Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Corganwatch: Freak Out, Give In, Start a Blog About What You Believe In

9/12 of The Year of Our Lord Two Thousand and Nine saw a fascinating and confounding pair of essays published in the Wall Street Journal. On the one hand, ex-nun turned spiritual scholar Karen Armstrong, author of the wonderful A Short History of Myth, argues the case for a more numinous, less big-beard-in-the-sky sort of God and how He might continue to play a valid role in the hearts of c21st humans. Armstrong writes:
In the past, many of the most influential Jewish, Christian and Muslim thinkers understood that what we call "God" is merely a symbol that points beyond itself to an indescribable transcendence, whose existence cannot be proved but is only intuited by means of spiritual exercises and a compassionate lifestyle that enable us to cultivate new capacities of mind and heart.
God, for Armstrong, is not the sternly loving, humanised Socrates-lookalike who gazes down from the roof of the Sistine Chapel. It's a force at once elusive and pervasive, one for which even questions of "existence" may be inappropriate. God is myth and question, darkness and illumination, something incompatible with our modern tools of thought yet inescapable even in discussions of its possible irrelevance.

Armstrong the mythologist is paired with Richard Dawkins the scientist, well-spoken champion of rational inquiry. Not for Dawkins these fuzzy discussions of ritual and meta-belief:
If sophisticated theologians or postmodern relativists think they are rescuing God from the redundancy scrap-heap by downplaying the importance of existence, they should think again. Tell the congregation of a church or mosque that existence is too vulgar an attribute to fasten onto their God, and they will brand you an atheist. They'll be right.
Dawkins marvels at existence itself, and he resents anyone branding that marvel with the same language that was used to justify the Crusades or the Inquisition or 9/11. For Dawkins, there can be no discussion of God until we can agree on a definition of what God is, and the popular definition doesn't stand up to the reason that is the engine of progress in our age.

Both make a passionate point, and both leave gaping holes in their argument. Perhaps what's needed is a third thinker, one less bound by scholarly path or accumulated reputation to either end of the debate. Fortunately, three days earlier, the world had given us such a man.
If you think of what a light bulb does, it just shines. There are of course many different types of light sources, the Sun being the optimal one of course. Without it we’d be toast! Or maybe non-toast? Whatever we would be without the Sun it wouldn’t be good!!
William Patrick Corgan has spoken eloquently on matters of faith and the nature of God before. Sometimes he's fer...
In the land of star crossed lovers and barren hearted wanderers, forever lost in forsaken missives and Satan's pull, we seek the unseekable and we speak the unspeakable; our hopes dead, gathering dust to dust, in faith, in compassion, and in love.
...Sometimes agint.
Belief is not to notice, believe is just some faith - and faith can't help you to escape.
Corgan's spiritual progression develops through his lyrics: from the Trinity-defying swagger of I am One, through the cod-Zen dissociation of Rocket, to the elegant conceptual substory running throughout the gloriously wanky Machina/The Machines of God. Machina was pushed as something of a half-hearted concept record, and inasmuch as this is the case, the record's overarching narrative drive is that of Billy Corgan's own Pilgrim's Progress (because if all art is secretly about ourselves, then all Billy Corgan's art is nakedly about Billy Corgan).

Machina closes with one of Corgan's finest works, both lyrically and musically. Age of Innocence, a clarion call to worldly mortification, to forward movement even if it takes us through hell, is at once inspiring and terrifying. It's an challenge to reject the sky-bound chiding father figure, to accept progress and human growth; but also a suggestion that on the other side of desolation are opportunities for a truer, more holistic sort of faith and ritual. In its way, Age of Innocence rejects the paternal 20th-century God figure as passionately as does Dawkins; even as it looks toward an understanding of the Divine as nebulous and hopeful as that which Armstrong urges us to consider. It would have been the perfect work with which for Corgan to close the book on Smashing Pumpkins and its stance on spirituality.

But Corgan is still going. His new blog, Everything from Here to There (the title, he says, comes from his work-in-progress spiritual memoir), aims to be a place where individuals can openly discuss "mind-body-soul integration" without fear, judgment or "making proof". The content is inarticulate, roundabout and somewhat embarrassing: a post intending to discuss ancient Egyptian wisdom ends up urging people to think more like lightbulbs.

In keeping with the tone of Machina, his most spiritually consistent work, Corgan seems to be aiming for some sort of nu-Gnostic approach to belief: he talks of Egyptology, alchemy, of God as both non-interventionist meta-force and Grace-bestowing entity. That's all very well, but to adopt the iconoclastic stance of Gnosticism without knowing your shit inside and out is to risk shunning by believers and nonbelievers alike, to court acceptance only by rebellious fourteen-year-old Anne Rice fans.

Perhaps the former is what William Patrick Corgan is after. Perhaps the latter is perfectly fine for him. But it's disappointing to find that, when theological scholasticism and scientific reasoning fail to make much headway in either direction, that Billy Corgan can't just solve the whole thing either.


maryyeahok said...

Har har har! You're my favourite brother.

If only he'd go back to just talking about how he'd give Jesus sugar if Jesus wanted sugar :(.

Iona said...

I feel like I just got the Tom version of a Rickroll.

zwandy said...

"to adopt the iconoclastic stance of Gnosticism without knowing your shit inside and out is to risk shunning by believers and nonbelievers alike, to court acceptance only by rebellious fourteen-year-old Anne Rice fans."

yup, well, that's what I was when he won me, so I think he's on the right track then. I mean, he was awesome! and look how good I turned out!

harvestbird said...

Sir, this post has gone straight to my Delicious links.

I should also add that SeƱor Mojito too-frequently uses "well you once believed in Billy Corgan" as the clincher to win arguments with I, his beloved.

Anita Reese said...

I feel so sad for your ongoing disillusionment. The empathy chord in me that is so well tuned by the deeply sincere tilling of the wonderful Tim is vibrating, man. Maybe you oughta transfer your affections. It's not adultery if you mean it.

Homage said...

Billy Corgan knows we're hopeless to speak on our own behalf; Billy Corgan is as hopeless as us, caught in the negatives.

Phili4p said...

One the reasons I enjoy reading your writings is because just as the style starts becoming a little bit too clever and academic you relieve it by inserting referrences to cartoon bufooney, pop art and things like The Smashing Pumpkins!