Rod Dreher recently wrote about James Smith’s solution to the loss of Christian culture and conviction. Smith’s critique of Wells’s book is that “he prescribes an intellectual antidote for an imaginative disorder.”
Dreher titles his article “More Artists, Fewer Intellectuals,” saying:
Smith and Gioia are working toward the same goal, it seems to me. I feel what they’re getting at; I want to think about it more. My first reaction to Smith’s review is that when I was a non-believing college student (or a barely-believing one), I was not interested in hearing arguments for Christianity. It took a life-changing encounter with Christian art (well, architecture), and the experience of awe that overtook me in that experience, to open my mind enough even to consider the arguments. Now, nearly 30 years on, I am only just now beginning to understand in my bones the absolute necessity of the Divine Liturgy to ground me in my faith and worldview.
I agree with what Smith and Dreher are saying. As I said in my reflection of Macklemore’s song, it is a different way of educating, through the imagination, something that the church has to a certain extent lost.
But I wonder if it would be better to simply say “more artists,” rather than “more artists, less intellectuals.” As I said my review of Smith’s book, it is not an either or, which he acknowledges in his second volume. It is interesting that many of those who are recognizing the role of the arts in the formation of the person are intellectuals.
Dreher links Smith’s point with Dana Gioia’s recent First Things essay addressed to Catholics, about contemporary Catholicism and the arts. It begins like this:
For years I’ve pondered a cultural and social paradox that diminishes the vitality and diversity of the American arts. This cultural conundrum also reveals the intellectual retreat and creative inertia of American religious life. Stated simply, the paradox is that, although Roman Catholicism constitutes the largest religious and cultural group in the United States, Catholicism currently enjoys almost no positive presence in the American fine arts—not in literature, music, sculpture, or painting. This situation not only represents a demographic paradox. It also marks a major historical change—an impoverishment, indeed even a disfigurement—for Catholicism, which has for two millennia played a hugely formative and inspirational role in the arts.
In light of this important discussion there a few books I have been meaning to pick up on this subject. They include the following.
- Echoes of Eden: Reflections on Christianity, Literature, and the Arts by Barrs
- On Beauty by Zadie Smith
- Beauty by Roger Scruton
- The Beauty of God: Theology and Arts edited by Trier, Husbands, and Lundin
- Art for God’s Sake: A Call to Recover the Arts by Ryken
Here are a few other good articles on the subject:
- Disclosing Faith (Or Not) – Alissa Wilkenson
- How to Discourage Artists in the Church – Philip Ryken
- The Bigger Issue in the Christian Hip-Hop Debate – Alex Medina
I close with a poem about falling in love which is attributed to Fr. Pedro Arrupe, S.J. (1907–1991).
Fall in Love
Nothing is more practical than
finding God, than
falling in Love
in a quite absolute, final way.
What you are in love with,
what seizes your imagination,
will affect everything.
It will decide
why you get out of bed in the morning,
what you do with your evenings,
how you spend your weekends,
what you read,
whom you know,
what breaks your heart,
and what amazes you with joy and gratitude.
Fall in Love,
stay in love,
and it will decide everything.
Attributed to Fr. Pedro Arrupe, S.J. (1907–1991)