Monday 1 June 2015

The sacredness of loveliness


We were looking at some mute swans on Bolam Lake, and speculating whether their beauty was what made them a protected species, and stopped (most) humans eating them (as reflected by various laws restricting their consumption to the monarch and a few others).

There seems to be an innate sense of the sacredness of lovely, sweet, things; a reluctance to damage beauty, to mar perfection.

We hesitate even to put footsteps on the flawless white smoothness of fresh snow.

There may also be a particular reluctance to kill (and perhaps eat) 'cute' young animals - lambs, calves, puppies, kittens.

Of course this sense of sacredness can be overcome - by need, such as hunger; or by (evil) counter-impulses to mar and damage, dominate and destroy beauty - and other kinds of goodness.

But a sense of the sacredness of loveliness does seem to be there, built-in.



Nicholas Fulford said...

The reluctance to eat or hurt the very young of other species is not strictly a human phenomena.

Bruce Charlton said...

@NF - I agree.

What is human, what is a religious matter, is whether and when we choose to honour these instincts; because, of course, it is nowadays mainstream aesthetic theory that Art ought-to be 'subversive' - which in practice means that much that is approved and honoured in art depicts with moral approval the destruction and defilement of beauty, innocence, sweetness, loveliness.

For secular modernity, these natural instincts of sacredness (and disgust at the violation of perfection) are something real but something which ought to be overcome.

This is one reason why Christianity has become more important than ever before - without it (or something similar) there are no *principled* grounds for opposing mainstream, official, propagandized and subsidized inversions of The Good - which include celebrating the marring, damaging and destroying of beauty.

Nathaniel said...

Thank you for sharing, I am glad you frame it around beauty and goodness. My mind springs (too easily) to numerous examples of the evil inverse that are common. "Nobility" is the idea which most strongly rang out and summarizes the idea to me.

HofJude said...

I wonder about the difference between species that are lovely - swans, egrets, wildflowers - and species in which some individuals are lovely and not others - us, and domesticated animals esteemed by cultivators - cows, dogs, horses, the Empress of Blandings. As breeders of humans and of animals, we have had limited success in producing beauty by assortative mating, and everybody knows of homely families that suddenly produce a white swan among ordinary siblings, and handsome ones that produce an ugly duckling among eligible ones. It is also true that individual humans who are beautiful are both highly esteemed and potentially fortunate, but more often (in human history) vulnerable because of their beauty: targets for theft and rape in the case of either sex, the objects of envy and covetousness and the cause of family destruction and even large-scale war. I wish Nicholas Fulford were right, but there is a very strong human instinct to destroy the beautiful, particularly when it is in human or animal form, and when it is connected to a sexual rival. The murderous stepfather or stepmother was no myth. Is the random occurance of human beauty a kind of divine joker, to ensure that even a systematic attempt to stamp it out will not (so far) destroy it?