Last night I attended the first of two lectures at my parish on the topic of worldview. One thread ran like this:
The ultimate reality is God, who is all good. Therefore the worldview most attuned to reality is most likely to lead to holiness.
I like that. Amid discussion, someone asked about Beauty: is it objective or subjective?
And I was compelled to pontificate briefly.
When I was about 14 years old I began to notice that occasional smells, handwriting, tunes, color combinations, foreign word sounds, images, or voices had a druglike effect on me which was both very personal but also very transcendent. It had been true since I was a little kid.
I still recall being mesmerized by the colors on a toy seaplane; and even until today, I can de-stress if I look at something purple (usually a necktie) and repeat the word “purple” a few times…mmm…purple. Go figure.
Anyway, at 14 I began to wonder about the beauty within these bewitching bits of Creation: was it just my reaction to them, or were they beautiful on their own? That is, was Beauty objective or subjective? Did beauty exist, the way a rock exists? Or was it but a therapeutic figment of my imagination? If no one sees beauty, is it still beautiful?
This was also when I was having to make my own mind up about God & All That without much success. Now that I think about it, this may be why I didn’t have a girlfriend or a social life back then. Am I digressing?
So last night I commented that it took me about 20 years to realize that Beauty did indeed exist independently of my perception of it. And that once I got that settled, all the Godstuff fell into place in a way that tied into the worldview discussion.
Put simply, God is Good/ Everything he made is Good/ Beauty is a manifestation of that intrinsic Goodness. As a wooden spoon reveals the beauty of the wood from which it’s made, so does all Creation manifest the Beauty of God’s Goodness.
Easy, right? That took me 20 years. Thank ya Jesus for you letting me live long enough to suss it out.
But further discussion led to how people often disagree about what’s beautiful. Yes, that’s so; people don’t agree on all sorts of stuff.
When I bump into problems like this, first I think about Eden…you know, before sin. Did Adam and Eve disagree? I doubt it. Their worldview was as aligned with reality as a human being’s worldview can possibly be. What’s to disagree about? They lived a holy life 24/7, hanging out with God in the shade of the Garden. Did they have God’s worldview? Well, no. But their small, human worldview was in perfect harmony with God’s…ya can’t ask for more than that.
Then Sin entered the World, and messed up not just us, but Creation: hurricanes, carnivores, plagues, you name it. Not only does Sin cloud our view of beauty and everything else, but also degrades Creation itself. There’s less Beauty to see, and it’s harder to see it. Our whole existence is a grinding struggle against the continual physical and metaphysical consequences of our sins; speaking as an architect, I tell my wife that it’s a wonder that we can stack one stone on top of another one.
And all of us, isolated in our unique, mean little sin boxes, peek out at adulterated fragments of God’s wonder, and inevitably argue about what we are looking at. It’s impossible to underestimate the effects of Sin—indeed, Sin makes it so. Sin stunts us so that except for God’s revelation, we have little choice but to grasp at mere batches of reality: always the snake, the tree trunk, the fan; but never the elephant.
Which is frustrating. As someone commented later on last night: there are so many conflicting ways of imagining God, so many ways to put God in a box, yet he remains unboxable. Yes again: but we can’t be discouraged.
Looking again at Eden, did Adam and Eve have to box little wads of data? Again, I doubt it. But we’re stuck with boxes, we can’t fix that. Yet we can always aspire to bigger boxes, and fewer boxes, which I think leads to a better understanding of God; and by extension, of reality.
For example, the more I understand the Bible as a single box, the more it points to Catholicism, which unsurprisingly is the biggest box of Christian thinking; well, the biggest box of thinking, period.
Which gets us back to one’s Weltanschauung, one’s world-at-look-ing. I want the biggest one I can manage in a sin-wracked World; and the one most aligned with Reality. I want what Prof. Romano Guardini called Die Katholische Weltanschauung, the Catholic Worldview.
That’s the topic of next week’s lecture.
Copyright 2014, Christian LeBlanc
photo by Skrewtape