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Is there a link between Faith and fine writing?

  1. May 23, 2010 #1
    Is there a link between Faith and fine writing?

    I'm an agnostic, and I find it difficult to believe that there's a link.

    However, the following article claims that there's one:

    The quality of English writing has declined, a new book claims, in tandem with a decline in widespread public belief in Christianity.

    Read more ....
  2. jcsd
  3. May 23, 2010 #2


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    and with the decline in cholera,
    Or the increase in atmospheric CO2 levels
    Or the increase in education
    Or the ....
  4. May 23, 2010 #3

    Ivan Seeking

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    The recent increase in pirate activity might suggest that global temperatures should start to decline. :biggrin:
    Last edited: May 23, 2010
  5. May 24, 2010 #4
    LOL love the replies to which I have to mostly agree. But to this author's defense, it is hard to separate the cultural impact of the Christian faith from civil advancement since it was such an integral part of everything from politics to art. What I believe the author to be saying is that the Christian faith attempt to focus the human experience from a very personal but outward looking vantage point while keeping it's host concentrated on discovering the meaning from that view.

    His references to St. Augustine and others using all that is good and or beautiful to that end clearly indicates that is would be a directive of this large culture to focus their energies upon building a beautiful culture, and that the beauty previously existed independent of their faith. Now whether or not this use of beauty and art is a directive of the Christian God is quite another matter all together. So if one does draw the correlation that there is a decline of artful literature with the Christian faith they might well be also concluding that the decline is merely the shift in Christian culture and might just as well be resumed by another "faith" be it agnosticism or something else.
  6. May 24, 2010 #5


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    In that case the correlation in the English speaking world (and what other written culture counts?) would be that Protestantism created fine writing.

    Before reformation = Chaucer, rude stories and terrible spelling

    After reformation = Shakespeare, restoration comedies, romantic poets, victorian novels and finally reaching it's culmination in Jefferey Archer and Dan Brown.
  7. May 24, 2010 #6
    Created might be a stretch but I'd be willing argue that it was a catalyst.

    As I said though, it is hard to prove that another religion or culture could not have produced the same if given the cultural dominion, inspiration and principles of civil humanity. I mean to argue that the Christian faith is the reason for the advancement in literature is to nearly defend that the works were divinely inspired... and seriously doubt any one will attempt to say that.
  8. May 24, 2010 #7


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    I wonder how they define "quality" of writing.

    The fulfillment of Christian mores perhaps?
  9. May 24, 2010 #8


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    Not the Christian faith per-se, but faith in general. An argument you'll see from them is often "Where is the secular version of The Sistine Chapel?". I think they have a point here. It just may be that rationalism can't put you into the right mindset to create transcendent works of art.

    Does anybody here disagree that devotional art tends to be some of the best?
  10. May 24, 2010 #9


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    Where's the heterosexual version of the sistine chapel ?
    If Michaelangelo wasn't gay it would have been whitewash ceiling and wood veneer.
  11. May 24, 2010 #10


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    I get the gays-are-good-at-decorating joke, but I'm not sure if you were trying to make another point with this?
  12. May 24, 2010 #11


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    I think his point is "faulty assumption of cause and effect".

    Is Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel because he is devout? If he were not devout, he would not still be talented?
  13. May 24, 2010 #12


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    That's pretty much the root of their question. Can we produce a secular example of Michelangelo or Bach? It may very well be that the reason they were so talented was because they were so devout.
    Last edited: May 24, 2010
  14. May 24, 2010 #13


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    The sistene chapel wasn't because anyone was devout it was because there were enough rich oligarchs to pay for art and so a school of talented artists appeared to take advantage of them.
    At the time the way to become a rich oligarch was to rise in the church, later it was to become an emperor (hence Mozart worked for a politician) then it was to be an industrialist.
  15. May 24, 2010 #14


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    All you are explaining is how it was paid for, not the motivation behind it. Do you think Bach was not a devout man?
  16. May 24, 2010 #15


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    Bach mostly worked for the city of Leipzig
    I don't think that his music was necessarily a direct result of local politics.
  17. May 24, 2010 #16


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    Yeah, nevermind what Bach said his motivations were, you know better.
  18. May 24, 2010 #17


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    The author struck me as silly, but there is a fairly obvious connection between the way religion is practiced and people's sense of prose style.

    If you want to develop a heightened appreciation of good writing (or encourage it in your children) then you should develop a heightened appreciation of speech, the spoken word.

    Learn to recite. Learn by heart. All love of language comes down from oral traditions.

    Your author is in the UK, so his primary focus is UK writing and the Anglican church. The KJ Bible and the Church of England Book of Common Prayer are two sources of great passages of speech. Speech for the living voice.
    The memorable spoken word is ultimately the only test of fine writing.

