30 June 2006

The Christian and Music (3): On the Beauty of Coffee Tables

This Picture Has Been Removed.

So far, we have dealt with one of the two objections raised against the understanding that no thing is morally unaffiliated. The first objection, when laid out logically would read something like this:

Major Premise: Every non-ideal thing is a morally evil thing.

Minor Premise: Every impersonal thing is a non-ideal thing [due to the fall].

Conclusion: Therefore, every impersonal thing is a morally evil thing.

If the premises are true, the conclusion is logical enough. However, all we needed to do to refute the conclusion is take a closer look at the major premise. Is it true that unless something is in its ideal state, it is morally evil? I illustrated that the major premise is false and thereby avoided the conclusion.

The second question will be even more complex: Given the moral affiliation of all things, how does one distinguish between good things and bad things? I want get to an answer, and I count myself as one who learns while he writes and writes while he learns, so here’s what I got.

I need to start by making the right connection between beauty and morality. Because we are talking about impersonal things still, not about the words of a song, but about the notes and arrangement, I am going to use my coffee table as an example of an impersonal thing. Why? Well, because it was at hand while I was typing about it.

My coffee table is part of the universe that declares God’s glory. It is part of what makes not worshipping God reprehensible and inexcusable behavior. It is made up of molecules of wood and glass which would be astounding to observe. The spatial geometry involved (or assumed) in its construction is thoroughly fascinating. Its wood grain pattern (though commonplace) could be admired for days. Yet it suffers under the curse. It’s falling apart (despite my efforts to maintain it). It was scratched and marred by the previous owners and by us as well. It has seen better days.

As we have said, this non-ideal situation does not necessarily mean that my coffee table is morally evil. But here’s what it does mean: I would be perverse, even morally wrong, to love those things about my coffee table which are not ideal as if they were. As I said in the first post on this topic, it is always morally wrong to love as beautiful that which is ugly in God’s eyes.

Where in the world do I get an idea like that?

Good question. I should be very careful about saying something is “always morally wrong.” I could only conclude that from an absolute authority like, for starters, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable-- if anything is excellent or praiseworthy-- think about such things” (Phil 4:8).

Here’s where we can park our analogies and get back to the discussion at hand. I think this is where the discussion of music must start. It must start with the conclusion that only excellent (that is, excellent from God's perspective) should be admired. Music is, by definition, an orderly arrangement of sounds. To the extent that it reflects God’s glory as part of God’s universe, we should love and appreciate it. However, to the extent that it does not match with God’s ideal for what human music should be, shall we say, to the extent that it is not beautiful, we should withhold our appreciation.

So at the very least we can conclude, music is not an “anything goes” thing for the Christian. An objective standard of beauty exists, and God expects honest evaluation and appraisal of our music according to that standard. “Should I enjoy this music?” is a legitimate question to ask, and sometimes the answer may be negative.

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