Liar, Lunatic, or Lord?

by Daniel A. Kaufman

My discussion with Dr. Leslie Baynes, Associate Professor of Religious Studies, at Missouri State University, on C.S. Lewis’ “Liar, Lunatic, or Lord” argument.

Originally aired on MeaningofLife.TV, November 16, 2015.






48 responses to “Liar, Lunatic, or Lord?”

  1. Was that argument really worth an entire podcast? When people say “Either he is a liar, a lunatic or the Lord”, I answer “Your point being?”

  2. However, I haven’t watched the podcast yet, so there may be more to it that I haven’t appreciated.

  3. Robin, Leslie does not approach the argument philosophically, but rather, from the perspective of Lewis’s use of NT passages.

    We got into a lot of interesting subjects: Did the historical Jesus call himself God? How would Jews of the Second Temple period understand phrases like “Son of Man”? How do scholars use the NT as an historical source?

    Lewis’ argument is just the jumping off point to a lot of interesting issues, surrounding NT scholarship.

  4. s. wallerstein

    I watched the video when it first appeared a few weeks ago, and I have zero interest in Lewis’s argument, but it’s a good summary of New Testament scholarship for those of us who are unfamiliar with it. It’s clear, no jargon, no religious proselytism (although the woman is a Christian), worth a look….

  5. Thomas Jones

    I enjoyed this talk. Dr. Barnes is charming with a wonderfully genuine smile, and I hope this is not mistaken as condescension. That would be far from my intent. Two parts were of most interest to me (1) the discussion of “son of God” and “son of man” (2) Dr. Barnes’s point that many Christians reverse engineer the Gospels in viewing the Synoptic Jesus from the vantage of John. The first has always intrigued and puzzled me. The second I can attest to through personal experience when I used to attend a so-called “spirituality” meeting with men from various walks of life–all Christians, of course. This meeting gradually evolved/devolved into a group discussion of passages from the NT on how the “Good News” could help shape us and prepare of for the exigencies of adult life. We frequently discussed passages from the NT. But I would guess that at least 60%, if not more, were culled from the Gospel of John.

  6. I’m afraid that all I can do here is re-iterate the comment by s. wallerstein. The one response Lewis could not assume, given his belief, is, simply, ‘I don’t care.’ The choice he presents is a false dilemma; and indeed many of the questions raised in the discussion, while having historical-scholarly interest, resolve in practical application to whether we care about god’s existence or not; and I don’t.

    ‘Son of god,’ ‘son of man’ – such discussions have importance to scholars, and those curious as to ancient languages, but that is not my field, so my interest here is pretty limited.

    Thomas Jones does raise a point I can agree with: “Dr. Barnes is charming with a wonderfully genuine smile.”

    Listening to intelligent people conversing politely, despite differences, is always interesting; but where the content is unresolvable or unconvincing, interest eventually wanes.

  7. I git round to watching and it was really interesting. Like many bible scholars she doesn’t over claims. Many bible scholars will say, for example, that we can know nothing at all about the circumstances of Jesus’s birth, even though they are convinced Christians.

  8. The most common “liar/lunatic” style argument made with respect to the New Testament is not about Jesus at all, rather about his disciples. It is said that they claimed to have met and spoken with the risen Christ and stuck to this story although this would have meant persecution and possibly death.

    The idea is that they can’t be liars because liars would have recanted under such conditions, and they they cannot have been mad or hallucinating because of the number of people making the same claim.

    The trouble is that this falters when you start to look for specific examples. Undoubtedly many people faced persecution and death due to a sincere belief in the risen Christ, but you cannot find any examples of people who faced such persecution who made explicit claims to have come about this evidence first hand, even if we were to credit such accounts. The people who faced persecution and death could all have been people who merely heard the story and believed it.

