Arts &
  Arts Culture Analysis  
Vol. 11, No. 4, 2012
  Current Issue  
  Back Issues  
Robert J. Lewis
  Senior Editor
Bernard Dubé
  Contributing Editors
David Solway
Nancy Snipper
Farzana Hassan
Louis René Beres
Andrée Lafontaine
Samuel Burd
Sylvain Richard
Marissa Consiglieri de Chackal
  Music Editors
Diane Gordon
Serge Gamache
  Arts Editor
Lydia Schrufer
Mady Bourdage
Chantal Levesque Denis Beaumont Marcel Dubois
Emanuel Pordes
  Past Contributors
  Noam Chomsky
Mark Kingwell
Naomi Klein
Arundhati Roy
Evelyn Lau
Stephen Lewis
Robert Fisk
Margaret Somerville
Mona Eltahawy
Michael Moore
Julius Grey
Irshad Manji
Richard Rodriguez
Ernesto Zedillo
Pico Iyer
Edward Said
Jean Baudrillard
Bill Moyers
Barbara Ehrenreich
Leon Wieseltier
Nayan Chanda
Charles Lewis
John Lavery
Tariq Ali
Michael Albert
Rochelle Gurstein
Alex Waterhouse-Hayward




Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image,
or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above.
The Bible

The Gothic cathedral
is a blossoming in stone.

There are 2.1 billion Christians in the world; 1.5 billion Muslims, 900 million Hindus, 375 million Buddhists, 14 million Jews and 7 million followers of Baha'i, a relatively new religion founded in the 1860s.

But there was a time when there were no Jews in the world, until Abraham, a Semite for sure and probably an Arab, decided to concentrate the power of the many pagan gods into One. The new religion that formed around this brave new concept was Judaism, whose followers referred to themselves as Jews. There was a time when there were no Christians in the world, until Jesus, a Jew, revolted against Judaism and founded Christianity. As with the early Jews, the first Christians were persecuted as heretics, but their numbers, unlike the Jews, grew exponentially.

For any idea -- philosophical, judicial, moral, religious -- to take hold and endure over time, it requires charismatic spokespersons and devotees willing to sacrifice life or a lifetime for the cause of the idea, enabling it to attract the necessary support and numbers to warrant the creation of a territory where it can thrive and survive all manner of social and political upheaval, the fact and feat of which serve to render the idea even more attractive to potential converts.

Thus, as a practical consideration, every religion is bound to consider matters unrelated to the nature and worship of God in order to secure its membership and institutions.

As the numbers tell, Christianity, Islam and Hinduism have been overwhelmingly successful in attracting adherents while other religions have completely disappeared. Which begs the question, what insights did their founders and administrators have into human behaviour and human nature? What succour (consolation) could they offer to human suffering, to the human condition that made them so successful in winning over the estranged and disaffected?

Hinduism, in respect to India's foreboding climate and geography, not only understood that there could be no practical answer to institutional, caste generated poverty, but that human beings are not constituted to live without hope. So with a mind on preempting the inevitable revolt and rebellion poverty spawns, Hinduism, as one of its founding principles, introduced the dual concepts of rebirth and reincarnation to appease and console its permanent and multitudinous underclass (the untouchables). The net result of that initial insight is that the religion continues to flourish to this day, and the privileged continue to enjoy privileges that ordinary persons of good conscience must regard as scandalous. And not withstanding that 'hope' is non-denominational aspect of hope, Hinduism successfully stitched it into the fabric of its belief system, bending it to serve both political and spiritual ends.

In deference to class distinctions that would divide society into the literate-elite and the majority-illiterate, Christianity, which in 30 A.D. was more of a rumour than movement, made the determination that written text alone would not be sufficient to create disaffection among Jews with their religion. So very early in the game, it sanctioned iconography (the pictorial representation of a subject), so that its founding narrative, the Christ story, would enjoy a huge visual edge over all other competing theologies. Christianity’s first disseminators and ambassadors grasped that -- at a mere glance -- a potential convert could appreciate at some level the beauty of an image or icon, and the observer would invariably be drawn toward the persons and purpose which gave rise to the eye flattering experience.

