Burning Man just moved one step closer to becoming a religion

Yesterday (December 6) the festival’s co-founder Larry Harvey made clear that Burning Man is now closer to becoming a religion than ever before. In a blogpost, he announced that the 2017 theme would be “Radical Ritual,” writing that “beyond the dogmas, creeds, and metaphysical ideas of religion, there is immediate experience. It is from this primal world that living faith arises. In 2017, we will invite participants to create interactive rites, ritual processions, elaborate images, shrines, icons, temples, and visions.”

On his blog, Harvey continues, “Our theme will occupy the ambiguous ground that lies between reverence and ridicule, faith and belief, the absurd and the stunningly sublime. The human urge to make events, objects, actions, and personalities sacred is protean. It can fix on and inhabit anyone or anything. This year our art theme will release this spirit in the Black Rock Desert.”

Harvey begins his post with this interesting quote by Krista Tippet:

“We are among the first peoples in human history who do not broadly inherit religious identity as a given, a matter of kin and tribe, like hair color and hometown. But the very fluidity of this—the possibility of choice that arises, the ability to craft and discern one’s own spiritual bearings—is not leading to the decline of spiritual life but its revival.”


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Jonathan Erdman

Writer. In the summers, I live and work in the incredible state of Alaska, in the bush community of McCarthy, as the Executive Director of the Wrangell Mountain Center. When not in McCarthy, you'll typically find me in the Santa Cruz Mountains of California, writing and working with local activists. My primary writing project right now is a novel set in remote bush Alaska, of the magical realism genre wherein an earnest and independent young woman finds a mysterious radio belonging to her grandmother, a device that has paranormal bandwidth and a disturbing ability to mess with one's mental stability.

2 thoughts on “Burning Man just moved one step closer to becoming a religion”

  1. Hi Jon!

    Good morning to you. I’m taking a break from grading papers, and I read with great interest this post about Burning Man. I can appreciate the spiritual consciousness of people, despite eschewing “dogmas, creeds, and metaphysics” because it shows the banality of secularism. It’s true that human beings are inherently spiritual beings and spiritual searchers, longing for more than the world of the mundane. In that mundanity, I would risk running afoul of many by submitting that even the most glorious landscape, the loftiest, majestic, mountain view, and the painted sky at sunset yielding the Milky Way in the night sky–these too are banal to us. Proof of this is in what Burning Man seeks to espouse: creating symbols which connect us to the wonder of nature which just isn’t enough, and is therefore on the spectrum of banality. Contrariwise, I think it’s interesting that, on the surface, one may eschew dogma, creed, and metaphysical prognostications, but when one ponders the nature of this awe-inspiring (and banal) reality external to our minds, dogma, creed, and especially metaphysics (being as such, essence/existence, act/potency) are unavoidable and eventually lead us to the Necessary Being who is intimately tied to us as we participate in being from the Supreme Being Himself.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hey Chris! I assume that you’re back to grading papers. Good luck.

    Question: What do you mean by “banality” and “the mundane”? I mean, I know these words probably seem fairly self-explanatory, but I am not quite following because to me standing at the edge of the Grand Canyon or spending four days kayaking in the wilderness alongside glaciers and among humpback whales — well, these experiences have never struck me as “mundane” or “banal.” Perhaps they are mundane for the whale, but for me, there was the definite sense of being caught up in something greater than myself. I’ve always thought of it as something like the “sensus divinitatis,” as Calvin put it, or the “mysterium tremendum” as Otto termed it….So, I’m not quite following you on what you mean by “banality” and “the mundane.” And I’m not quite making the connection on how this might be a criticism of the folk who attend Burning Man. (For the record, I’ve never been.)

    I’m not certain I disagree with you. I’m also not certain there is a conflict with what the Burning Man folks experience. If I read them right, they seem to be suggesting that a ritual or sacred experience can be appreciated in its own right, in the moment, regardless of what metaphysical beliefs one may have. As the scriptures say, “the heavens declare the glory of God.”…So, question: If God’s glory is always on display, and if God’s essential interest is that humankind encounter God’s glory, experientially, through direct encounter, then why would one even need to add propotitional or theological content to the experience? Maybe “interest”is not a very good term to use here, but I’m kind of getting at something perhaps similar to the Westminster Catechism: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.” If our chief end is to glorify God, via direct encounter, then it seems to be fair to ask, “what’s theology got to do, got to do with it?”

    An example. If you share a moment of tenderness and openness with your wife, a moment of real love, shared between you, is it necessary to define the propositional characteristics of the encounter? Or can that encounter stand on its own?

    These days, I tend to think that awe-inspiring experiences (such as the sensus divinitatis and the mysterium tremendum) are themselves an encounter with God (via God’s creation) and hence sufficient in and of themselves with no further need of definition or linguistic explanation. Now, I’m not saying it might not be profitable to define and categorize, I’m just suggesting that it doesn’t add anything to the direct experience, in the same way that defining and describing a loving encounter with your wife would add anything to the immediate experience. The experience of love, to my mind, seems to be the most basic, most necessary level. That’s where I’m at, anyway.


Consider this post an invitation, an invitation to comment and collaborate ~ In Solidarity, JE

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