The issue of religion – way, way behind

Read an amazing article the other day, written by American publicist  Charles Murray. My paper labelled him as right-wing, a member of the American Enterprise Institute thinktank. Well, think he did. And come out with ideas that don’t get a lot of airtime in the world of the arts, as far as I can see.

In  his book ‘Human Accomplishment’  Murray lists 4000 innovative people that have helped mankind develop. Analysing his data he spotted a number of common factors that support innovation and accomplishment in a society. National wealth stimulates the arts and sciences and creates a vital cultural climate. Cities concentrate human capital and offer a large public for the arts. And the idea that a person can operate as an individual is a contributing factor to development.

One of the factors I left out however, even though it stemmed from my analysis. I must not keep silent about this anymore, because it is a deciding, even indispensable one: religion.” Religion not defined as a belief in god or God, but as a system of beliefs about the place of man in the universe, about what life is about. In other words: a system of transcendent values.

Murray then states that Europe does not produce good – or great – art anymore because we’ve let go of our ideals of beauty, truth and goodness. “To strive for beauty in the arts does not suffice. A concept of what is good is needed, maybe not for great music, but for outstanding visual art and literature. I don’t mean that a good painting is sacharine sweet, or that a novel must tell a moralistic story. I do want the painter or writer to have a worldview as context from which he tells his experiences, his story. Look at the question of violence, for instance: where there is no idea of goodness the depiction of violence becomes mere sensationalism. In its extreme form, this corrodes the mind, like pornography does. Where an artist has a clear idea of good, his work can have great artistic force. “

Murray has a rather bleak view of Europe. Present- day Europeans lack transcendent values – our goal in life is to pass the time between birth and death as pleasantly as possible.  We’re pampered by the welfare state and hampered by a post-colonial  feeling of guilt. We came to a standstill after World War II, and America better watch out for it’s heading the same way ….

Nice to know what the other side thinks – our view of the USA isn’t very complimentary either. I’m enjoying the bickering , but it is not supremely interesting in and by itself. What does interest me is the fact that  a polemist like Murray- until very recently – kept silent about the issue of religion. As does the intelligentsia on both side of the Atlantic. Why?  If I do a project about religion – and I’m seriously considering this – will I be spot on or way, way behind?


Wiki:  Murray argued that the world’s per capita progress in the sciences and especially the arts have declined, usually starting sometimes in the nineteenth century. In part this is due to diminishing returns. In the final chapters he abandons empirical analysis, writing “I cannot supply quantitative measures”, and the analysis is “less quantitative, more speculative, and definitely more opinionated.” He argued, based on Aristotle in the Nicomachean Ethics, that innovation is increased by beliefs that life has a purpose and that the function of life is to fulfill that purpose; by beliefs about transcendental goods and a sense of goodness, truth and beauty; and by beliefs that individuals can act efficaciously as individuals, and a culture that enables them to do so. Murray argued that there is an absence of this in the current secularist and nihilist society which has caused the decline.




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