[March 24 2017]
In Situ is a new lecture series presented by Creative Time and New York Public Library which puts an artist and philosopher in dialogue around life’s big questions. This inaugural conversation asked “How to reasonably believe in God”.
The Stop Shopping Choir opened the evening in procession. They reverently echoed the names of black lives lost to police violence in the hollow mountain of Cathedral of St. John the Divine. Once upon the stage they sang a rendition of William Butler Yeat’s poem “The Second Coming”. Then Reverend Billy took the stage. He spoke about ecology and celebrating women, using The Women’s March on Washington as an analogy for a world with no center, where all is forgiven, and there is rapid deployment love.
Janine Antoni and Slavoj Žižek’s discussion, moderated by Sister Helen Prejean, contrasted an ecstatic bodily experience of the divine, with the dubious ethical dimensions of religious experiences.
Antoni demonstrated 5 Rhythms Dance and the stages of flow, staccato, chaos, lyrical, and stillness which facilitate connection, ego loss, and group dreaming. Antoni approached spirituality not so much through reason, but rather through her body and emotions, similar to her art. She described a sculpture “To Coalesce” of two rib cages interlaced as if the unity of two lovers trying to become one. Conversely she described the magic of maternal love, where one body becomes two. A theme she explored in “Inhabit” where she suspended herself in a web-like harness while spiders spun webs in a house surrounding her abdomen, homes within homes, webs trapping death within wombs burgeoning life. Both works demonstrate learning to love generously and surrender.
A major theme concerned the separation of life from the whole, we seek connection but we are separated from God. Sister Helen Prejean moderated with great whit, navigating how connection in Christianity often looks like abandonment. Jesus is the god who suffers, emptied of being a god, he became a slave. Doubt was also central to the discussion, doubt is intrinsic to reason. In the Book of Job three friends offer explanations for Job’s suffering but he rejects all ideologies and that is his salvation. The speakers took an interesting take on this story; perhaps why God does not apologize to Job for his baseless suffering is because it palls in comparison to the mess of the world.
Žižek spoke of the danger in transferring belief onto the other and the increasing state of beliefs without believers, dogmas that are followed without investment. A child might innocently pretend that Santa Claus exists as their parents feign the same, but when citizens follow governments without trust, they lay the groundwork for fascism. He cautioned how emancipatory projects can go wrong in horrible ways, and that transcendence is not without violence, as demonstrated by Brian Daizen’s book “Zen at War”. Perhaps peace lies in the absence of ideology, Žižek joked that The Holy Spirit was like the communist party; equalitarian community happens in the absence of the subject.
Neither Antoni nor Žižek arrived at a reasonable way to believe in God, but their conversation wove together many pressing questions. Ultimately Reverend Billy and the Stop Shopping Choir provided the best answer by quoting Yeats; that things are falling apart, the center cannot hold, mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, and surely the second coming is at hand. In Reverend Billy’s decree the second coming is circular, liquid, in harmony with the earth, female. The only reasonable belief is that God is a woman.
Text and Photo Elise Gallant