"Art is not a mirror with which to reflect the world; it is a hammer with which to shape it"

Saturday, 1 December 2007


“I don’t think there is anything wrong in having a religious conviction… (but) you talk about it in our system and, frankly, people do think you’re a nutter.”
-Tony Blair, The Blair Years, Episode 3

“God doesn’t exist, grow up.” “Those of us who have reached the age of reason and aren’t afraid of the dark would really like all of the god-botherers to stop bothering us, thanks. … I have had it up to here with the lot of you. Fuck off and fuck off now.”
-a recent screenwriting blogger's posting.

Now, before I get started I want to make it absolutely clear that this posting is NOT about whether a God, or Gods, actually exists or whether any particular brand of worshipping in a Theistic system may be preferable over any other. This post is about something else and will mainly consist of questions…

This post was prompted by several events that seem have occurred one on top of the other but primarily by something over at Potdoll’s Palace. I first started reading the Scribosphere (the blogs primarily devoted to screenwriting) in earnest about five months ago, and you’re all jolly nice people by the way^, and I’ve found there’s much wisdom to be found here (I wish I had something constructive to add to it- I only seem to have opinions and questions!). Shortly after this inauspicious arrival there were a number of posts from various people proclaiming their Atheism. This started me thinking about something which I then put to one side and promptly forgot all about. Then the other day at Potdoll’s someone quoted a hymn but immediately qualified it with ‘I’m not a believer’… and it got me thinking again, why the need to make this clear, people quote from Shakespeare and yet nobody qualifies it with ‘I’m not a Shakespearean’ or ‘I’m not an actor’. Why would it so necessary to clarify lack of belief? Then as if to prove a point there appeared the post from which the above quote appeared.*

My exact question on Potdoll’s post was ‘is there anybody out there prepared to admit to being a Believer?’ I didn’t even realise until it was mentioned that I’d used the word ‘admit’: not profess, proclaim, declare or even just mention, but admit as if it was something shameful- people admit crimes, they admit affairs- they admit things they think they should feel guilty about- but should Theistic belief be such a thing?

I’ve been around various branches of the Arts for longer than I care to remember and in all that time I can only recall four Christians who would openly acknowledge their Faith (one tutor and three students- one from Saint Helena, one from South Korea, one from Britain) but I did find a few who were but wouldn’t publicly acknowledge. All the Muslims and Hindus have been comfortable to profess their belief and, intriguingly, the reaction to their beliefs from others has tended to be more favourable as well- I hope it was not from some patronizing paternalistic attitude or from some notion of inherent exoticism. On the other hand, I have found a large number of proud Atheists including at least three tutors who have belittled both belief and believers, in some instants to the face of the above mentioned believers (not as part of reasoned debate but purely from scorn or ridicule).

It is certainly part of the British psyche to avoid talking too much about various things: religion, pay packet size, being good at things, being proud of things, etc. and the British do seem to cringe when they hear others discussing their Faith. So a certain reticence is understandable. The British are good at reticence! Not that I’d want to boast about it! This all raises a series of questions for me in three distinct areas…

Why do so many screenwriters (and artists in general**) seem to have no Theistic beliefs? Why is this view so prevalent in the arts? Is it harder for we artists to acknowledge a Creator given that we ourselves create on a daily basis? Is it because writers are often highly educated and it is known that there are higher levels of Atheism concomitant with higher levels of education. (Although, it should be noted, there are also many educated people who are devout.)

Are people embarrassed to admit a religious faith amidst such vocal Atheism? And is this particularly so in places like the Scribosphere? If even the (ex-) Prime Minister is embarrassed to mention his religious beliefs why would any of the rest of you Scribes find it any easier? Is it easier to admit to drug-taking than a belief system? Could it be that because the Atheists are more highly educated than the Theists that the believers are not capable of the requisite skill for constructive argument and debate and so prefer to remain silent? Could it be that people don’t mention anything because a strident belief might offend other people? For example, this week an invited guest speaker, Cristina Odone, was stopped from giving a sermon in favour of outward religious expression at a church carol service because it might offend any Atheists in the audience.

General Population
The high levels of non-belief amongst writers and artists are more intriguing given the statistics for the general British population. At the last census (2001) four-fifths of the UK profess to some sort of religious faith (of the others, 15.5% stated no religion and 7.3% refused to say: presumably this included all those Jedi Knights!); subsequent surveys in various newspapers from Left and Right seem to show a general 75-85% belief rate for Britain. Is it advantageous or disadvantageous to be out of sync. with the majority view? Does this or should this give carte blanche to the artist to offend at will those who do believe? Does this mean when writing it is harder to justify belief than disbelief? Does this lack of sympathy (or downright hostility) with believers mean that we writers find making fair representations of religious matters and people harder to achieve?***

As Potdoll suggested “maybe writing is getting more popular because less of us believe? Is it another way to 'transcend' death? Is religion more private than it used to be?”

Is it possible that the general lack of contact with death in our daily lives has made thoughts of a hereafter or a higher purpose to life less necessary? Does an absence of faith mirror a sense of betrayal with religion? Have our creative impulses become a replacement for God? Has the potential of our works to survive us become our pathway to immortality? Has our creativity become our way of working through our problems, neuroses and paranoias; our psychiatry, our confession and our salvation?

