Monday, October 8, 2018

2 Sides of the Same Coin

“…Vedanta sets up no wall between religion and science. No Indian Galileo was forced to recant his heresies. Truth is truth. You can find it in the outside world, where we in the West have located what we like to call science, and you can find it in the world within, where – if we still believe in such a world – we confine religion. But they are different ways of looking at reality, not different realities.”
– Michael N. Nagler, Gandhi’s Way to God

Based on the Vedas, ancient scriptural writings that have influenced Hindu societies and religions for thousands of years, Vedanta (or Vedic philosophy) offers an alternative view of the relationship between religion / faith and philosophy / reason explored by David Davalos in Wittenberg.The characters of Luther and Faust embody the struggle that occurs when these two points of view refuse to acknowledge that they are looking at the same thing. 

‘Luther: It contradicts the word of God.
Faust: It also happens to be true.
Luther: Apostacy! That way lies the road to hell!’

The consequences of this division play out in subtler, but no less important ways in this script. The conflict is not only between religion / faith and philosophy / reason as embodied by Martin Luther and John Faust. Conflicts emerge between the reason inreligion and the faith inphilosophy. Luther truly grapples with the devil once he understands that his own reason, which is leading him to a Truth, contradicts his faith. Faust suffers no less when the results of his reason lead to outcomes different from those he knewwould come to pass.

Hamlet personifies the schizophrenic mind which is forced to reconcile this conundrum. It is impossible for the young prince to escape the friction of these two forces because he encounters them while in the confines of University, which should be the safest place for these debates to happen. When Hamlet makes a decision based on one world view or the other he is given pause by the same voice that prods Luther: ‘what if it isn’t true?’ The question arises: is whatHamlet decides more important than the fact thathe decides?

The set for this production reflects the Vedic sentiment that there is ‘no wall between religion and science.’ One side of the set represents Luther’s office and classroom, the other, Faust’s. Both are visible for the entire play, always present in the mind of the characters and the view of the audience. Action happening in one location can bleed into the other, while the setting of the scene will be defined by projections. The audience has a visual juxtaposition of the internal influences working on the characters which are inescapable in the bubble that is a college campus.

Apparently, Fausts’ travels have not taken him pass the Middle East, for if they had, the Vedas would definitely be on his shelf. Perhaps then he would be able to see Reason in God and God in Reason more easily. However, that would not leave us with much of a play.

Wittenberg is a comedy, after all (tragical-comical-historical, if we are to put a fine point on it). It is a funny play, a humorous play, a witty play, a smart play – and yet the comedy comes from a place of tragedy. There is great comedy to come from watching people stumble around in the dark. Nagle describes the tragedy above: that we do not recognize that philosophy and religion are describing the same reality; that each are telling us something different, together giving us a more complete picture of the whole. There is great comedy to come from watching people stumble around in the dark.

Does Wittenberg settle this argument of which point of view best describes this reality? No. It is a good play in that it offers questions, opinions, follies and passions, but no answers. If Davalos gave us only one way to look at the world, only one point of view, that would mean this world and the play would be pretty flat.

- Andy Kirtland, Artistic Director
The New Renaissance Theatre Company

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