(We’re basing this discussion on Terry Eagleton’s “Culture and the Death of God.” Read all the book club entries)
We tend to think of a secular society as one with no religion, but in fact no such animal exists – or ever has existed. Instead, a “secular society” is one in which religion is not a central organizing principle but exists only as one of many potential forms of amusement or self-help.
“Societies become secular not when they dispense with religion altogether, but when they are no longer especially agitated by it,” Eagelton notes at the opening of this chapter. “Another index of secularization is when religious faith ceases to be vitally at stake in the political sphere, not just when church attendance plummets or Roman Catholics are mysteriously childless.”
This unites religion with art and cultural cannons, all of which have been impacted by what Eagleton refers to as “the privatization of the symbolic sphere.”
“It is when artists, like bishops, are unlikely to be hanged that we can be sure that modernity has set in,” he writes. “They do not matter enough for that.”
For artists to matter socially, art has to be more than just a matter of private taste. Indeed, for anything beyond raw power and money to matter culturally, it must invoke a common bond – be more than a matter of personal taste or fashion. Burning Man is one among many kinds of culture that fall under this shadow. To the extent that Burning Man is attempting to re-enchant the world or make life more meaningful … to the extent that we want art to matter … Burning Man faces off against the same forces that have displaced religion.