Aesthetics Betrayed

There are few things man produces that inspire him to pursue his created end, or purpose in life. Religion is, of course, the primary inspiration for any rational, reasonable thinking man, but in the Post-Modern world, where both rational and reasonable are rare, it can be difficult to find anything that truly inspires us in this sense. In a healthy Christian culture the most inspirational forces next to faith are art, architecture, and music. These three carry the power to lift the heart and raise the eyes of man up to God through their power to cause us to contemplate deeper, even transcendent, things. For example, the beautiful paintings gracing the walls and ceilings of the great cathedrals of Europe encourage us in steadfastness of faith, while the majestic architecture that flawlessly incorporates statuary and patterns leaves one standing in awe of the creative ability of man, while simultaneously being reminded of the source of such skill- man's Creator. 

The Athenian philosopher Plato was firm in his conviction that music, specifically rhythm and harmony, "sink furthest into the depths of the soul and take hold of it most firmly by bringing it nobility and grace." There is no question that music has a profound effect on the emotions and thought processes of man, which is perhaps one of the reasons God commanded its use in His temple. Music causes us to contemplate life at more depth than when it is absent, often reaching into the very psyche of man. Indeed, it can assist us in "tuning in" to the created order of God.

By way of explaining what I mean, let's start by briefly taking a look at the impact of Post-Modern ideology on our intellectual growth, and how it distorts our worldview. Secular education, which is the primary venue for Cultural Marxist indoctrination, doesn't address the needs of the soul, but merely prepares one for a particular vocation through specific subject studies. None of these subjects is ever connected to the pursuit of beauty and moral good, but only explored for employment in some sort of industry. Naturally, one is never taught how to link one's vocation to one's spiritual life, and therefore, secular education is inadequate to assist us in tuning in to the created order. It necessarily follows that, since all vocational preparation in secular schools is approached in this way, the arts suffer, since they are intimately connected to the expression of man's innermost self- the soul. 

Modern music by and large serves to inculcate the same worldly, Cultural Marxist, principles and worldview taught in secular educational institutions. It disconnects us from the created order of God and from transcendent concepts by encouraging the disorder of immorality, Atheism, narcissism, and ultimately, nihilism. Music is, then, a powerful tool in the war of ideas as well as the war for souls, precisely because it is so deeply connected to the part of man that muses, that yearns, that imagines, and thus creates.

Music is only of value to man when it encourages harmony with the created order and supports beauty, and thus brings praise to the Creator and reminds man of his created end. By this I don't mean music must be overtly Christian in lyrics, since much of what passes for contemporary Christian music is as banal as anything coming out of the secular music industry. What I mean is that music meets its created end only when it is supportive of the created order, and encourages man in his pursuit of the knowledge of that created order and his duties and dignities before God and his fellow Man.
Wolfgang A. Mozart

For example, in plainsong, hymns, or Gregorian chant, we are moved to contemplate the importance of a holy life, thereby to look forward to the blessed vision of Our Lord after we leave this world, or upon resurrection. The same applies when listening to the somber, yet exquisite music of Mozart's Requiem. Such music encourages Man to his true end- service and devotion to God. 

Sadly, many Protestants misunderstand the reason for those beautiful works of art that grace the historic churches of Western Europe, and some consider Mozart and old hymns to be relics of a bygone era. The cathedrals are looked upon, not as versions of the Gospel in stone and glass, but merely as excesses of a misguided church. Quite the contrary is true. They're not there simply as a matter of excess, or as a symptom of some misguided idolatry (though I don't deny such exists), but were created in an era when few had access to the written words of Sacred Scripture, and fewer still could even read. These great paintings and sculptures served to teach biblical lessons through “word pictures”, and moved the eyes of men from the temporal concerns of the fields they toiled in, to the heavens from whence God would once again descend in glory. Today churches are most often ugly, plain, and look exactly like the local insurance company or physician's office. Many are even in shopping mall retail spaces. They do nothing to encourage an appreciation for beauty, order, symmetry, or harmony, but instead reinforce the utilitarianism of Modernity.

