Saturday, January 24, 2015

Men and Beauty

From Crisis:
A third reason for beauty’s importance in male formation is that it reveals and brings to life another level of existence beyond mere survival—this being the spiritual domain. Man is not a mere brute. Animals eat, drink, and sleep to live, and pretty much live to eat, drink, and sleep. The caveman of old, on the other hand, though having much of his time consumed with procuring the necessities of life, still found time to produce works of art, such as the stunning cave paintings found in Lascaux, France. It is partly because of this drive for a more fully human life that has led to the emergence of civilizations, economies, and the division of labor. The human person is simply not satisfied with a circular existence of seeking out and procuring the necessities of life in order to merely go on seeking out and procuring the necessities of life.

This being the case, men, as the traditional providers of the family, can easily get caught up in a careerist mindset and become over-immersed in the temporal necessities of life. In addition, modern education has shifted from an emphasis on the liberal arts (a traditional venue for introducing people to the beautiful) to an often exclusive focus on career-oriented education. We are rapidly becoming a society of animals, where serving our needs and our wants is the over-arching narrative of our existence.

It is the role of beauty to shake men out of this mundane existence (or, to borrow a phrase from C.S. Lewis when he was referring to joy, to “administer the shock”) by making them confront a reality above and far more wonderful than a life of simply existing. Ultimately, beauty is a pointer directing us to the reality of the Beatific Vision. This vision will ultimately be an experience of simply taking in the beauty and wonder of the Triune God. In an analogous sense, it is an experience like a couple who from time to time simply want to sit and gaze at each other, taking in the being of the other. Such an experience does not really have a practical or survival purpose. Still, it is experiences like this that are arguably the most fully human, and which remind us that we, as human beings, do not live by bread alone.

The practical question now arises as to how to integrate this exposure to beauty into the formation of men. This task falls partly on the men themselves, and also on those charged with the formation of boys and men (whether this formation be educational, spiritual, liturgical, or cultural). For those involved in education, this means giving the liberal arts a certain pride of place, even while also ensuring that students receive a practical, career-oriented education at the same time. Cultural formation, while acknowledging the importance of popular culture, will also entail exposure to the greatest works of the human spirt. Boys and men should also be encouraged to leave the computer, IPad, and video games behind and go out and experience the greater thrill of nature and the outdoor life. Finally, Catholic men who are preparing to be ordained to the priesthood will see it as their mission to celebrate mass in such a way as to give their congregation a glimpse of the transcendent beauty of God.

Exposure to beauty is a necessary component of the formation of men as men. As the boys and men of today are setting the stage for a disturbing future course of manhood through the proliferation violent video games and movies, pornography, consumerism, and materialism, the time has come to “administer the shock” of beauty by revealing to the world the radiance of truth and goodness. There is an element of truth to Dostoevsky’s famous line that “Beauty will save the world.” (Read more.)

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