Monthly Archives: March 2019

7. Beauty and Reality

Beauty has made a comeback. After years of being relegated by intellectual elites to the junkyard of old and outdated concepts, it is now popping up everywhere. The terminology of beauty is, strangely enough, now heard often in scientific and mathematical discourse, speaking of the beauty of mathematical models or theorems, the elegance of “nature’s ways”, or the beauty of the cosmos and its laws.

Without explicitly conceding the Christian argument, the world’s very use of this kind of language shows that an indispensable idea has pushed its way back into popular consciousness. Indeed, post-modern culture is a very aesthetic culture. Images are coming to again dominate mass media. Popular music and its fantasy-videos are the daily worship of millions of teenagers. The idolisation of the body and of youth is our world’s near full-time pursuit. Addiction to online media is growing and ever immersive experiences of entertainment are prized. Pornography is more than a contagion spreading beyond men hidden behind screens, but a cultural tsunami that is pornographying fashion, dress, and relationships in general. The longing for religious or quasi-religious experiences in organised or informal religion has never been higher. Sports and thrill-seeking have become quasi-faiths. These are all forms of sensuous experience and phenomena, which is to say, they are aesthetic experiences and aesthetic phenomena. Beauty or its pursuit is everywhere: even when the object of the pursuit is ugly indeed.

All of this is ultimately a pursuit of meaning, of purpose in existence, of pleasure in life. People desire the experience of beauty, though they fumble in the dark for what it truly is.

Beauty is more than an adjective to describe objects. It deals with the very fabric of reality, the very meaning of existence. The glory and beauty of God is a first principle, an ultimate reality. An encounter with true created beauty is an encounter with some revelation of the divine.

Many former secular unbelievers have come to consider the existence of God or the claims of Christ because of an encounter with beauty, particularly in art. Where reason could not persuade, beauty spoke profoundly and immediately of the true nature of being. In Japan alone, thousands of people have been drawn to Christianity through hearing and playing the works of J.S Bach.

What Rudolf Otto called “the numinous” is the experience of beauty that pushes its observers beyond sheer materialism or naturalism, and towards supernaturalism, transcendentalism, even Christian forms of Platonism. C.S. Lewis’s oft-quoted words on desire sum up the metaphysic that beauty suggests: “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world”.

Of course, we must chasten our expectation of how convincingly beauty can persuade one of Heaven, eternity, and God. God’s existence cannot be proved through beauty. Indeed, no one should try to prove what is an axiom of knowledge (Prov 1:10, Ps 53:1), and a matter of innate human intuition (Rom 1:19).  But once it is admitted that beauty exists, the burden of proof shifts to the materialist to explain beauty’s existence without God.

Put simply, beauty witnesses to the supernaturalism and transcendentalism that Christianity’s worldview depends upon. Beauty identifies spiritual ideas such as unity and harmony in the created order. In short, beauty points to existence and reality beyond physical materialism.

A Parable About Pop Music in Church

Christian 1: So I hear you have a problem with lollipops?

Christian 2: Lollipops? No, I think they’re just fine.

Christian 1: But you apparently won’t eat them for family meals.

Christian 2: That’s true. I prefer my family eats some kind of meat, vegetables or healthier food for their meals.

Christian 1: So you prefer the “high” food. That’s okay, as long as you can respect other people’s food preferences.

Christian 2: Preferences? Look, I’m not sure we’re talking about the same thing here. I’m talking about feeding my family. Lollipops are tasty, and fun, but they are not food. They’re amusement for your tastebuds. I enjoy them as much as the next guy, but they’re not real nutrition. It’s really not about high food versus low food, as much as it is about actual food versus dietary entertainment.

Christian 1: So you have a problem with people having lollipops for dinner.

Christian 2: Well, I’m not responsible for other people’s families. I certainly have a problem with doing so for my own family. And I pity and worry about those families that do so, especially if they eat almost nothing else.

Christian 1: You know, I think you really need to spend some time in Romans 14. See, you are what the Bible calls “the weaker brother”. You need extreme convictions to feel “safe” in your conscience. I don’t want to rock your world, but I just want you to consider that there are some very godly and mature believers who have lollipops for dinner.

Christian 2: I’m well aware of that. Do you know why they do so?

Christian 1: Because they have come to see that food is neutral, and that any kind can glorify God. Those believers have a preference for sweet things, just as you have a preference for salty things.

Christian 2: Uh, no. I don’t have a preference for salty things. Given a choice of tastes of what I find more immediately tasty, easier to recognise and more powerfully evocative, I’d take sugary drinks and eats every time. But there is a reason sweets and lollipops are the food at children’s birthday parties, and there is a reason why armies feed their soldiers protein.

Christian 1: I think it’s elitist and snobbish to call lollipops childish just because you don’t like them. It’s spiritual pride to insist that your food preference must be practised by others.

Christian 2: I don’t think you’re listening. I actually do like lollipops, in their place. But I know what they are there for. They are a simple pleasure, a distraction for your tongue. But to turn a distraction into sustenance and nutrition for your family is not about culinary preferences. It’s a serious error in judgement: a complete misunderstanding of what food is, what nutrition is, and what the human body needs to be healthy.

Christian 1: If it is such an error, why are so many families doing it?

Christian 2: I don’t know. Possibly parents are becoming more permissive and child-centred, not wanting to displease their children, and giving them what they want to keep them happy. Perhaps parents have been cut off from a living tradition of good meals and are now turning to whatever they see advertised. Maybe those parents who try to give good meals are overwhelmed by the sweets-envy their children have of other families, and they capitulate to keep the peace. Perhaps parents are becoming more ignorant about the nutritional value of food, and more obsessed with being popular parents.

Christian 1: Well, I just don’t think this is something worth dividing over.

Christian 2: Maybe. But when your children get sick, they play with my children. My children can’t give your children their health. But your sick children can give my children their sickness. What you call a preference affects others.

Christian 1: So maybe your family should just keep to yourselves, and keep away from our ‘sickening influence’.

Christian 2: No, that wouldn’t be loving. When you and your family land up in hospital, someone needs to visit you, care for you, and teach you the importance of good meals when you come out. Someone needs to conserve health, because a lot of sickness is coming.

Christian 1: Well, we’re doing just fine right now. I think your whole “food-conservatism” thing is a bit quirky, and probably quite limiting for you.

Christian 2: I hope you are blessed with good health. God’s laws of sowing and reaping mean that bad choices add up to a bad harvest, so if I am correct about the dangers of lollipops-as-meals, I don’t think the result of your choices will be a good one. If that day comes, I have some great recipe books I’d love to share with you.

Christian 1: Recipe books! Ha! I haven’t seen one of those for years! But that’s a nice thought.

Christian 2: I hope that’s all it turns out to be.