dorothy sayers on Christian artistic mediocrity

A bad play is a bad play, and though, like some bad statuary and abominable stained glass, it may assist the prayers of the faithful, it will do nothing to convince the world at large that the Christian religion is worthy of intelligent consideration. And I am not altogether sure even about the faithful; does bad art really do for them anything that good art would not do better? — Dorothy L. Sayers, “Playwrights Are Not Evangelists”

You probably know Dorothy Sayers as the creator of Sir Peter Wimsey and the murder mysteries he so capably solved. She was also apparently a bit of a Christian theologian. A recent book (2005) by Laura Simmons entitled Creed Without Chaos: Exploring Theology in the Writings of Dorothy Sayers offers reflections on Sayers and loci such as the incarnation, the Trinity, sin and evil, vocation, words and language, women’s issues, and a chapter on creativity and art, which begins with the quote offered above and continues,

Nothing has done more to fasten the stigma of insincerity and stupidity upon the Christian religion,” acknowledged Dorothy L. Sayers, “than the horrid florescence of ‘religious’ art.” Sayers, like many Christian artists, thought deeply about the relationship between the church and the arts. She worried in a letter to the bishop of Coventry that “the reason why one doesn’t expect a professing Christian as such to be witty or intelligent or artistic or lively is that we don’t really believe that God is any of these agreeable things or the source of them.” Laura K. Simmons, Creed Without Chaos: Exploring Theology in the Writings of Dorothy L. Sayers (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005) p133.

My sense is that this is changing among this next generation of Christians. Do you think the whole conversation about being ” emergent,” or even the apparent rise in Reformed theology among the present twenty- and thirty-somethings of Christians is evidence of this?

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Russ says:

    The final quote is fascinating. Many Christians seem to believe that the creative side of man was some kind of aberrated adaptation from the Fall, instead of the endowment of the creative God.

  2. Jason says:

    I get her point, and in many respects agree with her, but I think Sayers may give a little too much credit to the influence of art here. Equal or greater damage has been done to the Christian witness by service industries. The shabby house painter who gets bids because he’s a “Christian,” leaves a pretty bad taste in one’s mouth. Likewise, the bi-vocational pulp wood cutter/preacher who shafts single mothers out of their hardwoods while cleaning up after a blizzard is a shining testimony to “Christian” insincerity. Flannery O’Connor is pretty good about noting the damage that these types of individuals bring to the cause of Christ.

  3. Melissa says:

    I adore Sayers’ writings. Her “Mind of the Maker” is a wonderful work on the creative impulse in mankind as an expression of the image of the creator God.

    Back in the 80s, Franky Schaeffer (son of Francis) wrote a book on this theme called “Addicted to Mediocrity.” His case was that evangelical Christians tend to evaluate artistic work based on whether it has a “Jesus bumper sticker” rather than on whether it really has artistic merit. I don’t remember all of the details of his argument, but the “Jesus bumper sticker” part has stuck with me for years.

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