional attachment to it's message and that's what I was replying to.

 
I understand. Sorry for my lack of clarity.

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Re: Thoughts On The Link Between Literature And Spirituality
« Reply #7 on: June 15, 2012, 05:10:57 pm »
Quote from: StudiodeKadent;60148
I understand. Sorry for my lack of clarity.

 
Well, someone else understood you just fine so I'm sure the confusion was on my end. ;)

So, are you implying that religion is just an art form used to direct/control/confirm the ethics and morals of a culture?
The pace of progress in artificial intelligence (I’m not referring to narrow AI) is incredibly fast. [...] The risk of something seriously dangerous happening is in the five year timeframe. 10 years at most.--Elon Musk

I am in the camp that is concerned about super intelligence," [Bill] Gates wrote. "First the machines will do a lot of jobs for us and not be super intelligent. That should be positive if we manage it well. A few decades after that though the intelligence is strong enough to be a concern. I agree with Elon Musk and some others on this and don\'t understand why some people are not concerned."

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Re: Thoughts On The Link Between Literature And Spirituality
« Reply #8 on: June 16, 2012, 03:02:07 am »
Quote from: Juniperberry;60228
So, are you implying that religion is just an art form used to direct/control/confirm the ethics and morals of a culture?


I'm an atheist, so I'm biased here. Just a heads-up.

I wouldn't call religion itself an art form per se. Religion is a series of beliefs and/or practices (depending on whether the religion is an orthodoxy or an orthopraxy or some blend of the two). But religion generally incorporates and inspires many forms of art (music, sculpture, architecture, paintings, and you could argue that religious ritual is essentially performance art).

But would I say the religion is an art itself? I'm not an aesthetician so I wouldn't be able to give a definitive answer. On one hand, religions are just as much groups of ideas as they are practices (thus, they cannot be art unless groups of ideas can be art). On the other hand, religious practices are forms of human expression dealing with exhalted ideals... which would at least provide some sort of case for the idea of religion-as-art.

Perhaps we could say that religious beliefs are not art forms, but religious practices are/can be art forms (note, this is a tentative answer).

But yes, I would argue that the purpose that religious practices serve is to reinforce the relevant religious beliefs. These religious practices allow the devotee to feel closer to/in the presence of/etc. certain glorified ideals.  

This makes them serve the same function that allegorical/idealized art does, in my opinion. Allegorical art is about making certain principles/ideas/values/virtues "feel more real" so to speak.
 
I wouldn't say that religion is just there to "control/direct" the morals of a culture though. Religions can try doing this but so far there's been a lot of failure in this regard. Plus, people here have generally been raised in a primarily Christian culture, and yet there aren't many Christians on this board. So people can think for themselves (to varying degrees, probably varying on certain areas (i.e. freethinkers in religion might be utterly gullible-indoctrinated types in politics, etc.)).

But yes, my overall point is that religion seems to serve the same human need for "a concrete experience of one's ideals" that allegorical art serves.

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Re: Thoughts On The Link Between Literature And Spirituality
« Reply #9 on: June 16, 2012, 05:17:33 am »
Quote from: StudiodeKadent;60263

But yes, I would argue that the purpose that religious practices serve is to reinforce the relevant religious beliefs.

Sure; ritual and repetition would have this effect.  
However this statement also suggests that religion is the source of beliefs.  Might beliefs (and societal ethics?) also inform a religion as a cultural expression, not only during its nascent stage but as it evolves and matures?   Almost a chicken-or-egg proposition.

Quote
This makes them serve the same function that allegorical/idealized art does, in my opinion. Allegorical art is about making certain principles/ideas/values/virtues "feel more real" so to speak.

Yes.  I've always thought of allegory as a mode to communicate big ideas to tiny minds.  Literature is a way of recording and preserving these attempts of transmission.  

Quote
I wouldn't say that religion is just there to "control/direct" the morals of a culture though. Religions can try doing this but so far there's been a lot of failure in this regard. Plus, people here have generally been raised in a primarily Christian culture, and yet there aren't many Christians on this board. So people can think for themselves (to varying degrees, probably varying on certain areas (i.e. freethinkers in religion might be utterly gullible-indoctrinated types in politics, etc.)).

Agreed that religion does not exist to 'control/direct' cultural morality.  At best it should stand as a custodian or steward of the same, and in an idealized scenario it would also serve as an emulator.
I'd say that religious hegemony can occur if the body religious falls under sway of the unethical or power-mad.  I believe we've seen that happen.  The reason we don't see such direct control anymore-- at least in places where the membership of this board reside-- is that the modernized countries where we live have long since crawled out of the shadows of a darker age.  Most of us live under secularized governments, even to the point that we have religious liberty enshrined into law.  In a different time a Church would have held as much sway as a Kingship or a Presidency... but now, not so much.
If religion can be used to 'control', well so can political parties, special interest ideologies, and so forth.  It is not a symptom of the controlling mechanism in question so much as it is of those who use/abuse it.
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Aine Llewellyn

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Re: Thoughts On The Link Between Literature And Spirituality
« Reply #10 on: June 16, 2012, 05:57:23 am »
Quote from: earth_dragon;60141
I think you hit right on it. I think we read stories, fables, and tales, and watch TV and movies because we want to to see the embodiment of qualities and traits that we admire. We also like reading about and seeing qualities and traits we dislike get shot down and curtailed. And as you said, it's much more fun to read an entertaining story or watch a cool movie than to have to feel like you're studying.

