I came across a remarkable essay by Stassa Edwards in Cabinet magazine about the 'Great Stink of 1858. It concerned the overflowing of the river Thames into the streets of London and the unleashing of a putrid stench stemming from the long-term practice of dumping waste of all kinds-animal, industrial and human, in the summer of 1858.
The essay explores the modern city and its relation to human waste, to dirt, to shit--there's a great line, "The Great Stink was, perhaps, an unwelcome metaphor for London's paradoxical modernity: it was the epicenter of a world power, its citizens could fundamentally change human knowledge, but all of this could be ended by a plumbing problem. and that is exactly what the great stink was: an epic plumbing catastrophe nearly two thousand years in the making."
Without stretching a metaphor too far, I am fairly convinced that after a couple of thousand years Christianity has a plumbing problem as well--it is over-flowing with shit--the detritus of centuries of dumping crap into the river of faith. Dogma, doctrines, ideas and metaphors that undermine the perception of what religion is, what it's functions are, how it works etc. Towards the end of the essay Edwards writes,
"Perhaps the Great Stink is an urban madeleine of sorts--not the sweet-smelling spongy cake that Proust envisioned, but a foul-smelling, deformed inversion of it. It invades the senses, creating memories of sensory revulsion. It reminds us of how quickly our smart city existences can devolve into primitive conditions."
One could argue that the rise of fundamentalisms in the early 21st century are indicative of the devolution of religion into a primitive, barbaric state.
Anyway, the essay prompted me to begin to address some ideas that I've been kicking around in my head for at least a couple of decades, just some niggling thoughts that I have wrestled with over the years related to what it means to have faith, to live a life impacted by religion, and a notion that the sterile, sanitized version of Christianity that most of us have experienced is an elaborate veneer masking a smell that needs to be addressed.
So I'm giving a series of talks called, Pure Filth, which will explore things like vulgarity, disgust, the unclean, the profane, the dirty and everything we tend to avoid but which are in fact, everyday realities and experiences for all of us in life--and maybe this will tease out another way of thinking about religion, or maybe it will just be a load of crap.
The very provocative image at the top is by Odd Nerdrum, entitled, Ecce Homo.
(Village Church 343 S. Church Lane, LA 90049 at 11:45am Sundays)