July 08, 2014

Beauty Is In the Eye of the Beholder:
I may see beauty differently as an atheist, but I still see it.



I ran across an incredibly rambling post about beauty and iconoclasm and the loss of beauty in the services of the Catholic Church. It was really...interesting.

What I found most inspiring, however, was the idea that atheists cannot see beauty.

And to that I say: Yes, yes, I can.


The quote that brought this to mind was a lengthy one, but I'll share it anyway:
...The most precious, profound and important of the great ideas which the Left has raped from us is beauty. I need spend no time on the proposition that life without beauty is a nightmare: those who have seen true beauty – sublime beauty, if even for a moment – have nothing to which they can liken it except the ecstasies of mystics and the transports of saints. Beauty consoles the sorrowing; beauty brings joy and deepens understanding; beauty is like food and wine, and men who live surrounded by ugliness become shriveled and starved in their souls.... 
....At any point before World War One, if you asked any philosopher or intellectual what was the point of art, poetry, music, painting, sculpture, architecture, all of them of each generation all the way back to Socrates would have said the purpose of art is to seek beauty. Socrates himself would have said that by beauty, by the strong love and longing created in the human breast at the sight of something sublime, we are drawn out of ourselves, and are carried step by step away from the mundane to the divine. 
The strongest argument against the atheism so beloved of the Left is not an argument that can be put in words, for it is the argument of beauty....If you see a sunset clothed in scarlet like a king descending to his empurpled pyre, or wonder at the gleaming thunder of a waterfall, if you find yourself fascinated by the soft intricacy of a crimson rose or behold the cold virgin majesty of the morning star, much less see and enter a cathedral or a walled garden, or you hear Schiller’s “Ode to Joy” by Beethoven or see the David of Michelangelo, or become immersed into the song and splendor and Northern sorrow of Wagner’s “Ring” or Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, if indeed you see real beauty and for a moment you forget yourself, then you are drawn out of yourself into something larger.
 It's so ridiculous that I'm not going to waste any time refuting it. What I would like to talk about, though, is the idea that atheism changes our perception of beauty.

It's a concept that I've run across several times over the past few months as I delved deeper into accepting my atheist conversion. The idea that, because we seek rational explanations, the world loses some of its wonder, some of its mystery.

It's simply not true.

To start off with, the idea that understanding something decreases mystery is pretty accurate. The more you understand how something works, the less mysterious it is to you. But to assume that that diminishes it in any aspect is naive. It doesn't. In fact, the subjects that lose mystery to me often gain awe. For instance, I understand the water cycle, I understand what causes lightning and thunder, I get how it all works together--but I am still struck with awe at the summer storm, in its ferocity and its beauty.

Last week, I was at the beach, which left me with a lot of time to consider beauty in a godless world. The ocean waves undulating, the ferocity of a passing hurricane, the idea that this sea that I stand in is just the tip of a fathomless, largely unexplored world--it's all awe-inspiring. It's all beautiful.

The transition of the trees from winter to spring still strikes me, although I understand how it works.

My children's smiles still make me giddy, despite the fact that there is no God above me.

In short, my atheism doesn't affect the fact that things are beautiful. It only makes me seek to appreciate them further by understanding them in a way I did not before. The beauty I see now no longer makes me feel the finger of a creator.

Beauty still draws me out of myself into something larger--that something just isn't God. It isn't religion. It's a brotherhood, if you will, of humanity. It's this shared experience of existence at large. I feel more connected to the world around me than ever before. We are all, after all, the children of the stars.

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