Beauty is Passing, Perhaps still Important

Immanuel Kant said, “Two things fill the mind with ever increasing wonder and awe, the more often and the more intensely the mind of thought is drawn to them: the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me.” The beauty Kant saw in the starry sky impacted him deeply and moved him to wonder and awe which are the same traits we use to describe our  worship for God. For the Church, beauty shouldn’t only be used for superfluous adornment but as strong cultivators of the feelings which help us worship.


However, some churches would question the use of physical beauty believing it hinders rather than helps. With this mindset, beauty becomes a distraction when the worshiper stops paying attention to the meaning behind the object and instead focuses on the object itself. This is the sin outlined in the second commandment which says, “you shall not make for yourself a carved image…you shall not bow down or serve them…” The temptation to worship the beauty found in the creation rather than the creator is a real danger and for some believers, physical beauty fails to cultivate proper worship.


The Bible recognizes this danger and warns about the snare of physical beauty telling us, “Man looks at the outward appearance but the Lord looks at the heart.” Our human tendency gravitates toward prioritizing outward beauty. Physical beauty is easy to value since it’s present and tangible, but we are reminded, “Charm is fleeting and beauty is passing.” To find worth in beauty only for its present benefit is to then only find value in a brief and temporary satisfaction.

While it’s prudent to recognize these potential  dangers of beauty, it’s also important not to dismiss it altogether but realize it can play a significant role. In the appropriate context, the use of beauty should never become the forbidden graven image, a created object worshipped in the place of God. Rather, beauty is used to guide and increase the worship of God. This is why some churches include stained glass windows as part of their decor. The purpose of the stained glass is not to distract from God but to direct our attention to God through the resulting feelings of wonder and awe.

If the beautiful images found in nature and in man’s handiwork are able to generate worship, it’s also possible for the beauty found in man to also point to God. In fact, perhaps the type of beauty found in man best reflects the person of God since we were created in His own image. The danger is not beauty itself, but the temptation to over-value physical beauty. Physically, this means it is possible for us  to dress up for church to respect God but also as a means to generate worship of God through the beauty of our clothes.  


Ultimately, the better reflection of God is found in the beauty of our spirit which is why Peter says, “Do not let your adornment be merely outward — arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel — rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit.”  In comparison to the earthly beauty which perishes, the loveliness of our souls displays a far greater enduring spiritual beauty. While it is good to cultivate and appreciate material beauty, ultimately we must remember our focus should be centered around glorifying God through the cultivation of the imperishable beauty of our spirits.




Bodies, Dating and Modesty: Misunderstood but Important

A friend of mine posted a link to this blog over at Christianity Today’s blog for women. The blog responds to the common phrase that “modest is hottest” which seems to run around in many Christian circles, particularly youth groups. The response is a good one, pointing out that the phrase actually objectifies women by making the female body a thing to be feared rather than an expression of God’s beauty. Continue reading Bodies, Dating and Modesty: Misunderstood but Important

Mainstream Standards of Beauty

For an industry that loves to break with tradition, upend rules, and challenge cultural conventions, the fashion world rarely compromises on its one hard and fast criterion: all models must be the same. With minor exceptions, the models chosen for the runway are carbon copies of one another. Frequently European, facially symmetrical and size-zero, models are the least diverse constituent of the business.
The New York Times’ Fashion Review recently highlighted the shift from the 1960’s Twiggy standards of beauty towards the more rounded figure. Even so, such a change is not praise-worthy. The fashion world embraces diversity in fashion, but refuses to embrace the diversity of human physicality. Our cultural standards have merely been restructured, not improved.
In an effort to fight these standards, French parliamentarian Valérie Boyer created a stir last year by proposing new legislation requiring labels on all retouched photographs. Bruce Crumley of Time Magazine encapsulates Boyer’s rationale:

[Boyer] feels that the idealized beauty in such photos is giving people false expectations of how the world should look — and how they should look as well. Because digitally enhanced photos are often used in mass-marketing campaigns for everything from soft drinks to luxury cars to travel packages, Boyer says the images are gradually leading to a standardization of what is considered beautiful — and by extension, what isn’t.

The “standardization” Crumley refers to is the same that has been around since the influence of the Greeks and Romans. In Ancient Greek culture, beauty, in both men and women, was of utmost importance. Greek sculptors attempted to represent what they believed to be the universal ideal in the figures they shaped; the 10-year war in The Iliad was fought over because of “fair-tressed Helen of Troy.” They highly esteemed beauty because they intuitively regarded objects with symmetry or pleasing proportions as beautiful. In devising what they believed was the universal ideal, they were preoccupied with beauty as part of their study of the metaphysical.
Western culture has largely inherited this view of beauty, with some modifications and without a desire to study metaphysics. In a time of plastic surgery, fashion and digital retouching, these standards are not merely part of an unattainable ideal represented in art, but are standards we now continually seek to achieve.
Standards of beauty today dictate expectations for women, men, children and ethnic minority groups across the board. 17th Century author Aphra Behn appealed to this standard in her description of her fictional character Oroonoko, who was attractive for his adherence to European ideals:  

His nose was rising and Roman, instead of African and flat. His mouth the finest shaped that could be seen; far from those great turned lips which are so natural to the rest of the negroes. The whole proportion and air of his face was so nobly and exactly formed that, bating his color, there could be nothing in nature more beautiful, agreeable and handsome.

The growing number of ethnic minority groups represented in fashion magazines gives off the dubious image that diversity is becoming the norm; and we sometimes believe this trend is ushering in a more civilized and compassionate age. In reality, as it has always been, models are still expected to reach the assumed “higher universal ideal” made requisite by our culture; putting pressure on black women to hide the natural texture of their hair and using makeup to enhance the largeness of Asian eyes.
But few of us stop to consider the possibility that the higher ideal transcends racial and cultural borders. While we may all agree that attributes such as clear skin and balanced features are more attractive, there is something inherently beautiful in human appearance, not merely those appearances that fit a single race or culture’s “standard of beauty.” This inclusive universal beauty is difficult to quantify, and yet, arguably, fits the “universal standard” better, because it embraces—rather than rejects—what is natural.
As Boyer pointed out, our culture’s standards of beauty have far reaching implications for consumers. A recreation of the Clark Doll Experiment (the test starts at 3:23), by high school student Kiri Davis, is just one example of how our narrow assessment of beauty negatively impacts individual and communal identity and value. 
We are inundated with the message that everyone can be attractive, so long as we buy the right products, hire the right consultants and wear haute couture. Ours is a culture with the implicit maxim “we too can be as gods.” But our obsession takes a toll on who we think we are and leads us to prejudice, alienating other human beings we do not consider “classically beautiful.”
There are influential leaders like politician Boyer, model Crystal Renn, and comedian Chris Rock, who are actively seeking ways to poke holes in these standards. We must also seek to embrace diversity in order to fight the tyranny of mainstream standards of beauty.

Photo by Peter Duhon. ‘

Useful Revulsion

Flannery O’Connor’s short stories are not for the faint of heart.
I’ve only read two or three of them. They were short, but jam-packed with lots to think about. Months later, I’m still digesting. She somehow manages to create a world that is both fully revolting and fascinating at the same time; her stories both disgusted and drew me in all at once. They were so very strange… and so very familiar.
Could this be because our own world is like that?

Continue reading Useful Revulsion