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Wednesday, 10 May 2006
There's a lack of faith in modern culture

From Michael Gove the conservative MP writing in  The Times.

There have always been fundamentalists who have sought to separate art and faith, who see in human creativity a lack of proper piety towards the Creator, from the Puritan zealots who stripped England’s old Catholic altars to the Taleban who blew up the Bamiyan Buddhas.

But the historic glories of our culture are, literally, unthinkable without recognising the role that faith has played in their creation. And countless millions have been brought a deeper understanding of faith, or at the very least have engaged with the sublime, through religiously inspired art. Whether it is the soaring Romanesque arches of a cathedral, such as the one in which the fictional Slope preached, the achingly moving chords of the St Matthew Passion or the contemplative mysteries of a Raphael Madonna, our culture is built on, and has acted as a route towards, religious revelation.

But over the past 150 years the relationship between religion and culture has become more fraught. The number of artists who either proclaim, or even acknowledge, a religious inspiration in their work has diminished. There are some musicians working in a classical tradition — such as John Tavener, Arvo Pärt and Henri Gorecki — who are explicitly religious and widely admired. But most contemporary artists either ignore the claims of faith or — in the case of artists such as Gilbert and George, Sarah Lucas and Damien Hirst — deliberately mock and parody religion.

Which is why I found myself warming to Matisyahu Miller. The world’s leading — and, so far as I know, only — Hasidic reggae and hip-hop artist, Matisyahu combines the style of Bob Marley with the content you would expect from a rabbinical teach-in. Matisyahu is currently riding high in the American music charts.

And given that the last pop record I can think of to combine an explicitly religious message with commercial success was Cliff Richard’s Mistletoe and Wine, I admired not only Matisyahu’s bravery in proudly proclaiming his faith, but also the passion that he brought to his performance.

The only thing Cliff Richard (I was a fan of his when I was age 5-8, Living Doll, Summer Holiday period, then I discovered heavy rock...) has issued that was worse was The Millenium Prayer.  I would never have thought that I could find myself cringing at The Lord's Prayer, and it is the tune I fault not the lyrics, but that tune was banal and unmemorable.

Perhaps readers can tell me if I am missing someone big. It certainly feels, looking back on centuries of religiously inspired art, as though our modern culture is missing something big.

Is anybody here familiar with the work of Matisyahu Miller? I don't like rap personally but I can appreciate energy and passion when I hear it.

Posted on 05/10/2006 3:54 AM by Esmerelda Weatherwax
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