Saturday, June 13, 2009

Art as a Substitute for Religion? A Lecture by Richard Shusterman in Helsinki 8.6.2009 - Part II

The main idea in Richard Shusterman's "the religion of art", presented in Helsinki last Monday, has been suggested before by Finnish theologians: namely, that the new attitude would enable us to keep the valuable parts of established religions and deny the rubbish. I will present two examples of this thinking. First the classic example of professor emeritus (of NT studies) Heikki Räisänen as he formulated it in his 1993 book "Uuteen uskoon: Teologisesta itsekritiikistä uskontojen vuoropuheluun". Second an interview of Tampereen hiippakuntadekaani Ari Hukari (I will not even try to translate his title - it's pretty high in the hierarchy of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland) that was published in Kirkko & Kaupunki 26.5.2009.

Heikki Räisänen observes that religions have always been changing, for better or for worse. Thus Christianity will also keep changing, but to which direction? Who decides the change? If we are to be completely honest with this question, believers (or more generally, members of the church), according to Räisänen, make this crucial decision whether they do it consciously or not. This process will have to be transformed to a conscious one: we have to let go of the "pious self-deception" to be able to make informed choices about our Christian tradition. From the tradition we will have to pick out consciously those strands that support life, freedom and unity and discard those strands that oppose them. If we don't do the cherry-picking this way, it will nonetheless get to be done and the consequences could be worse for humanity in general.1

Ari Hukari sees the current model of the Church, where the priest dictates the "truth" to the congregation, as outdated. Many pastors are doing their job in this way as if there never were any postmodern philosophers who called into question the soundness of the concept of absolute truth. Lay members of the Church are treated like sheep, and their questions are not taken seriously. Faith, however, should not be about owning the truth (or being right) but an attitude towards God/You/Other/Ultimate meaning. I'm interpreting Hukari a bit, but I see his arguments very compatible with Räisänen's call for abandoning the "pious self-deception": there is no "truth" as this concept is only a matter of the chosen language-game, but a multitude of truths. What we make of the Christian tradition is left for us - an informed choice needs a conscious mind behind it.

According to Hukari the (Finnish Evangelical Lutheran) Church should be transformed into an open forum, where - lead by a priest - postmodern, autonomous human beings (and not sheep) are consciously discussing their views of the reality. A radical change indeed, but without an honest dialog between the various members of the Church the bid to strengthen the good in the Christian tradition and downplay the bad (consciously) will never be done properly.2

In Part III tomorrow: why Räisänen and Hukari are spot on and why Shusterman's "religion of art" could be better understood as an attitude inside the established religions to their established aspects - as a "religion of art of religion", properly speaking.

1Uuteen uskoon: Teologisesta itsekritiikistä uskontojen vuoropuheluun. Kirjapaja. 1993.

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