Art and religion


I went to a Monet exhibition today at a San Francisco art museum. As I looked at one of Monet's paintings, Road at la Cavee, Pourville, and considered the ways that he took the view of a path between two steep ridges and created an image made out of beautifully constructed triangular forms, an analogy occurred to me:

The Bible is to historical truth what a Monet painting is to a photograph.
Just as the Bible is often not a literal depiction of history in the religious events that it depicts, neither is a Monet painting a photographic record of what it represents. A Monet painting is an interpretation of reality that says something more, and often more beautifully, than a photograph can do, filtered through the imagination of the painter. A Monet painting is a metaphor for the reality that it conveys. And the same can be for how the Bible conveys religious truths and ideas about God. The Bible points to God, but it is filtered through the religious imagination (and biases) of those who wrote the Bible. The Bible is not a photograph of the Divine, or of Divine truth. And yet, just as art can be "true" without literally capturing an exact image of reality, so can the metaphors and images in the Bible be "true" without being literally accurate records of the events that they depict.


prodigal sheep said...

It has been said (and I can't attribute the source unfortunately) that taking the Bible seriously involves much more effort than merely taking it literally.

To take it seriously means to engage with it on numerous levels (as art, metaphor, homily, and so on) and to remain open to how it might speak to us in new ways or for new situations.

Literalism on the other hand is a lazy shortcut that presumes to equate the sign for the signified, absolving the 'believer' from all responsibility for internalizing the text's inner meaning.