The Facts of Life Series: Beauty
“From the mountains, to the prairies, to the oceans white with foam,” we are blessed with beauty, as this familiar American anthem reminds us. From the full array of fall colors that transform our forests to the power and tranquility of our beaches and lakes that delight natives and tourists alike, we are awash in beauty.
For beauty abounds. And, beauty is so important to us, we even plan our vacations and our recreation around it. For we deliberately seek it, just as we savor it and share it with others. And, we memorialize it with our postcards and in our family photographs, just as we make beauty a crucial element in the homes we choose and the way we decorate them. It is even a significant part of our personal attire and grooming.
When it comes to beauty, most of us look for it and pursue it in all its many manifestations. From natural beauty and artistic beauty, to musical and literary beauty, such beauty moves us emotionally, intellectually, even spiritually. From the beauty of innocence and true virtue to heroic and sacrificial beauty, such beauty affirms us, challenges us, inspires us.
Just think about beauty’s many expressions. Think about nature’s many marvels and its majestic and moving beauty. Think of those moments that touched you, transfixed you, awed you, inspired you. Think about the ordinary and routine beauty that catches your eye, moves your mind, softens your heart, steels your will. Think even about the routine daily festivals of natural beauty like the luminosity and infinity of the night sky or the scintillating spectrum of light and color as the sun rises and sets.
For beauty, true beauty is real. And, we are certain of it, even as we experience it or think about it. But, why is this so much a part of our human experience? Why does beauty strike us in such simple and profound and powerful ways? Why does it appeal to our senses, our hearts and our minds in such a simultaneous harmony? Why do we remain so touched by the striking beauty of even routine natural events or settings?
The simple answer is we are made for it. It is a part of the fabric of our humanity. It’s in our very being. Metaphorically, it’s in our DNA. For we are all finely tuned for it. The joy and wonder we feel, the awe we experience and the comfort we take from it are inherent aspects of our nature and of reality. It is a part of the human experience that is almost a constant, even for the hard hearted and hard headed. For we are surrounded by it. And, we are made of it and made for it. Even the absence or loss of beauty testifies to its inherent importance and its objective reality.
Yet nowadays, beauty is often attributed to personal perception by some people. For them, beauty is in the “eye of the beholder.” This common adage, this accepted aesthetic principle that each person determines what is beautiful to them, is a typical truism based on the idea that beauty is solely a matter of personal preference. And, that is true to some degree, when it comes to trivial things or preferential aesthetic decisions.
Yet, with just a moment of critical reflection, it is apparent this common adage is masking some deeper realities and implications. For each of us does have free will to deliberate and to determine such aesthetic discriminations. But, asserting our individual preferences and free will does not negate the absence of the inherent nature of true beauty. For we do not attribute beauty to anything.
Rather, we discover and recognize the inherent beauty in the thing or person or idea we encounter. Beauty is something discovered and experienced. Beauty is not attributed by the observer. Beauty is recognized by the observer. For true beauty is inherent in the very nature of whatever is observed. It is not dependent on the individual observer’s tastes and preferences, perception or philosophy.
The very idea that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” should elicit doubt and debate on the part of any mindful man or woman. For this statement reduces all aesthetic judgements to simple matters of free will and preference and denies the reality of inherent beauty in the very nature of things.
For example, think of the simple beauty of a young child trying to cover an aged grandmother with a blanket as she naps. The grandmother awakens, but is unaware of this small, yet beautiful act of kindness. While the grandmother may miss the beauty of the act, any one watching would see the beautiful sweetness of it.
But, if someone observing this small act did not see the beauty of this simple gesture, the proper perspective would note the deficiency of that observer, while simultaneously affirming the inherent beauty of the child’s behavior. For beauty is inherent in things. When beauty is correctly observed, it is in the very thing itself. And, while preferential beauty may at times be “in the eye of the beholder,” if true beauty is not observed, the observer’s deficiency is to blame.
Like love, beauty is an undeniable reality. Like love, it touches our minds, our hearts, our senses. Like love, it draws us in and it lifts us up. Like love, beauty inspires us, encourages us, edifies us, ennobles us. And, like love, we seek it, desire it, need it in all its many manifestations, most particularly and personally in the beauty of the virtuous and loving nature of the people with whom we intimately live our lives.
Yet, like love, how do we explain beauty’s presence, its very nature and our ability to see it in all is many forms? For its enduring presence across time and space, across history and culture, across the range of personal taste and preference, tell a tale, not of variation, but of beauty’s constancy and certainty. Even in the early ages of human existence, we find paintings sketched on the walls of caves. These early cave dwellers used art to recount important, or perhaps even typical events, as a form of communication and decoration. Such is the constancy and certainty of beauty’s nature and its importance in humanity’s very essence and experience.
Again, like love and reason and goodness, beauty defies explanation in a universe without God, in a materialist and mechanical universe solely comprised of matter and energy. For in an atheistic universe, love, reason, morality and beauty are reduced to mere neural sensations, epiphenomena of organic activity and nothing more. And, like love and reason and morality, beauty is an abiding and ubiquitous proof, not only of God’s existence, but of His very nature.
For none of these common and integral human capacities are capable of explanation within a godless, mechanistic cosmos. And, while reason and morality rely on a more deliberative and reflective process to some degree, love and beauty and all their many subtle nuances are truly more primary and intuitive aspects of our human nature. For they are irreducible aspects of our essential being.
This is why, in the realm of apologetics and its application in the Christian imperative for evangelism, it is a crucial, primary principle. For our cosmos is replete with beauty, just as our human nature and experience are. And, beauty and its many natural and human manifestations are proof of God existence, His nature and even His prolific handiwork.
Just think of the simple, subtle beauty of flowers and the vast range of their different types. Just think of the differences in color we see within some particular types or the range of climates that fosters these many varieties. Or, think of the beauty of simple acts of kindness and love we meet most any day. Think of the radiant beauty in the faces of some people, who seem to glow with the beauty of their personality or character. Or, think of the beauty of love in the eyes of your spouse or your children when they look at you.
Think of all these things, and you must conclude that beauty is a real reality, albeit an intangible one. For all facts are not merely physical, as the very idea and nature of beauty implies. Just as reason and truth, morality and human nature tell us, there are many intangible facts. Facts just as certain as physical facts. Facts of infinite more importance than mere physical facts. Facts of not just temporal importance, but of eternal significance. And, facts we can know with greater certainty and utility than those of the sciences, we so often trust.
For these intangible facts, which lead us rigorously and readily to God, testify to the intangibility of our being and its immortality. For love and beauty, and reason, truth and goodness are all intangible aspects of human nature beyond our mere physical bodies. And, these are the truly important and enduring aspects of who we are. They are the principle means and inspirational ends of the truly good and meaningful life, a life radiant with true beauty, a life rightly and beautifully lived.
We also recommend Mr. Cronin’s latest book, The World According to God: The Whole Truth About Life and Living. It is available from your favorite bookstore and through Sophia Institute Press.