Friday, December 14, 2007

An Atheist on Secular Humanism & Art

In a recent article on, entitled "Dogma Days," Camille Paglia, an atheist, wrote,
"In my lecture on religion and the arts in America earlier this year at Colorado College, I argued that secular humanism has failed, that the avant-garde is dead, and that liberals must start acknowledging the impoverished culture that my 1960s generation has left to the young. Atheism alone is a rotting corpse. I substitute art and nature for God -- the grandeur of man and the vast mystery of the universe."

Ms. Paglia sees the effects of secular humanism on our culture. Unfortunately, substituting art and the created cosmos for the Creator isn't an adequate response to the problems of either false religion or secular humanism. I'm reminded of a passage from the Wisdom of Solomon:

For from the greatness and beauty of created things comes a corresponding perception of their Creator. Yet these people are little to be blamed, for perhaps they go astray while seeking God and desiring to find him. For while they live among his works, they keep searching, and they trust in what they see, because the things that are seen are beautiful. Yet again, not even they are to be excused; for if they had the power to know so much that they could investigate the world, how did they fail to find sooner the Lord of these things? (13.7-9, NRSV)

The secular humanism in our culture that has called for the removal of religion from public life and public education has failed, but the antidote to this failure is not to embrace all religions as though they are equally true and valuable. While we can acknowledge a seed of truth in other religions, we can only experience the depth of Beauty, discover the reality to which art and nature point, and embody the fullness of human meaning and purpose by embracing the One who made all things and by following the path He has laid before us. This is the God and the way of life revealed to us in the Holy Icons.

Camille Paglia makes some interesting observations worth considering from an Orthodox perspective. (Also check out her article on "Religion and Arts in America," published in Arion: A Journal of the Humanities and the Classics.)