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The problem is perception Pt1

We say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Which means we define beauty by our preferences. Therefore, if we do not experience beauty in any given situation, we judge that there is no beauty there. We do this by saying things like, I don’t like this particular piece of music, therefore it is not good music. We tend to ignore the objective reality of beauty and promote the subjective reality of our own personal tastes, making it the overruling determiner of what is beautiful or not. But beauty is not subjective, beauty is objective. It exists whether we perceive it or not. It is our tastes that are subjective. Beauty is not in the eye of the beholder, it is in the intentions of the author. And so, very often, in order to truly apprehend beauty, we need to reorient our perceptions and look beyond merely what we instinctively prefer, and in many instances, learn to appreciate something we might not be so naturally inclined towards. That's where the moral and the aesthetic dimensions complement each other. Think about it - how often have your tastes changed because you have learned something agreeable about the what it is you are encountering? For instance, If you know that a band or musician you enjoy writes their own songs and music, does the music not, therefore, sound far more pleasant? If the moral dimension is agreeable, we are influenced towards a greater appreciation of the aesthetic dimension. Beauty, if it exists in any given context, is always there, whether we perceive it or not. It does not disappear whenever we fail to perceive it, and reappear whenever we do perceive it. Often, the reason we don't see beauty is that we are looking for the wrong thing. We are not looking for what is there.

I find jazz music, bebop especially, to be particularly beautiful. I remember having a conversation with my sister Hannah a few years ago about jazz music. I’m not an expert in jazz, but I do love a good bit of bebop. Admittedly it’s not always easy to listen to. Ornette Coleman, for instance, requires a bit of concentration and effort. But there is a particular type of joy and delight to be found even there if you put the effort in. Hannah wasn’t terribly impressed with whatever it was that I played her. But I do remember that her complaint was that what she likes in music: lyrics, singing and a catchy chorus, was lacking, which is why she didn’t like it. However, as I explained to her, jazz will always disappoint if you approach it looking for and expecting those elements. Because that’s not what it gives you. It gives you something else, something different. And that doesn’t mean it’s bad. That doesn’t mean it’s not beautiful. It just means that you don’t see it. But it does mean that we have to be careful. We have to understand our tastes and preferences to be subjective. And we must be careful not to judge objective realities by the subjective standards set by our tastes and preferences. And that is particularly true when we think about God.

Now, it doesn't matter too much if we don't like certain things. Apart from the fact that I'd say you're missing out on a particular pleasure if you don't enjoy music, it's not the end of the world if you don't. Other things, though, require more of our attention. If we did not enjoy food, for instance, we would find it difficult to eat, which would impact our health. Same goes for God. If we do not perceive the beauty of God, and therefore are not drawn towards him, growing in love and affection and enjoyment and satisfaction of him, because he is beautiful, then we are not able to know him and benefit from his saving grace to us. If we dislike food, we might not be inclined to eat and we would starve physically. If we are not able to apprehend the beauty of God, we will not continue to taste and see, and we will starve spiritually.

But the beauty of God is always there. God gets to define beauty because everything that exists apart from him has been created by him. And as I have mentioned in a previous post, God sets his beauty to be reflected within the created order that he might draw us to him as we find ourselves attracted by it. He does this because he knows that his beauty is what leads man to him and his power to nurtures and sustain man. As we benefit from his goodness, his beauty, we are kept alive, and he is glorified. It's the wonderful dichotomy that he has woven in the fabric of nature. And so when we fail to apprehend this beauty, we suffer. If so, we must learn to have our perceptions reoriented. We must learn what it is that is beautiful about God, and learn to acquire a taste for it. Like jazz, the beauty of God can often be an acquired taste. But, it is one taste that can be acquired. In fact, it must be acquired.


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