The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 27
Sentiment and Art in Religion
Sentiment and Art in Religion.
But the clergy of the Christian churches, abandoning the attempt to educate the layman's intellect, appeal to human sentiment, and employ art in various forms to evoke sentiment and to attract and influence the feelings by pleasing the senses. Let me not be supposed even to think disparagingly of any human sentiment that is true, or of art that is genuine; but I venture to affirm that neither the best and the noblest sentiment nor art when it is most pure and refined can be a substitute for the verities of religion—if religion have any verities. What is sentiment at its best? "How beautiful is noble sentiment," exclaimed Carlyle, without any touch of scorn, I think, but taking a just measure of its slight and fleeting value in the serious concerns of politics and religion. "How beautiful is noble sentiment! Like gossamer gauze, beautiful and cheap, which will not stand any tear or wear! Beautiful and cheap gossamer gauze, thou film shadow of the raw material of virtue, which art not woven, nor likely to be, into duty; thou art better than nothing and also worse."
And of art, when it is employed in a church as a substitute for intelligent religious thought, hear the opinion of the greatest living master of art, Mr. Ruskin, whose supremacy, I think, is most clearly page 7 proved by his constant reference of even true art to a second place only in human esteem. He ranks music, the purest of all the fine arts, and unquestionably the most rational as well as the most attractive art element in our church services, on the same level with tangible idols or images, and other sources of influences which address themselves to the commonest instincts of the human mind; and of all I of them, as used for ecclesiastical purposes to an unexampled degree in the Church of St. Mark's, Venice, he observes that they are "The stage properties of superstition, employed to produce a false emotion in minds incapable of apprehending the true nature of the Deity." Must not the same observation be applied to every Protestant church in the Christian world in which art is present and is used for the sake of its attractive influence, and from which religious and moral teaching, which the intellects of rational plain men can understand and accept, is continuously absent?