Auden and Christianity
May 26, 2006 4:08 PM   Subscribe

Auden and Christianity "The notion that religious faith and serious thought are mutually exclusive categories always struck Auden as risible and unintelligible. But he would have bristled at an effort to separate out his religious beliefs and restate them as systematic propositions, or examine them independently or thematically, rather than see them as players in his rich and various inner symbolic drama."
posted by vronsky (3 comments total)
The religious complaint that religion and reason are not mutually exclusive is based on the misunderstood proposition that they are ideally collectively exhaustive. The collectively exhaustive notion, dating from the time of Plato, serves to explain a form of understanding that cannot be understood using reason or knowledge, as with children or early humans, who surrender the priority of mythology as reasoning and knowledge progresses. The difference is that to be mutually exclusive means that at most one event can occur, whereas to be collectively exhaustive means that at least one event must occur.

As such, the idea that mythology serves to fill the gaps of knowledge and reason should be acknowledged. (This is not to be confused for the god of the gaps fallacy, which occurs when myth is absurdly used to draw reasoned conclusions, which firmly assumes a mutual exclusivity from the religious side.) Together, mythology and reasoning never need to be incompatible as truth or importance; just as fiction and non-fiction need not be incompatible as truth or importance. If this is what people like Auden are suggesting, they should just say so and debate the matter with fundamentalists who disagree. The idea that they are incompatible says more about the type of religion one is immersed in.

Disclaimer: I didn't read the essay.
posted by Brian B. at 5:31 PM on May 26, 2006

It's good to know that religion didn't appeal to him for campy-gay reasons. What a relief!

"Whatever the case, we can close Auden and Christianity convinced of the truth in its final sentence: 'Auden was a great poet and critic, but he should also be remembered, and would have wished to be remembered, as a man who sought to lead a Christian life.'" IS that how we should remember him? Because I prefer to remember him the way he was: a great hairless hangdog who totally loved to enchafe the flood of dudes.
posted by Powerful Religious Baby at 5:35 PM on May 26, 2006

The structure and aesthetics of high Anglican worship were so agreeable to him, not for snobbish or campy-gay reasons, but precisely because they best embodied the pattern of impersonal dramatic repetition that he so desperately needed, the patterning that made it possible for the act of worship to be, for him, an act of personal re-integration.

It's perfectly obvious that Anglo-Catholicism appealed to Auden for campy-gay reasons. Why bother denying it? (He once went to a fancy-dress party dressed as a bishop, accompanied by Chester Kallman as his guardian angel.) Of course it doesn't mean that Auden's interest in religion was purely frivolous -- it's all part of the great English tradition of making jokes about the things that matter most to you -- but anyone who tries to deny the element of high camp has no business writing a book about Auden and Christianity.
posted by verstegan at 2:59 PM on May 27, 2006

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