  9. If there is any “history” in the NT, the “Sanhedrin Trial” seems to be the critical question: “Jesus is generally quiet, does not mount a defense, and rarely responds to the accusations, but is condemned by the Jewish authorities when he will not deny that he is the Son of God. The Jewish leaders then take Jesus to Pontius Pilate, the governor of Roman Judaea, and ask that he be tried for claiming to be the King of the Jews.”

    Either this is a history or it is a fiction. If it’s a fiction, then there was no “historical Jesus”.

  10. Could you say a bit more about this. Why is the historicity of this passage crucial to the question of the historicity of Jesus, himself?

  11. It seems to me that this Trial is the critical part in the “biography” of Jesus in the first four books and the “history” that followed his execution as written in the book of Acts. If there was a teacher at the time that came up with the Sermon on the Mount and the various parables (or maybe several teachers at the time combined together) but nothing like this trial actually ever happened, it would not be the uniquely-defined person “Jesus” in history. It would be someone else.

  12. Thomas Jones

    Philip, “If there was a teacher at the time that came up with the Sermon on the Mount and the various parables (or maybe several teachers at the time combined together) but nothing like this trial actually ever happened, it would not be the uniquely-defined person “Jesus” in history.”

    Sorry, I don’t follow your point as conditional, not that the historicity of a Jesus or an aggregate of Jesus-like figures is important to me. You could simply state that the historical record is insufficient to conclude that one person named Jesus is being referred to in the various accounts.

  13. EJ: Sorry the topic didn’t do much for you.

    I don’t, however, think that the topic is only of interest to scholars or to those already invested in Christianity. The Judeo-Christian heritage represents half of the “source” civilization of the West — the other half coming from Athens — and this period, between the Babylonian Exile and the destruction of the Temple in 70CE, is the period in which that first source was fully developed; in which the Christian emerged out of the Jewish and then went on to convert Europe and thereby, create “the West.”

    Of course, to find all this interesting *does* require that one be intersted not just in history, but in roots, and I, of course am interested in both.

  14. Thomas Jones

    Actually, Philip, to me the accounts of his resurrection are as important to Christian doctrine as is the trial and crucifixion.

  15. Thomas Jones

    Dan K, wouldn’t you also say that since Muslim doctrine also lays claim to Abraham and acknowledges that Jesus was a great prophet, this historical period has even broader implications?

  16. Thomas Jones:

    In short, “yes,” although Islam’s connection to Judaism and Christianity is complicated. Also, the world of Islam — even in North Africa and the Middle East — is not part of “the West” as we conceive it.

    But, yes, if you add Islam, one can claim an even greater significance for the study of the period that Leslie and I talk about.

  17. Robin: You are also right about the L,L,L argument, with respect to the disciples. I cannot tell you how many Christian apologists I’ve seen, in debates with atheists, make this sort of argument with regard to Jesus’ resurrection.

    The fourth L — Legend — is always left out.

  18. Well, I believe “the resurrection story” is supernatural fiction, not history. But there could still be a “historical Jesus” about which “We saw him after death!” stories got started. But if “the trial story” never happened, that sort of undermines the essential biography of a possible (historical, non-supernatural) person. Like there was an Alexander The Great of history but he wasn’t a warrior who won battles.

  19. Thomas Jones

    For what it’s worth, Philip: “There is widespread disagreement among scholars on the details of the life of Jesus mentioned in the gospel narratives, and on the meaning of his teachings, and the only two events subject to “almost universal assent” are that Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist and was crucified by the order of the Roman Prefect Pontius Pilate.”

    This Wikipedia entry is heavily footnoted, and if interested, here’s the link:

  20. DanK,

    I apologize for the tone of my hasty comment, sounding unnecessarily condescending. I note that Dr. Barnes not only has a charming smile, but is clearly both knowledgeable about her field and erudite in transmitting that knowledge.

    I admit that my interest here is limited. There are two basic approaches to biblical scholarship – one asking, ‘what are the origins of these texts?’, and the other asking ‘how do these texts hang together?’ Unfortunately the answer to the second question may be, that they don’t hang together – that we’re looking at a quilt, not a tapestry.

