More outside the walls…

This is particularly troubling. Secular atheists want to appropriate beauty and art for their own means. From the British Magazine Standpoint, an article by Alain de Botton proposing the creation of a secular religion.

…What would such a peculiar idea involve? For a start, lots of new buildings akin to churches, temples and cathedrals. We are the only society in history to have nothing transcendent at our centre, nothing which is greater than ourselves. In so far as we feel awe, we do so in relation to supercomputers, rockets and particle accelerators. The pre-scientific age, whatever its deficiencies, had at least offered its denizens the peace of mind that follows from knowing all man-made achievements to be inconsequent next to the spectacle of the universe. We, more blessed in our gadgetry but less humble in our outlook, have been left to wrestle with feelings of envy, anxiety and arrogance that follow from having no more compelling repository of our veneration than our brilliant and morally troubling fellow human beings.

A secular religion would hence begin by putting man into context and would do so through works of art, landscape gardening and architecture. Imagine a network of secular churches, vast high spaces in which to escape from the hubbub of modern society and in which to focus on all that is beyond us. It isn’t surprising that secular people continue to be interested in cathedrals. Their architecture performs the very clever and eternally useful function of relativising those who walk inside them. We begin to feel small inside a cathedral and recognise the debt that sanity owes to such a feeling.

In addition, a secular religion would use all the tools of art in order to create an effective kind of propaganda in the name of kindness and virtue. Rather than seeing art as a tool that can shock and surprise us (the two great emotions promoted by most contemporary works), a secular religion would return to an earlier view that art should improve us. It should be a form of propaganda for a better, nobler life…

But let’s think here – can art really point to a better, nobler life without belief in God? What is to define beauty, if truth has no meaning other than what humans decide? What is there to lift us up to, if there is no example beyond ourselves? And isn’t the concentration of today’s ‘art’ on shock and surprise directly related to a decline in faith?

This is precisely why a loss of Catholic traditions in art, music, liturgy, and architecture and the influence of contemporary theories of art in the mass is so poisonous. Just as contemporary art chooses only to offer us veneration of ourselves with no possibility of transcendence, modern church architecture and ‘mass in the round’ wreakovation attempts to bring the focus on the congregation, that group of “morally troubling fellow human beings” rather than pointing us to Christ.

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One Comment on “More outside the walls…”

  1. thomps Says:

    I would think this idea would fail because also underlying secularism is the cult of the individual therefore the art/architecture would entirely reflect whatever the individual who created it thought about a particular issue. As is stated in your post art and buildings inspired by thoughts of God or of a higher power took into account that belief as well as any individual prejudices. All I can think of here are the very bad instances of art and architecture which occurred in Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany.

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