Philip Whiteley's Blog

August 20, 2018

A shrine to the concept of faith. And books

Filed under: Uncategorized — felipewh @ 10:50 am

If there is a single theme that has haunted me, and my work, it is that of the dominant narrative; the story that takes hold in a community, or nation; the influence it has, and the reasons why a viewpoint became dominant.

The influence of a narrative is often the subject of discussion and debate; the reasons for its popularity, less so. In our secular world, it is common to believe that accepted views are informed solely by the facts of the matter, and the available evidence. Yet again and again in my adult life, I have come across individuals who pride themselves on being rational, sceptical and evidence-based, who assert judgement as though it were fact and either get the evidence base wrong or, more commonly, selectively cite from parts of it to support an ideological conviction.

Take the question of human rights. Many folk point to accords and international agreements that support them, tacitly assuming that the concept was invented by lawyers. Yet the history of the development of human rights is longer, more fascinating and more spiritual. The abolition of slavery came about as a result of a committed campaign by evangelical Christians, motivated by what they understood as the Holy Spirit. This historical evidence is overlooked in the dominant narratives of today’s secular society.

I like to call myself these days an agnostic Christian, or a lapsed atheist. I have difficulty with organised religion, but my observation is that humans are spiritual beings. Values matter. Without values, without a concept of the spiritual and the sacred, we would still have slavery. Also important are rituals, shrines, worship and prayer; they are more than just evolutionary devices (almost all texts on evolution contain a substantial amount of hypothesis and belief – very few of the findings or assumptions are testable in a rigorous scientific manner).

Belief, I have come to realize, is inescapable. So is mythology and the worship of saints. Atheist socialists, for example, worship a whole pantheon of martyrs and saints. Just this weekend I saw someone wearing a Salvador Allende t-shirt; just the iconic face with horn-rimmed spectacles and prominent chin. No words were needed.

In Margate next month, as part of the literary festival, some local artists are to create a series of shrines in honour of the work of four selected authors. The work uses the concept of ‘Ofrendas’, Spanish for ‘Offerings’ and is the idea of local artist Elspeth Penfold and the group Thread and Word. It draws inspiration from Dee Heddon’s Walking Libraries concept, and the book Home Altars of New Mexico by Dana Salvo. The installation consists of mini-shrines to the work of different authors; Elspeth will lead a tour of the shrines, positioned around Margate, and has worked with filmmaker Anna Bowman to create a film of such a tour, to be screened at the Foyle Room in the Turner Gallery Margate between 10.30am and 11.15 on Saturday 29 September. The full tour then starts at 11.30.

I am honoured to be one of the authors selected, along with others who will be speaking at the festival: Elise Valmorbida, Jess Kidd and Owen Lowery. Most appropriately, the work of mine to be featured, Marching on Together, contains some dialogue discussing the concept of secular saints. One of the characters, Terry, observes:

“It’s a natural human tendency to describe folk as saints or villains, even if the reality is somewhere in between. It’s like, we can’t cope with too many facts. It’s just not as satisfying to say “Well, he were good in some ways, but difficult in others, blah blah. Makes you sound indecisive or disloyal.”

For more on the Ofrendas project, go to this link. To the artist Elspeth Penfold, I express my gratitude at being selected. How did I come to be chosen? I’m going to thank the Holy Spirit.


  1. Your blog his week could be mapped against Jean Gebser’s seminal work (English title) The Ever-Present Origin (1949/1953, Two Volumes) where he gives a detailed and scholarly account of the history of the structures of consciousness from the archaic structure, to the consciousness that haunts you – the mental-rational consciousness in its deficient form. And he offers a follow-up thesis on the Manifestations of the Aperspectival World; An Attempt at the Concretion of the Spiritual (1953) which will, I think, make your soul sing. Good blog.

    Comment by Dr Josie Gregory — August 20, 2018 @ 4:22 pm | Reply

  2. Thank you! I am aware of Jung’s work in (I think) a similar vein, but not this. Always nice to have a reader brainier than me.

    Comment by felipewh — August 20, 2018 @ 4:25 pm | Reply

  3. […] weekend I took part in the Margate Bookie, including the amazing shrines walk I blogged about in August. The walk around the literary shrines – dedicated to work of four selected authors, including […]

    Pingback by Autumn tour blog | Philip Whiteley's Blog — October 3, 2018 @ 1:01 pm | Reply

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