Christianity, Creation, and Art
For the poet, essayist, and farmer Wendell Berry, people’s relationship with land and community is of utmost religious significance. This is especially important as it regards the Christian religion, which takes as one of its central points the fact that Creation is determined to be ultimately good by God and that it is an integrated whole, including both human and nonhuman inhabitants residing together in harmony in the natural world. Berry suggests in his essay “Christianity and the Survival of Creation,” however, that Christianity’s dualistic way of thinking has fostered an ambivalent and even disparaging attitude toward the material world as something inferior to the spiritual world towards which we are supposed to strive. As the negative impact humans have had on the earth has come to fuller light in the current ecological crisis, we must begin to rethink our evaluation of the relationship between Christianity and Creation. Berry argues in the essay that this dismissal of the material is all wrong. In fact, the very survival and renewal of Christianity depends on the survival of Creation—the material Creation—that lies at its very core.
Furthermore, issues of art, Berry argues, are intimately connected with these issues of religion and place. The way that humans go about engaging in artistry—the way they make and remake Creation—is indicative of their overall view of it. He says, “If we understand that no artist—no maker—can work except by reworking the works of Creation, then we see that by our work we reveal what we think of the works of God. How we take our lives from this world, how we work, what work we do, how well we use the materials we use, and what we do with them after we have used them—all these are questions of the highest and gravest religious significance. In answering them, we practice, or do not practice, our religion.” So our view of Creation, and of the Christian religion more generally, has for a central point of comparison, the way that we understand and put into practice human artistry and imagination. By making art well, by being responsible with our gifts, and by giving glory to God through the way that we make things, we are letting both God and others know what we really think about the world.
If human making is really as important as Berry suggests, it should become a top priority of the church to engage with the arts more fully and develop a proper view of their place within Christian life. By prioritizing the arts, not only their responsible and high-quality production, but also a belief in their nature as divine gift, the church could find itself more intimately connected with the community and place around it. Artistry changes ourselves, others, and the world around us, and Berry suggests, following this point, that it even has eternal significance. Now this seems to me like a good reason for the church to take the arts more seriously.