Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The new world religion

On the flight with Bernard Walsh and his father to Hawaii (in David Lodge's novel Paradise News) is Rupert Sheldrake, an anthropologist in the field of tourism, who has overheard the Walshes' conversation and approaches Bernard:
"He said you were a theologian."
      "Well, I teach in a theological college."
      "You're not a believer?"
      "Ideal," said Sheldrake. "I'm interested in religion myself, obliquely. The thesis of my book is that sightseeing is a substitute for religious ritual. The sightseeing tour as secular pilgrimage. Accumulation of grace by visiting the shrines of high culture. Souvenirs as relics. Guidebooks as devotional aids. You get the picture."
      "Very interesting," said Bernard. "So this is a sort of busman's holiday?" He indicated the Travelwise label on Sheldrake's stainless steel attaché case.
      "Good Lord, no," said Sheldrake with a mirthless smile. "I never go on holiday. That's why I moved into this field in the first place. I always hated holidays, even as a kid. Such a waste of time, sitting on the beach, making sandpies, when you could be at home doing some interesting hobby. Then, when I got engaged, we were both students at the time, my fiancée insisted on dragging me off to Europe to see the sights: Paris, Venice, Florence, the usual things. Bored the pants off me, till one day, sitting on a lump of rock beside the Parthenon, watching the tourists milling about, clicking their cameras, talking to each other in umpteen different languages, it suddenly struck me: tourism is the new world religion. Catholics, Protestants, Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, atheists—the one thing they have in common is they all believe in the importance of seeing the Parthenon. Or the Sistine Chapel, or the Eiffel Tower. I decided to make it my PhD subject. Never looked back...." [p. 61]

After visiting the exhibit of "The Unknown Monet: Pastels and Drawings" at The Clark in Williamstown, Massachusetts on Friday, I'd add the works of Claude Monet (1840-1926) to "the sights" that (in some sense) unite people in the visiting. A lily pond behind The Clark:


  1. Interesting comparison. I've made similar comparisons myself:

    Our society worships celebrities as our new Gods (in a similar fashion as the Greeks).

    We tend to use movies or other media as a means of worship to these Gods (View their exploits, copy their styles in our clothing, try to act like them in our own lives).

    Just a thought.

  2. Interesting thought. "The big screen" does have altar status, hard to deny that. And there are all those "tracts" and "pamphlets" at the checkout stands of our local supermarkets....