My son and I took lots of photos on our recent trip and I have used two to decorate this post. But before this trip I rarely took photographs. Yet after staying with two hosts who were published photographers and discussing their views on photography I have been inspired to perhaps attempt more photography in the future. Our kind Belgian host not only taught my son some photography, but also gave in a fun, introductory lesson in tabla.
In my last post, a commentor illustrated a possible misuse of photography:
“In the Louvre [museum, in France] in front of da Vinci’s Mona Lisa … I saw a tourist come up, take about 5-6 pictures, then leave. I don’t think he even saw the painting except thru the viewfinder!”
This photography criticism made me think the following analogy:
“People can use their religion just like they use their cameras: to either separate themselves from reality or to appreciate reality.”
Below I will push the analogy by listing both poor and skillful uses of religions and cameras. I invite readers to criticize my analogy. Readers who lump all practice of religion into the same pile or those who are reflexively anti-religious may object to the analogy. They may feel that there is no way that delusional beliefs can be used well. But I disagree: delusions can be used skillfully and religions can be much more than just delusions.
Indeed, most readers of this blog will probably agree to some extent with my efforts here. For instance, our young generous French hostess in this picture was unabashedly Catholic and after long talks about her past, I saw how her Catholicism has served her well as a fantastic life preserver and life amplifier.
My son and I met both religious and non-religious folks on this trip and enjoyed them all equally. But let me start with a list of shared misuses of both cameras and religions:
- Grasping for Immortality: Cameras can be used to try to create a sense of immortality. How many pictures are thrown away of people after they die (or within a generation or two)? When they snap the photo, part of their minds may be deceptively hoping to preserve more than is possible.
- Idealizing: Sometimes, with tweeking of angles, lenses, timing setting etc, a photo can look much more magical than reality.
- Filtering: We often take family photos when people are smiling, laughing or happy; when they are victorious, successful or proud. We rarely intentionally try to capture failure, sadness, jealously, fear or such aspects of our reality. Some photographers do this, of course, but it is usually of others, not their own lives.
- Amplification of Self: Sometimes we want to feel accomplished or to brag about our experiences: see where I have been; who I have met; what I have done.
I am guilty of all of these criticisms. But we inevitably mix both the good and the bad. Let me try and list some of the possible skillful uses that people make of both their cameras and their religions:
- Celebrating life: making art, enriching experience
- Fighting injustice, coercion and more
- Acknowledging suffering and encouraging sympathy and kindness
- Preserving, teaching and sharing with others
- Building community, friendship and family
Question for readers: Can you think of other applications or refutations of my analogy?
Picture note: Our French hostess illuminates the sign-word “Rappel” which puzzled us throughout our trip in France. Apparently in French signs it just means “Remember”! So a stop sign with the “Rappel” below it means: “Stop! Remember, we mean it!”. This struck me as hilarious. Our hostess never thought of how odd that may seem and enjoyed it with us.