 
I agree.

But.

Being beaten over the head with an ideal or value is tiring. I think most people, ime, like stories that are subtle in their theme.  Not so subtle you have to research for a year on unrelated subjects to find out what is even going on, but subtle enough that you don't go, 'Oh, this story is about
  • '. Or maybe that's just me...


If an author or director or whatever is more focused on their theme or 'making their point' then telling an interesting story I usually get fed up pretty fast.

StudiodeKadent

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Re: Thoughts On The Link Between Literature And Spirituality
« Reply #11 on: June 16, 2012, 07:44:24 am »
Quote from: MadZealot;60273
Sure; ritual and repetition would have this effect.  
However this statement also suggests that religion is the source of beliefs.  Might beliefs (and societal ethics?) also inform a religion as a cultural expression, not only during its nascent stage but as it evolves and matures?   Almost a chicken-or-egg proposition.


That's true, and a very important point. I agree that you are entirely correct. That said, religious rituals evolve/change as well, in certain respects.

We could say that as a religion absorbs cultural values/beliefs from outside itself, the religion would still serve the purpose of providing some sort of concrete experience of these values/beliefs.

Quote
Yes.  I've always thought of allegory as a mode to communicate big ideas to tiny minds.  Literature is a way of recording and preserving these attempts of transmission.


I admit I'd probably not use the phrase "tiny minds" but I agree with the sentiment. Allegory is a way of communicating abstract ideas to mostly concrete-oriented thinkers.

Quote
Agreed that religion does not exist to 'control/direct' cultural morality.  At best it should stand as a custodian or steward of the same, and in an idealized scenario it would also serve as an emulator.
I'd say that religious hegemony can occur if the body religious falls under sway of the unethical or power-mad.  I believe we've seen that happen.  The reason we don't see such direct control anymore-- at least in places where the membership of this board reside-- is that the modernized countries where we live have long since crawled out of the shadows of a darker age.  Most of us live under secularized governments, even to the point that we have religious liberty enshrined into law.  In a different time a Church would have held as much sway as a Kingship or a Presidency... but now, not so much.
If religion can be used to 'control', well so can political parties, special interest ideologies, and so forth.  It is not a symptom of the controlling mechanism in question so much as it is of those who use/abuse it.


Agreed entirely.
 
Quote from: Aine Llewellyn;60281
I agree.

But.

Being beaten over the head with an ideal or value is tiring. I think most people, ime, like stories that are subtle in their theme.  Not so subtle you have to research for a year on unrelated subjects to find out what is even going on, but subtle enough that you don't go, 'Oh, this story is about
  • '. Or maybe that's just me...
It depends. Some people like blatancy, especially if the message is one they passionately agree with. That said, I agree there are limits. If someone has fully absorbed/comprehended X, then they are more likely to find unsubtle allegories about X frustrating/boring/painfully blatant. If they have not (i.e. they're new-ish to the topic) they the blatancy could be enjoyable for them.

It probably depends on various factors too. If someone believes in X, but common ethics holds X to be a terrible thing and those that believe in X to be baby-eaters, unsubtle allegories about X can be very motivating and reinforcing.

There's also the Preaching To The Choir effect. Generally, people are more likely to enjoy an unsubtle allegory that accords with their own beliefs than one that goes against their own beliefs. I know I find Christian allegories utterly painful.

Annie Roonie

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Re: Thoughts On The Link Between Literature And Spirituality
« Reply #12 on: June 16, 2012, 11:34:46 pm »
Quote from: StudiodeKadent;60047

I don't want to sound offensive to anyone's beliefs, but I am curious if a person with a Pagan outlook would, if they had a similar experience, consider that experience an occasion of some sort of contact with a deity or similar entity (strangely enough a similar experience happened when I was working on a piece that directly dealt with a subject from Greek mythology).

But yes, back to my thoughts. As I see it, the universal human need to feel close to one's ideals drives us to create and enjoy art dealing with these ideals. People are more likely to gravitate towards a work of art (such as a fiction) if that work is seen as embodying their ideals.

This artwork would be, I guess, spiritual fuel for that person.

Thoughts/comments/etc. most welcome! Hope the above doesn't seem too random or rambly.

 
Feeling close to one's ideals is not a universal human need IME and not what drives people to create or enjoy art of any kind. At least not exclusively. It might be a universal desire at some junctures, but not a necessity. Shoot, many people have fluid ideals and clinging too closely to any ideal can be suffocating to them.

