Truth of Art (As Guard Of Meaning) VS. Truth Of Ideological Beliefs (As A Fusion Between Reality And Unreality)

Emil Nolde, “Resurrection”
Emil Nolde, “Resurrection”

The body of Christ had replaced the Temple rituals, just as the words of Jesus had supplanted the Torah.
Reza Aslan, “Zealot (The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth)”, Random House, 2013, p. 173

It was precisely the fervor with which the followers of Jesus believed in his resurrection that transformed this tiny Jewish sect into the largest religion in the world… According to the Law of Moses, Jesus’ crucifixion actually marks him as the accursed of God. “Anyone hung on a tree [that is, crucified] is under God’s curse” (Deuteronomy 21.23) But if Jesus did not actually die – if his death were merely a prelude to his spiritual evolution – then the cross would no longer be a curse or a symbol of failure. It would be transformed into a symbol of victory… The resurrection stories in the gospels were created to do just that: to put flesh and bones upon an already accepted creed; to create narrative out of established belief; and most of all, to count the charges of critics who argued that Jesus’ followers saw nothing more than a ghost or a spirit…
Reza Aslan, Ibid, p. 175 – 176

The Christ of Paul’s creation has utterly subsumed the Jesus of history… The memory of Jesus of Nazareth – Jesus the man, of the revolutionary zealot who walked across Galilee gathering an army of disciples with the goal of establishing the kingdom of God on earth, the magnetic preacher who defied the authority of the Temple priesthood in Jerusalem, the radical Jewish nationalist who challenged the Roman occupation and lost, has been almost completely lost to history.
Reza Aslan, Ibid, p. 215 – 216

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Seeing Christ appeared, handsome and beautiful, amidst white flames, in simultaneously bright and a fairytale-ishly water-colorly tender hues, and noticing simultaneity of this apparition with a miraculously mighty subliminal blow destroying the Jerusalem Temple of the Pharisees and dissipating the soldiers – we feel that Nolde intentionally doesn’t leave any doubts about the ontological status of Christ’s resurrection. According to the artist, resurrection as a phenomenon is a combination of imagination and belief.

The miracle of Christ’s resurrection, according to Nolde’s painting, is psychologically projected; a kind of hallucination, but a psychological complex of those who believe that it’s “objective” reality is not less strong among those who don’t believe that Christ is God-Son, as among those who want to believe in Christ’s godly status. For the second group to believe in Christ is the equivalent of being saved, but the first category believes in super-natural power that may revenge them for their violent stance against Christ as a “megalomaniacal” human being – they are afraid of supernatural retaliation. These disbelievers in Christ as God-Son and supporters of Crucifixion fear that Christ still can be connected with some super-human powers capable of retaliating/punishing sinners. That’s why Nolde paints three soldiers facing Christ’s Resurrection, in a panic – face of the one near the right margin of the painting is transformed into, as if, a skull, the one close to a falling column of the Temple is thrown down by, as if, a giant hand of punishment, and the third is rushing away in horror from the scene, as if he never was here and hoping that nobody will remember his face. In other words, Christ‘s Resurrection smashes the face of one soldier, breaks the body of the other and instantly changes the identity of the third who loses his loyalty to his referent group and to his superiors.

But what lies behind Nolde’s suggestion that Christ’s resurrection is an imaginary experience and based either on fear (in those who have sinned by participating in torture and murder of the one who is helpless), or on a passionate belief (like in members of early Christian sect, looking for meaning of their life that will certify their ultimate salvation)? Nolde made many paintings describing various aspects of Christ’s life, but here he insists that resurrection is an imaginary event psychologically supported by belief.

It is a common understanding amongst Christians that (positive and assertive) belief comes when factual life is incompatible with it; that belief is needed to help people to face the inhumane and unbearable reality. But it is, it seems, a big and, may be, a decisive difference when the norms of reality logically opposes the principles expressed in belief, and when reality is incompatible with, intolerant to the very meaning of belief and full of animosity towards the very principles of living according to belief. We today, in the 21st century, in the age of austerity (as a matter-of-factly idea of neocons planning to destroy prosperity of American population), are especially sensitive to the processes destructive to life. When life itself is under attack, religious belief is perceived as the only chance for salvation in a world turning against life instead of nurturing it.

Beliefs become especially passionate and tend to turn “extreme” and become, as if, instead of life, when conditions of life substantially deteriorate and under the danger of being destroyed. Early Christianity was this kind of period. The times of and around WWI is another example of living in the period of existential collapse. Just because we are living in the 21st century in a time of environmental catastrophe, wars, disasters and neoconservative anti-humanism, we are very empathic towards Nolde’s feelings. When there is no hope for life in objective terms, we unconsciously mobilize our psychological energies including imagination and ability to believe in what is not congruent with reality in order to invoke the spirit of salvation amidst not objectively solvable social and worldly situations we are facing.

In this desperately psychological sense Nolde’s water-color addresses our time and similar periods in human history. Mobilization of our psychological mechanisms during impossible historical epochs is not too helpful – a lot of archaic absurdities come to the surface in a form of illusions of all sorts, but when everything else is taken away it’s the only thing that can help, at least in the short range, even if it’s for too high price. Nolde calls us to another path. He asserts the genius of serious art as a victory not just over reality but over imagination with its tendency to deteriorate into a delirious and utopian ideology in order to dominate reality. Art creates the third way – towards education and maturation of the human soul, towards meaning that is able to stay itself and not collapse into delirium. Art asserts the victory of meaning over despotism of denotation. Art asks for postponement of “a final resolution” but makes possible its hypothetical and circumstantial but real realizations.