Sunday, December 03, 2006

The Experience of Beauty and Awe, and the Existence of God

When discussing reasons that people believe in God, it seems that beauty and awe are often neglected. I suspect this is because the reasons for believing in God are often drawn up as rationalistic arguments. This approach, while rational, often supposes that reason is the highest of our faculties and that the other human faculties are lesser and "irrational". While reason is undoubtedly useful -- and can even lead to knowledge and wisdom if rightly applied -- I'm skeptical whether reason is the highest of our faculties. I also dispute the idea that the other human faculties are "irrational" simply because they are not pure reason. Here I'd like to sketch out a claim (rather than an argument) from beauty and awe.

Let "beauty" be that which communicates goodness.

Let "awe" be that which communicates transcendence.

Then to experience beauty and awe is to know there is a God (a good which transcends the material).

When I say that beauty "communicates goodness," that is to say that beauty is a name we give when we see the quality of goodness. This quality, when we perceive it, shows itself to our minds as the thought, "This is good."

When I say that awe "communicates transcendence," that is to say that awe is the sense that reality goes far beyond what we see directly, that there is a meaning far beyond the material or formal limits that present themselves to us.

This is at the heart of much of the intuitive sense that there is a God. It is one of the simplest and most commonly felt of the natural reasons for the existence of God. Such topics are barely able to be articulated because words are not their native language. And by itself, it is an incomplete claim for the existence of God. There is not enough concreteness to fend off an attack by pure naturalism, other than by the deep and abiding sense that pure naturalism is missing what is greater. For concreteness, we rely (rightly, in my opinion) on other approaches.

But this primitive sense of beauty and awe is still vital, and is often neglected in current theology so shaped by the naturalistic worldview and by naturalistic assumptions about what topics are permitted. Over the next few posts I will consider various ways in which the primitive sense of beauty and wonder are at home in Christianity, and ways in which we can rightly incorporate them into our knowledge of God, our worship, our views of spiritual growth, and our witness.

No comments: