It is commonplace for traditionalists to describe the well-balanced life as built on the foundation stones of truth, goodness, and beauty. This structural support seems intuitive to us now, or at least to some of us, but we also have to budget for the fact that we are living in a time when the culture built on these things is now coming down around our ears. Not only is the culture generally doing this, but our evangelical Christian subculture is also coming down at much the same rate.
For a time, a few decades back, it seemed that evangelicals were doing a decent job defending the idea of a fixed and objective truth—if it was true on Monday that Jesus rose from the dead, it was also true on Friday. The same thing could be said about goodness. If abortion was a wicked thing on Monday, it was also a wicked thing on Friday. The place where we struggled, however, was in the realm of aesthetics. If someone condemned your favorite band for producing as much treacle as they did, the response was frequently a relativistic “who’s to say?” response, instead of any appeal to objective aesthetic standards. That was challenge enough back in the day, but now we are all living in a morass of radical subjectivism—doctrinal, ethical, and aesthetic, all at once.
For those who still have their wits about them, this means that we are all now staring straight at the consequences of our own subjective relativism. We can see far more than the fact that it is “in error.” In addition to being erroneous, we can also see how everything has gotten kind of mud fence ugly. And most of it, I want to argue, has been on purpose.
God is altogether lovely, and He dwells in the beauty of holiness. Anything that strives to touch the ineffable reminds us of Him, and as a people, we don’t want to be reminded of Him. It makes us feel things we do not want to feel. Living in disjointed and misshapen surroundings doesn’t make us feel that way. So beauty is a reminder of the glory of God, and a people as far advanced in sin as we are want to get out our cans of spray paint, and vandalize what we can.
Stunning and Brave
The glory of the man is the woman (1 Cor. 11:7). The crown of a man is a gracious wife (Prov. 12:4). So one of the central goals of the modern feminist movement has been the ongoing uglification of women. “This is what a feminist looks like” on a t-shirt, accompanied with a snarl, or, “no, you make me a sandwich,” however witty somebody at the print shop thought it all was, are sentiments that are quite effective at making men miserable, and the women who succeeded in making them miserable, even more so.
A few weeks ago, Victoria’s Secret abandoned their foray into using plus-sized models, and determined that they were going back to the sexy ones. I tweeted at the time that things had gotten so bad that evangelicals were going to be tempted to treat this move as the harbinger of reformation and revival. I was kidding, but not entirely.
If a good-looking woman shows up without the appropriate amount of clothing, the received and approved opinion is that she is contributing to the objectification of woman, and this is greatly to be disparaged. If a body-positive model weighs in to do the same thing, with the same amount of skin exposed, she is hailed as stunning and brave. The move to celebrate and advance the uglification of women could not be more obvious. And then women who could be good-looking if they tried are allowed to be stunning and brave also, provided they augment their immodesty with chains, or dog collars, or Halloween hair. All of this is encouraged by the sexual propaganda of the regime, which uses porn stars as airbrushed exemplars, creating the delusion that if a woman is as immodest and abandoned as that, she will also be as attractive as that. Which, as it turns out, is not true.
The alternative is the biblical teaching that women ought to adorn themselves, seeking to be lovely, and to do so by means of a gentle and quiet spirit.
“For after this manner in the old time the holy women also, who trusted in God, adorned themselves, being in subjection unto their own husbands.”
1 Peter 3:5 (KJV)
Scripture teaches us that when a woman cultivates a submissive demeanor toward her husband, this is a good thing to do. The fact that it is a good thing to do means that it is a true thing to say. So there is the truth, and there is the goodness. But Peter also says that this is a practice that makes a woman lovelier. This is how the holy women in olden times used to adorn themselves for their husbands. The lemma here is kosmeo, the same word from which we get cosmetics.
The biblical doctrine of submission is therefore a doctrine that promotes the loveliness of women. The false doctrine of feminism, a teaching that denies that there is any kind of marital hierarchy at all, is an idea that has robbed our civilization of our feminine glory. And this was kind of a disturbing feat, when you think about it. How was it possible to take something as glorious as woman and wreck it? As wonderful as woman, and turn that glorious gift into a surly, disobedient, miserable cohort, loaded up on anti-depressants? Something that beautiful transformed into something that ugly?
