July 29, 2009

unanswerable demonstrations of (dis)belief

Last year I took a class in Christianity and Culture. It looked like a promising class; we read Christ and Culture (Niebuhr) and Theologies of Culture (Tillich) in conversation with cultural artifacts like art, music and literature. Students gave presentations on the cultural artifact, fun at first but it slowly began to eat up the entire time we had for the class without really getting to the readings.

It seemed like our class couldn't get over conversations of whether a particular cultural artifact was "christian" or not. In the first few weeks we had conversations about there are multiple ways of determining if a song or piece of art is "christian" - could be based on the content, the artist's particular view, the audience, etc. Analysis is subjective, ever changing based on a wide variety of factors. What looks christian today could change by tomorrow.

I thought of this in reading this post from Theolog on Rowen Williams' book about Dostoevsky. It says:
"Part of Dostoevsky’s significance as a religious writer, Williams argues, is to show people wrestling with the implications of their belief—or unbelief. People do not live inside a system of thought. Dostoevsky knew how our beliefs are always being contradicted, or stripped away or developed through our actions, relationships and suffering. In Dostoevsky, there are no “unanswerable demonstrations” of religious faith. But also no unanswerable demonstrations of unbelief. The lesson, for Williams, is that “we have to go on speaking/writing about God, allowing the language of faith to encounter fresh trials every day, and also fresh distortions and refusals.”

All cultures are shaped by religion (or lack thereof) and engaging culture within the scope of religion doesn't end at tacking a "christian" or "non-christian" label on something. I think it has more to do with seeing footprints of a faith on art/music/literature or how those cultural artifacts influence everyday experiences of divine, even if that includes rejection of the divine.

Religion, at its core, is about humans making meaning of their existence. In my opinion, any song or story that asks the fundamental questions of what it means to be human in our world deals with religious subject matter. That doesn't mean it's religious, however. In fact, if we did away with labels of "religious" or "christian" art and artists altogether, we'd be more open to seeing expressions of belief or disbelief.


Patti said...

I like this Linz. I like it when you make me think about stuff.

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