tag : bright yellow-green apples: insider looking in

"I see little point in persisting in a discussion with one so obstinate as you" Martin White

Thursday, February 03, 2005

insider looking in

figure 5.7. following our missing spirit

There’s a heck of a lot of themes gone through in this latest entry by Ruth Ann. So I might take others on later, but I’m going to pick one thread out for now and see what might be made of it:

“I have been observing a rather curious thing of late. Those friends of mine who are considered "spiritual" or those seeking to be "postmodern" in the way they practice their faith, often prefer the arts to the sciences, prefer intuition to logical thought. They're happy to sit on a cushion and meditate the day away.”

Let me a give a little background, including my own story, that might help in considering this. I come from the Methodist Church - despite having High Anglo-Catholicist instincts , Methodism’s written into my spiritual DNA from an early age. And speaking from within my denomination, let me tell you I’m far from a compliant family member! In fact, I’m often to be heard grumbling to myself in a corner out of loyalty to our great heritage. We are a church obsessed with words, everything is shaped around them. The pulpit is in the centre of the Church - physically and metaphorically. We all sit facing the front while singing songs and hearing the central block of the service, which is a sermon. We have endless meetings, countless magazines and discussion pamphlets. When there’s a chance to participate in a service, it’s either choosing a reading or a song. In serving the Methodist Church, you become a local preacher. You talk.

Where is the balance in this? Yet us Methodists are not the only ones, merely the most symptomatic church that draws attention to something in the wider western Church. On the whole, religion is still stuck in a very imbalanced way of doing things. It’s still overwhelmingly about concepts, ideas, doctrine, discussion, talking, reading. It’s a sea of words and conscious thinking. There are many of us across the spectrum who are seeking ways to escape from that, to try and find a way to (1) express who we are and what interests us in personal and varied ways (2) draw out a space in faith for reacquainting ourselves with image, the arts, and intuition.

There’s a lot of lost ground here, a lot of unmapped territory. Maybe that’s why it might seem as if in this time of ‘postmodern’ freedom, many of us seeking spiritual liberation look as if we’re doing-down rationality and science. In actual fact we’ve just had experiences of the utter tyranny of conscious wordyness and are seeking to reclaim what’s been denied us. We’re on a pilgrimage searching for balanced spirituality too, it’s just that for some of us balance means a temporary focus through the arts and non-rationality. I say this as someone who makes pictures and holds a Bsc., I have experience from both perspectives here.


Blogger mary said...

quite so! *smiles*

i don't have much to add on the whole methodist ponderings, though i do attend a methodist church quite frequently. just thought i'd say that my dad is minister of an anglican church but it isn't spikey, it's one of the martin-luther-esque ones which has hardly any decorations to distract fron "the word". however i think there is a real awe you feel when looking at some of the wonderful artwork in churches that has been lost by scrapping it, god inspires artists too. i think you need a healthy balance of the two, and i think the loss of artwork in lots of protestant churches is a great shame. may not be that connected with the topic at hand, just me thoughts.

11:07 AM  
Blogger Sarah said...

a temporary focus through the arts and non-rationality.Well yes. Does that mean that when we move forward we will look back on the nonrational state in the same way we view our former selves (i.e. occasionally with shame and regret!)

7:03 PM  
Blogger Martin said...

Are you suggesting, then, that art can never be rational, nor science irrational?

A lot of music is very rational, it's largely mathematical, in a very flexible sense. I get the impression you see an art=irrational, science=rational construct, which I think is a bit of a misnomer.

As someone studying an MSc, with a variation on an arts degree, with A-levels in two Arts and a Science, and with GCSEs in five arts and four sciences, I've never quite understood why the dividing line between the two is so obvious to others, or why it is necessary to think of the two as being polarised 'perspectives'.

11:18 PM  
Blogger mary said...

i suppose it's cos people are generally arty or sciency, they tend to lean towards one or the other, so people start thinking that the two can never merge. music's wierd though. i was doing gcse music before i got sick, and i hated it. i love music itself, but its arty and personal expression side, not all the technical side of it like cadences et al. i found that horrible. i somehow got my grade 5 music theory, but it was a real struggle. i didn't like my music lessons that much either - i suppose because i was being forced to do specific pieces of music, and i just wanted to do my own thing. but you do have to get a certain degree of scientific knowledge of how to play an instrument etc before you can play whatever you want, so the two merge there as well. tis odd.

11:17 AM  
Blogger Martin said...

Exactly mary, I don't see any kind of dichotomy at all though... I mean, where does law fit in? An art or a science? An art, apparently. Criminology? A science, apparently. But which is Criminology more similar too, law or thermal dynamics?

I think the technical side of music is hugely important. We wouldn't have Beethoven without it anyway (after all, without meaning to sound crass, he could hardly play by ear)

1:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As I never cease moaning, modern universities have practically everything back to front.

Mathematics is an Art, and theology is a Science, for instance. Our present day arts/sciences divide is, I suspect, a c19th abomination.


1:08 AM  
Blogger ash said...

true theology is science.

1:59 PM  
Blogger Sarah said...

I don't get why we have to define the difference between art and sci...

Martin you said you have 4 art and 5 science GCSE's, i don't even know what category mine fall into.. im guessing maths, science and stats are science, RE, textiles, english, art and german are art... where does IT go...

What troubles me is what we have started to call science.. its almost become the jargon of shampoo adverts.

7:47 PM  
Blogger Martin said...

Sarah - I was trying to point out what I saw as the silliness of Laurence's dissociation, so it wasn't meant to be anything other than rough.

10:31 PM  
Blogger postliberal said...

Thanks everyone, this has proved to be a really stimulating subject to discuss and I appreciate all your comments. You’ve all pointed out stuff that I haven’t thought of. Your words stand out well in themselves - so I shall keep this brief as I’m tired, but happy:

Mary -

I think you best got what I was trying to say - essentially there’s some semantics going on, and whatever word you might use there is a heavily imbalance in the Church. Less concept-and-word based approaches would be part of a positive shift in balance in the eyes of a lot of us.

Sarah -

I didn’t necessarily mean any volt-face. I was just trying to communicate that the imbalance Ruth Ann and others perceive might well be perfectly healthy and justifiable. Most of the time we oscillate between various points, as a gradual calibration. Thus it might well be that focussing on arts and suchlike is a natural part of the process of change and counter movement.

Martin -

I think you might be pushing this a bit, to some extent. I was not establishing a clear dividing line, more using certain certain terms and concepts to make a point. It’s best looked at in the context of Ruth Ann’s post to understand what I’m getting at - as I said to Mary above.

Rob & Ash -

Ditto. It’s about the thrusting of pulpits in our faces the disregard for images and the wordiness of things rather than any great art-science pan-ideal manifesto. I could give you a massive bit of philosophy if so inclined, but it was just a fuzzy little snapshot ;P

1:49 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


check out my new blog http://andygoodliff.typepad.com and my posts on learning styles. this i think is related to your discussion. a lot of what we do in church does not appeal to the creative artistic types - generally more visual/kinaesthetic learners. As you say church tends to appeal more towards the logical/science type. I would suggest that a more arts-based approach would generate different models of doing and being church


2:50 PM  

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