    Another problem is that the Lewis discussion does not move into the NT discussion all that smoothly. The fault is actually Lewis’. He’s writing for people who want to believe (in an era when belief is getting shaken by events of the 20th century), and putting them in a position where they need to make a choice. As a ploy it is somewhat akin to Pascal’s Gambit.

    It presents us with a false dilemma. I can certainly hold that Jesus was able to remark some ethical truths *and* that he was something of a loony – there’s no necessary exclusivity here. As to whether he’s lying, that’s really irrelevant, since we only have the asserted quotations of the NT, we have not other means of determining his veracity. But in any case, there’s no reason to assume that he is ‘Lord,’ on the basis of Lewis’ challenge,

    As to whether the gospels are themselves lies, records of hallucination, or straight-forward reportage – concerning any ancient literature, any answer we could possibly give requires compiling as many versions of the narrative as possible, from variant, preferably conflicting sources (since the conflicts will actually weed out certain biases), comparison with non-textual historical records and artifacts, etc., etc. Eventually we say, ‘*In their contemporary context*, this is likely what they meant.’ BTW, all of this is derived from Schleirmacher – a devout Christian and a brilliant scholar. But taken beyond the religious view in which hermeneutics originated, this basically means we are reading such texts the way literary historians read great fictions of past eras, to discover their contemporary context and determine what can be salvaged to apply to literary reading today (or what readers of these texts, literature or not, can use today).

    The NT has problems; a strong social institution grew up around it and effectively cloistered it from critical reading, while at the same time abetting a radical, profound change in the social context in which these texts were first composed. The history that tracked through the decomposition of Rome (and its great libraries), and led to the canonization of the texts, has left us with great lacunae in our efforts to compose a single narrative such that all the loose ends could be tied together. I doubt they can be.

    ‘How do these texts hang together?’ ultimately resolves into speculations – some well-informed, some mere guesswork, none with enough evidence to be convincing.

  21. Hi Dan K,

    The fourth L — Legend — is always left out.

    And, as you say in the video, it does not even require that Jesus was completely legendary, just that key aspects of his story were.

    People say that it was too short a time frame for legends to have started up, but today we see kinds of legends grow up around popular figures. People ascribed words and ideas to Einstein that he did not hold, even during his lifetime. Bill Gates has these legends growing up around him – many people think that he invented the internet and I have even read a few who think that he invented computers. At least one leading Presidential candidate thinks that he is the go-to person for shutting down the internet (God help us, if you will pardon the expression).

    Hi ejwinner,

    You don’t have to be interested, but that does not mean that other people might be reasonably interested. We would not necessarily expect accounts from different sources to hang together completely. From my limited reading of this area it seems that we can conclude that there was a small but robust community of Christians from about 55 AD onwards, about 20 years after his supposed death, who believed and practiced pretty much what a modern Christian (or Protestant at least) believes and practices. We can reasonably infer that, even if the Gospels we know did not exist at that time, there was at least part of them that would be familiar to the Christians then, at least as an oral history. For example Paul refers to “the night on which He was betrayed”, without further details of the betrayal, which suggests he is writing to an audience who would already be familar with this story.

    In the Gospels we get copious references to supposed prophecies that Jesus is supposed to be fulfilling and it would have been odd for this to have been made up from 70 AD onwards since it goes so completely against any expectations of a Messiah, briefly preaching and then dying before he had actually achieved anything. It would have been like someone today making up a story about Christ’s second coming happening in 1973 and then him getting killed shortly after.

    So it seems more likely to me that the idea of Christ as Messiah, or as fulfilling the prophecies, arose while he was still alive and before his life diverged so dramatically from the expectations of such a figure.

    None of that is certain, of course, but I think a reasonable inference from the facts.

  22. Assuming the history of John the Baptist is correct, and that Pontius Pilate executed many, there could have been a number of men who were baptized by John and executed by Pilate. What singles one out from the others as a historical person?