What is universal is learning and that is what happens universally with art. Even if it is mundane or tiny, learning happens. So in a sense, just the reverse, people enjoy art that challenges their ideals if they are so inclined to have those with any permanence. Sure, some enjoy seeing their ideals reflected, but not all and certainly not all the time. And I suspect that if there were no challenges even with a piece that reflected one's ideals, it would be boring. There's no crime in that kind of enjoyment though. But if that is the only reason to enjoy or create art or even the most important drive, then there is a sad state of affairs for the evolution of thought, spirit or body. I think that would produce a well defined and exquisitely designed set of boxes.

Sometimes the drive to create is not about expression of ideals. Sometimes it is. Drives can be mystical, pragmatic, egocentric and myriad other things like the potential monies.

If a person creates spiritually, then there may be a kind of spiritual fuel in it for that person. But that isn't always the case. Nor is it always the case that what people enjoy reading has any relationship to their conscious spirituality.

So while I understand your gist, I think it is a little too simplistic.

As for your flow. It could have been a connection with deity or spirit or another part of yourself. Who knows? Perhaps trying to do it again or asking about the universe what that was all about would be enlightening.

StudiodeKadent

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Re: Thoughts On The Link Between Literature And Spirituality
« Reply #13 on: June 17, 2012, 04:45:55 am »
Quote from: Annie Roonie;60394
Feeling close to one's ideals is not a universal human need IME and not what drives people to create or enjoy art of any kind. At least not exclusively. It might be a universal desire at some junctures, but not a necessity.


I don't mean "need" in the sense of a pure biological necessity. I mean more of a psychological need for human flourishing. I can understand if you'd disagree with that too, just making sure my initial meaning is clear.

Quote
Shoot, many people have fluid ideals and clinging too closely to any ideal can be suffocating to them.


Perhaps, but I'd think that in this situation they'd probably gravitate towards Artistic-Embodiments-Of-Ideal-X when they were holding Ideal X, and move away from that when they switch to another ideal.

Quote
So while I understand your gist, I think it is a little too simplistic.


I can understand if your experience differs. That said, I'm not trying to suggest some sort of singular ideal must control someone's artistic tastes. It is perfectly possible to hold multiple different ideals. Someone's ideal/s can be very complicated. That, plus there are often multiple different ways to interpret an art piece. I do agree that the theory I'm proposing can be applied in a far too determinitive, simplistic manner, however.

Quote
As for your flow. It could have been a connection with deity or spirit or another part of yourself. Who knows? Perhaps trying to do it again or asking about the universe what that was all about would be enlightening.

 
Thanks for the suggestions. I appreciate the input.

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Re: Thoughts On The Link Between Literature And Spirituality
« Reply #14 on: June 17, 2012, 10:42:45 am »
Quote from: StudiodeKadent;60427
I don't mean "need" in the sense of a pure biological necessity. I mean more of a psychological need for human flourishing. I can understand if you'd disagree with that too, just making sure my initial meaning is clear.
You were clear.

Quote from: StudiodeKadent;60427
Perhaps, but I'd think that in this situation they'd probably gravitate towards Artistic-Embodiments-Of-Ideal-X when they were holding Ideal X, and move away from that when they switch to another ideal.


Nope. The ones I know go where the wind takes them and tend to avoid anyone or anything that exhibits some agreement with their mindset. Except when they don't. So weird. I am sure there are people who exist that would prove you right as rain in that category, at least for a few minutes.

Quote from: StudiodeKadent;60427
It is perfectly possible to hold multiple different ideals.


Of course. Glad you see that. Not only perfectly possible but always and for everyone.

Quote from: StudiodeKadent;60427
Someone's ideal/s can be very complicated. That, plus there are often multiple different ways to interpret an art piece.


Again, I am glad you accept this is a reality.

Quote from: StudiodeKadent;60427
I do agree that the theory I'm proposing can be applied in a far too determinitive, simplistic manner, however.


I do not think your premise can be applied to any population for any depth of inquiry save the very surface levels.  

Still, you have not demonstrated that you want to discuss the link between literature and spirituality. You've got a decent discussion going about religion, sacred texts and philosophy and that's cool. It's not the same thing though.

I wonder if your flow story was a ruse to hold this other discussion or if it really was on your mind and it is too uncomfortable for you to really dig into. Anyway, I hope that if you stay and your comfort level rises, you may be able to discuss such things should you really want to.


Quote from: StudiodeKadent;60427
Thanks for the suggestions. I appreciate the input.


I don't believe that you do, but I will accept that you say so and try to believe it.

Actually, I have thought that you may be a troll like the billion dollar ninth gate of hell fantastic horse making Nuke. You're more sophisticated in your approach. Plus you have interested some folks in philosophical discussion. Sweet! I prefer fantastic horses, but value is where one finds it.

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