Atheists on religious art

The Atheist and the Crucifix, an article written by Washington D.C. artist Menachem Wecker (who also writes for Iconia) is an interesting read. Wecker compiles a series of quotes from atheists and religious types to (unscientifically) gauge how the entirely non-religious — supposedly entirely non-religious — view religious art.

One of the most interesting responses is at the beginning of his article, where The Infidel Guy‘s Reginald V. Finley Sr. expresses his disgust with the crucifix: “How would we feel today if I wore a miniature bust of JFK around my neck with two bullet holes in his head?” he asked. “People would call me crazy, nuts, sick and deranged. Yet many Christians do this on a daily basis.”

Christians shouldn’t be surprised at comments like this in light of Scripture such as 1 Corinthians 1:18: “The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” For what it’s worth, Protestants generally wear crosses as opposed to crucifixes in my experience; Catholics are more likely to wear a crucifix. Both potentially possess quite visceral implications for anyone with the slightest knowledge of this historical form of capital punishment.

More interesting to me is the (somewhat jumbled) response of blogger Ralph Dumain on Reason and Society. Wecker originally sent a flurry of emails to atheists around the web including Dumain, however in the end Dumain was not interviewed for the article. Dumain suggests that a “creative person would not express himself in the same fashion at every point in time and space, but would push the envelope given the tools and information at hand in any given cultural environment.” This smacks of the artist-as-genius mentality from where I sit. I’m all about “pushing the envelope,” but I’m not about to say that every creative person in the world must do this. After all, if we take Solomon’s wisdom at face value, “there is nothing new under the sun.” And he said this 3000 years ago. All we’re doing as creative people today is rehashing old materials and processes. We may come up with our own styles or masterpieces that are “original,” but originality doesn’t define good art.

I suppose citing Solomon isn’t worth much to an atheist, but what the hay.

Also from Dumain’s post is this:

    “The idea that a person would be interested in specifically religious art in the contemporary world rubs me the wrong way, just the stomach-churning feeling I would get from contemplating the notion of “Christian rock”, or Christian music as a pop music form. It’s not that I would not appreciate the religious artistic products of the past, but there is something contrived and dishonest or just plain tacky about this sort of thing in the present.

    Why do I think this? Well, one approach to art is propaganda, but I don’t think that art with religious content that genuinely moved people in the past was merely propaganda, and in any case did not have to compete with a secular society in order to prove itself as an alternative message. The conditions of the time, in concert with symbolism and the avenues of expressivity, would tend to create a genuine concrete content that could outlive its time and intention. Someone could have thought to himself: well, I want to create Christian, Buddhist, etc., art, but to do that today, in the Western nations anyway, seems to me rather hollow and kitschy.”

Why would he think that to create “religious” art in modern times is hollow and kitschy in comparison to three or four hundred years ago? Perhaps I posted about one of the reasons earlier this week when talking about craft. Perhaps Betty Spackman gives some insight in her book about Christians and kitsch, which I hope to get as a Christmas gift this year. Regardless, I can’t blame Dumain in general for thinking this way, as sad as that may be. But as we’ve discussed on this blog numerous times in the last year and a half, that is changing — and it’s about time. I’d guess that unless Dumain is very heavily into the modern art world this would be hard for him to see.

Heck, it’s hard for most Christians to see.

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About pcNielsen
Paul Nielsen founded The Aesthetic Elevator late in 2005. He owns a piece of paper, located somewhere in his house (not on the wall), stating that he earned a B.F.A. from the University of Nebraska around about 2001. While there, he studied studied architecture, graphic design and ceramics, graduating with a degree in studio art. Paul presently serves as communications manager for a small non-profit doing their print design and marketing. He spends as much time sculpting in his studio as possible — which is not nearly enough. Visit his website at pcNielsen.com.

One Response to Atheists on religious art

  1. Tobias says:

    I myself love religious art. I would say “good religious art”, but a lot of the “good” is personal preference/view/understanding/etc. I don’t know how “religious” art can ever really become hollow, but I do see how, in some forms of it (music specifically), certain phrases or thoughts can be so repeated that they start to lose original meaning.

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