Christianity and the Arts

Doug Giles
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Posted: Dec 18, 2004 12:00 AM

Unless you?re one of Darwin?s droogies, and you believe that we evolved from the goo, to the zoo, to you, then you?re a creationist, and you believe that God created you and the world you live in.  The believer in the biblical account of creation also believes that he is an image-bearer of his Creator, that he, too, has creative juices coursing through his veins.  Thus, being veritable Mini-Me?s of Jehovah, we should be brimming over with creative, artistic life.

Since the creature is to mirror the Creator, you would expect creativity to be cranking out of most churches?right?  But that ain?t the way it is.  Let?s face it: the 21st-century Church has a view of the arts that is lower than a flea hitching a ride on the underbelly of a 117-lb. Dachshund.  The Church?s view of art as unspiritual, or even idolatrous, has created an aversion and an antagonism to art which has effectively alienated us from the world that God has made and the society he wants us to reach.

Traditionally, when the Church has been at the top of its game?not burning witches or applying thumbscrews to petty thieves?we?ve had a high view of the pen, the paint brush, the piano and the chisel.  Art itself needed no rationalization, and for 500 years, brilliant art emerged from the Church.  Orthodox, biblically-based, non-wacky clergy and laity took pleasure in living, the arts, culture, their own talents and the abilities of those around them.  They got the message that beauty and culture come from God, and that beauty and culture are good, and they didn?t need a 968-word column, written by a so-so writer, to defend it. 

Think about it.  God went into orbit, spinning some pretty nifty work out in the Star Wars region.  His imagination not exhausted, God created millions of species, and all kinds of people with a bunch of funky talents.  As if the mind-bending intricacies of all that weren?t enough, there are also tens of thousands of peculiar creatures like the angels and demons, presently running around in an unseen realm. 

And then we come to the detail of His work; God?s eye for design makes Rembrandt?s efforts look like stuff turned out by a boorish Spartan metalworker.  Yes, from a creative standpoint, God is more prolific and imaginative than Picasso at his easel, whipped up on a double espresso, with his mistresses out of town.

Since God is the self-existent Lord of the universe and accountable to no one, he could have made the world in which we live completely beige.  He could have been a minimalist who only shops at West End.  He?s God and can do what he wants.  Instead, God dumped a lot of unnecessary splendor on us, expressly for our enjoyment.  And you know what ? this freaks out the altar-call-driven, number-crunching, pragmatic, no-taste Church-goer because it seems that such expenditure is a waste of time, space and energy.

God?s creativity extends to the written word as well.  As a piece of literature, the Bible is incredibly rich and diverse: sixty-six books written over thousands of years by divinely inspired farmers, musicians, poets, kings, queens, fig pickers, slaves, fishermen, tax cheats, murderers, and adulterers.  The entire human spice rack was utilized to cook up the greatest story ever told. 

This incredible assemblage of literary genius spans the entire gamut of human emotions?highs, lows, lust, love, loyalty, and betrayal, to name a few.  The scripture showcases the good, the bad, the ugly and the beautiful.  If it were truly represented on film, there is no question the movie would be rated R, since the Bible is filled with characters that make a bar on South Beach look like a Young Republican staff meeting. 

In the Bible, we see eternal life and heaven alongside death and hell; we have a self-revealed God whom you really don?t want to tick off; we have sinners who become saints, and saints who revert to sinning. We?ve got the righteous, the perverted, the saved and the damned, portrayed though poetry, proverbs, narratives and songs.  Folks, this is not a colorless coma-inducing book full of boring religious nonsense. 

If it were up to some our anti-art religious leaders, the Bible wouldn?t need all that literary fluff at all.  We could put our deductions on a 4 x 6 postcard, devoid of art, narrative and design, with the Ten Commandments on the front and the address of where to send your tithe on the back. 

The Bible shows off God?s love for artistic endeavors and creativity as much as it scares the heck out of the general public with the moral law.  Matter of fact ? the first people to be ?filled with the Spirit? were not apostles or prophets, but artists (Exodus35).

My ClashPoint is this: Church ? where has the brilliant art gone?  Where is the mind-blowing stuff ? y?know, the paintings, the sculpture, the architecture and the music that makes you drool your Slurpy down your shirt?  Where are the books that are weighty and transcendent, books with a shelf life of 500 years, versus the five weeks my last book had?  Where in the world is clever and tasteful Christian TV, and why do we have to wait twenty years between solid movies like Chariots of Fire and The Passion of the Christ?

I?ll tell you why ? The Church has embraced a low view of the arts.  God hasn?t changed His high view of art ? we have.  And here?s the painful reality: if the Church doesn?t shed this point of view regarding quality artistic endeavors ? if we stay removed from creativity and human expression ? then we will forever live on the peripheries of the public square, whining about Michael Moore movies.

*  Go to www.clashradio.com and check out Doug?s latest cartoon and while there listen to his latest interview with lawyer, theologian and artist Patrick Daley.