Saturday, September 30, 2006


Reading another blog, which I'll probably recommend shortly (I make a point to pray about and carefully consider all such recommendations before making them), I found a post on the concept of beauty - a young woman noting that we ought to value physical beauty; not above inner beauty, but value it nevertheless. God created beauty, including the beauty of a woman, and being plain is not somehow more holy than being attractive - especially when it is by choice; we ought to honor God with our bodies as well as with our minds.

All of this spurred me to thinking a bit on the concept of beauty, and so I want to talk about that for a moment, starting by quoting part of my response to her blog:

"So often our church culture rejects certain kinds of beauty (it can be argued that much of the history of the twentieth century church was a rejection of high forms of art, for example... which might explain the current downward spiral of much of it) instead of realizing that all beauty is from God and ought to be valued."

This is unfortunately the truth in our church culture right now - though it's neither unavoidable nor irreversible. I don't believe it's coincidence that the twentieth century that saw the most degradation of art - that saw art lose all sense of intrinsic value, that saw us descend from greatness to mediocrity, that saw urinals replace grand sculptures as our definition of good art, that above all saw the idolization of the absurd and the revolting and the rejection of even the conept of beauty. In the twentieth century were born the fruits both of the increasing self-isolation of the Church and the increasing dominance of a secularism so profound it eventually rejected any absolutes in its quest to rid itself of the legacy of Christianity. Modernism's brief flourish in the late 19th and early 20th centuries last only so long as people forgot that reason operated only so long as the world had some intrinsic reality to it. The moment people realized that without God, there are no absolutes, reason died in our culture and was replaced by a kind of mad egocentrism that elevates the self to the highest position as arbiter of beauty. Without a source of absolute understand, everything is beautiful, they thought. What they found is that nothing is.

In reaction, the Church grew more cloistered in upon itself, as if to say, "We left, and you walked further away, so we'll retreat even farther." And down the slippery slope the artistic world went, faster and faster - music sliding into atonality for the sake of atonality; visual art into abstraction for the sake of abstraction; and so forth. Meaninglessness and nihilism became the order of the day. The concept of beauty has been so distorted that it means nothing. And this dreadful process has seeped into every part of culture. The Church, when it finally awoke to the reality that God has called us to be active in culture, seemed (and sometimes still does) at an utter loss at how to engage the people around it, from whom it had grown so distant as to be unrecognizable to most of the public. And so, it is only of late that we finally begin to see a true Christian understanding of beauty, of artistry, of the pursuit of excellence once more awakening. For it was only slumbering - men like Bach and Dostoevsky and Tolkien knew it well. Once again Christians are beginnging to take to the forefront in the arts (or at least striding in that direction).

Is it coincidence that we are beginning to see a reformation in the musical world, a return to tonal systems and an emphasis placed once more on the edification of the listener rather than on the whim of the composer? That in the visual arts, those who seek to portray the world as it is, or to say something meaningful even in their slight abstractions, are once more gaining credence? I do not believe it is. The Church, following the vision cast by men like Chuck Colson in How Now Shall We Live, is at long last equipping the saints to go forth and move the mountains of culture. Movies like The Passion of the Christ and now Facing the Giants show that excellence in Christian film is not only possible but probable, if we pursue it. The same is true in every one of the arts.

Perhaps, and just perhaps, if we continue to stride forward, a revolution may once again take hold of the world's understanding of beauty, and we may once more find ourselves understanding the glory of God's creation, signing every creation of our own soli Deo gloria. And perhaps if we understand this in the arts, we can carry it forward into the rest of our worldview, from the humanities to the sciences.

- Chris

1 comment:

  1. Great post. I'm frustrated with my church sometimes. They say they want everybody to come in, they are welcoming enough when the straggly stranger shows up for church, but after he is saved and they can add him to the roles, what more do they do to help keep him around? On the other hand, should someone with a large wallet come in, he is woo'd for months and even years. Unfortuantley with christians, appearances are just as important as they are in the real world.

    How's the wrist/arm/broken pieces?


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