In an interview posted at Salon today, Camille Paglia lets loose on godless chic, arguing that it has poisoned contemporary film and art:
People in the humanities have sunk into this shallow, snobby, liberal style of stereotyping religious believers as ignorant and medieval, which is total nonsense. And meanwhile, the entire professional class in Manhattan and Los Angeles is doping themselves on meds and trying to survive in their manic, anxiety-filled world. And what are they producing that is of the slightest interest? Nothing. Nothing is being produced in movies or the fine arts today (except in architecture) that is not derivative of something else.
Why is this? Because the fuel for great art is spiritual quest and an orientation toward the ontological mystery (the mystery of being). In postmodern secularism, these are both ironically abandoned:
A responsible atheist needs to be informed about religion in order to reject it. But the shallow, smirky atheism that’s au courant is simply strengthening the power of the Right. Secular humanism is spiritually hollow right now because art is so weak. If you don’t have art as a replacement for the Bible, then you’ve got nothing that is culturally sustaining. If all you have is “Mad Men” and the Jon Stewart “Daily Show,” then religion is going to win, because people need something as a framework to understand life.
Paglia thinks the original hippie energies of the 1960s possessed an intuitive wisdom about religion’s value that is now lacking in educated circles:
Every great religion contains enormous truths about the universe. That’s why my ’60s generation followed the Beat movement toward Zen Buddhism and then opened up that avenue to Hinduism — which is why the Beatles went to India with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Then it all disappeared, when people became disillusioned with gurus. But spiritual quest was one of the great themes of the ’60s that has been lost and forgotten — that reverent embrace of all the world religions. This is why our art has become so narrow and empty.
So Paglia is calling for the return of spiritual quest and reverence for the revival of art and culture. And she has nothing good to say about Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins:
One of the themes in my [new] book is the current impoverishment of the art world because of its knee-jerk hostility to religion, which is everywhere. That kind of sneering at religion that Christopher Hitchens specialized in, despite his total ignorance of religion and his unadmirable lifestyle, was no model for atheism. I think Hitchens was a burden to atheism in terms of his decadent circuit of constant parties and showy blather. He was a sybaritic socialite and roué — not a deep thinker — whose topical, meandering writing will not last. And I’m no fan of Richard Dawkins’ sniping, sniggering style of atheism, either.
I’ve been making some of these arguments at this blog for a few years now. For a sane contemporary meditation on the ontological mystery, I wonder if Paglia has seen Samsara yet.