Both sets of covers—those of the sentimental Christian books and those of the exploitative Playboy magazines—reflect parallel illusions of easy indulgence. Bad Christian art that reflects a lack of investment of time, commitment, craft, or skill presents the illusion that the Christian life is not worthy or requiring of the same. Pornography offers a similar illusion about sex.
We know from the Bible how much God cares about art, from the painstaking, detailed directions he gave about the adornments of his tabernacle to the varieties of literary art crafted within the scriptures. God's human creation is designed to imitate him through creating. Given this reality, no one more than Christians should be wary of art that is easy, cheap, or careless in either form or content.
When we repeat that "beauty is in the eye of the beholder," we are avoiding objective judgment about the beauty of anything—or anyone. It just seems too mean. Or too hard. Or too both.
Never mind that beauty—like its counterparts, truth and goodness—has for most of human history been understood primarily as reflective of objective qualities, not subjective feelings. This idea might seem like one best suited for the art history or philosophy classroom, but the church's abandonment of the classical understanding of beauty has reaped consequences that affect all of us. The cultural belief that truth is relative, in fact, followed the widespread acceptance that beauty is merely subjective. Those of us who believe in objective truth would do well, therefore, to reclaim an understanding of the objective qualities of beauty—no easy task, but an important one for believers nevertheless.
This notion that judgments about beauty are as subjective and individual as taste in colas has produced a degradation of beauty that has spilled out of the museums and into our everyday lives wherever we see bad art mistaken for good. While there is a place for bad art—on the waiting room walls of the dentist's office, for example, or on the television at night when you just want to unwind—no longer being able, or even willing, to recognize the difference is a problem.
Perhaps, then, as Christians, we should be no more accepting of art that diminishes the weight of God's glory than that other kind of obscenity that diminishes his gift of sexuality.
(Photo by r2hox / Flickr)
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