    On the Liar, Lunatic, or Lord (or Legend) question: What I’ve responded to some guys I met from Dallas Theological Seminary was “Lunatic”. That’s a pretty easy answer. (But a good kind of “lunatic”: unhinged from reality but still out to do good.)

  23. I raised that possibility with Leslie, in the dialogue. I asked “what’s wrong with the ‘lunatic’ option? ” After all, one often hears people wonder whether the prophets might not have been schizophrenics.

  24. s. wallerstein

    Does it make any sense to speculate if Jesus or anyone else in the first century CE was a “lunatic”? Being a lunatic or crazy today is a product not only of brain chemistry (which probably hasn’t varied since the first century CE), but also of being labeled “crazy”, of being marginalized, of being treated as “mentally ill”, of not being recognized as “normal” and fully “responsible”, etc. We are the product not only of our genes (brain chemistry), but also of how we are treated: how we are treated is an important influence on how we treat others and the world.

    Calling Jesus a “lunatic” is as ahistorical as talking about “gay” sex in ancient Greek society. Of course, the Greeks had sex with members of their own biological sex, but they mapped those sex acts in such different ways than we do that it doesn’t tell us much, if anything, to talk about their attitudes towards “gay” sex.

  25. Hi Dan, it’s funny to have read several of the comments here, because I too am not much interested in discussions of religion, Abrahamic religions in particular (perhaps because I had enough experience in my youth), and C.S. Lewis in specific (we can discuss my aesthetic opinion of his works some other time). But I gave the video a shot and was well rewarded!

    Now to the analysis…

    1) I never did get Lewis’s claim. On top of the fact that Jesus could actually be a liar or lunatic (personal distaste with such choices do not make them less plausible), it seems obvious (as you guys discussed) that the people writing about him could be liars or lunatics. But I did not hear yet another choice… Jesus or the authors could simply be mistaken. It seems to me that would be the classic position taken by atheists, more so than smearing them as liars or lunatics.

    2) Not sure if you or Leslie have an answer, but why would that criteria (to Lewis) not hold for claims made about any other deities, especially the self-professed kind?

    3) In contrast to Leslie’s faith, you described yourself as Jewish. For some reason I thought you were an atheist, though taking part in Jewish cultural traditions. In any case, you went on to say because of this you don’t believe in Jesus. But doesn’t the Jewish religion still have an idea of a returning messiah and so a Christ (it just wasn’t Jesus). If so, aren’t you (or religious Jews) forced to confront the same question if/when someone turns up making the same claims Jesus and his followers did (assuming Lewis’s version true)? If not, what is/was the role of the messiah in Judaism?

    4) The history of the terms Son of God and Son of Man were interesting. Again, since Christianity emerged from Judaism are people in modern Judaism holding the same “popular” interpretations as many modern Christians (including Lewis) for how those terms were used, or is Leslie’s historical approach taken? Are such concepts viewed as an outcome of Hellenization and so irrelevant to Judaism?

    5) I have problems with the last criterion Leslie mentioned (“dissimilarity”) and can understand why she said it was under fire. Since you said you understand that criterion, can you expand on it’s rationale, particularly in cases where we can’t know what was going on (at that time how does one parse out the singular Xian “agenda”)? And whether you agree/disagree with its use?

  26. S. Wallerstein: Well, I mentioned the sense in which *I* meant ‘lunatic’. As for Lewis, I think we have to give some leway, given when “Mere Christianity” was written.


    You remember correctly. I am an atheist, insofar as I do not believe in the existence of anything supernatural. That said, I quite strongly identify as Jewish, in the sense that I am of the Jewish people, and am quite involved in the local Jewish community, including serving on the synagogue’s Board of Directors. I don’t have the problem you describe, because I don’t take the messianic literature in the Bible literally.

