Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Church architecture

The fire at Notre Dame raises theological questions about the value of Christian art. At one end of the spectrum is the Puritan position. I disagree with that. It's a principled position, and I respect the Puritans, but it's reactionary. Nevertheless, it merits a respectful hearing. 

A sketchy Christian argument for high art might go like this: We should save the best for the best. We should reserve the best art, music, architecture, poetry, &c. for what's most important. That's a way to remind ourselves of what is truly significant. Insofar as religion is intrinsically the most important thing in life, and the thing that lends value to everything else, insofar as religion is the good that makes everything else good that is good, we should lavish some of our greatest talent on Christian expression. 

Now, I don't necessarily mean in the narrow sense of worship or God directly. The principle includes that, but is broader. Insofar as religion consecrates life in general, we are warranted in lavishing some of our best our talent on other things as well. Take a Christian filmmaker whose movies reflect a Christian worldview. They aren't generally set in church, although there might be scenes of worship. He can bring a Christian touch to everyday life. As a rule, we experience God through the medium of what he has made. 

But to treat everything alike flattens and trivializes what is most important. Many things are ephemeral or inconsequential. 

There's still a place for the plain style. There's a beauty and nobility distinctive to simplicity as well as a beauty and nobility distinctive to complexity. 

Too much high art runs the risk of artificiality, where it becomes too far removed from normal experience. Likewise, there's the danger–often a reality–of substituting aesthetics for sanctity. Moreover, great art (or good art) shouldn't be confused with ostentation. But it's needful to have something higher for mind and heart to aspire to, which lifts us out of the drudgery and humdrum–not to mention ugliness–of ordinary life. So it's a question of balance. Like climbing a mountain for the view. Not necessarily the best place to live year round, but life needs peaks as well as plains. 

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