Faith, Hope and Carnage

Despite my “STEM” core, avoiding anything remotely supernatural despite strong human spiritual interests, I’ve always been sympathetic to theists and theologists. (Full statement of my “Sacred Naturalism” stance here.) As thinkers, and carers for humanity, smart theists are at least as impressive – generally more so – as any public scientist / atheist types, when it comes to deep and thoughtful concerns for reality. That started with my friend Sam Norton (@Elizaphanian) and our early shared philosophical interest in Robert Pirsig and probably reached its zenith with Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. Along the way I count Liz Oldfield among their number, having met her when she was running the Theos think-tank. Although her role has changed, she still hosts The Sacred Podcast.

Part of my human spiritual connection is musical and in the poetry of the bards who write the songs. Mentions are dotted incidentally about these pages and my specific interests here are too many to mention. There’s a common thread of blues inspired genres from the solo trad & singer-songwriter folk artists to the heaviest of rock, with all varieties of Americana in between. With some wannabee aspirations, I am under some pressure this very moment (from four different directions!) to actually take the plunge into performance, but I’m currently restricted to “getting into it” any way I can short of that. A release from intellectual to embodied engagement anyhoo.

Strangely, Nick Cave (and his Bad Seeds) ought to be in that mix. Someone I’ve been aware of at a distance. I might recognise a song or two and I’ve certainly noticed the plaudits for his intelligent & thoughtful creations, but through circumstances of timing and opportunity, I’ve never really gotten into him. (Until his death a few years ago the same was true of – say – Leonard Cohen.)

I had detected in recent years both his Christian religious commitment and that the upheaval of death had greatly affected his musical trajectory. Anyway I added “Faith, Hope and Carnage” to my book list during 2022 and as I mentioned previously, it was the only book from that list I received as a Christmas present. So I’ve been reading it and making surprisingly copious notes. Whether I finish it or not I’ve recorded my notes below.

And the reason I was motivated to post them today is because The Sacred Podcast has just published a discussion with Nick Cave and his co-author of “Faith, Hope and Carnage” Sean O’Hagan hosted by Liz Oldfield.

(And, there’s a full transcript there too.)

My notes/quotes from “Faith Hope and Carnage”

“[I] try to lead a life that has moral [and religious] value, and try to look at [all] other people as if they are valuable. […] I guess what I’m saying is – we mean something. Our actions mean something. We are of value.”

“[T]he numinous and shocking beauty of the everyday is something I try to remain alert to, if only as an antidote to the chronic cynicism and disenchantment that seems to surround everything these days.”

“[R]ational truth may not be the only game in town. I am more inclined to accept the idea of poetic truth, or the idea that something can be “true enough”. To me that’s such a humane expression.”

“Sometimes you need to say out loud what you think or talk to someone else about the ideas you hold, just in order to see if they are valid. […] This is the essential value of conversation, that it can serve as a kind of corrective.”

“[S]adly, organised religion can be atheism’s greatest gift.”

“[M]y rational self seems less assured these days. Things happen in your life, terrible things, great obliterating events, where the need for spiritual consolation can be immense, and your sense of what is rational is less coherent and can suddenly find itself on shaky ground. We are supposed to put our faith in the rational world, yet when the world stops making sense, perhaps your need for some greater meaning can override reason. […] I’ve grown increasingly impatient with my own scepticism; it feels obtuse and counter-productive, something that’s simply standing in the way of a better-lived life […] happier if I stopped window-shopping and just stepped through the door.”

“[Attending to yearning …] maybe the search is the religious experience – the desire to believe and the longing for meaning, the moving toward the ineffable. […] When it comes down to it maybe faith is just a decision like any other.”

“Before knowing – is good, I like that.”

“[Doubt is part of your belief system?] Doubt is an energy for sure and perhaps I’ll never be the person who completely surrenders to the idea of God [.] [Intrinsically human to doubt?] Yes. And the rigid and self-righteous certainty of some religious people – and some atheists for that matter – is something I find disagreeable. The hubris of it. The sanctimoniousness. It leaves me cold. [… attitude of moral superiority.] The belligerent dogmatism of the current cultural moment is a case in point. A bit of humility wouldn’t go astray.”

“[Was your Mum religious in any way?] No. She actually told me she envied those who were religious, but she just couldn’t bring herself to fully believe.
[A bit like you then?] Oh no, I believe. Especially today.”

“[Last time in Australia with my mother before she died – listening to the album written after my son Arthur died] she would be sitting in her chair listening to it, lost to it, really moved. It was as if it was speaking to her, not just about Arthur, whose death hurt her very deeply, but all the many people a woman of ninety-three has inevitably lost. And at that age, that’s essentially everybody. I was very affected by that. Those were beautiful moments.”

Affected me too, reading that just last week, my 93 year-old mother’s birthday and accompanying her to the funeral of an old friend.

“Doubt and wonder. Yes, well put. […] [S]ince when has belief in God had anything to do with logic? For me it’s the unreasonableness of the notion, its counterfactual aspect that make the experience of belief compelling.” [The rationality of the irrational.]

“Our lives are, in fact, of enormous consequence, and our actions reverberate in ways we hardly know. [Many atheists would agree with that.]”

“There’s an attempt to find meaning in places where it is ultimately unsustainable – in politics, identity and so on. [Are you saying atheism – or secularism – is an affliction?] Not saying they’re an affliction … I just don’t think they’ve done a very good job of addressing questions that religion is well practiced at answering.” … “The upshot of that is a kind of callousness towards humanity in general.” … “Increasingly they are finding [religion and meaning] in tribalism and the politics of division.”

“The decline of organised religion took with it a regard for the sacredness of things, for the value of humanity in and of itself. This regard is rooted in a humility towards one’s place in the world – an understanding of our flawed nature. We are losing that […] and it’s often replaced by self-righteousness and hostility.”

“[Drugs as sacrament] Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. [Absolution from his home-town audience is response to his apology for dissing the town years earlier.]”

“[Contrasting organised life now with chaotic drugs and rock’n’roll years.] Impressive to be surrounded by efficiency, dedication and competence … It’s a kind of bliss! … Personally, I have found that a disciplined and structured workplace encourages a certain kind of free-range creativity that chaos is just not conducive to … A beautiful freedom.” {Ed. Cf Neil Hannon – You must go and I must set you free. ‘Cos only that will bring you back to me. (Freedom’s two-way perversity).}

[Infamous 1987 NME interview with Cave, Shane McGowan and Mark E Smith.] That was just after my first time in rehab. I had just come out the day before. What could possibly go wrong … I’m clean and sober an they’re like ‘What the fuck? You can’t be serious’ as they sat there chucking down drugs and drinking themselves into oblivion. They were hardly sympathetic to my situation.”

And so much more – an insightful read. Recommended.

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