Monday, August 06, 2007

Religion and the Arts

Camille Paglia has an extraordinarily good essay discussing religion and the arts. Near the beginning, she asserts the following:

I would argue that the route to a renaissance of the American fine arts lies through religion. Let me make my premises clear: I am a professed atheist and a pro-choice libertarian Democrat. But based on my college experiences in the 1960s, when interest in Hinduism and Buddhism was intense, I have been calling for nearly two decades for massive educational reform that would put the study of comparative religion at the center of the university curriculum. Though I shared the exasperation of my generation with the moralism and prudery of organized religion, I view each world religion, including Judeo-Christianity and Islam, as a complex symbol system, a metaphysical lens through which we can see the vastness and sublimity of the universe. Knowledge of the Bible, one of the West's foundational texts, is dangerously waning among aspiring young artists and writers. When a society becomes all-consumed in the provincial minutiae of partisan politics (as has happened in the US over the past twenty years), all perspective is lost. Great art can be made out of love for religion as well as rebellion against it. But a totally secularized society with contempt for religion sinks into materialism and self-absorption and gradually goes slack, without leaving an artistic legacy.

Ms. Paglia proceeds to provide an overview of the relationship between religion (mostly Christianity) and the arts over the history of western culture. Though I would quibble with her on some of the broad strokes of the essay, it is an outstanding summary.

As a Christian, I would note that one of the underlying, though not overtly stated points, of the essay is unquestionably and sadly true. European and American Christianity, which has contributed greatly and positively to artistic endeavors over the centuries, has a much diminished impact in more recent times. Much of Christian attention to the arts is purely negative, taking the form of opposition to various vulgarities. As Ms. Paglia ably demonstrates, that need not be the case, as Christian themes provide a context in which creative endeavors should flourish.

Hat Tip: Evangelical Outpost

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