The Art of Religious Mediocrity

Gospel_axe Should Christians learn to be art critics? Jerry Haughton thinks so, but warns Christians against focussing on goodness to the exclusion of beauty and truth.

Morally kosher but misguided art

In his essay, Christianity and the Arts, he quotes Nancy Pearcey as saying, “Yet many Christians critique culture one dimensionally, from a moral perspective alone, and as a result they come across as negative and condemning. At a Christian college, I once took an English course from a professor whose idea of critiquing classic works of literature was to tabulate how many times the characters used bad language or engaged in illicit sexual relations. He seemed blind to the books’ literary quality – whether or not they were good as literature. Nor did he teach us how to detect the worldviews expressed there…When the only form of cultural commentary Christians offer is moral condemnation, no wonder we come across to non-believers as angry and scolding.”

In short, aesthetics and epistemology are as important as ethics. A work of art may be morally inoffensive but still woefully deficient from an artistic and theological perspective. Conversely, works of art may be morally offensive to Christians but still interesting and attractive from a literary and philosophical perspective. If we ignore this truth, we risk cultural mediocrity and spiritual blindness.

Unsentimental about Sentimentality

And one of the greatest dangers I think is sentimentality. Haughton writes, “Another aspect of movies which is frequently over-looked is the sentimental factor, often mistaken for spirituality. Sentimentality is disarming for most because it offers powerful emotional satisfactions abstracted from the ethical complexities of real life. Christians are often focused on avoiding films with sex/violence/vulgar language, but they view films that exude a yucky, artificial “niceness” radically at odds with the biblical worldview. Sentimentalism is a blind spot that is the entry point where the world inflitrates the church. For example, is there a fourteen year old girl in any evangelical church who did not gush over the love scenes in TITANIC? Maybe we should add an (S) rating so that Christians will be on their guard against fuzzy emotionalism.”

Therein lies my distaste for love songs to Jesus, Jesus junk and Christian kitsch art. Because it is said the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and this inoffensive “niceness” just such a road. Sentimentality gone wild is spiritually toxic.

3 Comments

  1. “At a Christian college, I once took an English course from a professor whose idea of critiquing classic works of literature was to tabulate how many times the characters used bad language or engaged in illicit sexual relations. He seemed blind to the books’ literary quality – whether or not they were good as literature.”
    I’ve read movie and book reviews like that. It drives me batty.
    This was a great post, Matt. I hope more people start thinking like this.

    Like

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