Beauty is NOT subjective

July 27, 2009


By Rusty Pritchardbeauty-creation-care

My friend and colleague Jim Jewell has an article in The Other Journal’s special issue on Aesthetics, in which he argues that
creation care must be rooted in an appreciation of beauty. Environmental stewardship entails a good deal that is just hard work, and those of us laboring in the vineyard can begin to focus more on the struggle than on the restored relationships with God, each other, and with the created order that constitute true beauty. Jim notes that when our work lacks an awe-filled vision of beauty, even Christians can drift toward the cynicism and bleak worldview that so often afflicts the secular environmental movement, and begin to adopt an attitude of hard-bitten realism.  In his words,

“Would our world be a better place if we protected all that I see as beautiful, or all of the things and places andexperiences that you see as beautiful? Yes, I think it would, but it would not be a complete place, a completed picture. If the world and its people are to flourish, there must be a blossoming of God’s redemptive plan for all creation. The unique mission of Christians involved in creation care is to infuse environmentalism with this spiritual elegance.”

There are other excellent articles in the special issue of The Other Journal, on beauty and its appreciation. Scott Sabin reinforces Jim’s observation that reconciliation is truly beautiful, as he writes of poverty alleviation and renewed environmental stewardship in an unlovely place on Haiti-Dominican border. Sylvia Keesmaat has a story about the place of trees in the biblical story, which itself is an expression of beauty and grace in writing.

And Chase Nordengren has an insightful piece about Pope Benedict’s recent encyclical, which echoes the point that remains implicit in Jim’s article: Truth, like beauty, is not subjective. Neither beauty nor truth lie in the eye of the beholder. We don’t judge beauty; we don’t judge truth. They judge us, and our encounters with them reveal what kind of people we are.

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