Unfortunately art has largely ceased to be a focus or consideration of the Christian mind. Seminaries are more concerned with information than aesthetics, as if aesthetics had no grounding in Sacred Scripture, or indeed God. And yet some dare ask why we no longer create churches or cathedrals as we once did. The Post-Modern Christians have become mere utilitarians, and thus have given art over to the secular world to exploit for its own purposes, when it is a gift of God meant for the benefit of man and for His own glorification. 

Holy Trinity Catholic Church, Vienna- ugly and Post-Modern
Adopting the Ways of the World
To be sure, the church is fully engaged in music, but what atrocious noises can be heard assaulting the senses of those within her walls, as they prove once again to have given the world the final say on what constitutes music! Contemporary "Christian" music is largely the exact same disordered arrangements one hears on any popular secular radio station. At times one is hard pressed to even discern whether the lyrics projected on screens high above the stage, where a crucifix used to be, are praising our Lord, or simply a pop musical tribute to a woman the lyricist yearns for. Even the altars have been stripped out of the sanctuaries, replaced with stages where "praise bands" perform for the audience, and pastors take center stage as celebrities of the contemporary Christian subculture. 

The walls are often bare, the lighting harsh, and the entire production- what is often called a “worship service”- amounts to little more than a participatory concert with every bit the choreography of a Lady Gaga performance. 

In this milieu of milquetoast and, in some cases, neo-pagan worship, is it any surprise the church is impotent to reach a depraved world? How can she reach the depraved while embracing the symptoms of that depravity, albeit in musical, architectural, or artistic form? 

When art is employed in these churches it is often abstract, distorted, and flatly hideous. Take for example the newer Catholic churches. They're built to mimic the architectural styles of Modernity, and thus look like business offices rather than places of worship. The statuary is an exercise in Contemporary Art, complete with bizarre, deformed depictions of men and women of faith who would be appalled were they to see themselves interpreted so. These artistic revolutionaries aren't content to just deform these men and women of faith, but proceed to do the same to depictions of our Lord. He is often presented as a twisted, mangled creature barely resembling a human, hanging grotesquely on a stick, or in bizarre angular ways, making him appear more like a space age advertisement for motor oil, or perhaps a hood ornament, rather than the Messiah, God in the flesh, our Savior King. 

This complete disregard for beauty, order and balance are, in my opinion, an example not only of hubris, but in some cases, of a desire to willfully commit sacrilege-to flaunt a rejection of traditional Christian art and all that it entails, and through this, of traditional respect for the person of our Lord. Are these monuments to human depravity to be respected as a “house of the Lord”? Absolutely not! They are a testimony to the rebellion of man and the Adversary; a rebellion which these Christians participate in, albeit mostly in ignorance.

Have we forgotten we were called out of the world-that is, out of this "system of things", and its current popular fads? We have deluded ourselves into thinking that if we simply render ourselves “culturally relevant” we will win souls. 

The exact opposite has been the case. 


Relevance to a World of Sin
In becoming “culturally relevant” we have rejected tradition and true culture in favor of the anti-culture of the Post-Modern worldview. The potential convert logically asks why become a Christian, with all that may entail (which in many of these churches is very, very little), when I can have all that the church is steeped in without any of the obligation or guilt? “Cultural relevance” is another term for “Cultural Marxism”; and that is simply a term for cultural sin and a rejection of the created order of God. It is being conformed to the fallen world, rather than being called out of it and to be a witness to it, of a divine culture and divine aesthetics. Art belongs to God, not a culture immersed in anti-Christ ideologies. It was commanded by God to be a part of His divine worship. 
God instructed Moses to engage specific artisans in the creation of the Ark of the Covenant and the Tent of Presence. These artists beautified the tent using their skills (Exodus 31). Their skills were gifts from God. Our Creator says, In the hearts of all who are skillful I have put the skill.” (Exodus 31:16) What is clear from this is that all artistic skill- be it music, sculpting, painting, architecture, etc.- these skills have their root and foundation in the Divine. It is worth examining here the role of God as artist. 

