January 5, 2018

Arts & Beliefs in Barcelona, Dos

For the backstory on why these thoughts came to me in the middle of Spanish art and history museums, see Arts & Beliefs in Barcelona, Uno.

I was really struck by the somberness of the presentations, and how very differently Christianity is artistically portrayed in this day and age. I felt like my belief system is like a heavily Americanized-pop-style version of Christianity that is very distant to the Catholic relative that sustained the Bible and Christ's teachings for about 1500 years before the Protestant Reformation.

For example, contrast the agonizing Jesus suffering on the cross next to angry Romans with smiling and well-groomed Jesus sitting with happy children by a lake. Christians used to be constantly reminded of their guilt and sin, and today's warm and fuzzy version constantly reminds us that Jesus is our BFF and loves us so much that we can get away with anything as long as we ask for forgiveness.

This sounds like two completely different belief systems to me, and it amazes me that they are indeed related and even both views are accurate - but each viewpoint doesn't really like to talk about the other one.

The other thought that came to my mind was how in the year 2017, I was walking around church artifacts from the 11th to 13th centuries and making my finite observations to type into an online blog posting program. One question remained: what kind of church artifacts will be in the museums in 2717 (if we even last that long) and how will those visitors comprehend and react to what's left of us?

I think the most interesting thing about any museum is that someone gets to choose what's important and saved and what's tossed out or set aside. These someones can actually be anyone, with any kind of worldview and a wide variety of what is believed to be valuable.

The main theme in the Romanesque art section was that "the value of the symbol was more important than the narrative." That phrase makes my head hurt a little bit reminiscing some very confusing poetry and literature classes I didn't click with in college.

The most simplistic way to define that is what the image represents is more important than just writing words down to describe it. It was also a time period when most people were illiterate, so using imagery and symbolism was basically the best way to show what the Bible said.

If you are a Christian today (or are even just generally familiar with what the Bible says), can you imagine not having ever read a Bible?! Can you imagine basing your entire belief system and worldview solely on paintings and sculptures?! No way to read and know for sure what you really think or believe about any of it?!

It's very interesting that the Bible attests to, "All Scripture is God-breathed..." (2 Timothy 3:16), but doesn't necessarily include a verse about how spiritual art could also be considered as fair truth and important for learning about God. Both the Bible and religious works of art have been produced by humans inspired by a Being and Truth greater than themselves.

Regardless of whether or not the medieval church was encouraging a belief that could change lives or just fear that could create income, the fact of the matter is that many forms of Christianity and Catholicism still do exist today. We still have worldwide conflicts based on our political and religious systems, because ultimately, our worldview is influenced by whatever belief system we may have (even atheism still counts as a belief system) and that dictates how we translate politics and our place in the world.

Kathleen and I were really fortunate to visit these museums together because we could talk about our questions and impressions in a safe space. The Barcelona history museum (MUHBA) had a whole chapel full of an exhibit on "Images to Believe" about the history of Catholics and Protestants within Europe, Spain, and Barcelona. It gave a very neutral perspective on how all sides used propaganda to promote their positions within the various Reformations. I learned a lot more about Martin Luther and the different doctrinal decisions he made after his most famous one with the posted 99 Theses.

I didn't plan on our Barcelona museum journey to include so much religious history, but that's how it worked out. We didn't even make it to the 500 Years of the Reformation exhibit at the Caixa Forum, but with everything else we were able to learn, we don't think we missed too much.

I know this post doesn't have an introduction, main points, or a strong conclusion. I wanted to write out the thoughts I had while digesting what these museums had to offer. Might be a little all over the place, but this blog is my place to be that way, after all. I'm really grateful that the MNAC and MUHBA both presented religion and spirituality in a clear way, and I believe anyone interested in the "why questions of life" would really appreciate the exhibits and the presentations.

The best part of all of this? I would have never had this many thoughts to share after a museum visit even as recently as my mid-twenties. I'm thankful that incredible educational opportunities exist outside of a classroom, and the background information and history of what I did learn in school can compliment what I continue to learn today.

For more on my art museum experiences, see "9 Works of Art that Move Me."

Several of these deeper thoughts have a lot to do with a book I had been reading over the last two years, Iberia, by James Michener. It's a lot of meat and potatoes about Spain, and I highly recommend it for voracious readers who want to really get to know Spain on another level.