    Schoolkids used to learn to recite the Gettysburg Address by heart, and the Village Blacksmith. And then in sunday school they would learn to say the Lord's Prayer.
    And maybe the words of an Isaac Watts hymn, learned by heart so they could sing with the congregation without having to look in the book.

    The images and cadences of great language, learned by heart, go deep into the speech centers of the brain. There will only be "fine writing" by the writers if there is an audience of people who love the excellence of the spoken word.

    Reading out loud to your kids does a certain amount. Like reading Jane Austen novels.

    Anyway irrational religious beliefs, like God and Heaven, have very little to do with sustaining the public's ear for prose style, or love of poetry. What matters IMHO is being part of a live speech tradition, individual by individual.
    (And probably at one time the Anglican church service, which involved the congregation's singing and reciting extensively, helped keep an active vocal tradition going in the UK.)
  19. May 25, 2010 #18
    Gee whiz Marcus, I really don't care if someone believes in God or not. I wouldn't be rude by attacking a religious or non-religious person. I do like the poet Bob Dylan!:smile: And there isn't a song of his I don't like including this one.

    God Knows
    God knows you ain’t pretty
    God knows it’s true
    God knows there ain’t anybody
    Ever gonna take the place of you

    God knows it’s a struggle
    God knows it’s a crime
    God knows there’s gonna be no more water
    But fire next time

    God don’t call it treason
    God don’t call it wrong
    It was supposed to last a season
    But it’s been so strong for so long

    God knows it’s fragile
    God knows everything
    God knows it could snap apart right now
    Just like putting scissors to a string

    God knows it’s terrifying
    God sees it all unfold
    There’s a million reasons for you to be crying
    You been so bold and so cold

    God knows that when you see it
    God knows you’ve got to weep
    God knows the secrets of your heart
    He’ll tell them to you when you’re asleep

    God knows there’s a river
    God knows how to make it flow
    God knows you ain’t gonna be taking
    Nothing with you when you go

    God knows there’s a purpose
    God knows there’s a chance
    God knows you can rise above the darkest hour
    Of any circumstance

    God knows there’s a heaven
    God knows it’s out of sight
    God knows we can get all the way from here to there
    Even if we’ve got to walk a million miles by candlelight


    Hope there isn't anyone out there who hates Bob Dylan or thinks his music was junk.
  20. May 25, 2010 #19
    Well, it isn't lack of God, directly. It's culture change. Which, incidentally enough, happens to be why Christianity doesn't have as hard a grip on people. :tongue:
  21. May 27, 2010 #20
    Unfortunately for your joke, Michelangelo wasn't gay.
  22. May 27, 2010 #21
    It was still funny. I loled.
  23. May 27, 2010 #22


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    scroll 2/3 of the way down to the paragraph on his sexuality.

    The account cites scholarly sources and seems to me reasonably well balanced.

    But what does "gay" and "non-gay" mean when one is looking back to the 1600s?
  24. May 28, 2010 #23
    In the paragraph right above the "sexuality" section:

    He was a hermit and indifferent to personal hygiene to the point of squalor. In reference to sleeping in his clothes it's reported he wouldn't even take off his boots for months at a time, and when he did a layer of the skin beneath would come off with them.

    In Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling the author reports that religiously, Michelangelo was on the fanatic side, and was a devotee of the fire and brimstone preacher Savonarola, who took Florence by storm. Michelangelo heard Savonarola speak in person a few times, spoke about him approvingly often, and kept copies of his tracts. Savonarola was, incidentally, very anti-gay:


    What was motivating Michelangelo was essentially that he was anti-sex, feeling that sex was tantamount to physical and spiritual corruption, as comes out in the story of his Pieta:


    Indeed, it's easy to see that Mary looks as young as, if not younger than, her own son in that sculpture, and Michelangelo's own given reason can be taken as the kernel of his beliefs about sex. I'm not sure where that idea comes from but it's similar to other ideas in the Catholic Church, such as the ones about Saint's bodies not decomposing after death. It was obviously an important concept to Michelangelo since he incorporated it into the work of months.

    These things don't add up in my mind to something consistent with a gay man. Gay men are, first and foremost, well groomed, style conscious, and social. You also don't find sincerely religiously fanatic gay men, nor gay men who hold female chastity up as a virtue: they're as likely to pal around with troubled or 'fallen' women, as not. Gay men almost always have a lot of female friends. There were precious few in Michelangelo's life.

    It seems clear to me that what we have here is an 'in-the-closet-heterosexual': a man who is disturbed by his own sexual feelings for women. Admitting "lascivious desire" for women would be tantamount to admitting a desire to corrupt their immortal soul. He became a kind of self-ordained monk, head and only member of his order.

