In debates about religion, there’s a point that atheists frequently concede. Yes, they say, religion is mistaken. It’s harmful. It’s irrational, contradictory, unsupported by evidence or logic, poorly understood by the bulk of its followers, poorly defended even by its most informed ones. But you have to admit, they say, it’s powerful. The ideas, the imagery, the hope it offers… it’s stirring stuff, even if it doesn’t hold up.
Well, sometimes that’s true.
But sometimes, it’s really, really not.
Sure, as an atheist I’ve felt the occasional twitch of, “This is kind of beautiful, I almost wish I believed it.” Mostly with religious music. When listening to shape- note or gospel or Mozart’s Requiem, I’ve sometimes had a twinge of Black Gospel Choir Makes Man Wish He Believed In All That God Bullshit.
But at other times, I really don’t. When debating with a believer whose ideas are an incoherent mess, for instance. When being preached at with bland, unoriginal platitudes. When watching an ad for sugary “inspirational” Christian music on late- night TV.
And when watching a “testimonial” video that would do Grandpa Simpson proud. A testament of faith so pointless, so unfocused, so self-involved, so completely devoid of content, it’s actually hilarious.
Like this one.
Video below the fold, since putting it above the fold mucks up my archives.
I think my favorite part is the dream, where her prophetic response to a friend’s serious illness (a mental illness, apparently) is to recount a long, meandering dream about boats, with heavy- handed symbolism about Jesus but no real purpose or point. I kept amusing myself by making up new bits for the dream. “And then my mother was on the boat, and she ate one of the tunafish sandwiches I had made for the twelve men, but she said I’d put too much mayonnaise in it…”
No, strike that. My favorite part is at the end, when she asks, “So when someone comes up to you and asks, ‘Where’s your Jesus now?,’ what are you going to tell him?”
Her own answer: A long, meandering, pointless dream about boats, apparently.
I don’t have any brilliant, cutting- edge point here. I think I just want to say this:
When brilliant, inspired artists get hold of religion, then sure, they can transform its ideas and imagery into something beautiful and powerful and stirring, even if it doesn’t make a lick of sense. But when mediocre artists get hold of religion, its ideas and imagery get transformed into vague, half-assed, wanna- be- inspiring pablum.
So it isn’t the religion that’s powerful and beautiful and stirring.
It’s the art.
Religion is just the hook that the art hangs its hat on.
And art can hang its hat pretty much anywhere.