From what I’ve heard, Christopher Hitchens, despite his caustic diatribes, was a generous man who faced his illness and his death with courage. He suffered and he was kind. Since my religion is kindness, he qualifies against his will, as at least a semi-religious man, in my book. And that is the point really with Mr Hitchens – whose book? He was a swell media presence and as such he knew what the media wanted – flatland, literalism, fundamentalism – and he gave it to them. Well, good for him, he got them to cover him.
The God Hitchens railed against is the cartoon figure of fundamentalism. The Old Man In The Sky bossing everybody around and noting the fall of the sparrow – with emotion, one presumes. This God is easy to set up as a piñata and easy to smash down. Have you ever hit a piñata? Fun, very fun. Which mostly is the point, no?
Materialism, fundamentalism and the media are fast friends. The first two are sides of one coin, the Holy Literalism, the Holy One Dimensionality. The media do not communicate nuance or dimensionality well. A heavenly marriage. It’s like car crashes and car chases in film/video. When you think about the totality of life, are the percentage of car chases and crashes in the movies even remotely proportional? Why is that? Because cinema/tv are fantastically well suited to show them. They are fantastic action and usually embody conflict. Drama is conflict/Conflict is drama. The message must suit the content or it is lost. Mono-dimensionality is what works, so it’s what we get. And because filmvideo seem ‘real’, reality begins to mimic it, as it is reinforced over and over.
The essence of art is multi-dimensional, connotative, the beauty of a poem, a word in a poem, meaning three or four or ten or two things at once. Metaphor opens the mind and heart into an expanded state where to grip any one of the meanings too tight is to ruin the experience. It is an exalted and parilous state, holding several things in your vision, mind, feelings and not tipping over into literalism. Listening and seeing in this way is an art in itself and is the art that the receivers of art have practiced for millennia. In art, in religion, in relationship, in dreams.
But it doesn’t make good television. The artists who are able to evoke worlds in this most literal of media are exceptional and exceptions, sometimes lauded, sometimes ridiculed. Film is much too literal to show inner states, as say a novel can. We can watch a wonderful actor’s face and sense much underneath, but the imagination of what is actually going on is usually excruciatingly difficult to create and therefore usually excruciatingly bad to watch. But joy and meaning come from something more than the literal material world. Love. Love cannot be seen. Evoked, intuited, felt, died for, but not seen. And here, often the human face is enough, because even internally, love is not experienced in the imagination or in images. It is just there, more important than air and totally invisible.
God is love/Love is God, Mr Hitchens. But maybe you knew that. Not a car crash in sight.