    Re: Lewis, I am very much a fan, of both his fiction and non-fiction. As I said to Leslie, the Chronicles of Narnia had an enormous effect on me as a young child and very much helped shaped my imagination. I still revisit them once a year. Of his non-fiction, the Four Loves and The Great Divorce are particularly excellent, as is much of his short pieces that have been collected into various anthologies.

  27. s. wallerstein

    By the way, claiming to be son of a god wasn’t such a big thing in the ancient world. Achilles is supposed to be the son of a goddess as are several other Homeric heroes. Several Roman emperors claimed to be sons of a god or even gods themselves and no one saw them as particularly crazy for that. Maybe they actually believed that they were divine or maybe it was a bit of political propaganda, but in any case, no one was particularly upset by their claims, as far as I know. I for one really don’t see why Christianity should be singled as “special” among ancient religions, except for the fact that they achieved religious hegemony.

  28. I give Christianity — or perhaps, better, Christendom — a great deal of credit for inspiring artists and musicians to create the finest art the human race has created, thus far. In music and painting, in particular, it is simply unparalleled, and it seems to me implausible that this is due solely to its hegemony.

  29. s. wallerstein

    The fact that Christendom has inspired great music and painting doesn’t have anything to do with whether it’s more plausible than the Greek gods. The Greek gods also inspired great architecture, sculpture and literature (Homer, the tragedies, etc.). My take is that talented people are inspired to create great art by whatever religion or zeitgeist is hegemonic. Only fairly recently (in the 19th century?) has the idea of the artist as a critic of society appeared.

  30. We’ll just have to disagree on this. I do not think that the Christian content is incidental to the greatness of the B-Minor Mass or Jan Van Eyck’s Ghent Alterpiece.

    I also think that the arts inspired by Christianity are the greatest the human race has yet produced, at least in these two media. And so, yes, I think Christianity gets some of the credit for that.

  31. s. wallerstein

    I prefer Cezanne or Renoir (who gives color and life to your blog here) and Beethoven, who wrote some religious music, but probably wasn’t particularly devout himself. Seriously, you prefer Medieval art to Renoir, so full of life, of color, of sane hedonism, of the joy of feasting, all of which seem important to you?

  32. I think the Impressionists are very pretty, but rather shallow. They are very easy to like, but don’t take you much farther than that initial “Ooh, pretty!”

    So, yes, Flemish Renaissance art is vastly superior, in my view — especially Jan Van Eyck and Rogier van der Weyden. And in terms of design, some of the stuff you find in Ottonian and earlier illuminated manuscripts are just impossibly beautiful.



    As for music, there is nothing like Bach’s B-Minor Mass.

    or Vaughan Williams’ Mass in G-Minor.

  33. S. Wallerstein wrote:

    “Seriously, you prefer Medieval art to Renoir, so full of life, of color, of sane hedonism, of the joy of feasting, all of which seem important to you?”


    But beauty is the most important of all. And a beauty with depth is greater than the beauty of surfaces.

    There is also the sublime and the sacred — and for me, it is the arts that sacralize the world.

  34. s. wallerstein

    Thanks for the examples of Flemish art. De gustibus non est disputandum.

  35. EJWinner:

    The NT has problems; a strong social institution grew up around it and effectively cloistered it from critical reading, while at the same time abetting a radical, profound change in the social context in which these texts were first composed.


    I have an entirely different view of the matter. Far from cloistering it, the Patristics and later the Scholastics produced a magnificent body of hermeneutical and theological literature. And only once it had shed it’s infant-identity of “Judaism plus” did it evolve into the magisterial thing that is High Church Christianity.

    That’s why I always laugh at the evangelical/Pentacostal obsession with origins and roots. Christianity reached its greatest heights, culturally speaking, when it was the farthest away from its sheep-herder origins. Between some shack in the Ozarks and Christchurch, Oxford, I know where I’d rather go to hear sacred music.

