This post is part of our Humanist Perspectives series. In this series, we invite guest contributors to explore active humanism and what it means to be a thoughtful, engaged member of society. Please share your thoughts in the comments!
Can Religion Be Beautiful?
by Michael Campbell
“Lo, let that night be solitary, let no joyful voice come therein. Let them curse it that curse the day. Let the stars of the twilight thereof be dark; let it look for light, but have none; neither let it see the dawning of the day.”
These are the words of a man who has just lost all his possessions and offspring in a terrible accident. These are the words of a man who is forced to scrape the awful boils that plague his body off with pieces of pottery. These are the words of Job, lamenting the night he was born.
The Book of Job is, of course, infamous. In it God boasts to Satan that there is none holier and more righteous than the man Job. Satan wishes to test this theory by inflicting a series of misfortunes on Job, as already described, and God permits this. The book is a dialogue between Job and his companions whilst they try and understand exactly why God has acted in this way. For devout believers this story presents a challenge to their own understanding. Some might call it beautiful. What is clear, or at least what I think is clear, is that the language of the Book of Job in the King James Bible is beautiful. Balanced, metaphorical, rhythmic, even cathartic. I read Job and I admire these things for their beauty. But, as an individual not tied down to dogma or holy works, I believe Job to be an abhorrent story with an abhorrent moral and an abhorrent God at its centre. It teaches us to cower under authority and respect that which governs us with apparent whim. Therefore, the question: Is the Book of Job beautiful?
The story is a good one for understanding the difficulties behind the relationship between religion and beauty as a whole. There is, of course, no criteria by which we can determine beauty objectively. It has been and will be always open to discussion. However, thinking about how I look at Job, it’s clear that my mind is divided between two parts – the words and emotions, which I find beautiful, and the narrative, which I don’t. Is this kind of distinction really possible when it comes to religious art?
Michael Campbell is a philosophy student from London, UK. He’s the creator of Young Freethought, a site that promotes rationalism among the youth.