Thursday, November 20, 2008

Why Grant Morrison is wrong about religion (and right about ontology)

How did I miss this one? At Newsarama, Grant Morrison talks about religion, spirituality, and God. It's a bit annoying, frankly, mostly because he starts out with this:

I think religion per se, is a ghastly blight on the progress of the human species towards the stars. At the same time, it, or something like it, has been an undeniable source of comfort, meaning and hope for the majority of poor bastards who have ever lived on Earth, so I’m not trying to write it off completely.

But it soon becomes clear that when Morrison says "religion" he means "church." Unsurprisingly, he doesn't like hierarchy, but he most certainly does believe in transcendence.

As I’ve said before, the solid world is just the part of heaven we’re privileged to touch and play with. You don’t need a priest or a holy man to talk to “god” on your behalf just close your eyes and say hello: "god” is no more, no less, than the sum total of all matter, all energy, all consciousness, as experienced or conceptualized from a timeless perspective where everything ever seems to present all at once. “God” is in everything, all the time and can be found there by looking carefully. The entire universe, including the scary, evil bits, is a thought “God” is thinking, right now.

Which is, in my mind,is pretty spot-on. It's an old idea called panentheism (not to be confused with pantheism), and it's been appearing in writing—religious writing—for centuries. What are process theology, Kabbalah, and Sufism if not religious? Morrison, it seems would call them "spirituality"—and he argues that "Religion is to spirituality what porn is to sex."

I've always found the distinction between "religion" and "spirituality" unsatisfying. It's like people who argue that they hate science fiction, but that they love Orwell (for instance), or Margaret Atwood. 1984 and The Handmaid's Tale aren't SF, and why? because people who aren't SF fans like them. Their picture of SF is a caricature, just as the picture of "religion" as a cruel hierarchy is a caricature (and a mostly outmoded one at that. The most politically conservative churches have no hierarchy.) 

To Grant Morrison, to all those who draw a line between religion and spirituality, I say: it's okay. "Religion" is bigger than you think. There's room in here for lots of ideas. Just as the universe, in a panentheistic system, is part of God, spirituality is part of religion.

He talks about All-Star Superman some, too, and whether or not Superman is a Christ figure. Read that segment of Newsarama's 10-part interview here.

This post previously appeared in an ever-so-slightly different form at SF Gospel.