Judaism, on the other hand, fatefully proscribed both iconography and proselytizing (actively seeking out converts), and has suffered the consequences ever since if we accept as fact that majorities are never persecuted and minorities, if not always, are always vulnerable to persecution. Judaism, in chronic short-supply of members, has been on the short end of the stick for most of its history, the brutal facts of which have been forcefully documented. In the 12th century, fed up with its minority status and punishing exclusionary laws, in an attempt to level the playing field, it unwisely approbated the practice of usury, which Christianity at the time forbad. And notwithstanding that money lending became the algorithm upon which the institution of banking came into its own, usury did not win the sons of Abraham friends and defenders.
Christianity’s genius is that it understood the immediate aesthetic effects of the image on man’s appetite for all things and manner of the beautiful. By incorporating into its founding principles and procedures an aesthetic counterpart, it seized the perfect medium to disseminate doctrine that even men of reason could not help but embrace: that God willed Christ back from the dead.

While intended for Christians only, Christian iconography has lavished the world with unparalleled beauty, and has been paid back in kind via homage, pilgrimage and imitation. Even in the heartland of Islam and Hinduism, visitors will find noteworthy examples of Christian iconography in the form of ruins, relics and architecture.

Compared to Christendom’s magnificent cathedrals, the synagogue, for example, is a blunt production, a bleak house which must fail to produce the awe of, let’s say, the magnificent cathedral in Vézlay, France. In a small town of less than 1,000, the Basilique Sainte-Marie-Madeleine towers, lords over everything man made: the tiny, terracotta roofed homes, the low farm buildings and their orchards. To an uneducated peasant, it would require no sleight of mind to convince him or her of God’s willingness and participation in such an awe-inspiring production, especially in the context of primitive 12th century technology.

From 100 AD to the Renaissance, the development and evolution of art was overwhelmingly Christian, culminating in the unsurpassed frescoes of Duccio (1260-1319) and Giotto (1276-1337), and two centuries later, the inimitable Madonnas and Child by Raphael, Leonardo, Botticelli and others. During this time-line, Christianity’s numbers grew spectacularly, in no small part due to the affect and penetration of these Christian masterpieces on everyday consciousness, which not only encouraged the curious to enter the faith but to stay within through thick and thin and persuade others to sign up.

What all religions must concede to iconography is that even the most skilled rhetorician will be hard pressed to articulate the essence of piety and holiness, while the dullest mind cannot fail to respond to pictorial representations of the same.

Botticelli's "Madonna del MagnficatHow can a slack-jawed, thistle-soup-slurping peasant remain indifferent to Botticelli’s “Madonna del Magnificat?” One look and you already know you want to spend the rest of your life in her slender solicitous arms; the perfect embodiment of spirit and warm flesh on cold winter’s night, especially when measured against the spent wife who has spent the long day behind the plough, teats dried and stretched by a succession of children, her scentliness and comportment not altogether dissimilar from the beasts of burden that were housed in an adjoining room. How could this good woman be expected to compete with the saintly womanhood offered by Botticelli?

Adding insult to injury to the status of women, when the Christians finally conquered the Moors in Spain, one of their first official decrees was to close the bath houses, which, in consideration of women's more complicated anatomy, did not enhance their standing next to the pristine Madonna and Child. That Mary -- from Fra Angelico’s “Annunciation,” -- a woman sublime but also very much of the flesh might evoke impure thoughts would not be an unusual occurrence, fortuitously anticipated by the convenience of the confessional merely steps away.

