Religious teaching ought not to need visual symbols. But those of us who are faithless often marvel at the monuments to faith that previous generations left us

Rubens Adoration of the Magi

An anthropologist can probably advise what Jesus might have looked like given what we do know about his origins and parentage. No doubt they have. One thing is sure and that is all the portrayals of Jesus, his mother and his disciples are wrong, comprehensively so in most cases. Is there anything more preposterous than the many Madonna and Child portraits, for example?

Does it all matter? If you have the faith to buy the whole New Testament Christian story then you won’t be much bothered by the visual fairy tales which purport to illustrate it. But the imagery is so ingrained in the belief system of Christianity that to eliminate it because it is self evidently false is inconceivable . Is anyone going to go to the Vatican and tell the Pope to take down his pictures?

Islam generally prohibits the portrayal of Mohammed or Allah in art. So a muslim’s view of God or the prophet (PBUH) resides in his or her own mind. The portrayals of God and Jesus Christians have been used to for a millennium or more are totally dominated by the white western culture that produced them. There is no such problem in Islam.

Religious teaching ought not to need visual symbols. But those of us who are faithless often marvel at the monuments to faith that previous generations left us. I will join the believers in admiring the art of a Pieta even though the imagery is at best an illusion and at worst a lie. I will wander in awe around a thousand year old cathedral likewise. Art transcends belief.

Art is subjective. I was at school in Cambridge in the 1960s and visited Kings College Chapel many times. When Rubens “The Adoration of the Magi” was later installed I visited the Chapel again and marvelled at it. That it is fiction didn’t trouble me then and it doesn’t trouble me now. I can’t quite explain this. There is something profoundly spiritual about great religious buildings and Art that transcends faith. Even more so historical accuracy.

One thought on “Religious teaching ought not to need visual symbols. But those of us who are faithless often marvel at the monuments to faith that previous generations left us

  1. I do agree.
    I think faith like art enriches mankind. You don’t need faith yourself to appreciate it’s value. Faith in its purist form, without violence or political motive is the basis of peaceful civilisation.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s