Monday, March 28, 2005

Ceremony

Waiter Rant waxes philosophical frequently, probably due to his undergraduate philosophy degree, but his most recent post serves to illustrate an important point about organized religion.

The absurdity of a group of grown men hovering over lunch meats and beer, staring hungrily at a clock is simply too ridiculous to simply ignore. If there is any point at all to Good Friday, I can assure you that it is not tortured hunger and impatient anticipation of the end of a fast. Furthermore, the idea that there is something about Friday at 11:58 that is significantly different from Saturday at 12:02 that would change one's eternal destiny from damned to saved is simply preposterous.

Having been raised Catholic, I understand the rhetoric that surrounds the excessive ceremony, and I understand and appreciate it. In fact, the reason that I do still attend mass occasionally is to enjoy the familiar surroundings and the methodical procedure. Blind adherence to some ceremonial ultimatum, though, is simply harmful to both the individual and the religion at large.

To take a somewhat secular example, I find marriages to be trite and pointless almost all of the time. I don't particularly like going to weddings, as I find that they are generally forced and performed simply for the sake of having a ceremony. Even the people getting married don't want to be there, and the act of marrying is not a declaration of undying love but a dog and pony show for relatives and friends who think that marriage is what is "supposed" to happen to two people.

When Nietzsche wrote that God is dead and that we have killed him, he didn't simply mean that the supernatural figure of God had been killed. Nietzsche was speaking in a larger context; he was talking about any and all artificial constructs that we've created for ourselves, and ceremony is certainly one of those. Ceremony is dead because we see that there is no intrinsic value in doing things like abstaining from meat on Good Friday, and we have killed those ceremonies by removing the significance from them that they once had.

Cynic that I am, I would generally suggest that we abandon meaningless ceremonies, as they have simply become dead weight at this point. Dancing around on an alter for an hour every Sunday, getting married, or abstaining from meat on Good Friday all have lost their meaning and significance they once held, and are thus pointless.

I do have some hope, though, that we can reclaim these ceremonial performances for ourselves. Our ceremony and sense of tradition must arise out of personal meaning, not the other way around. If we are somehow able to take those things that are important to us and act them out in a way that corresponds to a traditionally performed ceremony, then we are able to celebrate the meaning behind the actions, not simply the actions themselves.

Maybe some people have discovered this, and when they get married or give up chocolate for lent they are doing it in the full knowledge of the meaning behind their actions. I don't see this, though, in general in society. I see people getting married because they are "supposed to," giving up candy for 40 days because "that's what you do," and eating fish on Good Friday because "that's the rule."

We can fit into the society that exists around us, but only if and when we create that society for ourselves, not the society creating us.

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