“I make no pronouncement as to whether Christianity, or indeed any religious belief, is true,” [MacCulloch] warns us. “Is Shakespeare’s Hamlet true?” he asks. “It never happened”, he goes on, “but it seems to me to be much more true ... than the reality of the breakfast I ate this morning, which was certainly true in a banal sense.”I think I'd have more respect for this argumentative strategy by theologians if they followed-through with it. If, for instances, they showed more respect for, and put some intellectual effort into writing about, religious practice literally derived from art: the Jedi religion, for instance. They don't do so, I suspect, because they don't in their hearts take such things seriously. But doesn't such a reaction radically undermine their position? (You'll notice I don't say anything about whether the Jedi religion, as it manifests in our world, merits being taken seriously; I don't need to, because I'm not trying to advance the case that Christianity is true after the manner that Hamlet is true.)
The comment locates the author squarely within the concluding drift of his own history. For the culmination of 2,000 years of the Christian religion in secular societies has widely resulted in the relegation of Christianity’s realism to the ambit of imagination, comparable to art. Would you die for your personal interpretation of Hamlet? Most of the battles fought between Christians down the centuries, and between Christians and non-Christians, have been precisely over the hard realism of religion, as opposed to its soft metaphorical values. Who would object, including scientist Richard Dawkins, to the soft “realism” of uplifting fiction? Once the Book of Genesis is taken as a myth rather than a realist account of the origins of the world, it takes the sting out of the heated science-religion polemic unleashed by Darwin’s theory of evolution.
Wednesday, 23 September 2009
Religion and art
I've only read reviews of Diarmaid MacCulloch's A History of Christianity; but those reviews, whilst uniformly respectful and even enthusiastic, suggest that one of the arguments is that the truth of religion is like the truth of art rather than (say) the truth of science. It's a familiar thesis. Here's John Cornwell's summary [FT, Sept 12-13]: