Monday, June 9, 2014

Quotable & Commentary

“The awful thing is that beauty is mysterious as well as terrible. God and the devil are fighting there and the battlefield is the heart of man.”
―Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

Isn't that the truth. If there is magic in the universe, it is in beauty itself. Wonder, awe, the numinous, these experiences are what make life worth living, and what motivate us to act in ways that exceed the limits of rationality. The only things that can make us care about something more than our own survival, is these feelings. Beauty is spiritual power.

Yet this power is neither inherently good or bad. There is good wonder and bad wonder. There is beauty that pushes you to your highest height and beauty that drags you to the lowest depths. How many evil acts have been undertaken because of the awe and wonder inspired by a particular person? How much stunning virtue has been produced by the same kind of experience emanating from a different person? The beauty of the universe has drawn people to God and made people comfortable with their godlessness.

Is the universe as deep as it appears to be? Beauty cannot be accounted for by the simple calculations of math and science. Indeed, science has to presuppose some form of beauty, since aesthetic consistency is one of the values of good theorizing. Beauty by its very nature outstrips our ability to talk about it. And moreover, it is action-guiding and information-bearing. We feel like we are being told something by our experience of beauty, and we act on that information.

Isn't this what worship is all about? It is our automatic, natural response to wonder, awe, and beauty. Worship is being brought low by the wonderful. Yet what is wonderful to our hearts may not in fact be wonderful for the world. We need discernment, reason, tradition, and scripture to limit the places our heart may bring us. Without a doxastic community, an epistemological community, a community of belief, the beauty of the universe may inspire us in the wrong direction. Beauty is the language of the devil as much as it is the language of God. We must have processes, and development of strong minds, to be kept from being led astray. Isn't this insight, the insight into the nature of beauty as divine power, the reason for talking about satan as a 'fallen angel'?
A N Whitehead once said:
 "Thus religion is solitariness; and if you are never solitary, you are never religious. Collective enthusiasms, revivals, institutions, churches, rituals, bibles, codes of behaviour, are the trappings of religion, its passing forms.

They may be useful, or harmful; they may be authoritatively ordained, or merely temporary expedients. But the end of religion is beyond all this.

Accordingly, what should emerge from religion is individual worth of character. But worth is positive or negative, good or bad. Religion is by no means necessarily good. It may be very evil. The fact of evil, interwoven with the texture of the world, shows that in the nature of things there remains effectiveness for degradation. In your religious experience the God with whom you have made terms may be the God of destruction, the God who leaves in his wake the loss of the greater reality.
In considering religion, we should not be obsesses by the idea of its necessary goodness. This is a dangerous delusion. The point to notice is its transcendent importance; and the fact of this importance is abundantly made evident by the appeal to history."

Whitehead, too, was focused on aesthetics as the foundation of....well, really everything. Whitehead knew that worship, like beauty, was power, and that 'the power of God is the worship He inspires.' Beauty and wonder and awe are pure spiritual power. But they are used by different forces for different ends. That is why beauty is both terrible and mysterious. And indeed the battlefield for whose beauty wins out is the hearts of men, and women. 


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