The Divine Artist
In creating the world in which we live, the cosmos, we find the highest expression of beauty and order. Consider the delicate balance between the extremes of heat and cold, rain and snow, and darkness and light. In their order, and in their distinct beauty, we find the perfection of aesthetics. Everything, down to the molecular level, screams of balance, order and beauty. The universe is not the product of a cold, random chance happening, but bespeaks will, discernment, care, love and an appreciation for all that is truly beautiful. It is only when we factor in Man, in all his self centered depravity, that the created world is made to appear ugly and disordered. Man, without the presence of the Holy Spirit in his life, seeks to not simply master the created world, but to be the lord of creation, and in that pursuit belches smoke into the skies, rendering the sunshine a murky haze of fading light, or pumps his refuse from factory and home into the waters that once provided his sustenance, and gave life to a multitude of aquatic animals, now heading for extinction. Yes, it is always Man in his depravity that renders balance, order and beauty null and void. This is no less the case with art, architecture and music.

What the Post-Modernist refuses to acknowledge is that, every skill and talent we possess comes from God, and thus finds its created purpose when, and only when, it is used to glorify God. If art, music, and architecture are used to glorify God, they will in turn inspire and encourage humanity to fulfill its created purpose; glorifying God and being transformed to the expressed image of Christ. The Post-Modernist rebels against this notion with all the fervor of a Crusader fighting the Muslim invaders of Europe. Steeped in the principles of Cultural Marxism, the average Post-Modernist views art simply as an expression of their own collective depraved desires, wants, needs, and experiences. And while art may indeed be an expression of the human experience, this is not the chief end of art. 
Coravaggio's "The Supper at Emmaus"

Post-Modernism goes beyond this, however, to use art as an expression of the Anti-Christ political agenda, reducing art to ugly propaganda. And so "Contemporary Art" emerges, not as an expression of order, balance and beauty, but as their antithesis. The truth is, Contemporary Artists are not really artists, but political activists creating weapons on canvas, in music, and in stone. They are revolutionaries promoting one Anti-Christ concept after another under the very thin guise of art. It is not art, but its negative image. Just as Satan would have a kingdom of his own, a negative image of the Kingdom of God, so the Post-Modernist establishes the negative image of true art, music and architecture, stripped of order, balance and beauty. One would be hard pressed not to laugh (if not fly into a rage) at the very suggestion that something as putrid and crude as Andres Serrano's 1987 piece titled, Immersion, can in any wise be placed in the same category as Caravaggio's, "The Supper at Emmaus", or Titian's portrait, Empress Isabel. Serrano's vulgar offering is not at all art, as it is in no way inspiring Man to do anything but rebel against God, and in its very form is antithetical to order, balance and beauty. The response of those who, for some bizarre reason, find Serrano's piece somehow inspiring, is more a reflection of the degree to which the individual has succumbed to the principles of the present godless culture, than any substantive grasp of aesthetics, since they are negatively inspired. In this, even inspiration itself is inverted for the sake of Satanic rebellion. 

True Art
True art will do more than inspire. It will reflect its source. First, it reflects the mind and heart of the person creating it. If the person is disordered, as I would suggest Contemporary Art advocates are, the end product will reflect disordered passions, rebellious attitudes, and the depraved part of Man. Art can do no less without being brought to the touchstone of faith. Once brought to the touchstone of faith, no matter which form of artistic expression it might be, it will naturally manifest the characteristics of its Source- God Himself. It will express beauty, order, balance, love, faith, and a discernment for that which contributes to a healthy organic culture. That which does not express these things is objectively ugly, even if presented in otherwise appealing forms. 

There are three principles by which a Christian should judge any artistic expression.
  1. It must be truly artistic. That is, it must be an accurate or substantive representation of the object.
  2. It must be well crafted. This lends it a worth, a value due to its faithful expression of the qualities of the object.
  3. It must inspire humanity to pursue virtuous life, faith, morality, culture and order.
Contemporary Art, modern music, and modern architecture are capable of none of these things, and so fail this three point test. They are instead celebrations of all that is ugly, all that is common and immoral, all that militates against balance, order, beauty, culture, tradition, and the human spirit itself. Modern music repeatedly informs Man that he is simply here to pursue sexual gratification, without regard to God's law. Contemporary Art dulls the senses, so that pornography, insults to Christ, and the message of Marxist ideology replace a discerning reflection. And modern architecture, with its lack of anything remotely beautifying, serves to reinforce the Globalist anthropological philosophy, reinforcing the lie that you are a mere economic unit, a wheel in the machine, useless for anything but production and consumption. The combined product of the Post-Modernist artisans are, bluntly stated, acts of terrorism and hatred against a healthy organic society and God Himself.