Art, Falsely So-Called
A number of decades ago, when I first started writing about cultural issues for our local newspaper, I quickly noticed that there were two subjects that would get the intoleristas all fired up. There are way more topics than that now—because the whole world’s a trigger now—but at the time, there were two guaranteed show-stoppers. One was homosexuality, naturally. The second was modern art, a subject that could also get the chimps jumping.
We really need to recognize that the artists were the ones who led the way, step by step, into this aesthetic madness. They took us by the hand, and instead of escorting us up to the upper mezzanine of the art museum, they took us down some rickety stairs to the basement, where there were rats, some old papers, and the sump pump, dirty rags, and a few Gertrude Stein paperbacks.
To make the decision to stop swimming upstream is, in that same moment, to make the decision to float downstream. Living things swim against the current, and dead bodies float with it. It follows from this that to abandon the artistic pursuit of the beautiful is, in principle, to float down toward the ugly. There is no neutrality anywhere, and this includes the world of the arts. If you are not trying to make it beautiful, which requires a standard of beauty from outside the world, then at some point in the near future, you are going to start trying to make it ugly.
When our artists abandoned their pursuit of the lovely, this did not usher in a period of inactivity. We still had artists, and they still produced their works of art. But it turns out that to stop pursuing the beautiful is the same thing as to start pursuing the ugly. We are pretty much there now.
If you doubt what I say, take a walk through a college campus in order to take in the various twisted metal sculptures they have on display there. Play a little game with yourself, where you try to guess how much the university paid for that thing.
Visit your local art museum. On your way out, thank the person at the front desk for having a museum there at all. You really appreciated. And yet you have noticed that most of the displays seem to have been vandalized. Can anything be done to beef up security?
The disease has spread to everything, including architecture. This includes high architecture, and the architecture that shapes residential homes, and the apartment complexes that look like they were designed by chimpanzees that were high on meth.
There was a time when architects designed residential homes with the golden ratio in mind when sizing the first floor windows with the second floor windows. That ratio (1 to 1.618) is particularly pleasing to the human eye, which we know because God used it everywhere. And He appears to have used it with a considerable amount of abandon. In the old way of seeing, we placed windows that were pleasant for the neighbors to look at, because we were thinking of the neighbors first. Now the windows are scattered any old way over the side of the house, and maybe they are pleasant to look out of, but they look like they were placed by a carpenter who marked a spot when the fit took him.
We used to build fences around our back yard that had “the works” on the inside. Now we face the nice part of the fence in, treating ourselves to the good part, and saying in effect to anyone passing by on the street that we ardently wish they might go stick their head in a bucket.
There used to be front porches, where people could talk to the neighbors. Now there are a couple of misshapen lumps on the front, with automatic garage doors there, so that the motorized work-attendance pod can launch in the morning, take the pilot to some drive-through, and deposit at some place that houses lots of cubicles. The cubicles are lined with Dilbert cartoons, a sign of silent despair.
That Sartorial Schlumpy Vibe
People always dress for comfort. That is inescapable. But in Christian cultures, the emphasis is on dressing for the comfort of others. But in our day, the emphasis is on the comfort of self. Schlepping around Safeway in droopy sweats and flip flops at 7 am was certainly a lot easier than showering and stuff, but it did have the effect of putting an extra eyesore into everybody’s day.
Was that the goal, people? Making sure to become that extra eyesore?
November 29th-Dec 3: The Case for Christian Nationalism by Stephen Wolfe
Get the The Case for Christian Nationalism kindle free and listen to the audiobook free on Canon+. Stay notified of everything we’re giving away at noquarternovember.com.Your own NQN flamethrower closes Nov 30th: The giveaway is over, but you can preorder a NQN-branded flamethrower for yourself through the end of November (no, we’re not kidding).
And the Mablog giveaway this week is . . .
N.T. Wright Rides a Pale Horse
Over the years, N.T. Wright, a prolific Bible scholar, has made a number of pronouncements about economic matters in the developing world. And also over the years, I have found myself interacting with his views on these economic topics. While appreciating many of his insights on exegetical matters (not all, but many), I have generally found that his economic views are not only not in accord wit…