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Religion as Interior Decorating

Because it is loosely related to themes under discussion here over the last little while, and because it is a pretty accurate reflection of current religious appetites (especially here on the west coast), and because it is pretty amusing, and because, well, I just like posting David Bentley Hart quotes:

We certainly… do not draw near to the “mystery of God” with anything like the fear and trembling of our ancestors, and when we tire of our devotions and drift away we do not expect to be pursued, either by the furies or by the hounds of conscience.

This is especially obvious at modern Western religion’s pastel-tinged margins, in those realms of the New Age where the gods of the boutique hold uncontested sway. Here one may cultivate a private atmosphere of “spirituality” as undemanding and therapeutically comforting as one likes simply by purchasing a dream catcher, a few pretty crystals, some books on the goddess, a Tibetan prayer wheel, a volume of Joseph Campbell or Carl Jung or Robert Graves, a Nataraja figurine, a purse of tiles engraved with runes, a scattering of pre-Raphaelite prints drenched in Celtic twilight, an Andean flute, and so forth, until this mounting congeries of string, worthless quartz, cheap joss sticks, baked clay, kitsch, borrowed iconography, and fraudulent scholarship reaches that mysterious point of saturation at which religion has become indistinguishable from interior decorating.

Then one may either abandon one’s gods for something new or bide with them for a time, but in either case without any real reverence, love, or dread. There could scarcely be a more thoroughly modern form of religion than this.

I wonder if this entire passage could be rewritten substituting Christian kitsch for the more exotic artifacts Hart mentions? The furniture and the the knick-knacks might look different, but I wonder how different the net effect is…

9 Comments Post a comment
  1. Ken #

    Exotic artifacts? Things on his list are normal here.

    I think Hart is harsh to put them down. Condescending. More than decorating is involved.

    February 22, 2011
  2. mdaele #

    zackly Ry zackly!

    February 22, 2011
  3. Paul Johnston #

    I’m not sure what would constitute Christian kitsch. Visual identifiers are common within Catholic culture. My mother collects angel figurines, others I know collect Madonnas. I find it comforting to visit someone in their home and find many visual references to our Lord and faith. For a great many, prayer and adoration are inspired through a visual cue as opposed to an intellectual understanding.

    Even something like the cartoon I used to watch as a kid, “Davy and Goliath” while potentially kitschy to the adult mind served as good entertainment and I believe honestly helped with my formative faith journey.

    To call something “kitsch” for the purpose of reveling in a tacky, ridiculous expression of Christianity seems mis described to me. The better word would be sacrilegious.

    As for those who would adorn themselves and their living spaces with false idols, is it better for us to indulge ourselves in humor over their folly, or should we consider some other response?

    February 23, 2011
    • The main thing that struck me about the quote wasn’t so much the question of what does or does not constitute “kitsch” but the uniquely modern idea of religion as an expression of me and my individual tastes and preferences.

      As for those who would adorn themselves and their living spaces with false idols, is it better for us to indulge ourselves in humor over their folly, or should we consider some other response?

      What response did you have in mind?

      February 23, 2011
    • Paul Johnston #

      Prayer for starters. Praying for their conversion. Asking God for a loving response and the necessary grace to respond as God would have me. I sense it would be important to ask someone what drew them to “new age” forms of worship and what effect the worship had on their lives. From there I’m not sure.

      February 23, 2011
      • Sounds like a good start.

        February 23, 2011
  4. Tyler Brown #

    Capitalism will hijack anything if it produces a profit. Something our boy JC was infuriated over.

    To get by in this life one is told that the only virtue is to be the most crafty robber in the den.

    February 23, 2011
    • Some virtue :).

      February 23, 2011
      • Tyler Brown #

        Time to flip some tables over 😉

        February 23, 2011

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