Monday, March 29, 2010

Religion as art

Consider this: God as painter. God creates many "paintings" - Christianity being but one of these, along with Buddhism, Hinduism, Voudou, Islam, nature-worship. Each piece of artwork is unique and has its own artistic reasons for existing as it does; a good painting includes dissonance, for all of the pieces taken as a whole (even those which are, individually, seemingly 'bad') add up to an aesthetic completeness. Now, a given individual may have a favorite painting. Indeed, even God may have a favorite. But this does not in the slightest imply correctness or truth. Merely because you like one painting more than another does not imbue the first with more truth or right than the latter. It may be that you are more drawn to one and, in being more "in tune" with it (the way one can be with a particular symphony or poem), are able to extract more "truth" from it - you are more moved by one piece of artwork than another. This is good inasmuch as it allows you to perceive the divine, but should not prevent you from understanding that another person gets the same "truth" from a different symphony, or painting, or sculpture.
Perhaps it's not a new idea - religious pluralism certainly isn't. But I think it helps us, as a template, to better understand the nature of the divine.


  1. Hi, Kelly-

    There seem to be a pile of assumptions here- god exists, god has favorite art, our favorite art says anything about something outside our own tastes in art, that the divine exists and has a nature, etc.. Sorry to beat a dead horse, but you are making a case for subjective pleasure, (perhaps even therapeutic or psychological utility), not objective anything, let alone truth.

    Insofar as the divine is our fantasy of great and beautiful things, we envision it / portray it through art. But that art can not in turn tell us about great and beautiful things- that would be circular logic. It tells us about ourselves.

  2. Kelly,

    I agree with you that if religion has something to say about things that we can experience which lie outside the realm of our comprehension, then all religions have something to contribute. Of course this is not confined to religion, but includes art, community, relationships, etc. But religion specifically tried to focus on "ultimate" questions. It's success rate is a different subject....often I feel it succeeds and fails at the same time, but anyway.....

    I agree with you, that despite this realization, it is best to find a religion to call your own. I play many instruments, but I have studied the cello with the most discipline. This informs my knowledge of what I have and haven't accomplished on the other instruments I play. If I didn't have one "home" instrument, I would appreciate the others less.

    nice post.

  3. forgot to check the "email followup comments" dealie.....

  4. Burk - of course there must be assumptions, but I feel there is still some illustrative value to the analogy. If the oft-quoted statistics are true, that somewhere around 90% of the population believes in some form of "god," then it is not an invalid assumption for such an argument.
    Following your comment regarding art telling us about ourselves, if God was in fact the artist, would not God's artwork tell us about God (presuming, of course, that God was the artist)?
    Steven - a friend of mine has made similar comments, in essence saying that for him, such things as art and religion are inextricably linked. They awaken the same responses within us.

  5. Hi, Kelly-

    Yes, we have competing assumptions, yours positive and mine negative. If popularity were dispositive, the positive assumption would prevail. But philosophically, it is the negative assumption that prevails in the absence of evidence.

    "If god were the artist..." From what I understand, you are the artist, and posted your art yourself, on your own web site. Right-on and kudos! That you don't entirely know whence your inspiration comes from is a matter of psychological curiosity, but shouldn't be a matter of divine grandiosity. Not without some more evidence, I'd suggest.

  6. Burk, I agree that the metaphor is lacking; I don't fully believe it myself (while I do at least find it an interesting mental image). It lends itself too much, I think, to that Protestant predestination - somehow "the world's a stage," but with a divine playwrite and no improvisation. I can't believe that, so in the end the metaphor breaks down.
    As to your statement that "it is the negative assumption that prevails in the absence of evidence," isn't this the true basis of that spiritual virtue, hope? That, in the absence of (any) evidence (either confirming or refuting), to have hope is to believe in the possibility of evidence? I know the maxim, "absence of evidence isn't evidence of absence," but in even a scientifically rigorous way, it's true to an extent. We can place an upper limit on something, but we can't rule it out completely.

  7. (And my apologies - it's playwright, isn't it? Oops!)

  8. Hi, Kelly-

    You bring up the important issue of hope. I'm a big fan of Susan Neiman, on that and related topics. Hope was a big enlightenment value, as was reverence, actually. Here is a podcast too.


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