Not only is Religion not Dangerous…

But it appears to have given us art.

But we already knew that didn’t? After all, the vast majority of art, music, writing, and much architecture in human history appear to be motivated by some sort of spiritual beliefs.

The article on Science Daily discusses how the origin of art and religious beliefs are linked though – and how we had to overcome wrongheaded ideas about evolution to realize it. The paper from the Oxford Journal of Archaeolog – Cave art and the theory of art: the origins of the religious interpretation of Palaeolithic Graphics Expression is more specific; for many years we were hindered in our ability to understand early art by our evolutionary biases about primitive man, namely that he was:

“neither free nor noble; he is a slave to his own wants, his own passions; imperfectly protected from the weather, he suffers from the cold by night and the heat of the sun by day; ignorant of agriculture, living by the chase, and improvident in success, hunger always stares him in the face, and often drives him to the dreadful alternative of cannibalism or death”

And of course such a primitive being couldn’t exhibit religious belief:

“Several authors (Lubbock [1870] 1987, 192; Broca 1866, 75) deduced, therefore, that it was impossible that any true religious thought could exist within primitive society. Naturally, Quaternary hunters had no religion, as Mortillet maintained vehemently all his life: ‘It happens that as soon as religious ideas appear, funerary practices are introduced. However, there is no evidence of funerary practices in the Quaternary. Quaternary man was, therefore, wholly devoid of any feeling of religiousness’

It wasn’t until decades later, when researchers were able to free themselves of the earlier biases that a proper understanding of the origin of art took place:

“The extension in the concept of art enabled works that until that time had been considered as crafts or second-class creations to be included within that category. In the same way, the anthropological approach applied in the studies of the History of Art assisted the recognition of the social function of artistic activity. This made it possible to reconcile the concepts of ‘creativity’ and ‘functionality’. Hence, an artistic object, whatever its aesthetic value, fulfilled a material or symbolic function in the context of a certain society. This new discourse steadily took shape in the field of Aesthetics and Art Theory and, in fact, it was believed, through the study of primitive societies, that a meaning connected with magic and religious symbology existed behind many ‘savage’ creations. This new paradigm finally concluded that magic-religious beliefs lay at the basis of the origins of art.”

The reality is that humans are spiritual creatures – we are in fact the only organisms which exhibit spirituality. Divest us of this spiritual reality, and we lose all that that it produces, and which makes us unique as humans – art, music, philosophy, systems of morality and law. All that is good rare about us as humans is inextricably linked to our concept of God, the existence of a soul, and the ultimate and immaterial nature of reality. And in part that is why evolutionary interpretations of human history so often fail; they miss this essentail aspect of humanity. It is also why atheism contains the seeds of its own failure – it ultimately de-humanizes us in the truest sense of the word, and in doing so, erodes the very societies that allow atheists to exist to begin with.

Advertisements

5 Responses to Not only is Religion not Dangerous…

  1. ashleyfmiller says:

    Let me preface this by saying that, as an artist and lover of arts, I am extremely offended by your characterization of non-believers.

    I’m confused why a Christian would be so excited about art being started by people who believed neither in YHWH or Jesus. Except that you seem to take more affront of people of no faith than people of faith different from your own. Of course religion’s been at the center of lots of art, for most of history, religious institutions have been incredibly wealthy and underwrote the art, and almost all early storytelling involved magic, be it by gods or man.

    I also find it interesting that you brush over the fact that many atheists are secular humanists. Even if we ignore the immediately funny “humanists dehumanize people”, you’ve still got address the fact that atheists have provided good art, science, philosophy and moral systems as well as placed an emphasis on the well-being of humans in this life, not some theoretical second life.

    Atheists are just as human, full of life, joy, creativity, hopes, dreams, and love as any theist. And I’m not quite sure why you think otherwise. What is rare and beautiful about humans is there ability to reason, to imagine, to chase impossible dreams. You don’t need a god to do those things.

  2. NewEnglandBob says:

    Cave art was done to explain the world and to dispel the fear that mankind had of the unknown. Religion serves that purpose today – to soothe the uneducated and to dampen down the fear that frightens those who use faith and who refuse to think and figure out what the world is about.

  3. jackhudson says:

    Let me preface this by saying that, as an artist and lover of arts, I am extremely offended by your characterization of non-believers.

    Well you might have to b a bit more specific, because I have no idea what offended you.

    I’m confused why a Christian would be so excited about art being started by people who believed neither in YHWH or Jesus. Except that you seem to take more affront of people of no faith than people of faith different from your own. Of course religion’s been at the center of lots of art, for most of history, religious institutions have been incredibly wealthy and underwrote the art, and almost all early storytelling involved magic, be it by gods or man.

    I am not sure why you’re confused – considering the neither the term YHWH nor Jesus existed until thousands of years after this art was produced, one wouldn’t expect them to refer to either. And why you think Christians wouldn’t be interested in the origins of art and evidence of spiritual inclinations in ancient men confuses me. This shouldn’t be seen as an affront to anyone.

    I also find it interesting that you brush over the fact that many atheists are secular humanists. Even if we ignore the immediately funny “humanists dehumanize people”, you’ve still got address the fact that atheists have provided good art, science, philosophy and moral systems as well as placed an emphasis on the well-being of humans in this life, not some theoretical second life.

    Well the post is simply one answer to the claim by atheism that religious belief is inherently a negative influence on society – I think contrary to that, as you seem to agree, it has provided us with a tremendously rich culture. And while I think atheists, being humans, are obviously capable of art, science, philosophy and moral systems, I would offer that their contributions are actually derived from the religious cultures and ideas that preceded their existence; I don’t think atheism is particularly original in this respect.

    Atheists are just as human, full of life, joy, creativity, hopes, dreams, and love as any theist. And I’m not quite sure why you think otherwise. What is rare and beautiful about humans is there ability to reason, to imagine, to chase impossible dreams. You don’t need a god to do those things.

    Well, as a former agnostic and materialist, I don’t doubt at all these characteristics of atheism, and nothing I said here or elsewhere claims otherwise – but I would offer what really sets humans apart is our spiritual natures – no other organism seems to exhibit this aspect.

  4. jackhudson says:

    Cave art was done to explain the world and to dispel the fear that mankind had of the unknown. Religion serves that purpose today – to soothe the uneducated and to dampen down the fear that frightens those who use faith and who refuse to think and figure out what the world is about.

    You mean like Pascal? Newton? Mendel? That we would all allow religious belief to serve us that way.

  5. […] have also discussed elsewhere how religious impulses were fundamental to the origin of art – a fact only realized when science divested itself of traditional notions of […]

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 )

Twitter picture

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

Facebook photo

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

Google+ photo

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

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: