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Beyond Belief: The Unusual Spiritual Journey of Barry Moser

A Report by Allison Ristaino '14

On Tuesday, September 20th, 2011, an audience was captivated by the stories of Barry Moser, Professor-in-Residence in Art and Printer to Smith College and author of over 250 books as well as illustrator of the Pennyroyal Caxton Bible.

Professor Moser spoke about his relationship with religion and his spiritual journey. Moser grew up in Chattanooga, Tennessee where he first encountered religion upon going to church with his grandmother and Aunt Velma who was a Christian Scientist. As a boy, he kept what he thought was a Bible in his back pocket at all times to try to infuse himself with the good word through osmosis. However, his first big encounter with religion happened years later at military school where he was drawn to a Methodist church in order to meet some ladies. There he joined a Methodist youth group and eventually became a preacher at the fresh age of 19. Another experience that had a profound impact on his life was a trip to his friend Johnnie's church in his 20s. He was so grateful to be accepted in a primarily black church, and was disgusted by the fact that his friend Johnnie would not be accepted in the white church he had been attending. Today, Moser most identifies as a skeptic of all religions that claim to be certain of anything. He finds his spirituality through music and remarkable religious architecture.

I had the pleasure of chatting with Professor Moser after his story in which we spoke more about the inspirations for his drawings. He told me that he approached his work from both a historical and spiritual light. He explained to me that some things in the Bible were historically true, and others are more meaningful stories that may or may not be interpreted literally, depending on one's beliefs. Therefore, he used common sense, historical information, and his own imagination to create beautiful images. For his drawings, Moser has received praise as well as a lot of hate mail. Some complaints included problems with his use of nudity (such as his interpretation of Wisdom when God created the heavens) and his image of Jesus that seemed to one woman to give him the breasts of a woman. In good humor, Barry Moser sent that woman a picture of the man he used as a model to show how the muscles on his chest appeared. "I just sent her a little reminder," he chimed.

Barry Moser is a delightfully witty man with great wisdom when it comes to religion. The night ended with a quotation that I believe best showcases his wit and interesting views on spirituality: "I want to be in the company of pious people as much as I want to be in the company of the proctologist."