Trapping Meaning
11 May 2022
Say you’re a medieval peasant. Your life sucks. Your prospect sucks. Come Sunday – BOOM – you get to go to heaven. Even the dour Calvinists back in Africa gave their churches towers, and tried to make them look imposing. Buildings – in their size and their decoration – trap meaning, much the same way that music creates ambience or presentation creates taste. You walk up to a building like this – medieval peasant or latter day sceptic – and you know there’s at the very least some awe to be had. The megachurches of today often mirror lecture halls, tv studios and rock concerts – because that is their commodity, their stock in trade, the vibes they are selling (and when you sell hope, friends and neighbours, you won’t believe the margins). With the creation of spaces those with the means to instruct the public instruct them what to feel, what to think, even what to value. The local pub and house of ill repute always looked dodgy… it makes me wonder what kind of society would imbue those venues with this kind of architectural treatment. Imagine a 1,500 year old brothel – adorned with this kind of detail – and you’d imagine a very different kind of society. It also makes me think about what today’s powerful want me to value… what they want me to think and feel and place worth on, based on the things they build. It seems – in chasing practicality – luckily, perhaps – nothing much at all.
Again, I like having churches around. I adore the feeling, thinking and value they add to human life and public spaces. Just also glad, given history, that the new management seems a little better behaved.

Peter van der Walt is a fiction author, although you may find some non-fiction and the odd essay out there. Fans can find his newsletter, posts, updates and developments at petervanderwalt.com. Currently, he is hard at work on his next story. When not writing, he has far too many interests to reasonably keep up with. He lives with his partner in Devon, England.