Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Do Religious Believers Have Any Respect For Artistic Expression?

Being a musician, as well as an artist in my earlier years, I like to think I understand the value of artistic expression. Even when I was a Christian, I recognized that everyone has a right to say what they feel, and they would get no complaint from me. If I didn't like what was being said, it was up to me to put my own view out there. This is what has motivated countless musicians, poets, authors, and artists to create over the centuries. You can't well hold someone accountable for speaking their mind instead of speaking yours for you.

Yet the absurd rejection of that fact is something I've run across a lot among religious believers. From controversial displays like the "Piss Christ" to practically harmless imagery in Lady Gaga videos, believers have criticized almost anything and everything that offends them. It doesn't matter that art and music were absolutely dominated by religious themes for much of the last millennium; what matters is that these believers not be offended. Bill Donohue and other professional whiners object to anti-Catholic messages being "crammed down our throats" by the media, but when The Passion of the Christ was being broadcast like it was the second coming, there was no outcry. Religious propaganda is fine and dandy, but anything challenging religion should be denounced.

What strikes me as particularly offensive is not that anyone might produce anti-atheist material or pro-religious material, but that they act as if the critics of religion should not even have a forum to begin with. It's one thing to dislike a song or painting because of its anti-religious tones, and it's another thing to take your dislike to news crews and television stations to encourage others to condemn it as well. It's essentially saying, 'This artist produced something that conflicts with my values. Therefore, their artistic expression is bad.' Artistic expression isn't about what the audience likes, it's about what the artist likes. It's ridiculous to expect an artist to conform to your tastes. If you don't like what the artist has to say, don't listen.

I have no problem doing this with pop music that delivers a Christian message. Though I think that Carrie Underwood's song, "Jesus, Take the Wheel," is god-awful garbage, I didn't start any campaign to boycott or bash the song when it was playing all over the radio and in numerous retail stores. I simply turned off the radio, left the store, or just put up with it. Why can't religious believers do the same? Perhaps it has to do with Paul's instruction to "take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ" (2 Corin. 10:5). No respect is accorded to artistic expression that is not "obedient to Christ." Book-burning was not something original to the Nazis, let's not forget.

Of course, I don't mean to imply that all religious believers are this narrow-minded, even if I have made generalizations to that effect. I know many of them are not. But at the same time, there is often a label of "bad" applied to anything that seems remotely un-Christian. This can be seen in the movements to Christianize various forms of artistic expression. The band ApologetiX does terrible Christianized covers of secular songs. Books have been written on the underlying 'Christian messages' in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, the Star Wars movies, and so forth. Why all the effort if believers are capable of respecting artistic expression?

I will admit, it's hard for me to relate to some of the Christian songs I used to listen to, now that I'm no longer Christian. But it's hard for me to relate to songs about a woman's love for a man too, since I'm not a woman, and it's hard for me to relate to blues songs about the struggles of blacks, since I'm not black. That doesn't mean I can't respect the artistic expression of those individuals or appreciate their creativity. We're not all going to like the same things, but that's the diversity that makes the world so interesting, I would argue.

1 comment:

  1. I agree with you, Taylor. As a former Christian, I remember blatantly bashing anything that hinted at being anti-Christian. Now, I feel that artistic expression on either front should be respected.