The weekend before we left Barcelona, the group went on a day-trip to Montserrat, an absolutely stunning mountain an hour away from Catalunya’s capital. It is an incredibly religious and spiritual place (it is, after all, a monastery).
Montserrat features a large basilica that looms over the town, and, well, everything else really. It features sculptures and biblical scenes carved into its entrance and an overall sense of spiritual importance that can be found only in other major religious architectural sites:
And if you think that the outside is pretty great, just wait until you see the inside. Or rather, don’t wait, because I won’t show you.
As you walk through the entrance of the basilica, a large sign with a red cross over a photo camera greets the daily visitors. And while I normally hate the prohibition of something as basic as a taking a photograph, in this case (as in most cases regarding religious sites), I completely understand, and abide. Maybe this makes me a bad photographer – after all, how many times will I ever go back to this place? How will my parents know what it looks like, or my friends? How will I share this experience I had, if I have no proof? But, then again, this place isn’t for me. I am a visitor in someone else’s home, and as such, I understand and respect the need to abide by the host’s rules.
Which is why I found it unnerving when other students, who (most likely) did not act out of malice but rather curiosity, started to photograph the sermon being given inside once they were settled into the aged pews. So I took out my trusted little red notebook, and vented my anger onto it. The following is that which I wrote in the moment, so understand if my anger blinded me of understanding their point of view.
Call me stuck up, but I like to respect other people’s beliefs and ideas. Sure, I’ll make fun of some small idiosyncrasies or hypocrisies, especially in religion, but if I’m in a church, temple, mosque, or any other place of worship, I will respect their rules – including not photographing, especially that which is meant to go un-photographed. To me, it’s just like visiting someone’s home and “defacing” it, disrespecting it by putting yourself and your ideas and beliefs before everyone else’s, especially the host’s.
I will openly admit my agnosticism to all – after all, it’s well known (to my friends and family) that I don’t have much faith at all. But I don’t think you need to have faith in order to understand that the beliefs others have are, in fact, important, especially when talking about religion. To many, their belief sets and systems are much or all that they have. It’s what has helped them get over the death of their child, their brother or father or mother; it’s what helped them make sense of their misfortune; it’s what has allowed them to move on from the hardest part or aspect of their life. So I think its pretty clear that religion and faith matter, even if only to an individual level. And religion, just as its been used to justify genocide, has also been used to justify the creation of some of the most important and beautiful pieces of art, architecture, mathematics, engineering, etc. Religion, faith, and this basilica, while they mean nothing to me, mean so much to so many others, especially those visiting not to take in the glory of its architecture or artistry, but to talk to their God, to have a personal moment of gratitude or a moment of begging. Places of worship are not for me – literally. They were not created with me in mind, nor were they created for shutter-crazy tourists who snap every detail they possibly can. They are places of quiet and solitude in the midst of a supportive (sometimes) community, a personal place to find oneself. So imagine doing all of this, whether in the best, the worst, or even an average moment in your life, and to hear click … click … *flash* click.
There are moments in my life I wouldn’t want to be photographed by a group of tourists. In fact, I think there are many moments in many people’s lives that they’d rather not be photographed. As a photojournalist, it is – or rather, will be – my job to photograph those moments (evictions, fires, murders, etc.). But there is something so inherently wrong with crossing the line between photographing the physical and photographing the spiritual. I’m definitely making this a much bigger issue than it is. After all, no one here is complaining. No one is looking at us with a nasty stare, or asking the rule-breakers to stop. I sit here alone, as others look forward to take in the glory of the sermon and the song being sung, making a bigger deal than it all really is. But that click to my right, and the one directly behind me, and the one a bit more front, and that flash, that horrid flash – they make this side of me come forth. And all I want to do right now is go up to them, take their camera, look down and state, “learn to respect, and then, only then, will you have your camera back.”
I’m a pretty horrid person tbh.
I also then wrote a non-sensical side note, which I will only include due to the recent release of a study stating that American millennials are the least religious generation in the U.S.’ history.
As a complete side note, I’m worried we – meaning the latest generation, which is statistically more and more atheist or agnostic – are becoming too intolerant of religion and the deeds done in its name. I’m scared we’ll forget the good parts of it, and that we’ll pigeonhole religion as a whole in the same way we have currently pigeonholed Islam as a religion of violence and hatred. I’m afraid we’ll forget to contextualize, we’ll forget that these are people we’re dealing with, and we’ll end up otherizing each other. As it stands right now, atheists are one of the most discriminated minorities in the US (I hear it’s quite different in Europe though). So many of my fears are probably unfunded. But they still stand. As the world becomes more “logical” and less “spiritual,” we might find a scary trend towards what I pointed at.