“Thank you and may your God go with you”
-Dave Allen

^Blatant sucking up, you lovely, lovely people! ;-)
*And was quite swiftly removed as well!
**The one exception would appear to be composers for some reason… Tavener, Macmillan, Glass, etc.
***Watching the last 7 years of Doctors, as I have, would give a good example of this!


Lucy said...

I'd have to disagree with both you and Potdoll it seems. I read a lot of scripts about God and spirtuality. ALOT. I would venture the question of religion and belief forms approx 1/5 of scripts I read in fact in the course of a year, maybe even more if we start talking about the notion of right/wrong. This past month in fact? 6 scripts in which some notion of spiritulism has played, 2of which who actually feature a personification of God as a character.

There's a philosophical standpoint, The Ontological Argument For God, that says if we think about WHETHER there's a God then by that very wondering there is one. So if you're a hardcore atheist then in denying God, essentially you're still giving the idea houseroom.

potdoll said...

Lucy the conversation was more about whether screenwriters 'admit' or believe in god, not about religion/beliefs in scripts.

For example a lot of people in the scribosphere declare they are atheist, but do they declare they believe in God?

HOpe I'm making sense -really knackered and need to go to bed.

Dan said...

Re: your post on me blog

Finally, someone has fallen into my blog trap and wants to order some dick pills. "Now you can become an untiring lover"

Not sure how I got blogjacked Jon but I don't think it had anything to do with my anti-virus or spyware. It must have been a problem with blogger.com. I use AVG and they are without doubt the best. And they're free.

Now, how many pills were you after?

Jon Peacey said...

As Potdoll said it was about the admission rather than the writing but what you've said, Lucy, (that there are many spiritual-based scripts) feeds into my thinking that there may be an embarassment factor.

Of course, people rarely walk into a room declaring "I'm a Believer" (except maybe The Monkees) or that they're not but I would still suggest that arts people are uncomfortable admitting a belief- particularly when there seems to be less reticence from those who don't... with so ready an anti-Faith atmosphere are others cowed into not declaring the opposite for fear of what may be thought of them?

The personification of God doesn't necessarily indicate a Faith as evidenced by the Dark Materials books or the Supreme Being in Time Bandits.

There's also an intriguing question as to why, with so many spiritual scripts out there, so few are being created: is it because the people buying/ commissioning are anti-spiritual/ religion; is it because there is no perceived market or maybe they're just plain bad scripts! (Maybe something else?)

By the bye, all the people I've ever met who've stated 'I'm very spiritual' have just enjoyed a little too much weed while all the genuinely spiritual people I've met didn't even know that they were... I do, of course, wait to be proved wrong!

Lucy said...

I'm a very spiritual person who's never smoked weed.

Why does that sound like an AA meeting???

Do I "believe" - not in any traditional sense. Am I a "believer" - defo.

Jon Peacey said...

Eeep! Have I managed to offend again! I'm so terribly good at it! ;-)

"I'm a very spiritual person who's never smoked weed."
-but I've not met you! :) I shall still classify you as the first...

In my experience it has held that those I've met who claim a spirituality seem to have only found it through not-so spiritual methods!

'Do I "believe" - not in any traditional sense. Am I a "believer" - defo.'
-I'd love to be able to say something deep and meaningful at this point but I'm not good at that sort of thing but I am pleased to hear someone say it! (And that isn't meant to sound patronizing even though it unfortunately looks it.)

Thank you.

Lucy said...

Chill out you divvy, I don't offend easy. I was just pointing out that I am spiritual and am prepared to say I believe, but not in a traditional sense. I am quite aware many think believing in anything - traditional or not - is not a good thing. And good luck to 'em.

Jon Peacey said...

I'm chilled, dude, I'm chilled! I genuinely don't like entertaining the possibility of offending anybody...

"I am quite aware many think believing in anything - traditional or not - is not a good thing."

...and I suspect that might be the tenor of my next contentious post! Well... sort of!

Robin Kelly said...

It's possible that some people start writing because they want to challenge the orthodoxy. The orthodoxically orientated would be less inclined to do that.

The BPS published this research about how conservatives have something wrong with them which prevents them being creative.

Maybe creating art is about asking questions - not only of society but of yourself - but faith involves not asking questions but accepting what you're told, not thinking for yourself and believing what can't be proved. (Although of course many faithless people think for themselves and then choose religion and not thinking for themselves)

The old saying is that you should avoid talking about politics and religion (although they are increasingly intertwined these days). Friendships and relationships can't help being affected by them and you do look at people differently.

One friend of a friend tells me that disabled people are being punished by god and she treats them with contempt. She keeps asking me to take her out - but that's only going to happen in an Italian mobster way.

The statistics about belief in this country aren't evenly spread across all demographics. Most old people believe, most young people don't. The next generation will be mostly atheist/agnostic parents and as religion is mostly inherited...

If people inherited faith from their parents and are still working out what it means to them then its understandable they'd be reluctant to talk about it. Likewise maybe they're just scared of encountering rude atheist arseholes. Just as they condemn the sin not the sinner, we should challenge the belief not the believer.