  36. Certainly. All that one can offer are explanations, in the hope that the other understands one’s own point of view.

  37. s. wallerstein

    I don’t want to rant like a New Atheist, but in many ways Christianity has been a negative influence on so many things. Beginning with the enlightenment and increasing in the 19th century (the young Marx, Nietzsche, Freud, also painters like Renoir and Cezanne), we seem to be recovering a sane sensuality, a sense of the here and now, a celebration of the body, a this-worldliness, all of which seem much more positive than the values of Christianity. For me, the content of art is very important and I don’t feel much affinity for the content of Christian art.

  38. I don’t think it’s really possible to disentangle things like that. Christianity has had such a deep and pervasive influence on Western civilization — including the Enlightenment — that I don’t think you can separate things into little piles and say, “Ah, that pile over there didn’t do us any good at all, while this one, over here, has been great for us.” Many of the best ideas articulated by the Enlightenment philosophers have one foot in Christianity (Kant is a great example of this).

    Western civ was always a combination of influences — of rationalistic Athens and religious Jerusalem — and always will be, because the threads are too intertwined and interdependent to pull apart, without unraveling the whole.

  39. s. wallerstein

    Obviously, Jerusalem has influenced all of us, including those who rebel against it, but perhaps our chief difference is that I value those who rebel against it more than those who reproduce it. Of course, the enlightenment was very influenced by Christianity, but those enlightenment figures whom I most value are those who struggle to liberate themselves and others from Christianity or in the case of Spinoza (the father of the radical enlightenment according to the historian Jonathan Israel) from Judaism.

    The most valuable part of Jerusalem is “don’t do unto others what you dislike to be done unto you”, which, they say, comes from Rabbi Hillel. If that were the chief theme of Christian art, rather than some blonde guy (a blonde Jew?)getting nails driven into him, I’d appreciate it more.

  40. I can’t accept your reductive account of some of our civilization’s greatest paintings, but we probably won’t profit, going around this more.

  41. s. wallerstein,

    “, we seem to be recovering a sane sensuality, a sense of the here and now, a celebration of the body, a this-worldliness, all of which seem much more positive than the values of Christianity.”
    This is the problem of talking about “the values of Christianity”. Shakespeare had the greatest sensuality and this-worldliness of any human being and it was deeply Christian. It was really even better for being Christian. You mention Nietzsche, but Nietzsche would say that “ascetic” ideas, deepened, intellectualized, “Spiritualized” sensuality. “Mankind became a more interesting animal.”

  42. s. wallerstein

    Ok. It’s been a good conversation. Thanks.

  43. s. wallerstein

    David Ottlinger,

    Obviously, Shakespeare was formed within the context of a Christian culture, but many of his plays are not explicitly Christian. In “King Lear”, they speak of the gods, not of the Christian God. “Julius Caesar” is not explicitly Christian either.

    As I recall, the ascetic ideal in Nietzsche (Genealogy of Morality) is not just Christian in origin, but it has been that of most philosophers dating back to Plato or Socrates. Nietzsche, as you point out, does not reject the ascetic ideal per se, but in general, he has a very negative opinion about Christianity, except some Renaissance Popes who were not model Christians.

  44. Wallerstein,

    This is the problem. You are unsympathetic to Christianity and you don’t want it to score any points so you try to take the Christianity out of all great art, which doesn’t work. Shakespeare was not ” formed within the context of a Christian culture”, he was a deeply, deeply Christian writer. In many plays characters refer to “gods” because they are set in pagan societies. Usually, almost always, they are really talking about the Christian God just below the surface. Lear is a paradigm example. Much of Lear is about the reckoning between an effectively Christian view of a benevolent cosmos ruled by a just and benevolent God and an indifferent, essentially atheistic nature. The first view is espoused by Albany, Gloucester, Lear and Edgar (“this shows you are above you gods”, “loyal and natural boy”, “Upon such sacrifices, my Cordelia, The gods themselves throw incense.” “Hear, Nature, hear, dear goddess, hear!” etc) the latter by Edmund and more implicitly Cornwall, Reagan, Oswald and Goneril (“Thou nature art my goddess”) . Edgar’s moralizing message, “We must be patient”, was standard Christian moralizing of the day. More importantly Christian ideals deeply inform nearly all of Shakespeare’s heroes. Brutus’ horror of suicide, just as a for instance, makes no sense as Roman, great sense as Christian.

