It is one of those age old arguments that as atheists we hear trotted out all the time by those of a more organised religious bent, “look at all the wonderful things that have been created as a result of religion” this is to refer to the architecture, art,  literature and music, on the face of it they certainly appear to have a point.  The things created by those inspired by faith are indeed often most marvellous and to be enjoyed by the religious and the secular.  However does the notion of this creativity only existing as a result of faith really stand up to scrutiny?

A sub-section of this argument is how much poorer we would be if all the things created with religious intent were to be removed from the world but this is only true if one takes this in isolation rather than imagining all the things that those creative people might have done had they not had ‘God’ as their inspiration.  it would be ludicrous to assume that there would be a creative vacuum if not for religion for there are many people that continue to create despite an absence of faith, or create in spite of their faith by which I mean that it does not seem to have a bearing on the content of what they do.

As well as the great works of art celebrating faith and “for the glory of God” there are a great many that celebrate an appreciation of nature from a secular standpoint.  Likewise many great artistic movements such as Art Deco are very much more anchored in an appreciation of an aesthetic ideal than they are in the attributing of that to any particular source.  The example of Art Deco celebrates a love of angles and cleanliness and stark contrast between blacks and whites, I cannot think of where one might shoehorn a religious influence onto this, feel free to correct me if I am overlooking something.  One of the most common themes that inspires creativity is love, whether the positive or the negative aspects of this and love affects humans regardless of their religious or spiritual beliefs.  Love and the capacity for love whether enjoyed or endured is something that exists innately in humans and would do so even were it to be proven there were no supreme being, for it is most frequently, though not exclusively, intertwined with the biological necessity to reproduce.

It is also vital to remember that many of those in ancient times educated to a standard to be able to write literature and music were very often monks, subsequently the church retained a strong influence on the content of this education when it was widened out to more people and one only has to look at the primary education in most countries in the developing world to see how this continues to be the case.  This however serves only to give direction frequently to people’s urges it does not create the urge from nothing.  Humans are inherently creative and the desire for self- and circumstantial improvement and advancement has and will continue to drive us for as long as we exist as a species.  Sometimes people create in a desire to be accepted, to have their legitimacy in society underlined and this is a clear example of where in any inherently religious society their creativity may be channeled into this area.

One must also be careful to differentiate religion with spirituality, the one sucks in the products of people’s creativity whilst the other inspires them to create.  Were people intent on building great wonders to house the homeless or educate the children with all the verve and flair that many ancient architects did for religious purposes then perhaps we would have created a society a great deal more civilised.  This would not mean we were building to worship ourselves, merely that whilst a building should not be seen and created to be merely functional it does lose some of its raison d’etre if it does not function as anything.  Sometimes the sheer beauty of a thing has its aesthetic quality authenticated  by its functionality when this can be something that alleviates the depressing effect of the mundane of other things that function in this area.  The Hoover building in West London is a piece of architectural beauty to lovers of Art Deco and would be were it merely a monolith which served no purpose but it stands head and shoulders above many office buildings of previous and subsequent precisely because it is simply an office building, that someone should design with both beauty and function in mind is indeed a great thing.  Literature is a collection of words and we can appreciate words sometimes for their own aesthetic, but they are more powerful when used by an accomplished wordsmith to convey meaning within context.  This is not to strip things down to mere functionalism where the structure of something should only be considered with reference to its eventual purpose neither is it to say that things can be rendered beautiful only in spite of their purpose but that the combination of good function and aesthetic value can itself ascend to a different plane.

Humans need to be inspired, hence we have concepts like muses etc.  and in this state can create wonderful things, religion has hitherto been but one of the methods by which they can be inspired by not the only one and in my opinion it must be weighed against the many negatives it has also come  to typify.  One could say that a great many wrongs have been done in the name of love as well but love cannot be detached from the human mind whilst religion clearly can, and, to some of us perhaps, should be.

Song Of The Day ~ Creedence Clearwater Revival – Bad Moon Rising