Can Culture Replace God ?

I was asked to speak this afternoon at a conference on the theme of ‘Can culture replace God ?’, which was good for the mind if not for the spirit.   Much of the discussion was on the severence of culture from religion, beginning in the eighteenth century with Voltaire and extending to the writings of Lessing, Kant and Hegel and the ways in which the Romantic poets replaced the experience of religion with transcendental subjectivity and the worship of nature.   I wasn’t able to contribute to this part of the discussion, but I was able to supply information and statistics on the ways in which the rise of going to museums has paralleled the decline in going to church.   After my lecture at South Creake last month, I discovered that the Royal Academy undertakes market research on the extent to which visitors regard going to an exhibition as the equivalent of going to church:  32% of visitors view exhibitions as an opportunity to stimulate the imagination;  29% as an opportunity to reflect or contemplate;  and 25% for inspiration.   Art may not be able to provide a satisfactory meaning for existence (and nor nowadays does going to church), but it can, as in the work of Kiefer, provide an experience of the transcendent.

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