Art does not occur in a vacuum, even if that vacuum is an atheistic one.
I admit to being fascinated by the worldviews and beliefs that fuel someone’s art. What life experiences and philosophical foundations (or lack thereof) inspire someone to write, draw, or compose a certain piece? Can savage paganism or a bleak metaphysical outlook spawn something meaningful? Especially if the owner of said beliefs doubts anything is meaningful? Which is one reason why dark fantasy, pulp horror director, Guillermo del Toro is so intriguing.
Not only is del Toro one of the most gifted celluloid myth-makers, he is “a raging atheist.”
John Morehead at TheoFantastique in his review of del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth, touches upon some of the “forces” that framed the auteur’s aesthetics. Morehead summarizes a snippet of the director’s interview at NPR this way:
A portion of the interview is heart-wrenching as del Toro describes growing up with a stern Catholic grandmother who saw his identification with monsters and fairy tales as somehow demonic. These experiences, coupled with his work in a morgue, the kidnapping of his father, and his reflections on the Spanish Civil War, all shaped his negative views of Catholicism and organized religion, so much so that in the interview he says he had to jettison the belief that there was an ordering Being beyond the universe and that as a result “we are all on our own.”
Del Toro is not the first person to be driven from the religion of their youth by “stern grandmothers” and such graphic, “heart-wrenching” experiences. He may, however, be the first with this big a platform. And such a wild imagination.
An expose in The New Yorker entitled Show the Monster, builds upon the biographical tidbits, and their devastating existential outcome:
Del Toro had been raised Catholic, but this sight [of a pile of dead fetuses], he said, upended his faith. Humans could not possibly have souls; even the most blameless lives ended as rotting garbage. He became a “raging atheist.”
Call me narrow-minded, but whenever I see an artist of del Toro’s caliber profess godlessness, it breaks my heart. There is something natural, right, about a talented individual acknowledging Something / Someone outside themselves — even Fate or Fortune — that has blessed them. Otherwise, it’s like painting the Cistene Chapel in hell — no matter how beautiful, fantastic, or captivating, it just doesn’t matter.
If the museum of oddities birthed from Guillermo del Toro’s imagination is any indication, one’s religious outlook may have little to do with their creativity and craft. Either way, it’s evidence how the impulse to create is inherent in humans, even if the acquiescence to a Creator isn’t.