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Do Religious Beliefs Stifle Creativity?

Do Religious Beliefs Stifle Creativity? June 16, 2021

Although I grew up in the Lutheran church, in 1979 I converted to Seventh Day Adventism and became deeply entrenched in its apocalyptic fervor. I became so deeply committed to the faith that within a year I flew halfway across the US to study for the ministry.

Prior to my conversion, while in my teens, I had been a highly creative individual. I played the drums and guitar, spent many hours sketching, wrote poetry, spent a king’s ransom on a new Nikon camera and wide-angle lens to shoot photos of skateboarders, and skated myself about 20 hours a week.

Then at nineteen I “got saved,” went to school to study for the ministry, and gave up every form of creative “self-gratification” except the guitar.

Does religious faith inspire creativity or hinder it? / Image by freestocks-photos from Pixabay

First, I gave up skating. Next, the desire to keep the second commandment and “not create any graven images” led me to sell my beloved camera. Drums were strictly verboten in my denomination, so I gave up the best instrument, which ironically, helps other musicians keep time. And even though I kept my classical guitar, I had to scale back my playing to an elementary level so that my music could be accepted by other churchgoers.

The “Day the Music Died.”

I have no doubt that this creative death sentence led me to cherish the immortal song American Pie by Don McLean in which he sings . . .

“. . . bye-bye, Miss American Pie
Drove my Chevy to the levee, but the levee was dry
Them good ol’ boys were drinkin’ whiskey and rye
Singin’, “This’ll be the day that I die
This’ll be the day that I die”

Why? Because I credit my conversion to Christianity as “The day the music died.” In other words, the period in which creativity died in my life.

Some Science

There’s not a lot of scientific data on the subject, but what little evidence there is leans towards the affirmative. Yes, non-believers are more creative than believers. Here’s a few sources readers can wade through which flush out a few interesting details such as . . .

There is evidence to suggest that “apostates” were more likely to have engaged in a lot of creative pretending and role playing as children.

In another study , using the gross national product per capita (GDPpc) in 87 countries as a guide, discovered:

“The results showed that: (1) religiosity was negatively associated with creativity at national level; (2) Proportions of Protestant and Catholic adherents in a country were both positively associated with national creativity, while proportion of Islam adherents was negatively associated with national creativity . . .”

Science has a way of presenting data that is often dry and impersonal. In ascertaining whether religion hinders or fosters a person’s creative talents subjective experience may prove to be the better indicator.

What’s your experience?

Speaking from personal experience, religion killed my creative interests in the short-term, and likely curtailed it in the long-term. During my time as an Adventist, I acted on the imperative that Jesus could return at any moment, so there was no time for me (as well as other disciples of the faith) to be engaged in any frivolous creative pursuits. The notable acceptation is that if one uses their “talents” to promote the tenets of the faith then their creative aspirations are welcomed.

Another point I wish to make is that once I left religion I started making up for lost time. I vigorously returned to the creative interests I had before my conversion. I did so for personal pleasure but also to reconnect with people. Very little happens in life that does not rely on human creativity and ingenuity. If we don’t use our talents, we are dead to the world.

One might even conclude that a world filled with religious adherents, who do not appreciate the creative advancements made by mankind in the areas of science, is also dead.

So, I pose the question: Are skeptics, atheists, and other non-believers more creative than individuals who follow religions?

About Scott R. Stahlecker
Scott Stahlecker is a former minister and now writes for Thinkadelics about the joys and benefits of living as a freethinker. He is the author of the novel "Blind Guides" and "Picking Wings Off Butterflies." You can read more about the author here.

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6 responses to “Do Religious Beliefs Stifle Creativity?”

  1. When I was a kid I was very creative but once I got saved I scaled back a lot. Once I gave up religion completely I found myself becoming more and more creative and now have a vast skill set.

  2. I grew up in a middle-of-the road Methodist church where we kids were encouraged to color in pictures in Sunday school and sing in church. The Catholic kids I knew were always joining bands or winning prizes in art or something.

    When I got to college my 3 roommates were all Southern Baptist Born-Again Christians who thought everything that required thought or creativity was a trick of the Devil. Hang up a poster of a basket of kittens by your bed? That’s SATAN tricking you into…something something going straight to hell. Use a popsicle stick to draw a happy face in your cupcake icing? STRAIGHT TO HELL for “false idols”.

    When the bands The Hooters and Amy Grant got popular, suddenly it was okay because they were CHRISTIANS, you see, not hell-bound Methodists–they were THE RIGHT flavor of Christianity.

  3. WOW! The treatment by your roomies, how horrible. That’s breaking the extremism meter!

    I sure did like Amy Grant though. As well as a band called the Second Chapter of Acts.

  4. There was a fundagelical surge in the early 1980s and the people caught up in them were really zealous and uneducated about their own faith. Just one sample of the ignorance: “We Baptists are the true Christians–we were around before Jesus!” To which I replied, “If you existed before Jesus, you would not be Christian”. Also, “Baptist is a sect of Protestantism that came out of Martin Luther’s breaking from the Catholic church in 1517.” <–they accused me of making that up because they were virulently anti-Catholic.

    Some other gems of SBC brainwashing: one's church picketed in front of the movie theater when the Star Wars movies came out because God didn't say there was life on other planets and therefore it was the work of Satan. Oh, and one was kicked out of her church at the age of 19, because any girl who reached the age of 19 without getting married was either gay or sleeping around–thus a bad influence on the other girls. Her pastor had been trying to fix her up with 40-year-old men to save her from excommunication.

    It was a real learning experience!

  5. This morning I was reading through a slew of questions on on exAdventist FB page. The person’s comments I was reading is an exAdventist, but not an exChristian. This is pretty common among people who escape cults, but still want to follow Christianity. She does not know how to spell the word Christian, and instead spells it Cristian. So you can imagine how illogical her comments read.

    I wouldn’t want to make any personal judgements about her, but I think it is fair to say that there is definitely a correlation between intelligence and religiosity. Many who believe the most bizarre religious concepts seem to have a profound impediment to thinking logically. It’s even more pronounced these days in those who claim to follow Christianity but who also believe the wildest of conspiracies. It’s too easy to say that conspiracy theorists are misinformed or getting their new from fake news. It stems more from an inability to think in rational terms.

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