Religion in the twenty-first century has become rather un-trendy to say the least. The atrocities and violence committed in the name of Islam and in the name of Christianity in Africa have become so firmly etched in peoples’ consciousness that it seems to see through the violent distortions and perversions of the different faiths to the underlying substance of the religion. It seems to be too big an ask for most people.
Faith has constantly fasciated me since my school days. I studied Theology at Kings, London, not because I would define myself as in any way religious, but because I find it so fascinating and its metaphysical language so powerful, beautiful and transcending. I do find it difficult to believe in this day and age that people actually believe that the world was created in seven days and other similarly fantastical claims to be actual fact rather than a ‘version’ of truth manipulated for a spiritual teaching, a metaphor or political polemic/propaganda, to be quite unbelievable sometimes. It never ceases to amaze me. I write that with the utmost respect to individual views and rights of freedom of belief for people to believe whatever anyone wants to believe, but it seems to be that a less literal interpretation of any scripture is the sensible way forward, and it is not the literal truth that is the most important or relevant perspective. Jewish scholars have written countess volumes interpreting their scriptures and teachings. There are teachings about interpretations of teachings that are in themselves opinions or interpretations of some other or someone else’s interpretation, and so on.
This seems a very sensible, logical, and a modern way to interpret and enjoy religious writings. To me as it is undeniable that every single person on this planet could take something from any religious text if they opened their minds and interpreted with a sense of historical perspective and intelligence. Societies change over time and what was once a truth is no longer a truth in the modern world, and a rule that applied two thousand years plus ago is no longer applicable now. This is not microwave religion or pick and mix faith, but in my mind just a sensible, intelligent way of interpreting religion and its teachings. My own personal way of looking at it, as religion and faith, I believe are very personal pillars and it is spirituality to be all hippy dippy about it, that is the modern way of perceiving and interpreting metaphysical truths and of a western world dealing with an increasingly difficult and alienating way of life. People are getting lost in the modern world and need quiet and peace, whether that sense of peace is achieved through following the Kabbalah, meditation, yoga, mindfulness, the watered down Buddhism of self help books, listening to their Headspace app on their mobile phone or reading the less religious and more acceptable fables like The Alchemist on the tube to and from work, it seems to be that society is searching for a way to deal with being a society in the modern world.
Through all the differences between teachings from different faiths ( and there really aren’t that many) certain truths are universal: love, tolerance and respect are the fundamental building blocks of any religion. Religion is just a way of getting through
life. A guidebook, there if the individual wants to pick it up or not.
This fascination with faith and religion lead me to start a photographic project photographic religious sites around the Middle East and Asia. Well, that is where it started. It is an ongoing project. Most of these shots are from Israel, the Holy Land itself. It’s ancient streets and synagogues, churches and Mosques are such amazing places and have such importance to so many people, I wanted to capture what I see in those places. Not as an outsider, but as a ‘respect-or’ of the structures and beliefs that they represent. In many ways I wish I did believe to the extent that religious followers believe. I love seeing the faces of the faithful, often so serene and joyful, so certain and sincere in their beliefs. I often envy such certainty. It must be nice to believe something so totally. The power and significance that these structures hold for some many people just cannot be underestimated. The stony and solemn and often crumbling grandeur of Israel’s sites contrast with the glitzy Disneyland buddhism of the golden temples of Burma, Myanmar and Nepal in which there always seem to be brightly colourful plastic chairs everywhere you look, flashing digital clocks and lights emanating froth Buddha’s halo, such a contrast from the tormented, anguished suffering face of Christ on the cross, yet they are symbols that offer similar comfort and strength to their followers. It is such differences that makes this subject so fascinating. I have never shown these images before. I hope you can find something in them.
All pictures with thanks from William Baker’s personal collection