One of my mottos is Faith without art is dead. This isn’t just a clever little play on a famous verse from the epistle of James. I believe that one of the best way to enrich and strengthen faith is through art. (The opposite is true as well.) It was a little known Billy Graham movie that brought me across the line of faith for the first time at the age of eleven. It was the classic 1959 Ben-Hur that sealed the deal when I was a freshman in college.
Yet the importance of art seems to always get short-shrift in our thinking. In education, it’s the “STEM” classes (Science/Technology/Engineering/Mathematics) that get all the attention and money. Even in church life, the importance of art in worship and teaching is often overlooked or underutilized. I’ve honestly been taken back by how few churches in the Los Angeles basin pay much attention to Hollywood – this behemoth world-culture-shaper in whose shadow they live. I’ve scarcely heard it even prayed for in the midst of ordinary worship services.
So I’d like to make the case over a few short blog articles why I believe that faith without art is dead, and if not dead is certainly hollowed out and weakened.
Here’s a very simple reason for why art is so important:
Art is food for our souls.
Art has an ability to slip through the armed guard of our minds to touch the deepest parts of our humanity.
Oftentimes, art is thought of as an “add-on” for life. It’s something nice to have, but not essential. When you buy a home, the first things you buy to fill that home are typically kitchen appliances and furniture and bedding and carpeting – only later do you think of paintings for the walls, or knick-knacks for the bookshelves. Those are “fillers”.
When a school district looks to trim its budget, the first places it looks to cut are usually in the arts department and athletics. In Maslow’s Pyramid of Needs, we are told that to survive we must first take care of our physiological needs – food, water, sleep; then our need for safety; then our need for belonging and esteem, and only when all those needs are secured, can we devote energy to our soul, to what is called “self-actualization”, which includes the pursuit of creativity.
And yet, the arts are so much more than mere add-ons.
The day after last year’s Super Bowl found more people talking about their devastation at learning how Jack really died in This Is Us than the game itself (though the game was a classic, I’ll grant you that. And any day that the New England Patriots fail to win the Super Bowl is a good day in my book.)
Truth be told, every time I’ve moved house over the years, the first thing that gets hooked up is the stereo, because those boxes just can’t get unpacked without America or Fleetwood Mac playing in the background. Imagine if there were no music in your life.
At the end of a busy day at work, when I’ve been devoting all my energies to levels one and two of Maslow’s pyramid, there’s nothing better than vegging out with a good movie or curling up with a good book – imagine if such things weren’t around.
When people need comfort from God’s Word it’s usually not Kings or Chronicles they’re turning to, but the Psalms (the Bible’s songbook.)
And yes, it’s true, when I go to the grocery store, I’ll make sure I buy food before I buy flowers, but can you imagine a world without flowers, without beauty? There is something deep inside of us as human beings that thirsts for that which art provides, and without it, something within us dies. Man cannot live on bread alone. And yes, faith without art is dead.