Art for art’s sake?

Last night I was trying to get some reading done for an essay, with half an eye on the television -watching BBC3, first about Baroque art and then about the love and work of John Constable.

And it struck me how much art has to thank God for. Populist atheists like Richard Dawkins and… (…er…sorry, can’t think of any others… he’s kind of cornered the market hasn’t he -like some kind of atheist pope) well -like him anyway (and yes I have read ‘The God Delusion’: the cover art was the most compelling bit). Anyway… people who like atheism try to suggest that religion is, aside from being a delusion, also a destructive and unhelpful force in the world.

That’s not a position you can defend with logic or reason (R.D. certainly doesn’tthough a bit of shouty polemic is always popular with people who already agree)… People who just want to fight and people who want power, and people who want wealth, will pick a reason to fight, and sometimes (like Dawkins does) they pick religious beliefs as their reason.

But so much amazing art, music and creativity comes from the Christian religion -the Baroque period was funded largely by religious commissions; According to his letters and his mother, John Constable’s religious experience of nature found expression in his art; Van Gogh’s radical Christian faith found expression in his art; Literally countless musicians, since mankind first rent the air with a note, have been singing and playing to God, about God, about what God has done and their experience of him in their lives. And religious artwork, even by sometimes stolidly atheistic artists, survives to thrill and impress us even today.

If War forges advances in science, technology and medicine; then Religion nourishes the arts. In times of oppression, art is the boundary-breaking, freedom-fighting, spirit-driven expression of humanity at its most human… not manufacturing utensils for achieving common aims, but expressing the creative worship for which human beings were made -glorious and glorifying.

There is a caveat that I must add here -and it is this: that to speak of ‘Religion’ and mean a formal faith, is at all times to encompass a wide range of personal spiritualities, from the  self-sacrificing and lovely; to the totalitarian ruler -no-one has a monopoly on faith, and religion will always be misused by some, to try and control others. The same can be said of scientific knowledge, wealth, food, family, strength, effectively every part of existence. -but unlike wealth, food, family or strength -religion is not a solid measurable resource that can be held onto. And unlike scientific knowledge, it is not constantly changing its ground assumptions according to where the funding has recently gone and what discoveries have been made.

So if you seriously want to criticise Christianity, don’t attempt to dissect its effect on the world; the hospitals and orphanages it runs; the humanitarian rights it fights for; the art and music it produces… all that is a by-product

San Gerolamo, Galleria Borghese, Rome

Saint Jerome by Caravaggio

of the relationship that individuals have with God. If you want to criticise Christianity, you need to look at its core claims -the very foundation on which the universal Church rests: And here as a starter for ten, is the Nicene Creed..

We believe in one God,
the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is,
seen and unseen.
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father;
through him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven,
was incarnate from the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary
and was made man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end.
We believe in the Holy Spirit,
the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son,
who with the Father and the Son is worshipped and glorified,
who has spoken through the prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come.

About Jemma

Learning to be both a priest and a human being in the Anglican Church
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