Religion: Can We Know God? (12)-Art and Religion

   The Trinity of Human Activities (Religion, Art and Science) could benefit one another if the human beings involved could stop protecting their turf and open up to the whole human experience. Man is inquiring, artistic and unquestionaly religious. There is no reason of Science, Art or Religion why the three or any two of the three must perpetually disagree.

   Religion matters because it is the One of the Three that brings morality to all Three. "Art imitates life," we are told, and so can enhance life in one of two ways. Art can inspire man to search out eauty, in which the element Truth must make a lucid showing. We can love Surrealism or Atonal Music or Performance Art but there must be some meaningful, valid statement in any form of Art for Beauty to mount the dais.

   Art can also make us stop when it demonstrates the ugly Actuality behind much human action. The famous picture, Viet Nam era, of a young girl running naked down a jungle road, arms flung wide, her clothing burned off by jellied gasoline (napalm), certainly reflects Actuality. Her painful picture pricks the conscience of any father who sees it, regardless of nationality, race or creed. To look on her unprotected picture is to feel a real need for all war to end and, with the end of war, hopefully, would come the end of innocent suffering. Art may imitate life but the imitation is actually reflection of Actuality and our Actual Reflection stirs us morally.

   Yet, Art claims it reflects life, by which its proponents mean Art is neutral in values. Art can only call out of a person what is in the person already, at least in germination. Art can reflect Religious Truth but it cannot be Religious Truth. In its better moments, Art would not make such a claim.

   Religion, in its higher forms, asks persons to consider real art, in the holy painting of God on the canvas of Creation. Old Covenant Law is strict in forbidding idolatry but even Old Covenant literature is not anti-Art. Altars are set up to God, the Tabernacle and then the Temple are replete with Truth-laden artistic symbolism.

    When Religious functionaries point to Creation as proof of the existence of God, we actually mean to use the word "Complexity," not just Creation. To sense the artistic beauty of sunset or the fourth movement of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony (the "Ode to Joy," out of which come four hymns in the Old Hymnbook and all of which was written after the master was deaf) requires the use of systems so complex and synchronization so perfect it cannot be said to be accidental. These processes are the ones required to sense Artistic beauty. How much more is required to create that Art?

   Art requires protection from the ravages of time and the prejudice of persons. There should be no debate over funding Art (Art has the hardest time, it seems, supporting itself) but great debate about the Truth behind the Beauty expressed in Art. Actuality does not require Truth, at least not deep Truth, to be presented. Since this is true, somethings represented as Art may exhibit that which is Actual but skip deep Truth. Art is a secondary source of reality, while Religion cannot do without reality for even an instant. Religion must seek and speak for deep Truth. Without Truth, deep Truth, religion is finally useless.

    Religion, contrarily, cannot function in the least part without its search for deep Truth. Superficiality is fine for Shock Art and for the diletante religiosity that goes with it. Religion itself cannot subsist on half-truth, though some large church-type organizations seem to base their entire (and secularly successful) programs on the lowest possible intellectual/spiritual level. When these churche-type organizations do succeed temporally they mostly make disciples for the kind of practical agnositicism where modern Western culture now flounders.

   Yes, in answer to your thoughtful insight, I just linked much of American modern religiosity  to the kind of Shock Art Howard Stern puts on the radio waves, for instance. Religion without deep Truth is like Art without homage to deep truth; it looks like something that ought to be better but no inspection will inspire much more than pained resignation over "how low we have sunk."

   Art needs Truth. For Truth, Art needs religion. If Religion is superficial, the Art it inspires can scarcely hope to be more.



1 thought on “Religion: Can We Know God? (12)-Art and Religion”

  1. I think the problem that has seduced much of the modern evangelical culture is a fascination with the pragmatic. Preaching and church ministries have to ‘work’, or they are seen as outdated and useless. Pragmatism has little use for art, and not much more for religion that doesn’t give you 5 action points for improving your day-to-day life.

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