    Yes the ascetic ideal does not originate in Christianity and yes N is generally negative towards Christianity, but even he does admire Christian art. I also think he has a grudging respect and even admiration for Christianity which often goes unnoticed but I don’t want to get into interpretive issues in Nietzsche.

  45. My favorite opera is Mozart’s “The Magic Flute” (made memorable to me by a film by Ingmar Bergman). It seems to be inspired by paganism and freemasonry. I’m dubious of putting too much significance on Christianity’s contribution to “great art”.

  46. Hi Dan, thanks that makes sense.

    From your experience, how do religious Jews treat this subject, including designations of Son of God/Son of Man? Your comments also made it sound as if Jews put greater or lesser stock in ideas coming from “Hellenized” strains of Judaism vs other strains. Is there a tension within modern Judaism based on historical “outside” influences?

    On Lewis, I definitely wouldn’t want to argue that you shouldn’t enjoy him as much as you have. For my part, I read some of the Narnia and Perelandra series, and bits of non-fiction. He is clearly a talented writer. My problem is that outside of the first Narnia book, he couldn’t sustain my interest. This is possibly because his temperament/beliefs/concerns did not speak to mine. I think in the artistic “debate” between he and Tolkein, Tolkein won. But then to me both of them lost to less ideologically driven writers.

  47. Hi Dan (plus Wallerstein, and David),

    I give Christianity — or perhaps, better, Christendom — a great deal of credit for inspiring artists and musicians to create the finest art the human race has created, thus far. In music and painting, in particular, it is simply unparalleled, and it seems to me implausible that this is due solely to its hegemony.

    This sounds like a nice opener for a Provocations piece. It certainly makes me think of a provocative response 🙂

    I happen to live in the midst of Xian inspired art, indeed Flemish art and craftsmanship! Less than 5 minutes walking distance from the Grote Kerk (,_Haarlem) with it’s amazing interior and “one of the world’s most historically significant organs” (Handel and Mozart played here), and where my gf and I go to listen to concerts much of which is Xian themed (one of our favorite composers is Bach). And of course a short distance from all the wonders contained in Amsterdam, Leiden, and Utrecht. So I’m not a person to dismiss the quality of Xian themed art.

    Still… I think the truth regarding “credit” for these artistic achievements lies a bit more toward s.wallerstein’s position than your and David O’s.

    Isn’t the greatness of the great art you pointed to as much (perhaps more so) wrapped up in the history of artistic styles, and advancing cultural power, than the subject matter itself? And isn’t it reasonable to take religious hegemony into account for how much artistic effort was focused toward Xian themes during those periods rather than others? I mean which of the artists you cited was free (and had money) to devote themselves to any other subject?

    The fact is I identify with, and so can appreciate more, works dedicated to other subjects by some of the great artists from this period (which I agree are great). And (like Wallerstein) I am relieved that artistic energy has since been allowed to move on from Xian themed topics.

    In fact I think this freedom accounts for an interesting shift in Xian art, which raises the question:

    If Xianity as inspiration is somehow the source to be credited for the greatness of the art… then why isn’t modern US Xian art some of the best art ever made?

    If anything the quality of modern Xian themed art (paintings, music, architecture, etc) stands in stark contrast to the works done in the places and periods you cited. If the source of inspiration is the same between the two, the credit for what makes one greater than the other arguably lies somewhere else.

  48. Philip wrote: I’m dubious of putting too much significance on Christianity’s contribution to “great art”.
    And I don’t see how anyone can say this, given the history of painting and music, in the West, but OK.