As if its numbers and advantage weren’t already secured by its magnificent iconography, Christianity’s music, like its cathedrals, reigns supreme over all other religious music. There’s a case to be made that Bach has done more for Christianity than Jesus himself. What we get -- and from which there is no escaping other than apostasy or radical neocortical intervention -- from Islam, Judaism and Hinduism are endless one note marathons that are more likely to inspire torpor than religious awe. The devout, exposed to the unceasing drone that must suffocate even the most lucid text, eventually yield to a world weariness which they then confuse with the abjectness demanded of them by their faith. Christianity’s music, even at its mournful saddest, is brilliantly inventive, and in its quiet exultation and ineffability speaks to man’s latent dignity and civility like no other art. It is through music and music alone that we begin to suspect there is indeed a heaven on earth, and the band is Christian.

That said and sung, Christianity has not fared well in the 20th and 21st centuries: its numbers are on the wane while secularism is picking up the slack. If Christianity pulled ahead of all other religions consequent to its insights into the non-negotiables of human nature, secularism is proving to be even more insightful, recognizing that human beings are too weak to refuse a template where everything is permitted, since one only has to deal with the consequences here and now in this lifetime.

So with Christian art and music more available than ever through travel and the secularizing Internet, it’s now possible to have your cathedral and freedom, too.

And yet John Lennon, who had it all, who claimed he was more popular than Jesus Christ, wrote in song in ’68 that “happiness is a warm gun.” And only two years earlier, the philosopher Martin Heidegger uttered: "Only a God Can Save Us."


Email Address
(not required)

A religion that preaches loving one’s neighbour as oneself, including one’s enemy, regardless of colour,creed or status, is going to make more headway than one which tells its adherents that all born outside the faith are inferior in the eyes of God, and, as such, unworthy of making the 'cut.'

A religion which invites its adherents to forgive unconditionally, without retribution of any sort expected, as God has already given Himself up as the sacrificial Lamb for all who believe in Him, will make more headway than one founded on the principle of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth . . . i.e. a conditional forgiveness . . . a forgiveness contingent upon payback, a forgiveness which is in effect no forgiveness at all, but a getting even of sorts.

If Christianity reached so many it is because it awakened in people what they already intuited, viz. the human way. Christianity has in fact penetrated so deeply into the fabric of western civilization that even atheist-humanism is founded on its very principles. All westernization is in effect a subtle kind of Christian proselytising. Radical muslims know this, hence their repudiation of all things Christian/Western.

It is perhaps ironic that the atheist left does not.
Mr. Lewis: I think you've slighted a factor called military and political conquest. There is no understanding of religion without it; in its presence or in its absence. The visitor to the Sistine Chapel might be overcome by the visions surrounding him, but he would also be hard pressed to forget where the political and economic force sponsoring all those visuals came from. In short, some nice observations, but a little too ethereal for my taste.
Robert. I love your writing! You make complex issues palatable (not as daunting as the topic) with your edgy delivery and bite of humor. Comprehensive always in your exploration of the subject. Thanks as always for the education!
The unthinking comment alluding clearly to ancient Judaism is not the religion of today in any way shape or form. As in all of man's foolish inventions, religions continually adjust themselves if they have any ambiguous underpinnings to the realities of the world. This is ignored by the writer who refers to an eye for an eye etc. as if that explains anything at all. Might I respectfully suggest the author shows an arrogant ignorance of the very humane nature of Judaism, its exceedingly interpretative and constantly searching questioning of values and its nature which is to argue with what was first seen as a God with which one lived under His yoke of rules as ordered in Leviticus. Surely that world is long gone for the majority though some eccentric remnants maintain these rigid views. The comment regarding usury is so rabid a pronouncement I can only see it as a typical Euro fixation for the continued Anti Semitism found in that rocky collection of argumentative peninsulas. When a people are not permitted to own property there only so many choices for survival such as crafts, music, finance and medicine for which indeed medieval Jews did make their mark. To imply something nefarious to their forced role says much about the author and not about the target.

