Thursday, May 11, 2006

What We Have Lost: Beauty

Today's postmodern climate has brought the erosion of many traditional philosophical values. We're going to look at a number in the coming days and examine how their loss has affected the current-day culture. First up is the idea of beauty. The mere word is vague and undefined in today's sphere. We look at why and what we're missing out on in today's blog.

What is the state of beauty today? Well, for most people, beauty is a synonym for "pretty." It means nothing more than attractiveness. What's more, there is no one concept, no grounding idea, by which one labels a thing, person, or action beautiful. One simply follows one's subjective nose for beauty in affixing titles to things. It was not always so. Once upon a time, beauty had a foundation: God. Because God is the sum and source of all virtues, He functioned as the objective grounding for beauty. In other words, because God existed, and He is beautiful, and He created the world and called it "very good" (Gen 1), so we are able to find the beauty that is hidden in this world. What is this beauty to find? It consists of what is good, true, and beautiful. This is the traditional philosophical definition. A second definition, representing a slight advance in the definition (it doesn't use the term in the definition) is that what is beautiful is symmetrical, harmonious, and brilliant. I would offer that the first definition functions well for the evaluation of moral and philosophical questions, and the second functions well for material and matter. For example, in trying to understand whether an action is right, we may say, "Is this true--does it lead to truth or deception? And is it good--tending to the welfare of others according to the character of God?" These are helpful questions to ask in pursuing excellence in life. They are forgotten in today's hedonistic, self-focused culture.

The second set of questions may be applied to the matter of this world. When looking at a face, or a rose, or a building, we may ask, "Is this symmetrical? Does it represent a harmonious whole without disorder or incongruity? Does it possess luminescence or a special quality that lends a certain sparkle or shine?" These questions help us to evaluate the ground-level questions of beauty. In both of these standards of beauty, we ground these ideas in God's character. The second, I think, reminds us of the Trinity: the Godhead functions in perfect symmetry, harmony, and brilliance. It is all in its place, working in perfect fluidity, and it shines with the excellence of perfection. Here is our grounding for beauty. The world does not recognize this. In a situation in which most do not see this, we Christians should point to these things as our standard. Find beauty everywhere--and know that it is grounded not in your mind, but in God's.


Blogger Samuel James said...

Right on. Excellent post.

I would add that the even existence of "beauty" is under attack. For example, I'll give a male perspective. As a guy, I find it typical within guy circles that words like "beautiful" or even "pretty" are typically not used to describe a girl one finds attractive. The most popular word is 'hot'. Note that: we have even moved away from "beautiful" in our vocab, and settled for the titillating.

6:38 PM  

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