Are Religious People Less Creative?

Connor Wood thinks so, offering reasons why faith can stifle “openness to new experience and, by implication, creativity”:

The data are clear: religious people are happier with their relationships, more likely to be married (which itself seems to make people happier), more likely to have children, more satisfied with life, more generous with charities (including secular ones), and less likely to get depressed or attempt suicide than secular folks. In other words, they’re more stable.

But here’s the thing: fulfilling all of a religion’s requirements, from attending its services or learning its rituals to organizing the Saturday potluck, takes energy. Like, a lot of it. And the more energy you put into the everyday minutiae of group life, the less energy you have to explore new horizons.

Dreher elaborates:

In past centuries, even creative people pretty much shared the wider society’s metaphysical and religious assumptions. The core beliefs weren’t under constant assault by radical questioning, coming from all angles. Secular modernity, especially in this century, changed all that. Now the religious believer has to devote much of his energy simply to holding ground — I’m talking about within his own mind — that in ages past was not contested. It is emotionally and psychologically exhausting. Religious individuals and communities may be working so hard to hold on to what they have that they see questioning in any sense as a threat to internal and external cohesion, and thus suppress creatives within their community. And, to be fair, it may be true that for people committed to objective metaphysical and religious truth, a time of great cultural flux is not the time to embrace creative experimentation.

What’s more, the broader culture teaches creatives to view religion and a religious mode of thinking with suspicion. We live in a time and a place in which people with creative gifts are enveloped by an ethos of expressive individualism, a way of seeing the world that rejects accepting the disciplines of religion and tradition, and poses them as threats to creativity — which, for the artist, means a threat to his sense of self. The fact that accepting the limits of certain moral and artistic conventions can actually promote creativity by compelling the artist to innovate within established limits is not well accepted. It is a paradoxical truth that imposing restrictions on the free ranging of the creative mind may compel that mind to do its best work. But some creative types only see limits not as rudders, but as anchors. Unfortunately, some religious traditions, suspicious and disdainful of art, buy into this false dichotomy between religion and creativity from the other side.