Christianity brought to the world the ideas of sin and afterlife retribution . . . oh great! Let's control humanity with those big guns. Muslims went a step further believing as they surely do that the words of their holy book are to be accepted verbatim without any wriggle room unlike that of the Christian tome which is after all mostly seen as a history told by Jesus' followers and not the direct words of a God. Why Christianity prospered is more to do with the discovery of some scientific reasoning which I might add was under the influence of both Moorish and Jewish thinkers whose ideas allowed the early empires to grow. As well, since life on earth was not too wonderful, the afterlife presented folks a dream like winning a Lotto.I agree with the visualization promoted by Christianity as the main reason for its huge growth as it took the ideas and architecture of Roma and carried it forth. Just like Disney, CGI does really give one a 3D world but that does not explain enough as surely the magnificent edifices of the Islamic cultures are equal to or superior to much of Christian architecture in some parts of this world. It is not so easy to explain . . . .any of why this or that belief system prevailed or will prevail in future.

The ancient Hebrews were not Arabs at all. The Middle East was invaded countless times and it is incorrect to presume that the ancient Babylonian, Sumerian and Hittite cultures were "Arab" whatever that means. Might I suggest that the Bedouin people are more likely the remnants of those who lived during the time of the forming of Abrahamic religions. They too are not Arabs. Not that it much matters. The constant with any of these religions is that they attempt imperfectly to explain the world using faith and not clear thinking and scientific evidence and thus all will falter and fail eventually as a reflexive belief system though perhaps the better ethical ideas of them all might stick to our future world. Essentially this article hangs all of its argument on the fact there were mighty pretty pictures for the naive to tie themselves to and from this, to be willing to sacrifice themselves and their countless victims to the altar of religions of one sort or another. One need only to look around out the world today and see the countries that are eschewing religious dogma as being the future and those that are shrouded with their "faiths" are faltering or have never prospered at all. The future is ours, atheist Comrades! We make pretty pictures also.

also by Robert J. Lewis:
The Reader Feedback Manifesto
Caste the First Stone
Let's Get Cultured
Being & Baggage
Robert Mapplethorpe
The Eclectic Switch

Philosophical Time
What is Beauty?
In Defense of Heidegger

Hijackers, Hookers and Paradise Now
Death Wish 7 Billion
My Gypsy Wife Tonight
On the Origins of Love & Hate
Divine Right and the Unrevolted Masses
Cycle Hype or Genotype
The Genocide Gene


BENEFIT CONCERT FOR HAITI, SALLE GESU, JAN. 20TH (Papa Groove, Ariane Moffatt, Bïa, Kodiak, Echo Kalypso, Doriane Fabrig (ex-Dobacaracol), Claude Lamothe, Ian Kelly, Pépé: Box-office 514.861.4036 = shared webhosting, dedicated servers, development/consulting, no down time/top security, exceptional prices
Montreal Jazz Festival
Montreal Guitar Show July 2-4th (Sylvain Luc etc.). border= = shared webhosting, dedicated servers, development/consulting, no down time/top security, exceptional prices
Film Ratings Page of Sylvain Richard, film critic at Arts & Opinion - Montreal
CINEMANIA(Montreal) - festival de films francophone 1-11 novembre, Cinema Imperial info@514-878-0082: featuring Bernard Tavernier
2011 Festival Nouveau Cinema de Montreal, Oct. 12-23st, (514) 844-2172
Montreal World Film Festival
CD Dignity by John Lavery available by e-mail: - 10$ + 3$ shipping.
© Roberto Romei Rotondo
The Centre de répit Philou is a private not-for-profit, charitable organization that welcomes physically disabled children
Listing + Ratings of films from festivals, art houses, indie
Photo by David Lieber:
Canadian Tire Repair Scam [2211 boul Roland-Therrien, Longueuil] = documents-proofs
Available Ad Space
Valid HTML 4.01!
Privacy Statement Contact Info
Copyright 2002 Robert J. Lewis