Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Some Thoughts about Belief in God

A friend of mine sent me an email that forced me to think about my own faith and evolution as a believer. So I wanted to share a few thoughts about the matter. You may not know that I still consider myself a Catholic although I'm now more inclined toward 18th-century Lutheranism (probably because of all the Bach church music I listen to). I attended Catholic school, was an altar boy, and embraced the church as a youngster — although I’m pretty secular nowadays, a lapsed Catholic I suppose one could say. But I still believe in a creative God or whatever we could call it, especially while listening to Bach's cantatas.

For me, the fine-tuning of nature is one of the strongest arguments for the existence of God. This argument points to the precision and complexity of our universe, which suggests that it was designed by an intelligent being. I think it's fair to say that many people today see the concept of God as nothing more than a construct of our human minds. I believe that there is no one answer to this question. Each person's perspective on this matter will be different. Personally, I am undecided on whether or not I believe in the exact concept of God taught in the Catholic church. I'll let others argue the fine details of theology and Catholic catechism. On the other side of the coin, I think the idea of atheism being a wish fulfillment holds a lot of credibility. I think atheism is as much a faith as anything else.

My parents were believers in God, and so were their parents. They were all strong Catholics. So of course , growing up I believed in God and still do.

My reading on the subject has taken me down some rather wonderful, dark, and ridiculous paths. I read Richard Dawkins book The God Delusion, in which he proposes the question of who designed the designer, in other words, who created God. The problem for Dawkins is that this is an old schoolboy question that assumes God was created. I'm not surprised Dawkins titled his book The God Delusion, because created gods are by definition a delusion. However, in order to weigh Dawkins' argument, we need to know what he means by "God." (Dawkins never actually says what he means by this.) If he means "a god," then we are reduced to thinking about created gods, which none of us believe in. No one with any real intelligence would propose such a preposterous idea, although Dawkins seems to.

For some reason, intellectuals, especially the Brits, argue that David Hume argued the most persuasively concerning the impossibility of a supernatural world. However, I think there are two things we need to bear in mind about Hume. Firstly, he didn't believe in cause and effect — on which the laws of nature are founded. Secondly, he didn't appear to believe in induction — which is the principle upon which our scientific knowledge rests. So I don't think he's an authority we should necessarily rely on when discussing miracles.

CS Lewis made a valid point . He argued that when we see the beauty of something, like a garden, we don't automatically assume there are fairies at the bottom of it. We know someone created and designed the garden, and we appreciate their intelligence and creativity. In the same way, Lewis argues that when we see the beauty of nature, we don't automatically believe that it was all just chance. There must have been an intelligent designer behind it all.

Lastly, I want to say something about religious bigotry and hatred. I’m inclined to hold quite a bit of anger at American evangelism and the Pentecostal movement in general, especially since the evangelical churches all seem to be in bed with the alt-right and the GOP. But I always check myself because I've always believed that bigotry and hatred of religions is a dangerous path to take. Being anti-Catholic or anti-Muslim or anti-Mormon, etc., is not far removed from anti-Semitism. And we all know how that has turned out historically.

Wednesday, March 09, 2022

The Andy Warhol Diaries

For the most part, the well-known facts about Andy Warhol's life are covered in the first hour of Ryan Murphy's six-part Netflix documentary The Andy Warhol Diaries. When he was younger, he drew portraits of his classmates in an attempt to stop them from bullying him; he also had a fondness for Campbell's tomato soup; and he left Pittsburgh in 1949, when he was just 20 years old. After making the switch from graphic design to fine art, he opened The Factory in Union Square, where he exhibited his first soup cans in 1962 and went on to become a pop star by 1968.

Warhol's inner life is the subject of director Andrew Rossi, who focuses mostly on the artist's complicated connection with his homosexuality. Using a mix of archival and newly shot material, the documentary tells the story of Warhol's intense feelings for three key characters: interior designer Jed Johnson, Paramount Pictures vice president Jon Gould, and artist Jean-Michel Basquiat. By all accounts, Warhol's attraction to Basquiat was parental, sexual, and opportunistic. The primary tone is one of intense loneliness, as a voice like Warhol's reads sections from his journal, a blend of actor Bill Irwin and a somewhat robotic drone of artificial intelligence.

After leaving Pittsburgh's oppressive homophobia, he moved to New York City, where other gay artists like Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns radiated a machismo he could not begin to conjure.

Then Rossi turns to Warhol’s relentless cultivation of his own persona. Meticulous yet glamorous—his trademark silver wigs are shown off by Jessica Beck of the Warhol Museum—the artist built a perfectly constructed persona, one that he often used as a defense mechanism. “The way he presented himself was as asexual,” says Fab Five Freddy. “You would hear rumors, but he publicly kept that aspect of his life out of the picture.” In the film, he describes the various young, beautiful, or powerful people whom Warhol regularly surrounded himself with: Keith Haring, Andy Kaufman, Basquiat, and Jon Gould (the subject of his last film). Warhol often hid behind these figures in an attempt to mask his persistent fears of ageing and irrelevance.

Warhol's diaries, do not remind me of a medieval saints, nor even of a kept mistress, but of the secret lovesick grumblings of servant-boy, frustrated in an attic turret. One therefore assumes that Warhol's diary is less than a masterpiece of the genre. But this is not the impression conveyed by Mr. Rossi's film, which insinuates itself into the territory of Proust and Henry James with its wet and spongy footsteps. "I wouldn't be surprised if they started putting gays in concentration camps," Warhol writes. It is only what you would expect from such a louche observer, such a tone-deaf man of fashion—those sneakers, those sunglasses!—and such an aesthete, who still, despite his fame and fortune, thought himself a member of some oppressed minority. Much of the language of Warhol's time is problematic today, including his references to Basquiat as "the big black painter" or Aids as "gay cancer." You can blame yourself if you remain in doubt about this film's intentions. Strictly speaking, it has none. It is not trying to understand Warhol or his work, or to interpret either in any way. It is a bath that has been prepared for you; into it you must sink for as long as the water remains warm.