I was talking the other day with a friend about the differences between religions and their approach to bad deeds. She was arguing that Christianism focuses on redemption and the possibility of overcoming bad deeds (and saving yourself / go to heaven) by repenting and embracing god. On the other hand, she mentioned that Eastern religions were more focused on fate and the idea that bad deeds results in adverse consequences for that person, who would reincarnate in a lower life form as punishment. I commented back, half-joking, that this allowed for people to “shop” around religions depending on their circumstances in life, with people who committed crimes more likely to embrace Christianism later in life, as it offered the prospect of a better outcome. She mentioned that this of course did not matter much, as some Eastern religions do not care about affiliations or initiation rituals and anybody, regardless of their religious denomination, was capable of reaching Nirvana or being punished depending on their daily actions. We then spoke about reincarnation and I remember arguing that unlike Christianism, which seems to only offer salvation or eternal punishment (a binary choice), Buddhism seems to offer the possibility of you trying to improve, eternally if necessary through various lives, until you improve yourself enough to reach Nirvana.
I have now listened to the recording of this conversation, which happened 2 days before I made this entry in my blog. Here are the main differences that I could ascertain from the recording:
- The comparison made by my friend was more along the lines of the comfort offered by the different religions. She mentioned that if something bad happened to you in life, Christianity gives you the comfort that if you pray enough there could be a miracle that enable you to overcome this. On the other hand, she argued that Buddhism offered no such comfort because adversity was the consequence of our actions. I did not remember the “confort” angle of the conversation.
- The point my friend made about people of any denomination being able to reach Nirvana was made much later in the discussion, when we were talking about reincarnation and the possibility of improving through our different lives.
- There is a whole part of the conversation that I did not remember at all, when my friend started to talk about money and prosperity as a symbol of god’s favour, something that certain Christian denominations believe in, whereas in Buddhism reincarnating without money did not have any particular connotations.
My account of the conversation was mostly accurate for the points I remember making, but I missed or misinterpreted some of the points made by my friend. I presume it is normal that our perception of things is influenced by our own prejudices or by our own sense of what is important. It seems inevitable that in our recollections, particularly as days pass, we tend to give more importance to our experience and interpretation of the events, than to what actually happened, and inevitably we tend to give more weight to our intervention than what is due. I guess this is the case because we are constantly analysing the information that we perceive and as we try to make sense of this, we attach moral judgements to each of these interpretations, with the end result being mollified by this.
In a way, a reenacted photograph, based on something we have experienced, is likely to be more the product of our own interpretation rather than an accurate depiction. Like in the case of the recorded conversation, there will be elements of the reenacted scene that are incidental to the action and that we will not notice at all in the first place, because our vision, like all our other senses, is conditioned by our prejudices to focus on what we want to see, rather than what is there.
But the question is, does this really matter? As long as nobody is under the illusion that what we are seeing is a record of real events, the reenacted photograph is a necessary fudge of news and the artist’s own input, which is sometimes necessary to add aesthetic pull or even his or her own commentary to the events. To me, perhaps the most interesting part of this exercise was that it highlighted the need for the artist to consider the existence of diverging points of view – as I am sure the recollection that my friend had of this conversation would be different from mine – and that, when re-enacting a photograph, the experience could be enriched by exploring these alternative perspectives.