Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed

Recovering the Beautiful

Just read this piece and was impressed with the answer by Barbara Nicolosi-Harrington, and her interview is at Patheos:

You have a quotation standing above your blog, from a 1930s film critic, that says: “Theaters are the new Church of the Masses — where people sit huddled in the dark listening to people in the light tell them what it is to be human.”  What does that quotation mean to you?


It means that the Church has lost its distinctive voice of authority in the contemporary moment.  That quotation was written in the 1930s, but it’s even more true today.  The Church, which had been the primary teaching voice in human history, has lost its voice of authority.  It’s just another competing voice out there now — and to tell you the truth, because the Church has shunned using the modern media, it’s not even a very compelling voice. 


So if you’re not going into a Church, you’re not hearing the Church’s voice.  But the Church used to be an authority that would stand up in the culture and say to you, “This is what virtue is.  This is what meaning is.  This is what the point of your life is.  This is good and this is bad.” 


Where do people find those things now?  They listen to television and the movies.  They go to the media, and the media will tell them what the point of their life is.  I don’t know that that’s a good thing.  It’s not a bad thing in every case.  There are some people writing who seek very responsibly and seriously to help people discern what matters in life.  I know a lot of them in Hollywood.  But for many other people, their whole preoccupation in making movies and television is to keep people distracted for 22 minutes, 47 minutes, or 2 hours.  For those people, there’s no interest at all in doing good, or no concern with doing harm.


Dostoevsky said that man, in the end, will be saved by beauty — or nothing.  In other words, the last voice of authority will be the Beautiful.  The Beautiful is the last voice that will be compelling for people.  So the question is, if we have become a society that no longer produces the Beautiful, and we’re no longer in an agrarian society so people no longer have regular access to natural beauty, then there will in fact be no compelling voice of authority.  When there is no ultimate voice of authority in the world, then everyone is his own authority.  Then you have moral and cultural anarchy. 

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posted April 7, 2010 at 3:50 pm

Interesting in light of NT Wrights Christianity books.

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posted April 7, 2010 at 3:58 pm

Thought provoking, and right on. Part of the problem is that in our culture, there’s hardly such a thing as intrinsic or objective Beauty anymore. The creed is “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” I’m shocked, when I read some movie reviews, for instance (Antichrist comes to mind) at what people are calling beautiful.
Douglas Wilson addresses this problem as it applies to the public school system in Excused Absence. Children are taught about how to make “art,” but they’re not taught about aesthetic and beauty. Also, as N.T. Wright points out in Surprised By Hope, part of our work in being used by God to usher in the Kingdom is the restoration of beauty. But what does that look like?

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posted April 7, 2010 at 4:23 pm

Given the role reversal of ethical/virtuous living (formerly the foundation for approaching other concerns) and freedom/economic considerations as now the primary lens for thinking about and articulating ethics/virtues, Nicolosi-Harrington’s capitonym “Beautiful” may very well also be a captive of those same dominating lens and as such may be very very difficult to recapture.

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John March

posted April 7, 2010 at 5:02 pm

Thanks for sharing this article. It strikes a chord of resonance for me. I think this is right on. It also reminds me of the Peter Hitchens video promoting his book in which he says that the New Atheists will be won to God through art and poetry not logic.
My only contention with the above quote is with the comment about agrarian society. I think beauty is accessible to us in a plurality of places. For one it’s found in tightly constructed computer programming code. For the other it’s in the fiction of Flannery O’Connor. Beauty comes in a lot of places.
I’m a church planter, and I attempted to tap into this as best I can by creating beauty in my sermons. That may sound weird, but I believe there is a sort of beauty to a well-crafted sermon that reaches into the truest and deepest parts of our life. This is hard, but that’s my goal.
Thanks for sharing this with us all!

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Amy S.

posted April 7, 2010 at 5:47 pm

I think the author is correct that people look more to the media for their “authority” or moral compass.
But I think the Church is needs to be much more than authority or moral compass. I think part of the problem is that perhaps in the past that’s all the church has been. Additionally what people need is for the Church to walk with them where they live and work. It needs to be more than inviting them to come into the sanctuary to listen to truth presented. We need to build relationship with people, love them.
I agree that there is such a need for beauty in our world. Even when it’s right in front of us we often rush by, unaware of it. I was visiting some people who are experiencing homelessness in Pittsburgh a couple of weeks ago. As I’ve been thinking about going again and praying about what to do and how to build relationship, I realized that there is so little beauty there under the overpass. It may sound strange, but I want to bring my friend a flower. I know it’s only a small thing, but that is the last thing I usually think of when I bring something to someone in need. We all need beauty in our lives. And sometimes this opens the door for us to experience God.

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W. Vida

posted April 7, 2010 at 7:44 pm

I remember Douglas Wilson wrote that the movie theater has parallels to a church service. He noted that the popcorn even functions as a sacrament.

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