A Religion-Camera Analogy

My son and I took lots of photos on our recent trip and I have used two to decorate this post.  But before this trip I rarely took photographs.  Yet after staying with two hosts who were published photographers and discussing their views on photography I have been inspired to perhaps attempt more photography in the future.  Our kind Belgian host not only taught my son some photography, but also gave in a fun, introductory lesson in tabla.

In my last post, a commentor illustrated a possible misuse of photography:

“In the Louvre [museum, in France] in front of da Vinci’s Mona Lisa … I saw a tourist come up, take about 5-6 pictures, then leave. I don’t think he even saw the painting except thru the viewfinder!”
— sql

This photography criticism made me think the following analogy:

“People can use their religion just like they use their cameras: to either separate themselves from reality or to appreciate reality.”
— Sabio

Below I will push the analogy by listing both poor and skillful uses of religions and cameras.  I invite readers to criticize my analogy.   Readers who lump all practice of religion into the same pile or those who are reflexively anti-religious may object to the analogy.  They may feel that there is no way that delusional beliefs can be used well.  But I disagree: delusions can be used skillfully and religions can be much more than just delusions.

Indeed, most readers of this blog will probably agree to some extent with my efforts here.  For instance, our young generous French hostess in this picture was unabashedly Catholic and after long talks about her past, I saw how her Catholicism has served her well as a fantastic life preserver and life amplifier.

My son and I met both religious and non-religious folks on this trip and enjoyed them all equally.  But let me start with a list of shared misuses of both cameras and religions:

  • Grasping for Immortality: Cameras can be used to try to create a sense of immortality. How many pictures are thrown away of people after they die (or within a generation or two)? When they snap the photo, part of their minds may be deceptively hoping to preserve more than is possible.
  • Idealizing:  Sometimes, with tweeking of angles, lenses, timing setting etc, a photo can look much more magical than reality.
  • Filtering: We often take family photos when people are smiling, laughing or happy; when they are victorious, successful or proud. We rarely intentionally try to capture failure, sadness, jealously, fear or such aspects of our reality. Some photographers do this, of course, but it is usually of others, not their own lives.
  • Amplification of Self: Sometimes we want to feel accomplished or to brag about our experiences: see where I have been; who I have met; what I have done.

I am guilty of all of these criticisms.  But we inevitably mix both the good and the bad.  Let me try and list some of the possible skillful uses that people make of both their cameras and their religions:

  • Celebrating life: making art, enriching experience
  • Fighting injustice, coercion and more
  • Acknowledging suffering and encouraging sympathy and kindness
  • Preserving, teaching and sharing with others
  • Building community, friendship and family

Question for readers: Can you think of other applications or refutations of my analogy?

Picture note:  Our French hostess illuminates the sign-word “Rappel” which puzzled us throughout our trip in France.  Apparently in French signs it just means “Remember”!  So a stop sign with the “Rappel” below it means: “Stop!  Remember, we mean it!”.  This struck me as hilarious.  Our hostess never thought of how odd that may seem and enjoyed it with us.


Filed under Philosophy & Religion

7 responses to “A Religion-Camera Analogy

  1. Ive never had a problem with a religion that enriches an individual life, inspires charity and kindness, or provides meaning and guidance. The problem occurs when they decide that their religion is perfect for not only their children and neighbors, but for everyone else. Inevitably, this is where all religions lead, to dictating how your neighbor should live. That is the primary difference between photography and religion.

    Photography has one trait that religion lacks. It can provide a mirror to reflect, It can help someone to understand how others see them.

  2. @ Bart Mitchell,
    Thanks for sharing. I agree that the desire to make other like yourself is a huge fault — and many people use their religion this way. But I must say, I know many Shintos, Jews and Buddhists who don’t do that. So I would challenge your statement that says, “Inevitably, this is where all religions lead…”

    I also agree that having a mirror to reflect and understand yourself is important. But I think many religions offer this in a way that secular culture does not. And, I agree with you that photography can also do this but I don’t see many people doing it — usually just the artists who are photographers.

  3. TWF

    Reading Bart‘s comments reminds me of family members who would force you to sit thought slide shows of their past vacations. 🙂

    I like your analogy. You know, most people wait to take photos for a special event, which is also when a lot more people show up at church, like Easter or Christmas.

    I had to laugh at the comment about snapping photos of Mona Lisa and leaving. I’ve done the same kind of thing before. To me, the aesthetics, the feeling, or intention of the art is more important to me than its fame. I’ve often taken much more time studying lesser known artists than the biggies, except maybe Van Gogh.

  4. @ TWF,
    I have taken pics of art so as to use them later for posts. I must admit, I am an art baffoon — I know nothing.

  5. “People can use their religion just like they use their cameras: to either separate themselves from reality or to appreciate reality.”
    – Sabio

    I rather like that thought. But wasn’t it Jung who said religions were quite usually a means to insulate people from the real? Or something along those lines.

  6. @ Paul Sunstone,

    Hmmm, not sure what Jung said. But the fun thing about generalizations about religions is proving them wrong.

    – Smile

  7. @ Sabio: I don’t think there’s enough to it for a blog post, so I’ll just tell you here.

    Years ago, I was up in the mountains lightly meditating. After a few hours, I noticed the evening sunlight was striking some folded rocks in a way to make some of their folds look like smiles; and for some reason, it struck me as funny and I began laughing.

    A few years later, I started using the internet and thought it best to have an user name. Later that day, I went into a light meditation during which I recalled the rocks. Names began to effortlessly occur to me: Folded Rock, Sun-on-Rocks, Rock-and-sun, Laughing Rocks, Stone Sun, Sun stone.

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