I have never liked Tim Burton movies. Call me crazy, but I think it is because I know that beauty is objective; and not only objective but also important. As our world steeps itself deeper and deeper into relativism, it argues that beauty, like truth, depends on the eye of the beholder. The transcendentals are the qualities that all being shares. “Truth is being as knowable; goodness is being as lovable; and beauty is being as admirable, attractive, and desirable.” Our culture argues that the transcendentals are non-existent: that there is no truth, that therefore the good is relative, and that beauty depends on one’s opinion.
I watched the new and somewhat twisted version of Alice in Wonderland in theaters not too long ago. The movie itself perplexed me. So many of my friends had been excited to see it, some of them actually enjoyed it tremendously. When I watched it, I was deeply struck by how ugly everything in it was. I understand that the story lends itself to what is weird, but the movie is distinctively and physically ugly. Johnny Depp is depicted as an insane clown with orange hair and a mime-like painted face, Helena Bonham Carter as the capricious Queen of Hearts. There is a dark setting that mixes bright colors with sinister skies, as well as dark circles under most of the characters eyes. Anne Hathaway herself describes her character as, “Cute but psycho.” Objectively, neither the physical qualities nor the characters of the movie are harmonious or inviting but many people were obsessed with the presentation of the story as if it were a sort of clever artistic expression of hidden beauty.
I don’t mean to take issue with Alice in Wonderland alone. After all, it is only one of the many clear examples of our society’s attempt to relativize beauty. Nevertheless, it is a very good depiction of what we see in our society. Like Alice in Wonderland, there is the new version of Willie Wonka, countless children’s cartoons, too many book illustrations, an incalculable number of songs, numerous pieces of art, a vast amount of toys, and all sorts of advertisements that elevate the ugly and try to condition us to accept it as a different side of beauty.
Generally, many people do not pay much attention to this cultural phenomenon. We see it so often that we have become desensitized. But I take issue with it. The Christian God is ultimate good, ultimate truth, and ultimate beauty. When we speak of the Transcendentals (Good, Truth, and Beauty,) we speak of the very Being of God. All which is good, true, or beautiful in this world is so because it shares in God’s goodness, truth, and beauty. If God is good, true, and beautiful, and truth never changes, ontologically there must be objective good and objective beauty. This, which we can deduce with natural reason, is also revealed in Scripture. God “is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Heb 13:8). And if something, or someone, attacks the good, the true, or the beautiful, the attack is against God Himself.
Man’s ultimate end or telos is the Beatific Vision where immortal souls forever contemplate and rejoice in the Being that is Eternal Goodness, Eternal Truth, and Eternal Beauty. It is no wonder that our souls are filled when we encounter a beautiful landscape, a beautiful face, a beautiful soul. In those instances, we encounter being as desirable, admirable, and lovable. Our souls rest in beauty and are prepared through beauty to love God (the Being that is Beauty itself.)
Beauty matters, it matters so much that our world attacks it when it can. If souls are robbed of their love of beauty, they are robbed of a natural desire for that which God is at His very core. The attacks on truth and goodness are so evident that they need not be stated. For example, many people today argue that there is no such thing as reality and especially that there is no objective moral system. But it is precisely because of these attacks that in today’s world we must teach children and young adults to appreciate beautiful things, expose them to beauty, let their souls be filled and healed through it. The experience of beauty prepares them to love God. The love of beauty is a love of God and it is important that we fill our homes, classrooms, books, and- most importantly- our children’s memories and imaginations with beautiful things.
The opinions expressed by the DPS blog authors and those providing comments are theirs alone; they are not necessarily the expressions or beliefs of either the Dead Philosophers Society or Holy Apostles College & Seminary.