While this seems true in the main, I am not sure it will hold in every case. Please think it out for yourself, and if I happen to be wrong, why, put me straight.
The proposition is this: the artist needs no religion beyond his work. That is to say, art is religion to the man who thinks beautiful thoughts and expresses them for others the best he can. Religion is an emotional excitement whereby the devotee rises into a state of spiritual sublimity, and for the moment is bathed in an atmosphere of rest, and peace, and love. All normal men and women crave such periods; and Bernard Shaw says that we reach them through strong tea, tobacco, whiskey, opium, love, art or religion.
I think Bernard Shaw a cynic, but there is a glimmer of truth in his idea that makes it worth repeating. But beyond the natural religion, which is a passion for oneness with the Whole, all formalized religions engraft the element of fear, and teach the necessity of placating a Supreme Being. Our idea of a Supreme Being is suggested to us by the political government under which we live. The situation was summed up by Carlyle, when he said that Deity to the average British mind was simply an infinite George IV. The thought of God as a terrible Supreme Tyrant first found form in an unlimited monarchy; but as governments have become more lenient so have the gods, until you get them down (or up) to a republic, where God is only a president, and we all approach Him in familiar prayer, on an absolute equality.
Then soon, for the first time, we find man saying, “I am God, and you are God, and we are all simply particles of Him,” and this is where the president is done away with, and the referendum comes in. But the absence of a supreme governing head implies simplicity, honesty, justice, and sincerity. Wherever plottings, schemings and doubtful methods of life are employed, a ruler is necessary; and there, too, religion, with its idea of placating God has a firm hold. Men whose lives are doubtful feel the need of a strong government and a hot religion. Formal religion and sin go hand in hand. Formal religion and slavery go hand in hand. Formal religion and tyranny go hand in hand. Formal religion and ignorance go hand in hand.
And sin, slavery, tyranny and ignorance are one–they are never separated.
Formal religion is a scheme whereby man hopes to make peace with his Maker; and a formal religion also tends to satisfy the sense of sublimity where the man has failed to find satisfaction in his work. Voltaire says, “When woman no longer finds herself acceptable to man, she turns to God,” When man is no longer acceptable to himself he goes to church. In order to keep this article from extending itself into a tome, I purposely omitted saying a single thing about the Protestant Church as a useful Social Club and have just assumed for argument’s sake that the church is really a religious institution.
A formal religion is only a cut ‘cross lots–an attempt to bring about the emotions and the sensations that come to a man by the practice of love, virtue, excellence and truth. When you do a splendid piece of work and express your best, there comes to you, as reward, an exaltation of soul, a sublimity of feeling that puts you for the time being in touch with the Infinite. A formal religion brings this feeling without your doing anything useful, therefore it is unnatural.
Formalized religion is the strongest where sin, slavery, tyranny and ignorance abound. Where men are free, enlightened and at work, they find all the gratification in their work that their souls demand–they cease to hunt outside themselves for something to give them rest. They are at peace with themselves, at peace with man and with God.