Images of Faith (and Non-faith)

Shattered Faith 2

It's funny what you see when you start paying attention. I don't consider my city particularly religious, but there was a two-day period recently when religion seemed to pop up everywhere I looked. Maybe it was because I had been thinking about religious imagery through the eyes of children — about all they must see in the world around them that they don't understand.

I took all three of these pictures after randomly happening upon them. I wonder how many of you could take similar pictures in your neighborhoods — or if you already have.

God is Jesus: The Trinity (the concept that God is three separate and divine persons — a father, son AND a holy spirit) is almost impossible to comprehend, even for the most devoutly Christian. Looks like this kid's got in pretty well in hand, though. The cross with the crown is a nice touch.


Virgin Mary on the Half Shell: This statue stands next door Buddhist Temple and across the street from the Pacific Ocean. The day I drove by, a brother and sister — both grown — knelt and prayed, while their mother found a shady spot to stand and pray. The father, not pictured, took it upon himself to water all the flowers that people had left. There is something sweetly humbling about public prayer, isn't there? It's like people are saying: "Yes, I need a little help with this life thing. And I don't care who knows it."


Shattered Faith: I found this on a patch of grass between the sidewalk and street in a residential neighborhood. I like the way the crack in the sidewalk seems to connect with the crack in the glass — as though the whole world is shattering. That must be the way some people feel when they lose their faith in God.

Anyone else have photos of fun or unusual religious/nonreligious imagery in your town? I'd love to see them. If you're so inclined, please send JPEGS to

Changing Minds Is More Fun When It's Your Own

Yesterday I was helping a friend put together a digital photo book for her daughter. She had arranged all the pictures herself, and I was going through the book adding text and repositioning things. In looking through the photos she had discarded, I found some great shots. I mean, really great shots. Some of them were the sort of unstaged, unscripted family shots that tell a real story. Others were just adorable pictures of her daughter that I couldn’t believe she’d overlooked. I really wanted to make the book as good as it could be, so I made the executive decision to swap out a few of the pictures for others. In a montage from her daughter’s birthday party for instance, I took out a picture of the backs of children's heads and replaced it with one of her daughter’s smiling face.

The result of my well-intentioned inerference was… not so good.

Within hours, my friend had seen the changes I’d made and written an e-mail, slapping me on the wrist as nicely as she could. When I revisited the book, all the beautiful shots were gone.

And you know what? I didn't blame her.

Although I failed to see it at the time, there was a lot of arrogance and presumptuousness in what I did. Now, let me say this: I'm confident, based on my photography experience, that the pictures I chose were of a higher quality than the ones already placed in the book. I know a dozen professional photographers who would back me up on that.

But some things are not about facts, and photography is one of them.

I talk in this blog a lot about backing out of the mindset that keeps us from viewing religious people compassionately. Often, non-theists will tell themselves they can’t respect religion — or, by proxy, religious people — because religion is a fallacy. In this era of science, belief in ghosts and heavens and higher powers is a rejection of reason, they say. How can we support faith in any way, when faith is so obviously false?

But let’s say my friend’s opinion is her faith. She believes her pictures are the best of the bunch — but I know different. Can’t I just try to talk to her about it? Can’t I show her manuals on photography, and discuss what makes one picture better than another? Won’t she listen if I explain to her about lighting and pixels and the rule of thirds? The book will be better, will it not? The end result will justify the means, yeah?

The thing is, my friend doesn’t give a shit what the manuals say. She couldn’t care less about the shadows, resolution or positioning. In her mind, each of those photos is infused with memories. She was there when the picture was taken; she knows what was happening the second the shutter clicked, and what happened after. She knows the people in the photos, and their relationships to her and to her daughter. She remembers what was important about that day. She is keenly aware of every minor shift in her family members’ faces, and what those shifts meant at the time. A smile is not just a smile when you’re looking at someone you love.

My pictures are the better shots — that's the unbiased truth. But the value of that particular truth to my friend? It hovers somewhere around zero. So, in terms of religion, you know what I'm trying to say, right? About how faith is not about facts, but about feelings? And changing minds is not the same things as changing hearts?

I hope so. Frankly, I just don't have time to spell it all out today. I’ve got a photo book to finish.

And it's going to be great.