Monday, February 20, 2012

Layer 525 . . . Great Artists, Enlightenment, Zen, Dawkins and Obscurity

In the previous blog I wrote about some of America's greatest living artists, and it seems to me I need to say a little more on this subject. The job of an artist is ultimately to raise awareness, to express, celebrate and comment on the human condition, and to bring a little (or a lot) more enlightenment into the world.

There should be no doubt that artists such as Dylan, Cohen, Springsteen and Young fulfill all of these criteria. Anyone who doubts Dylan's credentials as an artist and a poet should read Christopher Ricks' wonderful "Dylan's Visions of Sin" and Michael Gray's "Song and Dance Man - the Art of Bob Dylan", and also pay careful attention to Dylan's "Ballad of a Thin Man".

Anyone who questions Leonard Cohen's right to be called a great artist also ought to pay attention to his words, his poetry and his music, and then allow themselves to go "a thousand kisses deep", or simply take a walk down "boogie street".

Bruce Springsteen's art, on the other hand, is based on a very different sort of poetics, and a determination to speak to his audiences clearly and directly, without obscurity, but without being in any way patronising or underestimating their intelligence. Of course there will still be idiots like Reagan who completely fail to understand the irony in a song like "Born In The USA", but Bruce has learnt to live with this as a fact of life.

Neil Young also comments on his country and his fellow humans through songs like Ohio, Let's Impeach The President and Restless Consumer.

Neil's all-time masterpiece may well be the Sleeps With Angels album, and in particular the track "Change Your Mind", which not only has brilliant lyrics but also features scintillating, extended guitar solos which tear at the senses and wrench emotions from stony souls. Try listening to this track on decent headphones with the volume turned up in a darkened room, with or without the video on the screen -

You'll need to be in it for the long run though - all 14 minutes and 55 seconds.   -  Horse Back -  This is even longer!


Enlightenment and Obscurity

You have to hand it to Richard Dawkins - he draws attention to some pretty important stuff and gets people talking:
What is the proper place for religion in Britain's public life?
Britain became engulfed in a culture war last week as secularists and believers clashed over the role of religion in public life. Even the Queen intervened to defend the Church of England's role. Richard Dawkins, whose survey about Christianity in the UK ignited the row, defends his position on secularism, faith and tolerance in conversation with Will Hutton of the Observer

Once again Will Hutton ventures into territory he's not really qualified to have strong opinions about. It's not clear from this article that he really understands secularism.

On the other hand, Oxzen has issues with Dawkins' disbelief in what some of us are calling spiritual intelligence. He's not the only one who fails or refuses to understand this crucial intelligence. Most people do.

Here's what Oxzen said in Layer 12:

Key concepts for developing spiritual intelligence can be found in schemes of work with a sharp focus on human values. These are values that are subscribed to by humanists and by people of no particular religion, as well as by members of the many different faith communities throughout the world – values that give meaning to life and help to direct our most positive beliefs and actions. They are values that help to make our families, our communities and our societies better places to live in for all of us. Without such values we descend into strife, conflict, selfishness and aggression.

The following list is a summary of the key words and concepts we need to understand as part of a curriculum for human values and spiritual intelligence.

Curiosity, Equality, Honesty, Integrity, Intuition, Optimism, Truthfulness, Self-knowledge,

caring, compassion, friendship, forgiveness, generosity, helpfulness, joy, kindness, tolerance, sharing, sympathy, patience

calmness, contentment, dignity, discipline, happiness, honesty, humility, understanding, patience, reflection, self-confidence, self-control, self-discipline, self-respect, optimism

Contentment, Courage, Dependability, Duty, Ethics, Gratitude, Good behaviour, Healthy living, Helpfulness, Leadership, Initiative, Unity, Respect, Responsibility, Sacrifice, Self-confidence, Self-sufficiency, Simplicity, Perseverance 

appreciation of others, brotherhood / sisterhood, citizenship, compassion, concern for all life, consideration, cooperation, unwillingness to hurt, equality, forgiveness, global awareness, good manners, loyalty, social justice, service to others, respect for people and property, unity, universal love, collaboration

My feeling is - without having read his book on science, religion and atheism - that Dawkins and his ilk set up a false dichotemy with God on the one side and total disbelief in any sort of spiritual intelligence on the other . . . . . .  whereas most people neither have any definite belief in God nor any disbelief in the 'spiritual'. This would appear to be a perfect example of the wisdom of crowds - that the majority of people believe there is something within most of us that directs us towards the values and virtues listed above - in the broad categories of truth, love, peace, right conduct and non-violence. The question is not whether spiritual intelligence exists, but where do we sit on a continuum that goes from high spiritual intelligence to low spiritual intelligence?

The two most spiritual words I know are lovingkindness & enlightenment. Professor Dawkins has a problem if he can't understand or reckon with these key Buddhist concepts. I commend him in a spirit of lovingkindness for his stance in favour of atheism, but I'd recommend him to pay greater attention to Buddhist philosophy and metaphysics.

Enlightenment? Don't know what it is.

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