Saturday, December 15, 2018

"SACRED", a PBS video

On, quoted below:

12/10/2018 | 1h 23m 35s
Embark on a global journey of spirituality. Directed by Thomas Lennon and shot by more than 40 filmmaking teams worldwide, Sacred examines faith as a primary human experience and the role of ritual and prayer in the highs and lows of our lives.
Aired: 12/10/18
Expires: 01/07/19
Rating: NR
Closed Captioning
Video has closed captioning.

This montage of practices from many places, some connected to ancient times, is very much in the style of Ninian Smart's classic series, "The Long Search", exemplifying secular religious studies, which is the formal subject of my MA.  Sometimes it's called comparative religion, pioneered by Smart, and his earlier video series takes that approach, showing all the aspects listed below.  (From Wikipedia -- worth reading though, being a wiki, we don't know who wrote it.)  Like most people, Smart focused on institutions, their systems and names.  

"Sacred" sticks mostly to the first aspect on the list and so do I in my way of thinking.  This means the recent PBS series includes death, prison, and freefrom examples.  In the end Smart, included the little ceremony of silently making tea.  He was, after all, a Scot and steaming tea was part of a fog-wet chilly life. Shafts of sudden sunlight through the window struck through both fog and steam as epiphany.  I recommend both of these vids, even better, seeing them together.

This list is well-known, but nothing at all like the UUA list of principles, which is about the same length.

The Seven Dimensions of Religion (Ninian Smart)
Ritual: Forms and orders of ceremonies (private and/or public) (often regarded as revealed)
Narrative and Mythic: stories (often regarded as revealed) that work on several levels. Sometimes narratives fit together into a fairly complete and systematic interpretation of the universe and human's place in it.
Experiential and emotional: dread, guilt, awe, mystery, devotion, liberation, ecstasy, inner peace, bliss (private)
Social and Institutional: belief system is shared and attitudes practiced by a group. Often rules for identifying community membership and participation (public)
Ethical and legal: Rules about human behavior (often regarded as revealed from supernatural realm)
Doctrinal and philosophical: systematic formulation of religious teachings in an intellectually coherent form
Material: ordinary objects or places that symbolize or manifest the sacred or supernatural

In case no one makes "Sacred" available for download on line or as a CD, I recommend that you mark your calendar and not let January 7 slip by without watching it.  Instead of all the argybargy about the Theos, and the enormous time and effort that can be spent tracing out philosophical precedents, this line of approach is much more satisfying (to me) and much less predetermined by Western thought.  No one points out right and wrong, just presents the phenomena.  

My similar approach is particularly aware of what we are learning about how human thought works as a whole body -- not just a brain.  My undergrad classes at Northwestern University ('57-'61) have returned to my thought, proving to be a valid beginning-again.  I took "World Religion" classes at the same time as "Method Acting" classes and "Language and Thought" classes.  Today's added element is the startling research on the neurology of the brain and body.

It appears that what we have not understood -- and therefore attributed to near mystical other-world forces -- are the subtle electromagnetic and chemical interactions within and between cells that are ourselves alive.  Our minds are all quite "this world" and not the work of angels after all.  Since we are animals, more than ninety per cent of what goes on is not managed by the newest lobe of the brain behind our foreheads, the part that contains many of religious concerns such as morality and executive decisions about what to do.  

Modern Western religion has not taught us how to manage our physical animal lives in this troublesome world.  We think about it too much and not enough at the same time.  Religious institutions, based on a specific economy and ecology, can be an excellent guide if you stay there.  But now so many of us are displaced, especially by time, that we need to know how to rebuild a guidance system that uses poetry as much as rationality.

Lakoff tells us, and is able to demonstrate, that we think in metaphors, but what does that mean?.  The next step up seems to be the framing or context, which can be too scary or just unintelligible.  Often our deepest assumptions don't seem open to challenge.  They are what we call "reality" and we don't know they are just premises.  We don't know we believe them.  I hang on to the question, "how can a conscious person affect their own unconscious mind"?  

We are so focused on the old Greek/Roman rationality and reasonable argument that it keeps us from seeing anything else.  Apart from science and math, we have little respect for the humanities, to the point of denying they are anything but trivial hobbies -- and include religion in that as well.  Many of the practices in "Sacred" reinforce what we already know, confirmed by the senses that can rock us free from "conditioning," which is a rational control-aimed strategy that works on our domestic animals -- and us.  The appeal of it is that it seems a rational and effective way to get at emotion and individual motives, that slippery stuff.

At a website called "ribbon farm," which is a particular way of arranging land in a long strip, like along a river, I found an entry about the metaphorical and humanities-based (rooted in land use) way of managing thought labeled "refactored perception,"and described as "Sapir-Whorf, Lakoff, Metaphor and Thought".

In Martin Marty's University of Chicago classes about American religion, he explained that the notorious plantations down South were "ribbon farms" so that Christianity was dependent on privileged authority and gathering for Communion meant having to travel to meet.  But it was a two-level world, owners and slaves, and slaves could not travel, so their version of Christianity included bits of Africa.

Up North the people gathered for warmth and defense behind fort walls, going out to fields for a day's work, then returning to safety.  Of course, the church was safe behind the walls.  When the division came, it was on abstract philosophical terms, the split that set the Protestants free, and potent enough that the defiant resisted punishment.  These patterns of living amounted to religion acted out in ritual.

I just found "ribbonfarm" and some of it is too fancy for me to understand, but it means a way forward, valuing the vivid ideas of "Sacred" that are mostly shown, not told.  More coming.

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