I was actually wondering if perhaps some kind of faith is essential to human existence. How many atheists unquestioningly accept other unscientific faith things like horoscopes or homoeopathy or anti-wrinkle cream or romantic love or diets?

Tom said...

I'd like to add something as I've thought a lot about issues related to this but not directly about this. So as anything I'm likely to say is going to be off-topic, I won't say anything.

Apart from: I am an atheist but I had a very (like you wouldn't believe how very) religious upbringing and I'm also inclinced to include religious themes into some of my scripts.

The only other thing I'll add is that it's not peculiar to the arts.

I can say quite a lot when I'm not saying anything.

Elinor said...

Interesting post Jon, as always.

Where I live, we get a lot Of Jehovah's Witnesses come to the door. Well, possibly not mine anymore as I do enjoy a good old philosophical discussion on the doorstep and have been known to keep people talking for an hour when all they really wanted to do was flog me a copy of 'Watchtower'.

Piers said...

I'm not aware of any atheists who'd give time to homeopathy or horoscopes.

That'll be because the same thinking-about-things that leads us to become atheists is applied to the other two nonsense products as well. And thus: disbelief.

On the other hand (I can't point to other atheists on this one, mind) I'm reasonably certain of the existence and effects of diets and romantic love.

I have no data on the truth or otherwise of anti-wrinkle cream.

Elinor said...

I can testify to the truth of anti-wrinkle cream brothers and sisters! It is however, an instrument of the devil, because in order for it to work YOU HAVE TO KEEP BUYING IT.

Jon Peacey said...

Robin- I think there's probably a truth to that BPS research... although I would suggest that it's the challenge to the prevailing orthodoxy of the time that is the driving factor in artists. For example, Beethoven was one of the most radical composers but saw it as a part of his theistic belief; however he was also inspired by Enlightenment ideals and was firmly opposed to much of the orthodoxy of the day, culminating in the 'Eroica' incident.

"One friend of a friend tells me that disabled people are being punished by god and she treats them with contempt."
-Isn't this the concept that footballer chap said as well? I can't understand how such an assertion can be justified theologically or humanely.

From personal observation (so not based in any sort of research!), as people I know have grown older they have become more questioning of their atheist standpoint with several becoming full members of various different faiths groups... presumably it's an impending death thing or maybe a feeling that there has to be more to life than pubs and clubs and one-night-stands.

"I was actually wondering if perhaps some kind of faith is essential to human existence."
-I've wondered whether it's an evolutionary necessity that comes with self-awareness... if you know you're alive and know you'll die it becomes inevitable to ask what the point is of maybe 70 years of misery. Maybe it's cruel of Richard Dawkins et al. to try and remove these things.

"horoscopes or homoeopathy"
-I'm with Piers on this one!

Tom- The most extreme religious upbringing I've ever come across was a kid I was at school with called Malachi... his parents did have a TV but banned him from watching pretty much everything: high on their hitlist was Sooty for Satanism! All that izzy-wizzy-let's-get-bizzy-stuff! They didn't much like him playing with other kids...

"Interesting post Jon, as always."
-You say the sweetest things!

I rarely get the door-to-door religion salesmen (it's the long driveway to my rocky crag!) but in the past I've once told JWs I'm a Satanist which sent them scuttling away rather quickly; and I've also explained to them how their anti-blood transfusion thing is a blatant mis-reading of the Bible; I've also discovered that the Latter Day Saints really don't like being called Mormons!

Piers/Elinor- if nothing else, we have at least answered the age-old wrinkle cream question....

...it works but is diabolical! The fiends!

Though I'm sure you don't need it Elinor!

Robin Kelly said...

I suppose I should explain where I'm coming from with those last few examples:

Romantic love exists as a concept just as religion does but it is a relatively recent societal construct people buy into as opposed to there really being a 'one true love" or "soul-mate" for us.

I was watching this science programme about love and attraction which showed it was just chemical reactions to keep the species going and how romantic love didn't actually exist. The presenter felt he had to end by saying but it's OK to still carry on enjoying romance, which I do, it's a laugh. Just as the Bible has some beautiful writing in it but I don't take it seriously.

(Romantic Love is a Hoax)
(I get a kick out of you)


Anti-wrinkle creams work but even the best only work to about 10% of a wrinkle depth which is barely visible to the human eye. You get the same hydrating effect with bog-standard moisturiser.

The ads imply lasting and positive benefits. They talk about "reducing the appearance of wrinkles" because they can't scientifically prove "reducing wrinkles".

Of course I have issues with The Beauty Myth aspect of it all. There's nothing wrong with wrinkles.

(Here comes the science...)


Diets also exist as a concept but they don't work in terms of permanent long-term weight loss (it's hardly even worth saying they sometimes work).

I don't just mean the kind of rubbish diet drinks a friend once paid a fortune for over the Internet, even the best of them - like the GI - will see you putting the weight back on.

You lose weight by dealing with the underlying causes for over-eating and then by eating sensibly and normally and intuitively

(Why Diets Don't Work)