    His male nudes are remarkable for how at ease they are: nearly always relaxed and serene. The artist is completely comfortable with the subject. There's no sense of him hiding anything, no sexual tension. Female nudes, on the other hand, seem to make him nervous, there's an obvious inability to face the realities of female anatomy, as if he must avert his shy eyes. The result is often what seems to be a male body with breasts stuck on it. His most beautiful, feminine woman is Mary of the Pieta, who is also the most clothed. His strangest may be "Night": an obvious male model with completely incongruent breasts.

    http://www.shafe.co.uk/crystal/images/lshafe/Michelangelo_Night_1526-33.jpg [Broken]

    Rome was seething with vice at the time and there was never anything preventing him from doing what all artists used to do for female nude models: hiring prostitutes to pose nude. It's to be suspected from the masculinity of his female nudes he never did this and that he may never have actually seen a naked woman outside other artist's work, much less sketched one. A Gay man wouldn't be so coy. Gays are not repelled by naked women and they wouldn't balk in the least at a female nude model. Although a gay artist might prefer male subjects, if he can realistically render a horse, a tree, a dog, or a rock outcropping, he can also easily render an anatomically correct woman. Michelangelo was, I'm convinced, afraid to. Too sexual, too lascivious. Nude women had to be "defused" by rendering them essentially as men, which were safe, non-sexual, allowing him to maintain his delusion that he was a non-sexual person.

    Later in life people who can make young friends often become infatuated with them. There is an element of surrogate parenthood in this for those who have no children, but mostly it is a matter of regaining your youth by association with youth. I can see Michelangelo throwing the term "love" at younger friends, doting on them, lavishing them with affection, not just because it was acceptable between men at that time in that place, but because he had the fear of old age and loneliness in him. (That can compel people to extravagance in finding ways to get company. I knew an old British actor who, because he was generally charming and had remarkable stories about many famous actors he'd worked with, had ammunition against loneliness. In his 80's he took a life drawing class and soon was inviting his fellow students, girls in their 20's, over to his house for more private sessions. He'd have five or six there at once taking turns stripping down and posing for the rest. He, himself, would strip down and pose. He was having the time of his life doing what precious few 80 year old's could ever do.)

    I don't believe that, after a lifetime of idealizing women from afar, regarding himself as remarkably ugly, and neglecting his personal grooming, Michelangelo had the option of collecting an entourage of young women. He was limited to the gender he was already comfortable with when he came to feel the need to lavish affection on youth. Would any of these young guys have really had sex with this very ugly and personally filthy person, even had Michelangelo wanted to? Seems very doubtful.

    Then we have this from the wikipedia article you linked to:

    "Rough and uncouth", living in squalor, swept up by fire and brimstone preaching, misanthropic, admiring of the "fresh" untouched virgin mother: all this sounds like a man trying to mortify his flesh to protect the ideal of women...from himself. Gay men are sociable, well groomed, religiously not given to fundamentalism, and very, very friendly to women. I really think the explanation for Michelangelo is that he was a 'closet heterosexual': a man trying to pretend he had no sexual feelings for women.
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  25. May 29, 2010 #24


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    Peace Zooby:biggrin:
    We could be talking about fine English style (important for the longrun survival of English as a great language). We don't have to talk about our conceptions of "gay" or our conceptions of Mr. Buonaroti.

    The poor man was maladjusted, whicheverway sexually oriented. He was definitely not well-groomed, or personal-dress style conscious, or social. All the sources agree on that.
    So in that respect he does not fit your concept of "gay".

    Speaking of fine writing (see thread topic) Michelangelo wrote some intense and beautiful love poetry. Not only to the younger men in his life (to whom he wrote hundreds of madrigals and sonnets) but also to that lady Vittoria C. who was so important to him later on. I've leafed through a thick book of his poetry. Hundred upon hundreds of Michel. verses have been preserved. The amazing man was not only a great scuptor/painter.

    Isn't this lovely? An epitaph for someone he loved who died young:

    La carne terra, e qui l'ossa mia, prive
    de' lor begli occhi, e del leggiadro aspetto
    fan fede a quel ch'i' fu grazia nel letto,
    che abbracciava, e' n che l'anima vive.
    Last edited: May 29, 2010
  26. May 29, 2010 #25
    Yes I saw that poem in the wiki article. Is it fine writing? If it is, could we account it fine due to it being an expression of faith? Unfortunately I don't speak Italian. However, I do know that translation, particularly of poetry, often requires preliminary interpretation. A gay translator of Shakespeare might decide the homoerotic tone needed 'clarifying' and make the Bard's apparently male-affectionate poems sound much more gay in Italian than they do in English. Shakespeare's writing is the finest of the fine, but is Shakespeare's writing linked to Faith? What faith was he? Church of the Wolf in Sheep's Clothing, if you ask me: leaking pagan notions from every seam.

    This is not, perhaps, fine writing in an artistic sense, but it's good expository prose:
    Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling
    Ross King, pp 89-90

    In general, not apropos of that quote, I think one should expect to see a link between faith and fine writing because, for centuries, the Church had the monopoly on education. There were periods when the only people who knew how to read and write were monks.
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