We are spiritual beings, created for a relationship with God. So what happens to us as a society when fewer people seem to have that relationship, and Christian faith is on the decline? The answer is that people process the questions of faith, life, purpose and meaning in other ways. If you're looking in the right place, you don't have to look for long before you stumble across expressions of, or references to, spiritual issues.
The place to look is the arts. In the absence of moral teachers we process moral issues through telling ourselves stories: the soap operas are nothing if not bloated morality plays about the consequences of sin. We allow pop stars to speak as our prophets (see the post below on Bono), and films to give us an experience of transcendence.
And then there's pictures. The new exhibition at the Royal Academy, which opens this weekend, features a picture of Tony and Cherie Blair as Adam and Eve being expelled from Paradise (also known as No. 10). The 2 side panels feature vicious scenes of war, and it is a comment on Blairs own reflection that God would be his judge for going to war over Iraq. The picture has a clear view of what this judgement should be. You can see it at this link:
The show has several other exhibits with a religious theme, or which play on spiritual issues. One exhibit compares Superman and Christ (not surprisingly, as the Superman story is based on the Christian story in many overt ways), there are references to the Beatitudes, and Tracey Emin (also an exhibitor) was on the radio earlier this week talking about expressing spirituality through her art.
Lots of half-formed questions swim around my head, like how the church can embrace art without domesticating it, about why we're nervous about shocking prophetic art when there's plenty of shocking and visceral prophecy in the Old Testament, about what a community of disciples within the artistic fray would look like, and about whether there's a form of spiritual direction which can chart the footsteps of Jesus for artists.