Thursday, 5 July 2012


Perhaps it's the hot weather, but I'm working my way slowly (one page at a time) through Peter Bell's A Certain Slant of Light. Excellent stories, not a dud to be found, and lots of fascinating sidelights on history, art, religion and so forth. One interesting point that keeps cropping up is iconoclasm - the smashing or defacement of religious images. This is not surprising as Bell's characters are usually keen on churches. Thus in the story 'Archangel' the vicar explains:
'There were plenty in those days (...) who thought Cromwell and the Devil were one and the same! And, really, sir, who's to blame them? They would've destroyed all that beautiful stained glass, if they'd got away with it. Vandals!'
This is of course to place the Roundheads firmly in the same category as the Taliban when they blew up Buddhist statues, or indeed the Muslim fundamentalists currently destroying religious shrines in Timbuktu. But if you believe a work of art is blasphemous, aren't you morally obliged to destroy it, or at least put it out of sight? The smashing of stained glass and the whitewashing of wall paintings is perfectly reasonable - once you accept the premise that immortal souls are at stake.

Weigh a beautiful work of art in the balance against eternal damnation, and who would save the art? It seems to me that Peter Bell's vicar is being rather secular, arguing that art should be preserved because it's beautiful.   No, replies the true believer - only the godly can be truly beautiful. All else is a snare and the work of Satan.

I find fundamentalist religion abhorrent, and I am a lifelong atheist (so far). I like visiting old churches precisely because they contain things that are nice to look and of historical interest. In other words, I treat Christian temples much as I would a ruined Greek or Roman temple to pagan gods. So I'm glad that not all the stained glass was smashed. But I'm well aware that it's original purpose was not to please me, and those who would have destroyed it were out to save souls at the expense of mere worldly decoration.

Well, some them probably did just like smashing windows. But you know what I mean.

File:Looting of the Churches of Lyon by the Calvinists 1562.jpg
Calvinists Looting the Churches of Lyon, apparently


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