Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The Humanist Pilgrimage

We went to Paris.  No reason, except for fun and relaxation.  Sue, my spouse, works incredibly hard.

When I say that travel is now the great humanist pilgrimage, I am not referring to humanism as atheism, but as the great humanist turn in Western thought when ordinary life was placed at the center of consciousness and thought.

We looked at the Italian, Spanish, Flemish and Dutch paintings in the Louvre.  Most of the Renaissance paintings were about Christian subjects, depictions of Biblical scenes and the lives of the saints.  They were theologically rich; they illustrate doctrine.

An explanation of the Eucharist in oils.
You could, if you wanted, classify and curate these paintings on the basis of their theological content.  You could sort them into Protestant and Catholic paintings, or paintings about Mary in one room and paintings about the Passion in another.  The title cards could have learned commentary about the doctrine the paintings illustrated, and even where the paintings had heretical content.

But that is not how we look at paintings from the Renaissance anymore.

But now we see those paintings primarily as paintings, interesting in the way that they illustrate the history of painting itself, and European art in general, and the cultural productions of humanity as a world-wide species.  What amazing things people are capable of creating!  We read them through humanist lenses, and they are icons to contemplate on a humanist pilgrimage.

How to illustrate this great turn away from the divine toward the ordinary and human?  Consider the Cathedral at Rouen, begun in 1200.  It was built to last, a place to worship the everlasting God by His everlasting church.  In 1890, Claude Monet painted a series of paintings of the Cathedral's facade, each one capturing the impression on his eyes made by the ever shifting light shining on the unchanging stones.

What has this to do with religion, aside from everything?  This is why I say of UU's -- we are all humanists now.


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