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Marijuana, animation, and religion - Elf M. Sternberg
Marijuana, animation, and religion
Last night, while fairly drunk on a New Year's Eve party, I tweeted out: That's really flippin' inartful, so let me unpack it further.

The other day I read one of those Christian supremacist articles about Paul Verhoven, the director of Robocop, Starship Troopers, and Showgirls, among other films. Verhoven wrote a rather moving piece about how once, tired and heavily depressed over a relationship he had that was falling apart, he stumbled into a church and had a very numinous experience. Sunlight poured through the stained glass windows, and Verhoven experienced something very much, he described, like the Presence of God.

After the experience, he was even more committed to making secular, highly visceral films with as little religious content as either. The Christian writer claimed Verhoven had had a real taste of the one true God, the one everyone who's not a Christian knows in the truth but denies it because "they want to live in sin." (Apparently, abstemious Muslims fasting through Ramadan know they are "living in sin," as do vegetarian, celibate Buddhists, Native American drum speakers and even Australian aboriginals.)

According to those friends of mine who are serious potheads, I've never been high. I've tried marijuana but I've never been, as they put it, "Y'know, high high." A few times I have experienced it strongly enough to have very mild visual hallucinations when I closed my eyes. The visuals have always been highly geometric, mostly two-dimensional, with strongly repeating motifs. And they've always been heavily informed by animation. Specifically, the highly geometric animation styles of late 1970s through mid 1980s, along with the glossy metallic look that was so popular when the Video Toaster was the hottest rendering tool around.

For a while, I wondered if my trips were informed by animation, or if the animation itself had been informed by early digital experimenters who were also into marijuana or heavier psychedelics. As far as I can tell, it's the former; reports of people tripping in the sixties are heavily informed by the static visuals available to them at the time, hence the popularity of colorful, random illustrations like tie-dye and the like.

In the early 1990s, I had the pleasure of going out to dinner with Timothy Leary. During that dinner, he regaled us with his ideas that churches were built as hallucination inducing centers; that the physicality of a church, it's massive stone structures, were not merely to emphasize a church's arrogant claim to the eternality of stone in a village of straw, and that it's gorgeous stained glass windows were not just to emphasize a church's command of the time and wealth of artisans, but that the overall impact of this huge enclosed space with the glowing, colorful light and magnificent choral sounds, were designed to induce and reinforce an experience most people didn't get from any other place in their lives.

Paul Verhoven knows what happened in that church. He was tempted to give up all rationality and hand over his experiences to the part of his brain that was heavily informed by the influences of his youth and his culture, the part that wants him to come over and grant power and privilege to a thought pattern, religious devotion, that has yet to prove its worth to humanity in the large. Glomming onto it to claim that "This proves my religion is the best one" misses the numinous experience of Muslim circling the Kaaba, or the meditator who has achieved a measure of sati. I don't deny that they happen; I don't deny that they're meaningfully numinous experiences. I just don't believe that any one of them is more than what mere human brains are capable of being and doing, without supernatural help.

Current Mood: happy happy

2 comments or Leave a comment
mejeep From: mejeep Date: January 2nd, 2017 07:52 am (UTC) (Link)
Well stated!
Some ceremonies include scent (incense) and foods, so more of your senses are involved.

Whether hypnotized by stained glass windows or blacklight posters, the visual stimulation is wonderful!
pixel39 From: pixel39 Date: January 3rd, 2017 06:59 pm (UTC) (Link)
A *cathedral* was not a hallucination-inducing center, it was a religious experience center.

A *church*, by contrast, was for daily/weekly devotions of the smaller sort. A Gothic church is very very different from a Gothic cathedral--it has nifty windows, generally, and more light than a Romanesque church, but it doesn't produce the same effect as a cathedral.

Gothic architecture was deliberately designed to further contemplation of the divine, and differently than Romanesque architecture. Romanesque is dark, brooding, hulking--the omnipresent stern god. Gothic is light and space and color, surrounding and lifting you to be part of the divine experience.


(I studied Gothic architecture extensively. It's a thing with me. ;-))
2 comments or Leave a comment