The Adult Question Box
What drives people to continue building edifices to God?
Indeed, what drives people to build altars, shrines, monuments, statues, temples and cathedrals at all? From Easter Island to Chartres Cathedral to the Taj Mahal to the Temple at Angkor Wat, what is it that drives us to mark the spot, to place stone on stone to signify importance, point to something beyond what we have built?
There is a deep human spiritual inclination to create structures in time and space to signify what is beyond time and space. Christians did and do that with church edifices. The projects have varied widely, depending on the cultures in which they were created.
If there were a spectrum of acceptance relating to church architecture it might be framed with two extreme positions:
We need a roof over our heads ………………………. Churches are signs of transcendence
Opinions stretch from the utilitarian to the idealistic. And we can understand both sides.
For the practically minded a building is created with a purpose and not much attention to beauty. Inspiration takes place inside the building, but is not the product of the building. The church is the people, not a building.
For the artistic idealist a church is a source of inspiration itself, a symbol that takes us somewhere we wouldn’t go without it. From the kind of spaces we create to the light that permeates that space, the spiritual is represented in the material.
As a footnote, ancient cultures that were particularly collective in nature believed that a cathedral was our cathedral. They were not driven by individualism as we are. Those in relative poverty could accept the expense of a cathedral because it graced and shaped the whole village.
Outrageous exaggeration can be found also, of course: conspicuous walls of gold and silver, icons of marble that required untold riches to acquire, years of slave labor to erect the pyramid. What’s the limit to the human inclination to memorialize, to signify? And is there a difference between that human drive and what, say, Jesus might want of his people?
Now there’s a question, that last one. How impressed was Jesus with temples and such? Well, not very. He said the one in the Jerusalem would be tumbling down like a pile of blocks. And just because it fell, God didn’t cease to exist, either.
But I’m still swept off my spiritual feet when I walk into one of the English Abbeys.
What to say? Well, yes and no! But if pushed to the edge of the precipice and required to make a choice … no. We can live without them, putting those resources to other uses for the glory of God.