the faith hope

an ongoing exploration of a thankless subject

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Location: Adelaide, Australia

Founding secretary of the Urbane Society for Sceptical Romantics, a club I take very seriously indeed.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

delusions of grandeur? dawkins' critics - larvatus prodeo (part one)

The God Delusion has not surprisingly received a lot of critical attention of late, much of it adverse. Instead of commenting on the threads of other blog posts [I always seem to arrive at these posts too late anyway] I've decided to tackle them on my own blog. Let then come to me, ho ho.

The first critique I looked at was on Larvatus Prodeo, where Shaun Cronin complained that Dawkins, in pointing out that much 'religious art' in earlier centuries was simply art commissioned by the richest patron in the neighbourhood, the [Catholic] Church, wasn't prepared to allow religion any positive role whatever, either in the arts or society. Cronin went on to cite the religious inspiration behind blues music, of which he's clearly a fan, as just such a positive influence.

Cronin accepts that the religious feelings of Michelangelo or Son House [a blues artist apparently] and the great work these artists created, at least partly because of these feelings, can in no way support the case for the existence of deities, but he's clearly miffed by Dawkins' dismissiveness – unlike me, who didn't notice it.

This is because I read Dawkins' point as nothing more than that Michelangelo and Raphael were creatures of their time, religious in an age when everyone was religious, circumscribed [without feeling themselves so circumscribed] by the inspirational subject matter available to that age, and funded by the Church as the great power of the age.

I think, on reflection, Dawkins was wrong in saying that the fact that Michelangelo and Raphael were Christians was 'almost [note the weasel word] incidental' to their art, but I also think that in admiring the works of these artists and their contemporaries we admire much more than the beauty of religion. These works are monuments not only to God, but to humanity, and to the individual artists themselves. Religiosity, humanism and egotism, and nobody knows in what proportion. The non-believer will tend to look back at these works and minimize the religious element, because that doesn't speak so much to her, but she'll find the work no less beautiful for that.

Later, in the comments thread, Cronin describes Dawkins supposed dismissiveness as bone-headed and simplistic, but I cannot agree. Dawkins often condenses his argument, which might make him seem insensitive to the finer feelings often engendered by religion, but his point, that religious art was, during the renaissance, the only art game in town, is a basically sound one. And he wasn't writing about blues. Katz, a little further down in the thread, expands on this, in terms of the cultural bonds that inevitably produced these types of representations, in a superb rebuttal of Cronin's critique.


Anonymous ZoeJane said...

I have found a new favorite blog - I love love love reading intelligent arguments against religion.

Keep up the good work... and update! :)

5:44 PM  
Blogger Stewart said...

Thanks a bunch - I'm now posting only to one blog, daily illustrated - just type that into google and it's the first thing that comes up, or use the following URL - links don't seem to working with comments -

9:01 PM  

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