Monday, February 9, 2009

Is All Beauty Objective? Continued...

These posts on beauty began with me wondering why some are repelled by beauty and hypothesizing that it may be because it exposes the dreariness in some lives. (Dreariness that I believe could be relieved if one looked to where the beauty is pointing.) They have since focused on the question of whether beauty is objective, with Janine holding the view that some beauty is objective and other beauty is subjective. I maintain that beauty is objective because its source is God. I will try to explain better my thoughts, borrowing heavily from Edwards, Kreeft, and of course, Lewis.

Truth, goodness and beauty are the attributes of God, and therefore are objective. Truth is defined by being. God is. He is the great I AM. Goodness is defined by truth and right relation to truth. Beauty is defined by goodness, we recognize goodness by it's beauty.

When we are tempted to say that beauty is subjective, it is not really beauty that is subjective, but we ourselves that are subjective. We recognize beauty by our desires, or heart, we recognize goodness with our will and we recognize truth with our minds. We who are Christians understand that sin has corrupted our minds, wills and hearts, so when we are tempted to say that all or any of these attributes are relative or subjective, we know this cannot be true as these are attributes of God. We continue to see through a glass darkly because we are still being conformed to the likeness of Christ.

Jonathan Edwards speaks of beauty as the consent of being to being. He sees the beauty in the goodness of actively looking out for an other's welfare. He also sees this beauty reflected in what we understand as aesthetics - harmony, proportion, symmetry, et cetera.

I think Janine's discourse comes from the question of why we are attracted to different things. I think there are a few different reasons. One could simply be how our aesthetic sensibilities have been shaped. Someone raised on pop music and television may have different sensibilities than someone raised being taken to the symphony and theatre, or even of someone raised with fairy tales and simple folk music. Another may be sin. When one is attracted to pornography or drugs, it is a substitute for real beauty. As Anonymous wrote in the comments, it is a lie. The only way to break such an addiction is to exchange it for real beauty. There may also be some who experience different facets of beauty, differently. I recognize in myself this limitation when it comes to cheesecake. I understand that for most people it is a luxurious dessert, but I do not care for it. I see this as a flaw of my palate, not a flaw in the dessert itself. I can recognize the harmony and balance of the ingredients, yet I don't like it.

In his article , A Holy Longing, published in Christianity Today, David Taylor says,(referring to a list of beautiful things),

All these works are beautiful, though never merely subjectively. For in every case they reveal the objective pattern of unity, complexity, and richness, which collectively evoke longing. Differently for each of us, they stir an ache in our hearts. The longing for what? For starters, the longing for joy, for order, and for more beauty.

When we encounter beauty, it points to the All Beautiful, All Desirous. One day we will be united in beauty. As Lewis says in his sermon, The Weight of Glory,

At present we are on the outside of the world, the wrong side of the door. We discern the freshness and purity of morning, but they do not make us fresh and pure. We cannot mingle with the splendours we see. But all the leaves of the New Testament are rustling with the rumour that it will not always be so. Some day, God willing, we shall get in. When human souls have become as perfect in voluntary obedience as the inanimate creation is in its lifeless obedience, then they will put on its glory, or rather that greater glory of which Nature is only the first sketch.....

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