the moment an artist becomes conscious of remaking or reimagining faith, he becomes a barrier to it

Does the decay of belief among educated people in the West precede the decay of language used to define and explore belief, or do we find the fire of belief fading in us only because the words are sodden with overuse and imprecision, and will not burn? We need a poetics of belief, a language capacious enough to include a mystery that ultimately, defeats is, and sufficiently intimate and inclusive to serve not only as individual expression but as communal need. I sometimes think that this transformation is already happening outside of religious institutions, that faith is remaking itself in the work of contemporary artists and thinkers (yes, I mean to deflect the agency like that: the moment an artist becomes conscious of remaking or reimagining faith, he becomes a barrier to it).

-Christian Wiman, My Bright Abyss, 124

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7 thoughts on “the moment an artist becomes conscious of remaking or reimagining faith, he becomes a barrier to it

  1. That first question is a good one. I’m reading through “God and the Philosophers” right now. It’s a collection of some very dry but dutifully honest confessions by various contemporary philosophers regarding their own departures from Christianity and returns to it. Amazing how many of them started out in low-church Protestantism in the 50’s. Also amazing how many of them left in their teens because they started comparing their Sunday School lessons to high school academic texts. It’s not the content that was a problem but the quality of the discourse. Most of these people didn’t convert back until they ran into a higher level of religious language (for some, C. S. Lewis; for others, the Catholic liturgy; etc).

  2. It is a good question. I think the answer is good too. The conjecture at the end is one of the most intriguing things about his writing.

    It’s an interesting observation you make about the quality of the discourse. Let pastors take note. If they can.

  3. You used that phrase “poetry of belief” with me once. Had you gotten it from CW? I don’t think you’d started the book then, or at least not gotten to p. 124.

    I’m about halfway through.

  4. I don’t know how to interpret that concluding conjecture. C. S. Lewis and T. S. Eliot seemed to be pretty intentionally reimagining faith in various ways for their generation, and that hardly made them a barrier. And I don’t really see how Wiman can talk so blithely about faith remaking itself in contemporary artists. No one likes contemporary art. Or contemporary poets. What everyone likes is Harry Potter and a Game of Thrones and the Hunger Games and such-like, and they’re hardly reimagining faith unless we really stretch the meaning of “faith.”

  5. I’m beginning to think that no one (as in avg church-pew-sitter) even likes old poetry or art. As an exhibit, a young man in a Sunday School class I was sub-teaching remarked prior to class (we were meeting in our Christian school’s English room) that Literature was the most worthless subject ever taught. An aspiring pop-lyricist, he. Looking around at the rest of the young folks in the class, I could not imagine one of them spending an afternoon in a gallery or an evening with a book of poems.

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